Apologies for the lack of review this week. Lost in Translation will return next week.
Nostalgia can be a factor in what gets chosen for a remake. Now that people who grew up in the Eighties are old enough and high enough up to make decisions for studios, cartoons from the era are fair game. Masters of the Universe is definitely a subject of nostalgia, having had two adaptations this year. The first was Kevin Smith’s Masters of the Universe: Revelations, but Netflix and Mattel were also working on a reboot, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
Lost in Translation has covered the history of Masters of the Universe before when reviewing both Revelations and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The cartoon has turned out to be more popular over time than the original toy line. The series was episodic, with no real conclusion, mainly due to the needs of toy sales. The core heroes with He-Man were Man-at-Arms, his adopted daughter Teela, the Sorceress, Orko, and Ram Man, while Skeletor led a band of villains including Trap-Jaw, Evil-lyn, Beast Man, and Tri-Klops.
The newest new He-Man stars Yuri Lowenthal as Adam/He-Man, David Kaye as Cringer/Battle Cat, Kimberly Brooks as Teela/Sorcerss and Eldress, Judy Alice Lee as Krass/Ram Ma’am, Antony Del Rio as Duncan/Man-at-Arms, Tom Kenny as Ork-0, Fred Tatasciore as King Randor, Roger Craig Smith as Kronis/Trap-Jaw, Grey Griffin as Evelyn/Evil-lyn, Trevor Devall as R’Qazz/Beast Man, and Benjamin Diskin as Keldor/Skeletor. As can be seen already, there have been a few changes to the characters. Ram Man gender-flipped, the villains gained a history beyond just being villainous henchmen, and Ork-0 has an entire episode to detail the changes to his character.
The series starts with Evelyn’s apprentice, Teela, being directed to break into the Royal Palace of Eternos. Her goal, a specific sword. Teela is the lucky volunteer having some skill as a thief. Kronis’ apprentice, Duncan, is more technical, Thanks to the quality of the guards, Teela is able to slip into where the sword is being kept. Getting out is more difficult; the security around the sword is much tighter. Worse, when Teela grabs the sword, a voice speaks to her.
Elsewhere, where the Tiger Tribe dwell, Adam and Krass arrive to help Cringer with his hunt. The wise old tiger lost his claws when he was younger. He can chase with the best of cats, but he’s not able to hold on to his prey. Poacher bots interrupt the hunt, though. Worse, Teela’s escape also crosses the path. With help from Adam and Krass, Cringer escapes the bots, but Kronis takes over the poachers to repurpose them to recover the sword.
Adam catches up to Teela and helps her up from a cliff. What he didn’t know was that the bag she gave him to keep safe was a sword. Adam draws the sword and the magic happens; he transforms into He-Man for the first time. With the Power of Greyskull, he fights off the bots and sends Kronis and Evelyn away.
The core group – Adam, Krass, Teela, Duncan, and Cringer – follow the voice in Teela’s head to Castle Greyskull, where not everything is revealed. At the same time, Kronis and Evelyn have run into an old crony, Keldor. The lack of trust among the villains is palpable. Both groups arrive at Castle Greyskull, with Evelyn using a tracking spell on Teela. During the fight, the heroes discover that they can all transform. However, the villains have experience. Youth and speed can’t really stand up to old age and treachery, but Keldor’s temporary victory is pyrrhic.
The series is set up as episodic, but each episode feeds into the next, leading to a build up to the two-part season finale, “Cry Havoc Parts 1 and 2”. Orko, or Ork-0, gets introduced in “Orko the Great”, earning a place on the team over the next few episodes. This is the first of many changes from the original, which was mostly episodic with no seasonal arcs. The new new He-Man cannot be watched out of order, not without losing character development.
Every character gets character development. Adam’s is accepting who he is, both as He-Man and has Randor’s son and heir. Keldor’s is his descent into pure evil and his quest to replace Randor as king. But even supporting characters, like Ork-0 have a character arc; his is accepting what he is. The characters grow through the series, hero and villain alike, contrasting each other.
The writing is tight. There is a sense that there is a direction and an end even while watching the first episode. Granted, some of that comes from knowing who Adam and Keldor will become. It’s not the knowing that matters here but the journey. The heroes and villains show their counterparts the other side of what they are. Adam and Keldon, nephew and uncle, have different views of what family is and the nature and use of power. The dialogue is snappy. Keldor spends a lot of time eating scenery, with Evelyn and Kronis finishing the scraps leftover. Even the heroes get in on the good lines, with Adam remarking about Keldor, “He just dumped rocks on a bunch of kids. I don’t think he’ll be a good king.”
