After analysing a number of adaptations over the past few years, it’s nigh time to examine how the different sources of material affects how a work is adapted. The History of Adaptations series helped show the different sources that led to popular works, with other works being reviewed expanding the list.
Literary sources cover a wide range, from novels to short stories to plays to poems. Each source has its own challenges for adaptations. Novels, being a longer form, tend to lose details when adapted as films. A series of novels adapted to film can lose critical scenes, especially if the adaptation begins before the last as happened with the Harry Potter series. Television may be the better format for novels; while individual episodes are shorter than a film’s run time, a full season gives more time to delve into the work. With the today’s choices for television going far beyond the three-channel universe, a traditional 22 episode season isn’t needed. Mini-series can take as long as needed. One other means to adapt a novel is to just use the characters and create new situations, such as happened with The Dresden Files. The benefit of novels is that their popularity is easy to track. The New York Times‘ best sellers lists, while flawed still provide studios an idea of how well a title is selling. A novel that makes headlines because of fan enthusiasm makes the choice to adapt it easy.
At the other end of length, short stories may not have enough material to fill a movie’s runtime. Studios would have to extrapolate and expand from the events in the story, sometimes to the point where the film could have been its own work. A television series would not work, unless the idea is to keep the characters in further situations. However, an anthology series could take the story and adapt it. The Twilight Zone did this throughout its run, with episodes like “Steel” and “An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge” being typical.
Plays don’t have the problem of having too much or too little story when it comes to being adapted as a film. A typical play is performed in about the same time as a film, possibly a little longer. The script is already written; all the director needs to do is remember that the fourth wall is now the camera’s lens instead of the audience. Plays don’t work out as well for television; length is the limiting factor.
Poems and songs do get adapted, though not to the same degree as other literary sources. The poem or song needs to be narrative, providing or at least implying a plot of some sort. “Harper Valley PTA” may be the best example, having been made into a movie that was then adapted as a TV series. The song provided the basis for the plots in both. Popular songs are easy to track, through Top 40 lists and YouTube hits.
Comics are a popular source for adaptations today. The bright costumes, the spectacle of superheroes fighting supervillains, and the almost black-and-white morality of pulp western serials are a lure for filmmakers. Yet, as a serialized means of storytelling, a comics adaptation could easily find a home on television. The plots are already storyboarded, though only Scott Pilgrim vs the World took advantage of that. Right now, the looming problem is audience burnout. At some point, audiences will want something different, but not too different. Yet, comics cover a wide range, something Marvel Studios has been exploiting. Each of the Marvel movies has been superheroes crossed with something else, from technothriller (Iron Man) to heist movie (Ant Man) to romantic comedy (Deadpool). The variety available in comics, not just the superhero titles, makes the medium ripe for the picking. Add in foreign titles, such as manga, and the surface has barely been scratched.
Television looks like it could make the jump to the silver screen. There have been attempts. The problem is the differences in running times. A TV episode today can run either 22 or 45 minutes, with breaks for ads. A full season can each 22 episodes. Neither fit well into a 2 to 2.5 hour film. Expanding an episode is similar to expanding a short story; much more needs to be added. Age of the work is another matter. Some series, like Entourage, have a goal to end with a cinematic release. Other series may have just enough popularity to risk trying a movie, like Firefly and Veronica Mars. The end result may be true to the TV show, but may not get the critical mass needed for an audience. Older series have another issue; while it may have been popular in its day, a TV series may not be well known to today’s audience. The Beverly Hillbillies, while almost note perfect as an adaptation, didn’t have the name recognition needed to get people out to it. Remaking and rebooting a TV series can work, though. Star Trek returned as Star Trek: The Next Generation to a much larger fanbase than the original series had when it first aired. The new Battlestar Galactica lasted longer than the original, providing a different look at the ragtag fleet searching for Earth.
Film remakes are also popular today. There appears to be a roughly thirty to forty year gap between originals and remakes. Take a look at King Kong; ignoring sequels, after the giant ape’s first appearance in 1933, the movie was remade in 1976 and 2005. With home video tape players and, later, DVD and Blu-Ray players along with specialty movie cable channels and streaming services, this gap may need to grow. The availability of older movies in homes grew tremendously in the Eighties. While the 1959 Ben Hur didn’t need to compete with the first adaptation, a remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark has the original available and in many home movie libraries. Adapting a movie to a TV series means further exploration of the film. M*A*S*H and Stargate SG-1 are arguably the most successful film-to-TV adaptations, both having run ten years and are both still available in syndication and on DVD. Not every movie can make the jump to television; the film needs to leave room for further stories featuring the characters.
Video games have had a rough time in adaptation. The early video game movies were either poorly done or completely missed the mark; Super Mario Bros illustrates the latter well. Video games turned out to have similar problems as literary sources. Early games, especially arcade games, had just enough plot to lure players before letting them button mash. similar to the problem of adapting a short story. Later video games, especially once home consoles had the ability to save games in progress, provided for a longer story, requiring several hours of game play. Parasite Eve‘s ten to twenty hours for completion is on the short side. What some adaptations have done is provide extra information for players, either what happened prior to the game or what happened after. Animated adaptations, most in the form of a cartoon like Super Mario Bros Super Show, have been more successful. In most cases, the cartoon just takes the characters and some of the game play and create new stories around them.
