Comic book adaptations are still an ongoing concern. Many have already been renewed for the 2018-2019 TV season. The CW has been doing well with DC’s TV universe, with Supergirl, The Flash, Black Lightning, and Legends of Tomorrow. Today, a look at the first season of the first superhero series on the CW, Arrow, the story of how Oliver Queen becomes the Green Arrow.
The Green Arrow first appeared in the pages of More Fun Comics #73 in November 1941, fighting crime with his sidekick, Roy Harper, aka Speedy. Instead of superpowers, the pair used archery, though Queen’s wealth allowed for a variety of gadget arrows. Creator Mort Weisinger and designer George Papp were inspired by the serial The Green Archer, based on the books by Edgar Wallace. They modified the idea to be more superheroic, pulling in ideas from Batman such as the Arrow-Cave and the Arrowcar. Despite the influences, Weisinger kept with a Robin Hood approach, which Papp emphasized with the costume.
The first origin story was published in More Fun Comics #89. However, Jack Kirby updated the origin in Adventure Comics #250, having Queen get shipwrecked on a desert island. Andy Diggle added to the origin with Green Arrow: Year One, adding in smugglers trying to protect a slave-labour operation. Neal Adams gave Oliver his Van Dyke in The Brave and the Bold #85. Mike Grell aged Oliver for his mini-series, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, showing a maturation and a move away from the gimmick arrows. The Green Arrow was also one of the first to deal with the effects of drugs, despite the Comic Code’s blanket ban. In Green Lantern #85-86, Roy was revealed to be a heroin addict, needing help to break the hold.
Through the years, the Green Arrow’s focus became social justice. However, the character was never one of DC’s A-listers, having been relegated to backup stories in various titles when his own were cancelled because of lack of readership. Still, the Green Arrow has enough of a hook for television without the massive public expectation that Batman or Superman have.
Arrow first aired in 2012, with Stephen Amell starring as Oliver Queen. The idea behind the series was to show Oliver becoming the Green Arrow while further exploring what happened when he was shipwrecked. Greg Berlanti is using Green Arrow: Year One as a launching point. The series starts with Oliver returning home after being missing on the island for five years after the family yacht, Queen’s Gambit was lost at sea. While the family reunion looks happy, there is a current of unrest beneath the surface. Oliver’s father, who killed himself so that Oliver could live after the shipwreck, left him a list of names, people who have failed Starling City, and a mission. To hide who is he is, Oliver creates a costume, one that includes a hood that hides his face in shadow and a painted green mask.
After Oliver kills a corrupt millionaire on his father’s list, the police get involved. Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) becomes the lead investigator trying to find the vigilante known as The Hood. Complicating things, Det. Lance is the father of both Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Oliver’s ex-girlfriend, and Sara (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), who was on the Queen’s Gambit when it was lost and the reason why Lauren is an ex. Adding to the complications, Oliver’s mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson) insists that he have a bodyguard, John Diggle (David Ramsey).
As the season progresses, Oliver realizes that he can’t handle his mission alone and recruits some help. Diggle joins, reluctantly at first, and acts as a humanizing element for Oliver. Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) gets pulled in because she realizes that some of the odd requests Oliver gave her just don’t make sense and starts asking awkward questions. As a team, they figure out that there is a plot against Starling City, one that would destroy the Glades, the city’s version of Gotham’s Crime Alley.
Oliver isn’t the only Queen getting into trouble. His little sister, Thea (Willa Holland), who Oliver calls “Speedy” is acting out and getting into trouble. After she crashes her car two days before her eighteenth birthday with drugs in her system, Thea is sentenced to community service, helping Laurel at her legal office. While working there, she meets Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), a young small-time thief. Roy at one point is kidnapped by another vigilante who is going after people who let the Glades become what it is. After the Hood rescues him, Roy wants to meet the him, and does what he can to find him.
However, that’s just half the series. The other half is told in flashbacks and covers Oliver’s time on the island. He wasn’t alone after he arrived; he was first found by Yao Fei (Byron Mann), who taught Oliver how to hunt and how to kill. A group of mercenaries hunting for Yao Fei find Oliver but can’t get him to talk. Eventually, the mercenaries do find Yao Fei, but Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) is also looking at takes in Oliver. The mercenaries’ plan is to shoot down a civilan airliner. Oliver, Wilson, and Yao Fei’s daughter Shado (Celina Jade) work to stop the mercenaries. The climax of the flashback plotline coincided with the climax of the main story, ending Oliver’s first year on the island.