Being a reboot, characters can change from the original. Adam is still King Randor’s son and the heir, but he’s questioning his father’s rule as an outsider. Krass is not just a gender-flipped Ram Man; as Ram Ma’am, she is one of Adam’s closest friends, even when they disagree. Teela went from being second best warrior on Eternia to being an apprentice witch, giving her a niche of her own. In the reboot, she becomes the Sorceress, but is the second to carry the name. Duncan is not Randor’s Man-at-Arms, but the former apprentice trying to figure out his place in the world away from his evil mentor. Cringer is not the cowardly tiger from the original but a wise mentor who gets noticed wherever he goes because he can talk. Even Keldor, in the middle of gloating, is amazed by the idea. Adam is still Adam, but is also his own character, not a copy of the original. The villains are closer to their original counterparts than the heroes, but there’s more history to them that gets revealed over the course of the season. They work together by necessity at first, without the trust that the group of heroes build amongst themselves.
One thing to note – twenty-five years of magical girls like Sailor Moon and sentai like Power Rangers has led to an improvement on He-Man’s transformation sequence. The original worked thanks to the era and being a relatively new idea, one that would also be used by Jem of Jem and the Holograms. The Kevin Smith sequel’s sequence built up from there with a more fluid animation. The reboot series takes the transformation to new heights. He-Man isn’t the only character to get a transformation sequence; all of the heroes and villains have one, sometimes in combination with other characters.
The new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a reboot of the classic Eighties cartoon. It takes the ideas from the original but puts a new spin on it. Coupled with strong writing and excellent casting, the new series is forging its own way and is well worth watching.
Mystery novels can be enjoyed by all ages. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have demonstrated that for over a ninety years. Frank and Joe Hardy made their debut in the 1927 novel, The Tower Treasure. Created by the Edward Stratemeyer for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a company that put together books for publishers, The Hardy Boys series was written by ghostwriters all working under the name Franklin W. Dixon and was first published by Grosset & Dunlap from 1927 to 1979. Simon & Shuster picked up the series in 1979, publishing the new novels in the series until 1985. Mega-Books, another book-packager used by Simon & Shuster, took over in 1987 until 2001. In 2002, Simon & Shuster subdivision Aladdin took over until 2005. In 2005, the publisher switched to The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers, switching to more realistic crimes, running until 2012. Simon & Shuster then rebooted the series with The Hardy Boys Adventures in 2013, with the series still ongoing. Several spin-off series came about as well, aiming for a younger audience.
The titular Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe, solved mysteries mostly in their hometown of Bayport. Their father, Fenton, was a former New York PD detective before retiring to become a private investigator. The boys’ mother, Laura, and aunt, Gertrude, round out the Hardy household and the ones who care about the trouble the boys get into. The Hardys aren’t alone in their investigations. They are often joined by their best friend Chet, his sister and Joe’s girlfriend Iola, Frank’s girlfriend Callie, and friends Phil, Biff, Tony, and Jerry. Chet and Iola live on a farm, where Chet keeps his yellow jalopy. Frank and Joe, though, were smart, clever, and capable of solving any mystery they ran into.
The Hardy Boys was the most popular creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, outliving the company. The longevity means that multiple generations have read the books since 1927. Some of those readers found their way into the entertainment industry and remembered how popular the books were in their youth. Popularity leads to adaptation, and The Hardy Boys have been adapted over the past century, the latest in 2020.
The new series, The Hardy Boys, first aired in December 2020 on Hulu in the US and YTV in Canada. The show stars Rohan Campbell as Frank, Alexander Elliot as Joe, Adam Swain as Chet, Keana Lyn Bastidas as Callie, Bea Santos as Aunt Trudy, Riley O’Donnell as Biff, James Tupper as Fenton, and Atticus Mitchell as new character JB Cox. The first season is its own self-contained original mystery.
The series starts with the Hardys living in Dixon City, with Fenton still a detective on the Dixon City Police Department. Laura is a freelance journalist, giving her time to raise the two boys, sixteen year old Frank and twelve year old Joe. However, tragedy strikes while Laura is driving out to see Frank pitch in a crucial baseball game for his team. After Laura’s funeral, Fenton takes his sons to Bridgeport to visit his sister Trudy and Laura’s mother Gloria (Linda Thorson). While Fenton has retired, he still keeps in touch with his old partner, and information comes up on a case. He leaves the boys in his sister’s care.
Frank and Joe go through a period of adjustment, not only learning how to deal with the death of their mother but also figuring out how things work in a small town. They meet a few new friends at Wilt’s (Philip Williams) store/malt shop. While exploring Bridgeport, they run across a few clues that indicate that their mother’s death might not have been an accident. Meanwhile, a generations old conspiracy is threatened when a key piece of an artifact is stolen. Worse, the artifact is stolen multiple times as different parties try to recover it, with Joe landing in the middle of it with one of the thieves.
It’s not all mysteries and grief, though. Frank meets Callie Shaw. While there is chemistry, Frank hesitates until his girlfriend back in Dixon City breaks up with him. Joe runs across Biff Hooper, daughter of Deputy Jesse Hooper (Jennifer Hsuing). Biff is as eager to find trouble as Joe is, setting up their friendship. With the help of their new friends, Frank and Joe uncover and decipher clues, leading to the revealing of the conspiracy and of who killed Laura.