Other games, such as boardgames and tabletop RPGs, see similar problems to video games with added layers of abstraction. Clue may have been the best adaptation of a boardgame; the game itself is a murder mystery with a cast of investigators and one murderer, ideal for translating to the big screen. Battleship, on the other hand, tried to incorporate elements from the game but there wasn’t much to bring in, resulting in a mess of a movie. With tabletop RPGs, the problem is that, while there may be an idea of what game play looks like, the game itself is social. Players create their own characters and storylines. Studios are competing with the imagination of the players. Tabletop RPGs are also a niche market; very few games get beyond specialty stores and into book stores.
Toys may have had the best success rate of all sources mentioned here. Most adaptations of toys started as a way to market the toy itself. However, to keep the audience watching, story and character development happened. Cartoons like Transformers, Jem and the Holograms, G.I. Joe, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic took the idea of the toy and expanded on it, creating settings and introducing characters. Not every adaptation succeeded; the live action Jem and the Holograms was pulled from theatres after two weeks. The problem studios need to watch out for is reaction by parental groups and popularity of the toy. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future ended on a heart wrenching note because while the series had an audience, the toyline did not. Even a mess of a movie, like Michael Bay’s Transformers, can still be a decent adaptation.
On side note, Bay’s Transformers didn’t have continuity issues. The Transformers series already had multiple continuities, with fans well aware that cinematic universes are a thing. Bay may have been well aware of the problems he was going to face and made the one move that brought Transformers fans on board – he brought in Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime. A loud movie with explosions featuring Autobots and Decepticons fighting kept the fans happy. Getting key details right can go a long way in making a good adaptation.
Not every adaptation is successful, and not every adaptation is accurate. The goal for studios is to overcome the challenges of the source material. There’s a change coming in how television is seen; once a vast wasteland catering to the lowest common denominator, TV is now exploring new ways its format can tell stories. Film, while still seen as the goal for adaptations, is becoming stale, mainly because of remakes, reboots, and other adaptations. The format of the original work may require a hard look at how it is adapted.
Thanks to some early entries in the field, video game movies aren’t appreciated. Super Mario Bros. is one of the big offenders, having been a poor adaptation of the source material. Mortal Kombat was the exception when it came out in 1995, but video game adaptations were still done through licensing arrangements with a studio, placing how the game appears completely out of the original publisher’s hands. In 2001, a game publisher decided to try its hand at making their own film adaptation
Square had great success with its Final Fantasy line of video games. Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi in 1987, the first Final Fantasy was available on the Nintendo Entertainment System and localized for the US in 1990. The next two installments of the game, FFII in 1988 and FFIII in 1990, were released only in Japan. The two games weren’t so much sequels as new stories exploring the same themes as the first, setting a pattern for the rest of the series. When FFIV came out in 1991, it was for the Super Nintendo and released in the US as FFII. FFV was a Japan-only release in 1992 and had a sequel, Final Fantasy: Legend of the Cryptids. FFVI came out in 1994 with an American release as FFIII.
Up to this point, the series was two-dimensional sprites; the draw was the story-telling with the game play. In 1997, with the introduction of the PlayStation, FFVII moved to three-dimensional characters and a more modern setting. The game also retained its numbering in the American release. Square followed up with FFVIII in 1999, turning the setting into more of a planetary romance with a mix of magic and technology with a hint that the world had avanced since the end of FFVII. FFIX rounds out the original PlayStation console games, coming out in 2001 and moving the setting back to fantasy. As newer consoles came out, Square and, after 2003, Square-Enix brought out more FF sequels, covering everything from traditional consoles to Windows to mobile gaming.
While each entry in the Final Fantasy series is a standalone adventure, there are themes that return every game. Young heroes coming together despite tragedies, the difficulty of the heroes working together, an ancient evil returning, rebellion against a government. Magic is based on elements, both the traditional Japanese and Western, and must be balanced within itself and with nature. Technology isn’t necessarily evil, but neither is it necessarily good; it, too, must balance with nature. There are recurring characters, of a sort. Cid, who first appeared in FFII acts as a mentor to the main character and may or may not be part of the party depending on the entry. Biggs and Wedge, named after characters in Star Wars, have appeared in games starting with FFV and are typically used as comic relief.
As the company worked on getting FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX published, Square set up a division, Square Pictures, to release films based on their games. The first and, ultimately, only movie created was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Released in 2001 with Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara directing, The Spirits Within was an ambitious project, with the film being completely computer animated. The ambition came with a high price tag; computers of the time, Penium IIIs running at 933MHz – were being pushed to their limits rendering the film’s frames.
In The Spirits Within, the Earth of 2065 has been overrun by alien creatures known as Phantoms that can pull a person’s soul out of their body, killing them. Even a touch leads to an infection that is fatal if not cured in time. Humanity is isolated into barrier cities protected by an energy field. People who leave the city must go through decontamination to ensure no Phantom infection has occurred.
All is not loss yet, though. Doctor Aki Ross, voiced by Ming-Na Wen, and Doctor Sid, voiced by Donald Sutherland, discover of a way to defeat the Phantoms. If the eight signature spirits can be found and combined, the Phantoms can be pushed off Earth. During a trip to the ruins of New York City to gather the sixth signature spirit, Aki is stalked by Phantoms, only to be rescued by her former boyfriend, Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his squad, the Deep Eyes – Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi), and Jane Produfoot (Peri Gilpin).
