Lost in Translation has looked at a number of live-action adaptations, the most recent being the 2002 Scooby-Doo adaptation. With adaptation fever going strong in Hollywood, let’s take a look at what makes live-action movies of animated or drawn original work.
A live-action adaption can come from a number of sources, such as video games, comics, and animation both Western and Eastern. Not included are adaptations of written works; the default for literature of all genres is live action unless there is something about the original work that suggests that a different medium would work better. Watership Down has an all-rabbit cast, an animated adaptation became necessary, especially at the time it was made.
The first, obvious question is “Why?” Why make a live-action adaptation of a work? There are several answers. The main one, though, is that the studio is hoping to make money off the movie, either through getting more money back at the box office than spent or by getting a big enough tax wrote-off for a stinker. No one wants to make a money-losing film on purpose. With cartoons, just making an animated movie will only get the target audience, even for a long-running franchise such as Scooby-Doo. Changing to a live-action movie, especially with actors that are a draw, means getting more of an audience than just the fans, and a larger potential audience means a larger potential box office return.
Sometimes, the decision is because of the director’s vision. Scott Pilgrim vs the World came about because Edgar Wright had read the original graphic novels and thought he could turn them into a film. Wright went for live action in part because Toronto was easier to film than to redraw, but he wound up dealing with the video game metaphors of the graphic novels. While the film wasn’t a box office smash, it has the capability of being a cult film. The biggest problem was that Scott Pilgrim didn’t fall neatly into any marketing box.
There is also the challenge of taking a video game or an animated work and turning it into a live-action production. This may be the thought behind the various attempts at making a live-action Akira, which has been in development hell at Warner Bros since 2002 and Sony during the 90s. The animated film of the manga was a visually stunning work, catching attention outside Japan. The problem that the studios keep running into is that even the animated film leans on Japanese culture and history, especially the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It may be easier to make a live-action adaptation of Black Lagoon; the source would have to be toned down to PG-13. But Black Lagoon doesn’t have the name value that Akira and Dragonball have.
Hollywood adapting a Western source can also be fraught with problems. Finding an actor who can portray a character is part of the art of casting. Finding one who looks like an existing character and can match their mannerisms requires a search. Matthew Lillard as Shaggy in the live-action /Scooby-Doo/ movies is a casting director’s high point. Most casting decisions are to be close enough and hope the actor can bridge the gap; Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men movies, Robert Downey, Jr as Tony Stark in the Avengers movies, and Christopher Reeve in /Superman/ all took their roles and made them theirs. It’s rare to see an actor misused in an adaptation today, but Super Mario Bros. does show that it is possible. Mojo Nixon, really? Casting does matter. The first of the Michael Bay Transformers movies caught fans attention by having Peter Cullen back as the voice of Optimus Prime.
With comics, special effects are limited to the imagination and the paint the artist has available, and with digital colouring, paint really isn’t an issue. Jack Kirby’s artwork, something he was able to produce for several titles a month, is colourful and detailed. The Kirby Krackle is named for his style. Even simpler energy blasts, like the Human Torch’s flames, Iceman’s ice bolts, and the Transformers’ laser shots, take time and money to reproduce in a live-action work. Characters like Superman, whose core abilities are physical and can be reproduced through practical effects, including wire work, and Batman, who is still human who has gone through training, are easier to put on screen. CGI has made effects easier today, though, so Kirby Krackle can be expected.
Adapting video games has been covered before. The biggest problem is, whether the game is being adapted to live-action or animated, that the nature of a video game is that the player is active in the storytelling, even if the plot is railroaded. Television and movies are passively watched, with, usually, no viewer input. This is on top of casting, finding actors who can pass as the main character. In some games, character customization is an option, so what one person pictures the lead character, others may not agree.
No matter the source, there’s always a chance that a celebrity will use the adaptation as a vehicle, pulling the attention to the celeb and away from the work. The adaptation will aim for the fans of the celeb, possibly to the detriment of fans of the original. The result is usually a mess, something that gets a brief flurry of attention before being forgotten. The problem is that studios will go by the numbers the celeb vehicle produced and make decisions off that without considering the why behind them.
Adaptations will be with us for the foreseeable future. There’s too much money in them to not make them. The goal is to figure out how and why they work and how and why they fail. Knowing the restrictions in advance will help studios avoid losing money and bring the best product for the audience possible,
On a related note, I will be on a panel at Renaissance Press’ Virtual Conference called “The book was better… or was it? The art of adaptation” on June 6 at 4p, EDT, with three other panelists. Registration is free but space is limited because of technical limitations. Check out the other panels, too; the conference runs June 5-7. There will also be a Discord channel for vendors.
Lost in Translation has covered how important casting is when it comes to the success of an adaptation. Today will be a deeper dive into one of the works mentioned in the past entry, the 2002 live-action Scooby-Doo.
The original cartoon, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? first aired in 1969 and featured four teenagers and their talking Great Dane. Fred (Frank Welker), Daphne (Stefanianna Christopherson for the first season followed by Heather North), Velma (Nicola Jaffe), Shaggy (Casey Kasem), and Scooby-Doo (Don Messick) got involved in supernatural mysteries that had more mundane causes each week, becoming an almost instant hit. The characters covered the range of broad role, from Scooby and Shaggy’s cowardly approaches to Fred’s leadership to Velma’s intelligence, to Daphne’s resilience and ability to find danger. Scooby and Shaggy were the draw; in every incarnation of the series, while the rest of the gang may come and go, Scooby and Shaggy are inseparable.
