There’s a Tibetan Buddhist tradition where monks spend days building beautiful mandalas of sand, illustrating various principles. Then at the end of this long ritual, they destroy the entire thing. It is a nicely evocative example of the impermanence of all things – and a lesson to writers and artists.
Imagine you are making a mandala, knowing it will be destroyed. You craft it perfectly, knowing it’s impermanent. Every step is temporary, each precise.
Imagine working as people gather around you, in awe, looking at it, wondering. They marvel art artistry, think over the meaning, ask questions. Then they go on their way.
Then you spin it or scrape it away or let the wind come in and it’s all gone.
That’s very likely to be your book – any book. That’s likely to be your art – any art. Few of us will be spoken of in centuries, let alone years ,let alone ever. We’re unlikely to be Kameron Hurley or Terry Pratchett or any of the other greats. We’re temporary things, but in the end we’ll be sand – and even the greats will probably stick around a bit longer before they’re footnotes and records.
It’s worth it.
First, it’s worth it because art is what you do. That is your expression. That is who you are. Be it for religion or creativity or to speak or even money, that’s you and what you do.
Second, it’s what you learn by doing this. The craft, the knowledge, the self-reflection. Each step in your own impermanent work tells you something more. Each step changes you – because you too are an impermanent, shifting, collection, so make it a good one.
Finally, it’s that crowd gathered around you, watching and learning. They may not take home the mandala, they may not see it again. But they’ll think, and learn, and contemplate. You may just touch hearts – they don’t need to take a picture or have their own copy to do that.
What many of us artists can hope for is not immortality as creators – and it’s not what we should hope for. In these impermanent moments we leave behind something greater, not as a work praised for the ages, but in influencing ourselves and others. Just because your book is forgotten a year or two from now, doesn’t mean it didn’t matter or have an effect.
It’s pretty much the same as how I take the Buddhist idea of Projected Karma – that thing that has an influence down the road. Influence of action, not permanence of creation.
Just like the Mandala teaches, so can you work. It doesn’t have to be forever – and indeed it shouldn’t be. Nothing is, and clinging to past forms, worn and tired, isn’t immortality, it’s a specific kind of hell.
Let the sand be sand. Don’t mummify your creativity in the hope people will stare at it dumbly, unmoved, un-involved. Let it be a living thing and go where it may, even when it may die.
Think of how liberating that is.
Now that you have a Brainstorm Book and are filling it with ideas, you need to review it. When you review it, you’ll go through the contents, go over your ideas, and figure what to do with them. That means coming up with a review schedule – but also coming up with a way to organize these ideas.
First, set up a time to review your Brainstorm Book. You want to find a schedule that’s going to work best for you and not drive you up a wall. I recommend one of the following two choices:
Now it’s OK to, now and then move the time around a bit, but don’t get too radical. Good, solid, regular review should become a habit so you make the time to do it.
But what do you do? Well, when you review you need to set a few things up in your notes. Let’s get ready for a review.
Remember, set this up before your review begins.
When you review a Brainstorm Book, you’ll sort ideas into four separate files. Now that may sound like a lot, but bear with me.
Here’s the four ways I keep ideas.
Yeah, it sounds like a lot, but I keep the Incubator, Backlog, and Monthly backlog in the same spreadsheet.
If you’re familiar with Agile methods, specifically Scrum, some of this may look familiar – that’s because it comes from a mix of my own experience, Scrum, and the Getting Things Done method of David Allen. I sum this up more in the next chapter but to give you an idea:
I use my personal version of Scrum, where I plan work monthly. Every month I determine what I can do (from my regular tasks and Backlog) and then commit to that. Then at the end of the month I re-evaluate.
(You can also get a detailed guide here)
Now you know what you have toset up, let’s talk about how we use the review.
When you sit down to to a Brainstorm Book review, commit to taking one hour to do it. You may not use all of the time – but sometimes you will. You may also find yourself needing to go over, which is fine, but if it’s a habit you may want to get more efficient.
With that time set aside, do the following:
First you take your Brainstorm book, and go to the latest page that needs revieweed (I mark pages as I review them). You look at the idea or ideas there and decide what to do with each:
Simple, isn’t it? You look at ideas and determine how important they are, then put them in the proper areas. It’s intended to be simple because we don’t want to overcomplicate this. Next chapter, we’ll talk how to use these gatherings of ideas in more detail.
Why The Review Matters
Now that you’ve started to do your reviews, why are they helpful? Well, first after a review or two you’ll see why they matter, but heres a quick summary:
This prioritization helps you get ready for long-term planning to bring your ideas to life. In fact, that’s the next chapter.
