Alas, no new post this week. However, if you’re in Ottawa and at CanGames, I will be there.
Universal Studios has a gold mine when it comes to adaptations. The studio released three of the best known horror films, each featuring a now classic monster – 1931’s Dracula and Frankenstein, and 1932’s The Mummy, the latter two starring Boris Karloff in the title roles. Each of these films presented the villain as something other to be just feared. Two, Dracula and Frankenstein, were adapted from literature written by Bram Stoker and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, respectively. The Mummy, though, was an original film and the second to star Boris Karloff.
The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 kept Egyptology in the minds of audiences for a decade. Even after the opening of the tomb, the careful examination of recovered artifacts, including Tutankhamun himself, took years. Adding to the mystique was the alleged curse dooming anyone who had opened to tomb. Fertile ground for writers, indeed.
The script went through several drafts and changes before reaching what is seen on screen. The original story, Cagliosto by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer, went through rewrites to move the film from San Francisco to Cairo, using the interest in Egyptology to tell a story of forbidden love enduring across time.
The film begins at a British Museum archaeological dig in Egypt of 1921. Sir Joseph Whemple, played by Arthur Byron, and his assistant, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) are busy cataloguing the finds, including the mummified remains of Imhotep (Karloff the Uncanny, as he was billed for the movie) and gold box holding casket with a scroll. Whemple’s friend, Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan), arrives at Sir Joseph’s request to examine the items. Muller examines Imhotep and his tomb and determines that the mummy was buried alive with all invocations to protect the soul removed, chiseled away. Dr. Muller also confirms that the Scroll of Thoth, which returns life to the dead when read, is in the casket, though there is also a curse that will kill whosoever removes the scroll.
Muller and Whemple go outside to talk about the findings. Whemple wants to continue his investigations, but Muller insists that everything should be buried and forgotten. Norton, though, lets his curiosity get the better of him and reads the scroll. Behind him, Imhotep opens his eyes and begins to move. Norton, though, remains unaware and continues to read the scroll until Imhotep puts a hand down on the table. Looking up, Norton sees the mummy and laughs like a madman as Imhotep takes the scroll and walks out.
Ten years later, Whemple’s son Frank (David Manners) is working with Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie) to help the British Museum and the Cairo Museum with another dig. Imhotep arrives, now fleshed out and calling himself Ardath Bey, with information on the resting place of Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, a priestess of Isis and his illicit lover. Pearson and Frank take a team to recover Ankh-es-en-amon and bring her and her treasures to the Cairo Museum, where she is put on display.
Imhotep uses a ritual to call for his lover. Elsewhere in Cairo, Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a woman studying in Cairo, hears the call. She leaves the nightclub she’s in to go to the Cairo Museum, where she collapses in front of Frank. Frank helps her inside and a spark of love ignites in him and in Helen. She recovers, but later runs across Imhotep. He hypnotizes her, reawakening her past life as Ankh-es-en-amon. In the past, when she died, Imhotep stole the Scroll of Thoth in a bid to revive her, much as Isis did with Osiris, but was found and stopped. For his transgressions, he was wrapped and buried alive.
To ensure that Ankh-es-en-amon won’t die again, Imhotep must go through a ritual where he turns her into a mummy herself, then read from the Scroll of Thoth to bring her back to immortal life, allowing them to live together for all eternity. The exhibit at the Cairo Museum has everything Imhotep needs. As the ritual begins, Frank realizes what is about to happen to Helen and races to the museum with Pearson. They arrive in time, but are unable to stop Imhotep. Instead, the mummy incapacitates them with his ring. Helen recovers just enough to realize what is happening and calls on her memories to plead to Isis. Before Imhotep can kill Helen, Isis raises her ankh and creates a beam of light that burns the Scroll of Thoth, breaking the spell keeping Imhotep in a state between life and death, destroying him.
Karloff made a name for himself with his portrayal of Frankenstein, giving the Creature a child-like sensibility. As Imhotep, he uses his physicality to convey both strength and weakness. He moves stiffly, like his body is still not what it was. Lighting casts dramatic shadows across his face. The moment when Norton finishes reading the Scroll of Thoth, the merest opening of his eye carried more weight for the scene than anything else there. Karloff played a man who would do anything for his love, no matter the cost, ensuring that The Mummy would be a classic Universal monster.
Studios know when they have a marketable character. While Imhotep wasn’t in further films, the mummy as a monster reappeared in several work, including The Mummy’s Hand, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy – both from Universal – and a series from Hammer Films. In 1999, Universal returned to the 1932 version, remaking it as The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep.
The remake begins in Ancient Egypt, showing the illicit affair between Imhotep (Vosloo) and Anck-su-numan (Patricia Velasquez), the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I. Caught in the act, Imhotep raises a sword to the Pharaoh, but it is Ankh-su-numan who kills the ruler. She implores Imhotep to escape as only he can resurrect her, then kills herself. Imhotep doesn’t get far and is caught. His punishment is to be mummified and eaten alive by scarab beetles.
In 1923, a unit of the French Foreign Legion is caught in Hamunaptra hidden in the caldera of a volcano. The leader of the unit gets his men ready to repulse an attack by mounted riders, then runs away, leaving Rick O’Connell (Fraser) to take over. He keeps them from breaking, with the exception of Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor), who is the first to run. The riders attack, overwhelming the defenders. Beni takes refuge within the ruin, closing the doors to everyone, friend and foe alike. Soon, it’s just Rick alone, but one of the Magi who watch over the hidden city, Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), invokes magic to scare off the invaders.
Elsewhere, in Cairo, Evelyn “Evy” Carnahan, librarian and Egyptologist, is busy reshelving books in the museum’s library when she has some problems while standing on a ladder. The resulting disaster sees the shelves fall like dominoes. She’s told to get the mess cleaned up. As she does so, her brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), arrives with a map to the lost city of Hamunaptra. Evy discovers that the man her brother stole it from is being held prisoner, scheduled for execution, and rushes to the prison. She makes a deal with the warden (Omid Djalili) for Rick’s release. The warden, though, not only wants a piece of the action, he wants to join the expedition.
The race is on. A group of American treasure hunters are also on the trail to the lost city, and they have their own guide, Beni. On the paddleboat leaving Cairo, though, the Magi attack, trying to get both the map and the key to Hamunaptra. They aren’t successful; the map gets destroyed but Jonathan manages to grab the key before escaping the boat, now aflame thanks to the fighting.
Both groups arrive at Hamunaptra. Evy directs Rick and Jonathan, while the Americans dig elsewhere. Evy’s location is correct, though she’s quick to allow the Americans to take over the dig site. She finds a way down below the statue of Anubis where Rick can start his own digging. The warden finds another route, leading him to a tomb adorned with what look like gemstones. As he pries the stones off, he discovers too late that they are scarab beetles as they burrow within him. He runs off. Evy, Rick, and Jonathan discover a tomb marked “He Who Shall Not be Named” and as they investigate, the warden runs by screaming. They witness him hit a wall and stop, dead.
The Magi attack again overnight. The fight is to a standstill as Rick threatens Bay with a stick of dynamite, but the Magi warn both sets of seekers to leave, giving just one day to leave Hamunaptra. Of course, no one listens. The Americans find the Book of the Dead, though they can’t get it open; it needs a key. At night, Evy manages to liberate the Book and opens it. She reads from it, reawakening Imhotep. However, the mummy does not have eyes nor a tongue.
