Over the weekend of September 9-11, I was at Can-ConSF, a literary science-fiction and fantasy convention in Ottawa, Ontario. The con is small but brings both readers and writers together to discuss various topics. One of the panels was called “Adapting Literary Works to Television and Movies”, so, naturally, I had to go.
There were five panelists, representing different views of being adapted. Tanya Huff, one of the author guests of honour, had her Blood books* adapted as a TV series that can still appear on Canadian cable stations thanks to Canadian content requirements. Ian Rogers is a horror writer who has had stories optioned by Roy Lee, but nothing is going to pilot yet. Jay Odjick is the creator of Kagagi the Raven, a comic that he adapted as a cartoon that airs on APTN. Sam Morgan is a literary agent with the JABberwocky Literary Agency, and provided the insider view. Moderating was Violette Malan, a fantasy novelist.
While there are some writers who either don’t want their works adapted or have had bad experiences and won’t go down that path again, for most, getting optioned is like winning the lottery, except the lottery has better odds. The money from being optioned isn’t that much, but if the adaptation is picked up, it can be comfortable. Tanya was able to pay off her mortgage thanks to Blood Ties going to air and still sees royalties coming in from the series.** But, while the money from adaptations may not be much, there is a boost in sales of the original work that comes immediately afterwards. Tanya saw a thirty percent increase in the sales of her Blood books right after the first episode aired. This boost, though, doesn’t necessarily carry over with comics. Jay didn’t see an increase and believes that movies may be too different from the comic to entice new readers.
Writers have little control over how a work gets adapted. Some writers may have more leverage; JK Rowling, thanks to the success of Harry Potter, managed to ensure that the movies remained as faithful as possible, but most writers don’t have that luxury. Stephen King treats adaptations of his works as entities separate from the originals. Changes will be made and the writer is low on the totem pole when it comes to decision making. The best thing to do in that case is to treat the adaptation like a grandchild; don’t complain about how they’re raised or you won’t see another grandchild ever. Tanya treats adaptations as fanfic that she’s getting paid for. She even wrote an episode of Blood Ties, so she wrote fanfic of her own work.***
Kagagi the Raven is a little different. Jay tried shopping the adaptation around, looking for someone to pick it up. He and his partner wound up producing the series themselves. As a result, he had more initial control once APTN licensed the series from him. However, APTN doesn’t pay for the show until it’s done. Jay had to find a distributor to sell the show internationally. As a result, Jay is now beholden to network distributors and advertisers. However, Jay now has a producer credit and can now make pitches far more easily than when he was shopping Kagagi.
Each of the panelists had works optioned in different ways. Jay, as mentioned above, became a producer to turn his comic into a cartoon. With Tanya’s Blood Ties, the series had been optioned since the third book, with Kaleidoscope being the studio to take the adaptation to pilot and then to series. Kaleidoscope had read the books and loved them but, being Canadian, couldn’t pay as well as an American studio. To make up for that, they let Tanya be involved with the show. With Ian, Roy Lee, who had adapted a number of Japanese horror movies including The Ring, had one of Ian’s stories recommended to him. Lee contacted Ian out of the blue to option the story, and took a number of other ones that were related. Ian now has credit as a consulting producer even though the series hasn’t gone to pilot. Sam, the literary agent, often gets called to find out if the rights to a book are available. With True Blood, Alan Ball had bought the book prior to a dentist appointment, then read it afterwards while recovering, and the rest is history. Sam also mentioned that production companies have people, book-to-film agents whose job it is to find works that could be adapted.
The big takeaway, at least from the writer’s view, is to know when to take credit. If the movie or series is a hit, take the credit as the creator. If the movie or series is a flop, blame Hollywood. “Eh, you know how it is in Hollywood.” This goes back to treating an adaptation as a grandchild; changes will be made. Knowing that changes happen and accepting that it’s beyond a writer’s control means sleeping easier, especially with option and royalty money coming in.
* Not to be confused with the Books of Blood by Clive Barker.
** Tanya recently received a $600 cheque thanks to Blood Ties being in the top ten shows in Pakistan.
*** Tanya also reports that most final drafts of scripts keep no more than five lines from the first. Her episode of Blood Ties managed to keep in six thanks to some actor improvisation that matched her early draft.
