Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation covered the Netflix series, Titans, based on the various DC Teen Titans titles. Titans aims at an older audience, one that wants gritty. However, Titans wasn’t the first adaptation of the team. The Titans first appeared on TV with segments on The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. The team’s first starring role came with 2003’s animated series, Teen Titans.
Produced by Glen Murakami, Teen Titans was loosely based on the Marv Wolfman-George Perez series, The New Teen Titans. The show centred around Robin (voiced by Scott Menville), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). Over five seasons, the Titans fought evil-doers of all types, from Mad Mod to Trigon. The series hit the first two arcs in The New Teen Titans, including Trigon and Deathstroke the Terminator, though the show used his actual name, Slade.
Before continuing, let’s put the series into the context of its release date. In 1995, a wave of anime hit American shores and made an impact. Three series debuted in 1995 – Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and /Technoman/, the latter based on the anime Tekkaman Blade. Two became massive hits; Technoman didn’t catch on, but Sailor Moon and Dragonball had staying power. North American stations and cable channels saw the popularity and started importing more series to sate the demand. Manga began hitting the shelves at bookstores and gained an audience that wasn’t interested in traditional comics.
During this, Murakami decided to use a mix of animation styles for Teen Titans, a blend of classic Warner animation, like Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, and anime. Other animation styles crept into other episodes, like Terry Gilliam’s as seen on Monty Python’s Flying Circus as seen in “Mad Mod“. The mix of animation styles gave Teen Titans its own look. The series’ spin-off, Teen Titans Go! went a step further and added a super-deformed look to the characters.
Speaking of the characters, they are recognizable. There is no mistaking them for other DC characters. The biggest change in design may have been with Starfire; her figure less voluptuous and more teen-aged. The characters also went by their hero IDs, leading to the question of which Robin was in the show. Starfire and Beast Boy did get their names revealed, but it wasn’t made into a big deal. The series played with the audience on which one he was, never really confirming whether it was the original Dick Greyson or one of his successors.
Each season had its own arc, with some standalone episodes mixed in. The first season focused on Slade (voiced by Ron Perlman), who was trying to recruit Robin to be his protege. Slade returned in the second season, based on the Terra arc from the comics, with Terra (Ashley Johnson) being used to infiltrate and destroy the Titans from inside. Season three’s focus was on Cyborg as he dealt with his machine half and the attempts by Brother Blood (John DiMaggio) to misuse his electronics. The fourth season brough the Trigon (Keith Michael Richardson; Keith Szarabajka in the episode, “Nevermore”) arc in, putting the focus on Raven, though with foreshadowing of the arc in the first season episode, “Nevermore”. The final season put the focus on Beast Boy, introducing his old team, the Doom Patrol, and sees him taking on the Brotherhood of Evil.
Each season’s arc was treated seriously. The major villains were credible threats, ones that the Titans had to work hard to defeat. Not every episode was serious, though. Mad Mod (Malcolm McDowell), introduced in the comics in 1967 with a Mod-style approach to villainy. The character received an update without changing his schtick; in his first appearance, Mad Mod tried to revive England of the Sixties. At the end, it was revealed that he was a much older man trying to bring back his glory days. The Amazing Mumbo (Tom Kenny), whose approach to crime is to use a magic hat and wand, had a The Muppet Show-style episode in “Bunny Raven . . . Or How to Make a Titanimal Disappear.” Mumbo traps the team inside his hat, where he has full control. Several of the Mumbos appeared as Muppets, including Scooter, Statler, and Waldorf.
The series didn’t limit itself to Western references. Shout outs to various anime appeared during the show’s run, and not necessarily mainstream titles like Sailor Moon, series like Lupin III, homaged in a car chase during “Car Trouble”. Thunder and Lightning, from “Forces of Nature”, while based off a Kivalliq legend, appear in traditional Asian garb. Even the theme song was performed by a J-pop band, Puffy, aka Puffy AmiYumi. The theme was a way to tell when an episode was going to be different; when it was performed in Japanese, the episode was going to be far from serious.
Teen Titans built off the comics to become its own thing. The characters, heroes and villains alike, are still recognizable. The storylines, particularly the ones involving Slade and Trigon, were taken from the original work. The result is a series that blends several different styles of animation to become a unique TV series.
Lost in Translation has covered Godzilla before, with the 1998 and 2014 American adaptations and even the Hanna-Barbera animated series. What started as a warning about radiation and weapons of mass destruction has grown into a popular franchise, with Godzilla fighting more monsters while destroying Japanese and American cities.
While the original Gojira was born from the fears of nuclear war, as the franchise grew, later films presented Godzilla as the defender of Earth from threats against it, either other monsters or, since there’s more to the planet than just the dominant species, humanity itself. The draw is still Godzilla; the audience is there to see the daikaiju in all his glory. What Godzilla represents now is the nature rising up and wreaking havoc on humanity in retribution for environmental damage. That brings us to Toho Animation’s three-part series of movies – Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, and Godzilla: The Planet Eater. The three movies tell the story of how humanity was driven off-world thanks to the rise of giant monsters, the return to Earth, and the fight to reclaim the planet from Godzilla. However, not everything is as it seems.
The first movie, Planet of the Monsters, giant monsters appeared from the depth of the Earth and started destroying cities. Humanity tried to fight back, but Godzilla appeared. Nothing the nations of Earth threw at the monster worked, not even nuclear weapons. During the war against the monsters, two visitors arrived. The first were the Exif, who also had lost their world to a monster uprising. They offered their assistance towards the salvation of humanity. The other were the Bilasaludo, another people who lost their homeworld to monsters. The Bilasaludo offered their technology to try to rid the Earth of Godzilla, including building MechaGodzilla using nanometal.
Godzilla destroyed the installation where MechaGodzilla was being assembled. Humanity was left with no choice except to flee Earth, with the survivors gathering into a colony ship to search for a new home. After spending twenty years searching and finding nothing habitable and after a disaster that sees a landing ship explode during re-entry, the decision is made to make a warp-jump back to Earth to at least resupply. Thanks to relativity and the effect of time dilation at near light speed, the ship returns twenty thousand years later. Haruo Sakaki has spent time analysing fights against Godzilla and has a plan of attack that could kill the daikaiju.
Despite the loss of time, the surviving humans put together the team needed to destroy Godzilla. The assembled forces with gear, including high speed hover bikes, power suits, and mobile artillery, launch. Earth, though, has changed. Life has evolved to survive with Godzilla around. Leaves have become sharper and wildlife has grown heavy scales. One landing site suffers heavy casualties when flying lizards attack. The plan is revised, but is still a go. The goal is to drop Godzilla’s shield, generated by his dorsal fin, then inject him with EMP devices to force an overload.
There is heavy casualties, but the plan works. Godzilla explodes. The survivors of the assault celebrate. The celebration is cut short, though. Godzilla is still the defender of the Earth. Destruction is just a temporary set back. Godzilla returns, even larger and more powerful. He devestates the assault’s survivors.
/City on the Edge of Battle/ starts with the ship’s command staff arguing about staying to hear from survivors or going into a lunar orbit to get out of range of Godzilla’s heat ray. The compromise is forty-eight hours to hear from survivors, then leaving. On Earth, Haruo regains consciousness and discovers that there were survivors from the people left behind on Earth when it was evacuated. A young woman has treated his wounds. Haruo follows her to her home, an underground settlement, picking up other survivors from the assault along the way. The survivors, the Houtua, have a flourishing society despite a lack of technology. Other survivors have been taken in by the Houtua already, giving Haruo a small force to lead. Among the other survivors are the Exif Metphies, Haruo’s friend from on board the ship, and the Bilasaludo, Gala-Gu and Belu-Be.