What Imhotep has is locusts. Everyone scatters, seeking shelter. Inside the lost city, Rick, Evy, and Jonathan are safe until the scarabs pour out. They run, seeking higher ground. Once out of the beetles’ way, they watch the swarm continue their path of destruction. Evy stumbles on a trap door and falls inside, finding one of the Americans. Unfortunately, Imhotep had found him first, taking the American’s eyes and tongue. As he approaches Evy, Imhotep recognizes her as Anck-su-numan. Rick and Jonathan find her and get her out. Imhotep gives chase, but runs into Beni. Beni tries to hold the mummy off with a crucifix and, when that doesn’t work, tries a couple more holy symbols before bringing out the Star of David. Imhotep recognizes the symbol, that of the slaves of Egypt from his time, and offers Beni a choice to follow, with riches his reward.
The survivors return to Cairo. Rick wants to leave the country knowing what’s coming. Evy, though, wants to put the mummy back where he belongs, having read the book that brought him back to life. It’s too late, though. Imhotep is finishing his work, finding and killing the Americans who opened the box holding the Book of the Dead, with Beni’s help. The ten plagues of Egyst also begin, with locasts descending and water turning into blood.
Evy works out what is needed to stop Imhotep, the golden Book of Amun-Ra to counter the black Book of the Dead. The Book of Amun-Ra is hidden at Hamunaptra in the stature of Horus. Ardeth Bay arrives, not to hinder the heroes but to help now that Imhotep is back, and throws in with Rick, Evy, and Jonathan. Before they can leave, Imhotep catches up and takes Evy away with him.
To get back to the lost city, Rick engages the last member of the Royal Air Force in the country, Winston (Bernard Fox). Imhotep tries to stop them, and is partially successful in getting Winston’s biplane to crash, but Rick, Jonathan, and Bay continue on foot. They push is to get the Book of Amun-Ra before Imhotep can resurrect Anck-su-numan at Evy’s expense.
There are major changes between the original and the remake. The 1932 version was close to a gothic romance, with Helen being the focus of Imhotep’s affections and desires. That romance carried through to the 1999 remake, but as the motive for the mummy. There was no seduction of Evy, no attempt to reconnect over time past. Instead, the remake’s Imhotep worked to resurrect his lover using Evy. The remake was more action-horror, with comedy added here and there. The heroes are far more involved in stopping Imhotep than in the original.
The story in general didn’t change that much, though placement of the fate of Imhotep in Ancient Egypt and how he was defeated did. Director Stephen Sommers had seen the original and based his movie on it. With the added budget and runtime his film had, he could work in more ideas. The focus shifted from Imhotep to Rick, Evy, and Jonathan, thus requiring that they be the ones who defeated the mummy, not a plea to an Egyptian goddess. However, it was Evy’s knowledge that saved the day, much like it was Helen using her no longer regressed memories of the past in the original.
The remake also showed Imhotep changing as he grew in power. Because of how long it took to get Karloff into the full mummy makeup and costume, eight hours just to put on and two hours to remove, that look for the mummy was for just one scene, shot over seven hours. The remainder of the film, Karloff is in robes showing only his head and hands, with him showing both the strength and weakness of the mummy through body language. The remake had Industrial Light and Magic doing the special effects – physical, matte paintings, and CGI. Computer graphics allowed the filmmakers to show Imhotep regaining his body as the movie progressed, adding details that just weren’t possibly in 1932, like a scarab running out a hole in Imhotep’s chest and up into another hole in his cheek. ILM, already used to CG effects, pushed their knowledge with the movie, building Imhotep from the skeletal structure up while using motion capture of Vosloo as a base.
The CGI allowed the film to show the threat that Imhotep posed. While turning water into blood was more a reaction shot of actors drinking and spitting out the foul tasting liquid, the locusts and the scarabs turned into credible threats. One insect might be creepy. Thousands to the point of blotting out the sun is a danger. What would be difficult or impossible to do in 1932 is some work at a computer in 1999 and today. The danger is the overuse, something ILM was aware of.
Comparing Imhoteps, Karloff brough a quiet menace to the role. Every movement was measured. His mummy was a deliberate, thinking monster with one goal, reunite with Ankh-es-en-amon and rule with her at his side for eternity. Vosloo’s Imhotep had barely controlled rage in every step. His mummy still carried anger over what was done to him, yet, he, too, worked towards reuniting with his love. Both saw their lover in another woman.
The 1999 remake of The Mummy changed the tone of the story, going from the original’s gothic romance to a action-horror. Both films resonated with audiences, but the remake changed the focus away from Imhotep to the heroes, Rick, Evy, and Jonathan. The change, though, comes after decades of the mummy being portrayed as a monster, not a tragic lover. Audience expectations mean adapting the story to both fit and challenge was is expected on screen. The 1999 version did use ideas in the original and expanded and explored them in the new genre.
When a movie gets popular, a bandwagon forms to get in on the action. Right now, superheroes, fantasy, and urban fantasy are popular. Look at the popular films of 2017; of the top ten, six are superhero movies. The Lord of the Rings films showed there was an audience for fantasy, leading to novels like A Game of Thrones and Elfstones of Shannara being adapted for television. Supernatural is still going into its 13th season, not to mention all the vampire TV series that have come and gone over the past decade.
What if one movie could tie all three together, riding on the coat tails of all that has come before? In 2011, The Asylum rose to the challenge with the SyFy feature, The Almighty Thor. As a character, Thor is very much open source. Myths and legends are well out of copyright and Marvel can trademark the appearance of characters based on them but not necessarily the name. However, The Mighty Thor is right out; hence, The Almighty Thor.
The movie itself features Ragnarok, the final battle between good and evil where evil is destined to win, causing the worlds to end. Midgard – Earth – would suffer the most in this battle. Loki, played by Richard Grieco, in is home in Niflheim, chants the incantation to start the battle, then heads out to wreak havoc on Valhalla with his giant dog demons. Odin, played by Kevin Nash, senses that something is up and heads off to investigate with his sons, Baldir (Jess Allen) and Thor (Cody Deal). Thor follows Odin into the lair of the Norns (Nicole Fox, Leslea Fisher, Lauren Halperin) who foresee the end of the worlds. Thor, though, defies Fate, setting up the rest of the movie.
Odin faces off against Loki, trying to stave off Ragnarok. Loki, being a trickster, gets Odin to kill Baldir, then stabs Odin in the back. Loki needs the Hammer of Invincibility. With his dying strength, Odin sends the Hammer back to its origins, the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil. Odin’s dying words to Thor are to retrieve the Hammer before Loki can. However, Loki isn’t far and attacks Thor. The surviving son of Odin isn’t adept with weapons yet, stinging more with his words than his sword. Just as Loki is about to strike a killing blow, help appears in the form of Jarnassa (Patricia Valesquez). She strikes Loki from behind, then pulls Thor away.
The chase is on! Jarnassa pulls Thor through several gateways to escape Loki, eventually ending up in Los Angeles. She manages to get some training in for Thor, but he is stubborn and wants revenge on Loki for what he’s done. With Ragnarok in progress, the goal is to get to the Tree of Life to save Midgard and its humans while outrunning Loki and his giant dog-demons…Thor and Jarnassa reach the Tree of Life, where he recovers the Hammer. Jarnassa wants to hide Thor away for as long as it takes to train him. Thor insists on stopping Loki now.
Thor wins the argument, but in his fight against Loki, loses the Hammer to him. Loki is able to get to the Tree of Life and kill it, ensuring Ragnarok happens. Thor is sent to Niflheim. Instead of perishing, Thor figures out how to use his godly abilities and creates a new Hammer of Invicibility. He climbs out of Niflheim back to Midgard and fights Loki one more time, hammer to hammer. Thor the Warrior emerges and defeats Loki, then heads to the Tree of Life to revive it, ending Ragnarok. To ensure that the end of Midgard will never happen, Thor returns to the Norns and destroys their loom and tapestries, letting humans decide what their fate will be.
