Continuing in the Remaking the Eighties miniseries, a look at an earlly attempt for an original superhero series, Misfits of Science.
Today, superheroes are big. Blockbuster big. Movies, TV series. Tie-in novels. It’s impossible to check theatre listings without seeing an ad for a superhero movie. In the Eighties, though, while superhero comics were seeing a resurgence, but the characters really didn’t cross over to any other medium beyond animation. There were exceptions; The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno ran 1978 to 1982, with three follow up TV movies from 1988 to 1990 is the main one. DC had sequels to the 1978 Superman film and the spin-off, Supergirl with Helen Slater, and the 1989 Tim Burton helmed Batman with Michael Keaton. The phenomenon of today didn’t exist in the Eighties.
However, the success of the Superman sequels was enough to get a studio wondering how to cash in on superhero popularity. Special effects were catching up to the what could be seen in comics, and practical effects could deal with most powers. Misfits of Science debuted October 1985 with a pilot movie and ran for fifteen more episodes before being cancelled for low ratings. The series starred Dean Paul Martin as Dr. Billy Hayes, Kevin Peter Hall as Dr. Elvin “El” Lincoln, Mark Thomas Miller as “Johnny B” Bukowski, Courtney Cox as Gloria Dinallo, and Max Wright as Dick Stetmeyer.
Billy was the leader of the group, despite having no powers. He specialized in “human anomalies” and worked at the Humanidyne Institute. That mean that Billy was looking into creating superhumans, though within the bounds of ethics. His partner at work, El, went one step further and underwent a hormonal treatment to shrink himself. El’s goal was to get down to a normal height; he was tired of being asked to play basketball because of his height, never mind that he was not any good at the sport. The problem with the treatment was that it went too far. Instead of regressing El’s height, it allowed him to shrink down roughly to the size of a Ken doll, and just him. He had to carry around a spare set of clothes for when he did shrink.
Gloria, Cox’s first main role on TV, is a telekinetic who has to see her target in order to affect it. Blindfold her, and she won’t be able to affect anything around her /except/ the blindfold, which became a plot point in one episode. Gloria is also troubled teen with a history of delinquency and crime, having a probation officer, Jane Miller (Jennifer Holmes). Johnny B who Gloria has a crush on, is a rock musician who gained electrical powers after being electrocuted on stage.. He is capable of tossing lightning bolts and superspeed. Johnny B also drains all electrical and electronic devices, so he tends to live in isolation in the desert, where he can charge thanks to static electricity. Finally, Stetmeyer is the put upon director of Humanidyne. He’s the face of the company and while Humanidyne might have some ethical issues, it is not an evil corporation. Stetmeyer is there for the research, not world domination.
The episodes were all stand-alones, as was typical for the era. The series was an action comedy, with some episodes being parodies. The use of powers did get creative, but some solutions called for a specific abilitiy one of the characters had. Some character’s issues were dropped along the way, getting in the way of episode plots. However, the show had potential that was never brought forward
That potential makes Misfits of Science ripe for being remade. Superpowered people are no longer seen as just for children. Marvel/Disney in particular is having great financial success diving into Marvel’s characters, even if certain X-titles are off-limits thanks to earlier deals. At the same time, Misfits of Science might not thrive on the main four networks, CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX. It could work on the CW, where the Arrowverse – Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, and Batwoman – are thriving or have succeeded. The flip side is that the CW may not have room for a non-DC superhero series, leaving streaming services. There are only so many streaming services a potential viewer can afford, and after paying for Netflix and Disney+, for example, another streaming service may not be affordable.
That said, a potential Misfits of Science can fill a gap. While the Arrowverse does have some lighter series in The Flash and Supergirl, most superhero series tend to be serious. In order to not be seen as childish, the pendulum swings the other way by going a little grittier. This way leads to the Zack Snyder version of the Justice League, dark to the point of needing a flashlight to see the movie. Having a lighter superhero series isn’t a bad thing, provided it’s well written. The characters in the series have a good base to start from, with motivations and backgrounds that can lead to interesting arcs. Johnny’s drawback adds a new twist in the 2020s where we carry around far more electronics than we did in 1984. Any potential viewer will know the feeling of a cell phone running out of battery power at an inopportune time.
The series is set at the origins of superpowered beings, the human anomalies. While the original had Billy and his team get into plots to try to help, the new series could explore the impact of regular people with powers. Johnny B can’t walk around downtown without draining every cell phone around him. Gloria is dealing with a mother who has had a mental breakdown; she’s also on probation, so needs to keep her nose clean, or at least maintain that appearance. El and Billy, being the researchers, have the reason to stay close with the anomalies they work with, especially after El becomes one. There is room for episodic and season-long plots to combine while still keeping a light touch. Keeping Humanidyne as a neutral company instead of evil will allow for less ethical companies to pop up as rivals, with their own misfits.