The Bilasaludo discover that the weapons the Houtua use are made from a form of the nanometal used to create MechaGodzilla. Not being far from the installation, they lead the survivors to where it was. In its place, a large complex has formed completely from nanometal, dubbed MechaGodzilla City. Inside the complex, the survivors are able to contact the ship in orbit. A new plan is formed to try to destroy Godzilla. Using the nanometal, three power suits are upgraded, turning them into Vultures, capable of flight and withstanding a blow from Godzilla. Using the same assault plan as before, Godzilla is lured into a trap and is caught in place using more nanometal.
The problems start when the Bilasaludo allow the nanometal to fuse with them. They believe that they need to become more and less than human to defeat Godzilla. Obviously, they didn’t have a Friedrich Nietzsche in their history – “Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird,” or, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” MechaGodzilla City starts absorbing anyone in it. The humans flee, but Haruo and power suit pilot Yuki Kaji aren’t so lucky. The nanometal in their Vultures starts to fuse with them. Haruo is able to fight it off but Yuki cannot. Torn between destroying Godzilla or potentially saving Yuki by destroying the core of MechaGodzilla City, he chooses Yuki.
Godzilla is able to free himself, heating the nanometal to beyond its melting point. He destroys the complex, something he had been searching for, then rests. The last hope for destroying Godzilla is in ruins.
The Planet Eater begins soon after the events of the previous movie. The Bilasaludo on board the ship in orbit take over the engineering section and threaten to cut off life support if they don’t hear from their brethren on Earth, unaware of what has happened. Meanwhile, the Exif on both the ship and Earth are beginning to convert the remains of humanity into followers of their religion. There is a problem there, though. The Balisaludo’s lack of a Nietzsche is nothing compared to the Exif’s lack of a HP Lovecraft. The Exif’s god is a monster from another dimension, King Ghidorah. He’s not coming to save humanity but to destroy it. The remaining Exif were spared when their homeworld was destroyed so that they may deliver other worlds to Ghidorah.
Ghidorah emerges from three singularities, none of which appear on the ship’s sensors. Thanks to the monster’s gravity bending and the different laws of physics in its home universe, time warps. with events happening after they became impossible. Ghidorah destroys the ship in orbit, then turns his attention to the biggest threat on the ground, Godzilla. The fight is one-sided; Ghidorah can bite Godzilla but the defender of Earth cannot even grab the invader.
In the spiritual realm, Haruo fights against Ghidorah and his priest, Metphies. He is shown scenes from earlier in the film, but from Metphies’ point of view. With the betrayal laid bare, Haruo sees how he was used. The fight is tough, but the young Houtua twin sisters, Maina and Miana, aide by calling to their goddess, who briefly appears in Haruo’s vision as a moth. Defeating the priest subjects Ghidorah to the local universe’s physics. Godzilla is now able to not just grab the invader’s heads but to also use his heat ray. The planet is saved.
The trilogy has some issues, mainly with the pacing in the second film. The story may have been better off as a seven- or eight-part limited series, but the goal was to have the movies shown in theatres first, then moved to Netflix. However, the series of films was made by Toho Animation. If anyone understands what the draw to a Godzilla film is, it’s Toho.
The story through the three films is Haruo’s. He provides the drive throughout the film. Godzilla, though, is the reason for that drive. Haruo is chasing his white whale. To finish Nietzsche’s quote, “Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein,” or, “And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” When Haruo realized the abyss was staring back, he blinked and put his need for revenge aside for the greater good of the survivors of humanity.
Godzilla is Haruo’s white whale and his abyss. The daikaiju is a force of nature unto himself, a destructive force that cannot be destroyed permanently. Godzilla is the defender of the Earth, but that still doesn’t mean humanity is included. Threats, such as environmental disaster and nuclear weapons testing, created Godzilla. Ongoing threats, like the nanometal from the remains of MechaGodzilla, kept Godzilla around over twenty thousand years. At three hundred metres tall, Godzilla is the dominant lifeform on Earth.
With the film trilogy being animated, the drawbacks of live action, such as budget and special effects, are avoided. Godzilla is the biggest thing on screen when he appears. His appearance resembles his other film appearances. The films give him a few new powers, but those are based on his size; a mighty destructive roar and a tail slash that both destroy human forces at a distance. The main new power is a shield, generated from his dorsal fins. When charging, the actinic light plays along his fins much like previous films. This shield is how Godzilla survives having nuclear weapons dropped on him.
King Ghidora has a huge change. He’s now an extra-dimensional threat and brings his own physics with him. At the same time, Ghidorah is still a threat to the Earth, still a danger to even Godzilla. Instead of being under the influence of aliens, the aliens – the Exif – are under his. Animation allowed Toho to show Ghidora as the King of Monsters.
Instead of a city, the stakes are humanity itself. Tokyo is in ruins for most of the series, long gone and forgotten on Earth. The monsters rose up as if nature went on the offensive to throw off humanity. If humans can’t protect the environment, the environment will develop an immune system, one with an atomic breath. Godzilla 2000 ends with the question, “Why does [Godzilla] always save us?” while Godzilla is taking a victory lap on top of Tokyo. With the animated trilogy, the Earth is saved, but humanity had to learn to live with nature, not compete against it.
The theme of the Godzilla franchise has always been about the dangers of destroying the planet, either through nuclear war or through environmental damage. The three animated movies are no different. This time around, thanks to the animated format, the utter devestation can be shown. Pacing may be an issue, but the three movies are still Godzilla.
Comic book universes tend to grow. New characters get created, make guest appearances, get spun off into their own titles, then crossover everywhere. Some characters are popular but not enough to maintain a title. Others work better on a team than solo. When a large number of solo characters are popular, editorial toys with teaming them up. Both the Avengers and the Justice League came about for that reason – popular solo characters brought together in a new title to take advantage of the popularity.
With DC Comics, the characters include sidekicks to the main heroes. Batman has Robin. The Flash has Kid Flash. Green Arrow has Speedy. Aquaman has Aqualad. To complicate matters, Superman and Wonder Woman both had younger versions, Superboy and Wonder Girl. DC discovered that the younger characters drew younger fans; naturally, the company released a title to feature them, /Teen Titans/.
First appearing in The Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964, the original Teen Titans roster consisted of Dick Greyson’s Robin, Aqualad, and Wally West’s Kid Flash. In issue #60, the roster expanded to include Donna Troy as Wonder Girl. After one more appearance, this time in Showcase #59, the Teen Titans received their own title in 1966, picking up Roy Harper’s Speedy as a guest hero. The title ran until 1978, with a three year interregnum between 1973 and 1976.
In 1980, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez created The New Teen Titans. The roster this time around included Dick Greyson’s Robin, Donna Troy’s Wonder Girl, Wally West’s Kid Flash, Gar Logan as Changeling, Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire, expanding the original roster. This team came together to deal with Raven’s father, Trigon, a demonic lord of Hell who has enslaved countless worlds. With the threat defeated, the team remained together, facing off against Deathstroke the Terminator next. The title ran until 1996, spawning the concurrent spin-off Team Titans. The Titans followed two years afterwards, with Dick Greyson now as Nightwing, Donna Troy using no heroic ID, Wally West now as the Flash, Starfire, Cyborg, Gar Logan now going by Beast Boy, Roy Harper as Arsenal, and new member Damage. This title ran for three years, ending in 2002.
