Fans can get creative. Sometimes, fans can create an adapation that surpasses anything that professional studios can do. Sometimes, though, the creativity is willing, the skill level isn’t quite there. Or maybe there’s a time crunch. It’s not an issue for fans who are building up their skills, be it writing or drawing. Animation, though, is skill- and time-intensive. For those fans without the skills, there is another way.
Machinima, technically, is the use of any pre-existing computer graphics engine to create images. The most popular graphics engines used by fans just happen to be video games. Rooster Teeth wasn’t the first, but may be the best known thanks to Red Vs Blue, a series using Halo about the men on enemy armies defending a critical box canyon from the other side. Several video game engines have been used, including Quake, Halo, and The Sims 2 and later versions. What the games have in common is a sandbox mode that allows for free play and being very customizable by players.
Example time. First, though, let’s take a look at a TV series to be adapted. COPS is on its thirty-second season, having started in 1989 and only off the air for a couple of seasons while switching networks. COPS is a reality show, with camera crews riding along with American police officers on patrol. The series made an appearance on an episode of The X-Files, effectively becoming a crossover when the camera crew started following Agents Scully and Mulder. The draw of the show was that it was unscripted. While edited, the show wasn’t staged for viewers.
How does one recreate a reality show, especially one that relies on the unpredictability of life? Enter Grand Theft Auto V, the life of crime simulator from Rockstar Games, with the mod LSPDFR, allowing players to be the police on patrol. Jeff Favignano has been using this combination, plus other mods, to produce his own series of role play, styled after COPS.
While he has monetized his YouTube channel, the work is still by a fan. There’s also the limitation of the game engine. The goal Favignano has is to approach the events generated in game with proper police procedures. As far as GTA V allows, he succeeds. Each episode of his LSPDFR is stylized as an episode of COPS, with a few call outs in each. Surprisingly for GTA V, there aren’t many shoot outs. Favignano aims to end each call peacefully, only escalating when the characters in-game do.
The adaptation works well, until the game’s engine starts going wrong. The pathing AI often sends traffic the wrong direction, through a crime scene, pushing past or sometimes through police vehicles and officers. When things do go off, it’s the game, not Favignano. However, even the game acting up adds to the feeling of the original TV show, where a pursuit and its aftermath weren’t predictable.
Fans will create. It’s the nature of fandom. Today, there are ways to express creativity that weren’t dreamt of even thirty years ago. The results are varied, but do get to the heart of the original works.
Mysteries make for an interesting choice of adaptation. Fans read them to follow the clues and solve the mystery. The twists, turns, and red herrings work because they lead to the climax, but lose their effect once the unknown is made known. The exceptions are the classics of the genre, novels where the craft of the writing becomes the focus of interest on later readings. Sometimes, the mystery is so well crafted that it takes a second or third to follow the detective’s thought processes.
What typically happens is that the character gets adapted instead of the stories, usually as a TV series. This gives the series’ writers room to create new mysteries without spoiling the original books while still keeping to the limited time an episode has. This is essentially what happened with The Dresden Files, a series of novels that cross the detective genre with urban fantasy turned into a short-lived TV series.
Among the classic writers of the mystery genre is Agatha Christie, creator of both the British amateur detective Miss Jane Marple and the Belgian professional detective Hercule Poirot. Both characters have been adapted to a number of movies and TV series. Miss Marple may be the archetype that inspired Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote, a kindly elderly woman who helps friends and relatives. Poirot, in comparison, is more direct and tends to poke and prod at suspects with his questioning, similar to Columbo except the readers don’t know who the killer is from the beginning. One of the more well known Poirot mysteries is his tenth, Murder on the Orient Express, released in 1934, a murder on a train car stuck in the snow.
What should have been a simple train ride home for Poirot gets interesting. The head of the company gets Poirot into the last cabin on the train in a car with fourteen other passengers. One turns up dead when the train gets stuck in a snowy mountain pass, leaving thirteen suspects in what is essentially a locked room. There car in front is the dining car; in back, the owner’s private car. One or more passengers had to have killed the dead man and Poirot sets out to solve the mystery.
