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.
Hey everyone, had a busy time with the book launch and so on, so here’s the latest. I’ve had a crazy few weeks so it’s not much of an update:
I hope to have more in the next week or two.
After five years, Lost in Translation has seen a number of adaptations, the good, the bad, the mixed. The result is a body of work trying to understand what makes for a good adaptation and why. This week, a look at the best adaptations reviewed so far, presented in no particular order.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Scott Pilgrim is a film that shows that a good adaptation doesn’t necessarily mean a good return at the box office. The film failed to take hold at the box office, in part from a disjointed marketing effort that didn’t quite catch the movie properly. However, as an adaptation, the movie not only caught the feel of the original graphic novels, it used them as them as storyboards. Scenes appeared on screen as they did in the novel, and Edgar Wright filmed on location in Toronto, using the settings that appeared in the comic. The only deviation came at the end, where Bryan Lee O`Malley hadn`t finished the series yet, and he was on board the production as a story consultant. The result is a cult clasic for the video game age.
The Beverly Hillbillies
At first glance, the adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies is an odd choice. Yet, the movie managed to capture the essence of the TV series while still acknowledging how Los Angeles had changed between the end of the TV series in 1961 and the movie’s release in 1993. While the choice of TV show may seem odd, The Beverly Hillbillies was a top rated series during its run and lasted beyond in syndication, making it a known factor. The movie managed to keep the feel while still updating some ideas, helped in no small part to its cast, including Jim Varney and Lily Tomlin.
The LEGO Movie
How can a movie be made based on a toy that relies on the imagination of the person playing with it? The LEGO Movie answered that question by remembering to be fun. The movie felt like someone was playing with their LEGO, letting imagination run wild. The big reveal hammers home that core idea. The LEGO Movie looks like a LEGO world, with the main characters being Minifigs, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more or less that that.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Popular novels tend to be made into movies. Studios want to maximize the audience, and using a popular work means there will be people coming in curious to see how the work turns out on the big screen. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo took some liberties with the novel, but needed them due to the change of medium. The big changes came at the end, in part to curb ending fatigue. The movie tightened the narrative, but the key elements appeared just as in the book. Helping with the success of the adaptation is the director’s use of locations in Sweden, bypassing the trend to Americanize foreign works.
Richard Matheson’s short story, “Steel”, saw two adaptations reviewed over the past five years. Real Steel changed the story greatly, keeping just the idea of a robot fighting league. Matheson’s own adaptation of the story for The Twilight Zone, though, remained true to the work. Elements that helped with keeping to the original work include having the original author on board and being in an anthology series known for pushing the envelope with science fiction and fantasy. The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking when it aired, tackling issues that weren’t normally seen. “Steel” was a study of human perseverance, the lengths one man would go, even getting into a boxing ring against all odds of survival to fight an unfeeling machine.
Each of the above managed to take the original work and translate into a new medium without losing the key features that made the work popular. Next week, the bad.
If you’re new to the book, it’s a giant guide to worldbuilding, from philosophy of setting creation, to sex, to ecology, and more. There’s advice, exercises, several lame jokes, and some insights that should give you a different view on creating your settings. It’s designed to be a manual for the important points of making a setting.
After some sixteen years, this is the next stage in my efforts to bring this old work to life! First rewrites, now books. It’s fantastic to see this journey turn into something physical people can hold in their hands!
Certainly it’s not done yet – there’s one more book to drop in November/December (probably December). There’s some smaller followup work. But this marks that transition to the new formats.
My mind still goes back to, when in the midst of the rewrites, someone told me how they’d printed my old columns out when they were younger. It had mattered to them that much, and they remembered it that well. That turned my efforts into more of a mission.
Mission isn’t over yet. Book two drops in November/December (probably December honestly). There’s some followup works I want to do.
But today I can note the next stage of Way With Worlds has started, and it has printed pages and the smell of paper, highlighted with fond memories.
So go on, take a look. There’s thoughts on sex and religion, characters and ecology, and of course plenty of philosophy. In this age, where anyone can put out book or a comic, good worldbuilding is needed more than ever – and is where you can stand out.