The series came and went, but thanks to syndication, it was always available in one incarnation or another. The typical episode had the gang learn about a mystery and discover a monster is trying to scare people away. They would search for clues and once they had enough, Fred came up with the trap to catch the monster. The plan wouldn’t work out; someone, typically Shaggy and Scooby, though Daphne could cause problems at times, would foul things up enough to cause things to go awry, but the monster would be caught and there would be the reveal.
Each episode was well written enough that it was possible for the audience to follow the investigation and work out who the villain really was, though a few red herrings were tossed in to make it challenging. In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, the red herring was a character named Red Herring, a rival to Fred. The show never tried any trickery with the clues; everything was laid out for the audience.
Not every Scooby series followed the format. The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo had Scooby, Shaggy, and Daphne round up ghosts the Scooby accidentally let loose, though he had the help of new charaters. Joining the gang were Scrappy-Doo (also voiced by Messick), Flim-Flam (Susan Blu), and Vincent van Ghoul, who looked like and was voiced by Vincent Price.
With the advent of modern special effects, it became possible to have live actors interact with CG animated characters. Films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit showed how traditional animation could stand with and interact with Bob Hoskins. CGI speeds up the process of adding an animated character. By 2002, CGI was a mature technology, though still being experimented with. This allowed for a live-action Scooby-Doo movie with an accurate depiction of Scooby.
The live-action film and its 2004 sequel, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, starred Sarah Michelle Geller as Daphne, Freddie Prinze, Jr as Fred, Linda Cardellini as Velma, Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, and Neil Fanning as the voice of Scooby-Doo. The first live-action film shows the gang splitting up after a messy investigation to go their own ways, only to come back together when each are invited to an island to solve a mystery. They come back together and working as a team solve the mystery. The movie lays out the clues for the audience, who can figure out who the villain really is.
The sequel pulls from the past series for its monsters, going as far back as the first episode ever for the Black Knight Ghost. The sequel plays out more like a typical episode, though with added drama as Shaggy and Scooby realize that they haven’t been the most useful members on the team. To be fair, sometimes, their screw-ups were more effective than any plan Fred had. The sequel also lays out the clues, and the audience can figure out who the villain is, though the movie doesn’t make it easy.
The movies aren’t Shakespeare, but they do deliver on being /Scooby-Doo/. The cast is what makes the movies. While Geller and Prinze were the names being used to bring in the audience – the pair were known to be dating prior to the movie’s release and married shortly after – they didn’t dominate the screen. Fred and Daphne weren’t the driving characters in the original series, but Prinze and Geller brought out the characters’ humanity and desires. Linda Cardellini was ideal as Velma, getting the voice and the look. Matthew Lillard, though, became Shaggy. Lillard had the voice, the mannerisms, and Shaggy’s walking gait. There’s also a chemistry among the actors; they are believable as a team of friends who started solving mysteries. Between this chemistry and Lillard becoming Shaggy, the movies were elevated from what they could have been.
Lillard’s portrayal of Shaggy wasn’t unnoticed. When Casey Kasem retired from regular voice acting in 2009 due to illness, Lillard stepped into the role and has played Shaggy since. Kasem left big shoes to fill, and Lillard just happened to have the right sized feet.
Casting is important. The right choice turns a film that could go horribly wrong into a delight. The perfect choicem like Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, makes a film well worth watching and re-watching.
Science fiction has been used to examine modern problems in a framing that allows for some separation, showing the issue in a way that is non-threatening while still laying out the problem. The separation makes the acceptance of the work palatable. Sometimes, the work can go a little too far, and sometimes, going too far is needed. The Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” was blatant about the absurdity of hating people based on skin colour, but the message needed hammering in 1969. However, movies have limited time to delve into deeper ideas. Film has a limited run time, so the action tends to get the lion’s share of screen time. It’s a balancing act.
As seen in the History of Adaptations, the Eighties[http://psychodrivein.com/lost-in-translation-the-history-of-adaptations-1980-89/] saw more popular original works than popular adaptations for the first time in film history. If something became popular, studios tried to jump on the bandwagon only to discover that the bandwagon popped somewhere else. Still, some genres became popular, even if they don’t appear on the list. The buddy cop movie, like the Lethal Weapon series and Beverly Hills Cop movies, did grab attention, especially when the pairing, or grouping as in Beverly Hills Cop, were made of opposites. Still, to get attention even in a popular genre, a film needs to have its own hook.
In 1988, Alien Nation added a science fiction hook to the buddy cop film. Set in the near future of 1991, just three years past the release date, the Earth has been visited by a spaceship filled with alien refugees. Kept in camps until the ACLU argued that the Newcomers still have access to the inalienable rights in the US, they’re allowed out of their camps to find homes and employment. Not everyone is happy about it; some Americans are worried about being able to compete with Newcomers, who are smarter and stronger than humans.
Because of the hostility, Newcomers, called slags by bigots, tend to live in neighbourhoods known as Slagtown. At the same time, companies are just as happy to take Newcomer money as anyone else’s and will tailor ads to the new demographic. The movie frames everything from the view of Detective Matthew Sykes, played by James Caan, who has issues with Newcomers. From his view, they’re alien, odd, and dangerous.
Sykes has reason to believe that, though. He and his partner, Bill Tuggle (Roger Aaron Brown), come across an apparently armed robbery at a corner store. Two Newcomers have the Newcomer own and his wife at gunpoint. When the robbery goes apparently wrong, the shopkeeper is killed, and Sykes and Tuggle try to stop the robbers from escaping. When one of the Newcomers has slugs capable of putting holes through cars, things get tense. Tuggle is killed and Sykes is injured while chasing the robbers.