Putting aside other problems the movie has, and it has many, it plays fast and loose with Norse mythology. Baldir is fated to die by being hit by mistletoe, not Odin’s own spear. Thor and Loki are brothers, both sons of Odin. But when it comes to getting something done quick and cheap, details are one of the first corners cut. The Almighty Thor borrows from myth and legend in its own way, becoming less a product of the source and more its own movie.
Star Wars has been covered three times already here at Lost in Translation. The first time was for the prequel/reboot, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; covering how the film brought back the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The second time was for the CG animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, showed how the TV show strengthened Star Wars: Episode II – The Attack of the Clones by filling in details between that film and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The third time was for the pilot for Star Wars: Rebels, “Spark of Rebellion”, showed the potential of the recent TV series. What’s left with Star Wars?
Richard Toscan, in an attempt to revive radio drama in the US, worked at getting several works produced at KUSC, the University of Southern California’s campus radio station. One of Toscan’s students suggested adapting Star Wars as an episodic series, a natural fit given that similar serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers inspired the film and were themselves adapted as radio serials. Getting the clearances to produce such a series, though, looked expensive. However, George Lucas had gone to USC, so the rights to produce the radio series was sold to KUSC and National Public Radio (NPR) for one dollar. Lucas also made the music by John Williams and the sound design by Ben Burtt available to the production. That just left paying for the script, the actors, and the studio.
NPR turned to the one radio network with extensive experience in radio dramas, the BBC, for assistance. In return for the British rights to the series, the BBC provided the budget needed to get the production done. The adaptation was written by Brian Daley, a science fiction author who had written the earliest of the expanded universe novels, The Han Solo Adventures (Han Solo at Star’s End, Han Solo’s Revenge, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy). Daley worked from early drafts of Lucas’ scripts for Star Wars, adding material as needed to fill in the thirteen episode run, for almost six hours of radio drama.
Casting became a problem. While Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels returned as Luke Skywalker and C-3P0, respectively, the rest of the cast wasn’t. Harrison Ford was busy with Raiders of the Lost Ark. The new cast included Ann Sachs as Princess Leia, Bernard Behrens as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Perry King as Han Solo, Keene Curtis as Governor Tarkin, and Brock Peters as Darth Vader.
The debut of the series in March of 1981 saw NPR’s audience increase to three-quarters of a million new listeners, with the number of young adults and teenagers increasing four-fold. With Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back having been in theatres the previous summer, fans were looking for more Star Wars. How well did the radio drama adapt the first film?
A series, whether on TV, on radio, or even as a B-reel serial, still runs longer than most films. The Star Wars radio drama is no exception; it ran for just under six hours over thirteen episodes, about three times longer than the movie. Radio also can’t rely on visual effects to show what’s happening. Given that Star Wars pushed the limits on what can be done with special effects, the radio drama would have a steep task in front of it.
As mentioned above, Brian Daley used early drafts of the film’s script while writing his own. He expanded details from the movie. Episode 1 starts with Luke hanging with his friends, racing with them, including through Begger’s Canyon. The audience meets Biggs Darklighter, voiced by Kale Browne, and hears his plan to jump ship to join the Rebellion. Episode 2 begins with Princess Leia on Ralentiir, using her consular ship, the Tantive IV, to smuggle goods needed by the Rebellion. It’s where she learns about the Death Star and runs into Darth Vader for the first time. Leia convinced her father to let her take the Tantive IV to intercept the plans for the Death Star at Toprawa. The space battle between the Tantive IV and the Star Destroyer that begins the movie begins in Episode 3 as Leia arrives at Tatooine to find Obi-Wan Kenobi.
After Episode 3, the drama follows the action in the movie. Dialogue gets changed or added to help describe the setting and the action. Scenes get added to provide depth and motivation. Han has a rougher edge than he does in the movie, but there’s still a heart of gold. At the same time, some relationships are shown just as quick on radio as in film; C-3P0 and R2-D2’s friendship comes out in their first two minutes of air time in Episode 3. Vader benefits from the medium; it is difficult to loom and menace through sheer height on radio. Instead, Vader comes across more as a fallen paladin, philosophical and a believer in his version of the Force, thanks to added dialogue.
Sound effects carry most of the battle scenes. There’s no way to show a flight of X-Wings diving down to the Death Star’s trench, nor is there a way to show a lightsaber other than dialogue and sound effects. The production had full access to the sounds from the movie, but it still fell on to the actors to convey a sense of determination and wonder as needed. Luke’s training on the trip to the former Alderaan had Ben coaching him at each step. For added fun, the scene with Greedo threatening Han could not have subtitles, so there was no attempt to translate “Oota goota, Solo?” into English. Han understood Greedo, so the audience had to work out what the Rodian said from the reactions, like, “Tell Jabba I’ve got his money.” And Han shot first.
The climatic battle to destroy the Death Star took up most of the last episode. While the snubfighter battle was a visual feast, the chatter between pilots gave the drama a way to show what was happening without video. The first half of the battle was presented as Leia and the Rebellion command staff on the jungle moon of Yavin listened to the pilots’ chatter, unable to do anything when Vader came out in his prototype ship. The last half of the battle was from Luke’s perspective starting just before his run through the trench.
Is it possible to have Star Wars without the visuals? Yes, as the radio drama demonstrated. The drama was Star Wars and provided depth that the movie couldn’t. The drama was successful, leading to Empire being adapted two years later. The adaptation of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi was delayed until 1996 and released on CD due to disagreements, mainly financial. The radio plays carried the feel of the movies while expanding on what was shown.
One of the main features of a superhero is the bright costume. Sure, there are superheroes who work in black or really dark grey, but the vast majority are in primary colours. Often, the costume will look like it was painted on, emphasizing the hero’s physique. Because comics are drawn, liberties can be taken with things like physics, so some costumes may be almost impossible to recreate in real life.
With comics being the popular source of adaptations today, studios have to figure out the almost impossible. Over the past few weeks, Lost in Translation has looked at a number of comic books adapted to a new medium, plus has reviewed others in the past. Josie and the Pussycats and Kingsman: The Secret Service get a pass here. The most unusual item the Pussycats wear are for on stage and is still in the realm of possibility. The wardrobe in Kingsman is based on high priced but still existing apparel found on London’s High Street.
Arrow, though, deserves a look. In the comics, the Green Arrow has worn a variant of a Robin Hood costume through most of his appearances. In the TV series, the goal was to create a costume that star Stephen Amell could wear and move in, going with a hooded cloak over dark green clothes. The costume is close to what the Green Arrow wears in the comics, and the producers are aiming at showing Oliver Queen becoming the hero.
Supergirl, on the other hand, starts with Kara Danvers embracing her Kryptonian heritage and catching a plane. The show is also lighter than Arrow; Kara is adorkable. So, hiding her costume away isn’t going to work. Fortunately for the producers, Supergirl has a number of costumes to choose from. On the show, the costume is a melding of a number of outfits seen in the comics, allowing Kara to have her own look while hinting at being Superman’s cousin. And Supergirl isn’t the only character with a costume from the comics. The Martian Manhunter in his normal guise is accurate to his appearances in the pages of DC Comics.
Both TV series can take advantage in advances in fabric thanks to man-made fibres. Older movies and TV series didn’t have the breakthroughs and it shows. The Batman serials of the mid- to late-Forties, having the added limitation of a low budget, tries to match the costumes from the comics, but between the war effort focusing on the needs of the military of both the US and the Allied Forces, the physique of the actors, and the lack of techniques, the result is “close enough but not really.” The costume looks like Batman’s, but it’s not the skintight version. The 1966 Batman with Adam West does have access to satin and nylon, but its approach to the character – played dead straight by West despite all the camp around him – meant that the more down-to-earth portrayal that Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil had wasn’t going to be seen. Adding to the fun, Cesar Romero didn’t want to shave his trademark mustache, so the Joker’s whiteface was placed on top. Yet, it worked for the series. The costumes did reflect what the characters wore, though.
