Last week, Lost in Translation did a quick overview of sports movies. It’s time to look at a specific example, a movie about a quintessentially Canadian sport, Men With Brooms.
While curling originated in Scotland, it spread quickly with the settlers in the New World, especially where there was winter three to ten months of the year. Most Canadian small towns have a curling rink. But what is curling? It’s a sport where two teams of four compete over ten ends to get the highest score. To score, a team must have at least one rock or stone nearest to the button, the middle of the target. For each rock nearer to the button than the opponent’s closest, the team scores a point.
Curling gets its name from what each team member must do to get a stone as close to the button as possible. By giving the stone a bit of spin, the curler gets it to arc around the opponents’ rocks, taking some out by hitting them. The curler’s teammates can straighten the path of the stone by sweeping a path using a broom, letting the rock travel farther.
Curling competitions are called bonspiels, where a number of teams compete over the course of a weekend, with the top teams meeting in a playoff to determine the overall winner. There are typically no referees or officials, with the players respecting the Spirit of Curling to maintain sportsmanship. One of the biggest fouls in the game is burning a rock, or touching one while it’s in motion. The expectation is that the team that burned the rock will own up to it.
It may be easier to watch a few ends to understand the game, but the above should act as a primer. Curling is a team sport, and teams are made of people with their own goals and motivations, some of which may cause conflict with teammates. There is story-telling potential in the sport. Which brings us to Men With Brooms.
Released in 2002, Men With Brooms was written by, directed by, and starred Paul Gross, best known as Constable Benton Fraser on the TV series Due South. Billed as a romantic comedy, it was originally intended to be about the other Canadian sport, hockey, but worries about politics surrounding the sport and the size of a hockey team led to changing the focus to curling. From there, the script fell into place.
Men With Brooms opens with the death of Don Foley, played by James B. Douglas, as he and his younger daughter Amy (Molly Parket) retrieve a curling rock from the river near Long Bay, Ontario. The heart attack, though, plays into Don’s goals of getting the curling team he coached back together to win the Golden Broom. The team came close ten years before, but the skip, Chris Cutter (Gross), walked off the ice in the finals, never to return, after being so caught up in wanting to win he failed to call a burned rock. Don wants the team to reform and put his ashes, now in the recovered curling stone, on the button to win the Golden Broom.
The rest of the team – Neil Bucyk (James Allodi), James Lennox (Peter Outerbridge), and Eddie Strombeck (Jed Rees) – are convinced. They all have some problems in their lives, though. Neil is in a loveless marriage to Linda (Kari Matchette). James owes money to people who can afford to send a hardy knee-breaker to recover the cash. Eddie and his wife, Lilly (Jane Spidell), are desperate to have a baby. And Chris has an ex-girlfriend, Don’s eldest daughter Julie (Michelle Nolden), who still hasn’t worked out her anger from when he disappeared. Eva is also now an astronaut; she pushed herself after Chris left. Chris’ old drinking buddy, Amy, is a single parent and attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. Life in Long Bay has not been kind.
The reformed team is enthusiastic, but rusty. For their first match as a team, they take on a team of retirees, one of whom needs a walker. Team Cutter loses the match and they realize that they need help. There’s only one man in town who knows how to coach a winning team. Unfortunately, Chris is estranged from his father, Gordon (Leslie Nielsen). Chris does approach his father, all he wants is a coach, not reconciliation. Gordon agrees, and starts a training regimen for the men.
The team enters the Golden Broom bonspiel. Teams from such metropolises as Kingston, ON, Moose Jaw, SK, and Come by Chance, NF have all arrived in Long Bay to compete for the Golden Broom. Among the teams, though, is the one skipped by Alexander “The Juggernaut” Yount (Greg Bryk), who once represented Canada in the Olympics. The luck of the draw puts Cutter and Yount in the first match. The score is close, but in a later end, a rock is burned by Cutter’s rink with only three men noticing – Chris, Gordon, and Yount. Gordon gives Chris the chance to call it, but Chris refuses. Yount’s rink goes on to win the match. Chris leaves the rink to go to the bar.
Some of Chris’ problems get worked out. Amy and Julie have come to an understanding and Amy has realized that she is in love with Chris. Julie finds out that the unusual happened and both the designated astronaut and his backup have been scrubbed, letting her join the mission. Chris heads to his mother’s grave, where he finds his father, and the two reconcile.
Chris returns to the bonspiel, but Neil has been dragged away by his wife to the country club. Gordon steps in. The Cutter rink stages a comeback, but in the penultimate game, Gordon throws out his back and is unable to continue. The team is down one man and may have to play the final game as a three-man team. However, James’ girlfriend of the moment, Joanne (Polly Shannon), who has gotten to know Neil, retrieves him to finish the bonspiel.
The final game pits the Cutter rink against the Yount Rink one more time. It’s a tough match for the Cutter rink as the Juggernaut lives up to his name. In the final end, though, the score is close and comes down to the final rock, thrown by the skip, Chris. It’s an impossible shot, having to curl around then rebound to land on the button, but Chris gets the rock, the one with Don’s ashes, to go where he wants. Problem is, the rock gets burned by Eddie and only Chris sees it. Chris calls the official over and explains what happened. Yount, impressed that Chris called the burned rock when he could have won, allows the stones to be reset to give Chris a second throw. However, the first throw was impossible. To do it again is unthinkable. And Chris decides that there is another way. A brute force throw sends the final stone with Don’s ashes down the ice, smashing through any other rock in the way, shattering the thrown stone so that pieces of it land with the ashes on the button.
The film plays with curling and bonspiels. The match with the retirees allows the film to explain curling to anyone in the audience who doesn’t know the game, using Joanne as the audience stand-in to ask questions. That match is played mostly straight, using the game to show the relationships within the Cutter rink and how rusty they are. The Golden Broom bonspiel, though, is treated as a major event, along the lines of an NBA final and the Olympics, despite the largest town represented, Kingston, having a population of about 137 thousand. Come by Chance has a population of 228. The Juggernaut’s entrance would fit more at a WWE event than curling. Despite that, the gameplay is what one would expect from curling. Even when the Cutter rink starts using straw brooms instead of the more modern carbon fibre, it’s an odd choice but represents the type of broom Gordon used when he was younger.
Outside the gameplay, the sport is used to bring the characters together, first to reunite them after ten years, then to fulfill Don’s dying wish. The conflicts between characters come out on the ice, adding to the drama. Curling isn’t just the sport being played, but a metaphor for what the characters are going through. After the win, each member of Cutter’s rink has an improvement in their lives, even the divorce.