I’m actually getting back to these! Awesome!
Work should be a bit calmer now. We had some changes in organization and process that look to be more efficient and effective, and it’s already paying dividends in just a week. So let’s hope you see more writing out of me (though my goal is to be writing anyway).
So from here . . .
Way With Worlds Book 2 is still being edited, and I sink my teeth into it next month. It’s definitely not going to be out until February, but I can’t see it being any later than March.
The “followup” works on Way With Worlds are underway. As usually, not spilling much here (but you can find out a bit more in my newsletter if you’re really curious). More and more I’m thinking it may be worth releasing early, but I don’t want to stress myself. At this rate, I’d like to actually get people’s opinions – release it early or after Book 2?
I will say after all this I may take a break from writing on Worldbuilding. Think I’ll have said my peace for awhile.
So now that I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing on randomization and creativity, I’ve got to figure out just how to do it. I probably won’t start brainstorming it for at least another month, to be honest. What I want to do is distill all my wisdom from Seventh Sanctum into book form (hopefully, one book). The hardest part is figuring out where to start and then how to put it in some organized form.
The second part? A title.
Trying to find time to bang out the Pizza Generator as the data is all ready, so I can do something else. I think having it hanging over my head kind of killed the fun and I need to move to another generator. That happens. Maybe I’ll revisit it another time.
But we must have random pizza, because who doesn’t want kimchi and bacon pizza with havarti? Wait, that sounds good . . .
I’ve got a full slate coming up – be sure to check my speaking page!
Con-Volution is my next convention, and I’ll be speaking on worldbuilding and monsters on Friday! Go, attend!
That’s it for me – what about you?
The original Star Trek recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of the air date of its first episode, “The Man Trap”. Since then, the series has had a number of adaptations, including feature films, continuation TV series, games, comics, books, and even a cartoon. However, when the last first-run episode, “Turnabout Intruder” aired, fans had to resign themselves to watching the series in syndication, despite the efforts put into letter writing campaigns.
The dearth of new Star Trek episodes came to an end in 1973, when Gene Roddenberry worked with Filmation to create an animated series. Now known as Star Trek: The Animated Series, to distinguish it from other Trek entries, the cartoon brought back the crew of the USS Enterprise for two more seasons, this time on Saturday mornings. Filmation is best known for series such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, its spin-off series She-Ra: Princess of Power, and Ghostbusters*, and animation techniques that were budget friendly, including long establishing shots and animation reuse. During the series’ two seasons, twenty-two episodes aired.
Budget-friendly animation helped ST:TAS, allowing the series to bring back most of the cast to reprise their roles for the cartoon. With the reuse of animation, artists could ensure that the characters looked like their actors. Also because of animation, aliens were no longer limited to looking like humans in rubber masks. Two new crewmembers were introduced, Lieutenant M’ress, a cat-like communications officer, and Lieutenant Arex, a tripedal navigation officer. Both additions allowed Star Fleet and the Federation to feel larger and inclusive. Thanks to being animated, alien worlds could look alien with no more effort it took to paint a corridor of the Enterprise.
ST:TAS brought in science-fiction writers as much as the original series did. Larry Niven wrote “The Slaver Weapon”, bringing in his Kzinti from his short story, “The Soft Weapon”. David Gerrold, who wrote the original series episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles”, revisited the furry ecological menaces with “More Troubles, More Tribbles”. DC Fontana, who both wrote and was a story editor for the original series, contributed “Yesteryear”, a look at Spock as a young boy. The limitations of the format, a 22-minute long cartoon, was worked around and, in many cases, used to great effect.
For a while, the animated series was considered non-canonical, except for the cases where it was. Kirk’s middle name, Tiberius, was given to him by Gerrold in “More Trouble, More Tribbles”, and stuck. Fontana’s “Yesteryear” provided such a rich look at both Spock’s early life and Vulcan culture that it was more-or-less accepted as is. “Yesteryear” is part of Spock’s story arc, as he evolves from having his Human and Vulcan sides at odds to him accepting that he is part of both worlds, as seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home. Canonicity has returned in bits and pieces, with ST:TAS being mined for background for different characters.