Comics pick up continuity the longer they run. DC’s main universe has been around since Action Comics #1, Characters develop and grow, whether editorial wants that to happen or not. DIck Greyson started as Robin, then left being Batman’s sidekick to go be his own hero as Nightwing, moving to Bludhaven. Wally West started as Kid Flash, then took over the mantle as the Flash. Donna Troi went through a few heroic identities, getting caught up in a continuity snarl during DC’s Crises. Gar Logan started as Changeling, changed his name to Beast Boy, and has been a member of both the Doom Patrol and the Titans over the years. The Titans may have only been around as a team since 1964, but they do have a history.
With the success of Arrow. The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow on television, the creative team behind the shows teamed up with Netflix to create Titans in 2018. The series adds Geoff Johns, former Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics and writer on a number of titles, including a Beast Boy miniseries and Teen Titans volume 3. The series stars Brenton Thwaites as Dick Greyson, Anna Diop as Kory Anders, Teagan Croft as Rachel Roth, and Ryan Potter as Gar Logan. The show also has some key recurring characters, including Hawk and Dove (Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly), a young Dick Greyson (Tomaso Sanelli) for flashbacks, and Conor Leslie as Donna Troy.
Titans begins with the death of Rachel’s adoptive mother, Melissa Roth. Detective Dick Greyson of the Detroit police department picks up the case and tracks down the girl, though not before a cult picks her up. Rachel’s dark side, though, turns the tables on the cultists, killing them. In Austria, an amnesiac Kory Anders finds herself in a gun battle and escapes, incinerating her pursuers. And in Covington, Ohio, a green tiger steals a video game from a electronics store.
Through the first season, the core team – Dick, Rachel, Kori, and Gar – come together. Each has their own story arc. Dick, despite having left Batman to go on his own, is still wearing the Robin costume when he stops crime the police can’t. Dick’s past comes out through flashbacks, painting why he’s having problems today. Not helping is meeting the new Robin, Jason Todd (Curran Walters). Rachel is having family trouble. Her father, Trigon, is looking for her, using a cult. Her main hunters are the Nuclear Family – Dad (first Jeff Clarke, then replaced by Zach Smadu as the character is replaced), Mom (Melody Johnson), Sis (Jeni Ross), and Biff (Logan Thompson) – who use drugs to augment their physical abilities. Kory is trying to figure out who she is and why she has to find Rachel, aka the Raven. Gar may be the most well adjusted of the group, a vegan who shapeshifts into a tiger. Even he has a few skeletons in the closet in the form of the Doom Patrol.
The first season deals with Trigon as the main plot, though his name doesn’t get mentioned until late in the run. This is the same plot that the Wolfman-Pérez The New Teen Titans began with. The take, though, is darker. The creators are taking full advantage of not being on a broadcast network. Netflix has its own standards and practices, so the language is far saltier than could be allowed over the air or even in the comics. At the same time, it’s not all dark all the time. There are light moments, coming from the characters. The tone is serious, but with light moments. Again, Gar is a point of light in the series. He’s better adjusted than the rest of the team.
The new series is taking the characters from the comics and bringing them into the same televised multiverse the other DC shows are in. It’s likely that Titans, like Supergirl, is in its own universe because it’s on another network. This gives the show room to maneuver when it comes to interpretations. The characters are recognizable, but Titans is putting its own spin on them, something to be expected in a cinematic universe. The costumes for Robin, Hawk, and Dove match what was seen in the comics. Rachel’s outfits hint at Raven’s costume; when she wears a hoodie to cover her head, the silhouette matches her comic counterpart. Kory, while not yet Starfire, wears a purple outfit that reflects the costume from the comics. Gar is the lone outsider here, possibly due to budget and time restraints. While his tiger form is green, Gar only has green hair when he’s human instead of being all green.
Titans may not be accurate to the comics. The series is taking its cue from the comics, though. Characters are recognizable to long-time fans without losing newcomers to continuity lockout. As such, it fits in with the rest of the DC television series.
Taking the week off. Please enjoy this flashback to 2015 with Wonder Woman.
Viewing habits have changed drastically over the past few decades. Changes in technology are allowing for more choice of not only what to watch but when. Lost in Translation will take a look at how watching TV has evolved.
The first electronic television set was invented by Philo Farnsworth in 1927, using cathode ray tubes to display the images on a screen. The first TV station, WRGB is still on the air today having started in 1926 for mechanical TVs. Between the ubiquity of radio and the Great Depression starting in 1929, it took time for the new medium to be accepted. Radio already had been accepted and had support and listeners; television was a new luxury at a time when basics couldn’t be afforded. Once World War II started, though, TVs started to sell commercially. With the war effort needing more people working, basic needs could be covered by wages, leaving room for a luxury.
By the Fifties, TV had replaced radio in the family living room. Four networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, and, from 1946 to 1956, DuMont – provided programming, with independent stations filling in gaps. Programming was either live or prerecorded, and if a viewer missed an episode, they had to wait for summer reruns. The rerun itself was new in the Fifties, first used with I Love Lucy (1951-1957), allowing viewers a second chance to watch an episode. As a result, most series were episodic, one-and-
done stories that didn’t affect what came afterwards. Once second-run syndication began, with I Love Lucy being the forerunner there, too, viewers had more opportunity to re-watch a favourite episode. That’s not to say that multi-part episodes didn’t happen. Splitting an episode over two or three parts meant that viewers would have to tune in the following weeks to see how the story ended. They were rare and used for key episodes in a series.
Colour came along in the Sixties, with NBC the first network to go to colour-only in 1965. Reruns and syndication were both well in place, allowing viewers to watch a missed episode or re-watch a favourite one. Time-shifting of viewing, though, wasn’t widely available. With radio, as long as someone could be around to start and stop the tape recorder, a show could be recorded to listen to later. Recording a TV series would have to wait for the Sony Betamax, released in 1975. Networks weren’t thrilled with the idea of audiences recording their shows, but after the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Sony’s favour, they didn’t get much say. The original Betamax tapes could only hold about an hour’s worth of programming. The VHS format, released in 1976, originally held two hours and, later, could get up to six to eight hours of programming. Audiences could record a show and watch it anytime, as long as the videotape recorder, or VCR, was properly programmed.
VCRs gave audiences a way to watch when they were available. Broadcasters and advertisers, though, remained focused on the live audience. The VCR had a drawback – it could only record one thing at a time. If there was a conflict in what to record, only one show in a time slot could be chosen. However, this gave audiences a bit more flexibility if they were at home; they could record one show while watching another. The other catch was that the VCR could record or replay, but not both at the same time.
The Eighties saw the role of cable expand. Originally mainly used to provide a clear picture from over-the-air broadcasters, both locally and from elsewhere, specialty channels bloomed and spread, giving audiences something else demanding their attention. To fill the time, the new specialty channels cycled their line up every eight hours, giving viewers a chance to watch a show that might air when they’re not available. With the expansion beyond the Big Three networks, four when Fox started in 1986, viewers had much more to choose from to the point where one VCR wouldn’t be enough to keep up in a household.