Along the way, Poirot discovers that the dead man had a dark secret of his own that led to the murder. The clues point to any of the suspects and are contradictory. The victim was stabbed multiple times by someone who is both strong and weak, both left- and right-handed. With time limited – the train could be dug out, giving the killer or killers the opportunity to escape before being found. Poirot relies on his ability to read people by asking questions to throw each suspect off with the aim of getting them off-balance enough to make a mistake. He does solve the mystery; the clues, while seemingly at odds with each other, do make sense at the end. Christie built the crime and suspects with the end in mind, with the clues laid out for readers to follow.
In 2017, the latest adaptation of the novel came out. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also starred as Hercule Poirot, the adaptation had a strong cast, with Johnny Depp as the murder victim and Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odam Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Sergei Polunin as the suspects. The film kept the setting in 1934, the year the novel was released.
The film opens with a scene that wasn’t in the book. Poirot, in Instanbul, wraps up a theft mystery, showing the audience who he is and what he is capable of. For those who aren’t familiar with the character, the first scene serves as the intro. The scene also gets a quick bit of action in before settling in for the setting up of the titular murder and the introduction of the suspects.
The movie also spends time introducing the setting. Train travel in 1934 is different from today. There’s an element of luxury, even for those travelling second class, that doesn’t exist on Amtrak or Via. When air travel was still in its early days, the Simplon Orient Express gave passengers a comfortable way across Europe into Turkey. The trains also segregated passengers by cost of fares, with first class being the most luxurious. Today, if Poirot was needed urgently in England as he was in Murder, the British government would have just flown him. In 1934, the Orient Express was the fastest way to travel.
The original novel spends time setting up the characters. The murder doesn’t happen right away. Instead, Christie showed the passengers interacting with each other and with Poirot. Clues were placed, though not necessarily called out. Branagh did the same thing; anyone unaware of who the victim is would be wondering which passenger is going to be killed. With a strong line up of actors, it’s impossible to tell who the murderer and who the victim is. Normally, at least on television, the presence of a major guest star means that the guest will either be the victim or the murderer. With a large, all-star cast, that sort of guesswork can’t be used. Disaster movies from the 70s, such as The Towering Inferno used the same approach.
One thing the novel had that the movie couldn’t include was the passenger list with the assigned cabins. With a novel, a reader can bookmark the page to refer back to. A movie can’t really do that, even on DVD. Film is a visual medium, so instead of a passenger list, the characters had to be memorable, either because of the actor’s portrayal or because of details called out.
Barring the opening scene, the movie plays out faithfully to the book. Minor changes come up, more because of the nature of the medium than a deliberate choice to veer away from the written word. Branagh has an eye for details; if he is taking pains to have a believable Belgian accent, he’s not going to make a change to the story without a good reason. The ending felt different, but that could be a matter of interpretation. The murder happened as it did in the novel. The aftermath, though, was added to provide closure to the film. There was also a sequel hook, with a murder in Egypt. Branagh will release Death on the Nile in 2020.
With a celebrated character like Poirot, getting that role portrayed well is key to get buy-in from existing fans. Branagh didn’t disappoint. Along with getting the accent correct, he managed to portray Poirot as the egotist he is, with humanity. The genius of Sherlock Holmes with the humanity of John Watson. The opening scene establishes Poirot’s perfectionism, tempered by humour. Branagh was ideal in the role. The rest of the cast, though, wasn’t slacking, either. The sheer amount of talent in the movie turned in a performance that should have been noticed by the Academy.
Branagh’s version of Murder on the Orient Express remained faithful to Christie’s original novel, not just with plot, but the era. Changes from the book occurred because of the change in medium, all without affecting the story. The result is a lush movie with an eye to detail that carries through to the adaptation.
Adaptations can pop up anywhere. They’re popular. Studios love them because of the low risk involved. Audiences love them from familiarity. For all the complaints that there’s too many adaptations, the problem isn’t quantity but quality. No one complains about well done adaptations, just the sheer volume, yet adaptations have been ruling the box office since the box office began.
Adaptations can occur in two ways. First, there is the planned adaptation. Movies, TV series, and even Broadway musicals take time to create and produce, giving lead time for advertising the works. The other way is the surprise adaptation – a TV series with a seasonal take on A Christmas Carol, allusions to Shakespeare, recreating The Maltese Falcon, or even destroying Earth for a hyperspace bypass lane. These are seldom announced more than a week in advance in a TV series, and comes as a surprise for the audience. The surprise is greater when the adapting work is a car ad.