The ads around the rink are typical for the sport, especially in smaller towns. Instead of the big name advertisers that would buy ads at, say, the Super Bowl, like Apple, there are local shops and smaller grocery chains. This level of realism grounds the movie, allowing the more comedic aspects to shine through.
Curling is an odd sport of choice to adapt to film. While the game has about the same pace as baseball, it’s not as widely known. /Men With Brooms/ took some time to show the audience the ins and outs of the game so viewers could follow the action on the ice. However, the small team size makes for a more intimate drama, even in a romantic comedy. Men With Brooms uses the sport to build from, using curling’s more laid back approach as a springboard for comedic elements while still portraying the game as it is played.
In the world of entertainment, sports covers a large segment. People will tune in to watch their favourite team play their favourite sport. Monday Night Football has aired since 1970. Hockey Night in Canada predates that, with the first match airing in 1952. Baseball’s Major League Game of the Week began in 1953. The Olympics generate billions for the networks showing the Games. Every game is its own narrative, from tight, close games that need extra time before there is a winner to blow outs. The draw for the audience is the nature of the sport, the competitors, and the competition. To quote ABC’s Wide World of Sport, it’s, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Sports are big business, with millions of fans, a potential audience for studios to try to attract. The temptation is too much to resist, so studios don’t even try. Resistance is futile. Can sports be adapted to a medium that requires plot and characterization? American coverage of the Olympics, both summer and winter, adds a narrative for American competitors, but most sports broadcasts focus on what’s happening on the field of play.
One issue is that most sports aren’t one and done, especially team sports. To determine the finalists for playoffs, each time needs to meet the others at least twice, once in the home city, once at the opposition’s. The number of games in a season is limited by the amount of days available and how much exertion is needed during a game. Baseball, with its 162-game season, is one of the longer seasons, though the sport doesn’t require as many rest days as, say, hockey, which has 82 games in a season. With a season, losing a game is just a setback, not the end of the world. The ebb and flow of a season can also provide more drama for a movie or TV series. Injuries, trades, and rivalries both internal and external, personal and team can cause complications.
Another issue when adapting a sport to a fictional form is that there’s only so much time available in both film and TV. Baseball and football can last at least two to three hours. Hockey, soccer, and basetball, both being more fast paced, still can take up to two hours to play a full game, including intermissions and stoppages in play. During the season, the audience may prefer to watch an actual game than a fictional version. Fortunately, in film and TV, editing is a thing, and the key scenes can be shown without necessarily showing the slower moments.
TV series go the season route. Dragging out a game for multiple episodes won’t keep an audience. The passage of time and the build up to the big game, whether it’s a key match against a rival team or the make-or-break game to get into the playoffs, creates tension over the season. However, even series not focused on a sport may have an episode focused on a game. Baseball tends to be the sport of choice, with WKRP‘s “Baseball” and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” being prime examples. Other sports do get featured, though; Jack of All Trades had a football episode, combined with Thanksgiving, with “One, Two, Three: Give Me Lady Liberty”*.
The goal of a sports adaptation is to feature the sport. If what happens on screen doesn’t resemble what the audience expects, the adaptation is not going to perform well either in ratings or at the box office. The nature of the adaptation – comedy, drama, action – will determine just what the audience will accept. A comedy can have the more bizarre plays happen; dramas tend to build off the more spectacular and intense plays.
The key to adapting a sport to film or television is to focus less on the game’s play and more on the characters involved. If an audience wanted to just watch a game, there are multiple ways of doing so. For fiction, the story is the draw. Underdogs competing against all odds. The last hurrah of an aging player. The rivalry between star players. Those are draws for a sports-based movie or TV series. The adaptation must present a narrative, something that a game doesn’t provide.
Sports is big business. Audiences for sports can get huge, both domestically and internationally. Studios can’t ignore the potential audiences for sports adaptations. But studios do have to make sure that the draw of both the sport and the fiction are balanced.
Going back a bit, Lost in Translation has covered Death Race 2000 before, with the 2008 remake, Death Race. The original movie, produced in 1975 by Roger Corman, was based on Ib Melchior’s short story, “The Racer”, and was about a cross-country race in a post-apocalyptic Bi-Partisan States of America where points were scored by killing pedestrians. The film was very much a product of its time, with the 1973 Oil Embargo still fresh in people’s minds. The movie was made for $300 000. Corman has never lost money on his films, and Death Race 2000 has done well through video rental and repertory theatres, becoming a cult classic.
As with all remakes, the passage of time makes it tempting to redo a classic, cult or otherwise. Jason Statham starred in the 2008 remake, but that film didn’t have the satire the original had. That left a niche that needed to be filled. In 2016, Corman filled that gap with Death Race 2050. The movie was billed as a sequel but, as will be discussed below, it works better as a remake.
2050 is, once again, a cross-country race through the remains of America, where the drivers can score points by killing pedestrians. The movie is presented as a sports broadcast, much like the original was. The lineup of drivers, though, changes. While Frankenstein, now played by Manu Bennett, is still the four-time champion, the rest of the lineup of racers has changed. The Neo-Nazi Matilda the Hun is replaced by the evangelical Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey). Nero the Hero is partially replaced by Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), a genetically engineered man who sees himself as perfection. Perfectus also takes over the Joe Viturbo role as Frankenstein’s main rival. Calamity Jane is out, but Doctor von Creamer (Helen Loris) picks up the slot as the creator of ABE (voiced by DC Douglas), a car with artificial intelligence and a few extras for the mad doctor’s personal use. Rounding out the field is Minerva Jackson (Folake Olowofoyeku), rapper with a top-rated sex tape turned race car driver. Overseeing the circus is the Chairman of the United Corporations of America, played by Malcolm McDowell.
Each driver, with the exception of ABE, has a proxy instead instead of a navigator. The proxy’s role is to act as a lens for the viewers to experience the race through virtual reality. Most of the proxy’s are harmless, meant to sit there are watch the action up close. Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller), Frankenstein’s proxy. has a secret – she’s a member of the Resistance, reporting back to Alexis Hamilton (Yancy Butler) on the progress of the race. Hamilton’s plan involves killing the drivers in the Death Race, much like Thomasina Paine’s plot in the original. The execution changes. No one gets fooled by a Wile E. Coyote-style detour. Instead, the Resistance uses dead ends and large number of mooks to overwhelm the drivers. One such attack damages ABE, leading him to kill his creator then go off on a existential journey, leaving the race.