The first commercial digital video recorder (DVR), also known as personal video recorders (PVR), came out in 2001, taking advantage of the revolution in home computing. By using digital storage such as hard drives instead of magnetic tape, the PVR removed the need to store video cassettes and allowed for even more hours of storage. As the technology improved, PVRs were able to both record and replay at the same time and to record from multiple channels at once. With the expanded storage, a viewer could binge watch an entire season at once.
The year 2001 also marked the beginning of commercially available broadband Internet service. As the speeds increased, the ability to stream TV-quality video improved to the point where cable, once the main delivery method for television, started to wane. Streaming services could offer entire seasons at once, either of old series or, especially recently, new series only available through the service. Binge watching is commonplace today, something not even possible in 1951.
Going back to the VCR and its successor, the DVD, both provided another way to catch up on missed episodes – the outright purchasing of entire seasons. With the VCR, a full season would be bulky and take up storage space. Stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video rented out prerecorded, commercially available tapes of movies and some TV series. The DVD, which allowed for more storage space in a digital format, made it possible for entire seasons to take up less physical room than two episodes on a VHS cassette and provided another revenue stream for the studios. Viewers using this route had to wait until the season was over and risked the series not being renewed due to lack of live and time-shifted audiences for the advertisers.
Time-shifting and binge watching provides producers a way past the problem of viewers missing an episode. Today, a viewer would have to work at missing a show with the options available. Studios can produce multi-part episodes and even series with both season-long and show-long arcs without having to worry that the audience will miss something crucial. While shows like Babylon 5 and daytime soap operas paved the way for the idea of ongoing storylines that aren’t wrapped up in one episode, it took advances in technology to bring the concept to prime time. Even in sitcoms, the idea of characters remaining static is being left behind. Development happens over a season and over the run of a series.
To add to the mix, televisions aren’t the only way to watch shows today. With laptops, tablets, and smartphones, viewers aren’t stuck to the one room with a TV anymore. Online streaming, built-in DVD drives, and downloads allows viewers to watch anywhere without needing an over-the-air antenna or a cable subscription. The audience has grown but it also has fragmented. Lowest common denominator programming now competes with specialty channels aimed at a narrower audience who no longer has to negotiate for the use of the lone TV set. The challenge is finding viewers in a fragmented populace.
When it comes to adaptations, today’s television is much more friendlier to longer works than before. In the past, shows adapted from elsewhere either took the characters and created new situations for them, eg, M*A*S*H and The Incredible Hulk, or turned the work into a major event miniseries, such as Roots and Lonesome Dove. Today, books are being turned into TV seasons; A Game of Thrones being the forefront with such series as Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara, adapted as The Shannara Chronicles, following to take advantage of the demand. Even older series being remade are less episodic, as the new Battlestar Galactica can attest.
With the changes in how people watch TV today, television may be the best route for adaptation. While each episode is far shorter than a movie on the silver screen, a season of television provides for more time to delve into the characters, the setting, and the plot. Viewers are more willing to follow a season-long arc now that they don’t have to worry about missing an episode, thanks to time shifting. Television might be regarded as being lesser than film, but the medium now provides for more for both creators and viewers.
It’s almost a truism that video game adaptations are horrible, The early entries set the tone. The problem for most of these adaptations is that what works for game play doesn’t work as a narrative, especially with older games. Pac-Man was about gobbling dots and running away from ghosts; characterization is minimal; Super Mario Bros. is about travelling through a series of death traps to find a missing princess. Naturally, there are exceptions.
Meanwhile, educational software exists to teach a subject, not necessarily be memorable. Oregon Trail, one of the earliest educational computer games, first released in 1971, is memorable because of the difficulty of getting across the continental US in the mid-1800s. The difficulty was what the game was teaching. Gamification helps students learn concepts, from history to typing to geography. While Oregon Trail is memorable, it really only appeared in schools. Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego, however, was commercially available and not only became a hit, it became a franchise.
The original Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego was created and released in 1985 by Brøderbund as a way to teach geography and research skills to children aged 8 to 12. The player, who was considered to be an agent for the Acme Detective Agency, had to decipher clues left by Carmen and her henchmen to figure out where they were and what they were about to do, all based on real world geography. Each successful case brought the player closer to Carmen herself. The names given to characters were all based on puns, starting a trend that continues through the franchise. The original game sold well for Brøderbund, leading to sequels including Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego in 1986, Where in Europe is Carmen Sandiego in 1988, and Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego in 1989, the last one adding history to the education provided.
As seen with many adaptations, if a work gets popular, someone will want to adapt it into a different medium. With Carmen, the core premise – a detective tracking down a master criminal – lends itself to adaptation far better than eating dots. However, the game is meant to be educational, so the first network to pick it up was PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service. The result was a TV game show for kids the same age as the computer game aimed for with Lynne Thigpen as the Chief and Greg Lee as the host, and the theme song by Rockapella. The players were agents for the Acme Detective Agency, tracking Carmen and her henchmen around the world. similar to the original game, though in a competition. The game show ran from 1991 to 1995, winning several Daytime Emmy awards and a Peabody before becoming Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego from 1996 to 1997.
While the game show aired, a series of eight books based on the video games were published. Written by John Peel, the books were a series of “choose your own adventure” novels using the titles of the video games. Peel kept to the tradition of puns for the names of his crooks as, once again, the reader became the Acme Detective Agency agent assigned to track Carmen and her henchmen as they left clues around the world.
By the mid-Ninties, Carmen was a household word. The inevitable happened and DiC studios produced an animated adaptation for Saturday mornings on Fox. The creators, aware of the violence in the other series Fox aired, such as X-Men, were concerned, but DiC created Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego without relying on or using violence to solve a problem. Replacing the player were siblings Zack (voiced by Scott Melville) and Ivy (Jennifer Hale), a pair of Acme agents charged with tracking down Carmen, voiced by Rita Moreno, and her army of henchmen. This time, instead of just being a master thief working for VILE, Carmen is a former Acme agent and steals for the challenge of the theft. This series would be the first where Carmen had a voice instead of just being glimpsed. With the new series, a new theme song based on a work by Mozart. The cartoon won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Animated Program in 1995.
Through every iteration, while Carmen has been the subject of the work, she wasn’t the star. For the games, the main character was the player, chasing Carmen and her crew. With the adaptations, it was the same thing, Carmen was the thief to be caught and not the lead character. However, with no Carmen, there’s no adaptation. The eternal chase is a valid approach to entertainment, ranging from Road Runner cartoons through to The Pink Panther movies, which focused on a bumbling detective searching for a thief. The format can get stale when overused. No one is hoping that Wile E. Coyote catches the Road Runner; that’s the end of the series. A villain who always gets away can get old, especially over a long run; see also, Batman and the Joker.
However, it is possible to turn the eternal chase around, focusing on the pursued instead of the pursuer. The gentleman thief, motivated by the challenge or by a personal code of morals and honour, has appeared in literature, film, and television. Arsène Lupin, Danny Ocean and his team in Ocean’s Eleven, Leslie Charteris’ The Saint, the Leverage crew, and Hitomi, Rui, and Ai from the manga Cat’s Eye show the range of gentleman and gentlewoman thieves in entertainment. The draw is competence porn, watching an expert do their job well, while still being able to root for the hero even if the hero is breaking the law.