On return to the barrier city, Aki finds out that General Hein (James Woods) has decided that the best way to destroy the Phantoms infecting the Earth is to turn the Zeus cannon, an orbital laser, on them. To protect the Earth and its Gaia spirit, Aki reveals that not only is she infected, the spirit signatures she’s collected are keeping the infection at bay.
The seventh signature is found, though Aki’s infection worsens. She falls into a coma and, while unconscious, dreams of how the Phantoms first arrived on Earth. Aki is brought out of her coma by Sid who uses the seventh signature to control the infection.
Hein, believing that Aki is under control of the Phantoms, decides that his plan is still the correct one. He lowers the energy field of the barrier city, intending to let a few Phantoms in. Legions swarm the city, causing havok. Hein escapes to the Zeus space station. Gray, the only member of Deep Eyes to escape alive, joins Aki and Sid on their space ship to find the eight signature.
It becomes a race against time. Hein opens fire with the Zeus cannon while Aki and Gray seek out the eighth signature spirit. One of Hein’s shots kills the spirit, but Aki has a vision of the Gaia of the Phantoms’ home world. The infection within her becomes the eight signature spirit and combines with the other seven. To transmit the completed spirit to the alien Gaia, Gray sacrifices himself. On the Zeus station, Hein orders the cannon into overload, ignoring warnings from techs and computers. The cannon overloads, destroying the station and killing all aboard. The alien Gaia and the Phantoms leave Earth, returning home.
Several of the recurring FF elements can be seen in the above. There’s the young heroes with some issues between each other. Despite the different spelling, Doctor Sid is still the wise mentor to the lead character, Aki. The nature of spirits returns, and how introducing an alien spirit can cause problems. The biggest change is that The Spirits Within is science fiction with some fantasy elements, a huge change from FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX, the three most recent games prior to the movie’s release. Also unlike the games released, The Spirits Within was set on Earth.
The film was a commercial failure. Part of the problem was the sheer cost of production. The budget for the movie was US$137 million, higher than 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace at $115 million. Most of the cost was in the animation, from the hardware to the sheer amount of time animators needed to put the film together. Other problems existed. As mentioned above, video game adaptations were known to be poor. The characters, while rendered to be as realistic as possible, fell into the uncanny valley. There was something just off enough to make the characters seem less than real. And, for a video game movie, there wasn’t much action. The Final Fantasy series of games did offer more than just pure action, adding characterization, investigation, and exploration, but the draw of video games is the action. Audiences found the story to be slower than expected. Because of the loss, Square Pictures closed shop and the merger between Square and Enix was delayed.
Artistically, the film was lush. Backgrounds were detailed. Characters had blemishes. The ruined Earth was heartbreaking to see. The Phantoms provided a harsh alien light to the world. Perhaps the movie could have been better off as another entry in the FF line of games, allowing players to immerse themselves into it as Aki, Gray, and the Deep Eyes.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within wasn’t quite what Final Fantasy fans were expecting, but it did touch upon similar themes as the games had. The failings of the movie are technical. As an adaptation, it is a worthy entry in the Final Fantasy line up and breaks the video game adaptation curse.
Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: 1983
Previous Film: For Your Eyes Only
Next Film: A View to a Kill
Original Story: “Octopussy”
Publication Date: Serialized in the Daily Express in 1965; released in Octopussy and The Living Daylights collection in 1966. Both dates are after Ian Fleming’s death.
Previous Story: The Man With the Golden Gun
Next Story: none; Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis under the penname Robert Markham in 1968.
Villain: Kamal Kham (Louis Jourdan); General Orlov (Steven Berkoff)
Heavy: Gobinda (Kevir Bedi), Mischka and Grishka (David & Anthony Meyer)
Bond Girls: Octopussy (Maud Adams), Magda (Kristina Wayborn), Bianca (Tina Hudson), Octopussy`s girls
Other Notable Characters: Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), M (Robert Brown), Minister of Defense (Geoffrey Keen), Gen. Gogol (Walter Gotell), Vijay (Vijay Amritraj), Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell)
Gadgets: Q-Branch modified three-wheeled taxi with turbo; acid fountain pen with radio receiver (used by Bond); liquid crystal TV watch (used by Bond); alligator sub (used by Bond); yo-yo buzzsaw (used by unnamed hitman)
Opening Credits: “All Time High“, written by Tim Rice and John Barry, performed by Rita Coolidge.
Closing Credits: “All Time High”, reprised
Plot of Original: 007 tracks down a retired Royal Marine Major who had killed a German officer during the post-war investigations in order to get two bars of Nazi gold.
Plot of Film: After 009 dies at the British Embassy in West Germany after escaping a circus in East Berlin with a forged Fabergé egg, 007 is called in to trace the real Fabergé Egg from Sotheby’s where it is up for auction to the seller, a rogue Russian general who is using the smuggling of Russian artwork to fund his plot and to set up an atomic blast on a US Army base in Feldstat, West Germany, to frame the American government. To stop the plot, Bond infiltrates Octopussy’s Circus and finds not only the rogue general and his bankroller, but also 009’s murderers.
It may be easier to state what remained the same. Both the short story and the movie have an octopus. The short story focuses on Major Smythe, who was in the Miscellaneous Objectives Bureau during and after World War II. Bond is the catalyst for the story, but doesn’t play much of a role. Smythe confesses to killing a German officer after the war in order to steal Nazi gold, then while waiting for Scotland Yard to arrive, goes hunting the scorpion fish and gets poisoned by his prey in a Pyrrhic victory over it.