At this point, Oliver Queen isn’t the Green Arrow yet. He’s still more vigilante than hero, but he’s beginning to show the social justice side of the the original character. But that’s the goal of the series, to show Oliver becoming the hero. As such, liberties are being taken. Yet, such is the nature of cinematic universes. Once the base has been set, a story will go in its own direction. Yet, /Arrow/ still is the story of the Green Arrow. It’s not just the trappings, poor adaptations still use the trappings, but present them badly or just wrong. With Arrow, while Oliver isn’t the Emerald Archer seen in comics, he’s heading in that direction. Every hero has a backstory; Arrow is Oliver Queen’s.
While adapting from one visual medium to another may seem to be a simple process, both media may rely on shorthand unique to it that can’t translate well. Today, Lost in Translation looks at that process using Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, and Matthew Vaughan’s Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Image Comics published The Secret Service #1 in 2012. The first issue opens with celebrities having gone missing. A Secret Service mission locates and rescues Mark Hamill from the kidnappers, whose ends don’t include ransom. However, budget cuts and faulty equipment turn a 007-style chase scene tragic.
In a South London housing estate, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a chav, is trapped by circumstances into a dead end existence, living with his mother, his younger brother, and his abusive step-father. His life revolves around hanging around with his chav friends, drinking, toking, and joyriding. Eggsy’s driving skills are more than a match for the local police, but a loose dog and Gary’s unwillingness to just run it over ends the chase. Enter Gary’s uncle, Jack. Jack is more than the Fraud Squad computer analyst he pretends to be. Jack is a super spy, one of the Secret Service, and he sees potential in Gary. He arranges for Gary to go to Gosford, the spy school.
A mass wedding in Hawaii becomes the test bed for Dr. James Arnold’s new device, leaving no survivors. Arnold is concerned about global warning and overpopulation. To save the Earth and one billion people, five billion must die. Arnold is hand picking the core of his future society, mostly notable actors and directors from science fiction and fantasy. He has managed to get people in top positions in many organizations, too. It’s how he found his bodyguard, Gazelle, a man with prosthetics below both knees.
Gary’s training progresses. He’s picking and excelling in the physical aspects of being a super spy. None of the other trainees can match him in firearms accuracy. Eggsy outdoes the trainee who stole a drug dealer’s Maserati by nicking Her Majesty’s Rolls Royce. His only problem is social; thanks to growing up in the estates, he doesn’t have the breadth of interaction or knowledge that his fellow trainees do. Frustrated, Gary wants to quit, but Jack manages to convince him to stay, promising an apprenticeship.
When Gary regains consciousness, he’s in a town in Columbia wearing his boxers and a bracelet. Jack has moved up Gary’s final exam. The goal, find his passport and airline tickets back to Britain, with the plane leaving at midnight. Gary’s solution is unorthodox; while he doesn’t make his flight, he does return to Britain in time bringing along a couple of souvenirs, a Columbian drug lord and his private jet, earning a pass and becoming Jack’s apprentice. The apprenticeship doesn’t last long. Jack seduces Arnold’s girlfriend, getting her to explain the nefarious plot. Afterwards, though, Jack is killed by Gazelle.
Gary discovers just how deep the conspiracy goes. Seeing that the top echelons cannot be trusted, he heads to the bottom of the hierarchy, his fellow trainees. They work out where Arnold’s lair is, a hollowed mountain, and come up with an assault plan, with limited time until Dr. Arnold’s cell phone signal . One of the trainees gets to take a hot air balloon up twenty-three miles to shoot down Arnold’s satellite. Two other trainees are tasked with finding the source of Arnold’s killer signal. Gary takes on tracking Arnold for himself. The satellite never appears, but the signal still goes out. The second group of trainees, instead of finding the shutdown switch, reprogrammed the signal. Gary finds Arnold and ensures that doctor cannot try again, ending the six issue story..
Vaughan wanted to make a fun spy movie after having seen a number of grim ones in recent years. He took the story in The Secret Service and adapted it as Kingsman: The Secret Service, released in 2014, becoming the movie’s co-writer and the director. With one of the original creative team on board in two key areas, it’s worth looking at the final outcome.
The film opens in 1997, with a mission in the Middle East to recover information going wrong after Galahad (Colin Firth) missing an explosive on a prisoner. If Lancelot, Eggsy’s father, hadn’t noticed and dove on the prisoner before the explosive detonated, none of the agents would have survived. As it is, Lancelot sacrifices himself. Galahad delivers the deceased agent’s Medal of Honour to the widow, Michelle (Samantha Womack) and young son, pointing out the telephone number on the back. If there is ever a problem, all either have to do is call that number and use the code, “Oxfords, not brogues.”