The next day, Sykes gets a new partner, the first Newcomer to make detective, Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin). While his colleagues are surprised that Sykes volunteers to take Francisco as a partner, Sykes has an ulterior motive. His reasoning is that since a Newcomer was responsible for his partner’s death while robbing a Newcomer’s store, a Newcomer partner could shed some light on what’s going on. First, though, Sykes deals with his new partner’s name. He just can’t see anyone taking him seriously when introducing his new partner, Sam Francisco. Newcomers received names when they came off the spaceship and were processed and some of the people providing names got a little silly. Sykes gives Francisco the name George.
Sykes and George get assigned to a different homicide case also involving a Newcomer. Sykes doesn’t mind; he suspects that the cases are related. That case begins in the coroner’s lab. While Sykes talks with the coroner (Keone Young), George notices something off with the Newcomer corpse and talks to the Newcomer assistant.
The case naturally leads to a Newcomer strip club, where Sykes and George are hoping to interview a suspect. Instead, they talk to his girlfriend, Cassandra (Leslie Bevis). The suspect had been killed earlier through immersion in sea water by Newcomer businessman William Harcourt (Terrance Stamp) and his bodyguard, Rudyard Kipling (Kevyn Major Howard). As Sykes and George spend more time with each other, they start trusting each other more. George reveals that narcotics are involved, narcotics far more potent than anything found on Earth, narcotics that were used by the Overseers on the ship to control the Newcomers. However, as Harcourt points out to potential investors, the drug is harmless to humans and isn’t yet classified as a controlled substance in the US.
Sykes and George catch up to Harcourt, leading to a car chase that ends with a crash near the harbour. Harcourt darts into a warehouse with Sykes on his heels. Sykes, having learned the hard way that regular weapons aren’t effective on Newcomers, had picked up heavy artillery in the form of a revolver that fires .454 fusil rounds also capable of shooting through cars. Heavy artillery, though, depends on being able to hit in the right spot, and Harcourt gets away again long enough to take a large dose of the narcotic.
Thinking that Harcourt is dead, Sykes returns outside where police cruisers have arrived. Sykes explains what happened, the dead are picked up and placed into the coroner’s van, and Harcourt’s body is taken away. George compliments Sykes in his shooting. Sykes drops the bombshell; Harcourt overdosed. George knows that Harcourt isn’t dead, but changing. The coroner’s van is found, both attendants dead. When Harcourt is found, he is bigger, stronger, and violence incarnate. He focuses on Sykes, blaming him for destroying his nascent criminal empire, and chases the cop.. Sykes tries to escape by jumping on to a fishing boat, but Harcourt follows. The only solution Sykes has is to tackle Harcourt into the ocean.
The movie hits the buddy cop tropes. Sykes and George are opposites. George is a family man and operates by the book. Everything has a place with him. Sykes is off the rails, though recently pushed that way through the death of his partner. The two start antagoinistic towards each other by figure each other out, leading to George risking losing his arm to pull Sykes out of the ocean. And George helps Sykes in getting to his daughter’s wedding.
The science fiction elements does give enough of a twist to let the movie stand out. There is some work on how different the Newcomers are, from food and drink to sports to language. The alien element has an effect on the plot; it’s not a human businessman pulling string behind the scenes. At the same time, a few things fell by the wayside because of the nature of a theatrical release. The big one, the nature of racism, lurks but doesn’t really get addressed. The audience gets a glimpse at how Newcomers are adjusting to their new lives.
In 1989, the still growing Fox network was looking to expand from Saturday and Sunday programming. Alien Nation, having been released by 20th Century Fox, had enough going for it to make the jump to the small screen, becoming a science fiction police procedural. The new cast included Gary Graham as Sykes, Eric Pierpont as George Francisco, Michele Scarabelli as George’s wife Susan. New characters came on board; George’s family expanded from one nameless son to a son, Buck (Sean Six) and Emily (Lauren Woodland), and the recurring character Uncle Moodri (James Greene), who may have found a way for Newcomers to adapt to their new home. At the precinct, a new captain, Bryon Grazer (Ron Fassler) is brought in. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs appears as Sergeant Dobbs, replacing the colleagues in the movie. Jeff Marcus plays Albert Einstein, an awkward Newcomer who is the janitor at the precinct. Rounding out the new cast is Molly Morgan, playing Jill, Emily’s best friend, and Terri Treas as Cathy Frankel, Sykes neighbour and possible love interest.
The new format allowed for more drama to happen, with character arcs that can play out over the series. George’s homelife isn’t idyllic; Buck gets involved with the wrong crowd and is arrested and convicted of minor crimes. Susan has her own career. George and Susan decide to have a third child, and it is George who carries the fetus through its development. For all their alieness, though, the Franciscos have recognizable problems.
Sykes has his own problems. Like his movie counterpart, he is divorced with a daughter in college. He’s being forced to examine his bias against Newcomers, not just because of George and his family, but also because of his new neighbour, Cathy. It gets hard to hate someone if you know them. Sykes’ daughter appears and while he wants to be the cool dad, he has to step up and parent.
The cases Sykes and George take on are a mix. Some deal with Newcomer culture and history, delving into what happened on the spaceship before landing and how the Newcomers are faring in their new world. Others deal with the human side of the equation. The focus is more on the life that refugees and immigrants face, having moved to a strange new land. That the refugees and immigrants are aliens not from Earth add to the adjustment that everyone, Newcomer and human, have to make.