Misfits of Science was ahead of its time, foreseeing the superhero boom we’re now in but not able to properly exploit it. A remake today can update some of the premises, bring the concepts to a new audience, and be entertaining. The only real issue is finding it a proper home.
Continuing the mini-series of remaking TV shows from the Eighties, next up is Remington Steele. The series is responsible for introducing Pierce Brosnan to a broader audience, leading to him becoming 007 for three films and a video game. Remington Steele ran for four full seasons and a truncated fifth. Brosnan’s popularity got him noticed by Cubby Broccoli as a possible Bond, so NBC took advantage to get the last six episodes made. As a result, Brosnan’s debut as 007 was delayed until Goldeneye instead of being in The Living Daylights.
Steele starred Brosnan as the title character and Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt. Holt, being a professional detective, found that traffic wasn’t making its way to her door. She created the fictional Remington Steele to head a detective agency where she handled all the cases and customer relations for her “boss”. Brosnan played a conman who slipped into the role while escaping a complication in a past life. Holt, while annoyed initially, accepted “Steele” as useful, someone to be the fictional character and meet clients while she did the job.
Each episode was a mystery, which is natural for a mystery series. Holt used professional skills to deduce the solution. Steele, however, used his vast knowledge of classic film noir films, making connections to the mystery to a film. Most episodes weren’t tied to one specific film, but there are exceptions, such as “Vintage Steele” with The Trouble With Harry. The draw was the onscreen chemistry between Zimbalist and Brosnan and the show’s light touch, turning it into almost a romantic mystery comedy.
A remake of Remington Steele is going to succeed or fail on the casting. Whoever is hired to play the leads need to work well together. For Steele, it’s not enough to get someone with the looks. Brosnan also had a sense of humour running under the suave exterior. The new Remington Steele would have to be a modern Cary Grant, capable of being debonair and still carrying comedy. The new Laura needs to be able to portray a capable investigator, someone who has no qualms about getting dirty while still being able to fit in at society events.
The premise of the series, a woman private investigator using a male name to attract clients, is sadly believable today; society has slid back a bit since the Nineties. Episodes should be light, even when murder is involved. The “Will they or won’t they” needs to be done with a deft touch; answering that question tends to signal the end of a series as the driver of drama fizzles out. However, couple the romantic subplot with Steele’s mysterious past, and there can be a running subplot that ties the episodes together.
/Remington Steele/ had a couple of remake projects come up. Brosnan explored the idea of a Steele feature film in 2005. NBC looked at remaking the series as a half-hour comedy. While Brosnan’s project would have been faithful, neither resulted in a finished product.
Remington Steele had a good run in the Eighties, with memorable characters. Recreating that chemistry is the key to a remake. Everything else is bonus.
This week, as part of a short series hypothetically remaking TV shows from the 80s. The gap between original work and remake appears to be about 30-40 years, so the shows will fall into that gap. Since Lost in Translation took a look at Airwolf a few weeks ago, specifically the fourth season as a reboot, it’s a good place to start.
A quick refresher: Airwolf starred Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, Ernest Borgnine as Dominic Santini, Alex Cord as Archangel, and Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy. The titular helicopter was a one-of-a-kind prototype, capable of punching up to the point of taking on jets. Hawke, in order to put pressure on Archangel and the Firm, a spy agency, takes Airwolf for himself after recovering it for the Firm. The deal is that the Firm find Hawke’s brother St-John and Airwolf gets returned. The fourth season saw serious changes to the show as it switched networks, studios, shooting locations, and even cast. The fourth season did wrap up Hawke’s search for his brother, bringing in Barry Van Dyke as St-John, but the series ended with the last episode of the season.
Airwolf was one of two TV series featuring high-tech gunships, the other being Blue Thunder, based on the movie of the same name. Why Airwolf and not Blue Thunder? The latter might not work well today when the issue of the militarization of police looms large. Remaking the original Blue Thunder film would take a deft hand today and may work better in film to get the point home instead of speading the message over weeks of episodes. Airwolf, however, remained in the realm of the Cold War. Several of the original episodes of Airwolf had Archangel using the helicopter and her crew as a promoted pawn for endgames in the Great Game.
The link to espionage work is the key. While the Cold War may be over, there’s still Cold Border Skirmishes happening. There’s room for writers to work with; there’s always dictatorships threatening liberty. The original series had a melancholy mood to it, which will need to be carried over. The show was dark for its era; turning the remake into a dark and gritty version ignores that Airwolf is already moody. While the Eighties sitcoms were light, the dramas explored aspects that series in previous decades didn’t, the big event being the fallout of the Vietnam War. Sure, M*A*S*H spearheaded the way in the Seventies, but used the Korean War as a proxy. The Eighties were a time of opening wounds to start healing them.