The first season acts an origins story for the Hardys and their friends, showing how they came together and how the boys got into solving their own mysteries. The burgeoning romance between Frank and Callie is allowed to grow over the course of thirteen episodes. The Bridgeport teens take time to warm up to the big city boys, but invite them into their circle. Relationships are established, ones that were a given even in The Tower Treasure.
Some changes were made from the source material. The obvious change is the diversity of the cast. This is not a bad thing; times have changed greatly since 1927 and even since 1959 when Grosset & Dunlap made revisions to the existing titles to reflect a change in attitudes. Chet, however, still has his yellow jalopy, an older pickup truck that suits someone who lives on the family farm. Frank and Joe’s ages changed from seventeen and sixteen to sixteen and twelve. This change let Joe naturally separate from his brother to have his own adventures. The series’ Biff combines Biff and Iola from the books, a case of the difference when it comes to salaries for cast versus introducing a character whenever in a novel.
Other changes are names. Not of characters, but of places. Bayport becomes Bridgeport. Fenton is transferred from New York City to Dixon City. That isn’t the only nod to the books. Callie has a cousin in Franklin, and there’s a location near Bridgeport called Devil’s Paw, after the book The Mystery at Devil’s Paw. During a locked room escape, it would be obvious to longtime fans that there is nothing behind the clock; The Secret of the Old Clock is a Nancy Drew mystery.
Helping the series is the chemistry the actors have with each other. Frank and Joe, Frank and Callie, Joe and Biff, Trudy with the boys, and even Joe and JB Cox, they all work well with each other. The writing helps; no one is passed the idiot ball. The boys get along like siblings, not always in agreement but there for each other when things get tough. The characters make the series; the actors bring the roles to life.
Spreading the mystery over the season let the characters develop naturally, without forcing an artificial speed on proceedings. Twists occur, but are set up several episodes in advance. The reveal at the end isn’t a surprise but the culmination of the investigation that occurred over the season.
The 2020 series makes an effort to update The Hardy Boys while still keeping to the core. The result is a dark, twisted mystery that pays off at the end while bringing the characters to the 21st century. Sure, there are changes, but for characters who have been around for almost one hundred years, change is good.
Last week, Lost in Translation asked the question, “Can a franchise be rebooted?” and came up with a rousing, “Maybe.” “It depends,” also came up. This week, a few thought experiments to see what can be done using a few well-known franchises.
Let’s start with the big one, Star Wars. The franchise has grown greatly, despite a period where it lay fallow for about eight years with little done. The release of Timothy Zahn’s began the renewed interest in licensing Star Wars outside toys, followed by the Expanded Universe of novels and comics leading up to the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. Even with Disney hitting the reset button on the Expanded Universe, the licensing of other media hasn’t slowed down. There is a hierarchy of canon, though; the films are on top, followed by TV series, then tie-ins like novels and video games.
There might be execs at Disney looking at remaking the original Star Wars movie, but the audience backlash would be at superweapon levels. The risk is not worth the reward. However, creating more stories set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away has been a winner for Disney so far, with The Mandalorian being the reason for many fans to subscribe to Disney+. The Galaxy Far Far Away is big enough to have a number of stories, epic and personal. Remaking the original is out of the question. Exploring other parts of the setting, especially if the quality can be maintained, works better and has been successful for the franchise.
Star Trek provides a contrast. Between the end of the original series in 1969 to the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, there wasn’t much beyond the animated series, a few novels from Bantam, and some licensed games. Compared to after TMP, where the novel tie-ins had a more regular release date, and films every few years. In 1987, Star Trek essentially rebooted with Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original series and movies with the original cast were historical, but the new series forged its own characters and continuity. However, there were and are still fans of the original series who get more adventures via the tie-in novels.
The original series had a second reboot with the JJ Abrams Star Trek film in 2009. The Abrams film, though, split into a new continuity, separate from the establish canon. This could allow for a new exploration of the setting, but Into Darkness, released 2013, went over old ground with Khan Noonian Singh. For the most part, the Abrams continuity films have been popular.
Both of the above examples are based on properties that began in a visual medium, film and television respectively. Time for a more literary example – Bond. James Bond. The 007 franchise began with Casino Royale in 1953 and has been active since then, first with Ian Fleming’s novels, then film adaptations, most notably the Eon Productions series, but expanding out to comics, first in 1962, video games, and a spin-off series of novels for a younger audience. The novels were continued after Fleming’s death, first with Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis under the pen name Robert Markham, then by John Gardner from 1981-1906, Raymond Benson from 1996-2002, and a number of authors since then.