The original short story becomes Octopussy’s backstory, though updated because of the era. Major Smythe served in the Korean War, and is Octopussy’s father. She is well aware of who Bond is, thanks to the events in the short story.
Octopussy pulls from one other of Ian Fleming’s short stories, “The Property of a Lady”. The auction scene at Sotheby’s plays out in a similar manner, with Bond upping the bid to flush out the seller. However, neither “The Property of a Lady” nor “Octopussy” can fill a 131 minute film. Current events in 1983 had the Cold War easing back ever so slowly. The Iron Curtain started to look rusty, and the economic standing of the Soviet Union was starting to creak. The plot involving a rogue general was within the realm of possibility, as was the potential Soviet invasion of Europe. The production pulled in elements from both short stories as a base for the movie, which went in its own direction.
The problem the film has is that all the easier stories to adapt have been done. For Your Eyes Only ran into the same issue, having used other short stories in its collection for plot elements. With Octopussy and The Living Daylights, the short stories were more character pieces or investigative, with little action. At the time, 007 movies were blockbuster spectaculars, with set action pieces in exotic locales. A quieter pace would have fit the original story, but audiences have a different image in mind for the franchise.
Octopussy also had one problem that no other EON 007 production had, a competing Bond movie. Sean Connery was in Never Say Never Again, the Thunderball remake. Octopussy was competing with the original 007. Helping was the return of John Barry to score the movie, bringing the original musical themes woven into the soundtrack.
After For Your Eyes Only, Roger Moore felt he was getting too old to play 007. The search for the new Bond was continuing when Octopussy was made. Moore’s contract to play the role was over, but he was convinced to be Bond on a film by film basis. He’d play 007 one more time in A View to a Kill, making him the actor the role the most EON films with seven.
Casting notes – Robert Brown makes his first appearance as M in the film. Vijay Amritraj, a successful former tennis player, makes his film debut. Maud Adams makes her third appearance in the franchise; her first was in The Man With the Golden Gun as a supporting character, her second was uncredited in For Your Eyes Only.
The Living Daylights
Bond: Timothy Dalton
Release Date: 1987
Previous Film: A View to a Kill
Next Film: License to Kill
Original Story: “The Living Daylights
Publication Date: February 4, 1962 as “Berlin Escape” in The Sunday Times; 1966 in Octopussy and The Living Daylights as a collection of short stories.
Previous Story: Thunderball by original publication date, The Man With the Golden Gun by collection publication date.
Next Story: The Spy Who Loved Me by original publication date; none by collection publication date; Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis under the penname Robert Markham was published in 1968.
Villain: Gen. Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé), Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker)
Heavy: Necros (Andreas Wisniewski)
Bond Girls: Kara Milovy (Maryam D’Abo)
Other Notable Characters: Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss), M (Robert Brown), Minister of Defense (Geoffrey Keen), Gen. Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), Gen. Gogol (Walter Gotell), Kamran Shah (Art Malik), Felix Leither (John Terry)
Gadgets: Aston-Martin V8 Vantage with bulletproof windows, laser tire slashers, mini-rocket launcher, head’s-up display, outriggers, and self-destruct (driven by Bond); key ring with whistle activated stun gas and explosive; ghetto blaster (used by Q branch tech in preparation for use by American intelligence)
Opening Credits: “The Living Daylights“, written by Pål Waaktaar and John Barry, performed by a-ha.
Closing Credits: “If There Was a Man“, written by Chrissie Hynde and John Barry, performed by The Pretenders.
Plot of Original: 007 is assigned to counter-sniper duty to protect a defector leaving East Berlin. When he goes to shoot the KGB sniper, he discovers that she is a cellist he had been admiring from afar in the three days prior to the defection. 007 shoots, hitting her in the hand instead of killing her.
Plot of Film: 007 is assigned to protect a defector who specifically asked for him, leading to the events in the short story relocated to Bratislava in then-Czechoslovakia. During the defector’s debriefing, he reveals the existence of Smiert Spionen – SMERSH – run by a rogue general. A KGB team grabs the defector, though. 007, however, knows the alleged rogue, Gen. Pushkin. He starts his investigation with the cellist to find out who arranged for her to be the sniper. Pushkin is on the same trail, though, and gets to her first. 007, though, has the cello case with her rifle and blank ammunition. With this knowledge, 007 works to track down the false defector to Afghanistan and disrupts an arms for opium deal.
The film doesn’t so much change the plot of the original as expand it. On its own, “The Living Daylights” takes up not even seven minutes of the movie’s runtime, necessitating an expansion of the plot. With 131 minutes to fill, the script had to add a new story that would last the entire movie, essentially turning the rest of the movie into a different work built off the short story. The needs of the new story moves the counter-sniper mission to Bratislava, but keeps the core of “The Living Daylights”. The movie is a good example of the differences between short story and film. The story isn’t has epic as the Roger Moore era, but the stakes will still be felt around the world.
Another major change is that the seven minutes taken from the short story are the last five to six pages. The rest of the story leading up to the defector making his escape is a look into how Bond prepares for the mission and how he sees his job. At this point in his literary career, Bond is tired of being Her Majesty’s blunt instrument. A more modern take may even diagnose him with stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. 007 disobeys orders – kill the Soviet sniper – and doesn’t care if word that he deliberately did not take the killing shot gets back to M. Bond’s disdain for his job does come through in the movie; he has broken the world between professionals – members of the intelligence community – and everyone else.