During the race, Tammy begins a rivalry with Minerva by poaching some kills, Minerva’s fans who were willing to sacrifice themselves for her. Frankenstein reveals his true colours to Annie, refusing to run over a cute kitten playing in the middle of the road. He also kills the principal of a school who set up young disabled students for him, similar to the Euthanasia Day in the original. Perfectus starts losing his sanity when Frankenstein refuses to just die, even after physically attacking the other driver. ABE may have the most insight of any of the drivers, and that takes into account his existential crisis and quest to discover if he is more than his programming.
The end of /2050/ is different from /2000/. Instead of Frankenstein killing the President using a hand grenade[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8nonWmNhjI], he addresses the viewing audience and gets them riled up enough to get off their couches and into the streets rioting, punctuating his speech by running into and killing the Chairman. The movie ends with the streets of America in violence and Frankenstein and Annie watching the carnage.
/Death Race 2050/ is not subtle. The Chairman is very much a satire of Donald Trump, complete with the bad hair. The new names for the various states show either the degree of corporate takeover of the country or the downhill slide that has happened. The sacred cows are held up for the slaughter, though no points are scored for the drivers for these kills. The nature of fandom, self-driving cars, religion, and the corporatization of America are held up to the fire and skewered. This plus the use of pedestrians for points make 2050 a far more accurate remake of the original than the 2008 film.
Why is Death Race 2050 a remake instead of a sequel as it’s billed as? It references the original film, using it as shorthand, but it never really builds off the events shown. There’s no mention of the Frankenstein from 2000; he’s only the four-time Death Race champion. The satire is updated and made relevant to today, but there’s no sense of any time passing between the films except for the use of computer technology for sports broadcast that wasn’t available in 1975. The scenes are different, but the goal for each one is the same, to show the bloodthirstiness of the drivers and to show that Frankenstein may not be enthusiastic about being in the race. It could be argued that the point is to show that nothing has changed fundamentally over fifty years, with the Death Race from the original movie being forgotten by the populace, but there’s no sense of even that, not even from the Resistance.
Death Race 2050 is a remake. The tone, a dark satire with black comedy and gratuitous violence and nudity, remains, skewering the nature of sports broadcasting and societal changes. The new film is an update of Death Race 2000, keeping up with the changes and lack thereof in American society.
Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation covered the Netflix series, Titans, based on the various DC Teen Titans titles. Titans aims at an older audience, one that wants gritty. However, Titans wasn’t the first adaptation of the team. The Titans first appeared on TV with segments on The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. The team’s first starring role came with 2003’s animated series, Teen Titans.
Produced by Glen Murakami, Teen Titans was loosely based on the Marv Wolfman-George Perez series, The New Teen Titans. The show centred around Robin (voiced by Scott Menville), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). Over five seasons, the Titans fought evil-doers of all types, from Mad Mod to Trigon. The series hit the first two arcs in The New Teen Titans, including Trigon and Deathstroke the Terminator, though the show used his actual name, Slade.
Before continuing, let’s put the series into the context of its release date. In 1995, a wave of anime hit American shores and made an impact. Three series debuted in 1995 – Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and /Technoman/, the latter based on the anime Tekkaman Blade. Two became massive hits; Technoman didn’t catch on, but Sailor Moon and Dragonball had staying power. North American stations and cable channels saw the popularity and started importing more series to sate the demand. Manga began hitting the shelves at bookstores and gained an audience that wasn’t interested in traditional comics.
During this, Murakami decided to use a mix of animation styles for Teen Titans, a blend of classic Warner animation, like Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, and anime. Other animation styles crept into other episodes, like Terry Gilliam’s as seen on Monty Python’s Flying Circus as seen in “Mad Mod“. The mix of animation styles gave Teen Titans its own look. The series’ spin-off, Teen Titans Go! went a step further and added a super-deformed look to the characters.
Speaking of the characters, they are recognizable. There is no mistaking them for other DC characters. The biggest change in design may have been with Starfire; her figure less voluptuous and more teen-aged. The characters also went by their hero IDs, leading to the question of which Robin was in the show. Starfire and Beast Boy did get their names revealed, but it wasn’t made into a big deal. The series played with the audience on which one he was, never really confirming whether it was the original Dick Greyson or one of his successors.
Each season had its own arc, with some standalone episodes mixed in. The first season focused on Slade (voiced by Ron Perlman), who was trying to recruit Robin to be his protege. Slade returned in the second season, based on the Terra arc from the comics, with Terra (Ashley Johnson) being used to infiltrate and destroy the Titans from inside. Season three’s focus was on Cyborg as he dealt with his machine half and the attempts by Brother Blood (John DiMaggio) to misuse his electronics. The fourth season brough the Trigon (Keith Michael Richardson; Keith Szarabajka in the episode, “Nevermore”) arc in, putting the focus on Raven, though with foreshadowing of the arc in the first season episode, “Nevermore”. The final season put the focus on Beast Boy, introducing his old team, the Doom Patrol, and sees him taking on the Brotherhood of Evil.
Each season’s arc was treated seriously. The major villains were credible threats, ones that the Titans had to work hard to defeat. Not every episode was serious, though. Mad Mod (Malcolm McDowell), introduced in the comics in 1967 with a Mod-style approach to villainy. The character received an update without changing his schtick; in his first appearance, Mad Mod tried to revive England of the Sixties. At the end, it was revealed that he was a much older man trying to bring back his glory days. The Amazing Mumbo (Tom Kenny), whose approach to crime is to use a magic hat and wand, had a The Muppet Show-style episode in “Bunny Raven . . . Or How to Make a Titanimal Disappear.” Mumbo traps the team inside his hat, where he has full control. Several of the Mumbos appeared as Muppets, including Scooter, Statler, and Waldorf.
The series didn’t limit itself to Western references. Shout outs to various anime appeared during the show’s run, and not necessarily mainstream titles like Sailor Moon, series like Lupin III, homaged in a car chase during “Car Trouble”. Thunder and Lightning, from “Forces of Nature”, while based off a Kivalliq legend, appear in traditional Asian garb. Even the theme song was performed by a J-pop band, Puffy, aka Puffy AmiYumi. The theme was a way to tell when an episode was going to be different; when it was performed in Japanese, the episode was going to be far from serious.
Teen Titans built off the comics to become its own thing. The characters, heroes and villains alike, are still recognizable. The storylines, particularly the ones involving Slade and Trigon, were taken from the original work. The result is a series that blends several different styles of animation to become a unique TV series.
Lost in Translation has covered Godzilla before, with the 1998 and 2014 American adaptations and even the Hanna-Barbera animated series. What started as a warning about radiation and weapons of mass destruction has grown into a popular franchise, with Godzilla fighting more monsters while destroying Japanese and American cities.