With a show aimed at children, there’s a fine line to tread. There are few people who want to be responsible for telling kids that it’s okay to steal. Carmen Sandiego, though, is a master thief. Every adaptation has kept her as a master thief. It’s one of the character’s defining elements, along with the red hat and trench coat. At the same time, Carmen is the draw. It’s a delicate balance. Enter Netflix.
In 2019, Netflix, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and DHX Media teamed up to bring Carmen Sandiego back to television with the series Carmen Sandiego. Carmen (Gina Rodriguez), with the help of white hat hacker Player (Finn Wolfhard) and siblings Ivy (Abby Trott) and Zack (Michael Hawley), is turning the tables on VILE, stealing artifacts from them to return to their rightful owners. Carmen is still being chased, but she’s now the lead, not the pursuers. She is still a master thief, one who steals without hurting anyone, even if they are from VILE.
The first two episodes go into who in the world is Carmen Sandiego. After a successful theft under the eyes of Interpol agents Chase Devineaux (Rafael Petardi) and Julia Argent (Charlet Chung) in Poiteiers, France, Carmen gets tracked down by former classmate and VILE thief, Gray (Michael Goldsmith). She and Gray were in the same class at VILE’s academy for thieves, along with four other recruits. At the time, Carmen was known as Black Sheep, a temporary code name until graduation. While Gray and her other classmates were recruits, Carmen grew up on VILE’s island. Coach Brunt (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) took Carmen in as a baby and encouraged her in learning about the world and how to steal. Despite her age, Carmen was one of the top thieves despite not being a student. VILE’s head council votes to accept her as a student.
As she grew up, Carmen engaged in a number of pranks, culminating with the annual water balloon bombing of VILE’s accountant, Cookie Booker, voiced by Rita Moreno. In one of the bombings, Cookie dropped her smartphone without noticing. Carmen did notice and grabbed it to add to her small stash of items. Any sort of cell phone is verboten for students to have on VILE’s island, though, so when it rings, Carmen is startled and answers it to get to be quiet. At the other end of the line is Player, a white hat hacker from Niagara Falls. While Player was just trying to let someone know of an exploitable hole in security, he and Carmen build a friendship over the phone over the years. She teaches him about different cultures through people passing through the island and he teaches her about the nature of white hat hackerism.
When it’s time for the final exams, Carmen aces all but one test. The one she failed, she believes Shadow-san (Paul Nakauchi) deliberately set her up to fail. She’s told she’s not allowed to go with her classmates on their first mission, but Carmen wasn’t always one for rules. Carmen sneaks on board VILE’s helicopter, stowing away. The catch is that she wasn’t there for the briefing or the planning session, where the way to the crime scene was by parachute. Carmen hitches a ride with Grey on the way down, though and runs off to try to find VILE’s target, an archaeological dig that has unearthed the Eye of Vishnu.
Talking with the archaeologist lets Carmen discover that there is something more valuable than money, knowledge. Before she can get too far into a discussion, though, her classmates arrive. They knock out the workers onsite, but are spotted by Carmen and the archeologist. The orders the new VILE thieves have include the command, “No witnesses.” Carmen, though, can’t let that happen and fights against her former classmates.
Carmen loses the fight and is brought back to VILE’s island. She’s forced to repeat her final year. During this time, though, Carmen plots a way to get off the island with the help of Player. Her goal, to not just escape, but to take the hard drive Cookie delivers once a year. Barring the helicopter, Cookie’s boat is the only way off the island. Carmen steals the hard drive, steals Cookie’s red hat and coat, and gets her name.
Back in the present, Carmen deals with her former classmate and friend Grey. Chase has managed to keep up with the two despite the damage he’s done to his car during the pursuit. Instead of Carmen, he gets Grey. Back at the crime scene, Julia discovers that nothing of value was stolen even though Carmen was seen with a sack holding something. Julia doesn’t have proof, but given that the vault holding the Eye of Vishnu also contained several other stolen objects, and that the owner of the building, a numbered company, was also the registered owner of a number of other locations that Carmen has hit, she believes that Carmen isn’t the usual thief and may have a goal of getting stolen items returned to their rightful owners. Why else would a thief be so brazen to wear red and let herself be seen by Interpol agents?
Over the rest of the episodes, Carmen maintains her private war against VILE. She’s not the only one after them; a secretive group called ACME, headed by the Chief (Dawnn Lewis) is trying to find proof of VILE’s existence. Carmen is the only link they have and Chase is the only Interpol agent who can identify her. ACME recruits Chase and Julia to find both Carmen and VILE. Chase is driven to arrest the infamous thief to the point where he is oblivious to senior VILE personnel when he’s in the middle of them. Julia is the brains of the partnership. but she isn’t able to maintain the pursuit to the degree Chase can. Both become valuable gumshoes for ACME.
The biggest change in the new Carmen Sandiego is that Carmen, the draw of the franchise, is finally the lead. The games, from first release in 1985 to the Google Earth game, and even in the animated series, Carmen was the pursued, but the main characters were the detectives after her, from the game’s player to stand-ins for them. The series doesn’t ask where Carmen is but who Carmen is. VILE is still the villain and ACME is back as the primary agency hunting. Dawnn Lewis’ Chief is modelled off Lynne Thigpen’s from the game show.
The series is aimed at the same age group the original games, the PBS game show, and even the DiC animated series were. This time around, though, there’s a few extras for the parents of the new audience, people who played the games or watched the shows in the Eighties and Nineties. Little references here and there, ones that can be shared with the younger generation, pop up in the course of the series, including a They Might Be Giants one in the first episode.
The new Carmen is still an educational series, focusing on geography and cultures around the world. The lessons tie into the plot of the episode, giving the reason why VILE has the evil scheme and why Carmen wants to stop them. The presentation of the facts come from both Carmen and Player, who share an interest in cultures not their own. Accents are genuine, though presented as to be understood by the young audience. The characters are diverse; Interpol, ACME, and VILE are all equal opportunity employers.
The pun-based names have been eased back a bit, but they still exist, if a bit more subtle. Grey had to be dissuaded from calling himself Graham Crackle. Cookie Booker, the accountant and bookkeeper, cooks VILE’s books. Paper Star (Kimiko Glenn) throws star-shaped origami shuriken. Dr. Saira Bellum (Sharon Muthu) is on VILE’s head council and is their technical expert and inventor. Chase is dogged in his pursuit of Carmen. The spy and snitch Mime Bomb is a mime (and, thus, has no voice actor).
The new Carmen solves the big problem of the eternal pursuit; if the pursued is caught, what happens to the series? With Carmen as the lead, the audience doesn’t have to deal with the main characters constantly being eluded despite all their efforts. The series allows the audience to root for Carmen, so the tension isn’t will this be the episode where she gets caught but how close will she get to being caught before she escapes. Carmen herself is shown to be competent and capable, so any gumshoe who gets close enough to see her let alone try to arrest her will be a worthy challenger. Chase, for all his shortcomings, is still a capable agent. Julia shores up the skills Chase is missing. Combined, the two give Carmen a challenge.
The series, while being its own work, gives nods to previous versions. The new Carmen received advice from Cookie, played by the first actor to give the character a voice. Carmen also steals her signature red hat and coat from Cookie, further cementing the hand off to the new generation. Player is a nod not just to the people who played the games but to the kid seen at the beginning of episodes of the DiC series. The theme music from the DiC series makes an appearance as elevator music. The new Carmen has more violence, with her and VILE agents battling it out. Most of the time, though, the VILE agents initiate the fights against Carmen and her team. Carmen is a thief, not a thug.