As mentioned, the setting has changed. The original short story is set in East and West Berlin. The defection begins in East Berlin, but Bond’s sniper position is in the West. The defector needs to run thirty yards through an open area to get to and over the Berlin Wall. In 1987, the Wall was still around, but much leakier than in 1962. The move to Bratislava works to emphasize the villain’s plan, with Bond expected to kill the sniper. From the storytelling side, the movie also means that Bond takes a more active role in the mission than just waiting for the sniper to appear. Instead of the defector running thirty yards to climb over the Berlin Wall, Bond now needs to get him out of Czechoslovakia under a much higher police presence.
The Living Daylights is the first of the two Timothy Dalton /007/ films. Dalton took the character back to his roots in Fleming’s novels, a move that wasn’t appreciated at the time. Audiences were more familiar with Roger Moore’s more flamboyant Bond, though even his version still had a dark side to him. In 1987, 007 was a franchise, with the quirks that come with that. After the world saving that Moore’s Bond did, Dalton’s worked on a more personal level. Dalton’s approach is similar to Daniel Craig’s in Casino Royale, a return to the origins.
The late Eighties saw the Cold War cool off. With Gorbachev’s policies of Perestroika and Glasnost thawing relations between East and West, the Soviet Union was not seen as the threat it was in the Fifties, when Fleming created Bond, and the Sixties, when Dr. No started the film series. Any Soviet plot had to be done by a rogue element who was against the opening of borders. Bond is a throwback, as comes up in later films.
The movie got into a bit of trouble with the Red Cross. At one point, Koskov and Whitaker take advantage of the organization’s reputation and symbol to move arms and opium. While there was no lawsuit, the studio added a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, to make sure people knew that such use was not approved by the Red Cross.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been compared to the American involvement in the Vietnam War. The USSR spent a lot in time, money, and blood for little gain in the country, much for the same reason why NATO got mired in Afghanistan. To make things even more jarring for a modern audience, Bond is working with the same group that NATO fought. Afghanistan is where empires go to die.
Several key cast and crew changes occur. Walter Gotell makes his last appearance as Gen. Gogol, having played the role in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill. He also appeared in From Russia With Love as Morzeny, a trainer for SPECTRE. Caroline Bliss takes over from Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny in this movie and returns in the role in the next. Joe Don Baker returns during the Pierce Brosnan run as the CIA agent, Jack Wade, starting with GoldenEye. The score for The Living Daylights is the last one done by John Barry. John Terry, is the 6th actor in the main EON continuity to play the role of Felix Leiter and the 7th after Bernie Casey in Never Say Never Again, the Thunderball remake with Sean Connery.
It’s taking a little longer to get the next review completed. Lost in Translation will return next Saturday.
Adaptations will happen. It`s the nature of Hollywood. Audiences aren’t fleeing away yet, so there’s no reason not to adapt. However, if all that is done is adaptations, original sources get scarce. The easy ones are on the verge of being over done. A couple of news articles this past week show that there are studios looking beyond just remakes.
First, Amazon picked up Tales from the Loop to make an eight episode series. Tales from the Loop is a collection of paintings by Simon Stålenhag showing an alternate Sweden of the Eighties, one where the landscape includes kids and unusual machines and buildings, the latter two being part of a particle accelerator program. The original paintings were gathered into one book, which then spawned a tabletop RPG of the same name. The Kickstarter raised enough money to have an American Loop project added, resulting in more paintings by Stålenhag. It looks like Amazon is trying to cash in on Netflix’s Stranger Things, but the collection of paintings was done prior to that series.
The second announcement uses a more mainstream source. Lively McCabe Entertainment and Primary Wave licensed Plain White T’s “Hey There, Delilah” as the basis for a romantic dramedy to shop around to networks. The song is a hit and has been featured on several TV series since its first release in 2006. Music has been used before as a source, but typically for either episodes of TV series or as a movie. “Hey There, Delilah” does have characters – Delilah, a university student, and an unnamed singer-songwriter, using the song to stay close to her while on the otherside of the country. That might be enough to at least start the series.
Notably, neither announcement is for a movie. Both are TV series. Television, though, isn’t the wasteland it used to be. The competition for audiences goes beyond the three-channel, lowest common denominator and now includes specialty channels and streaming. The goal now is to attract an audience that has become finicky in what it wants. With Tales from the Loop, the short run will keep the series focused on the mixture of mundane and mysterious. With “Hey There Delilah”, audiences are familiar with the idea of romantic dramedies already; the song becomes the hook.
Are these two announcements the start of a new trend? That depends on their success. Television is tough these days. If Amazon can reproduce the immersive quality of Stålenhag’s paintings, Loop should raise a following. The dramedy of “Hey There, Delilah” may have it rougher, but if the main characters are compelling, the series should have a few good seasons.
The issue of a translations has come up before, most notably in the analysis of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. When examining a work originally created in a foreign language, the accuracy of translation comes up. Today, a look at how language barriers go into adding complexity to adapting.