The series continued to delve into social issues and showcased characters that didn’t get spotlight time in the original series. Of note, “The Lorelei Signal”, by Margaret Armen, placed Uhura in command of the Enterprise after the male crewmembers fell under the effect of space sirens. Beings that appeared to be dangerous turned out to be misunderstood. The dangers of introducing an invasive species were explored. The show worked to keep to the spirit of the original series. While there were episodes that fell flat, the same happened with the original series. However, the animated series took what it had and expanded the Trek universe, entertaining fans who were starved for new episodes without disappointing them.
Star Trek: The Animated Series transcended the Saturday morning cartoon format, bringing back the crew of the Enterprise to boldly go, once again, where no man has gone before.
* Not to be confused with The Real Ghostbusters, the animated adaptation of the Ghostbusters movie.
What is this? Another update? Yes, amazing.
So anyway, to give you a bigger story on my slow blogging it’s pretty much been one thing after another. Mostly work and some shuffling around duties, software releases, and more. It’s also been a bunch of other stuff going on from helping friends out to errands. I haven’t had life get this much on top of me in awhile, though the smoke appears to be clearing.
The funny thing is it all goes back to that two days of classes I had. I’m sort of wondering if losing two days was a catalyst. Plus side, I got a great certification out of it.
Now let’s get to a REAL update here.
That’s it for me – what about you?
Sid and Marty Krofft were prolific creators of children’s programming in the 70s, though often adding a twist of the bizarre into the mix. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was no different. The show was, essentially, a gender-flipped 70s-era version of the 1966 Adam West Batman series by the creators of H.R. Pufnstuf. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was part of The Krofft Supershow, airing in 12 minute segments for a total of 16 episodes, each pair forming a full story. The end of the odd-numbered episodes was a cliffhanger with the main characters facing danger. The segment lasted for just one season, being dropped from The Krofft Supershow when it went to its second season.
Deidre Hall, best known for her work on the daytime soap Days of Our Lives, played intrepid reporter Lori, who became the superheroine Electra Woman. Judy Strangis played Judy, who became the teen sidekick Dyna Girl, even though Strangis was only two years younger than Hall. Their powers came from the ElectraComs, devices on their wrists that projected energy that could be used to thwart the machinations of their villainous opponents. The ElectraComs received their power from the ElectraBase, where scientist Frank Heflin, played by Norman Alden. Heflin operated the CrimeScope, a computer designed to track crimes and acts of villainy. To get around, the ElectraDuo used the ElectraCar, a three-wheeled vehicle.
While the heroines depended on gadgets for powers, the villains weren’t so limited. The Sorceror and Miss Dazzle relied on magic, including a magic mirror that allowed them to travel in time. Glitter Rock and his sidekick, Side Man, used sonic gadgets. The Empress of Evil and Lucretia used magic. The Pharoah and Cleopatra used magic and alchemy. Ali Baba and the Genie also used magic. The Spider-Lady and her sidekicks, Leggs and Spinner, kept to a spider-theme with nets and misdirection. The sources of the various powers were never expanded upon.
Indeed, given the time limitations, the episodes jumped right to the action. Lori and Judy were reporters more to give them a way into some of their mysteries more than anything else. Electra Woman was a superhero fighting evil while Dyna Girl was the spunky teen sidekick, a much more colourful and happier Batman and Robin. The focus of the episodes was split between the heroines and the villains, showing the nefarious plot to avoid the slower parts of investigation.
The 2016 reboot movie started as an idea from Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart. They wanted to do a superhero series to mock life in Hollywood. As they developed the idea, Sid & Marty Krofft Pictures approached them with the idea of using Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. The result was first released as a series of webisodes before being released on DVD. Electra Woman (Helbig) and Dyna Girl (Hart) returned.