Lost in Translation has looked at Jem and the Holograms before. The original cartoon was based on Hasbro’s line of dolls developed to challenge Mattel’s Barbie. The cartoon was popular but failed in its primary mission, selling the doll line. The 2015 film revival faltered at the box office because fans were expecting the cartoon. IDW picked up the Jem license for an ongoing series of comics beginning in 2014, leaning heavily on the cartoon as a base but going its own direction.
Lost in Translation has also looked at fan works before. Fan works can be variable in quality, but the common theme is that they’re made by fans. Fans will get into the minutiae about what they’re fanatical about, and may know the work possibly better than the creators. With the cost of recording technology coming down far enough to let anyone with a mind to creating a video do so, fan works are getting more common.
The video takes the form of a live-action version of the 80s cartoon, including a bumper halfway through where a commercial break would be, but mixes in some of the ideas from the IDW comic. The characters’ appearances are based on the cartoon, with an eye to the wigs and costumes seen there. Almost every major character from the cartoon makes an appearance, including the Limp Lizards. It’s obvious that Feldman was and is a fan of the series.
The plot would fit in after the series if slightly overblown. Jem and the Holograms are still big in the music world, garnering attention for their latest efforts to raise funds for the Starlight Foundation. Eric Raymond, though, has hit rock bottom. His schemes have failed. The Misfits are in prison. There’s nowhere for them to go. In a nod to IDW’s continuity, Stormer really misses Kimber and isn’t doing well in prison. But Kevin, who is totally an American, really, has information that will help Eric and the Misfits turn their fortunes around.
It’s not just the attention to detail in the characters, though. “Truly Outrageous!” includes several songs that reflect not just the plot but how the characters are feeling. There’s also the required morale of the story, the bits needed in the 80s to qualify what would be thirty minute toy ads as educational programming. The morale is a little heavy-handed, but that appeared in the original cartoon, too. The film is well aware of what it is, and even winks at the fourth wall to let the audience in on the fun.
The result is a video that pays homage to the original cartoon, taking the ideas shown there and expanding on them. “Truly Outrageous!” is definitely Jem.
Lately I’ve been talking about how we need to focus on our work to get anything done. My friend Serdar has been following up on my musings, with discussing selecting work as triage or how we select our work carefully like a DJ. Each column is a reading-worthy videpoint.
However, I have come to dislike the triage metaphor, and in further discussions with him, came to the realization that we creatives, writers, etc. often look at limiting ourselves as bad.
We don’t want to limit ourselves. We want to tell every story, explore every nook, paint in colors no one has yet seen. We want to do it all. Creativity means a head full of infinity in a mortal frame that has to pick and choose what parts of that endlessness to let into the world.
We make it even harder because we often talk about our need to be selective and to cultivate work in negative ways. Triage. Limitation. Pairing ideas down. Killing your darlings. We come up with the most negative ways to talk about this, ensuring of course we want to do it less.
Thats the problem. So let me make a suggestion – as a creative don’t talk about choosing what work to do in the negative, find positive terms. Yes it’s a psychological trick, but by using negative terms you’ve already been tricked into seeing this as a bad thing.
Think of it as:
So I challenge you as a creator to look at your need to focus and find the most postivie way to look at it that is still rational. Find a way to see the good in it, and you’ll be able to focus better and more effectively. In doing so, your need to make choices will be much easier.
You don’t need triage when the DJ has you dancing to the best tunes already.
Last time I discussed the many creative challenges we face – and how I solve it with a Brainstorm Book.
At it’s simplest the idea of the Brainstorm Book is that you have something you write ideas in, and then extract them at a later time. I’ve got specific methods and ways of doing this that make it extremely effective.
But before we get to those methods let’s get to the Book
For your Brainstorm Book, find one that is a reasonable size, that you can easily carry around in your pack/pocket/purse, and that you can attach, clip, or stick a pen in. You want something you can get to at a moment’s notice and start writing.
Usually, I go for books that are about 4” x 6” – they fit into anything but art still large enough to write in. You may find that other sizes and features fit you. However, for the first time don’t go waiting, go get a Brainstorm Book now.
You can always get a new one when this one is filled up – and it will be.
Note I only say one Brainstorm Book. In general, I avoid carrying more than one Brainstorm Book at a time so I have only the one book to go to. You may find that more than one is needed, but start with the one – I will discuss these cases later.
Let’s keep it simple.
So you’ve got this thing, now what do you do with it?