Translations aren’t cut-and-dried. Languages have quirks, some of which might not translate to another. Add in cultural differences and getting the idea presented in a paragraph or even just a sentence. Idioms grow from language and culture and may not have a proper translation. Expletives are an extreme example; the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop shows the difference between swearing in English, which tends to use bodily functions, and swearing in Quebecois French, which tends to use elements of the Catholic Church. In a more family friendly vein, puns – plays on words – fall apart between languages. A French pun based on how close cheval (horse) and cheveux (hair) can’t be repeated in English. Going the other way, the werewolf/where wolf pun from Young Frankenstein can’t be translated well into French; werewolf translates to loup garou while where wolf becomes où est le loup.
It is possible to work around the limitations. The various English Asterix comics managed to keep the gist of most of the puns without accurately translating the names. Obelix’s dog has a near perfect replacement name despite not being a perfect translation; Idéfix, after idée fixe or a fixed idea, became Dogmatix, after dogmatic, which can involve fixed ideas, and adds in a quick extra pun. The druid, Panoramix, after the wide view parnorama, became Getafix, since everyone went to him for magic potions. The blacksmith, Cétautomatix, from c’est automatique or “it’s automatic” became Fulliautomatix, “fully automatic”. The bard, Assurancetourix, after assurance tous risques, or “comprehensive insurance”, which what he needs when he tries singing, becase Cacofonix, after cacophony, which accurately describes his singing. The goal in the translations was to maintain, if not the exact pun, a pun based on the character. The characters haven’t changed, just the names only because puns are very much language based.
That still leaves the nature of the language. English doesn’t really have an equivalent to either tutoyer or vouvoyer, using the informal or formal you, respectively. Likewise, the levels if formality in Japanese honourifics don’t always translate well, leaving a character sounding stiffly more formal than intended. A blind-idiot translation, where words are translated without a sense of context, creates a mess. The translator needs to understand the originating culture; fortunately, most do. At the same time, the result also depends on the translator’s own culture, and, sometimes, this results in a more formal approach even when the original wasn’t.
The above problem occurs in older works. Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, the source of several movies and a blockbuster stage musical, was originally written in French. The English translation is very formal, having been done in 1911, when most novels were written in a more formal manner than today.
What this means for adaptations of translated works is that the goal may not be to preserve the language but the intent. Language changes over time. English is constantly mugging other languages for new words. Spoken language varies from written. Today, audiences expect the dialogue in a film to reflect how English is spoken now. Studios typically aren’t going to release a work that is inaccessible to the general audience. Yet, older works, no matter the original language, bring expectations. King Henry VIII won’t sound like a Bronx storekeeper except for comedic purposes; the audience won’t put up with the change.
In short, a foreign language work adds an extra degree of complexity to adapting it. Unless cultural biases are taken into account, subtleties could be lost, and the adaptation will feel flat.
Remakes happen. The known element is popular with audiences, for all that people moan about the lack of original movies. Lost in Translation has looked at the problems different sources have when being translated to film, but remaking a movie has its own issues. For most genres, it’s not a problem. People will enjoy the same story over and over, whatever the format. For horror and mystery, there’s a problem.
Horror and mystery rely on tension and the unknown. In horror, it’s a question of when something happens, with setting, lighting, and music the only cues. Mysteries rely on solving the puzzle, following clues to the end. In both genres, knowing the end result takes away from the suspense. The remake of The Evil Dead took the same situation – a cabin in the middle of the woods and a group of young adults – and, while having similar beats to the original, added its own twists so that audiences couldn’t rely on their knowledge of the older movie.
Before the Eighties, most older films could be found either in repertory theatres or on television, either late night or weekend mornings. With the typical time between original movie and a remake being about thirty years or so, a new generation of audience could grow up without having seen the source. The Eighties, though, were when the VCR took off with hardware and available movies coming down in cost to be practical for the home. Specialty cable stations added to the availability of older movies. Today, with DVDs and streaming, if a film exists, it can usually be found somewhere on demand. A movie from the Eighties, ie, thirty years ago, is still available to the next generation of audience. The twists and turns that made an original movie suspenseful now makes a remake predictable. Yet, people want the familiar. Directors of remakes are in a tough spot. The audience wants the remake to be faithful, but not too faithful.
Slasher films and monster movies have an out. Audiences are there to see the star – the slasher or the monster, different sides of the same coin – do what they do best, kill people. Few people watch a Godzilla movie to cheer the Japanese Self-Defense Force; they’re there to see Godzilla stomp through Tokyo. Toho has rebooted the series, but hasn’t really remade the original.
Another issue with horror remakes is that horror films tend to reflect the fears of the time they are made. Going back to Godzilla, the original film was made in response to the growing fears of atomic weapons, made in a country that had the first and only two atomic bombs dropped on it. Other fears that have shown up include machines turning on humanity (Maximum Overdrive, The Terminator), humanity’s interference with nature (The Thing, Sharktopus), loss of identity (The Fly, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Borg), the faceless other (zombie films), and the seductive other (vampire movies). While some of those fears are part of being human, others change as understanding is gained and political winds blow.
Mysteries may not rely on the fear of the day, but they do rely on the puzzle. With information at the audience’s fingertips today, it’d be easy to do a quick search to find out whodunit. Adapting a mystery from literature doesn’t quite have the same problem; the audience is there to see a story they enjoyed on screen, not solve the puzzle. Remaking a mystery, though, needs to create new twists to keep the audience on its toes. There are exceptions, such as Columbo where the draw is to see how the detective solves the murder, but most mysteries rely on not knowing who the killer is until the reveal. Even the live action Scooby-Doo, while still using the tropes of the cartoon including having the monster really be someone the kids have met, created its own plot instead of using one of the animated episodes.