While the original Gojira was born from the fears of nuclear war, as the franchise grew, later films presented Godzilla as the defender of Earth from threats against it, either other monsters or, since there’s more to the planet than just the dominant species, humanity itself. The draw is still Godzilla; the audience is there to see the daikaiju in all his glory. What Godzilla represents now is the nature rising up and wreaking havoc on humanity in retribution for environmental damage. That brings us to Toho Animation’s three-part series of movies – Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, and Godzilla: The Planet Eater. The three movies tell the story of how humanity was driven off-world thanks to the rise of giant monsters, the return to Earth, and the fight to reclaim the planet from Godzilla. However, not everything is as it seems.
The first movie, Planet of the Monsters, giant monsters appeared from the depth of the Earth and started destroying cities. Humanity tried to fight back, but Godzilla appeared. Nothing the nations of Earth threw at the monster worked, not even nuclear weapons. During the war against the monsters, two visitors arrived. The first were the Exif, who also had lost their world to a monster uprising. They offered their assistance towards the salvation of humanity. The other were the Bilasaludo, another people who lost their homeworld to monsters. The Bilasaludo offered their technology to try to rid the Earth of Godzilla, including building MechaGodzilla using nanometal.
Godzilla destroyed the installation where MechaGodzilla was being assembled. Humanity was left with no choice except to flee Earth, with the survivors gathering into a colony ship to search for a new home. After spending twenty years searching and finding nothing habitable and after a disaster that sees a landing ship explode during re-entry, the decision is made to make a warp-jump back to Earth to at least resupply. Thanks to relativity and the effect of time dilation at near light speed, the ship returns twenty thousand years later. Haruo Sakaki has spent time analysing fights against Godzilla and has a plan of attack that could kill the daikaiju.
Despite the loss of time, the surviving humans put together the team needed to destroy Godzilla. The assembled forces with gear, including high speed hover bikes, power suits, and mobile artillery, launch. Earth, though, has changed. Life has evolved to survive with Godzilla around. Leaves have become sharper and wildlife has grown heavy scales. One landing site suffers heavy casualties when flying lizards attack. The plan is revised, but is still a go. The goal is to drop Godzilla’s shield, generated by his dorsal fin, then inject him with EMP devices to force an overload.
There is heavy casualties, but the plan works. Godzilla explodes. The survivors of the assault celebrate. The celebration is cut short, though. Godzilla is still the defender of the Earth. Destruction is just a temporary set back. Godzilla returns, even larger and more powerful. He devestates the assault’s survivors.
/City on the Edge of Battle/ starts with the ship’s command staff arguing about staying to hear from survivors or going into a lunar orbit to get out of range of Godzilla’s heat ray. The compromise is forty-eight hours to hear from survivors, then leaving. On Earth, Haruo regains consciousness and discovers that there were survivors from the people left behind on Earth when it was evacuated. A young woman has treated his wounds. Haruo follows her to her home, an underground settlement, picking up other survivors from the assault along the way. The survivors, the Houtua, have a flourishing society despite a lack of technology. Other survivors have been taken in by the Houtua already, giving Haruo a small force to lead. Among the other survivors are the Exif Metphies, Haruo’s friend from on board the ship, and the Bilasaludo, Gala-Gu and Belu-Be.
The Bilasaludo discover that the weapons the Houtua use are made from a form of the nanometal used to create MechaGodzilla. Not being far from the installation, they lead the survivors to where it was. In its place, a large complex has formed completely from nanometal, dubbed MechaGodzilla City. Inside the complex, the survivors are able to contact the ship in orbit. A new plan is formed to try to destroy Godzilla. Using the nanometal, three power suits are upgraded, turning them into Vultures, capable of flight and withstanding a blow from Godzilla. Using the same assault plan as before, Godzilla is lured into a trap and is caught in place using more nanometal.
The problems start when the Bilasaludo allow the nanometal to fuse with them. They believe that they need to become more and less than human to defeat Godzilla. Obviously, they didn’t have a Friedrich Nietzsche in their history – “Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird,” or, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” MechaGodzilla City starts absorbing anyone in it. The humans flee, but Haruo and power suit pilot Yuki Kaji aren’t so lucky. The nanometal in their Vultures starts to fuse with them. Haruo is able to fight it off but Yuki cannot. Torn between destroying Godzilla or potentially saving Yuki by destroying the core of MechaGodzilla City, he chooses Yuki.
Godzilla is able to free himself, heating the nanometal to beyond its melting point. He destroys the complex, something he had been searching for, then rests. The last hope for destroying Godzilla is in ruins.
The Planet Eater begins soon after the events of the previous movie. The Bilasaludo on board the ship in orbit take over the engineering section and threaten to cut off life support if they don’t hear from their brethren on Earth, unaware of what has happened. Meanwhile, the Exif on both the ship and Earth are beginning to convert the remains of humanity into followers of their religion. There is a problem there, though. The Balisaludo’s lack of a Nietzsche is nothing compared to the Exif’s lack of a HP Lovecraft. The Exif’s god is a monster from another dimension, King Ghidorah. He’s not coming to save humanity but to destroy it. The remaining Exif were spared when their homeworld was destroyed so that they may deliver other worlds to Ghidorah.
Ghidorah emerges from three singularities, none of which appear on the ship’s sensors. Thanks to the monster’s gravity bending and the different laws of physics in its home universe, time warps. with events happening after they became impossible. Ghidorah destroys the ship in orbit, then turns his attention to the biggest threat on the ground, Godzilla. The fight is one-sided; Ghidorah can bite Godzilla but the defender of Earth cannot even grab the invader.
In the spiritual realm, Haruo fights against Ghidorah and his priest, Metphies. He is shown scenes from earlier in the film, but from Metphies’ point of view. With the betrayal laid bare, Haruo sees how he was used. The fight is tough, but the young Houtua twin sisters, Maina and Miana, aide by calling to their goddess, who briefly appears in Haruo’s vision as a moth. Defeating the priest subjects Ghidorah to the local universe’s physics. Godzilla is now able to not just grab the invader’s heads but to also use his heat ray. The planet is saved.
The trilogy has some issues, mainly with the pacing in the second film. The story may have been better off as a seven- or eight-part limited series, but the goal was to have the movies shown in theatres first, then moved to Netflix. However, the series of films was made by Toho Animation. If anyone understands what the draw to a Godzilla film is, it’s Toho.