Keep the Brainstorm Book with you at all times if possible – and make sure a pen or other writing instrument is with you as well. If you have trouble doing this, find ways to keep it close -or think about a smaller book.
The reason you keep the Brainstorm Book with you is that as soon as you have a worthwhile idea, you do the following.
This is simple – you’re recording your ideas. But it raises two questions – what is worthwhile and what is enough information.
How do you know that the inspiration that just waltzed into your brain is worth putting into your Brainstorm Book? On some days we might be writing in our Brainstorm Book for hours, and we have stuff to do.
First and foremost, when in doubt, write it down – especially when starting out. Get the ideas out of your head because you’ll review them later. The habit of writing down ideas is important.
Secondly, most of the time you’ll just know an idea is good. You’ll feel something line in in your head, with your goals, with what you like. Some ideas just feel right – those should be written down.
Third, pause for a moment and ask if there’s any value to the idea – to yourself or others. An idea may need to be analyzed more before it’s value is apparent, or you’re not sure, or someone else may like it. If there’s something useful there, even if you’re unsure, record it.
In time, recording inspirations is something you’ll get better at. It’s a skill you develop.
But while recording them, we also ask just how much detail is needed.
Next, you decide to record an idea – but how much do you write down? Some of us can get an idea and go on for ages with it. Some of us have.
I record the right amount of information I need to reconstruct the idea in my head – essentially to re-inspire me. That inspiration didn’t vanish when you wrote it down and went back to other things. That idea is still in your mind, you just find what words and phrases help bring it back into your mind.
Most essential wild ideas can be recorded in a sentence or two. “Color code our department workflow by skillset” and “Steampunk dragon fighters of the Old West” may be all you need to write down. Again, you’ll find what works for you personally – and on an individual basis for each idea.
If more detail is needed – or is present in your mind – go ahead and record what seems reasonable. However, there’s really no border between thinking over an idea and developing an idea. You can, easily, find yourself lost in your latest inpiration, creating pages of thoughs.
You need to make the call how far you have to go and should go – and how valuable the idea is. However I like to separate the “detailed fleshing out” from the “writing down the idea” so I can get back to whatever I was doing and not be distracted. Such an attitude also helps us get better at reconstructing deas.
If you do this for a few weeks, you’ll probably notice some if not all of the following happening to you:
But it’s not just recording things. Next we’ll talk about how to review it.
Lost in Translation has looked at a couple of Batman adaptations in the past, one for the Fluxx card game and once for the Adam West series. Created by Bob Kane, the character has been around since 1939, with his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, and has gone through many iterations, from World’s Greatest Detective to the always prepared Bat-god. Batman is one of DC Comics’ Big Three alongside Superman and Wonder Woman. Naturally, a popular character will be noticed by Hollywood, leading to Batman’s first silver screen appearance, the 1943 fifteen-chapter serial Batman, starring Lewis Wilson as Bruce Wayne, Douglas Croft as Dick Grayson, Shirley Patterson as Linda Page, William Austin as Alfred, and J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Tito Daka.
The US in 1943 had just entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December of the previous year. The United States had maintained official neutrality despite sending materiel to the Allied Forces in Europe until the bombing. After the attack, the American war effort redoubled. Propaganda produced during the war wasn`t subtle. Even such notables as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney weren’t above making unflattering caricatures of Axis leaders. Serials, being a way to pull in an audience to the movie theatre, took advantage.
The 1943 Batman serial is a product of its time. The villain, Daka who was created for the serial, is a racist stereotype, plotting against the US. In the first chapter, “The Electrical Brain”, the narrator all but cheers the decision to place Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Even Batman calls Daka a “Jap”. The racism isn’t always front and centre, but it lurks under the surface.
That said, the war does provide the villain a motive. Daka has a new weapon, a radium-powered disintegration ray. Coupled with a device that turns people into his own controlled zombies, Daka is a credible threat to the US. Worse, Daka is getting help from the criminal element in Gotham City. Needing help, the American government calls in secret agent Batman who brings along his youthful sidekick Robin to find and stop the Japanese agent.
Each step of the investigation in each chapter of the serial brings Batman and Robin closer to Daka. Criminal lairs are found, crooks are defeated, all leading up to finding Daka’s lab. Daka, though, needs a larger source of radium. Despite losing one of the ray guns to Batman, Daka has extras, larger models, and a source of radium to power them would let Japan bring the war to the US. Complicating matters, Bruce’s girlfriend, Linda, needs his help to clear her uncle’s good name. Daka kidnapped her uncle and turned him into a mind-controlled zombie. Worse, Linda also suffers the same fate. It’s up to Batman and Robin to stop Daka and help his zombified victims.