The 1989 Batman by Tim Burton introduced a new twist – Batman’s costume was an armoured suit. All practical, the rubber suit allowed Michael Keaton to move, but not as acrobatically as in the comics. The change made some sense; Batman deals with people who shoot guns and he doesn’t have a power that will let him bounce bullets off his chest. His movement in the Burton film and subsequent sequels is more restricted. The costume looks right, compared to the Batman in the comics at the time, but the nature of the suit slows the actors down.
When practical effects won’t work, CGI comes into play. Over in the Marvel cinematic universe, characters that would be impossible to portray well have had their own movies. Marvel did try a practical effect for one of their characters in the past; Howard the Duck had many problems, and the appearance of the title character was one of the big ones. His appearance in the post-credits sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy is accurate. Guardians also gave audiences a proper Rocket and a proper Groot, two characters who would either be actors in costumes, puppets, or protrayed by a trained raccoon (in Rocket’s case) and a trained shrub (in Groot’s) before CGI.
Iron Man was the proof of concept. In the comics, Tony Stark has a number of Iron Man suits which he uses depending on mission requirements. The classic suit, the red and gold power armour, appeared in the first film and was as close as possible to being a recreation of the comic book version. Audiences accepted the premise of a comic book on screen. With Thor, the studio could build from the character’s appearance in the comics to present him on screen. Loki, when he appeared in costume, was resplendent in his green and gold. Marvel’s releases of today build from the comic books.
Marvel characters that appeared in films from studios other than Marvel Studios have had mixed success. The X-Men franchise, released via Fox, avoided using costumes, with an exception that will be named below. Instead, the films went with leather suits when the team broke into places. The Spider-Man franchise, even after the reboot, kept the costume best known to the general audience. However, the character’s 1977 TV series, The Amazing Spider-Man had problems; the suit didn’t quite work. Budget may have been the main problem there.
The comic book character who may have had his costume translate the best to film and television is the exception in the X-Men franchise. Deadpool went out of its way to make sure that the costumes were accurate. Colossus, being a CG character, had no problem with the transition. Deadpool’s, though, included having his eye coverings express his thoughts and emotions. Considering that his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely missed the mark, the costume in Deadpool is a complete reversal and should be applauded.
Continuing with comic book adaptations, this week’s subject is also a look at how one work can still have influence. While the 1984 Supergirl movie wasn’t the blockbuster the studio hoped for, the movie it was spun off from, the 1978 Superman, is often taken as the definitive version of the title character. As a result, audiences have expectations of what a Superman or Superman-related work involves.
Lost in Translation went through the history of the character of Supergirl in the analysis of the 1984 film. However, there’s more to the character than mentioned there. Yes, Kara Zor-El was Kal El’s cousin and became Supergirl after arriving on Earth after Argo City was destroyed. Kara was the first Supergirl, first appearing in 1959 in Action Comics #252. She wasn’t the only Supergirl.
After Kara dies in the mini-series reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths saving Superman and the multiverse, other Supergirls appeared. The first was Matrix, an artificial life form from an alternate universe, with a different power set. As Supergirl, she spent time with the Teen Titans and as a hero on her own. When Matrix finds a dying Linda Danvers, she merges, becoming an Earth-born angel. This Supergirl has a different set of powers, including wings made of fire. Eventually, this merged Supergirl falls from grace, causing Matrix and Linda to separate. Linda keeps some of the powers, though not at the same level as before, and continues to be Supergirl.
The changes to Supergirl post-Crisis came from DC’s editorial wanting Superman to be the only surviving Kryptonian. When that policy was relaxed, Kara returned, though with her origin rebooted. She’s still Superman’s cousin, but after being launched from Krypton, she loses her memory. Her first meeting with her cousin has her in disbelief; to her, he should still be an infant. In reality, she had lost time while in her lifepod.
That brings us to 2015. The CW has had success with Arrow and The Flash, showing that a broadcast network can have success with a superhero TV adaptation. CBS took the chance on the lastest from Greg Berlanti, Supergirl. With Melissa Benoist as the title character, the first season explored hope, dreams, family, and how the three mix. The analysis that follows focuses on the first season; cinematic universes tend to go in their own direction once started, even when the studio works to keep close to the original work.
The opening voice over explains the background; thirteen year old Kara Zor-El was sent by her mother to keep her cousin, Kal El, safe until he grew up. However, Kara’s pod was knocked off course into the Phantom Zone, where she lingered unaging until somehow she got out. When she reached Earth, her cousin had grown up and become Superman. Instead of her taking care of him, he finds a way to take care of her, bringing her to her foster parents, the Danvers, Jeremiah (Dean Cain) and Eliza (Helen Slater). Kara grows close to her older foster sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh).
Once Kara has graduated college, she started work at CatCo, the media empire owned by Cat Grant (Callista Flockheart), former Daily Planet journalist. The series starts with Kara being Cat’s assistant and gopher, with her name mangled to Kira. Still, Kara keeps her spirits up. She enjoys her job and her co-workers. One, IT whizkid Winslow “Winn” Schott, Jr (Jeremiah Jordan), has a crush on Kara but can’t quite tell her. Starting that day is James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who has moved from Metropolis to National City to work for CatCo as the art director. Kara is looking forward to seeing her sister; Alex had been out of town on work. All in all, Kara’s life is normal.
All the normal goes out the window when Kara sees a news report about her sister’s flight in trouble. An engine caught fire and the plane was on a course to crash in the middle of National City. Kara runs out, throwing her jacket aside and, after a few short jumps, flies off. She catches the jet, but because women need to work twice as hard to be considered even half as good as men, she has to dodge a bridge before setting the plane down in the river. Despite the efforts, news anchors criticize her for setting the jet down where rescuers couldn’t get to it immediately. Nevermind that no one died.
Alex realizes who saved her and the other passengers and confronts Kara. However, Kara is just so earnest that Alex breaks down and reveals her big secret – she’s really an agent for the DEO, the Department of Extranormal Operations, whose mandate is to protect the Earth from alien threats. Alex knows Kara isn’t a threat, but her boss, Hank Henshaw (David Harewoood), isn’t so sure, but he trusts Alex enough that he’s willing to accept Kara. The problem that the DEO is facing is that Fort Rozz, the Kryptonian prison in the Phantom Zone, has crashed on Earth, letting the prisoners escape.
Kara can’t keep her excitement at bay. At work, after Cat names the new hero “Supergirl”, Kara needs to share her news with someone. That someone is Winn, who helps Kara with a costume. As Supergirl, Kara does what she can to keep National City safe. Her appearance, though, lets General Non (Chris Vance) and Astra (Laura Benanti), the twin sister to Kara’s mother, Alura, know that there is another Kryptonian on Earth. The plane crash Kara prevented was to kill Alex, set by escapee Vartox (Owain Yeoman) under Non’s orders. Vartox tries to kill Supergirl but fails, committing suicide when she beats him.
As the season plays out, Supergirl makes a few rookie mistakes, but with the help of Winn and James and with Cat giving her a media boost, she improves and becomes the darling of National City while still helping the DEO in its mission. However, as Superman’s cousin, Supergirl is constantly compared to him. This changes after she stops Reactron, a villain Superman couldn’t completely defeat.