Bond represents a problem Star Wars and Star Trek didn’t have – he is a contemporary character. However, things have changed since 1953 in terms of politics, culture, and technology. Bond is a product of the Cold War, where the US and NATO had a covert battle with the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. Nations were starting to settled into a post-World War II status quo. As the Eon films progressed, Bond became more and more, “a relic of the Cold War,” to quote Judi Dench’s M from Goldeneye. The progression of time can be seen in The Living Daylights, where 007 worked in Afghanistan with the Mujaheddin against the a rogue Soviet general; some of the Mujaheddin became the Taliban, who wouldn’t be considered an ally for heroes in movies made today.
There was a chance to reboot the movie franchise with 2006’s Casino Royale, starting from the beginning of the novels. However, Eon placed the film into its existing continuity. Eon also used the Daniel Craig Bond to re-introduce some elements lost from the films, such as SMERSH. Some legal issues ended, allowing SPECTRE to return in 2015. The 007 films have pulled back from some of the excess during the late Sean Connery and late Roger Moore era, getting back to basics without the gadgets. One possibility for Eon is to do a separate film continuity, keeping Bond in the Cold War era. It’s been sixty-eight years since Casino Royale was first published; placing Bond into his historical element may bring new insight to the character.
To wrap things up, let’s see if it’s possible to reboot a video game franchise, using Nintendo’s Mario. Technically, every Mario release can be seen as a reboot. The goal of the Mario franchise isn’t to provide a single storyline, but a separate game each time. The characters are treated as actors taking on roles in every game. Need Mario to become a detective or a racer? Not a problem. Likewise, Pokémon has been releasing new games based on the same idea – hunting Pokémon to use to fight others who would become a Pokémon Master. Sure, there are other games in the franchise, like Detective Pikachu, but the core of Pokémon is the collecting of Pokémon. The popularity of Pokémon GO is built on letting the players become Pokémon Masters without needing a game avatar on screen.
With other video games, though, a franchise reboot won’t be so easy. The medium is still relatively young, especially when it comes to games with a storyline. Rebooting Pac-Man just relies on updating game play for modern technology. Rebooting Mass Effect, for example, may need to wait a generation, much like film remakes do. Commander Shepard is popular enough for a remaster of the original trilogy, but a remaster isn’t a reboot. Will we see a remake of Mass Effect in 2037? Time will tell.
So, that definitely “maybe”? There’s just too many factors to give a definitive answer. Some franchises have tried a reboot. The main problem is that the original work will still be available, and comparisons will happen. For larger franchises, the risk is not worth the potential reward. But when done, fans appear to be accepting of the product, even if they will also stay with the original.
In entertainment, if something is made, it is inevitably remade in one form or another. However, franchises seem immune. Sure, Batman’s origins will get filmed over and over, but the movies aren’t the source. Even in the comics, there have been retellings of how Bruce Wayne became Batman, but they all follow the same beats and Bruce Wayne always becomes Batman in each version. Can a franchise be rebooted and rebooted successfully?
Definition time – a franchise is a work that spans multiple media, be it literature, film, television, comics/graphic novels, video games, even radio. A series of novels doesn’t count, nor does a TV series. Once licensing gets involved, the franchise is starting to form. The wider the licensing, the bigger the franchise. Star Wars as a franchise is huge, starting with a movie, then expanding into toys, games, comics, tie-in novels, animated series, live action series, spin-off movies, serialization on the radio, and video games, and I’m probably missing other parts of the franchise in that list, with more coming out every year. Even smaller franchises cover a portion of what Star Wars has.
Back to the question, can a franchise be rebooted? If the original, core work of the franchise is a movie, can it be remade and, if so, does it break anything? Likewise with a TV series, can it be remade? Literature creates a new issue; few people are going to buy a rewrite of an original work, especially if the redone work isn’t by the original author. But if the audience’s perception of what the original work is switches to another medium, then can the franchise reboot?
Note that rebooting is not the same as a creating a new series. Star Trek: The Next Generation isn’t a reboot of Star Trek, but a continuation set much later in the settings time line. However, JJ Abrams’ 2009 Trek film is a reboot of the original series. The concept isn’t clear cut.
Some franchises don’t need to reboot, thanks to the setting. Star Wars has an epic scale that allows for exploration of different styles. Space Western with Samurai influences? Done – The Mandalorian. Want to add a mystic element? The Jedi. Heist movie in space? There’s enough of a underworld described in the movies and TV series that someone robbing jewels from Cloud City should be easy to write. Not all franchises have this range of flexibility. However, sometimes, just advancing the timeline is enough to shed some baggage by placing into the past, as Star Trek has done.
Some franchises have tried to reboot. DC Comics tried to reset using Year One to update character origins. Marvel tried something similar with the Ultimates line of comics. Both companies have decades of prior stories that make it difficult for new readers to just jump in. Introducing new characters to take up the mantle of a superheroic ID is hit or miss. Miles Morales as Spider-Man worked, but DC killing Superman to have four characters take over the role didn’t take, with Superman returning.