The reboot begins in Ohio, with Electra Woman and Dyna Girl at home after a gruelling day of heroing, still in costumes that resembled those worn by Hall and Strangis. On TV is a commercial featuring Major Vaunt, a superhero who has landed a contract with a Hollywood agent and, as Judy put it, “sells out.” Their day continues on its low course when the Bernice, the bratty teen-aged neighbour, pops in to mock them and their uselessness. After all, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl don’t even have powers, just Dyna Girl’s Dyna Suction Gun. Lori and Judy shoo Bernice off, then head out to get a snack. At the convenience store, while the heroic duo are in the back hunting down slushies, two masked robbers enter. One is armed with a pistol, the other with a smartphone, recording the crime. To add to their general lack of smarts, neither robber notices or even looks for anyone in bright spandex. Despite their lack of powers, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl show the robbers the error of their ways, disarming the gunman with ease in a very literal fashion and uploading their failure to their own YouTube channel.
The video becomes an overnight sensation, leading to Electra Woman getting an invite out to Los Angeles by CMM, the Creative Masked Marketing agency, run by Dan Dixon, superagent to superheroes. After travelling from Ohio to LA in the ElectraCar, a sixteen year old hatchback with a fading psychedelic paint job, Lori and Judy are given the grand tour of CMM. Dixon isn’t one to take no for an answer, so the tour includes the lab of Frank Heflin, genius inventor with almost no social skills, the ElectraComs, which are a mix of smartphone and weapon, and the reveal of new costumes. Judy is hesitant, but Lori jumps at the chance to be a proper superhero and answers for both of them.
During an interview on a morning show, the ElectraDuo stop an armoured car robbery, using the ElectraComs and natural talent. The footage shoots them from stardom to superstardom, but cracks in the partnership start forming. The media and CMM treat Dyna Girl as a sidekick instead of a partner, driving a wedge between Lori and Judy. Meanwhile, a supervillain appears, the first since the end of the Shadow War, the final battle between superheroes and supervillains that ended with the heroes triumphant. The villain calls herself the Empress of Evil, wielding what looks like magical powers to stymie the LAPD. The collected heroes of LA can only watch as the Empress toys with the police until Major Vaunt teleports to the scene to fight her. However, he’s too busy playing to the cameras to be effective and is killed by the Empress.
The rift between Lori and Judy grows afterwards. Lori has fully embraced the Hollywood star lifestyle, focusing on media appearances, while Judy wants to use Frank’s CrimeScope to locate the Empress. The two split up, going their separate ways. Outside where a commercial is being filmed, fans recognize Judy as Dyna Girl and get selfies with her. One other person recognizes her, and Judy knows who it is just before she’s taken away.
Learning that Judy has been kidnapped by the Empress, Lori realizes what and who is important in her life, even if Judy can be a wet blanket at times. She talks to Frank, who locates Judy’s ElectraComs at CMM’s headquarters. Lori races, with some false starts, to the agency and finds Judy in the basement, tied by cables to support pillars. The Empress reveals herself and taunts the two before leaving to cause more mayhem. Lori apologizes for the way she behaved, and Judy accepts that Lori has come to her senses. They’re discovered by Frank who is on a soup run.
Lori and Judy try to figure out a way to stop the Empress. Frank reveals to them the new ElectraCar and the pair rush off. They confront the Empress of Evil with the new ElectraCar, a sleek sports car with a massive ElectraCannon extending out over it. The ElectraCar lasts not even five minutes before the Empress uses her powers to fling it away. Electra Woman takes matters in hand and pummels the villain, but the Empress’ powers have made her body impervious to damage. Lori, though, knowing the villain, knows her one weakness and uses it to defeat her.
The reboot has several advantages, the big one being that special effects cost far less, relatively speaking, now than in 1976. The lack of details in the original Electra Woman and Dyna Girl means that expanding on their backgrounds and personalities won’t contradict anything previously done and allows for greater depth of the characters. The reboot is a comedy at heart, and the webisode approach allows for humour that wouldn’t be allowed on Saturday morning television. Helbig and Hart make the characters their own while still acknowledging the original work. At the same time, they have commentary about life in LA for actors and the nature of superhero movies. While the rift between Lori and Judy was an obvious conflict, Judy herself makes fun of that storyline while foreshadowing it. The reveal of the Empress of Evil’s identity is also foreshadowed, with hints given along the way.