Let’s jump back a bit. Some time back, Lost in Translation analyzed the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the 80s. Six youngsters – Hank, Sheila and her younger brother Bobby, Diana, Eric, and Albert aka Presto – go on a D&D-theme roller coaster ride at a fair and wide up transported into a magical realm where they must battle against Venger, the Force of Evil, and Tiamat, Queen of the Evil Chromatic Dragons. Over three seasons and twenty-seven episodes, the heroes battled evil while trying to find a way home. The series ended without resolution, the kids still trapped in the magical realm.
Recently, Renault Brazil released an ad that resolved that cliffhanger after 34 years. Have a look.
The car ad is a live action adaptation of the /D&D/ cartoon. The characters are recognizable, not just from magical items and costumes, but their look. The ad has all the main characters, the kids, Uni, Venger, Tiamat, and Dungeon Master. Even the setting reflects the look of the realm in the cartoon.
With older works, especially ones originally aimed at children, there’s the temptation to use the “wink-and-a-nod” approach, treating the original as a source or even the butt of jokes. Land of the Lost, the 2009 movie starring Will Farrell, is a prime example. The ad makers, though, treated the source seriously. The ad comes across as the climax of the two-part series finale, complete with sequel hook for the inevitable movie. All of the kids get a chance to show their abilities. Better, they got home. A car ad provides closure for a thirty-four year old story.
What did the ad’s makers get right? The cast is recognizable. The first shot is of Hank, which may trigger a sense of recognition of the older fans of the original series. When he pulls back on his magical bow and takes aime at Tiamat, there’s no mistaking what’s going on. Next, production values. CGI has come a long way since the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons movie. Tiamat has a presence on screen, and her five heads are accurate to the chromatic dragons of D&D. Uni has a cartoon quality, but does look like she did in the series. The costumes, combined with casting, mean that everyone is recognizable. The characters are live action version of their animated originals.
The only real problem the ad has is brevity. Its length works in its favour; the cost of a 1:45 ad, even with the special effects needed, isn’t going to empty a bank account. At the same time, though, it does leave fans wanting more. The ad is just a snippet of the long-awaited series finale, with a sequel hook. Some advertising campaigns have led to a series of ads, though very few have had an ongoing storyline. The best known series of ads with a story was for Taster’s Choice coffee, featuring Anthony Stewart Head and Sharon Maughan as their characters’ romance bloomed over twelve installments. So a revival of the D&D cartoon as live action car ads is a very slim possibility. As it stands, though, the ad is enough to reignite the fandom.
Sony Interactive has launched PlayStation Productions to take the catalogue of original video games to turn into film and television. There is more detail at the link, but there seems to be more to the announcement than just mining existing intellectual property for fodder.
Lost in Translation has delved into the problems of video game adaptations. The main problem is translating gameplay into a narrative. What works to keep players playing for hours doesn’t work well on screen. The expectations of each medium are at odds; video games require the player to be active while movies typically have a seated, passive audience. There’s signs that the people in charge, Asad Qizilbash and Shawn Layden, understand the problem. To quote Layden, “The real challenge is, how do you take 80 hours of gameplay and make it into a movie? The answer is, you don’t. What you do is you take that ethos you write from there specifically for the film audience. You don’t try to retell the game in a movie.”
PlayStation Productions will also be handling the development instead of licensing out titles, and using Sony Pictures for distribution. The men in charge are using the Marvel movies as a guide. Marvel created Marvel Studios to produce their own movies instead of licensing as well, something that the Disney merger didn’t change. Marvel also used writers who were familiar with the comics being filmed, reducing the chance of something getting mistranslated to the silver screen. PlayStation Productions intends to follow the same roadmap, keeping control over the IP. They are aware of the reputation video game movies have.
The studio will have a number of titles to explore right away. While not every PlayStation exclusive game belongs to Sony, there are still a number that do that will draw an audience. Considering that the PlayStation has been around in various forms since 1994, that’s 25 years of gaming the studio can explore.