The big stumbling block is establishing proper backgrounds for the characters. String was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam War, meaning a roughly ten year gap between losing his brother and the pilot episode. In the past ten to fifteen years, the main conflicts for the US have been in the Middle East with the invasion of Iran and the invasion of Afghanistan. The latter is much more the quagmire that the Vietnam War was for the US, so we can have String serving there. However, his brother, St-John, is more likely to have run into a improvised explosive device (IED) than being left behind during an air evecuation. The fourth season, though, gives an out.
St-John is military intelligence, working for the Firm or possibly the rival agency, the Company. He’s also active in Afghanistan, where he’s able to meet up with String from time to time. However, when String’s tours are over, St-John remains behind, and eventually contact is lost with him. In the meantime, String is working for his friend/mentor/father figure Dom Santini, who in the origina; was also a veteran. Dom served in WWII and Korea, or thirty to forty years before the start of the series. The Eighties, though, had more covert wars than overt, thanks to the threat of nuclear annihilation. The War on Drugs was going strong, with the CIA working on destabilizing Latin American countries. Here comes the Firm again, and how Archangel works in. Dom was one of the pilots ferrying in agents with Archangel being his contact.
Airwolf itself is still a high-tech stealth helicopter. The capabilities of computers have expanded since the Eighties, so Airwolf could be capable of far more than shown in the original. The pilot could be used with the same beats, with String holding Airwolf as collateral to force the Firm to find St-John. Plots can follow similar found in the original, just updated for today. Adding the Company as a rival allied agency can introduce some added conflict that can emerge from time to time, with hints about St-John woven through.
Casting is important. String needs to be someone capable of being moody yet capable of being a regretful killer. The original series showed that he would give his opponents a chance to surrender before shooting them down, with a few exceptions. Dom needs to be a mentor figure. Archangel is the equivalent of 007‘s M. Can some characters be gender-flipped? It’s harder with Stringfellow and St-John, mainly because the names don’t flip well. Dom and/or Archangel could, though, and having a woman as a mentor figure would be an interesting change.
Airwolf has potential for a remake. For a series that was centered around a high-tech vehicle, the show’s focus was on the characters. The series is ripe for a remake today.
Taking time out this week to prepare for a mini-series for November. Lost in Translation returns with Remaking the 80s.
Some characters are memorable, no matter why they were created. For whatever reason, the character resonates and lasts longer than the creator maintains hime or her. For Rowan Atkinson, his character Mr. Bean may be his best known. Mr. Bean began to form while Atkinson was at Oxford doing his Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. The character’s earliest appearances includes Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival in 1987] and on a 1990 Thames Television special. Fifteen episodes of Mr. Bean were created between 1990 and 1995 for first Thames then for Central Independent Television.
Mr. Bean is essentially pantomime, using and requiring very little dialogue. Atkinson’s physical comedy, from facial expressions to body language, carries the episodes for the most part. He used his appearance at Just For Laughs to see if the character’s humour transcended the language barrier by asking to be placed on the French programme track. Mr. Bean’s appeal lies in his core concept, a man and his teddy bear in a world that they don’t understand nor are understood by. Mr. Bean is a man-child who goes into everyday situations and makes his own way through life.
The character gained popularity in North American thanks to the CBC in Canada and HBO and PBS in the US. Naturally, if something is popular, a studio will adapt it to film. Or, in the case of Bean, studios – Working Title Films and Tiger Aspect Films. The goal was to bring Mr. Bean to the silver screen and to new audiences. Rowan Atkinson is once again the title character, with Peter MacNicol, Pamela Reed, Harris Yulin, Larry Drake, and Burt Reynolds co-starring. The plot is simple enough; Mr. Bean has to accompany the painting, Whistler’s Mother, from the Royal National Gallery in London to its new home at the Grierson Art Gallery. Bean, though, is not the best employee at the National Gallery. Staff at the Grierson Art Gallery, though, are expecting Dr. Bean, having gotten confused on what Bean does. It doesn’t help that Bean describes his job as sitting in a chair and looking at paintings.
Mr. Bean becomes a force of chaos in the lives of the Langleys. David (MacNicol) and Alison (Reed) are on shaky ground with their marriage as it is. The arrival of Mr. Bean, is the flashpoint. During the chaos of preparing for the revealing of Whistler’s Mother, David starts realizing that Mr. Bean might not be the art historian he was led to believe. After a dry run for the reveal ceremony, David confirms with Bean that the latter knows nothing about art. While David tries to make sure that Bean doesn’t have to be involved in the ceremony, he leaves the Englishman with the painting. A wayward sneeze leads to the painting getting defaced. Mr. Bean’s best efforts don’t help. However, just as Mr. Bean is a force of chaos, he can get things done, albeit in an unorthodox way. Fixing the painting, fixing the Langleys, and getting a vacation drive the film to the end, with Mr. Bean triumphant in the end.