Other characters from the comics make appearances through the season, including Dr. T.O. Morrow; his creation, the Red Tornado; the Silver Banshee; Jemm, Son of Saturn; the Toyman; and possibly the greatest danger to National City, Maxwell Lord(Peter Facinelli). There were also some twists on villains from Superman’s Rogues Gallery. Bizarro, who in the comics looks like a twisted copy of Superman, is based on Supergirl thanks to Max Lord and his experiments with Kryptonite to create a counter to the Girl of Steel. Brainiac appears as Braniac 8, though she prefers Indigo (Laura Vandervoot).
Of note is the episode “For the Girl Who Has Everything”, which takes a cue from a Superman comic. The producers realized that the Black Mercy, a creature that traps a victim in an memory recreation of a happier time, would work better with Kara. Superman has little personal experience with Krypton, having arrived on Earth as an infant. Everything he knows about the planet comes second hand. Kara, though, was older when she was sent away. She had family and friends, all of whom perished when the planet exploded. Kara is far more vulnerable to the Black Mercy, and the episode shows how.
Just having the names of characters, though, doesn’t make the series a good adaptation. It’s how the characters are presented. Kara is earnest and adorkable, which does follow from her appearances in the comics. She’s heroic because she wants to help. The Martian Manhunter is protective of the Danvers sisters and shares with Kara the loss of a family and a home. Maxwell Lord does reflect the character in the comics, a mix of helpfulness and dangerous-ness that makes it difficult to pin down if he is a hero or a villain.
The show also gave itself an out with accuracy. “Worlds Finest”, the crossover episode with The Flash, reveals that Supergirl isn’t quite in the same universe as Arrow and The Flash. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) at one point goes through the differences between the universe he’s from and Kara’s. Cat also gets an interesting line when Kara, Barry, James, and Winn are lingering in her office, “You look like the racially diverse cast of a CW show.” Supergirl moved to the CW with its second season.
Each Supergirl episode plays like an issue of a comic. There’s character development; every character has a story arc. There’s heroics. If there’s a villain, Supergirl has a setback that helps her discover what she needs to defeat the miscreant. There’s even a end-of-episode cliffhanger, a hint on what will happen next week. Episodes have both stand-alone elements and still contribute to the the season’s main arc.
Supergirl, being the latest in Superman TV adaptations, also winks at the audience. Kara’s foster parents are played by leads in previous works. Helen Slater was Supergirl in the 1984 movie while Dean Cain was Clark Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Cain’s co-star Teri Hatcher, who played Lois Lane, appears in season 2 as Rhea. Laura Vandervoot (Indigo) portrayed Kara on Smallville.
The series has the potential to be the definitive version of Supergirl to the general audience, much like the Richard Donner Superman. The chemistry amongst the cast and Melissa Benoist’s portrayal of Kara will leave a long lasting impression that will be hard to top.
Comic book adaptations are still an ongoing concern. Many have already been renewed for the 2018-2019 TV season. The CW has been doing well with DC’s TV universe, with Supergirl, The Flash, Black Lightning, and Legends of Tomorrow. Today, a look at the first season of the first superhero series on the CW, Arrow, the story of how Oliver Queen becomes the Green Arrow.
The Green Arrow first appeared in the pages of More Fun Comics #73 in November 1941, fighting crime with his sidekick, Roy Harper, aka Speedy. Instead of superpowers, the pair used archery, though Queen’s wealth allowed for a variety of gadget arrows. Creator Mort Weisinger and designer George Papp were inspired by the serial The Green Archer, based on the books by Edgar Wallace. They modified the idea to be more superheroic, pulling in ideas from Batman such as the Arrow-Cave and the Arrowcar. Despite the influences, Weisinger kept with a Robin Hood approach, which Papp emphasized with the costume.
The first origin story was published in More Fun Comics #89. However, Jack Kirby updated the origin in Adventure Comics #250, having Queen get shipwrecked on a desert island. Andy Diggle added to the origin with Green Arrow: Year One, adding in smugglers trying to protect a slave-labour operation. Neal Adams gave Oliver his Van Dyke in The Brave and the Bold #85. Mike Grell aged Oliver for his mini-series, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, showing a maturation and a move away from the gimmick arrows. The Green Arrow was also one of the first to deal with the effects of drugs, despite the Comic Code’s blanket ban. In Green Lantern #85-86, Roy was revealed to be a heroin addict, needing help to break the hold.
Through the years, the Green Arrow’s focus became social justice. However, the character was never one of DC’s A-listers, having been relegated to backup stories in various titles when his own were cancelled because of lack of readership. Still, the Green Arrow has enough of a hook for television without the massive public expectation that Batman or Superman have.
Arrow first aired in 2012, with Stephen Amell starring as Oliver Queen. The idea behind the series was to show Oliver becoming the Green Arrow while further exploring what happened when he was shipwrecked. Greg Berlanti is using Green Arrow: Year One as a launching point. The series starts with Oliver returning home after being missing on the island for five years after the family yacht, Queen’s Gambit was lost at sea. While the family reunion looks happy, there is a current of unrest beneath the surface. Oliver’s father, who killed himself so that Oliver could live after the shipwreck, left him a list of names, people who have failed Starling City, and a mission. To hide who is he is, Oliver creates a costume, one that includes a hood that hides his face in shadow and a painted green mask.
After Oliver kills a corrupt millionaire on his father’s list, the police get involved. Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) becomes the lead investigator trying to find the vigilante known as The Hood. Complicating things, Det. Lance is the father of both Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Oliver’s ex-girlfriend, and Sara (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), who was on the Queen’s Gambit when it was lost and the reason why Lauren is an ex. Adding to the complications, Oliver’s mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson) insists that he have a bodyguard, John Diggle (David Ramsey).
As the season progresses, Oliver realizes that he can’t handle his mission alone and recruits some help. Diggle joins, reluctantly at first, and acts as a humanizing element for Oliver. Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) gets pulled in because she realizes that some of the odd requests Oliver gave her just don’t make sense and starts asking awkward questions. As a team, they figure out that there is a plot against Starling City, one that would destroy the Glades, the city’s version of Gotham’s Crime Alley.
Oliver isn’t the only Queen getting into trouble. His little sister, Thea (Willa Holland), who Oliver calls “Speedy” is acting out and getting into trouble. After she crashes her car two days before her eighteenth birthday with drugs in her system, Thea is sentenced to community service, helping Laurel at her legal office. While working there, she meets Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), a young small-time thief. Roy at one point is kidnapped by another vigilante who is going after people who let the Glades become what it is. After the Hood rescues him, Roy wants to meet the him, and does what he can to find him.
However, that’s just half the series. The other half is told in flashbacks and covers Oliver’s time on the island. He wasn’t alone after he arrived; he was first found by Yao Fei (Byron Mann), who taught Oliver how to hunt and how to kill. A group of mercenaries hunting for Yao Fei find Oliver but can’t get him to talk. Eventually, the mercenaries do find Yao Fei, but Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) is also looking at takes in Oliver. The mercenaries’ plan is to shoot down a civilan airliner. Oliver, Wilson, and Yao Fei’s daughter Shado (Celina Jade) work to stop the mercenaries. The climax of the flashback plotline coincided with the climax of the main story, ending Oliver’s first year on the island.
At this point, Oliver Queen isn’t the Green Arrow yet. He’s still more vigilante than hero, but he’s beginning to show the social justice side of the the original character. But that’s the goal of the series, to show Oliver becoming the hero. As such, liberties are being taken. Yet, such is the nature of cinematic universes. Once the base has been set, a story will go in its own direction. Yet, /Arrow/ still is the story of the Green Arrow. It’s not just the trappings, poor adaptations still use the trappings, but present them badly or just wrong. With Arrow, while Oliver isn’t the Emerald Archer seen in comics, he’s heading in that direction. Every hero has a backstory; Arrow is Oliver Queen’s.