With the extra time that a 22 episode season provides, there’s more room to explore the themes of racism, of immigration, of refugees, of adapting, of the other and the lack of differences with them. But the series was cancelled after one season. The fledgling Fox network ran into financial problems and cancelled all their dramas, Alien Nation included. In the 90s, though, five made for TV movies with the original cast were made.
For a science fiction series that tackled the issues of the late 80s, it is a show that still resonates, particularly now. Immigrants and refugees arriving in the US are not treated well. Alien Nation is something that should not be needed today, but is.
Fanfilms are a way for budding filmmakers, actors, and crew to get a taste of what making a film is like. But what happens when the fans are professionals already in the business? Star Trek Continues answers that question.
Going back a bit, I mentioned the approach taken with fanworks, how, because they’re made by fans, there’s the possibility of something lacking either through inexperience or lack of budget. With Star Trek Continues, lack of experience isn’t a factor. However, even with permission from Paramount, for-profit doesn’t work, so budgets could be a limiting factor.
Star Trek Continues was meant to finish off Captain James T. Kirk’s five year mission and be the bridge from the original Trek to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The cast includes Vic Mignona as Kirk, Todd Haberkorn as Spock, McCoy portrayed by Frank Namecek for two episodes then by Chuck Huber for the remainder of the episodes, Chris Doohan as Montgomery Scott, Grant Imahara as Sulu, Kim Stinger as Uhura, and Wyatt Lenhart as Chekov. New regular characters were introduced – Dr. McKennah (Michele Specht) whose role as ship’s councellor is an experiment by Star Fleet; Chief of Security Drake (Steven Dengler), Kipleigh Brown as Helmsman Smith, backup to Sulu; Martin Bradford as Dr. M’Benga, picking the role from the original series as played by Booker Bradshaw, and Cat Roberts as Lt. Palmer. A solid lineup, indeed. Chris Doohan is the sone of James Doohan, who originally portrayed Scotty, and while they may not look exactly right, the mannerisms are dead on.
The cast is a strong point for the series. The characters are easily recognizable, not just physically, but in personality. Star Trek Continues also shows just how difficult it is to play Spock. Leonard Nimoy made the character both alien and familiar, given audiences the empathy to understand Spock even if the character found that illogical. Zachary Quinto had the extra challenge of portraying a younger Spock along side Nimoy, who had brought the character through an arc of understanding and bringing his warring selves together in peace. Haberkorn does figure out the role after a few episodes, getting more comfortable in the role. With McCoy, Namecek brought out the warmer side of McCoy, the doctor who cares for all life. Huber brought out the more acerbic McCoy; both are viable approaches to the character. Mignona has William Shatner’s style of acting down pat, not overblown but still fitting the story and the series. The series makes an effort to expand several characters’ roles, especially Uhura’s. Stinger is allowed to have Uhura as more than the woman opening hailing frequencies. Chekov receives a promotion as he tries to figure out what his Star Fleet career will be.
The guest cast includes actors from a number of other science fiction franchises. Michael Forest reprises his role of Apollo from “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Erin Gray, who played Col. Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 24th Century, plays a Star Fleet Commodore in two episodes. Lou Ferrigno, from The Incredible Hulk, puts on green makeup again as an Orion. Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor, makes an appearance and Nicola Bryant, who played his companion Peri, appears in the two part finale. John de Lancie returns to Star Trek alongside original Battlestar Galactica alumna Anne Lockhart in an episode about racism and barriers. Gigi Edgley from Farscape and Rekha Sharma and Jamie Bamber from the new Battlestar round out the guest cast. Special mention to Marina Sirtis for portraying the /Enterprise/’s computer, originally voiced by Majel Barrett, and to Michael Dorn for taking the computer role in the third episode.
The episodes themselves span the range of setting up continuity, returning to ideas explored before, and morality plays much like in the original series. “Fairest of Them All” takes place in the mirror universe after the alternate Spock sends Kirk back to his proper universe, showing the fallout of the events in “Mirror, Mirror.” “Come Not Between Dragons” shows how a situation can change once more knowledge is discovered about it. “What Ships Are For” is as subtle as the original series episode, “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”; subtle as a sledgehammer and just as needed today as the original episode was in 1969, covering refugees and efforts taken to keep them out.
The music is as important to the story as the dialogue. The score is based on the works of Alexander Courage, re-recorded for the series. Star Trek Continues could have just used a recording of music from the original series. Instead, a new arrangement is recorded to match the action of the episode, whether it’s a battle in space, a romantic scene, or the ramping up of tension. The final episode has the score bringing in elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The sets are indistinguishable from those found in the original series. Sound effects are accurate. Various regular locations onboard the /Enterprise/, such as the bridge, sickbay, engineering, and quarters, are faithfully recreated down to the props. New sets, such as for planets visited, may be made with modern techniques but reflect the style from the original series. Camera technology now allow for shots not previously possible, but those were used to accent the style of the original, not replace. Someone unaware of the nature of Star Trek Continues seeing the sets would be convinced that they were watching the original.
Costuming follows the approach taken with sets. Star Fleet uniforms are recognizable. Romulan uniforms are recognizable. The colours are bright, almost Technicolor. Even the guest stars’ outfits, new to the series, carry elements that fit in with the original series, from fabric to design. The truly alien creatures, such as the ones from “Come Not Between Dragons”, even with the better articulation thanks to modern technology, still look like they came from the original series.