Lewis Wilson’s Batman is nothing like Adam West’s, Kevin Conroy’s, or Christian Bale’s. His is a detective first, not a martial artist. Criminals are afraid of him, but will attack him if the odds are in their favour, around three-to-one or better. Douglas Croft’s Robin, though, is the youthful ward, similar to Burt Ward in the 1966 series. The Dynamic Duo of the serial reflects the Batman and Robin of the comics of the time, with some changes imposed by the change in format.
As mentioned above, Batman is a secret agent working for the US government. Vigilantism wasn’t allowed by film censors of the the day. No taking the law into your own hands. But government agents fighting against the Axis threat? Perfectly fine. The line comes up once in the first chapter; for the rest of the serial, there’s no mention of the government connection. The Gotham City Police Department aren’t sure of Batman, wanting to arrest him.
Serials have limited budgets. They’re backup features, not the main draw, though a popular serial can bring an audience back week after week. Columbia, the studio behind Batman, took a risk and had it run fifteen chapters, the longest serial they had to date. This meant stretching a budget a bit longer than normal, even if the budget is bigger overall. This means that some elements need to get dropped. The Batmobile was once such victim. While Batman had a car, he had to share with Bruce Wayne. The difference – Bruce had the top down on his convertible while Batman kept the roof up.
The costumes are recognizably the Dynamic Duo’s. While black and white film doesn’t allow for checking that the colours are correct, both Batman and Robin and wearing costumes that come from their comic counterparts. Spandex isn’t yet available, and fabrics like nylon are being rationed due to the needs of the American armed forces. Batman’s costume starts looking a little baggy at times; chalk that up to the nature of the times. Despite that, the costumes are accurate.
The serial looks off when compared to today’s Batman media – comics, cartoons, and movies – but there isn’t a way to adapt a work that hasn’t yet been made. Batman works with the material DC released up to 1943 and reflects that time in both the US and the character’s history.
When you make a story of any kind, the beginning isn’t the beginning and the end isn’t the end. Any truly living story is just a slice of something much larger. I learned this lesson lately.
As I’ve begun the final edits of my novel, A Bridge To The Quiet Planet, I had decided to try writing short fiction on the side. I had many ideas, from using random stories to doing more in the setting of my novel. The idea seemed fun, interesting, different, and relaxing – and maybe profitable.
With my first attempt in draft form, I handed it off to some friends to edit, confident that if I could get such good reactions to my novel draft, this was sure to be of equal quality. However, one of my editors was extremely critical – he noted how it was constrained, limited, and it didn’t seem to be like my other work. How could I have gone so wrong?
At first annoyed, I sat down and analyzed his voluminous comments (this person is someone I’m trying to push towards pro writing and editing). Soon I realized that he had a point.
There wasn’t the sense of setting I usually created – I write on Worldbuilding but this world didn’t seem alive. There was little sense of extra details or of things going on around the characters. It was like a studio backlot.
I didn’t do much with character senses or feelings. The tale was limited and scriptlike, minimal on sensations. Even with the rather intellectual cast of my experiment, the focus was too literal.
Characters themselves seemed constrained – only when they really interacted were they characters. They also didn’t interact well with the setting. It was like actors wandering through a soundstage.
My story, in short, wasn’t alive. So I asked myself how did I get here – and the answer became very apparent.
I had taken a break from fiction for awhile, and returned to it with my novel. To do the novel I had used various plotting and outlining techniques, and I tried to do the same for the short story. I had produced a very detailed outlining system for short stories, ensuring I got to the point and didn’t overdo it.
I had built a skeleton for a story. However I’d put very little meat on the bones – the minimal at best. I had created a system, but not created much of a story, at least to my standards and that of my friend.
With this idea in mind, I examined some of my other short story ideas that had been incubating – and they felt much more alive. These were ideas that had been sitting around for some time, that were played with and thought over. Because of this imagining and re-imagining, they were more connected, more alive, more nuanced.
This story I had just attempted was the least thought-over and least nuanced. Too much of it was alienated from itself.
That’s when the lesson of all of this hit me like a thunderbolt – you don’t write a story, you write part of one.
A story should be a slice of your setting, a piece of the history of that setting, a small and interesting part of a much larger potential. It should have characters who are not sprung into being at the start, but are created and written so they feel like they have pasts and futures outside of your story. Everything should feel large, no matter how short the story is.