Last week, Lost in Translation looked at the problems faced when adapting toys. With the issues in mind, let’s see how Michael Bay’s live-action Transformers stacks up.
The Transformers toy line first appeared in the US in 1985. The core concept of the toys were robots that changed shape into other forms, mostly but not limited to vehicles, becoming small puzzles to solve by the children playing with them. Hasbro licensed lines from first Takara then Bandai, bringing them together as the Autobots and the Decepticons. After the success of the G.I. Joe relaunch as action figures, especially after the related cartoon and comics, Hasbro worked with Marvel to bring out Transformers, integrating the toy and the animated series. The first generation of Transformers were a hit. The success of the line and cartoon led to an animated feature film, which introduced a new line of Transformers toys. Later animated series would either form their own continuity or have a tenuous link to the Generation 1 series.
With Generation 1, several details were set. The heroic Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, voice by Peter Cullen in the cartoon, defended Earth from the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron, voiced by Frank Welker. The Autobots were mainly, but not exclusively, ground vehicles, from Prime’s tractor-trailer rig to Bumblebee’s Volkswagen Beetle. The Decepticons had a mix of aircraft, including Starscream and his squadron, and non-vehicular machines, including Soundwave, a non-working radio and cassettes, and Megatron, a Walther P-38 with similar attachments as seen in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.* The next wave during the original run of the cartoon included non-vehicle Autobots, including Blaster, Perceptor, and the Dinobots, and cars for the Decepticons, including the Constructicons, the first combining set for the line. Each side had a symbol to signify which side the toy was one, Autobot or Decepticon.
Both the Autobots and Decepticons come from a distant world, Cybertron, where the main lifeforms are sentient machines. The two sides had been engaged in a long civil war, started when Megatron tried to take over as ruler of Cybertron. The war depleted energy reserves on the planet, forcing both sides to go looking for more energon. The Autobots left on a spaceship, but the Decepticons managed to get on board. The ensuing fight damages the ship, placing all the robots on board into stasis. The ship crashes on an unknown planet and lays dorment for millennia.
The Decepticons are the first to awaken. The ship’s computer, Teletraan-1, also reactivated, scans for the dominant forms, providing them to the Decepticons. The Autobots also get new forms when they awaken. However, the new forms aren’t the dominant species of the planet, revealed as Earth. Instead, they are vehicles used by the dominant species, humans. Megatron plots to drain the energy from Earth while Optimus Prime meets with several humans, including “Sparkplug” Witwicky and his son, Spike. Optimus staved off Megatron’s attempts to plunder the Earth with help from the Autobots and, indirectly, from Starscream (voiced by Chris Latta), Megatron’s scheming second-in-command who would as often as not wreck the Decpticon leader’s plot.
As to be expected in a series based on a large toy line, both sides had a large cast. However, each side also had core characters. On the Autobots, there was Optimus Prime, Bumblebee (voiced by Dan Gilvezan), Ironhide (Cullen), Ratchet (Don Messick), and Jazz (Scatman Crothers). The primary Deceptions were Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave (Welker), and his cassettes Laserbeak, Rumble, Ravage, and Frenzy (all Welker**). Even as new toys were introduced, the core cast remained.
While the Autobot-Decepticon war was the main plot device, as the animated series continued, two other general stories emerged. The first type dealt with how the Autobots adjusted to life on Earth, with the people of Earth learning how to adjust to their new neighbours. The fight against the Decepticons would appear in some of the these episodes, but the thrust was on how the Autobots were learning about life on the planet. The other type of story was essentially “Transformers in Space”, with both the Autobots and Decepticons encountering strange new life and civilizations. These episodes tended to clash with the rest of the series.
Notable later series includes Beast Wars/Beasties***, a Mainframe Entertainment produced series using CG animation, and Transformers: Animated, which followed the success of the live-action film. Each series released had its own set of toys; or, each new set of toys had its own series. The cartoons had mixed success; Beast Wars/Beasties lasted several seasons before becoming Beast Machines, which itself wasn’t as successful.