Seventeen years later, the new Lancelot, who looks a bit like George Lazenby, Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, takes a quick side trip for a rescue mission. The rescue plays out like the one in the comic. The difference is that instead of rescuing Mark Hamill, Lancelot is rescuing Professor James Arnold, played by Mark Hamill. The scene diverges before Lancelot can lead Arnold out of the cabin. Instead, he is taken by surprise by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) and is cut in half by her, lengthwise. Gazelle covers her mess so that her boss, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, playing against type) can enter without being violently ill. Valentine believes in the Gaia Theory, where the Earth is a living organism and global warming is a natural response by the planet to get rid of an infection, and wants Prof. Arnold to help him.
Eggsy isn’t have a good life. He gets kicked out of the housing estate he, his mother, his baby sister, and his abusive stepfather live in so the parents can have alone time. At the pub with his mates, he gets on the wrong side of his stepfather’s cronies. Eggsy decides to let things be and leaves, but only after lifting the keys for one of the gangsters’ new car. The police give chase, only catching up when Eggsy crashes to avoid a dog in the road.
At the gaol, Eggsy refuses to give up his mates and, as a result, is looking at eighteen months behind bars. Eggsy uses his one call to dial the number on the back of his father’s medal. The voice answering the call thanks him for calling the Complaints Department and tells him he has a wrong number, but Eggsy uses the code phrase and gets his complaint registered. He walks out of the gaol, wondering what happened and is met by Galahad, Harry Hart. Hart offers him a chance to turn his life around. Eggsy was doing well in many subjects – school, gymnastics, even Royal Marine training – before dropping out of each. Hart still sees the potential in Gary.
Eggsy is the last to show up at the training facility. He joins eight other candidates to become the next Lancelot. Merlin (Mark Strong), the head of the technical branch and the lead trainer, explains how the training will work; trainees will succeed in tests or wash out. The training differs from the comic; what works as a montage in sequential art doesn’t in a film. Included in the training is the training of a dog from a puppy; Eggsy takes a pug thinking it will become a bulldog.
The cinematic Kingsmen were created after World War I after noble families lost several sons in the trenches. The Kingsmen are an independant intelligence agency, separate from political pressure, and pulled from the scions of nobility. Galahad, though, nominated Gary’s father, someone not from a blue blood line, believing that it is the man, not the family that is important. Eggsy is the outsider in the group of trainees, yet he is one of the final two, the other being Roxy (Sophie Cookson), after Charlie (Edward Holcroft) breaks under pressure in a test of loyalty. Roxy ultimately wins the position of Lancelot after Eggsy is unable to shoot his dog.
Meanwhile, when not training the next Lancelot, Merlin discovers Prof. Arnold walking around on a traffic camera despite having been kidnapped. Galahad heads off to discover why Arnold is free. During the questioning, Arnold’s head explodes. Examination of the video from Galahad’s eyeglasses shows that Arnold had a subcutaneous device on his neck that caused the explosion. Further investigation leads Galahad to Valentine. Valentine is offering a SIM card that will allow people to make calls and use the Internet for no cost. However, nothing comes for free. The SIM card is set to carry a wave that will trigger rage in the device’s owner.
Valentine’s test location is a hate group, the South Gate Mission Church, instead of the mass wedding. Galahad heads there to see what Valentine has in mind. Instead, he is caught up in the SIM card’s wave and gets involved in the fighting. There is only one survivor, Hart. Valentine, flanked by Gazelle and a couple of mooks, greets Galahad before shooting him in the head.
Eggsy returns to the Kingsman Tailor Shop to speak with the head of the Kingsmen, Arthur (Michael Caine). While talking about Galahad, Eggsy notices a scar on Arthur’s neck, much like the one Prof. Arnold had pre-explosion. Arthur, who had nominated Charlie, is very much a believer in maintaining class distinctions and sees Eggsy as a pretender. He tries to poison Eggsy, but the younger man sees it coming and switches the glasses around. Once Arthur is dead, Eggsy removes the chip in his neck and brings it to Merlin.
Merlin works his magic and determines what the chip does. First, it nullifies the carrier wave Valentine uses to turn people into unthinking, raging beasts. Second, it can get hot enough to superheat the implantees brain, leading to an explosion. With the countdown to the launch fo Valentine’s free cell network, capable of carrying the rage enducing carrier wave, started, there isn’t time to recall Kingsman agents in the field. Merlin has Roxy and Eggsy, the latter not officially an agent, to stop Valentine.