There are ways around the problem. The first is to make the new movie a reboot, picking up where the previous film left off. The TV series Ash vs Evil Dead is a continuation of the original The Evil Dead with Ash getting into more trouble. It’s easier with slasher films and monster movies; the star is the attraction, so even with new casting, as long as the main character acts in the expected way, the audience is satisfied. Mysteries may have a harder time, depending on how much the original actor was tied to the character. Peter Falk made Columbo his character; it’ll be some time before an audience will accept a newcomer to the role. However, other characters, like Sherlock Holmes, have been portrayed by a large number of different actors.
The key in any remake is to provide the audience what they expect. With horror, the expectation is suspense and scares; with mysteries, it’s a whodunit. The characters in the remake should behave like they did in the original, even if the plot has changed. Shaggy shouldn’t sound like an Oxford scholar and Ash Williams shouldn’t be the luckiest man alive. Get these details correct, and the audience won’t mind changes to the plot.
From Russia With Love
Bond: Sean Connery
Release Date: 1963
Previous Film: Dr. No (1962)
Next Film: Goldfinger (1964)
Original Story: From Russia With Love
Publication Date: 1957
Previous Story: Diamonds Are Forever
Next Story: Dr. No
Villain: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya)
Heavy: Donovan “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw)
Bond Girls: Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson)
Other Notable Characters: Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz), Major Boothroyd/Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), M (Bernard Lee), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell)
Gadgets: Watch garrotte, used by Grant. Briefcase with survival rifle, hidden knife, hidden currency, hidden ammunition, and tear gas cannister disguised as a tin of talcum powder, used by 007. Bug detector, used by 007.
Plot of Original: SMERSH tries to kill 007 with an eye on embarrassing the British Secret Service.
Plot of Film: SPECTRE tries to steal a Soviet decryption machine using 007 and a Soviet cypher clerk while still embarrassing 007 and British intelligence..
The biggest change is who the opposition is. The novel had SMERSH acting against 007. The studio changed that to SPECTRE, keeping SMERSH involved but as one of the agencies being played by Blofeld’s organization. All of the Soviet senior staff mentioned in the novel – General Grubozaboyaschikov, General Vozdvishensky, Colonel Kikitin, and General Slavin – are gone, replaced by Blofeld. Rosa Klebb is now a defector from SMERSH to SPECTRE, and Grant is an assassin under her command.
The movie also rearranges and collapses the first third of the novel. A briefing by the head of SMERSH works in a book but not in a film. Audiences know how meetings go and are watching the movie to escape them. Kronsteen still gets his chess championship, but it’s now at the international level, not just for supremacy in Moscow. The scene also changes the focus, by showing Kronsteen’s planning ability by defeating the Canadian MacAdams instead him having to worry about not leaving the chess match against the Russian Markhov because of his summons.
Bond’s first appearance also gets changed. In the novel, he is first seen in his apartment, reminising, the only woman around being his housekeeper, May. In the movie, Bond is enjoying an afternoon off with Sylvia Trench, who he met in Dr. No, something not possible in the film continuity since that was the first book adapted.
The movie follows the novel more or less as wrtitten with minor changes. Darko Kerem becomes Ali Kerem Bey, for example, but nothing major. Bond meets Tatiana, gets information out of her, and takes her on the Orient Express out of Turkey. On the train, Grant makes his move. That’s where the movie diverges from the book. In the book, Bond’s Q-branch briefcase has the hidden knife, but not the talcum powder tear gas. In the movie, Bond bluffs Grant into opening the briefcase. Not knowing the special way to get in, Grant gets a face full of tear gas, allowing Bond to act. The hidden knife does come out; Checkhov’s gun comes in many forms.
The fight between Bond and Grant in the book is followed by arrival in Paris, the delivery of Tatiana, and a final appearance by Klebb, who gets one kick in at Bond before being taken away by France’s Deuxième Bureau. The movie adds an escape from the train, a helicopter chase with Bond on foot and a boat chase before reaching Venice. Klebb gets her last appearance, but instead of poisoning Bond with her shoe despite her best efforts, Tatiana shoots her, ending her story.
There were minor changes because of the different format. What can be done in a book might not be allowed in a movie. In particular, the nudity in the novel, not explicit but there, gets covered up. Topless women get bras; the nude men get towels. One other change that does stand out is 007’s choice of pistol. In the book, Bond has his Beretta. His movie counterpart is using his signature Walther PPK. Movie Bond received the pistol in Dr. No because his Beretta had snagged on his holster in a previous mission. In the original Dr. No novel, Bond was forced to change pistols for the same reason, except that previous mission was in From Russia With Love. It’s a minor change, but thanks to the movies being in the wrong order, creates an interesting switch.
There are two actors making their first appearance here. First, Desmond Llewelyn appears as Major Boothroyd/Q. Major Boothroyd was a character in Dr. No, but was played by Peter Burton in that film. Llewelyn will appear in the most 007 films, his last time as Q in The World Is Not Enough, working alongside five different James Bonds in that time. Walter Gotell makes his first appearance, playing Morzeny, a SPECTRE trainer. Gotell reappears in the main line of 007 as General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me, and reprises the role in Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, and The Living Daylights.