The live action Transformers was announced in 2005. Fan reaction was mixed. Early designs leaked out, causing some stir. However, the announcement of Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus went some distance to assuage fears. The Autobots, despite the film’s approach in designing them as alien, still looked like their classic appearances, including colours. The film also is its own continuity, its own cinematic universe. Given that prior to the film’s release, there had been multiple continuities in the animated series, it wasn’t a problem. The creation of the Transformers cinematic universe also helps with the adaptation.
Transformers has three separate but related stories running through it. The first features an American special forces team in the Middle East, survivors of a night attack by an unknown hostile force. The second follows a small group of hackers pressed into service to crack an alien code after an attack on Air Force One. The third is boy meets girl, boy tries to impress girl with the help of his alien robot car. The three stories come together in the form of giant alien robots looking for an ancient artifact, the All-Spark.
Scorponok’s attack on the American military base was to search computer records related to the All-Spark. The soldiers on the base manage to cut off the data, leading to Scorponok destroying the base. Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) leads his team away from the destruction. Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson), though, managed to get an image of Scorponok in robot form, causing the Decepticon to give chase. The team finds an oasis with cover, civilians, and cell phone coverage. Lennox calls in an airstrike. The first wave barely staggers the Decepticon, but a second wave using heavier weapons and sabot ammunition, drives Scorponok away, leaving his stinger behind.
The Pentagon, aware of the attack on the base and of a hacking attempt from inside Air Force One, start their own investigation. Maggie Madsen (Rachael Taylor), one of the analysts working on the project, secrets a copy of the date to take to Glen Whitmann (Anthony Anderson), a hacker of her acquaintence. However, the FBI is aware of the data theft and take both into custody, where they are turned over to Sector 7 through Agent Simmons (John Tuturro) and pressed into service.
Elsewhere, Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBoeuf) managed to earn an A in his classes. His father, Ron (Kevin Dunn), follows through on a promise to pay for half the cost of Sam’s first car. At the car lot, Sam finds an old yellow Camero. While the price is initially too high, the dealer (Bernie Mac) agrees to Ron’s offer after the Camero sends out a pulse that damages the rest of the stock. While Sam believes the car is his, and tries to impress classmate Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), the Camero has a mind of its own.
Interweaving the three plotlines is Frenzy (Reno Wilson), a Decepticon spy and the source of the hacking attempt on Air Force One, and his search for the All-Spark and Megatron through the only link he has, the eyeglasses of Captain Archibald Witwicky, Sam’s great-great-grandfather, who found Megatron. Despite the attempts by the Pentagon to block the hack, Frenzy found enough to link the glasses through to Sam, and passes the information on to Barricade (Jess Harnell). Barricade, in his form as a police cruiser tracks down Sam. He generates a hologram to arrest Sam, but the teenager gets help from an unexpected quarter, his new car, Bumblebee (Mark Ryan). Bumblebee and Barricade drop their façades and transform to their robot forms to fight; Bumblebee doing what he can to protect Sam and Mikaela.
Sector 7 also tracks down Sam, thanks to Barricade arresting him. Sam had reported that his car was stalking him, before Bumblebee revealed himself, alerting Sector 7. However, Bumblebee managed to get a message sent prior, summoning several of his Autobot allies. Optimus Prime, Jazz (Darius McCrary), Ironhide (Jess Harnell), and Ratchet (Robert Foxworthy). The Autobots try to extricate Sam and Mikaela, but in the confusion, Sector 7 takes Bumblebee, Sam, and Mikaela prisoner, leaving the glasses in Prime’s possession. Sam, Mikaela, and Bumblebee are taken to Hoover Dam, which turns out to be a secret installation housing both the All-Spark and what Sector 7 calls Non-Biological Entity One, or NBE One. Sam, thanks to conversations with the Autobots, recognize NBE One as Megatron (Hugo Weaving).
Lennox’s special forces team, now safely back in the US, are ordered by the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) to go to Hoover Dam. Lennox’s team is the only one with first hand knowledge on how to defeat the alien robots. Unfortunately, Frenzy has tagged along, disguised as Sam’s cell phone. Frenzy locates Megatron and shuts down the cryonic stasis Sector 7 had been keeping him in. Megatron revives. and summons his Decepticon soldiers, Starscream (Charlie Adler), Barricade, Devastator, Bonecrusher (Jim Wood), and Blackout. As Megatron escapes, Lennox and his team force a stand-off with Sector 7 agents. The tension is broken by the Secretary of Defense who orders Simmons and Sector 7 to release Bumblebee and Lennox to accompany the Autobot, Sam, and Mikaela as the trio takes the All-Spark to the nearby city.