The story through the three films is Haruo’s. He provides the drive throughout the film. Godzilla, though, is the reason for that drive. Haruo is chasing his white whale. To finish Nietzsche’s quote, “Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein,” or, “And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” When Haruo realized the abyss was staring back, he blinked and put his need for revenge aside for the greater good of the survivors of humanity.
Godzilla is Haruo’s white whale and his abyss. The daikaiju is a force of nature unto himself, a destructive force that cannot be destroyed permanently. Godzilla is the defender of the Earth, but that still doesn’t mean humanity is included. Threats, such as environmental disaster and nuclear weapons testing, created Godzilla. Ongoing threats, like the nanometal from the remains of MechaGodzilla, kept Godzilla around over twenty thousand years. At three hundred metres tall, Godzilla is the dominant lifeform on Earth.
With the film trilogy being animated, the drawbacks of live action, such as budget and special effects, are avoided. Godzilla is the biggest thing on screen when he appears. His appearance resembles his other film appearances. The films give him a few new powers, but those are based on his size; a mighty destructive roar and a tail slash that both destroy human forces at a distance. The main new power is a shield, generated from his dorsal fins. When charging, the actinic light plays along his fins much like previous films. This shield is how Godzilla survives having nuclear weapons dropped on him.
King Ghidora has a huge change. He’s now an extra-dimensional threat and brings his own physics with him. At the same time, Ghidorah is still a threat to the Earth, still a danger to even Godzilla. Instead of being under the influence of aliens, the aliens – the Exif – are under his. Animation allowed Toho to show Ghidora as the King of Monsters.
Instead of a city, the stakes are humanity itself. Tokyo is in ruins for most of the series, long gone and forgotten on Earth. The monsters rose up as if nature went on the offensive to throw off humanity. If humans can’t protect the environment, the environment will develop an immune system, one with an atomic breath. Godzilla 2000 ends with the question, “Why does [Godzilla] always save us?” while Godzilla is taking a victory lap on top of Tokyo. With the animated trilogy, the Earth is saved, but humanity had to learn to live with nature, not compete against it.
The theme of the Godzilla franchise has always been about the dangers of destroying the planet, either through nuclear war or through environmental damage. The three animated movies are no different. This time around, thanks to the animated format, the utter devestation can be shown. Pacing may be an issue, but the three movies are still Godzilla.
Comic book universes tend to grow. New characters get created, make guest appearances, get spun off into their own titles, then crossover everywhere. Some characters are popular but not enough to maintain a title. Others work better on a team than solo. When a large number of solo characters are popular, editorial toys with teaming them up. Both the Avengers and the Justice League came about for that reason – popular solo characters brought together in a new title to take advantage of the popularity.
With DC Comics, the characters include sidekicks to the main heroes. Batman has Robin. The Flash has Kid Flash. Green Arrow has Speedy. Aquaman has Aqualad. To complicate matters, Superman and Wonder Woman both had younger versions, Superboy and Wonder Girl. DC discovered that the younger characters drew younger fans; naturally, the company released a title to feature them, /Teen Titans/.
First appearing in The Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964, the original Teen Titans roster consisted of Dick Greyson’s Robin, Aqualad, and Wally West’s Kid Flash. In issue #60, the roster expanded to include Donna Troy as Wonder Girl. After one more appearance, this time in Showcase #59, the Teen Titans received their own title in 1966, picking up Roy Harper’s Speedy as a guest hero. The title ran until 1978, with a three year interregnum between 1973 and 1976.
In 1980, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez created The New Teen Titans. The roster this time around included Dick Greyson’s Robin, Donna Troy’s Wonder Girl, Wally West’s Kid Flash, Gar Logan as Changeling, Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire, expanding the original roster. This team came together to deal with Raven’s father, Trigon, a demonic lord of Hell who has enslaved countless worlds. With the threat defeated, the team remained together, facing off against Deathstroke the Terminator next. The title ran until 1996, spawning the concurrent spin-off Team Titans. The Titans followed two years afterwards, with Dick Greyson now as Nightwing, Donna Troy using no heroic ID, Wally West now as the Flash, Starfire, Cyborg, Gar Logan now going by Beast Boy, Roy Harper as Arsenal, and new member Damage. This title ran for three years, ending in 2002.
Comics pick up continuity the longer they run. DC’s main universe has been around since Action Comics #1, Characters develop and grow, whether editorial wants that to happen or not. DIck Greyson started as Robin, then left being Batman’s sidekick to go be his own hero as Nightwing, moving to Bludhaven. Wally West started as Kid Flash, then took over the mantle as the Flash. Donna Troi went through a few heroic identities, getting caught up in a continuity snarl during DC’s Crises. Gar Logan started as Changeling, changed his name to Beast Boy, and has been a member of both the Doom Patrol and the Titans over the years. The Titans may have only been around as a team since 1964, but they do have a history.
With the success of Arrow. The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow on television, the creative team behind the shows teamed up with Netflix to create Titans in 2018. The series adds Geoff Johns, former Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics and writer on a number of titles, including a Beast Boy miniseries and Teen Titans volume 3. The series stars Brenton Thwaites as Dick Greyson, Anna Diop as Kory Anders, Teagan Croft as Rachel Roth, and Ryan Potter as Gar Logan. The show also has some key recurring characters, including Hawk and Dove (Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly), a young Dick Greyson (Tomaso Sanelli) for flashbacks, and Conor Leslie as Donna Troy.
Titans begins with the death of Rachel’s adoptive mother, Melissa Roth. Detective Dick Greyson of the Detroit police department picks up the case and tracks down the girl, though not before a cult picks her up. Rachel’s dark side, though, turns the tables on the cultists, killing them. In Austria, an amnesiac Kory Anders finds herself in a gun battle and escapes, incinerating her pursuers. And in Covington, Ohio, a green tiger steals a video game from a electronics store.
Through the first season, the core team – Dick, Rachel, Kori, and Gar – come together. Each has their own story arc. Dick, despite having left Batman to go on his own, is still wearing the Robin costume when he stops crime the police can’t. Dick’s past comes out through flashbacks, painting why he’s having problems today. Not helping is meeting the new Robin, Jason Todd (Curran Walters). Rachel is having family trouble. Her father, Trigon, is looking for her, using a cult. Her main hunters are the Nuclear Family – Dad (first Jeff Clarke, then replaced by Zach Smadu as the character is replaced), Mom (Melody Johnson), Sis (Jeni Ross), and Biff (Logan Thompson) – who use drugs to augment their physical abilities. Kory is trying to figure out who she is and why she has to find Rachel, aka the Raven. Gar may be the most well adjusted of the group, a vegan who shapeshifts into a tiger. Even he has a few skeletons in the closet in the form of the Doom Patrol.