There are two steps to the plan to stop Valentine. The first is to shoot down one of Valentine’s satellites, giving more time to execute the second part, which is shutting down the signal at the source. Roxy is given the first part, going up with the aid of hot air balloons with a missile launcher. Meanwhile, Merlin flies Eggsy to Valentine’s mountain lair to use Arthur’s invitation to infiltrate and access a laptop, giving the technical branch head access to Valentine’s computer network.
Eggsy, now in his bespoke suit, purchased by Hart before dying, easily fits in with the crowd. He wanders through the main lounge and finds the Swedish Prime Minister on a laptop. A quick knockout dart, and Eggsy gets the laptop and Merlin on to the network. Unfortunately, Eggsy is discovered by Charlie, in the lair with the rest of his family. Valentine speeds up the countdown, but Roxy takes out his satellite.
Trying to escape, Eggsy is led back to the plane by Merlin. Unknown to Eggsy, Valentine borrows time from another satellite to re-establish his cell network, and the countdown is on again. The signal is sent through the network, causing mass riots around the world. Eggsy is sent back out, armed appropriately, to get Valentine’s hand off the computer. Back in the main lounge, Eggsy has to fight Gazelle before getting to Valentine and ending the threat once and for all.
For the most part, the movie follows the comic beat for beat, though some beats are moved around. The differences come up due to the differences in media. Comics, being a sequence of still pictures, have their own language. The reader is expected to fill in the gaps between panels. Movies can’t do that; being motion pictures, the film has to fill in those gaps. What can be a two page fight becomes a ten minute scene. Let’s take a look at some of the differences.
First up, characters. James Arnold went from main villain to villain’s henchman, replaced by billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine. Valentine, though, keep the motive, saving the Earth and one billion people by culling five billion. The method is the same, causing people to become raging monsters who kill each other. Even the lair remains more or less as seen in the comic. Eggsy is still the same, though his younger brother becomes a baby sister and his mother’s name changes from Sharon to Michelle. Minor change, really, one that doesn’t affect the storyline. Eggsy’s Uncle Jack, though, does change in a major way. Jack becomes Harry Hart, not related to Gary or his mother at all. The change came about because Vaughan saw issues with the My Fair Lady approach the movie plays with. If Jack remained, questions would come up why he didn’t do anything sooner. These questions get answered in the comic, but there isn’t time in the movie.
Time is another factor. The film runs 129 minutes. The same story ran six issues, giving the comic more space to expand ideas. Visual shorthands can make up for time, like letting Eggsy show what he can do instead of just hinting at it. But time in a film is still finite; audiences will only sit for so long before getting restless. Related to time is cast. Budgets can only go so far. The nature of training in the movie eliminated trainees, leaving just Roxy and Eggsy to deal with Valentine. In the comic, Eggsy leads ten trainees in an assault on Arnold’s lair, with another trainee, who isn’t Roxy, off to try to shoot down the satellite. Roxy doesn’t even get named in the comic, though there is a trainee who could pass as her.
Speaking of cast, the comic had artistic renderings of famous people who had been kidnapped by Arnold to restart society after his culling. Cameos, though, get complicated when using real people. The only person who appeared in both the comic and the movie was Mark Hamill, and he played a character other than himself in the film. Hamill’s first scene was much like his cameo in the comic, though his character survived the experience in the movie.
One other problem comes from a cultural difference. Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, and Matthew Vaughan are all British. The comic and the movie have roots in the different classes in British society. These don’t always translate well to something that North American audiences can understand, though TV series like Doctor Who, Coronation Street, and Eastenders have helped introduce the concepts. Chavs and housing estates have equivalents in American culture, but the matching isn’t one-to-one. The movie had to make sure the concepts in use could be understood by an American audience without dumbing them down too much that the themes get watered down.
The end result, though, is that the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service is very much the comic, despite the differences. The story matches, though scenes differ. The clash of classes, the over-the-top villainous plan, the maturation and the understanding of what makes a gentleman, all of that remains. A Kingsman is a Kingsman, no matter the path taken.
Archie Comics, the third of the Big Three American comic book publishers, has survived since 1939 on the slice of life, laugh a panel stories of its characters. Sure, the company has dipped into other genres, like superheroes, but the company’s bread and butter has been the lives of teenagers in Riverdale, a town caught in a perpetual now that has incrementally changed over the years. Among the cast of characters are Josie and the Pussycats, an all-girl band from the neighbouring town of Midvale.
Josie didn’t start as the lead singer of her own band. Creator Dan DeCarlo was inspired to create the character after seeing his wife, who he named Josie after, in a cat costume on a cruise. After shopping the character and her strip around, DeCarlo sold the idea to Archie Comics. Josie debuted in Archie’s Pals & Gals #23, in 1963, followed by her own title, initially called She’s Josie. The title became Josie with issue 17.