Carmen Sandiego is its own work, but it builds upon the franchise in such a way to be part of it instead of separate. Placing Carmen as the lead allows for the series to tell new stories while still bringing the elements that are expected of it.
Most entertainment reflects the time it was created in, even if the creators were aiming for something timeless. With sitcoms, the series can act as a snapshot of its era, even if the show was set in a different time. Most sitcoms are set in “now“, concurrent with its airing. As a result, some of the humour can start to look dated, especially if it’s topical. A joke about Ronald Reagan’s hair in 1985 may get a different reaction today than it did then. Such is the nature of the passage of time; things change.
Of course, as things change, what was once considered boundary-pushing might look quaint decades later. Society changes. Sometimes television pushes the change; sometimes it follows. Norman Lear made a career out of pushing boundaries, producing a number of series that explored subjects that, while possibly not taboo, weren’t part of day-to-day discussions or lives. All in the Family, running from 1971 to 1979, then continuing until 1983 as Archie Bunker’s Place, humanized a working-class bigot, giving him depth so that his beliefs could be understood without necessarily agreeing with them. The show also touched upon rape and how it affected the victim.
All in the Family had several spin-offs, each of those pushing boundaries as well. The Jeffersons featured the Black version of Archie in George Jefferson, again, showing why George held those beliefs and showing that he could grow from there. Maude featured an ultra-liberal woman and had an episode that dealt with abortion, two months before Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure. Good Times, spun off from Maude, showed the struggles of a working-class Black family.
In the Seventies, divorce wasn’t quite off-limits, but as the rates rose, especially in California, attention wasn’t called to it. Divorce was still seen as a failure in a marriage. Single parenthood was, and in many ways, still is something that society doesn’t want to touch. Single parents in sitcoms tended to be widowers, not divorcées. In 1975, Lear and his studio produced One Day at a Time to bring the tribulations of single motherhood into the limelight.
One Day at a Time starred Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano, a recent divorcée who moves to Indianapolis with her daughters Julie (played by Mackenzie Phillips) and Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) Cooper to an apartment building tended to by handyman Dwayne Schneider (Pat Harrington, Jr.). Over nine seasons, the series showed how Ann and her daughters coped as life happened to them. Schneider was on hand as a male role model for the girls, not quite a father figure but there if they needed him. As the series progressed, the cast grew to include Ann’s mother, Katherine (Nanette Fabray), adding a generational conflict to the series.
The show was a product of its time, dealing with events of the mid-Seventies to mid-Eighties during its run. Schneider was a parody of Seventies masculinity, a over-the-top portrayal, with a sleeve of his white T-shirt rolled up to carry a pack of cigarettes and the omni-present tool belt. Both Julie and Barbara grow up, get married, and become mothers themselves. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show showed that women could have careers, that series was also pushing boundaries.
The nature of television has changed since 1984, when One Day at a Time ended. Divorce became less a shame than it had been and was an acceptable way to end a marriage that wasn’t working, especially with no-fault divorce available. That boundary has been pushed back, with thanks in part to /One Day at a Time/, which led the way for sitcoms like /Golden Girls/ that featured divorced women as leads. The way television is delivered has also changed in the same time, going from over-the-air broadcast to cable delivery to Internet streaming. The former three-channel universe now has so many ways to deliver programming, networks and cable companies need to produce an overall higher quality of TV show just to get an audience.
Enter Netflix. Originally a way to rent movies over the Internet in 1997, Netflix has grown, offering streaming of theatrically released movies, classic TV series, and its own content, including She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Blazing Transfer Students REBORN, and the Oscar-nominated Roma. One of the companies bigger hits is its One Day at a Time remake. Working with Norman Lear’s company, Act III Productions, Netflix updated the TV series for today. If divorce is more-or-less fact of life today, then what boundaries are there to be pushed?
The first update was to change the nature of the family. Instead of Italian-American Ann Romano, the new series stars Justina Machado as Cuban-American Penelope Alvarez, a divorced single mother who is also an Afghanistan veteran with both physical and mental wounds from her time serving as a US Army nurse. Penelope and her two children, Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz), live with her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno) in an apartment maintained by Dwayne Schneider (Todd Grinnell). Like the original series, the show has how Penelope and her family cope with what life throws at them.
The first difference is obvious, the change of the core cast to Latinx, allowing an exploration of life of Hispanic Americans, including racism. With Penelope having PTSD as a result of her time in Afghanistan, the series can explore how veterans and how people with mental illnesses are treated. Since the series isn’t on a network that survives through paid advertisements, it can also delve into areas that would normally create boycotts. Unlike Julie and Barbara, Elena isn’t sure of her sexuality and realizes that she’s a lesbian during the course of the first season. Not all of her family is supportive, either; her father takes the news poorly. The series continues the tradition of Norman Lear shows pushing boundaries. Along with the elements mentioned above – veterans, mental illness, racism, and homophobia – the show examines religion, sexism, and immigration, all while treating the characters as human beings with motives, beliefs, fears, and hopes.
Unlike the original, the remake takes time to show Penelope at work. The only sane woman there, Penelope manages to keep Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky) and his office from floundering. Dr. Berkowitz may also be the only person who knows how much Penelope’s time in Afghanistan is affecting her. The rest of her coworkers, Lori (Fiona Gubelmann) and Scott (Eric Nenninger), are unaware of the effort Penelope puts in.
One other change is how Schneider is portrayed. While still the building superintendent, the new Schneider reflects today’s masculinity. The remake’s Schneider comes from a dysfunctional family, having many stepmothers, and is recovering from substance abuse. He still fills the same role in the show, the male role model that really isn’t needed but is still a friend of the family.
With so much changed, is the new series a remake or its own show reusing a title? Keep in mind that the changes updated the show while keeping the premise, a single mother trying to raise two children. Like other series produced by Lear, the One Day at a Time remake brings to light issues that are lurking beneath society’s surface, issues that families are facing, while treating the characters with respect instead of using them as the jokes. The reactions and the interaction between characters are funny; the characters themselves are human.
One Day at a Time isn’t about the Romano/Cooper family or the Alvarez family, but what they go through. The remake brings the concept to today, with today’s problems, much like the original was about the today of the Seventies. Much of what Ann Romano went through then is out in the open now, but as times change, the problems families face evolve, which is what the One Day at a Time remake did to keep pace.
For every rule of thumb, there are exceptions. There are adaptations that are better liked than their originals. What should turn the audience off becomes the draw. This happens in many mediums, film, television, and music included; the new work is the better known version, often considered an improvement. How can an adaptation that generally goes against general rules of thumb be popular?
The main reason is that the adaptation does what it intends well. Airplane! set out to be a comedy and is now tenth on the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Movies. Young Frankenstein, which could be considered a comedy remake of Frankenstein as well as a sequel and a fix-fic, is thirteenth on the AFI’s list. Both films set out to be funny and they succeeded. Similar to comedy remakes is the anime released as a gag dub, especially when there’s no other way to watch the original. Fan-made gag dubs don’t get the same dislike, because they don’t replace the original work, just spoof it. But when the only way to watch a work is through a gag dub, fans get annoyed. Yet, Samurai Pizza Cats, the gag dub of Kyatto Ninden Teyandee, has a bigger following than its original. With the Pizza Cats, the gag dub came about because the importers didn’t get the original scripts, something Airplane! and Young Frankenstein didn’t have an issue with. Like the two films, Samurai Pizza Cats succeeded in what it set out to do, be funny.