The first season deals with Trigon as the main plot, though his name doesn’t get mentioned until late in the run. This is the same plot that the Wolfman-Pérez The New Teen Titans began with. The take, though, is darker. The creators are taking full advantage of not being on a broadcast network. Netflix has its own standards and practices, so the language is far saltier than could be allowed over the air or even in the comics. At the same time, it’s not all dark all the time. There are light moments, coming from the characters. The tone is serious, but with light moments. Again, Gar is a point of light in the series. He’s better adjusted than the rest of the team.
The new series is taking the characters from the comics and bringing them into the same televised multiverse the other DC shows are in. It’s likely that Titans, like Supergirl, is in its own universe because it’s on another network. This gives the show room to maneuver when it comes to interpretations. The characters are recognizable, but Titans is putting its own spin on them, something to be expected in a cinematic universe. The costumes for Robin, Hawk, and Dove match what was seen in the comics. Rachel’s outfits hint at Raven’s costume; when she wears a hoodie to cover her head, the silhouette matches her comic counterpart. Kory, while not yet Starfire, wears a purple outfit that reflects the costume from the comics. Gar is the lone outsider here, possibly due to budget and time restraints. While his tiger form is green, Gar only has green hair when he’s human instead of being all green.
Titans may not be accurate to the comics. The series is taking its cue from the comics, though. Characters are recognizable to long-time fans without losing newcomers to continuity lockout. As such, it fits in with the rest of the DC television series.
Taking the week off. Please enjoy this flashback to 2015 with Wonder Woman.
Viewing habits have changed drastically over the past few decades. Changes in technology are allowing for more choice of not only what to watch but when. Lost in Translation will take a look at how watching TV has evolved.
The first electronic television set was invented by Philo Farnsworth in 1927, using cathode ray tubes to display the images on a screen. The first TV station, WRGB is still on the air today having started in 1926 for mechanical TVs. Between the ubiquity of radio and the Great Depression starting in 1929, it took time for the new medium to be accepted. Radio already had been accepted and had support and listeners; television was a new luxury at a time when basics couldn’t be afforded. Once World War II started, though, TVs started to sell commercially. With the war effort needing more people working, basic needs could be covered by wages, leaving room for a luxury.
By the Fifties, TV had replaced radio in the family living room. Four networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, and, from 1946 to 1956, DuMont – provided programming, with independent stations filling in gaps. Programming was either live or prerecorded, and if a viewer missed an episode, they had to wait for summer reruns. The rerun itself was new in the Fifties, first used with I Love Lucy (1951-1957), allowing viewers a second chance to watch an episode. As a result, most series were episodic, one-and-
done stories that didn’t affect what came afterwards. Once second-run syndication began, with I Love Lucy being the forerunner there, too, viewers had more opportunity to re-watch a favourite episode. That’s not to say that multi-part episodes didn’t happen. Splitting an episode over two or three parts meant that viewers would have to tune in the following weeks to see how the story ended. They were rare and used for key episodes in a series.
Colour came along in the Sixties, with NBC the first network to go to colour-only in 1965. Reruns and syndication were both well in place, allowing viewers to watch a missed episode or re-watch a favourite one. Time-shifting of viewing, though, wasn’t widely available. With radio, as long as someone could be around to start and stop the tape recorder, a show could be recorded to listen to later. Recording a TV series would have to wait for the Sony Betamax, released in 1975. Networks weren’t thrilled with the idea of audiences recording their shows, but after the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Sony’s favour, they didn’t get much say. The original Betamax tapes could only hold about an hour’s worth of programming. The VHS format, released in 1976, originally held two hours and, later, could get up to six to eight hours of programming. Audiences could record a show and watch it anytime, as long as the videotape recorder, or VCR, was properly programmed.
VCRs gave audiences a way to watch when they were available. Broadcasters and advertisers, though, remained focused on the live audience. The VCR had a drawback – it could only record one thing at a time. If there was a conflict in what to record, only one show in a time slot could be chosen. However, this gave audiences a bit more flexibility if they were at home; they could record one show while watching another. The other catch was that the VCR could record or replay, but not both at the same time.
The Eighties saw the role of cable expand. Originally mainly used to provide a clear picture from over-the-air broadcasters, both locally and from elsewhere, specialty channels bloomed and spread, giving audiences something else demanding their attention. To fill the time, the new specialty channels cycled their line up every eight hours, giving viewers a chance to watch a show that might air when they’re not available. With the expansion beyond the Big Three networks, four when Fox started in 1986, viewers had much more to choose from to the point where one VCR wouldn’t be enough to keep up in a household.
The first commercial digital video recorder (DVR), also known as personal video recorders (PVR), came out in 2001, taking advantage of the revolution in home computing. By using digital storage such as hard drives instead of magnetic tape, the PVR removed the need to store video cassettes and allowed for even more hours of storage. As the technology improved, PVRs were able to both record and replay at the same time and to record from multiple channels at once. With the expanded storage, a viewer could binge watch an entire season at once.
The year 2001 also marked the beginning of commercially available broadband Internet service. As the speeds increased, the ability to stream TV-quality video improved to the point where cable, once the main delivery method for television, started to wane. Streaming services could offer entire seasons at once, either of old series or, especially recently, new series only available through the service. Binge watching is commonplace today, something not even possible in 1951.
Going back to the VCR and its successor, the DVD, both provided another way to catch up on missed episodes – the outright purchasing of entire seasons. With the VCR, a full season would be bulky and take up storage space. Stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video rented out prerecorded, commercially available tapes of movies and some TV series. The DVD, which allowed for more storage space in a digital format, made it possible for entire seasons to take up less physical room than two episodes on a VHS cassette and provided another revenue stream for the studios. Viewers using this route had to wait until the season was over and risked the series not being renewed due to lack of live and time-shifted audiences for the advertisers.
Time-shifting and binge watching provides producers a way past the problem of viewers missing an episode. Today, a viewer would have to work at missing a show with the options available. Studios can produce multi-part episodes and even series with both season-long and show-long arcs without having to worry that the audience will miss something crucial. While shows like Babylon 5 and daytime soap operas paved the way for the idea of ongoing storylines that aren’t wrapped up in one episode, it took advances in technology to bring the concept to prime time. Even in sitcoms, the idea of characters remaining static is being left behind. Development happens over a season and over the run of a series.