Helbig and Hart’s Electra Woman and Dyna Girl updates the TV series. The new costumes are practical, with spandex replaced by padded outfits that both protect and give further range of motion. The new ElectraComs have similar abilities as the originals with the extra communication capabilities as smartphones. The situations are also updated, with modern problems plaguing the ElectraDuo, from life in LA to trying to find the right Uber car.
The new Electra Woman and Dyna Girl is very much a product of now, much as the original was a product of the 70s. Dyna Girl is no longer a sidekick, despite the attempts by both CMM and the media to paint her as such. Instead, she’s Electra Woman’s partner, an equal. The focus is on the ElectraDuo; the only time the audience learns anything about the Empress of Evil and her plot is when Electra Woman and Dyna Girl are there, only because the villain takes the time to gloat. The Empress herself does change from the original; instead of being a construct created by Lucretia, the new villain has motivation and a tie to the ElectraDuo, one that is set up even before she appears as the supervillain.
With the original Electra Woman and Dyna Girl having almost no depth because of its format, the reboot has a free reign to create details as needed, playing around with the concept for the sake of the story. The new version is slightly more adult than the original and is far more genre savvy. The result is a movie that exceeds the original in scope while still remaining about the title duo.
Any geek-friendly property will have a role-playing game created for it, whether the result is official or unofficial. Licensing, though, can be costly, the result being that some properties get a game when the work is laying fallow, such as what happened with the earlier Star Wars and Star Trek RPGs. Having a current property tends to be a coup. Such was the case with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roleplaying Game.
The TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired on the WB and then UPN. Despite being on smaller networks, the show picked up a cult following, a following that was more likely to also purchase RPGs. Eden Studios published the Buffy RPG during the TV series’ sixth season in 2002 using a modified version of their house mechanic as used in their Witchcraft RPG. Cinematic Unisystem, as the mechanics were called, simplified the skill list and added a drama die mechanic called Karma Points. The core, which involved rolling a ten-sided die and adding attribute and skill levels, remained and easily faded into the background when not needed.
The core Buffy rulebook contained everything players and gamemasters (known as Directors) needed to play. The language in the book contained Buffy-speak without being forced or impenetrable. Character creation was point-buy, with different pools of points for attributes and skills, and advantages; players needing more points could get disadvantages. The game allowed for different starting levels of power for characters. The low end represented the Scoobies like Xander, Willow, and Cordelia in the first season. The next level up represented the White Hats like Giles and Buffy herself. The top level existed for experienced heroes, like the gang in later seasons. Mixing power levels was possible, as long as the Director remembered the differences in abilities. The game provided help here by giving the low tier characters the most Karma Points at the start and allowing them to by the Points at a lower experience point cost than the higher levels.
For players wanting to play the someone from the series, all the major characters and some of the minor ones got full character sheets that reflected both the character creation rules and what was shown on the series. People wanting to create original characters weren’t forgotten. The core rules included advantages that acted as packages, including everything needed to be a Watcher, a Slayer-in-Training, a Werewolf, a Vampire, or even a full-fledged Slayer. The Director and players could decide to play in a different era, or work out how a new Slayer was called based on events in the series. After all, by the fourth season, two new Slayers, Kendra and Faith, had appeared.
Since the game was already set for urban fantasy, Witchcraft‘s combat mechanics were easily brought over, with important maneuvers, such as Stake to the Heart, being added to the common list. Actual play was quick; between the simplicity of the die mechanic and the option for the Director to use the average value for non-player characters instead of also rolling, a fight wouldn’t take an entire session unless it was meant to be the climax of a campaign’s season.
Helping to maintain the feel of the Buffy TV series is the terms used, like season and Director. Individual sessions are called episodes, though Directors can have games with multiple ongoing plots without defined borders without breaking the system. The episodic nature of TV series gives structure to new players without alienating experienced ones.