Now these things may not be immediately apparent – you may have a story idea and need to better realize the world and characters. You may only need so much detail. But you need enough for the story to be alive because it’s part of something larger, at least conceptually and imaginatively.
Based on this idea, I’m back at it. I can’t say what you may or may not see, but if you do see any short fiction from me, I think it’ll be much better.
Hello everyone, and welcome to my new column series. It’s a followup to an old series I did on how to use a brainstorm book. I’ve decided I need to rewrite to include my later insights, improve the writing, and explore it further. If all goes well I might turn it into a book.
But let’s get to what’s important – the Challenges of Creativity. These are why you need some method anyway.
Creativity is something we all rely on. For some of us, such as writers and graphic artists, it may be the core part of our careers. For others, it may be part of what we do, like creating presentations or infographics. Even if creative work isn’t part of our career it may well be part of our hobbies, recreations, and goals.
To be creative, as so many of us need to be, we need inspirations. We need those lighting-bolt ideas that come out of the blue, or slowly—incubated dreams that suddenly come to life. Inspiration is where the connections come together so we can make new things.
The problem is that creativity brings in a lot of challenges – a lot to fear.
We fear a lack of inspiration. We are terrified that our new ideas and innovations will just dry up. Without those creative sparks, we can’t do what we want to do – and the fear of losing them makes it worst.
We might fear too much innovation. Ideas come thick and fast, new possibilities intrude on our thoughts as we’re dealing with past inspirations. We get overloaded trying to keep up with what we might do – it almost makes a lack of inspiration welcome.
We fear losing ideas. No matter how many we have, too many or too few, we need to keep track of them to cultivate them and develop them. How we track them and evaluate them becomes critical to our creative work.
We fear not knowing how to focus. We have our dreams and ideas, we want to develop them – but which do we focus on? What creative work comes next?
We fear not knowing how to plan long term. It’s a problem to focus short term, but how do we arrange all these ideas for long-term? Will some never come to fruition? Should others be moved up in priority?
We fear being blocked. What do we do next? Why did this great idea suddenly stop energizing us? Perhaps the greatest fear creative people have is when things just stop in our heads.
If you sit back and think about it, creative work can be very stressful. Thinking over what can go wrong can paralyze us and make our creative efforts even harder to do. There’s an irony in that.
. . . maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up.
However, even if I’ve suddenly destroyed your confidence, I do have a solution I’ll be discussing in the upcoming blog posts – what I call a Brainstorm Book method.
The Brainstorm Book Method is actually three things.
I’ll be exploring this method over the weeks to come – to help you out with your creative work and maybe put some of those fears to rest.
Remember, this is not just for artists or writers. This is for anyone that needs to imagine, dream, and creative – which is really anyone. From home cooks innovating new recipies to someone trying to figure out better memo systems on the job, we all create.
So, next column, let’s talk about your Brainstorm Book. Er, the physical one.
As mentioned during the History of Adaptations series, the Eighties were a strange decade for entertainment. Music videos entered their hey day. Music ran the gamut of genres. From New Wave to Heavy Metal, from Rockabilly to Hip Hop, Top 40 charts had a mix of them all.
Popular music filtered into other areas. Television shows, while never one to discount pop music, adopted more as characters listened to their radios. This wasn’t new; even older series like Peter Gunn worked in music. In the case of Peter Gunn, jazz music at a jazz club where some of the action occurred weekly was a natural fit. But most shows used a variation of their theme song for background music when a radio wasn’t in the scene. That changed thanks to one show, Miami Vice.
In 1984, the head of NBC wanted to get in on the popularity of music videos, not just the videos themselves but the esthetics. To this end, Anthony Yerkovic created and Michael Mann produced Miami Vice. Set in, naturally, Miami, the look reflected the scene there, with pastels and neons dominating. However, for the focus of the show, the nascent War on Drugs came into play. Miami was and is a natural port for bringing in illicit and illegal drugs from Central and South America into the US. Drug dealers and drug smugglers could make in a week as much as a vice cop made in a year*. The difference between what a vice detective could live on and the high life of people in the illegal drug industry made for a easily exploitable conflict.
With Don Johnson as Miami native Detective James “Sonny” Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as New York transplant Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, the series delved into the Miami underground, the seamier side of the city. However, Crockett is seen with a boat, a fancy car, and an alligator. How can he afford that on his salary? Thanks to the War on Drugs, civil forfeiture and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 allowed law enforcement agencies to make use of items impounded as a result of a criminal investigation. Crockett’s boat and car belong to the Metro-Dade Police Department; one early episode involved an departmental auditor questioning his use of the equipment and threatening to take it all away.