The movie doesn’t change much about Mr. Bean beyond showing what he does for work. Even that is more to get the plot going than anything else. There’s some reuse of gags from the TV series, but nothing that would throw off fans. Mr. Bean is still funny even in reruns, after all. The main problem with the film is that the plot often gets in the way of watching Mr. Bean. The character works well as pantomime, but with a larger cast than a TV episode, dialogue gets added. The result is a movie in two parts, one focused with Mr. Bean, the other happening around him.
Bean the Movie works as an introduction of the character to a new audience, providing a traditional storytelling structure to unleash Mr. Bean into. For fans, the plot gets in the way of what they want to see, but there is plenty of Mr. Bean in the film to satisfy. The balance is difficult to maintain, though. Overall, the movie adapts the character well, but the balance needed some adjusting.
Video game franchises are key to the success of a console. Nintendo has the Mario franchise. Microsoft has Halo. Even game companies that don’t have consoles have franchises that keep the company viable, such as The Sims for EA. Sega isn’t unique in this, having Sonic the Hedgehog as their main franchise since 1991. Since then, there has been a number of games across a range of mobile platforms, plus three Western cartoons, an anime series, a manga, an Archie Comics series, and a British comic book series. The blue hedgehog is a money maker for Sega.
The first game in the series was a 2D side-scrolling platformer featuring Sonic, a blue hedgehog who could run fast and roll like a ball into enemies. At the end of each stage, the player would take on the boss, Dr Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, a mad scientist who has been turning the animals of Green Hills into mechanical drones. If Robotnik is chased off, the player got a bonus stage where rings, used to gain extra lives, and a Chaos Emerald could be obtained. As was typical of the era, saving a game was not possible. Players had to get through to the end in one go. The game also became more challenging the further the player progressed, including one chapter of four parts that included underwater stages. If a player could get to the end and defeat Robotnik once and for all, the animals of Green Hills were freed from his clutches.
The last Sonic game released for a Sega console was in 2000, Sonic Shuffle on the Dreamcast. Since then, Sonic has appeared on mobile platforms, including Nintendo’s GameBoy and, later, smartphones. And as Lost in Translation has pointed out time and time again, something popular will get the attention of Hollywood. Sonic was first licensed in 1994 to MGM, but nothing ultimately came from it, possibly because of the reputation video game movies had thanks to the likes of 1993’s Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon. Sony picked up the license in 2013, but wrote off production costs on its efforts. Paramount then licensed Sonic in 2017, with the result being the 2020 release, Sonic the Hedgehog.
The production wasn’t ideal. The first trailer featured a Sonic that didn’t look like Sonic. There was immediate backlash on social media, which led to Paramount delaying the movie to fix Sonic’s appearance. Lost in Translation covered the details when the corrected trailer was released. The timing of the movie wasn’t the best. Legendary Pictures, The Pokémon Company, and Toho had Detective Pikachu coming, with trailers that showed CGI Pokémon that were accurate to the games and anime. The delay to fix the appearance of Sonic also pushed the movie to the just before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown as news and misinformation of the disease was spreading.
The movie itself, though, isn’t bad. It’s a buddy road trip movie, with Ben Schwartz as Sonic, James Marsden as Tom Wachowski, Tika Sumpter as Maddie Wachowski, Lee Majdoub as Agent Stone, and Jim Carrey as Dr. Ivo Robotnik. The chemistry among the cast elevates the movie; Agent Stone and Dr. Robotnik have many memorable scenes as do Tom and Sonic. Casting can make or break a movie; here, the actors are aware of the type of movie they’re in and are willing to reach that level. Carrey brings a cartoonish quality to Robotnik, much like Raul Julia did with M. Bison in Street Fighter: The Movie.
The movie opens on a green alien world, with elevated natural platforms that includes loops, very much looking like a 3D version of the original game’s first chapter. A very young Sonic is taking a run around before heading home. His mentor, Longclaw, admonishes him for showing off where others could see. While he tries to say that he wasn’t seen, a tribe of echidnae have found him. Longclaw defends Sonic long enough to send him off to a strange world, giving him a pouch of rings that would allow him to go anywhere safe.
Years later, in Green Hills, Montana, Sheriff Tom is having a typical day. Green Hills is a sleepy town, where even speeding is rare. Tom wants to make a difference in people’s lives, and with Green Hills purring along, the next step is to join a larger city’s police force. His wife, Maddie, isn’t sure, but supports his decision. Of course, some days just don’t go smooth. The day starts with him off looking for speeders with total traffic being one single car. As he deals with the boredom, his radar pings at over 290 mph. He looks around, no car. His radar then registers something going at 300 mph. While Tom’s confused, Sonic is please with his new speed.