The remaining Autobots catch up and join the convoy. In the city, Lennox and Epps make contact with a F-22 Raptor. Ironhide recognizes the jet as Starscream, confirmed by Epps because of the low altitude the jet flew at. The Autobots barely have time to prepare for Starscream’s attack and Bumblebee loses his legs. The other Decepticons arrive, leading to the climactic fight with the Autobots trying to defend Sam and the All-Spark from Megatron’s forces. The Autobots lose Jazz who is ripped in two by Megatron. One the Decepticon side, Starscream is the only one to escape, with Megatron defeated by Sam and the All-Spark.
The key to the movie is that it is based on the Transformers line of action figures, not the Generation 1 cartoon, even though the original toy line was tied closes to the series. Helping here, as mentioned above, is that the movie is the start of the Transformers cinematic universe and its own continuity, something that prior animated series had also pulled off. That said, there are efforts to remain accurate to the toys. Both Optimus Prime and Bumblebee keep their colour schemes, Ratchet is still an ambulance, Starscream is a modern jet fighter. Just as critical, perhaps moreso, is the return of Peter Cullen as Optimus, still capable of giving the same inspirational speeches as in the Generation 1 cartoon.
In the cases changes were made, there were some shout outs to the original. Due to licensing restrictions, the movie could not use a Volkswagen Beetle for Bumblebee. However, the car that Camero Bumblebee sat beside in the dealer’s lot was a yellow vintage Beetle. With Optimus, the progress of time meant replacing his original cab-over form with a long nose truck, with a similar change happening with Starscream’s vehicle form. Starscream, though, still disappointed Megatron with his failure to acquire the All-Spark. Megatron has his distinctive helmet design and an arm cannon, and both he and Optimus had melee weapons as seen in the Generation 1 theatrical animated movie, Prime with a red-orange sword and Megs with a ball-and-chain. And, like the Generation 1 cartoon, the movie had its own toy lineup.
As a film, Transformers has some issues. Technical issues prevented the title characters from appearing for most of the film; the rendering of robots in disguise was pushing the envelope in computer animation. Michael Bay is best known for action sequences, and the ones seen in Transformers are breathtaking. However, some of the purely human scenes have issues. As an adaptation, though, even with the limitations in the ambitious rendering, the movie captures the essence of the Transformers.
* Megatron’s change to Galvitron, with an artillery piece alternate form, eased some concerns about the sales of a toy gun.
** Frank Welker, voice of the Decepticons.
*** Some countries had restrictions on using the work “War” in a title of a children’s series, thus the alternate name.
In analyzing the history of movie adaptations, I tracked the sources of works. While the Aughts resembled the Fifties in having adaptations be the overwhelming source of popular movies, the type of work adapted changed. Toys, games, and comics became viable original works for adapting, eating away the piece of the pie that literary works had. Games have had a varied success rate; Clue managed to stay with the core concept and, while not a blockbuster hit, works thanks to the strength of its cast and writing. On the other hand, Battleship had problems, from wasted plots to the checklist approach the script appeared to take.
With toys, all the problems with adapting games return, with a new one introduced. With games, the mechanics shape the nature of the play. With toys, there’s not even mechanics. There is no wrong way to play with a toy, whether it is a doll, an action figure, or a set of building blocks. The manufacturer can give a broad base for play, but, ultimately, it is the owner that determines the story, if there is one. The LEGO Movie provides a demonstration of the problem in-story. The movie felt like someone was playing with LEGO, because that was the source of the plot and one of the film’s themes.