Once the early episode oddities, including comedic elements, settled down, the series became a police drama. Popular music was used not just for radio but as background music, to set the mood of a scene. The pilot episode made good use of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight“, setting the mood for the climax in a way that a variation of the main theme couldn’t. One song, Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues“, was adapted into the episode of the same name, with Frey himself guest starring as a pilot smuggling drugs from Central and South America.
Miami Vice made its mark on television, lasting until 1989. Other series began to use techniques pioneered by the show, like using popular music to set the mood of a scene. Many singers and groups got a boost by being featured on the show. Having a song on Miami Vice was a sign of a singer making it big. Anytime a visual cue to the Eighties is needed in a movie or TV show, the fashion comes from Miami Vice.
Fast forward a bit to 2006. The War on Drugs has led to the militarization of American police departments. Drug dealers countered by getting their own heavier weapons. Miami is still a conduit for drugs into the US. Illicit drugs are big money makers at all levels. In this climate, Michael Mann brought Miami Vice to the big screen. The film version of the show starred Colin Farrell as Crocket and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs.
The film opens with Crockett and Tubbs getting a call from a former informant, now informing for the FBI, that he’s in trouble. One of the cartels threatened to kill the informant’s wife if he didn’t confess to the killing of Russian agents that tried to infiltrate the organization. Tubbs races off to try to help the wife, but is too late. The informant takes his own life by stepping out in front of a semi with Crockett watching. The detectives head to the murder scene, only to be called off by Lieutenant Castillo (Barry Shabaka Henley), which just piques their curiosity. The investigation leads to Crockett and Tubbs infiltrating the cartel to find who was responsible.
The movie version could fit in as a two-part episode of the original series, or a series of episodes spread out over the series’ run, much like the Calderone saga, which began in the pilot and appeared through to the third season. The difference is what could be filmed. Even in the watershed time slot of 10pm, television can only go so far. The MPAA rating of R allowed for sex, violence, and language that could not appear on even the most lenient broadcaster in the Eighties. However, the movie didn’t get self-indulgent with the freedom the rating provided. Michael Mann had a distinct vision in mind.
Mann realized there was a difference in how digital cameras picked up light compared to traditional film. Knowing the difference, he came in with an eye to how things would look when shot on location. The result is that Miami can be dramatic all on its own, with colours that would put the original series’ pastels to shame. The skies above the city added to the mood in ways even the soundtrack could not, and there was no way to plan for such ideal conditions yet they occurred. Mann shot on location; there was no way Vancouver or Toronto could be a stunt double for Miami.
Casting worked for the most part. The main quibble would be Henley as Lt. Martin Castillo, a role that Edward James Olmos owned. In the original, in a squad wearing pastels, Castillo wore simple black and white. He stood apart from his detectives. Henley’s Castillo may have been better as Gregory Sierra’s Lt. Lou Rodriguez, though that character survived only four episodes. This is more to the credit of Olmos, who brought an intensity to the character, then anything that Hanley did or did not do.
One thing Mann wanted to do was to separate the film from the original. Not even the original theme made an appearance. However, one song made a return. Mann used a cover of “In the Air Tonight” performed by Nonpoint. In the film released to theatres, the song is played over the end credits. However, the director’s cut moves it to just before the climax, where it fits in to set the mood of the characters, much like how the original Collins version of the song did.
The movie made its budget thanks to the international release. It came out strong in 2006, bumping Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest out of the top spot at the box office, but faded away. The film was an update to the TV series, moving it to then-modern times where the War on Drugs was entrenched. However, the movie is now becoming a cult favourite thanks to Mann’s cinematography. It’s not the TV series from the Eighties because it wasn’t made in the Eighties, it was made with the sensitivities of 2006.
* This was an issue during Prohibition in the Roaring Twenties. The high rate of corruption among Prohibition agents came about because bootleggers could slip them $50 or $100 and not feel the loss while giving the agents a large bonus. Eliot Ness and his team were called the Untouchables because they weren’t susceptible to bribes, making them rare agents.
Universal Studios had a success with their 1999 remake of The Mummy. The movie had two sequels, an animated spin-off series, and a prequel series. There was interest in the classic monster. Why not go back to that well?
In 2017, Universal released a new remake of The Mummy, this time with Tom Cruise. The remake brought the setting from the 1930s to today. Things have changed greatly over time, especially in the Middle East. Will the change affect the movie?