Let’s break it down by original source. Literary sources aren’t going to reboot right away; writing takes work and authors aren’t going to be willing to go back to rewrite a book that’s been published. All the rewrites were done before the book reached shelves. Film remakes are a known entity, but early franchise entries seem almost immune; the potential to break the audience could doom the remake at the box office and studios are risk adverse. No killing the golden goose for them. Comics could, but as noted above, it’s been tried and the results are hit-or-miss. Video games can; new technology and new releases mean that a larger audience could play the latest version. Most video games are stand-alone, though there are exceptions like Mass Effect. Traditional games, mist likely can’t; if the game is popular, it’s too beloved to change too much. However, tabletop RPGs could; new editions come out to correct mechanical problems and settings will get adjusted for the game.
Could a franchise be rebooted? The answer is a big maybe. There are a number of factors in play, including popularity and the risk of losing an audience if the change is too great.
Next week, a look at some examples.
Robin Hood has been popular for a while. The character first appeared in English ballads dating back to the mid-14th century. The story is of a man who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, fighting back against the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham. A classic tale of a champion of the downtrodden fighting against corrupt authority for the betterment of all, a story that will never grow old. Joining Robin in his righteous fight are Little John, Will Scarlet, and Much the Miller’s Son, with Maid Marian and Friar Tuck being added to the merry band in later ballads. Robin is always portrayed as a fine archer; English longbowmen had a reputation for accuracy and lethality. Originally, Robin was a yeoman, a freeborn commoner elevated up. Later adaptations turned him into a proper landholding noble.
The tales of Robin Hood have been adapted many times, for stage, for film, for television, live action and animated. A rare few Robins, though, had a proper English accent. Cary Elwes of Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Brian Bedford of Disney’s Robin Hood are a minority, though other regions of the British Isles are represented in the actors who have played Robin. The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn is considered to be the best version, though Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has been influential despite Kevin Coster’s lack of English accent.
Given that Robin Hood, the character, is in the public domain and tends to be popular thanks to robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, it’s natural that the legends wouldn’t lay untouched for long. In 2018, Appian Way, Thunder Road Films, Summit Entertainment, and Safehouse Pictures released Otto Bathurst’s take on the legend, Robin Hood. The film stars Taron Egerton as Robin Hood, Eve Hewson as Marian, Jamie Foxx as Yahya ibn Umar aka “John”, Ben Medelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, Paul Anderson as Guy of Gisborne, and F. Murrary Abraham as Cardinal Franklin. Egerton is Welsh, so not quite English but close.
The film starts with Robin and Marian meeting, with her trying to steal the manor’s young toff’s horse and the young toff letting her. After a montage of young love over time, Robin is drafted by the king to join the Third Crusade. Robin sees action in the Middle East, fighting alongside Guy of Gisbourne. Gisbourne takes his duty and orders to kill infedels to heart. Robin, while fighting for the king, isn’t a fan of massive slaughter. There’s dying in a fight, then there’s executions.
One execution is the son of a man who fought hard against Robin, stopping only because his hand was cut off by a sword during the fight. The man, soon to be revealed as Yahya, reveals the details that Guy is looking for, but Yahya’s info is out of date. Robin tries to interfere in the execution of Yahya’s son and is shot in the leg for the effort. Guy sends Robin back home on a hospital ship.
When Robin returns to Loxley, the manor is in disrepair, almost ruins. A notice posted by the Sheriff on the remains of the main doors says that the contents have been taken due to failure to pay taxes. Robin later finds out from Friar Tuck that he was decalred dead two years prior. The commoners, especially those working in the mines, are paying even more taxes than before, all to subsidize the war overseas.
Robin also discovers that there has been a stowaway on the hospital ship, Yahya. Robin managed to impress the man because he tried to stop the execution of the son. The pair work together, training Robin in the use of the recurve bow, allowing for a more powerful shot and quicker reload time. The pair become partners, with friendship looming, though Yahya tells Robing to call him John instead of butchering his name. Their goal, steal the taxes from the Sheriff to fund Robin’s return to polite society.
Robin has some early success, but overhears Marian complaining about the Hood’s thefts. If the Hood wanted to be a hero, he’d give the money stolen back to the poor. Since Robin isn’t stealing the taxes to get rich himself, he sees it as a way to gain popularity, and gives the bulk of the stolen goods back to the poor.
The Sheriff doesn’t like the embarassment of the thefts, especially with the Cardinal coming to visit to make sure that Nottingham is provinding its share of funds to the war efforts. After every theft, a hood gets nailed to the church. The Sheriff recruits a hardened band, Sir Guy of Gisbourne’s, to hunt down the Hood. Gisbourne has no trouble being a hired killer; it’s what he does best.
Adding to the chaos, Marian and Tuck are also working to undercut the Sheriff. The Hood’s appearance is a wild card to their own plans, but they’re willing to work with the newcomer, using him to cover their own acts. Eventually, Robin and Marian discover each other’s secrets, reuniting completely.