Being good helps, but sometimes just being better known can help. By 1980, Zero Hour! was relegated to late night TV filler, a black and white movie in a colour universe, and not well known to the general audience. Same thing with Kyatto Ninden Teyandee; it came out before the big anime boom of the mid-90s. Samurai Pizza Cats was imported not because it was anime but because the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was a juggernaut and Saban wanted a piece of the action; the theme song even admits it. Obscurity means audiences can’t compare the two easily. That doesn’t mean that the small fanbase won’t be upset, but the general audience won’t be aware of the original. Young Frankenstein, though, doesn’t have this advantage. Frankenstein is one of Universal’s classic monster movies. Yet, not working from an obscure work wasn’t a hindrance.
Sometimes, the original work, while popular at the time of release, may not have held up well as the years progressed. The original Battlestar Galactica, a space opera family adventure series, represented an older style of storytelling, one that included hope despite the Twelve Colonies being completely destroyed. When the series was rebooted in 2004, the tone changed, growing darker, with the possibility that the ragtag fleet might not make it to Earth. The new series lasted longer than the original and had none of the network interference.
What most of the exceptions listed above do is respect the original work. Airplane! may have spoofed the airline disaster movie genre into non-existance, but the film treated Zero Hour!‘s plot seriously. Likewise, Young Frankenstein picked up from the Frankenstein and showed where the character and not the original film makers made a mistake. It’s the difference between laughing at and laughing with. The exception to this exception is Samurai Pizza Cats, a work that probably wouldn’t be done today because of how anime is treated has changed since the TV series first aired.
There are exceptions and there are exceptions to the exceptions. The one key element in the exceptions is that they are exceptional works, done well by their creators, leaving the audience a sense of satisfaction, not hate.
Music is somewhat out of scope for Lost in Translation. The analysis of songs and their arrangement is a different beast from what is done with film and television here. However, music covers are a microcosm of what has been looked at here in the past in terms of types of adaptations.
Straight-up covers are more common than shot-for-shot remakes. The only time a shot-for-shot remake comes up is when there’s a huge change in film technology, like going from silent to sound or from black-and-white to colour. With the availability of older movies through a number of different formats, such as DVD or streaming, it’s easier to just watch the original today than it was even forty years ago. With music, sometimes the attraction is the hearing the song as originally recorded, but live. Tribute bands and cover bands, from Beatles tribute band 1964 the Tribute to Rush cover band Trip the Breaker, are usually fans of the original work and want to present the music as they first heard it. In cases like the Beatles, the original band is no longer performing, so the tribute band is the only way to recreate the sound and the performance.
Tribute and cover bands aren’t the only way to get straight adaptations of songs. Bands that otherwise perform original music will sometimes do a cover of a song, because they are fans of the original performer or performers or because the song is technically challenging. There may be some crossover of the fans of both the original band and the newer one, but the goal is to add to the repertoire. Weezer is a good example here, having done a cover of Aha’s “Take On Me“, including nods to the original music video. The reaction to covers is different from reaction to adaptations. One covered song or even an album of song covers is just a drop of water in a lake. The original band’s works are still available and the new band can take the attention it garners from a cover to get people to listen to their original works.
Not all covers are remakes. Some cross musical genres, from one form of rock to another, from country to rock, even from classical to rock. This sort of cover is similar to adaptations from one medium to another. The new artists may enjoy the original work and want to see how it sounds in their own genre. Another possible reason is that the song has meaning for the new artist, who now wants to perform it because it is personal. A good example of this is Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt“, which even songwriter Trent Reznor has said that the song is Cash’s now, becoming an example of an adaptation that improves on the original.
Changing music genres means changing how the song is played. Rock is typically danceable and has a backbeat. Country doesn’t have the backbeat and may have more of a twang on the guitars. Classical music can have a deeper sound, using more instruments in an orchestra, or it may be written for a single instrument such as piano or organ. Crossing the streams means figuring out what the core of a song is and adapting it to the new genre, trying to keep the song intact while changing out elements. Staying in one broad genre, such as rock, while changing subgenres, say from New Wave to metal, means having an ear to notice both the similarities and the differences. An example of adapting between subgenres is Nonpoint’s metal version of Phil Collins’ soft rock song, “In the Air Tonight“.
Going across different genres means adapting the new genres techniques to the song. When the genres are related, like how jazz and the blues are to rock, the difference comes out in the sound; the instruments are similar, but the performance changes. Henry Mancini’s “Theme from Peter Gunn” was originally a jazz piece, but has been adapted by Duane Eddy as rockabilly with twang and Art of Noise as synth-pop. The song remains essentially the same, but each version has its own unique sound. Even classical music can be covered like this; the goal is the same, but the instruments change, sometimes drastically. A good example here is Sky’s rock version of Johann Christian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor“, originally written for an organ. Instead of just using a keyboard, the arrangement uses the typical rock instruments to recreate the song.
If adapting across genres is like adapting a TV series to movies, then using non-traditional instruments in a cover is like adapting a book to a film. This isn’t just using guitars in what was a classical piece. Think dubstep violin or heavy metal bagpipes, instruments known for specific works being used in a new way. The results can be mixed, much like book to film adaptations, but when done well, becomes a new way to listen to a work.
Finally, parodies exist, possibly more so in music than in film and television. A parody takes the same amount of time to create as the original it’s spoofing. A four minute song takes less time to create than a two hour film at a far lower cost. As a result, musical parodies can be done by professionals, semi-pros, and amateurs. The leading parodist today is “Weird Al” Yankovic, who not only parodies songs but styles, having written the best song from The Doors in the past two decades with “Craigslist“. The parodies don’t have to be about the original song. Different takes can include parodies from another medium, from film to politics.
Music covers deserve a much deeper examination than the above. They have their own nuances and catches that film adaptations don’t have. Covers are also more accepted; there aren’t complaints that there isn’t original music like there are about the lack of original movies. Part of this is that there is room for both original songs and covers; songs don’t take much time to listen to, allowing audiences to hear a wider variety. The performers are the draw here. However, music covers can be used as quick examples. They take less time to demonstrate concepts of adapting works.
Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation covered the difference between adaptations and parodies. The short version is that the two have different goals that can be at odds. Naturally, there are exceptions. Young Frankenstein took the 1931 Universal class Frankenstein and, while keeping the beats, turned it into not just a parody of the original, but also a sequel and a correction of the main flaw Victor Frankenstein had, being a deadbeat father. Airplane!, though, is an entirely different kind of parody altogether.
During the Seventies, the disaster movie took off. Spearheaded by Airport in 1970, based on the book by Arthur Hailey, many disaster movies came out during the decade, each with a star-studded cast. Airport itself spawned three sequels, Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concorde – Airport ’79. Other disaster flicks of the decade include 1974’s The Towering Inferno and Earthquake and 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. Audiences were drawn to mass destruction on film.