The film begins in England of 1127 as Crusaders bury one of their own with a red gem. Jump to now, and an excavation for a subway tunnel breaks into the tomb, showing yet again that England buries important people in odd spots. The construction team is told to go elsewhere as Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, and his team take over the site. Jekyll begins a narration, flashing back to Ancient Egypt and Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), heir to the Pharoah’s throne, learns that she’s been bumped when her baby brother is born. Scorned, she performs a rite in the name of Set and is reborn a monster, killing her father and brother. All she needs is a mortal man to become the living vessel of Set, but before she can complete the ritual, she’s discovered, mummified alive, and taken to be buried as far away from Egypt as possible, in Mesopotamia.
Modern day Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq, is not the best place to be. Thanks to the American invasion in 2003, insurgents abound. Two American soldiers allegedly on long-range recon but, really, searching for antiquities, i.e., looting, observe a village. Sergeant Nick Morton (Cruise) and Corporal Chris Vail sneak in to see if there are any antiquities. However, they’re spotted and get pinned down. Vail calls in an airstrike; the appearance of an armed drone firing missiles scatters the insurgents. The missile strike also collapses the building Morton and Vail are trapped on and opens a long-lost tomb, one Morton expected to find.
The owner of the map Morton stole, er, hunted as an antiquity, arrives with the rest of Morton’s unit. Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance) orders Morton and Vail to accompany Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) down into the tomb. She makes not of the burial arrangements, how they differ from what has been found in Egypt. Morton and Vail are looking more at the antiquities. During the investigation of the tomb, mercury drips on to Morton. In Ahmanet’s time, mercury was used in a ritual to reduce the will of men.
Word filters down of the return of the insurgents. Halsey wants to bring up the tomb, despite it being deep underwater. Greenway wants everyone to leave ASAP. Morton shoots the Gordian knot and the chain keeping the tomb in place. It comes up, as do thousands of spiders. They shouldn’t be aggressive, but Vail is bitten. Ahmanet worms her way into Morton’s mind, cursing him to be the new vessel of Set.
With the tomb hauled up and flown out by helicopter under the eyes of a murder of crows that just arrived, the next obstacle is a massive sandstorm. The tomb is loaded in to the airplane fast, and the craft takes off as the sandstorm hits. The flight gives Halsey time to read the inscription on the tomb, showing that she has never watched a horror movie in her life. Morton gets drawn back into the dreamscape with Ahmanet; when he returns, Vail, who has been showing signs of illness during the flight, is at the tomb, trying to open it. Greenway tries to stop him only to be stabbed for the effort. Morton winds up shooting Vail. Which is when the bird strike happens.
Over England, the aircraft is hammered by a murder of crows, killing the flight crew, damaging the plane’s engines and weakening the structure. Morton helps Helsey into a parachute and gets her away safely. She is the only survivor. As such, Halsey is called in to identify the remains found in the wreckage. Ahmanet’s tomb is missing, though the crash happened near a bog. In the morgue, Morton wakes up in a body bag. Vail appears and gives a spectral, cryptic warning before disappearing as Halsey enters.
At the crash, Ahmanet’s tomb is found. The crash site investigators open it up and become her forst victims in millennia. She drains their life force, gaining strength from them, then animates their remains to begin her undead army.of minions, the first of many. Ahmanet knows what she wants, and what she wants is to make Set a living god.
Morton understandably tries to get drunk after all the weirdness that has happened. Helse finds him and brings him up to speed on what’s going on, with Ahmanet and with him. Vail reappears, only to Morton, and tries to get him to follow. In the women’s washroom, Vail provides more details, how Ahmanet is the source of the curse. While Morton is missing, Helsey calls in Dr. Jekyll.
Morton manages to get out of the bar and into a back alley. Rats under Ahmanet’s control swarm him but somehow escapes and gets to the main road with Halsey. Ahmanet uses her influence to summon Morton to the bog, where she attacks him. She raises her dagger to plunge it into his chest and sees that the gem stone is missing. Halsey catches up and tries to get Ahmanet off Morton. He grabs the dagger and stabs her. Helsey grabs the dagger out of Ahmanet and runs off with Morton. They try to escape in an ambulance, but with Morton driving and Ahmanet in his head, he drives in a circle. Her minions try to break into the ambulance, and don’t stop moving when they lose limbs.