Does this mean Sony is trying to leverage its IP? Well, yes. That’s what corporations do. Sony has gone from being an electronics manufacturer to a provider of material for those same electronics. Turns out, there’s more money in providing the entertainment played in Blu-Ray players than selling them. With all the games created for the PlayStation over the past twenty-five years, some must have enough interest to justify making a movie or TV series from them. Sony isn’t going to leave money on the table.
At the same time, Qizilbash and Layden appear to understand why the games have fans and why other films based on video games have failed. They’re not just milking a cash cow. Their approach, based on the interview, appears to be more nuturing, Will they get a hit with PlayStation Productions first effort? I’m expecting the first to have flaws, but to reflect the game far better than what has come before, such as Super Mario Bros and Doom. However, if the studio follows through on what Layden said above, the first effort is not going to be a train wreck, either. The film may have problems, but it will reflect the game properly. PlayStation Productions will be in a position to ensure there is a quality to their releases.
The announcement shouldn’t be a surprise. Sony has a lot of IP that’s just sitting around. Video game development takes time. The approach that PlayStation Productions wants to take, though, shows that the studio has learned the lesson about just slapping on a logo on any script that comes along. One doesn’t have to make the mistake to learn from it, and Qizilbash and Layden have done their homework. Time will tell, but PlayStation Productions is off to a good start.
Last week, Lost in Translation did a quick overview of sports movies. It’s time to look at a specific example, a movie about a quintessentially Canadian sport, Men With Brooms.
While curling originated in Scotland, it spread quickly with the settlers in the New World, especially where there was winter three to ten months of the year. Most Canadian small towns have a curling rink. But what is curling? It’s a sport where two teams of four compete over ten ends to get the highest score. To score, a team must have at least one rock or stone nearest to the button, the middle of the target. For each rock nearer to the button than the opponent’s closest, the team scores a point.
Curling gets its name from what each team member must do to get a stone as close to the button as possible. By giving the stone a bit of spin, the curler gets it to arc around the opponents’ rocks, taking some out by hitting them. The curler’s teammates can straighten the path of the stone by sweeping a path using a broom, letting the rock travel farther.
Curling competitions are called bonspiels, where a number of teams compete over the course of a weekend, with the top teams meeting in a playoff to determine the overall winner. There are typically no referees or officials, with the players respecting the Spirit of Curling to maintain sportsmanship. One of the biggest fouls in the game is burning a rock, or touching one while it’s in motion. The expectation is that the team that burned the rock will own up to it.
It may be easier to watch a few ends to understand the game, but the above should act as a primer. Curling is a team sport, and teams are made of people with their own goals and motivations, some of which may cause conflict with teammates. There is story-telling potential in the sport. Which brings us to Men With Brooms.
Released in 2002, Men With Brooms was written by, directed by, and starred Paul Gross, best known as Constable Benton Fraser on the TV series Due South. Billed as a romantic comedy, it was originally intended to be about the other Canadian sport, hockey, but worries about politics surrounding the sport and the size of a hockey team led to changing the focus to curling. From there, the script fell into place.
Men With Brooms opens with the death of Don Foley, played by James B. Douglas, as he and his younger daughter Amy (Molly Parket) retrieve a curling rock from the river near Long Bay, Ontario. The heart attack, though, plays into Don’s goals of getting the curling team he coached back together to win the Golden Broom. The team came close ten years before, but the skip, Chris Cutter (Gross), walked off the ice in the finals, never to return, after being so caught up in wanting to win he failed to call a burned rock. Don wants the team to reform and put his ashes, now in the recovered curling stone, on the button to win the Golden Broom.
The rest of the team – Neil Bucyk (James Allodi), James Lennox (Peter Outerbridge), and Eddie Strombeck (Jed Rees) – are convinced. They all have some problems in their lives, though. Neil is in a loveless marriage to Linda (Kari Matchette). James owes money to people who can afford to send a hardy knee-breaker to recover the cash. Eddie and his wife, Lilly (Jane Spidell), are desperate to have a baby. And Chris has an ex-girlfriend, Don’s eldest daughter Julie (Michelle Nolden), who still hasn’t worked out her anger from when he disappeared. Eva is also now an astronaut; she pushed herself after Chris left. Chris’ old drinking buddy, Amy, is a single parent and attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. Life in Long Bay has not been kind.