To add to the mix, televisions aren’t the only way to watch shows today. With laptops, tablets, and smartphones, viewers aren’t stuck to the one room with a TV anymore. Online streaming, built-in DVD drives, and downloads allows viewers to watch anywhere without needing an over-the-air antenna or a cable subscription. The audience has grown but it also has fragmented. Lowest common denominator programming now competes with specialty channels aimed at a narrower audience who no longer has to negotiate for the use of the lone TV set. The challenge is finding viewers in a fragmented populace.
When it comes to adaptations, today’s television is much more friendlier to longer works than before. In the past, shows adapted from elsewhere either took the characters and created new situations for them, eg, M*A*S*H and The Incredible Hulk, or turned the work into a major event miniseries, such as Roots and Lonesome Dove. Today, books are being turned into TV seasons; A Game of Thrones being the forefront with such series as Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara, adapted as The Shannara Chronicles, following to take advantage of the demand. Even older series being remade are less episodic, as the new Battlestar Galactica can attest.
With the changes in how people watch TV today, television may be the best route for adaptation. While each episode is far shorter than a movie on the silver screen, a season of television provides for more time to delve into the characters, the setting, and the plot. Viewers are more willing to follow a season-long arc now that they don’t have to worry about missing an episode, thanks to time shifting. Television might be regarded as being lesser than film, but the medium now provides for more for both creators and viewers.
It’s almost a truism that video game adaptations are horrible, The early entries set the tone. The problem for most of these adaptations is that what works for game play doesn’t work as a narrative, especially with older games. Pac-Man was about gobbling dots and running away from ghosts; characterization is minimal; Super Mario Bros. is about travelling through a series of death traps to find a missing princess. Naturally, there are exceptions.
Meanwhile, educational software exists to teach a subject, not necessarily be memorable. Oregon Trail, one of the earliest educational computer games, first released in 1971, is memorable because of the difficulty of getting across the continental US in the mid-1800s. The difficulty was what the game was teaching. Gamification helps students learn concepts, from history to typing to geography. While Oregon Trail is memorable, it really only appeared in schools. Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego, however, was commercially available and not only became a hit, it became a franchise.
The original Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego was created and released in 1985 by Brøderbund as a way to teach geography and research skills to children aged 8 to 12. The player, who was considered to be an agent for the Acme Detective Agency, had to decipher clues left by Carmen and her henchmen to figure out where they were and what they were about to do, all based on real world geography. Each successful case brought the player closer to Carmen herself. The names given to characters were all based on puns, starting a trend that continues through the franchise. The original game sold well for Brøderbund, leading to sequels including Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego in 1986, Where in Europe is Carmen Sandiego in 1988, and Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego in 1989, the last one adding history to the education provided.
As seen with many adaptations, if a work gets popular, someone will want to adapt it into a different medium. With Carmen, the core premise – a detective tracking down a master criminal – lends itself to adaptation far better than eating dots. However, the game is meant to be educational, so the first network to pick it up was PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service. The result was a TV game show for kids the same age as the computer game aimed for with Lynne Thigpen as the Chief and Greg Lee as the host, and the theme song by Rockapella. The players were agents for the Acme Detective Agency, tracking Carmen and her henchmen around the world. similar to the original game, though in a competition. The game show ran from 1991 to 1995, winning several Daytime Emmy awards and a Peabody before becoming Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego from 1996 to 1997.
While the game show aired, a series of eight books based on the video games were published. Written by John Peel, the books were a series of “choose your own adventure” novels using the titles of the video games. Peel kept to the tradition of puns for the names of his crooks as, once again, the reader became the Acme Detective Agency agent assigned to track Carmen and her henchmen as they left clues around the world.
By the mid-Ninties, Carmen was a household word. The inevitable happened and DiC studios produced an animated adaptation for Saturday mornings on Fox. The creators, aware of the violence in the other series Fox aired, such as X-Men, were concerned, but DiC created Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego without relying on or using violence to solve a problem. Replacing the player were siblings Zack (voiced by Scott Melville) and Ivy (Jennifer Hale), a pair of Acme agents charged with tracking down Carmen, voiced by Rita Moreno, and her army of henchmen. This time, instead of just being a master thief working for VILE, Carmen is a former Acme agent and steals for the challenge of the theft. This series would be the first where Carmen had a voice instead of just being glimpsed. With the new series, a new theme song based on a work by Mozart. The cartoon won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Animated Program in 1995.
Through every iteration, while Carmen has been the subject of the work, she wasn’t the star. For the games, the main character was the player, chasing Carmen and her crew. With the adaptations, it was the same thing, Carmen was the thief to be caught and not the lead character. However, with no Carmen, there’s no adaptation. The eternal chase is a valid approach to entertainment, ranging from Road Runner cartoons through to The Pink Panther movies, which focused on a bumbling detective searching for a thief. The format can get stale when overused. No one is hoping that Wile E. Coyote catches the Road Runner; that’s the end of the series. A villain who always gets away can get old, especially over a long run; see also, Batman and the Joker.
However, it is possible to turn the eternal chase around, focusing on the pursued instead of the pursuer. The gentleman thief, motivated by the challenge or by a personal code of morals and honour, has appeared in literature, film, and television. Arsène Lupin, Danny Ocean and his team in Ocean’s Eleven, Leslie Charteris’ The Saint, the Leverage crew, and Hitomi, Rui, and Ai from the manga Cat’s Eye show the range of gentleman and gentlewoman thieves in entertainment. The draw is competence porn, watching an expert do their job well, while still being able to root for the hero even if the hero is breaking the law.
With a show aimed at children, there’s a fine line to tread. There are few people who want to be responsible for telling kids that it’s okay to steal. Carmen Sandiego, though, is a master thief. Every adaptation has kept her as a master thief. It’s one of the character’s defining elements, along with the red hat and trench coat. At the same time, Carmen is the draw. It’s a delicate balance. Enter Netflix.
In 2019, Netflix, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and DHX Media teamed up to bring Carmen Sandiego back to television with the series Carmen Sandiego. Carmen (Gina Rodriguez), with the help of white hat hacker Player (Finn Wolfhard) and siblings Ivy (Abby Trott) and Zack (Michael Hawley), is turning the tables on VILE, stealing artifacts from them to return to their rightful owners. Carmen is still being chased, but she’s now the lead, not the pursuers. She is still a master thief, one who steals without hurting anyone, even if they are from VILE.
The first two episodes go into who in the world is Carmen Sandiego. After a successful theft under the eyes of Interpol agents Chase Devineaux (Rafael Petardi) and Julia Argent (Charlet Chung) in Poiteiers, France, Carmen gets tracked down by former classmate and VILE thief, Gray (Michael Goldsmith). She and Gray were in the same class at VILE’s academy for thieves, along with four other recruits. At the time, Carmen was known as Black Sheep, a temporary code name until graduation. While Gray and her other classmates were recruits, Carmen grew up on VILE’s island. Coach Brunt (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) took Carmen in as a baby and encouraged her in learning about the world and how to steal. Despite her age, Carmen was one of the top thieves despite not being a student. VILE’s head council votes to accept her as a student.