Dr. Jekyll has a sense of timing. As things look dim for Morton and Halsey, he and a team arrive to stop Ahmanet. He takes everyone back to to his headquarters, where it is shown that Dr. Henry Jekyll is, indeed, that Dr. Jekyll. He his the head of the Prodigium, from the Latin phrase, monstrum vel prodigium, or “a warning of monsters” (maybe; a check with an instructor at the University of Alberta, Dr. Kelly A. MacFarlane, shows a something along the lines of “monster or ports”, which could be massaged into what the movie uses). The organization exists to contain evil, something the good doctor is all too personally familiar with. The Prodigium is keeping Ahmanet neutralized by injecting her with mercury and freezing it so she can be dissected for examination. Ahmanet isn’t dissuaded. She continues to seduce Morton, promising him an eternal reward, one he doesn’t understand.
At the Crusaders’ tomb, a Prodigium technician finds the missing gem stone. Ahmanet feels it and sends a spider to take over one of the techs to break her free. Loose, she wreaks havoc. During the chaos, Dr. Jekyll needs to take his injection, but Morton interrupts that in a bid to negotiate. Jekyll becomes Hyde and throws Morton around. Morton manages to inject Hyde with his serum, but it’s too late.
There’s now a race to get the gem stone. Dr. Jekyll wants the stone to stop Ahmanet and study her. Morton wants the stone to try to break his curse. Ahmanet wants the stone to bring Set to Earth. The princess has an advantage; she can call upon the dead to do her bidding, including the Crusaders. She gets the gem first and puts it back on the dagger. Finding Morton, she tries to complete the ritual again. Morton steals the dagger and stabs himself, opening him up to being possessed by Set but not under Ahmanet’s control. Using Set’s power, Morton fights Ahmanet, then disappears. He’s last seen in the movie in the desert, a restored Vail by his side, searching for a cure for his curse.
The orignal 1932 film was gothic horror with a doomed romance. Boris Karloff had top billing as The Mummy. The 1999 remake was a pulp action/horror starring Brandon Fraser as Rick O’Connell and Arnold Vosloo as the title monster. The movie focused more on O’Connell, but Imhotep had a presence through out the film. The 2017 version was action-adventure. Tom Cruise got top billing as Nick Morton. The title monster was the threat but didn’t maintain a presence throughout the film. And that may be the movie`s biggest issue.
The tone of monster movies have changed over the history of cinema. Once just creatures in a horror film, over time, monsters became less creatures of the night to fear and more something that could be defeated. The Fifties and the advent of nuclear power and weapons meant that humanity could be far more destructive than just one monster. Radiation because both the cause and the cure. Slasher movies replaced the monster with a monstrous human. Films like The Terminator and Tremors hearkened back to classic monsters, unrelentless and alien, and the sequels to both started to go back to action over horror. With the 2017 The Mummy, the tone fit in with those sequels.
The remake also tended to bounce around, unsure of what it wanted to be. There was action, but not enough to be a true action-adventure. It flirted with horror, but shied away before getting too serious, leaving jump scares behind. It hinted at a gothic romance, but the heavy-handed narration hammed home that Ahmanet didn’t want a lover, she wanted a vessel for Set. Cruise’s character had no agency; Morton was dragged from plot point to plot point. In the 1999 remake, Rick O’Connell made decisions, sometimes bad ones, and chose to fight to stop Imhotep. Morton was cursed and couldn’t escape it. He was a damsel in distress. Ahmanet was the mover and shaker of the film, but she was relegated to the background.
Nick Morton was not the character to focus the film on. Several characters could have carried the remake far better, including Ahmanet, with her quest to bring Set in to walk the Earth, and Dr. Jekyll and the Prodigium, including Halsey. Yet both were pushed to the side. The studio was counting on the star power of Tom Cruise, which meant putting Nick Morton front and centre instead of someone who moved the plot instead of being dragged along by it.
Setting the film in the now may have also hurt it. The original was made just ten years after the discovery of Tutenkhamun and could take advantage of the alleged curse opening Tut’s tomb placed the on archaeologists. The 1999 remake went with the same era, allowing for an easier suspension of disbelief. Films like Raiders of the Lost Ark were in the public’s consciousness, so similar films could lean a bit on what it had done for modern pulp. Placing the film into the now meant touching on urban fantasy, but there’s no evidence of the tropes in that genre. Tropes are not bad; they act as shorthand for the genre. Blindly using them causes problems. Ignoring them outright also causes problems. Urban fantasy deals with what lurks behind the shadows of cities. Ahmanet, though, didn’t lurk.
Ultimately, the 2017 remake took its cues from the action parts of the 1999 remake. Like a photocopy of a photocopy, the fine details of the original version of The Mummy got blurred and lost.