One final heist remains as the opportunity is too good to pass up. The Cardinal’s arrival isn’t social; he’s there to take possession of the taxes raised for the war efforts. The Sheriff is also aware that the gold is too tempting to a thief. In the final battle, the Sheriff manages to capture Robin, but the gold disappears under his and his guard’s noses. With the help of John, Robin escapes, then leads the outlaws to Sherwood Forest.
While the movie got nominated for Golden Raspberries, it’s not that bad. It’s also not that good. The biggest problem the film has is trying to be relevant in 2018. In that year, anger in the US over police shooting minorities, especially unarmed minorities, had hit the boiling point. Anger towards the corrupt, venal Trump presidency also hit the boiling point. While Trump had the backing of evangelicals, he also had the backing of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The Republican Party, which had flirted with evangelicals under Nixon with the Southern Strategy and Reagan during the Eighties, but by the time George W Bush became president, the religious right had taken over the party. The climax pulls from protests that got pacified hard by riot police; the shields used by the Sheriff’s men have more than a passing resemblance to police riot shields, and the troops are all faceless with their helmets, clubbing down like their swords were batons.
While sometimes the message has to be hammered home, Robin Hood might not have been the best vehicle. To most audiences, Robin Hood is a light tale, with the villainous nobles losing to the hero of the people. The movie spends most of its run time on just that, though there are times when it feels more like Arrow. Granted, the Green Arrow was partially inspired by the tales of Robin Hood, but it wouldn’t have been surprising for Robin in the movie to shout, “You have failed Nottingham.” The result is a film that has tonal issues.
However, how is it as an adaptation of the legends? The tales are centuries old, and have been changed over time. Marian and Tuck weren’t in the original ballads, and Morgan Freeman’s Azeem in the Costner version was an organic addition to the legend. Even the “giving to the poor” was a later addition to the ballads. There’s room to play with the legends. The characters are recognizable for the most part, thanks to the broad interpretations of the characters in the past. Marian is not passive, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily. Tuck is a man of God, not a man of the Church. The Sheriff is corrupt, as is the Church. Broadly, it’s a decent adaptation, with no real problems with the characters, bar one. Will Scarlet got the short shift in the film, becoming the third edge of a not quite realized love triangle.
The other problem, though, is that while the film is set during the Third Crusade, the fashion and weapons technology don’t quite fit. The Muslim defenders in the Middle East used repeating ballistae; the scene looked more like a modern war movie except for the use of bows and swords instead of M-16s. However, repeating ballistae did exist; the Greeks had the polyboros, that used a chain drive to reload the weapon instead of the magazine used in the movie. The Sheriff’s men also used repeating crossbows; again, such weapons existed but mainly in China as the chu-ko-nu. The weapon wasn’t used in Europe as the bolts fired had little penetration against armour. However, for an action film, rapid fire looks impressive. The fashion, though, was all over the place. Marian’s early outfit didn’t look out of place for a general medieval setting, but her later ones felt closer to the Seventies or Eighties than medieval Britain. The film needed to pick a style and stayed with it.
Overall, the film is decent, not bad but not great. It tries hard to be relevant to the 2018 audience but can’t handle the tonal shifts that happen. There is an idea within the film worth pursuing, but Robin Hood might not have been the best vehicle.
Lost in Translation will return next week. Apologies for the erratic schedule this summer.
Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean popular in North American only. There is a wider world out there, with many different forms of entertainment. Overseas popularity means Hollywood can expect bigger returns in the international market, with a bonus if the title is familiar in North America. Even if the work isn’t known in North America, a popular work can be translated and localized. It’s nothing new; the hit film, Three Men and a Baby, which stayed in the top ten from release November 27 1987 until March 20, 1988, was based on the 1987 French hit, Trois hommes et un couffin.
As seen in the past with Lost In Translation, adapting comics to film is taking one visual medium, one that consists of a series of static images, to another visual medium based on the illusion of moving pictures. Shouldn’t be a problem, but there have been some comic adaptations that didn’t work. However, the causes of the failures hasn’t been a mistranslation, but something deeper. When an comic adaptation works, the film embraces the esthetic of the comic.
That brings us to Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin, a Belgian comic that first appeared in 1929 and follows the adventures of boy reporter Tintin, his dog Milou (Snowy in English), and his friend Captain Haddock, running into characters such as the absent-minded professor Tryphon Tournesol (Cuthbert Calculus), identical detectives who are not twins Dupont and Dupond (Thomson and Thompson), and opera singer Bianca Castafore. Tintin’s adventures have taken him to many exotic locales, including the moon in Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, first serialized from 1950 to 1953, almost two decades before the first lunar landing. Hergé did his research when he could, though a few problems slipped through. Some of his prejudices slipped through, especially in his early work, but later titles corrected the bias.