While adapting from one visual medium to another may seem to be a simple process, both media may rely on shorthand unique to it that can’t translate well. Today, Lost in Translation looks at that process using Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, and Matthew Vaughan’s Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Image Comics published The Secret Service #1 in 2012. The first issue opens with celebrities having gone missing. A Secret Service mission locates and rescues Mark Hamill from the kidnappers, whose ends don’t include ransom. However, budget cuts and faulty equipment turn a 007-style chase scene tragic.
In a South London housing estate, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a chav, is trapped by circumstances into a dead end existence, living with his mother, his younger brother, and his abusive step-father. His life revolves around hanging around with his chav friends, drinking, toking, and joyriding. Eggsy’s driving skills are more than a match for the local police, but a loose dog and Gary’s unwillingness to just run it over ends the chase. Enter Gary’s uncle, Jack. Jack is more than the Fraud Squad computer analyst he pretends to be. Jack is a super spy, one of the Secret Service, and he sees potential in Gary. He arranges for Gary to go to Gosford, the spy school.
A mass wedding in Hawaii becomes the test bed for Dr. James Arnold’s new device, leaving no survivors. Arnold is concerned about global warning and overpopulation. To save the Earth and one billion people, five billion must die. Arnold is hand picking the core of his future society, mostly notable actors and directors from science fiction and fantasy. He has managed to get people in top positions in many organizations, too. It’s how he found his bodyguard, Gazelle, a man with prosthetics below both knees.
Gary’s training progresses. He’s picking and excelling in the physical aspects of being a super spy. None of the other trainees can match him in firearms accuracy. Eggsy outdoes the trainee who stole a drug dealer’s Maserati by nicking Her Majesty’s Rolls Royce. His only problem is social; thanks to growing up in the estates, he doesn’t have the breadth of interaction or knowledge that his fellow trainees do. Frustrated, Gary wants to quit, but Jack manages to convince him to stay, promising an apprenticeship.
When Gary regains consciousness, he’s in a town in Columbia wearing his boxers and a bracelet. Jack has moved up Gary’s final exam. The goal, find his passport and airline tickets back to Britain, with the plane leaving at midnight. Gary’s solution is unorthodox; while he doesn’t make his flight, he does return to Britain in time bringing along a couple of souvenirs, a Columbian drug lord and his private jet, earning a pass and becoming Jack’s apprentice. The apprenticeship doesn’t last long. Jack seduces Arnold’s girlfriend, getting her to explain the nefarious plot. Afterwards, though, Jack is killed by Gazelle.
Gary discovers just how deep the conspiracy goes. Seeing that the top echelons cannot be trusted, he heads to the bottom of the hierarchy, his fellow trainees. They work out where Arnold’s lair is, a hollowed mountain, and come up with an assault plan, with limited time until Dr. Arnold’s cell phone signal . One of the trainees gets to take a hot air balloon up twenty-three miles to shoot down Arnold’s satellite. Two other trainees are tasked with finding the source of Arnold’s killer signal. Gary takes on tracking Arnold for himself. The satellite never appears, but the signal still goes out. The second group of trainees, instead of finding the shutdown switch, reprogrammed the signal. Gary finds Arnold and ensures that doctor cannot try again, ending the six issue story..
Vaughan wanted to make a fun spy movie after having seen a number of grim ones in recent years. He took the story in The Secret Service and adapted it as Kingsman: The Secret Service, released in 2014, becoming the movie’s co-writer and the director. With one of the original creative team on board in two key areas, it’s worth looking at the final outcome.
The film opens in 1997, with a mission in the Middle East to recover information going wrong after Galahad (Colin Firth) missing an explosive on a prisoner. If Lancelot, Eggsy’s father, hadn’t noticed and dove on the prisoner before the explosive detonated, none of the agents would have survived. As it is, Lancelot sacrifices himself. Galahad delivers the deceased agent’s Medal of Honour to the widow, Michelle (Samantha Womack) and young son, pointing out the telephone number on the back. If there is ever a problem, all either have to do is call that number and use the code, “Oxfords, not brogues.”
Seventeen years later, the new Lancelot, who looks a bit like George Lazenby, Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, takes a quick side trip for a rescue mission. The rescue plays out like the one in the comic. The difference is that instead of rescuing Mark Hamill, Lancelot is rescuing Professor James Arnold, played by Mark Hamill. The scene diverges before Lancelot can lead Arnold out of the cabin. Instead, he is taken by surprise by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) and is cut in half by her, lengthwise. Gazelle covers her mess so that her boss, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, playing against type) can enter without being violently ill. Valentine believes in the Gaia Theory, where the Earth is a living organism and global warming is a natural response by the planet to get rid of an infection, and wants Prof. Arnold to help him.
Eggsy isn’t have a good life. He gets kicked out of the housing estate he, his mother, his baby sister, and his abusive stepfather live in so the parents can have alone time. At the pub with his mates, he gets on the wrong side of his stepfather’s cronies. Eggsy decides to let things be and leaves, but only after lifting the keys for one of the gangsters’ new car. The police give chase, only catching up when Eggsy crashes to avoid a dog in the road.
At the gaol, Eggsy refuses to give up his mates and, as a result, is looking at eighteen months behind bars. Eggsy uses his one call to dial the number on the back of his father’s medal. The voice answering the call thanks him for calling the Complaints Department and tells him he has a wrong number, but Eggsy uses the code phrase and gets his complaint registered. He walks out of the gaol, wondering what happened and is met by Galahad, Harry Hart. Hart offers him a chance to turn his life around. Eggsy was doing well in many subjects – school, gymnastics, even Royal Marine training – before dropping out of each. Hart still sees the potential in Gary.
Eggsy is the last to show up at the training facility. He joins eight other candidates to become the next Lancelot. Merlin (Mark Strong), the head of the technical branch and the lead trainer, explains how the training will work; trainees will succeed in tests or wash out. The training differs from the comic; what works as a montage in sequential art doesn’t in a film. Included in the training is the training of a dog from a puppy; Eggsy takes a pug thinking it will become a bulldog.
The cinematic Kingsmen were created after World War I after noble families lost several sons in the trenches. The Kingsmen are an independant intelligence agency, separate from political pressure, and pulled from the scions of nobility. Galahad, though, nominated Gary’s father, someone not from a blue blood line, believing that it is the man, not the family that is important. Eggsy is the outsider in the group of trainees, yet he is one of the final two, the other being Roxy (Sophie Cookson), after Charlie (Edward Holcroft) breaks under pressure in a test of loyalty. Roxy ultimately wins the position of Lancelot after Eggsy is unable to shoot his dog.
Meanwhile, when not training the next Lancelot, Merlin discovers Prof. Arnold walking around on a traffic camera despite having been kidnapped. Galahad heads off to discover why Arnold is free. During the questioning, Arnold’s head explodes. Examination of the video from Galahad’s eyeglasses shows that Arnold had a subcutaneous device on his neck that caused the explosion. Further investigation leads Galahad to Valentine. Valentine is offering a SIM card that will allow people to make calls and use the Internet for no cost. However, nothing comes for free. The SIM card is set to carry a wave that will trigger rage in the device’s owner.
Valentine’s test location is a hate group, the South Gate Mission Church, instead of the mass wedding. Galahad heads there to see what Valentine has in mind. Instead, he is caught up in the SIM card’s wave and gets involved in the fighting. There is only one survivor, Hart. Valentine, flanked by Gazelle and a couple of mooks, greets Galahad before shooting him in the head.