What can fans in the business do in a fanfilm? What they set out to do. They have the experience and the love of the original to bring out the what drew audiences the first time again to give an ending to Captain Kirk’s historic mission. Star Trek Continues is very much Star Trek thanks to the effort of cast and crew.
First, let’s clear up the title. There is no remake emergency. While people are getting tired of remakes and adaptations, they still are going out in droves to see them. No, instead, this is a look at remaking the firefighting procedural TV series, Emergency!.
First airing in 1972 with the TV movie The Wedworth-Townsend Act, named after the act passed by the Californian legislature that authorized paramedics. Prior to the act’s passage, people with injuries or medical conditions were still attended to by first responders, but any medical care beyond basic first aid required a nurse or doctor who arrived with the responders to authorize or perform. Since there is never enough doctors and nurses, not every person arrived alive at the hospital. In particular, if a heart attack victim could make it to the hospital, the prognosis was good, but there was a two-thirds chance that the patient wouldn’t survive the trip to the hospital. Even with the special Coronary Ambulances used in Los Angeles, the lack of available nurses and doctors meant that the attendants could do little.
While act passed and the early paramedic programs got set up, Emergency! creators Jack Webb, of Dragnet fame, and Robert Cinader met with officers of the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) with an idea about a firefighter show focusing on the physical rescues to go along with the police procedural, Adam-12. One of the LACoFD officers, Captain Jim Page, suggested making the show about the new paramedic program, leading to the above pilot movie and subsequent TV series.
Like Dragnet and Adam-12, which used actual police reports, Emergency! would take its stories from LACoFD reports. Each episode split its run time roughly in two, with one part featuring Firefighter-Paramedic Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe) and Firefighter-Paramedic Johnny Gage (Randolph Mantooth) of fictional Station 51 as they went out on rescue calls and the other part focusing on the staff of Rampart General – Dr. Kelly Bracket (Robert Fuller), Nurse Dixie McCall (Julie London), Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Troup), and Dr Mike Morton (Ron Pinkard). Unlike the later series Law & Order, where there was a definite split between the police procedural in the first half and the legal procedural in the second, Emergency! followed the patient from rescue to emergency room, with the paramedics handing off to the doctors.
A typical episode of Emergency! features three rescues, a serious one to hook the audience, a lighter one to show the range of calls paramedics were getting, and a big set piece. Some episodes kept with current events, such as earthquakes and brush fires. During the downtime between calls, the cameraderie at both Station 51 and at Rampart, plus some drama for the episode were shown. Emergency! is a work drama, where the work is far more exciting at times than crunching numbers and going to meetings.
The series made an impact in its day. The popularity of the series led to public demand for paramedic and EMT service in cities across North American. The number of deaths in transit came down thanks to these services. A generation of kids who watched the series became firefighters and paramedics. Public access defibrillators can be found in cities, further improving the survival rates of heart attack victims. The number of lives saved by one TV series is immeasurable.
To remake the series would mean either turning it into a period piece, reflecting the early days of paramedic service, or bringing it to today. While the former may hold interest, a general audience is more likely to want the modern remake. Things have changed greatly since the last appearance of Gage and DeSoto in 1979. Medical technology has advanced greatly. Training has changed, going from the six week training Johnny and Roy took through Rampart to two year diploma programs, including clinical placement. People. however, are still people. People will still find new ways of getting into trouble, and the classic methods never go out of style. The new approaches to rescues can be showcased. The human element is key; the audience wants to know who the characters are.
Storytelling techniques have changed since the 70s, as the remakes of The Mechanic and Death Wish show. The nature of police procedurals have changed, from Adam-12 to Hill Street Blues in the 80s to Law & Order in the 90s and 00s. Viewers will want more than just rescues and camaraderie. They are used to interpersonal drama. There is still room for Johnny and Roy, and for Kelly, Dixie, and Joe, but the rest of the cast may look different and not just because of diversity in the workplace. The result will look different, as it should. Times have changed; works set in the now, as Emergency! was, need to keep current.
Considering the age and the nature of the series, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a remake. Dragnet has had a comedy remake in 1989, a more serious TV series, The New Dragnet also in 1989, and 2003’s L.A. Dragnet with Ed O’Neill as Friday, produced by Dick Wolf. Adam-12 had a remake series in 1990. Emergency!, however, only had a animated series, Emergency +4 that aired during the show’s original run.
The main issue with a straight remake of Emergency! is that a reality series might work better. Much like Cops fills in the Adam-12 niche, though not well, a reality series that rides along with paramedics or films at a hospital’s ER would cover what the TV series did in the 70s, with the added “real life drama” that a scripted series can’t provide. There was a Canadian reality series that did film at ERs, called Emergency, where Canadian singer Jann Arden narrated the goings on at two Vancouver emergency rooms.
There have been drama series featuring firefighters, including Rescue Me and Chicago Fire. The focus, though, was on the characters, which audiences showed up for. Likewise, the hospital drama is a staple, with at least one or two on during an TV season. There is some room for an Emergency! remake, but it would have to stand out, either in location or in focus.
The choice, then, is to add drama to the remake or to go the reality route with a camera crew riding along with paramedics. It’s a difficult choice; reality is inexpensive, but tends to be on specialty cable channels. Adding drama may mean moving the focus, and some of the audience will be there for the rescues. Either way, someone will get disappointed. The goal is to keep the disappointment down.
Something that came up while researching links for use in this post was the discovery of a new series, Emergency: LA. It isn’t airing just yet and has been in development since 2014. The series looks like it will follow the first responders at LA Fire Department (note, not the LACoFD) Station 77 and the LAPD. According to IMDb, the series is set to air in July 2020. Whether the series is a remake, a spiritual successor, or a show using the word “emergency” because it suits the subject matter remains to be seen.