Sonic is the unknown inhabitant of the town, living off in a small cave with some comforts, including a stack of /Flash/ comics. While safe, he does have Longclaw’s map of other safe worlds, though the next one on the list, the mushroom planet, isn’t to his liking. Sonic’s biggest problem is that he’s lonely. He’s shown to keeping himself busy, from playing ping-pong to reading, but he’s on the outside looking in. A Little League playoff game drives it home; after the game, Sonic manages to be the pitcher, catcher, outfielder, third base coach, and umpire. While he does score the winning run, just missing being tagged at the plate during an inside-the-park home run, there’s no one there to celebrate with him. His frustrations get the better of him and he starts running faster than ever, leading to him blacking out the entire town.
The energy surge doesn’t go unnoticed. The military sends in the top expert, Dr. Ivo Robotnik, though not without protests at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Robotnik arrives on site and takes over the investigation. He and his minion, Agent Stone, take lead of the investigation. Egg-shaped drones are sent out to find clues. But Robotnik has his own agenda.
When the drones find Sonic, Robotnik picks up on the energy and power the hedgehog has. Sonic looks for help and goes to the one person in the best position to help, Tom. While they aren’t sure of each other, with Tom shooting Sonic with a tranquilizer gun, they do discover that they have a common problem – Robotnik. The pair take to the road.
The movie becomes a proper buddy road trip film on the road from Green Hills to San Francisco to recover Sonic’s rings, lost when he was tranquilied. Robotnik, however, is right on their trail and has not only his truck, but a drone that has sub-drones. During the chase, Sonic gets frustrated again with his lot in life, but instead of taking out the electricity in the area, he brings Robotnik’s truck to a stop, then the first drone. The second drone, Sonic is back to his normal speed, but it’s a smaller drone. Once that one is destroyed, a very small and sticky drone comes out. Tom and Sonic escape, but Robotnik gets one of Sonic’s quills.
Once in San Francisco, small obstacles are overcome, including Maddie’s sister Rachel (played by Natasha Rothwell), who has never liked Tom even before he was wanted for terrorism. They get to where Sonic’s rings are, the top of the Transamerica Pyramid, just in time for Robotnik to arrive in a craft powered by Sonic’s quill. The chase is on again. Sonic uses his rings to send Tom and Maddie back to Green Hills, then leads Robotnik on a chase around the world. Ultimately, Sonic defeats Robotnik as he would in the video games, rolling at high speeds to batter Robotnik’s vehicle. He then sends Robotnik to the worst possible place he can think of, the mushroom planet.
Casting, as mentioned above, was critical to the film. The cast know what sort of movie Sonic is trying to be. The film isn’t trying to be great, but fun, and it delivers, thanks to the cast. The delay to fix the effects, especially Sonic’s appearance, paid off. Sonic is recognizable as Sonic, with attitude oozing from him. Carrey doesn’t quite have Robotnik’s look, but the movie is meant as an origins story for both characters, and does pick up the classic look before the credits as he slowly loses his remaining grasp on sanity on the mushroom planet. The costume, though, fits.
The movie also deals with the Robotnik/Eggman issue. In Japan, the villain is known as Eggman, due to his shape. In English releases, he’s called Dr. Ivo Robotnik, mostly from the instruction booklet that came with the game. In the movie, the character is Dr. Ivo Robotnik, but because of the shape of the robots he uses, Sonic calls him Eggman. It works.
There are references to the game throughout the film. Sonic’s original home looks like the Green Hills chapter from the first game. The town in Montana is named after that same chapter. The chase around the world include locations similar to those found in the games. Robotnik’s defeat is done as a player would in the games.
Sonic the Hedgehog managed to overcome some issues that could have hurt the film at the box office. However, the strength of the cast and the script plus Paramount’s willingness to fix Sonic’s appearance resulted in a box office take of under $310 million. It is not a bad movie, nor is it a bad adapation. It pulls ideas from the games to bring into the new medium. The movie came back from some potential major errors and is a fun romp worth watching.
After the look at various fan works, it’s time to get back to the professional works. This time out, Airwolf, specfically, the series’ fourth season.
Airwolf debuted in 1984 on CBS, were it ran until 1986, and starred Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, Ernest Borgnine as Dominic Santini, Alex Cord as Michael “Archangel” Coldsmith-Briggs III, and, starting in the second season, Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy. Airwolf was part of a wave of TV series built around high-tech, almost super, vehicles. The wave had been building easily since 007 drove his heavily Q-modified Aston-Martin DB-V in Goldfinger, climaxing in 1982 with the film adaptation of Craig Thomas’ Firefox and the Glen A. Larson TV series, Knight Rider. In 1983, the film Blue Thunder was released to theatres and was centrered around the police use of a military helicopter. The following year, a TV series spin off of Blue Thunder aired as well as Airwolfe.