Eggsy returns to the Kingsman Tailor Shop to speak with the head of the Kingsmen, Arthur (Michael Caine). While talking about Galahad, Eggsy notices a scar on Arthur’s neck, much like the one Prof. Arnold had pre-explosion. Arthur, who had nominated Charlie, is very much a believer in maintaining class distinctions and sees Eggsy as a pretender. He tries to poison Eggsy, but the younger man sees it coming and switches the glasses around. Once Arthur is dead, Eggsy removes the chip in his neck and brings it to Merlin.
Merlin works his magic and determines what the chip does. First, it nullifies the carrier wave Valentine uses to turn people into unthinking, raging beasts. Second, it can get hot enough to superheat the implantees brain, leading to an explosion. With the countdown to the launch fo Valentine’s free cell network, capable of carrying the rage enducing carrier wave, started, there isn’t time to recall Kingsman agents in the field. Merlin has Roxy and Eggsy, the latter not officially an agent, to stop Valentine.
There are two steps to the plan to stop Valentine. The first is to shoot down one of Valentine’s satellites, giving more time to execute the second part, which is shutting down the signal at the source. Roxy is given the first part, going up with the aid of hot air balloons with a missile launcher. Meanwhile, Merlin flies Eggsy to Valentine’s mountain lair to use Arthur’s invitation to infiltrate and access a laptop, giving the technical branch head access to Valentine’s computer network.
Eggsy, now in his bespoke suit, purchased by Hart before dying, easily fits in with the crowd. He wanders through the main lounge and finds the Swedish Prime Minister on a laptop. A quick knockout dart, and Eggsy gets the laptop and Merlin on to the network. Unfortunately, Eggsy is discovered by Charlie, in the lair with the rest of his family. Valentine speeds up the countdown, but Roxy takes out his satellite.
Trying to escape, Eggsy is led back to the plane by Merlin. Unknown to Eggsy, Valentine borrows time from another satellite to re-establish his cell network, and the countdown is on again. The signal is sent through the network, causing mass riots around the world. Eggsy is sent back out, armed appropriately, to get Valentine’s hand off the computer. Back in the main lounge, Eggsy has to fight Gazelle before getting to Valentine and ending the threat once and for all.
For the most part, the movie follows the comic beat for beat, though some beats are moved around. The differences come up due to the differences in media. Comics, being a sequence of still pictures, have their own language. The reader is expected to fill in the gaps between panels. Movies can’t do that; being motion pictures, the film has to fill in those gaps. What can be a two page fight becomes a ten minute scene. Let’s take a look at some of the differences.
First up, characters. James Arnold went from main villain to villain’s henchman, replaced by billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine. Valentine, though, keep the motive, saving the Earth and one billion people by culling five billion. The method is the same, causing people to become raging monsters who kill each other. Even the lair remains more or less as seen in the comic. Eggsy is still the same, though his younger brother becomes a baby sister and his mother’s name changes from Sharon to Michelle. Minor change, really, one that doesn’t affect the storyline. Eggsy’s Uncle Jack, though, does change in a major way. Jack becomes Harry Hart, not related to Gary or his mother at all. The change came about because Vaughan saw issues with the My Fair Lady approach the movie plays with. If Jack remained, questions would come up why he didn’t do anything sooner. These questions get answered in the comic, but there isn’t time in the movie.
Time is another factor. The film runs 129 minutes. The same story ran six issues, giving the comic more space to expand ideas. Visual shorthands can make up for time, like letting Eggsy show what he can do instead of just hinting at it. But time in a film is still finite; audiences will only sit for so long before getting restless. Related to time is cast. Budgets can only go so far. The nature of training in the movie eliminated trainees, leaving just Roxy and Eggsy to deal with Valentine. In the comic, Eggsy leads ten trainees in an assault on Arnold’s lair, with another trainee, who isn’t Roxy, off to try to shoot down the satellite. Roxy doesn’t even get named in the comic, though there is a trainee who could pass as her.
Speaking of cast, the comic had artistic renderings of famous people who had been kidnapped by Arnold to restart society after his culling. Cameos, though, get complicated when using real people. The only person who appeared in both the comic and the movie was Mark Hamill, and he played a character other than himself in the film. Hamill’s first scene was much like his cameo in the comic, though his character survived the experience in the movie.
One other problem comes from a cultural difference. Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, and Matthew Vaughan are all British. The comic and the movie have roots in the different classes in British society. These don’t always translate well to something that North American audiences can understand, though TV series like Doctor Who, Coronation Street, and Eastenders have helped introduce the concepts. Chavs and housing estates have equivalents in American culture, but the matching isn’t one-to-one. The movie had to make sure the concepts in use could be understood by an American audience without dumbing them down too much that the themes get watered down.
The end result, though, is that the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service is very much the comic, despite the differences. The story matches, though scenes differ. The clash of classes, the over-the-top villainous plan, the maturation and the understanding of what makes a gentleman, all of that remains. A Kingsman is a Kingsman, no matter the path taken.
Archie Comics, the third of the Big Three American comic book publishers, has survived since 1939 on the slice of life, laugh a panel stories of its characters. Sure, the company has dipped into other genres, like superheroes, but the company’s bread and butter has been the lives of teenagers in Riverdale, a town caught in a perpetual now that has incrementally changed over the years. Among the cast of characters are Josie and the Pussycats, an all-girl band from the neighbouring town of Midvale.
Josie didn’t start as the lead singer of her own band. Creator Dan DeCarlo was inspired to create the character after seeing his wife, who he named Josie after, in a cat costume on a cruise. After shopping the character and her strip around, DeCarlo sold the idea to Archie Comics. Josie debuted in Archie’s Pals & Gals #23, in 1963, followed by her own title, initially called She’s Josie. The title became Josie with issue 17.
The initial cast of characters included redhead Josie, who was essentially a gender-flipped Archie Andrews, her friends Melody, a blonde ditz, and Pepper, a dark-haired cynic. In the supporting cast, Josie had her beatnik boyfriend Albert, Pepper’s brawny boyfriend Sock, Alexander Cabot III who vied for Josie’s affection, and Alexandra Cabot, Alex’s skunk-haired twin sister. Josie would also appear in Archie titles, and the regular Archie cast would make cameos in hers.
The comic changed its title again in 1969, becoming Josie and the Pussycats. Josie started a band, becoming the lead singer and lead guitarist with Melody joining as the drummer. The Pussycats recruited Valerie as both bassist and songwriter. Alex became the band’s manager. Alexandra discovers that her cat, Sebastien, is a reincarnation of an ancestor who was executed for witchcraft, giving her some limited magical abilities. With the comic’s new direction, Pepper, Albert, and Sock disappeared. Alan M. stepped in to fill the role of Josie’s boyfriend, with Alexandra becoming a rival for his affections, and becoming a rival for Alex for Josie’s. The comic featured stories of the band on tour as well as day-to-day life as teenagers.
Archie had some success with a Filmation cartoon adaptation and a Billboard #1 hit, “Sugar Sugar“. Hoping to duplicate the success, Hanna-Barbera reached out to Archie Comics to adapt another title, getting Josie and the Pussycats. The first season of the cartoon saw the band on the road, getting involved in Scooby-Doo-like mysteries, with several characters taking on Scooby roles. In particular, Alan M. filled in for Fred and Alex, voiced by Casey Kasem, in Kasem’s Scooby role, Shaggy. The second and final season of the cartoon, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space sent the band on tour in space.
The comic ended publication in 1982, though the characters continued to appear in other Archie titles and in various Archie digests, including Pals & Gals. In 2001, Universal released a live action movie adaptation of the comic and characters, with Rachel Leigh Cook as Josie, Rosario Dawson as Valerie, and Tara Reid as Melody. The film updates the Pussycats to what was current in 2001, giving the band a new sound without losing the core that people would remember from the cartoon.