The LEGO Movie is probably the best toy adaptation made. It caught the feel of playing with LEGO. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was based on how series creator Lauren Faust played with her ponies as a girl. Both works pull from the idea of playing with the toys themselves. On the other side, there are works like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Jem and the Holograms. Both are based on toy lines from Hasbro and both films had problems. GI Joe‘s script tended to forget what happened earlier and worked better as a collection of set pieces. Jem, though, may have been better off as a TV movie in an alternate timeline where there wasn’t a popular cartoon in the Eighties.
The presence of prior animated series just adds to the problems facing works adapting toys. Without the series, adaptations face the same challenge as studios adapting tabletop role-playing games. There’s no one way to approach the toy. The toy is just an object; the person playing with it adds his or her interpretation, which could align with the manufacturer’s intent, if any, or go in a direction that couldn’t be foreseen, such as using a set of Matchbox fire and rescue vehicles as a space response team fighting pirates disguised as Furbies. Taking that same fire and rescue set, creating an adaptation featuring it may very well just be an action movie featuring firefighters, at which point, the presence of the toy may become a hindrance.
With an existing series, the problem future adaptations have is the lasting memories of the prior work. Jem is illustrative here. The recent movie, while pulled after two weeks, suffered because it just wasn’t the cartoon. The studio didn’t handle audience expectations well. If the cartoon hadn’t existed and if the movie was aired on TV instead of released to theatres, it would be seen in a better light and could have been spun off into its own live-action series. GI Joe, among its other problems, also had a definitive version in its past, the Larry Hama-helmed G.I. Joe comic published by Marvel, which built upon the animated series from the Eighties.
Not all toys with prior adaptations have this problem. Michael Bay’s Transformers succceeded, at least financially, by borrowing elements from the different cartoons and creating its own continuity. The Transformers franchise doesn’t have just one definitive work, so creating a cinematic universe isn’t necessarily destroying memories.* Mattel’s Barbie movies have the doll and her friends as animated actresses, taking on the roles required by the features without locking them into any one personality.** My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is turning into the definitive MLP work, but the series covers enough ground to include slice of life and magical girls and has a large supporting cast that future works can fit in without a problem.
The key issue when adapting toys is to stay true to the play. The closer the adaptation stays to how a toy is played with, the more the audience will identify with the work. The LEGO Movie is the ultimate example of an adaptation getting to the heart of how a toy is played with and can serve as a lesson for future adaptations. The further away from the toy’s core play, the harder it will be to get an audience to turn out.
* Lost in Translation will go into further details next week. Short version, the Transformers live-action movie made all the right moves in casting to offset fan concerns.
** Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse breaks this approach, but is its own continuity. The result is functionally the same as having the dolls as actresses.
As we eagerly await the drop of No Man’s Sky (OK, I am, but considering my hobbies it’s not surprising), I noticed a thread on reddit discussing the desire for a documentary on the game. I wanted to address this and more.
In short, as I expect NMS to be successful, and certainly groundbreaking even if flawed, and yes, it’s one we should know more about.
But a documentary is just the start of what we should see.
Yes, We Need a Documentary: The game itself has an impressive history, and it’d be great to see it documented. A good documentary should go beyond just the history, but also to the influences and impact – from 70’s concept art to he modern hype. There’s a great story to tell here if done right (and Hello Games could probably make more money selling one).
Management Interview: I deeply treasure the development interviews I read in Game Informer, as I learned a lot from them that I use to this day. I want to see an in-depth discussion in Game Informer if not a professional management magazine on just how Hello Games pulled this off.
Artbook: There’s tempting concept art we’ve seen, so let’s load it all into one book, have interviews with the artists, and sell it. Yes, again more money for Hello Games, but also the artistic insights that could be gained would be impressive. Plus, great coffee table or gift book.
Procedural Lessons: After making NMS, Hello Games teams could probably teach classes in procedural generation. So, do it! Imagine what people could learn with such folks as instructors.
Fandom Study: I’m expecting a huge impact from the game – not Minecraft level, but still intense. I’ve seen the hype, seen fans creating artworks and even role-playing. I’d love to see the fans studied respectfully if it is indeed the hit I expect. Great for general or academia.
So that’s what I want to see come out of NMS documentarianism (there’s a word). Things that will teach us something.
What do you want to see?