Fanfilms have been around for a while. The Internet has made it easier for audiences to find them. Prior, tapes needed to be circulated and copied, with screenings done at conventions and club gatherings. Today, well, YouTube exists. It’s easier today to stumble across a fanfilm.
Let’s go back to 1997, twenty years after the release of Star Wars. The Galaxy Far Far Away feels inviting. For the longest time, there wasn’t much done with the setting, not after Return of the Jedi. Fans created droids, built model starships and snubfighters, and dressed in costume. Once home video got inexpensive enough for the masses to own, coupled with editing software, fanfilms started to take off. This is where the fanfilm “Troops” comes in. Created by Kevin Rubio, “Troops” crosses Star Wars with the popular reality series Cops. Have a watch.
Lost in Translation has covered Star Wars many times, the latest being The Mandalorian. Cops got touched upon briefly during a discussion of Machinima. To expand, if one hasn’t seen an episode of Cops, the series was built around the idea of having a camera crew ride along with an officer or deputy of the featured police department. The only dialogue comes from the officer, talking about how he or she became an officer and notes about where the filming is taking place. The series is still running, now on the Paramount Network, and has clips on YouTube.
Rubio’s “Troops” follows stormtroopers on Tatooine following up on calls that tie into events of Star Wars. A Grand Theft Droid call leads to the destruction of a Jawa sandcrawler, but the droid is safely recovered, if a little far from home. A domestic dispute call that goes tragic after a farm couple get into argument about why their nephew ran away from home. And even a disturbing the peace call from the Mos Eisley cantina to start the end credits. This is Star Wars, behind the scenes and a few paces behind what Luke does on screen.
The filming, though, follows the style of Cops. The camera is handheld, isn’t steady, and has to keep up with the troopers. The cameraman remains silent, letting the troopers provide the narration and dialogue. The camera is there in the action as an observer, getting close to the stormtroopers. The segments are introduced by the callouts from dispatch. The troopers themselves have accents that come out of the TV series.
Star Wars has opened itself to a wide range of storytelling techniques. The original movie takes its queues from The Hidden Fortress and The Dam Busters. Other entries have taken inspiration from a wide range, including spaghetti westerns with ronin influences. Slipping in Cops, especially on Tattooine, isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Kevin Rubio added a dash of humour while the characters treated the situation seriously. The result is a fanfilm that still stands up over time.
Last week, Lost in Translation pointed out that what may be remembered as an original movie can sometimes be an adaptation. Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson and released in 1974, was based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Since it’ll take time to obtain the novel right now, I’ll postpone the analysis of the Bronson movie with the book. Instead, I’ll compare the Bronson movie with the 2018 remake starring Bruce Willis.
To set things into perspective, let’s take a quick look at crime rates. When Garfield’s novel was released in 1972, New York City had a historic high in the number of murders committed. The rates were starting to come down in 1974 when the Bronson movie was released, but still high. To contrast, in 2014, New York City hit a record low number of murders, and had a 24-hour period of no reported violent crime in November of 2012.. The reduction in crime rates can be attributed to crackdowns by police and environmental changes, including the change to unleaded gas.
The high crime rates in New York City inspired not just the 1974 release of Death Wish, but also characters like Marvel’s Punisher, who first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man number 129 in February 1974. The idea of someone fighting back against crime was appealing. While superheroes fought crime, they did so because they had powers, though with a Bat-exception. The Punisher represented the average person, being pushed past the breaking point into going after criminals after losing family.
The 1974 Death Wish tapped into that same fantasy. Bronson’s character, Paul Kersey, loses his wife and daughter during a brutal break in lead by a punk played by Jeff Goldblum in his first role. Kersey’s wife Joanna (Hope Lange) is killed during the robbery; his daughter Carol (Kathleen Toby) is brutalized to the point where she dissociates to the point of catatonia and needs to be hospitalized. Kersey feels helpless, but also feels the police aren’t giving their full attention to the case. He starts walking around after dark with a sock filled with rolls of quarters. The first time he is mugged, he fights back, cracking the mugger on the jaw. Both Kersey and the mugger run off. Kersey is shaken by what he’s done, bit the first is always the hardest.
On a work trip to Tempe, Arizona, his client, Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin), shows him the sights, including a Wild West show that emphasized how the citizens of a town would stand up when the sheriff can’t. The show and a trip to a gun club to shoot plants a seed in Kersey’s mind. When he leaves, Ames gives him a farewell gift, a revolver.
Once home, Kersey begins his work as a vigilante. On his first outing, he shoots a mugger, leaving him to die of a gut wound in the park. The mugger’s body is found and the police have a new case. Emboldened by his success, Kersey continues his vigilante patrols, leaving a trail of bodies and becoming the talk of New York City and making headlines in news magazines.
The police can’t let a vigilante run amok, so Inspector Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) begins his investigation. His approach is methodical, though starting at a seemingly random point – a list of men who lost family to crime and are war vets. As Ochoa narrows his list down to Kersey, the police commissioner and the mayor lay down the law for him. Crime rates are down thanks to the vigilante. People are fighting back, so criminals are thinking twice before doing anything. Arresting the vigilante removes the one thing criminals are afraid of, so Ochoa is told to encourage the vigilante to leave town, not arrest him.