With the change from SMERSH to SPECTRE, Ernst Blofeld makes his first appearance, albeit without revealing him. The white Persian cat becomes the villain’s signature. Blofeld takes over the role General Grubozaboyaschikov had, the head of the organization. This time, the organization is a private one, beholden to no government. SPECTRE is shown to be able to infiltrate even the highest ranks of Soviet intelligence, getting Klebb to defect.
From Russia With Love isn’t quite yet the classic 007 movie. The seeds are there, though. Suave Bond, beautiful women, fast car chases, gadgets, the only missing item is the set piece at the villain’s lair. The fight between the Gypsies and the Bulgars hint at what is to come in that respect. Audiences, though, turned out for the movie, sustaining the demand for more.
Remakes aren’t going away. Audiences will flock to an adaptation of a known work. Television is becoming more and more a source for the remake mill. If a TV series won its time slot in the ratings, it goes on lists of possible adaptations. Likewise, if a series influences how later, similar shows are made, it, too, becomes fodder for a remake.
However, television has a wrinkle that film doesn’t – syndicated reruns. With theatrical releases, there seems to be a twenty-five to thirty year gap between original and remake, depending on how well the original was received. That gap is the equivalent of a generation, enough time for a new generation to be born and grow up. During this time, film technology can improve and expand, providing a new way to tell the story. Films made in the Twenties remade in the Fifties could take advantage of colour, sound, and widescreen.
Syndicated reruns means a TV series is on the air for longer than the original run, keep a show alive in its original medium for far longer than a movie can ever hope for. If a series runs long enough, the syndicated reruns can air the same day as a new episode. The length of time between original and remake gets longer. But remakes and reboots do happen. Some are long awaited; others appear to come from out of the blue.
Another wrinkle television has, especially with long-running series, is a role gets associated with the actor playing it. This happens when the series is focused on that character. Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files is tied to James Garner. Likewise, Columbo is very much Peter Falk and Quincy is Jack Klugman. It’ll take time for these connections to fade.
When choosing a work to remake, it may be better to look at older series. Not from the Seventies, series from that decade are easily available and still have a large number of fans who are satisfied with DVD box sets of the show. Why not go back to the black & white days of TV. Not every series then is good for fodder. Rocky Jones, Space Ranger isn’t well known under that name, though Manhunt is Space is, especially the MST3K episode riffing it, is. There is a series that turned out to be as influential on how mysteries were made as Miami Vice was to dramas, police and otherwise – Peter Gunn
Created by Blake Edwards, Peter Gunn ran for three seasons from 1958 to 1961. The first two seasons ran on NBC, the third on ABC. The series starred Craig Stevens as the well-dressed private investigator, Peter Gunn, Lola Albright as his girlfriend, Edie Hart, Herschel Bernardi as police detective Lt. Jacoby, and Hope Emerson as Mother, the owner of Mother’s, a jazz club. When Emerson passed away during the second season, Minerva Urecal continued the role. The theme, written by Henry Mancini, was a hit. Mancini would win the first Album of the Year Grammy for The Music from Peter Gunn, compiling the music used in the first season. One of the musicians performing in the jazz combo for the series was a young John Williams.
Each episode of Peter Gunn ran about 25 minutes, allowing for a five minute ad break, and would start with a quick scene of the crime to be solved, often murder. Once Peter is hired, he’d dig into the case, question suspects, and get into fisticuffs, often on the wrong end. The series didn’t shy from having the lead get beaten up by mobsters and other assorted thugs. The first episode, “The Kill”, saw Mother’s bombed in retaliation to Peter’s investigating. Edwards brought film noir to television, fitting it to a half-hour slot.
There’s two ways to remake the series. The obvious way, which is what Edwards did for a 1989 remake, with Peter Strauss as Gunn and Peter Jurasik as Jacoby, is to bring the show to today. When Peter Gunn came out, a jazz soundtrack was novel, a new way to present a detective story. Today, thanks to shows like Miami Vice, using popular music is a given for dramas. Jazz, while still unusual, wouldn’t be as much a stand out today as it was in 1958. The idea, though, is still valid. Keep the jazz score, or change it up with something that fits today’s television without necessarily using Top 40 songs. The original had a signature style of music; a remake needs to have one, too.
The other approach would be to keep Peter Gunn in the late 50s. The series would have a distinctive look just from using the fashions of the era plus the chrome of the older cars. The jazz score would help accentuate the era, with the occasional period rock song. With the advantage of hindsight and time, the show can delve into social issues of the decade, not necessarily as a morale of the week, but to highlight how different life was then for different people.
Either way, a few details are hard-coded into the series. First, Peter and Edie are a couple. There’s no “will they or won’t they” going on. It was obvious in the original that Peter and Edie are a loving couple, with only the morality of the time preventing the answer of “they have.” The only television couple that is more up front about how much they love each other is Gomez and Morticia Addams. Second, Peter is well dressed, well coifed, wearing expensive clothes. At a time when the technology was rare and expensive, Peter had a car phone. Peter Gunn is not workaday like, say, Jim Rockford. Instead, he’s suave, even when he takes a beating.
Adaptations will happen. It’s the nature of the entertainment business. Studios want a return on investment, and audiences will turn up for a remake. Today, though, there is a lot of works available that still resonate with the general populace. There’s no reason to remake the same TV series over and over. Delve into TV’s history and there’s a wealth to be mined. Peter Gunn has been considered for a remake series. Steven Spielberg was working on a pilot of a new Peter Gunn series for the 2013-2014 TV season for TNT, but the show wasn’t picked up.