As is appropriate, when Buffy spun off Angel and Cordelia into their own series, Angel, Eden Studios produced the spin-off, Angel Roleplaying Game. The spin-off RPG used the same system, but included details on how to create new advantages for the various demons that appeared in the series. Eden also used Cinematic Unisystem in another licensed RPG, one based on Army of Darkness. The differences in the games came from the different advantages available, each reflecting the source material, and the tone of the writing. Army of Darkness didn’t have the Buffy-speak, opting for a tone matching Bruce Campbell’s Ash.
Overall, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roleplaying Game not only makes the effort to recreate the TV series, it succeeds, The game allows players to enter the Buffy-verse without having to worry about the mechanics, letting them jump right in. The presentation maintains the feel by sounding like it came from the writers’ room, mimicking the dialogue the series was known for. Eden Studios deserves full kudos for their work.
The past three weeks, Lost in Translation has looked at the Good, the Bad, and the Weird. There are some works that deserve some spotlight, despite not falling into the above three categories. The honourable mentions are, again, in no particular order.
The original Robocop was an over-the-top satire of the Reagan Eighties. Everything was exaggerated that it couldn’t possibly happen. A city going bankrupt? Privatized police forces? Couldn’t happen. The remake, though, was made after Detroit declared bankruptcy. The satire wasn’t over the top; it was biting, closer to home. Samuel L. Jackson’s parody of a Fox News pundit was too on the nose. The violence got toned down, at least against humans, and ED-209 gained competency, but after a decade of drone warfare, the new Robocop wasn’t the exaggeration the original was.
A TV series that can last ten seasons deserves mention. The series used the original Stargate movie as a launching point then built the universe implied in the film. Stargate SG-1 shows what a TV series can do as an adaptation, allowing the work to delve deeper into the setting with the time available.
Thunderbirds Are Go!
The remake of the classic Gerry Anderson work replaced Supermarionation with CGI but kept the model work. The update used several episodes of the original series, in some cases recreating scenes shot for shot and kept the tension while expanding the role of several characters, including Kayo. Of course, bringing back the original voice of Parker, David Graham, didn’t hurt.
Dilbert slipped off the top five list for the Good in a close heat. The quintessential office comedy comic strip made the transition to animated series almost seamlessly, and included casting choices that worked for the characters.
The Four Players
Where Super Mario Bros. tried for a gritty world and failed, the web original work, The Four Players injected a note of hope despite the grim duty the characters faced. Each part focused on one character, keeping the iconic appearances while giving a new twist. With technology allowing fans to produce work that can surpass what professionals did twenty years earlier, the onus is now on Hollywood studios to up their game.
Michael Crichton’s novel about the hubris of man and the dangers of unchecked genetic engineering was hefty. Not everything in the novel made it into the movie of the same name, though some elements would make it into one of the sequels. Lex’s role in the story got expanded; in the novel, she was there to scream whenever a dinosaur showed up. In the movie, some of her brother’s abilities, such as knowledge of Unix, transferred to her, giving Lex more substance.
And this is still just scratching the surface. I could have added A Charlie Brown Christmas, Harry Potter, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Watership Down, and Evil Dead to the list above and still not scratch the surface. There are good adaptations out there; but it takes effort. There will be even more coming, Good, Bad, and Weird.
The reviews return next week.
Wait, so where have I been?
Sorry to vanish for, well, nearly two weeks, but it got crazy.
Short form is I had a crazy 4 weeks with work, book publishing, class, and a bit of illness. This then compounded with two more weeks of crazy brought about by exhaustion, more work, family and friend issues, and more. The smoke is finally clearing, but my major reaction is roughly A) WTF happened, and B) Thank goodness for No Man’s Sky and Gravity Falls as a break.
So six weeks so nutty it could be a candy bar. So what’s up?
That’s currently it for now. I’ll be back on top of this, return to Civic Diary, and more in the next few weeks.
Continuing the retrospective, this week, Lost in Translation looks at the oddities. These are movies that defied expectations and became a challenge to analyze and review. Unlike the Good and the Bad, the Weird show how adaptations can misfire and still cleave close to the original work. Once again, the list is presented in no particular order.
Gnomeo & Juliet
For a movie aimed at children and promising to tell Shakespeare’s tale in a different way, Gnomeo & Juliet remained faithful despite the use of garden gnomes. Even the opening monologue came from the original play. The story only really devaites after William Shakespeare himself appears. The result was surprisingly entertaining and accessable, with background gags reflective of other Shakespearean plays.