The reformed team is enthusiastic, but rusty. For their first match as a team, they take on a team of retirees, one of whom needs a walker. Team Cutter loses the match and they realize that they need help. There’s only one man in town who knows how to coach a winning team. Unfortunately, Chris is estranged from his father, Gordon (Leslie Nielsen). Chris does approach his father, all he wants is a coach, not reconciliation. Gordon agrees, and starts a training regimen for the men.
The team enters the Golden Broom bonspiel. Teams from such metropolises as Kingston, ON, Moose Jaw, SK, and Come by Chance, NF have all arrived in Long Bay to compete for the Golden Broom. Among the teams, though, is the one skipped by Alexander “The Juggernaut” Yount (Greg Bryk), who once represented Canada in the Olympics. The luck of the draw puts Cutter and Yount in the first match. The score is close, but in a later end, a rock is burned by Cutter’s rink with only three men noticing – Chris, Gordon, and Yount. Gordon gives Chris the chance to call it, but Chris refuses. Yount’s rink goes on to win the match. Chris leaves the rink to go to the bar.
Some of Chris’ problems get worked out. Amy and Julie have come to an understanding and Amy has realized that she is in love with Chris. Julie finds out that the unusual happened and both the designated astronaut and his backup have been scrubbed, letting her join the mission. Chris heads to his mother’s grave, where he finds his father, and the two reconcile.
Chris returns to the bonspiel, but Neil has been dragged away by his wife to the country club. Gordon steps in. The Cutter rink stages a comeback, but in the penultimate game, Gordon throws out his back and is unable to continue. The team is down one man and may have to play the final game as a three-man team. However, James’ girlfriend of the moment, Joanne (Polly Shannon), who has gotten to know Neil, retrieves him to finish the bonspiel.
The final game pits the Cutter rink against the Yount Rink one more time. It’s a tough match for the Cutter rink as the Juggernaut lives up to his name. In the final end, though, the score is close and comes down to the final rock, thrown by the skip, Chris. It’s an impossible shot, having to curl around then rebound to land on the button, but Chris gets the rock, the one with Don’s ashes, to go where he wants. Problem is, the rock gets burned by Eddie and only Chris sees it. Chris calls the official over and explains what happened. Yount, impressed that Chris called the burned rock when he could have won, allows the stones to be reset to give Chris a second throw. However, the first throw was impossible. To do it again is unthinkable. And Chris decides that there is another way. A brute force throw sends the final stone with Don’s ashes down the ice, smashing through any other rock in the way, shattering the thrown stone so that pieces of it land with the ashes on the button.
The film plays with curling and bonspiels. The match with the retirees allows the film to explain curling to anyone in the audience who doesn’t know the game, using Joanne as the audience stand-in to ask questions. That match is played mostly straight, using the game to show the relationships within the Cutter rink and how rusty they are. The Golden Broom bonspiel, though, is treated as a major event, along the lines of an NBA final and the Olympics, despite the largest town represented, Kingston, having a population of about 137 thousand. Come by Chance has a population of 228. The Juggernaut’s entrance would fit more at a WWE event than curling. Despite that, the gameplay is what one would expect from curling. Even when the Cutter rink starts using straw brooms instead of the more modern carbon fibre, it’s an odd choice but represents the type of broom Gordon used when he was younger.
Outside the gameplay, the sport is used to bring the characters together, first to reunite them after ten years, then to fulfill Don’s dying wish. The conflicts between characters come out on the ice, adding to the drama. Curling isn’t just the sport being played, but a metaphor for what the characters are going through. After the win, each member of Cutter’s rink has an improvement in their lives, even the divorce.
The ads around the rink are typical for the sport, especially in smaller towns. Instead of the big name advertisers that would buy ads at, say, the Super Bowl, like Apple, there are local shops and smaller grocery chains. This level of realism grounds the movie, allowing the more comedic aspects to shine through.