Kersey’s luck doesn’t hold out long. Three muggers find him; one manages to outdraw and shoots Kersey in the leg. Kersey, though gets two of them and chases the third. Blood loss works against Kersey and he passes out before he tries to recreate a Western shootout. The mugger escapes and the police close in.
When Kersey recovers at the hospital, Ochoa visits. Kersey isn’t able to talk, but Ochoa isn’t in the mood to listen. Instead, he makes it clear to Kersey that the vigilante needs to be out of town as soon as possible and not return. Kersey’s revolver is disappeared and Kersey gets his company to transfer him to Chicago.
The pacing of Bronson’s Death Wish is similar to The Mechanic, also starring him. The film lays out how Kersey’s life changes, how he makes his decisions Death Wish is a violent character portrait of a man who has gotten angry with society, with reason, but doesn’t pull back from the precipice.
The 2018 remake with Willis has to take into account the reduction of the murder rates in New York City. The film does this by moving the setting to Chicago. Unlike New York City, which saw reductions in the rate of violent crimes since 1972, Chicago’s murder rates are cyclical; hitting a peak where residents say enough, falling, then rising up again to repeat the cycle. However, crime rates aren’t at the same level that they were in the Seventies. News, thanks to the 24 hour media, focuses on violent crimes, because they fill air time, so there is a feeling that crime is worse than it is.
Willis’ Paul Kersey has a different job than Bronson’s. The 2018 Kersey is a surgeon, not an architect. Kersey gets to see the aftermath of shootings, as victims, law enforcement, and criminals alike come into his emergency room. The results aren’t always fair; a police officer dies while the shooter survives.
The beats are similar at the beginning of the film. Kersey’s wife, Lucy (Elizabeth Shue), is killed and his daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone), is injured and comatose after three crooks break in and rob the Kersey home. Kersey himself is on duty at the hospital that his wife and daughter are brought to, and is called to the ER to two new cases, only to be stopped by security and a colleague who has to break the bad news.
Two detectives, Kevin Raines (Dean Norris) and Leonore Jackson (Kimberly Elise) are put on the case, but they have a large caseload already. Getting pushed past his breaking point, Kersey tries to stop two men from harassing a woman, only to be beaten up by them. His first attempt at being a vigilante thwarted, he gets a second chance when a shot up gang member loses a Glock in the ER, noticed only by Kersey. He hides the pistol and retrieves it when the ganger is wheeled out after surgery.
Now armed, Kersey makes a second foray as a vigilante. He catches two men carjacking a SUV and starts shooting. He wounds them both, but gets his hand cut by the gun’s slider. To finish his second outing, he shoots one carjacker in the head to make sure he stays done. The other carjacker, behind the wheel of the SUV, dies of blood loss. Unlike 1972, social media is a thing in 2018, and almost everyone has a camera that connects to the Internet. Kersey did have a hoodie with the hood up, but it’s sheer luck that the only people who saw his face are the now dead carjackers.
Raines and Jackson arrive on the scene of Chicago’s latest shooting to interview eyewitnesses. One shows the video she took and uploaded, giving Kersey the nickname “The Grim Reaper” because of how he executed one carjacker. Raines does notice that the Grim Reaper isn’t used to shooting in combat because the slider caught on his hand. Such an injury would be obvious if the Reaper went to a hospital to get taken care of.
Kersey continues his vigilante work. His brother, Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio), notices that things are different with him and finds the basement room where Kersey plans his outings. Kersey, however, has begun to track down the men who killed his wife and hurt his daughter. One by one, he finds them. Two are killed. The last, though, spills the beans to the police about who the Grim Reaper is after Kersey failed to kill him at a nightclub. This last criminal finds out that Jordan is being released and plans his return.
However, Kersey is prepared. He gets a pistol legally. When the last criminal breaks in with two accomplices, Kersey has his daughter hide and call 911 while he plays cat-and-mouse with the raiders. One by one, he takes them out, with the last criminal the last to be shot. The police arrive in force. Kersey’s weapons are all legally purchased and licensed. Raines asks if Kersey ever owned a Glock. Kersey answers he did, once, but got rid of it.
The 2018 remake has more action and shooting than the 1974 but is still a violent character study. The pacing winds up being tighter than 1974 version while still laying out why Kersey breaks. The remake takes into account the changes that have happened in the 44 years between films. The Internet, while existing, didn’t exist in the form it has today. The number of people who could access the Internet was small – academics, researchers, military, and some businesses, not the general public. Today, the Internet has become a needed service, not a luxury extra, and access is common. Instead of news magazines, viral video spreads the word of the Grim Reaper.
The 1974 version implies that while Kersey stopped being a vigilante, he still leans in that direction. Willis’ Kersey, though, took a step back when his daughter came out of her coma. He took more hits than Bronson’s, too. Bronson’s Kersey is treated as more sympathetic and more reasonable as he becomes a vigilante. Willis’ version, though, is shown to be broken and takes the step back from active vigilantism to protecting his family.
The 2018 version also has Kersey hunting down the men who destroyed his family. In the 1974 version, Kersey loses his focus, going after criminals no matter what. The 2018 Kersey finds out about the men who robbed his home and killed his wife and focuses on hunting them. The nature of storytelling may have required that Kersey get closure from his trip to the Dark Side, but it’s another step away from unfocused anger that the 1974 version never got past.
Overall, the remake is more nuanced. The film calls into question the nature of vigilantism, using social media and morning radio to discuss the issue. It shows the risks and the reasons while letting the fantasy play out. The 1974 version treats Kersey as a hero, fighting back, but the times were different, as mentioned above. The 1974 Death Wish is a power fantasy, much like Marvel’s Punisher, coming from the same origins. In 2018, the danger isn’t getting shot during another crime; the danger is mass shootings; a vigilante won’t make a difference there, and the movie reflects that by not mentioning crime rates dropping or the mayor and police commissioner interfering because fear of the vigilante.