The movie begins as the boy band, Dujour (Donald Faison, Alexander Martin, Breckin Meyer, and Seth Green), arrives at the airport to perform their latest hit to a screaming mob before getting on their jet to go to Riverdale. In the air, though, all is not smooth with Dujour as little annoyances have built up. Their manager and promoter, Wyatt (Alan Cumming), is more their babysitter. He smooths the rifts over, but the band brings up a concern on the latest remix. Wyatt’s denial could only fool the very gullible, so Dujour is placated. However, Wyatt heads to the cockpit to tell the pilot, “take the Chevy to the levee“, and they both bail out. The plane goes down near Riverdale.
In Riverdale, Josie, Valerie, and Melody are working hard to break into the music industry, working odd jobs so that they can perform anywhere that will let them, including a bowling alley. The Pussycats want to be rock stars with their own style. During the down time, Josie hangs around with Alan M. (Gabriel Mann), where both are having a problem getting out how they feel about each other to each other. Josie and the other Pussycats also try to find out where their manager, Alexander Cabot III, was during their bowling alley gig. Alex’s twin sister, Alexandra (Missi Pyle), reveals that he was in line for Dujour tickets. When the news breaks about Dujour’s disappearance, Josie decides that the band has to work harder to gain a following, something that can’t be done by sitting on a couch. The Pussycats go out to busk in downtown Riverdale, but a confrontation with a store owner forces them to flee.
Wyatt has been busy. He’s managed to get news of Dujour’s disappearance out, their last hit song out for listeners, and has been given new orders by the owner of Megarecords, Fiona (Parker Posey), to find a new band. Downtown Riverdale isn’t exactly bursting open with random bands just crossing his path. Except, he has to hit the brakes to avoid hitting the Pussycats. He offers the girls a contract and flies them out to New York. The roses have a few thorns. Wyatt renames the band to Josie and the Pussycats. But the thorns are ignorable as the band begins to chart.
Fiona has what she needs, the new band to replace Dujour. She takes a group of foreign investors on a tour of her underground facilities. Megarecords, in conjuction with the American government through Agent Kelly, is working on a massivie subliminal message project. Hit bands under the Megarecords label have had extra tracks laid under the music with suggestions narrated by Russ Leatherman, Mr. Moviefone himself. Said suggestions include fashion trends, what slang is hot, what colours are in, and what to buy. Dujour had made this same discovery and were silenced. But now, Megarecords has Josie and the Pussycats, who are the number one band in America.
Valerie, though, still sees the thorns. She sees the media focused on just Josie. She sees how she and Melody are being shifted away. Most movies in this genre – band climbing to fame – sees the lead singer arguing with her bandmates and letting her ego get away from her. The live action Jem and the Holograms is a good example of this plot. However, Josie cares too much about Valerie and Melody to just toss them aside; they’ve worked too hard together to get where they are. Nothing will get in between them.
Wyatt and Fiona realize how close the Pussycats are, so arrange to turn Josie into a solo act. First, Valerie and Melody are lured to a fake taping of Total Request Live where the real Carson Daly and a fake Carson Daly (Aries Spears) try to murder them. With Josie alone, Wyatt passes along a new remix of a new song to Josie to listen to, one with subliminal messaging telling her that she’s far better than Melody and Valerie. Valerie and Melody manage to escape both Carson Dalys and return, only to be driven away by Josie.
Alone, Josie storms off, still listening to the remix with the subliminal messaging. She winds up skipping Alan M.’s gig as a solo guitarist, leaving him to the tender mercies of Alexandra. Josie does break through the brainwashing, though, and realizes what happened. With help from Alexander and Alexandra, Josie gets the proof she needs that Megarecords, Wyatt, and Fiona are up to no good. Fiona catches her in the act, though, and forces her to go to the Sega Megarena to perform.
Melody and Valerie catch up at the Megarena. Josie tries to make up for her bad behavior to them, but the bridges are too badly burnt. Fiona threatens to kill Valerie and Melody to force Josie to go on stage, to the point of having an MTV news bulletin already created reporting the deaths of the bandmates in a firey explosion. Josie acquiesces, but still tries one more time to make up with her friends. All looks lost, until the deus ex puer cohortem arrives, in the form of Dujour. They had managed to land their private jet. Unfortunately, they set down outside a Metallica concert and only escaped the fans because of one of Dujour knew “Enter the Sandman“. Dujour isn’t up for a fight, but they are the distraction Josie needs to try to free her friends. Too bad the car Valerie and Melody are in are on a turntable, letting Fiona catch Josie in the act.
Josie, though, has had enough and launches herself at Fiona. With chaos breaking out, Valerie and Melody break free and help out. Valerie takes on Wyatt leaving Melody to deal with Fiona’s bodyguards. The latter fight isn’t fair; Melody knows kung fu. Valerie manages to clothesline Wyatt. Josie goads Fiona into swinging a guitar at her; the miss destroys the machine controlling the subliminal messages. Agent Kelly arrives with several other G-Men. Josie reveals the plot to them, telling them that Fiona and Wyatt were brainwashing teenagers. Kelly has little choice but to throw Fiona under the bus and takes her away.
The Megarena is still filled with an audience who wants to see Josie and the Pussycats play. The Pussycats are blown away by the size of the crowd, but still go on with the show, even without the subliminal messages, giving the audience a chance to make its own decision on whether to like the band. The Pussycats bring down the house.
The movie is a satire of the music industry and consumerism. Dujour is the boy band of the day. Product placement is everywhere, obvious and obnoxious, none of it paid placement. There’s even an Evian ad in a whale tank. The Pussycats get co-opted to sell everything, even themselves. There are times when the movie is cynical about the music industry. At the same time, the movie understands its target audience. Teenagers are media savvy and know when they’re being pandered to, with some extras for fans of the cartoon. Fiona’s plot is comically over the top to satisfy a very human need, the need to be accepted. All from Archie Comics’ film studio, Riverdale Productions. Josie and the Pussycats isn’t what is expected from the company*.
The characters from the comic are critical to making the movie about the Pussycats instead of any other all-girl band. Josie is the ambitious one, wanting to become a rock star, the one pushing her bandmates. Valerie is the rock, the one still anchored to reality that her friends can count on. Melody is still the ditz, not quite all there and capable of completely missing the obvious. Josie and Alan M. are trying to be a couple, with Alexandra trying to insert herself into Alan M.’s life. Alexandra remains true to her comic book incarnation, unpleasant but willing to let herself be dragged along when the going gets tough. She even keeps her skunk stripe. The effort is there to keep the characters true to the original. Again, it helps that the owners of the property are involved; that’s one less separation between the original work and the adaptation.
The movie has had an effect on the characters in the comics. The names given in the film – Josie McCoy, Melody Valentine – have been accepted as canonical. Valerie‘s last name was Smith in the comics, though it changes to Brown when Pepper Smith returns. With the New Riverdale line of comics, with new but still familiar designs for all of the Archie characters, the Pussycats get a look that fits in with the movie, though Melody is less a ditz and more living in her own comic book that just crosses over with Josie and the Pussycats.
The live action Josie and the Pussycats is an evolution for the characters. They were brought up to date, given a new sound that resonated with the era, and yet remained true to their comic book forms. While the movie didn’t do well in theatres, it provided satire of an industry while delivering a comic book-style plot that would fit in with the animated adaptation of 1970.
* Then again, the publisher has released such titles as Archie Meets Kiss, Archie Meets the Punisher, and Archie vs Sharknado, so maybe the movie isn’t all that unexpected.
No new review today. Trying to get the details I need for the next one, which will return next week.
Meanwhile, enjoy an older post.