Curling is an odd sport of choice to adapt to film. While the game has about the same pace as baseball, it’s not as widely known. /Men With Brooms/ took some time to show the audience the ins and outs of the game so viewers could follow the action on the ice. However, the small team size makes for a more intimate drama, even in a romantic comedy. Men With Brooms uses the sport to build from, using curling’s more laid back approach as a springboard for comedic elements while still portraying the game as it is played.
In the world of entertainment, sports covers a large segment. People will tune in to watch their favourite team play their favourite sport. Monday Night Football has aired since 1970. Hockey Night in Canada predates that, with the first match airing in 1952. Baseball’s Major League Game of the Week began in 1953. The Olympics generate billions for the networks showing the Games. Every game is its own narrative, from tight, close games that need extra time before there is a winner to blow outs. The draw for the audience is the nature of the sport, the competitors, and the competition. To quote ABC’s Wide World of Sport, it’s, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Sports are big business, with millions of fans, a potential audience for studios to try to attract. The temptation is too much to resist, so studios don’t even try. Resistance is futile. Can sports be adapted to a medium that requires plot and characterization? American coverage of the Olympics, both summer and winter, adds a narrative for American competitors, but most sports broadcasts focus on what’s happening on the field of play.
One issue is that most sports aren’t one and done, especially team sports. To determine the finalists for playoffs, each time needs to meet the others at least twice, once in the home city, once at the opposition’s. The number of games in a season is limited by the amount of days available and how much exertion is needed during a game. Baseball, with its 162-game season, is one of the longer seasons, though the sport doesn’t require as many rest days as, say, hockey, which has 82 games in a season. With a season, losing a game is just a setback, not the end of the world. The ebb and flow of a season can also provide more drama for a movie or TV series. Injuries, trades, and rivalries both internal and external, personal and team can cause complications.
Another issue when adapting a sport to a fictional form is that there’s only so much time available in both film and TV. Baseball and football can last at least two to three hours. Hockey, soccer, and basetball, both being more fast paced, still can take up to two hours to play a full game, including intermissions and stoppages in play. During the season, the audience may prefer to watch an actual game than a fictional version. Fortunately, in film and TV, editing is a thing, and the key scenes can be shown without necessarily showing the slower moments.
TV series go the season route. Dragging out a game for multiple episodes won’t keep an audience. The passage of time and the build up to the big game, whether it’s a key match against a rival team or the make-or-break game to get into the playoffs, creates tension over the season. However, even series not focused on a sport may have an episode focused on a game. Baseball tends to be the sport of choice, with WKRP‘s “Baseball” and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” being prime examples. Other sports do get featured, though; Jack of All Trades had a football episode, combined with Thanksgiving, with “One, Two, Three: Give Me Lady Liberty”*.
The goal of a sports adaptation is to feature the sport. If what happens on screen doesn’t resemble what the audience expects, the adaptation is not going to perform well either in ratings or at the box office. The nature of the adaptation – comedy, drama, action – will determine just what the audience will accept. A comedy can have the more bizarre plays happen; dramas tend to build off the more spectacular and intense plays.
The key to adapting a sport to film or television is to focus less on the game’s play and more on the characters involved. If an audience wanted to just watch a game, there are multiple ways of doing so. For fiction, the story is the draw. Underdogs competing against all odds. The last hurrah of an aging player. The rivalry between star players. Those are draws for a sports-based movie or TV series. The adaptation must present a narrative, something that a game doesn’t provide.
Sports is big business. Audiences for sports can get huge, both domestically and internationally. Studios can’t ignore the potential audiences for sports adaptations. But studios do have to make sure that the draw of both the sport and the fiction are balanced.
Going back a bit, Lost in Translation has covered Death Race 2000 before, with the 2008 remake, Death Race. The original movie, produced in 1975 by Roger Corman, was based on Ib Melchior’s short story, “The Racer”, and was about a cross-country race in a post-apocalyptic Bi-Partisan States of America where points were scored by killing pedestrians. The film was very much a product of its time, with the 1973 Oil Embargo still fresh in people’s minds. The movie was made for $300 000. Corman has never lost money on his films, and Death Race 2000 has done well through video rental and repertory theatres, becoming a cult classic.