The Tintin comics are a mix of action-adventure and mystery, with the title character falling into the adventure and then following leads for his job. The artwork is clean and very recognizable, thanks to Hergé’s ligne claire style. The comics have been translated into 110 languages, though the first American translation suffered from excessive editorial cuts for content. These cuts have been restored thanks to later publishers. Needless to say, Tintin has had an impact on the world.
Enter Hollywood. While Tintin had been adapted to film, the studios were European, primarily Beligan and French. In 2011, The Adventures of Tintin, directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, co-produced by Peter Jackson and Kathleen Kennedy, was released. The film was done with CGI animation using motion capture and starred Jamie Bell as Tintin, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as Thomson and Thompson, and Daniel Craig as Ivan Invanovith Sakharine. The only character not animated with motion capture was Snowy. The movie adapts three volumes, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure.
The Adventures of Tintin covers how Tintin met Captain Haddock and the Captain’s return to Marlinspike Hall, his father’s home. The story begins with a simple purchase and a pickpocket, then leads to a sea voyage, Morocco, and a fight to finish a battle started by the fathers of Haddock and Sakharine, leading to where Captain Haddock’s father hid a treasure. Through it, Tintin finds adventure and danger, convinces Captain Haddock to help, and gets unexpected assistance from Thompson and Thomson who were on a completely unrelated pickpocket case.
The animation doesn’t take long to get used to. The opening credits ease the audience into the idea by showing Tintin and Snowy, mostly in Silhouette, in previous adventures. The film itself provides a crowd scene as Tintin gets his portrait done. The cartoon features are introduced slowly, giving the audience time to adjust. The first look the audience has of Tintin is his portrait, done in Hergé’s style, before revealing Jamie Bell in the role. The CG animation stops from being fully realistic, keeping characters, even in the crowd scene, looking like they stepped off the pages of the comics. At the same time, Tintin looks natural, thanks to details like strands of hair and motion capture making sure the movements are natural. Indeed, every character looks like their counterpart from the comics.
But just looking right is half the battle. Casting is important. Jamie Bell brought the earnestness needed to portray Tintin. Serkis’ take on Captain Haddock turned him Scottish, which didn’t detract from Haddock’s colourful language. Frost and Pegg continued Thompson and Thomson’s shtick of finishing each other’s sentences while bumbling through an adventure. Daniel Craig’s turn as Sakharine was a velvet glove over an iron fist, a genteel front that drops when things start going wrong. The result is a cast of vibrant characters who match their comic counterparts almost note perfectly.
The writing kept to the plot of the adapted comics, with one addition. Bianca Castafore was added as part of Sakharine’s plan to get the third model of the Unicorn; the character was considered too iconic to leave out of the film. Members of the audience trying to figure out Sakharine’s plot could figure it out before Tintin, mainly from the leads laid out beforehand. The pace is good; the audience gets to go through several roller coasters scenes that are followed by breather spots to gather themselves to the next twist and turn. The action scenes advance the plot instead of being set pieces.
Details can make or break an adaptation. Get something wrong and the audience is thrown out of the suspension of disbelief. Get the small details right, though, and audience buy-in is easier. The opening credits used the same typeface that the covers of the comic compilations had, with the accompanying animation staying true to the original comics. Keeping the tone and the era the same, matching the comics, turns the movie into a grand adaptation.
My apologies, but there is no review this week. Lost in Translation will return next week.
Science fiction was still a budding genre on television. Budgets couldn’t match the imagination of creators, creating problems. However, Star Trek had made an impact by 1970, and movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey only whet appetites. There was a demand to be filled. Harlan Ellison aimed to fill that demand with a mini-series. The result, The Starlost, a 1973 TV series that had problems from the outset.
Ellison’s original idea was about a colony ship, the Ark, off course due to damage sustained after an unexpected hit on the vessel. The Ark drifted off course for centuries before the gravitational pull of a class G star puts the ship on a course to destruction. The only hope are three people from one of the Ark‘s biodomes, environments on the ship meant to maintain pieces of old Earth biology and culture. The goal of the three is to find a way to set change the Ark‘s course to safety while dealing with the various cultures of the biodomes, many of which have also lost technology and the knowledge of being on a ship.
The concept is simple but ambitious. The mini-series would have a beginning and an end. The Ark would be saved or doomed. Ellison then shopped the story around. The only taker was a Canadian studio, Glen-Warren Productions. There, the problems began. The studio had never produced a science fiction program before and had a limited budget. Canadian television in the 70s wasn’t known for being groundbreaking and existed solely because of CRTC‘s Canadian content regulations. Canadian broadcasters needed to have a minimum amount of television produced by and featuring Canadians. Ellison’s notes for the biospheres included distances; the studio tried to shorten the distances because the focal distance of the cameras in use wouldn’t extend further. There are more details in the book, Phoenix from the Ashes, but the big stumbling block was that the studio didn’t understand science fiction.