As she grew up, Carmen engaged in a number of pranks, culminating with the annual water balloon bombing of VILE’s accountant, Cookie Booker, voiced by Rita Moreno. In one of the bombings, Cookie dropped her smartphone without noticing. Carmen did notice and grabbed it to add to her small stash of items. Any sort of cell phone is verboten for students to have on VILE’s island, though, so when it rings, Carmen is startled and answers it to get to be quiet. At the other end of the line is Player, a white hat hacker from Niagara Falls. While Player was just trying to let someone know of an exploitable hole in security, he and Carmen build a friendship over the phone over the years. She teaches him about different cultures through people passing through the island and he teaches her about the nature of white hat hackerism.
When it’s time for the final exams, Carmen aces all but one test. The one she failed, she believes Shadow-san (Paul Nakauchi) deliberately set her up to fail. She’s told she’s not allowed to go with her classmates on their first mission, but Carmen wasn’t always one for rules. Carmen sneaks on board VILE’s helicopter, stowing away. The catch is that she wasn’t there for the briefing or the planning session, where the way to the crime scene was by parachute. Carmen hitches a ride with Grey on the way down, though and runs off to try to find VILE’s target, an archaeological dig that has unearthed the Eye of Vishnu.
Talking with the archaeologist lets Carmen discover that there is something more valuable than money, knowledge. Before she can get too far into a discussion, though, her classmates arrive. They knock out the workers onsite, but are spotted by Carmen and the archeologist. The orders the new VILE thieves have include the command, “No witnesses.” Carmen, though, can’t let that happen and fights against her former classmates.
Carmen loses the fight and is brought back to VILE’s island. She’s forced to repeat her final year. During this time, though, Carmen plots a way to get off the island with the help of Player. Her goal, to not just escape, but to take the hard drive Cookie delivers once a year. Barring the helicopter, Cookie’s boat is the only way off the island. Carmen steals the hard drive, steals Cookie’s red hat and coat, and gets her name.
Back in the present, Carmen deals with her former classmate and friend Grey. Chase has managed to keep up with the two despite the damage he’s done to his car during the pursuit. Instead of Carmen, he gets Grey. Back at the crime scene, Julia discovers that nothing of value was stolen even though Carmen was seen with a sack holding something. Julia doesn’t have proof, but given that the vault holding the Eye of Vishnu also contained several other stolen objects, and that the owner of the building, a numbered company, was also the registered owner of a number of other locations that Carmen has hit, she believes that Carmen isn’t the usual thief and may have a goal of getting stolen items returned to their rightful owners. Why else would a thief be so brazen to wear red and let herself be seen by Interpol agents?
Over the rest of the episodes, Carmen maintains her private war against VILE. She’s not the only one after them; a secretive group called ACME, headed by the Chief (Dawnn Lewis) is trying to find proof of VILE’s existence. Carmen is the only link they have and Chase is the only Interpol agent who can identify her. ACME recruits Chase and Julia to find both Carmen and VILE. Chase is driven to arrest the infamous thief to the point where he is oblivious to senior VILE personnel when he’s in the middle of them. Julia is the brains of the partnership. but she isn’t able to maintain the pursuit to the degree Chase can. Both become valuable gumshoes for ACME.
The biggest change in the new Carmen Sandiego is that Carmen, the draw of the franchise, is finally the lead. The games, from first release in 1985 to the Google Earth game, and even in the animated series, Carmen was the pursued, but the main characters were the detectives after her, from the game’s player to stand-ins for them. The series doesn’t ask where Carmen is but who Carmen is. VILE is still the villain and ACME is back as the primary agency hunting. Dawnn Lewis’ Chief is modelled off Lynne Thigpen’s from the game show.
The series is aimed at the same age group the original games, the PBS game show, and even the DiC animated series were. This time around, though, there’s a few extras for the parents of the new audience, people who played the games or watched the shows in the Eighties and Nineties. Little references here and there, ones that can be shared with the younger generation, pop up in the course of the series, including a They Might Be Giants one in the first episode.
The new Carmen is still an educational series, focusing on geography and cultures around the world. The lessons tie into the plot of the episode, giving the reason why VILE has the evil scheme and why Carmen wants to stop them. The presentation of the facts come from both Carmen and Player, who share an interest in cultures not their own. Accents are genuine, though presented as to be understood by the young audience. The characters are diverse; Interpol, ACME, and VILE are all equal opportunity employers.
The pun-based names have been eased back a bit, but they still exist, if a bit more subtle. Grey had to be dissuaded from calling himself Graham Crackle. Cookie Booker, the accountant and bookkeeper, cooks VILE’s books. Paper Star (Kimiko Glenn) throws star-shaped origami shuriken. Dr. Saira Bellum (Sharon Muthu) is on VILE’s head council and is their technical expert and inventor. Chase is dogged in his pursuit of Carmen. The spy and snitch Mime Bomb is a mime (and, thus, has no voice actor).
The new Carmen solves the big problem of the eternal pursuit; if the pursued is caught, what happens to the series? With Carmen as the lead, the audience doesn’t have to deal with the main characters constantly being eluded despite all their efforts. The series allows the audience to root for Carmen, so the tension isn’t will this be the episode where she gets caught but how close will she get to being caught before she escapes. Carmen herself is shown to be competent and capable, so any gumshoe who gets close enough to see her let alone try to arrest her will be a worthy challenger. Chase, for all his shortcomings, is still a capable agent. Julia shores up the skills Chase is missing. Combined, the two give Carmen a challenge.
The series, while being its own work, gives nods to previous versions. The new Carmen received advice from Cookie, played by the first actor to give the character a voice. Carmen also steals her signature red hat and coat from Cookie, further cementing the hand off to the new generation. Player is a nod not just to the people who played the games but to the kid seen at the beginning of episodes of the DiC series. The theme music from the DiC series makes an appearance as elevator music. The new Carmen has more violence, with her and VILE agents battling it out. Most of the time, though, the VILE agents initiate the fights against Carmen and her team. Carmen is a thief, not a thug.
Carmen Sandiego is its own work, but it builds upon the franchise in such a way to be part of it instead of separate. Placing Carmen as the lead allows for the series to tell new stories while still bringing the elements that are expected of it.