The difference between the two super-helicopter series was in their use. Blue Thunder still had the military/militarized chopper in police hands. With Airwolf, the one-of-a-kind helicopter was strictly military, and taken by Hawke as collateral to ensure that Archangel and the secret agency, the Firm, would keep their word in finding Stringfellow’s missing brother, St. John, who was Missing-In-Action in Vietnam. Airwolf also was moody, sombre, and serious.
A typical episode of Airwolf could go one of three directions. The first is Airwolf and its crew being given a mission by Archangel to complete, either flying Airwolf in on stealth or going undercover using Dom’s company, Santini Air. The second is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting involved in local affairs or machinations within the Firm. The third is Hawke following up on news of St. John or of a friend who might know of his brother’s location. No matter the initial direction, the climax would be a helicopter dogfight involving Airwolf and the villain of the episode. Once in a while, Soviet MiGs would be part of the fight, just to demonstrate how much Airwolf could punch up.
The series lasted three seasons on CBS. Ratings had been low despite attempts to bolster them, and the influence of Miami Vice could be seen as part of the changes. With other factors involved, CBS cancelled the series in 1986. However, the cable station USA Network was expanding to a 24 hour format and needed new programming, so it picked up Airwolf for second run syndication and commissioned a fourth season, airing in 1987. With the changes necessitated by the change of both network and production company, the fourth season is more a remake of Airwolf than a continuation.
With one exception, none of the original cast appeared. The exception is Jan-Michael Vincent, who appeared in the first episode of the season, “Blackjack”. The episode gave Stringfellow’s quest to find his brother closure, with St. John working for the Company as an agent. The new cast comprised of Barry Van Dyke as St. John Hawke, Geraint Wyn Davies as Mike Rivers, Michele Scarabelli as Dom’s niece, Jo Santini, and Anthony Sherwood as Jason Locke.
With a reduced budget, other changes occurred. The shooting location is most obvious. There are far more pine trees and much fewer deserts thanks to the move to Vancouver. Airwolf’s hiding spot got more detail as the series relied less on Santini Air exterior shots. Stock footage from the previous three seasons were used of Airwolf in action, though editing allowed for new ways to show the air battles despite the limitation.
The nature of episode plots tended towards missions for the Company, allowing for Locke to join the team in Airwolf. With all four members of the team capable of handling at least one aspect of flying the helicopter, either as pilot or flight engineer, the characters could split off to do more work on the ground, avoiding the lack of new aerial Airwolf scenes. There is still some in-fighting at the Company, in part because Locke is keeping Airwolf away from the agency for his own purposes.
The tone is the biggest change. The first three seasons, even with the influence of Miami Vice forcing its way in, was moody, dark without being grim, reflecting Stringfellow’s emotions. The action is stylized. The fourth season is a straight up action series, losing the mood of the previous seasons.
Why treat the fourth season as a remake? The time between being cancelled on CBS and being aired on the USA Network is under a year and the episode “Blackjack” hands off the series to the new cast. That would imply that the series continued. However, with a drastic change of cast and approach, the fourth season of Airwolf is closer to being Star Trek: The Next Generation than a hypothetical fourth season of the original Star Trek. Wrapping up String’s quest to find his brother was a nod to continuity, providing closure to the first three seasons. Afterwards, the series is more about using Airwolf on missions, a complete change from the original approach. Unlike ST: TNG, there wasn’t the time between the seasons to allow for a gap.
Season four of Airwolf is a unique case. It was meant to be a continuation of the series, but with the drastic change of cast, the fourth season became its own entity in the shadow of the original. It’s not a bad season, but it couldn’t live up to what had passed before it.
Today’s BattleTech is a massive franchise consisting of a tabletop wargame and a tabletop RPG from Catalyst Labs, a popular online multi-player video game developed by Harebrained Schemes, and many novels covering the range of history of the setting. The game was first released as Battledroids in 1984 by FASA. The game was renamed after Lucasfilm reminded the company that “Droid” wasn’t FASA’s trademark. The second edition was renamed to BattleTech and had corrections and more advanced rules, including a way for players to create their own BattleMechs, the kings of the battlefield.
The second edition, the first under the BattleTech name, introduced a galaxy at war, with the 3035 Succession Wars. The five great houses, Steiner of the Lyran Commonwealth, Kurita of the Draconis Combine, Laio of the Capellan Confederation, Marek of the Free Worlds League, and Davion of the Federated Suns. The initial BattleMechs provided were licensed from the designer of the mecha for Super Dinemsion Fortress Macross, Crusher Joe, and Fang of the Sun: Dougram. As the game line increased with supplements, Technical Readout: 3025 added more designs, some of which were also licensed from the mentioned anime.