Lost in Translation has focused mainly on adaptations of English language works, primarily because a foreign language work would not be understood as well. Translating a work doesn’t involves just the words but the culture behind the work. Little details that are taken for granted in one language can throw a reader or viewer with a different native tongue. Even when a language is shared, such as between England and the United States, there’s still a cultural barrier. In England, a hundred miles is a long distance while in the US, a hundred years is a long time.
The above makes this week’s analysis a bit of a challenge. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was written by Swedish author, Stieg Larsson. Larsson was, prior to his death in 2004, the editor-in-chief of Expo, a Swedish magazine, and had written and delivered the manuscripts for what is now known as the Millenium trilogy before his fatal heart attack. The cultural differences begin with the titles. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was titled Män som hatar kvinnor, or “Men who hate women”. The second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, had its title properly translated from Flickan som lekte med elden. The third and final book Larsson wrote was Luftslottet som sprängdes, “The air castle that was blown up”, but titled The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest in English, following the title scheme established with the previous books. The choices reflect an editor working out what would draw attention and sales. “Men who hate women” is a little too on the nose for the book in an English market.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows Mikael Blomkvist, the owner, publisher, and a contributor to Millenium, a financial magazine that often tasked other outlets for their poor coverage of financial news. After Blomkvist is found guilty of libel against a market speculator, he receives a request from Henrik Vanger, retired CEO of Vanger Industries, to do two things; first, write Vanger’s biography and, second, solve a forty year old cold case, the death of Henrik’s neice, Harriet. With the libel verdict hanging over his head, Blomkvist agrees and starts digging. At first, the investigation hits the same dead ends that the police and even Vanger found, but Blomkvist gets his first break on close examination of a photograph of Harriet the day of her death. The deeper he digs, though, the more sordid the details of the Vanger family get.
Elsewhere, Lisbeth Salander, the girl of the title, has done her own investigations on Vanger’s behalf, though through an intermediary, the company lawyer. The first investigation was on Blomkvist, to get an idea of how to approach him. Later, though, when he reads the report on himself. Blomkvist realizes that Salander is a hacker, and asks for her help. Together, they discover what did happen to Harriet and clear Blomkvist’s name. Salander, for all the billing she has in the book’s title, has a supporting role in the book, an artifact of the title change. Blomkvist is the primary character, thiough Salander tends to take over scenes that she’s in. It’s a minor quibble at this point.
In 2011, a film adaptation of The Girl of the Dragon Tattoo* was released. Directed by David Fincher, the movie starred Daniel Craig as Blomkvist, Rooney Mara as Salander, and Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger. The film doesn’t change the setting, leaving most of the action in Sweden. In fact, the movie hits all the major beats of the book. Parts that were removed, such as Blomkvist’s jail time, were more to maintain the flow of the investigation and keep the pace of the movie going. What works in one medium doesn’t necessarily translate to another. The Vanger family tree that was listed in the book as a chart becomes too much info to be able to track in a film where flipping back becomes problematic to the narrative flow. The movie needed to be tight to fit in its running time, which is a shade over two-and-a-half hours as it is. Key clues get highlighted, allowing the audience to follow, though the biggest sleight of hand of the novel is still in the adaptation. The ending and the reveal of what happened to Harriet Vanger takes the most liberties with the source, but still remains in the spirit of the novel, if not the actual events. Again, narrative flow for a movie already over 2.5 hours long necessitated some changes here.
To say that there was an effort to keep to the events in the novel is an understatement. Filming took place primarily in Sweden, having Stockholm play itself and a manor in Hofsta portray the Vanger home in Hedeby. While the main cast – Craig, Mara, and Plummer** – aren’t Swedish, the supporting cast mostly is. Salander has a more prominent role, though given that she is the girl of the title, that makes sense. The result is a film that, while Hollywood produced, feels authentic. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as perfect an adaptation as seen here at Lost in Translation.
* To show how the title changes by language, the Quebecois French release was called Millénium: les hommes qui n’aimaient pas les femmes, or, “Millenium: men who didn’t love women” following the original Swedish title of the book and the name of the trilogy.
** Daniel Craig is from England, Rooney Mara is American, and Christopher Plummer is a veteran Canadian actor.