That’s not to say that the remake is flawless. There are flaws and it still holds up a vigilante as the hero. The remake, though, shows the problems of vigilantism far better than the 1974 version, and has nuance that tighter pacing helps bring out. This may be a case where a remake is better than an “original” work.
In getting ready for the next review, Death Wish, I noticed on the back of the DVD case that it was an adaptation of the novel by the same name written by Brian Garfield. The review is still in the works, looking at the remake compared to the 1974 Charles Bronson film, but a future review will compare the latter movie with the novel. Garfield also wrote Hopscotch, which became a film starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. Older movies run into this issue more than recent films.
With recent films, the draw is often that the movie is an adaptation of something popular, or at least well known. Studios are risk adverse today; CHiPs was originally going to be an original work, but the studio balked unless the movie was made into an adaptation. Budgets have skyrocketed, so studios want a guarantee that the audience will turn out.. The result, adaptations are advertised as such. If they aren’t, it’s only because the movie is so obvious an adaptation. No one is going to mistake Detective Pikachu for an original film.
Older films, though, weren’t caught in this trap. When I started the History of Adaptations series, I wasn’t expecting so many adaptations to appear, nor did I expect that popular original works to start to outnumber popular adaptations only in the Eighties. While the books might have been popular at the time, The Graduate, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and Bullitt are better known than the books they were based on – The Graduate by Charles Webb, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, and Mute Witness by Robert L. Pike. A change of title, such as Mute Witness to Bullitt, adds to the distancing.
The change is in the marketing. Marketing for today’s adaptations lean heavily on the source material. Marvel and DC’s superhero forays are advertised as being from their comics. The Hunger Games and Harry Potter didn’t shy away from using the original books as part of the marketing. Studios spend millions to advertise a film to get as many people out to see their movies. Books, though, rarely get large advertising budgets. Publishing costs are such that the authors are putting in effort to spread the word of their own books. Novels rely on word of mouth to get known, especially for authors who aren’t household names like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Before the Internet became a household service, word of mouth meant talking to others or writing letters. Today, social media helps with the word of mouth, as sites like Twitter help amplify reviews.
Can an adaptation fly under the radar today? For the big blockbusters, no But for smaller budgets, where the studio isn’t risking its existence on the success of a film, it is possible. Advertising for Kingsman – The Secret Service never mentioned that it was based on an Image comic. The movie was a light spy action flick, something that doesn’t spring to mind when “comic book” is mentioned, so the studio may have wanted to avoid the connection to guide audience expectations. Two decades from now, will people remember the comic was the source for the movie and its sequel?
This is what made the History of Adaptations so interesting, discovering what was assumed to be original to be an adaptation. It makes reviews interesting, because I have the choice to either go ahead with what i have planned or set the review aside until I can get my hands on the ultimate original work.. The problem with the latter is the time needed to hunt down the work; the older the work, the more likely it is to be out of print. Ignoring the ultimate original, thought, won’t do justice to the review of the adaptation. With the pandemic, getting the original takes more time, so, for now, I’ll press on with the planned review, with a note of the original work and a vague promise to return when possible.
A break in the usual madness around here to address the current madness. Thanks to COVID-19, everyone is – or should be – in self-isolation to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Trips out of the home are for necessities, and distancing from other people is not just a good idea, but in some places rigorously enforced. There’s only so many hours of television to watch, no matter the source.
There is a bright side. Creativity is getting a real work out. People are taking the extra time and putting it to good use. In Italy, balcony serenades and arias are overcoming the social distancing and keeping people together despite being apart. An American man has done the same thing in California.
For those without balconies or the ability to project like an opera singer, the other option is video cameras and the Internet. After COVID-19 broke, there has been a deluge of parodies. The Internet and the World Wide Web has given people a way to discover new things, some that are wonderful, some that require a butt ton of brain bleach. During this pandemic, the Internet has become the main way for people to maintain contact with each other. Parodies bring in humour during a time that really needs some. A simple search on YouTube alone brings up a long list to listen to.
Naturally, The Knack’s “My Sharona” is getting the lion’s share of parodies, having a title that rhymes with “corona“. COVID-19, however, works well with Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen“. “Everything is Awesome”, from The LEGO Movie, leads easily to “Everything is Cancelled“. The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” is also popular, either with the original title or going with “Stayin’ Inside“. Even Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” has had a number of parodies. “Sweet Caroline” gets a special callout, with parodies such as “Sweet Quarantine” and with Neil Diamond himself rewriting the lyrics.
That’s just scratching the surface. The Bare-Naked Ladies’ “One Week“, The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)“, AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)“, the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo“, and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” all have had parodies. And there’s room for more.
That’s just music. Because restaurants are closing their dining rooms, people are eating in more, leading to experimentation in cooking. Flour is disappearing off the shelves and people are trying to figure out what to do with it. Art of all sorts is getting created. And people don’t have to be good to get started.
Everyone, even the masters, had to start somewhere. Now is a good time to be creative. You don’t have to show your work, but take the spare time you have and get creative. Get involved in a creative community. We’re all in this together, even if we have to stay apart.
A change of plans on what I wanted to review next means a delay. In the meantime, check out the creativity during this time of quarantine, such as Devo Spice’s parody, “Everything is Cancelled!”