The third edition came out in 1992. However, problems were looming. Harmony Gold, the studio that adapted three separate anime series – Super Dinemsion Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Squadron Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA – into the series RoboTech noticed that FASA was using mecha from Macross. The result of the lawsuit turned a large number of BattleMechs being removed from the game in 1996; those ‘Mechs became known as the Unseen. However, FASA was already advancing the setting’s time line, having released Technical Readout: 3050 with more new designs for BattleMech, AeroFighters, and conventional vehicles.
Since the game is based on BattleMechs battling each other, any peace in the setting could only be short-lived. For 3050, a new threat appeared, one that allowed FASA to use new BattleMech designs on the covers of their games. From beyond the Periphery came the Clans to reclaim Earth from the Inner Sphere barbarians. Lost in Translation covered this in some detail in the review of the BattleTech cartoon. The Clan Invasion looked to be unstoppable with their advanced weapons technology outstripped anything the Inner Sphere had. Two events caused the Clans to stumble. The first was the loss of the Khans of the invading Clans, taken out by a lone pilot, Tyra Miraborg, who A-winged her Aerospace Fighter into the bridge of a Clan warship.
The other event was ComStar calling out the Clans to Tukayyid for a proxy fight for possession of Earth. Until 3055, ComStar was the quasi-religious corporation that had the monopoly on interstellar communication. No one expected ComStar to have a vast horde of Star League-era BattleMechs, least of all the Clans. No one expect ComStar to survive with green pilots and soldiers. When the smoke cleared, though, on May 20, 3052, Tukayyid was in the hands of ComStar and the invading Clans were defeated.
The fallout of the Battle of Tukayyid was that the Clan Invasion was stalled for fifteen years, giving the Inner Sphere time to figure out what to do. ComStar underwent a schism, with the more religious of the corporation upset with what happened and splintered off to become the Word of Blake, named after the founder of ComStar. To the Great Houses’ credit, they saw an out that would cut off the Clans from further invading once the fifteen year moratorium ended. The Second Star League formed. Without the pressure of the Clan Invasion, the Lyran part of the Federated Commonwealth started a civil war, resulting in the polity splitting into the Federated Commonwealth and the Lyran Alliance.
The Second Star League didn’t last long. While the idea was sound, the implementation didn’t take into account the existing tensions between the Great Houses. After seven years, the Second Star League dissolved. The Word of Blake, feeling betrayed by, well, everyone, began their Jihad to punish everyone responsible for the Second Star League’s failure.
All of the above is just scratching the surface. FASA and, later, Catalyst Game Labs have produced a number of sourcebooks and novels that go into far greater detail. The setting’s vast history is a draw for fans of the game. It’s possible to play in any era, and the setting’s timeline is still being advanced.
The Tex Talks BattleTech series is a love letter to a game from such a fan. Tex started the series because of how much fun he had with the game and wanted to do something light with it. The first Tex Talk was on Tex’s favourite BattleMech, the Awesome. He followed up with the assault ‘Mech, the Atlas. He then turned it over to the fanbase on what to cover next. As with any Internet poll, the results were predictable. There’s always a so-ugly-it’s-cute item in any setting and in BattleTech, that role falls to the UrbanMech, a light ‘Mech that is essentially the Volkswagen Beetle of BattleTech, though Beetles could outrun one. Despite the Urbie’s performance, Tex treated the ‘Mech the same as he did the Awesome and Atlas, though with far more memes.
The turning point came May 20, 2019 with a special Tex Talk “remembering” the Battle of Tukayyid, with Tex giving a historical overview of the battle for Earth with insight on where both sides made mistakes. Tex does more than just restate the results of the fight; he gets into the tactics, the psychology of both the Clans and of the ComGuards, and adds his own opinions on why the battle ended the way it did.
The special was just a hint of what was to come. Tex and his team then took on the main event in the BattleTech setting, the one that set off all the Succession Wars, the Clan Invasion, the Word of Blake Jihad – the Amaris Civil War that ended the original Star League. Tex went back to the source material, spread across a number of sourcebooks and websites, to put together a 3+ hour presentation split into two videos to cover the build up, the war itself, and the fallout.
Again, Tex goes beyond the text, adding insights on everyone involved and analyzes why the Star League fell and what could have been done to prevent it. The videos can act as an intro for any new player to understand why the galaxy is constantly at war.
Tex’s video have a light touch, with humour to keep a potentially dry subject interesting. Tex himself is a voice made of well-aged whiskey. There are meme and running gags. Some, like calling ComStar “Space AT&T” are based on what the corporation does. Others are based on quirks of the various Houses, such as the Lyran use of assault ‘Mechs, the heaviest of the heavies, to do scouting.