As with all remakes, the passage of time makes it tempting to redo a classic, cult or otherwise. Jason Statham starred in the 2008 remake, but that film didn’t have the satire the original had. That left a niche that needed to be filled. In 2016, Corman filled that gap with Death Race 2050. The movie was billed as a sequel but, as will be discussed below, it works better as a remake.
2050 is, once again, a cross-country race through the remains of America, where the drivers can score points by killing pedestrians. The movie is presented as a sports broadcast, much like the original was. The lineup of drivers, though, changes. While Frankenstein, now played by Manu Bennett, is still the four-time champion, the rest of the lineup of racers has changed. The Neo-Nazi Matilda the Hun is replaced by the evangelical Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey). Nero the Hero is partially replaced by Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), a genetically engineered man who sees himself as perfection. Perfectus also takes over the Joe Viturbo role as Frankenstein’s main rival. Calamity Jane is out, but Doctor von Creamer (Helen Loris) picks up the slot as the creator of ABE (voiced by DC Douglas), a car with artificial intelligence and a few extras for the mad doctor’s personal use. Rounding out the field is Minerva Jackson (Folake Olowofoyeku), rapper with a top-rated sex tape turned race car driver. Overseeing the circus is the Chairman of the United Corporations of America, played by Malcolm McDowell.
Each driver, with the exception of ABE, has a proxy instead instead of a navigator. The proxy’s role is to act as a lens for the viewers to experience the race through virtual reality. Most of the proxy’s are harmless, meant to sit there are watch the action up close. Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller), Frankenstein’s proxy. has a secret – she’s a member of the Resistance, reporting back to Alexis Hamilton (Yancy Butler) on the progress of the race. Hamilton’s plan involves killing the drivers in the Death Race, much like Thomasina Paine’s plot in the original. The execution changes. No one gets fooled by a Wile E. Coyote-style detour. Instead, the Resistance uses dead ends and large number of mooks to overwhelm the drivers. One such attack damages ABE, leading him to kill his creator then go off on a existential journey, leaving the race.
During the race, Tammy begins a rivalry with Minerva by poaching some kills, Minerva’s fans who were willing to sacrifice themselves for her. Frankenstein reveals his true colours to Annie, refusing to run over a cute kitten playing in the middle of the road. He also kills the principal of a school who set up young disabled students for him, similar to the Euthanasia Day in the original. Perfectus starts losing his sanity when Frankenstein refuses to just die, even after physically attacking the other driver. ABE may have the most insight of any of the drivers, and that takes into account his existential crisis and quest to discover if he is more than his programming.
The end of /2050/ is different from /2000/. Instead of Frankenstein killing the President using a hand grenade[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8nonWmNhjI], he addresses the viewing audience and gets them riled up enough to get off their couches and into the streets rioting, punctuating his speech by running into and killing the Chairman. The movie ends with the streets of America in violence and Frankenstein and Annie watching the carnage.
/Death Race 2050/ is not subtle. The Chairman is very much a satire of Donald Trump, complete with the bad hair. The new names for the various states show either the degree of corporate takeover of the country or the downhill slide that has happened. The sacred cows are held up for the slaughter, though no points are scored for the drivers for these kills. The nature of fandom, self-driving cars, religion, and the corporatization of America are held up to the fire and skewered. This plus the use of pedestrians for points make 2050 a far more accurate remake of the original than the 2008 film.
Why is Death Race 2050 a remake instead of a sequel as it’s billed as? It references the original film, using it as shorthand, but it never really builds off the events shown. There’s no mention of the Frankenstein from 2000; he’s only the four-time Death Race champion. The satire is updated and made relevant to today, but there’s no sense of any time passing between the films except for the use of computer technology for sports broadcast that wasn’t available in 1975. The scenes are different, but the goal for each one is the same, to show the bloodthirstiness of the drivers and to show that Frankenstein may not be enthusiastic about being in the race. It could be argued that the point is to show that nothing has changed fundamentally over fifty years, with the Death Race from the original movie being forgotten by the populace, but there’s no sense of even that, not even from the Resistance.
Death Race 2050 is a remake. The tone, a dark satire with black comedy and gratuitous violence and nudity, remains, skewering the nature of sports broadcasting and societal changes. The new film is an update of Death Race 2000, keeping up with the changes and lack thereof in American society.
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.