The biggest failing Speed Racer had was trying to hard to recreate the original. The movie is live action anime, with the Wachowskis putting in an effort to not just recreate the characters but also the appearance and animation style of the TV series. The casting was note perfect, and the soundtrack used the original Speed Racer theme. The movie turned out to be far more animated than the original, and managed to make Spirtle and Chim-Chim key characters without making them annoying. The Wachowskis could have dialled things down a notch and not have lost details.
Phantom of the Paradise
Two adaptations in one, Phantom of the Paradise worked from both The Phantom of the Opera and Faust. A tale of obsession and desire, Phantom moves both original works from their eras to the then-modern 70s, keeping the core of both while changing the trappings.
Battle Beyond the Stars
By all rights, a low-budget B-movie trying to cash in on the popularity of Star Wars should have been a disaster. Battle Beyond the Stars punched above its weight class, though, in an adaptation of The Seven Samurai by way of The Magnificent Seven. Creative use of the budget and budding young filmmakers, including James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, lifted the movie up to the point where it kept the core of the original work even while placing the story in space.
Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck wasn’t a good movie. Technical limitations meant animatronics and people in duck suits that barely looked like the comic book Howard if the audience squinted. Character backgrounds changed; Beveraly became an up-and-coming rock star instead of a nude model, and the being responsible changed from Thog the Nether-Spawn to mad scientist Dr. Jennings. There was no PG-13 rating yet when the movie was first released; it earned a PG rating with Howard smoking cigars and implied duck/human sex. However, the movie kept the relationship between Howard and Beverly and kept to the idea of a duck alone in a strange world. Howard the Duck wasn’t a good adaptation, but it wasn’t a complete write-off unlike last week’s list.
Last week, Lost in Translation listed the best adaptations analyzed so far. This week, time to scrape the bottom of the barrel with the worst adaptations. These are films that managed to miss the point so much, they made audiences wonder what was being adapted. The adaptations are presented in no particular order.
The reputation video game movies have can be traced to two movies, one of which is Super Mario Bros. The film managed to avoid everything that made the video game iconic, from Mario’s red overalls to the look of the world. While the intent was an origins movie, the result was a muddled, brown mess that only shared a name, with even some game elements misnamed.
With all the published settings available, the Dungeons & Dragons movie had choices of where to start. Instead, it went from scratch, its own world, as many players do.. There were even elements from the game from spells to iconic monsters. The problem was in the execution. The movie had the elements but had poor presentation and ignored the game the closer to the climax it got. The end result was a movie that had the trappings but none of the substance.
No movie on this list shows the moment where it fell apart better than the 1998 American Godzilla. The beginning of the movie does well, despite moving the action over to the Atlantic. Once Godzilla takes Manhattan, though, the movie changes focus to Matthew Broderick’s field research and Jean Reno’s French secret agent. Godzilla has always been portrayed as a force of nature; the 1998 Zilla was just a giant monster in the vein of Jurassic Park‘s
The go-to for blockbuster disappointments here at Lost in Translation, Battleship‘s main problem may have been the choice of game to adapt. A two-player head-to-head competition works better as a thriller, not as an action movie. Like the D&D movie above, game elements appeared but, for the grid-calling and the shape of the alien shells, they didn’t help. Battleship could have been called Space Invaders for all the accuracy it had. Worse, the titular battleship, played by the USS Missouri, became a Chekhov’s 16-inch gun, becoming a factor in the story only at the end.
The problem that The Legend of Chun-Li had was it felt like a different script was then melded with Street Fighter elements. If the characters weren’t called Chun-Li, Balrog, and Bison, it would be hard to tell who they were meant to be. Only Chun-Li gets her iconic costume and appearance, and that for one scene. Without the Street Fighter elements, the movie becomes a decent police procedural. But an investigation doesn’t necessarily work as the basis for an action movie, and a fighting game works best as an action movie. The Legend of Chun-Li forgot that key aspect of the video game.
Next week, the Weird.