The result, The Starlost. The series begins in the biodome called Cypress Corners, an agriculture community with a strong religious, patriarchal society. Devon, played by Keir Dullea, chafed against his society and explored, discovering the true nature of his home. Such explorations, though, lead to him being shunned. Making things worse, he and Rachel (Gay Rowan) were in love with each other, despite her being betrothed to Garth (Robin Ward), a blacksmith. Devon reveals the truth to the citizens of Cypress Corners, leading to him being chased out of the biodome with Rachel following him and Garth following her.
Early in their explorations, they find a sphere projector, the interface to the Ark‘s main computer. the computer host (William Osler) and discover that their home and the entire Ark is in danger because of a class-G star. If they cannot get the ship’s reactors online, the Ark will be pulled into the star. Thus begins their quest. The trio do find the bridge early, to find it damaged and unpopulated. The search finds possible help, but each time there are problems. Some biodomes have their own problems, with the trio being the catalyst to change in the environment. As the series goes on, the episodes start straying from the core concept. Odd ideas pop in and out, such as aliens, that tend to leave the viewer wanting more with no further explanation.
The core concept of The Starlost is solid. It was Harlan Ellison; he may have been abrasive, but he knew science fiction. The same goes for executive producer Douglas Trumbull, who contributed to the effects of 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and directed 1972’s Silent Running. The core cast included Keir Dullea, who starred in 2001, with Gay Rowan and Robin Ward being decent Canadian actors. The guest cast included the likes of Canadians John Colicos, Lloyd Bochner, and Donnelly Rhodes, plus Barry Morse and Walter Koenig, all of whom were capable of treating the material with the seriousness it deserved, even if some scenery was chewed in the process.
The core problem was budget. The series didn’t have one big enough. The Ark looked impressive on television screens at the time, but close in passes started to show the limitations. Reuse of props, though, made sense; the Ark was built with standards in mind, so all the chairs, all the consoles, all the irises looking the same through a set redress made sense. There were times when the budget wasn’t enough, making the 70s-era Doctor Who and Danger!! Death Ray! look like special effects wonders. The problems with the studio led Ellison to use his Cordwainer Bird pen name as a way to show that he was not happy.
The distance between Toronto and Los Angeles also caused problems. Ellison wasn’t willing to commute to Toronto, so there wasn’t a steady hand around to keep the writing staff focused. Later episodes were closer to science fiction versions of Glen-Warren’s better known series, The Littlest Hobo, with Devon, Rachel, and Garth in the role of the Hobo. The leads were catalysts for change, but not the cause nor the vehicle of it.
If The Starlost were to be remade, the biggest fix is budget. Today, it is possible ti use CGI for less than practical effects were in the 70s in today’s dollars. The Ark, which looked sprawling, can diminish into the distance, with fly-bys being more detailed than what they were in the series. The model of the Ark is impressive, especially for the era, but it wasn’t designed for close ups. A larger budget would allow for filming in appropriate environments. Cypress Corners could be filmed outside instead on a stage. The biodomes could look larger, thanks to today’s technology. Still, a unified design is needed for the Ark‘s interiors, but industrial grey can be swapped out. However, the sphere projectors should be kept, even in an updated version. A voice of doom is needed to play the role of the host computer.
The next biggest fix is returning to the original idea of mini-series. The Ark is in danger. There is enough time to get the Ark back on course, but there is a time crunch. The leads can’t go exploring every biodome between them and the auxiliary bridge; the longer they take, the harder it gets to fix the Ark‘s course. Once the Ark is no longer in danger of burning up in the nuclear fires of a star, finding a new Earth becomes the next goal, so a sequel series can be made if wanted. But the Ark can’t be left in limbo; audiences no longer accept series without a proper end.
The above ties into the next fix – writing staff. A showrunner is needed to keep the series focused. With a mini-series, the idea of knowing where the show is going makes it easier to keep the writers all in the right direction. This will also help when dealing with guest cast; the characters need a reason to be introduced. With a focused approach, the non-lead characters will either help the leads with their quest or delay, but the leads won’t be floundering. The focus will also help when dealing with the different biodome cultures and technology. Some will slip backwards; others will maintain what they can. Working out some biodomes in advance and figuring out if they’re aware of the problem or not can help with the creation of episodes.
Could there be a remake of The Starlost. It depends on the rights. Assuming the Ellison estate holds them, it may be a matter of price and control. If it’s Glen-Warren, the production company has been bought by Bell Media, who also owns a number of broadcast and cable stations. In this case, it may just be the effort of bringing a proposition to Bell Media or one of their stations such as CTV Sci-Fi (née Space) and see if there’s a bite. The series does own some name space, even if it’s being known as one of the worst science fiction TV shows ever made.
The Starlost, though, has a strong core idea, thanks to Harlan Ellison. The problem was execution, not concept, so there is room to live up to the original idea behind the terrible.