Naturally, when something gets popular, it gets parodies. David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker decided to take improv act Kentuck Fried Theater and turn it into a movie, The Kentucky Fried Movie, One segment of the film was “That’s Armageddon” which parodied the disaster movie genre, though using a tower on fire instead of an airplane. While ZAZ didn’t direct the film – that was left to John Landis – they wrote the script. With a successful film under their belt, they decided to parody an old film, taking one they had recorded overnight. The lucky film was Zero Hour!.
Adapted from the CBC teleplay Flight Into Danger, Zero Hour!, written by Hailey, told the story of Ted Stryker, played by Dana Andrews, a World War II fighter pilot who lost his squadron on a bombing mission five weeks before the end of the war. The target was shrouded in fog and the strike force came in too low. Stryker survived, but six of his fellow pilots never made it back. Eleven years later, Striker is having problems holding down jobs to the point where his wife, Ellen (Linda Darnell) leaves with their son, Joey (Raymond Ferrell), to fly across Canada to Vancouver. Stryker catches up at the airport, buying a ticket on the cross-Canada flight.
Cut to the cockpit, where the pilot and co-pilot (Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Steve London) are discussing the flight. A fog is covering the Prairies from Regina to Calgary, but since the flight is going to Vancouver, that shouldn’t be a problem. A four-engine DC-4 should be able to get from Ottawa to Vancouver without having to stop to refuel. Once the passengers are settled in, the plane takes off.
Ted tries to talk to his wife, but Ellen’s mind is made up. To help pass the flight, Ted asks the stewardess, Janet Turner (Peggy King in her first movie role), if Joey can visit the cockpit. With the pilots’ permission, Ted and Joey take a look around. While there, Janet gets the pilots dinner orders, both of them going for the grilled halibut. With Joey welcome in the cockpit, Ted goes back to speak to his wife to find out what went wrong between them.
The first hint that something’s wrong comes after the plane has flown into a thunderstorm. A woman starts complaining about severe stomach aches. Janet fetches her some Dramamine to help, then calls the pilot on the intercom. She believes the woman has severe airsickness, but she’s never seen it this bad. The pilot asks Janet to find a doctor on board. After asking a few passengers, Janet finds Dr, Baird (Geoffrey Toone) and asks him to take a look at the sick woman. As Baird examines the woman, Joey gets the same symptoms. The problem is severe; the doctor wants the plane on the ground as soon as possible. The problem is that the fog is thick all the way to the Rockies; there’s nowhere to land except Vancouver. With some questions, the source of the illness is traced to the fish. Everyone who ate fish is going to become violently ill, including the pilots.
The co-pilot is the first of the flight crew to be affected by the illness. The pilot toughs it out with some help from Dr. Baird, but soon is not able to continue flying the plane. He manages to turn on the autopilot to keep the plane on course, but someone needs to land the craft. Janet goes walks along the aisle, looking for someone who can take over. To keep the passengers from panicking, she says that the co-pilot is ill, but the pilot just needs someone to handle the radio. The only passenger on the flight who has any flight experience and hasn’t had the fish is Ted, and he’s hesitant because of what happened in the war.
On the ground, the airline realizes there is a problem in the air. Harry Burdick (Charles Quinvlivan) takes charge and calls in Martin Treleaven (Stewart Hayes) to help talk the replacement pilot down. Problem is, Treleaven flew with Ted during the war and is well aware of Stryker’s record. Both men have to put aside the past to work together to get the plane down. Emergency crews and gear are on standby, in case Stryker misses the runway or even the airport. Ted, though, gets it together, fights through his PTSD, and makes the worst landing Treleaven has ever witnessed. At the end, though, the plane is down with no loss of life.
The plot to Airplane! is the same, beat for beat. ZAZ added to the script, embellishing scenes in the Zero Hour! and adding scenes to parody the Airport series of films. Changes were made, the biggest being moving the setting south to the US with a Los Angeles to Chicago flight. This change meant that the airline had to change from Cross Canada to Trans America. Characters were renamed. Ted Stryker became Ted Striker (Robery Hayes). Ted’s wife Ellen because his ex-girlfriend Elaine (Julie Haggerty), a stewardess on the flight. The stewardess Janet became Randy (Lorna Patterson). Dr. Baird turned into Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen); Burdick, Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges); Treleaven, Rex Kramer (Robert Stack). Airplane! expanded the flight crew to three, due to the needs of the Boeing 707 replacing the DC-4, thus having Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves), Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and Victor Basta (Frank Ashmore). The changes of the crew name allowed for some word play during take-off. One thing that didn’t change with the flight crew was including a sports figure. “Crazy Legs” Hirsch was a receiver with the LA Rams at the time of shooting Zero Hour!. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for the LA Lakers and was dragged out of the cockpit where his uniform.
The tone of the movie changed, as would be expected of a parody. Except, ZAZ had cast serious actors for the roles, not comedians. Airplane! was the film that launched comedy careers for Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges; prior to the movie, both were known for serious, dramatic roles. Even the music, composed by Elmer Bernstein, ramped up the seriousness. The sheer dramatic tone provided a contrast to the gags happening. And gags did happen, in the background, in the foreground, off to the side, and in front of the camera. The script was changed, mostly by giving different answers to questions, questions such as, “Can you face some unpleasant facts?”
One role that got expanded was that of Johnny, who was essentially a gofer. ZAZ and Landis handed the role to Stephen Strucker and let him do what he wanted. The result, Johnny went from extra to manic character who was in his own movie, one where there wasn’t an airplane without a flight crew doomed to crash. The new Johnny also provided contrast to the ultra-serious nature of the plot.
Not every scene in Airplane! came from Zero Hour!. Scenes at the airports, both in LA and Chicago, were added. These came from the Airport series, where the scenes set up the in-flight character drama. The young transplant patient, Lisa Davis (Jill Whelan), and the singing nun (Maureen McGovern) came directly from Airport 1975. The additional scenes allowed for more gags, including the argument over what the red and white zones are for and Kramer fighting his way through religious missionaries. In the air, the added characters allowed more parodies, including of coffee ads and of a scene from 1958’s Crash Landing.
Not every scene was a spoof, though. Some were played straight. Near the end, as Ted is bringing the jet in on its final approach, there’s a shot of an older fire truck with firefighters watching the sky with a dalmatian. That had to be tossed in, right? The truck is out of date, and dalmatians aren’t used for firefighting except as mascots these days. That shot, though, came right out of Zero Hour!, the only difference being the breed of dog. The final approach and landing, outside Johnny’s antics and additions to dialogue, were beat-for-beat and almost word-for-word from Zero Hour!, including how the plane crashed on to its belly and skidded.
The popularity of Airplane! and the nature of the jokes wound up killing off the disaster movie for a decade and a half. When the genre began a revival in the Nineties, the focus was more on natural disasters, not airplane crashes. Arthur Hailey, having written Airport, not only created the disaster movie trend in the Seventies, became its end through the spoofing of Zero Hour! The drama of those films could not be taken seriously because of Airplane!
Given the nature of Airplane!, it would be expected that major changes would be done to Zero Hour!. What’s surprising is how intact the original movie is, turning Airplane! from parody to comedic remake. In Airplane!‘s favour, Zero Hour! was a black and white film relegated to late night TV slots, the periods where few people watch or even record. There was room for an update of the original, going from propellor aircraft to jet, though ZAZ still kept the prop sounds. More people are familiar with Airplane! than the movie it remade. Without Zero Hour! to build on, Airplane! wouldn’t be as well known or loved today.