Tex Talks BattleTech is a labour of love for Tex and his crew. They know the setting and have the sourcebooks on hand if they don’t remember a detail. Fans have been sending in more sourcebooks and other items, including painted miniatures of various BattleMechs. The videos don’t just do the surface details; Tex and his team get into details and analysis over several sources, working out the whys behind the whats, then adds a layer of humour on top.
Lost in Translation continues its look at fanworks with “Kenobi: A Star Wars Fan Film”, directed by Jason Satterlund, story by Rob Harmon, and screenplay by James Costa & Jason Satterlund and Rob Harmon. This production had some money behind it, not only for effects but for location shots. Have a watch; it’s only seventeen minutes.
The short takes place a few years after Revenge of the Sith on Tattooine. Obi-Wan is in transition from being Ewan MacGregor to being Alec Guiness. The seventeen minutes packs a lot of information, all through body language of the leads. Knowledge of the movies both before and after the fan film adds to the depth. The costumes and hairstyles match what has been seen in Star Wars. Costa as Ben has the looks to show that Obi-Wan is aging.
I mentioned above that the production had some money behind it. The creators ran an IndieGoGo campaign. As a result, the creators were able to do some filming in Morocco to capture the right sort of desert needed; in the movies, the Lars farmstead was filmed in Tunisia to the further east. The music was performed by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra, who have appeared in a number of movies and video games. And to sweeten the pot, the creators got James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to portray Captain Leegus. The funding also allowed for drone shots and 3D printing of props.
The effort put into the fan film pays off. Keeping a young Luke safe means sacrifice for Obi-Wan, one that he isn’t sure he can make when the film starts. The mood is maintained through the actors, through the camera angles, and through the music, with tension being underlaid until everything explodes into action. Pacing matters in a shorter work, and the pacing in “Kenobi” never lags.
“Kenobi” demonstrates what is possible with today’s technological infrastructure. It’s not just having blockbuster quality video camers at consumer-friendly prices. It’s the social networks that come along with Internet-as-a-utility. IndieGoGo allows creators to have fans directly fund works, with word of mouth spread through the likes of Twitter and Facebook, and the final result on YouTube. Even twenty years ago, this would not be as easy to do. Today, the infrastructure that allows creative types and audiences to meet allows for fan works not considered in the past.
Still looking at fan adaptations this week. It turns out, animated Star Trek fan works are a thing, along with fan podcast series. Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at Curt Danhausen’s memorial to James Doohan, “The Quintain” and how he used Filmmation’s art style and approach to animation to be a one-man studio. This week’s review, Star Trek: The Paradise Makers, looks at what a team can do.
The Paradise Maker is a two-part series from Sagittarii Productions, with special effects by Tommorrows Magic. The feature runs over two hours, all animated. It took the team four years to complete. Animation styles include rotoscoping and chroma-key to add in architecture and iconic Star Trek gadgets.
The feature uses a known idea from Star Trek: TOS, that of Star Fleet officers going rogue. There have been a few in Kirk’s time who have ignored orders and gone their own way, including Commodore Matt Decker in “The Doomsday Machine”, Garth of Izar (“Whom Gods Destroy”), Commander Spock (“The Menagerie”), and even James T. Kirk himself (Star Trek: The Motion Picture among other events). Dr. Xiang LI’s self-aggrandizing fits in.
The animation style fits in with the Filmmation series while being a little more fluid. The aquashuttle comes from the animated series, though not lifted directly. The use of chroma-key allows for using real settings and architectural photos and film to save time. Even then, the small team still needed four years. The regular cast of characters are recognizable in appearance. Lost in Translation has mentioned before on how difficult it is to portray Spock, so props to Jay Prichard for tackling the role and trying to balance cold logic with hidden human emotion.
The Paradise Makers fits in the first season of Star Trek, with Dr. Mark Piper (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) retiring and new Ship’s Surgeon Dr. Leonard McCoy reporting for duty. The Enterprise and the Bowfin appear as expected, with the animated series having influence for stylization and requirements for animation. Animation also allows for sets that the live action series didn’t detail, such as ground installations on airless worlds, something The Paradise Makers shows early in Part 1. There’s always a tradeoff; more time needed but fewer restrictions save those imposed by the setting.
The plot would fit in with the original Star Trek. The feature is a morality play on what happens when ambition is not tempered. Dr. Xiang Li risks the lives of the planet and of the crew of the Enterprise all to become a god. Even Garth of Izar at least waited until he became a captain before playing god. However, as Arthur C. Clarke puts it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” something Star Trek touches on repeatedly.
The Paradise Makers was put together by fans of the original Star Trek. Ideas that appeared in the original and the animated series appear, with nods to the progression of today’s technology. The feature has core elements of Star Trek from the superficial – the gadgets, the sounds, the music – to the building blocks, including the message wrapped up in a captivating story. The Paradise Makers also shows what a team can do to put together a feature, even if it takes them four years to complete.