The initial cast of characters included redhead Josie, who was essentially a gender-flipped Archie Andrews, her friends Melody, a blonde ditz, and Pepper, a dark-haired cynic. In the supporting cast, Josie had her beatnik boyfriend Albert, Pepper’s brawny boyfriend Sock, Alexander Cabot III who vied for Josie’s affection, and Alexandra Cabot, Alex’s skunk-haired twin sister. Josie would also appear in Archie titles, and the regular Archie cast would make cameos in hers.
The comic changed its title again in 1969, becoming Josie and the Pussycats. Josie started a band, becoming the lead singer and lead guitarist with Melody joining as the drummer. The Pussycats recruited Valerie as both bassist and songwriter. Alex became the band’s manager. Alexandra discovers that her cat, Sebastien, is a reincarnation of an ancestor who was executed for witchcraft, giving her some limited magical abilities. With the comic’s new direction, Pepper, Albert, and Sock disappeared. Alan M. stepped in to fill the role of Josie’s boyfriend, with Alexandra becoming a rival for his affections, and becoming a rival for Alex for Josie’s. The comic featured stories of the band on tour as well as day-to-day life as teenagers.
Archie had some success with a Filmation cartoon adaptation and a Billboard #1 hit, “Sugar Sugar“. Hoping to duplicate the success, Hanna-Barbera reached out to Archie Comics to adapt another title, getting Josie and the Pussycats. The first season of the cartoon saw the band on the road, getting involved in Scooby-Doo-like mysteries, with several characters taking on Scooby roles. In particular, Alan M. filled in for Fred and Alex, voiced by Casey Kasem, in Kasem’s Scooby role, Shaggy. The second and final season of the cartoon, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space sent the band on tour in space.
The comic ended publication in 1982, though the characters continued to appear in other Archie titles and in various Archie digests, including Pals & Gals. In 2001, Universal released a live action movie adaptation of the comic and characters, with Rachel Leigh Cook as Josie, Rosario Dawson as Valerie, and Tara Reid as Melody. The film updates the Pussycats to what was current in 2001, giving the band a new sound without losing the core that people would remember from the cartoon.
The movie begins as the boy band, Dujour (Donald Faison, Alexander Martin, Breckin Meyer, and Seth Green), arrives at the airport to perform their latest hit to a screaming mob before getting on their jet to go to Riverdale. In the air, though, all is not smooth with Dujour as little annoyances have built up. Their manager and promoter, Wyatt (Alan Cumming), is more their babysitter. He smooths the rifts over, but the band brings up a concern on the latest remix. Wyatt’s denial could only fool the very gullible, so Dujour is placated. However, Wyatt heads to the cockpit to tell the pilot, “take the Chevy to the levee“, and they both bail out. The plane goes down near Riverdale.
In Riverdale, Josie, Valerie, and Melody are working hard to break into the music industry, working odd jobs so that they can perform anywhere that will let them, including a bowling alley. The Pussycats want to be rock stars with their own style. During the down time, Josie hangs around with Alan M. (Gabriel Mann), where both are having a problem getting out how they feel about each other to each other. Josie and the other Pussycats also try to find out where their manager, Alexander Cabot III, was during their bowling alley gig. Alex’s twin sister, Alexandra (Missi Pyle), reveals that he was in line for Dujour tickets. When the news breaks about Dujour’s disappearance, Josie decides that the band has to work harder to gain a following, something that can’t be done by sitting on a couch. The Pussycats go out to busk in downtown Riverdale, but a confrontation with a store owner forces them to flee.
Wyatt has been busy. He’s managed to get news of Dujour’s disappearance out, their last hit song out for listeners, and has been given new orders by the owner of Megarecords, Fiona (Parker Posey), to find a new band. Downtown Riverdale isn’t exactly bursting open with random bands just crossing his path. Except, he has to hit the brakes to avoid hitting the Pussycats. He offers the girls a contract and flies them out to New York. The roses have a few thorns. Wyatt renames the band to Josie and the Pussycats. But the thorns are ignorable as the band begins to chart.
Fiona has what she needs, the new band to replace Dujour. She takes a group of foreign investors on a tour of her underground facilities. Megarecords, in conjuction with the American government through Agent Kelly, is working on a massivie subliminal message project. Hit bands under the Megarecords label have had extra tracks laid under the music with suggestions narrated by Russ Leatherman, Mr. Moviefone himself. Said suggestions include fashion trends, what slang is hot, what colours are in, and what to buy. Dujour had made this same discovery and were silenced. But now, Megarecords has Josie and the Pussycats, who are the number one band in America.
Valerie, though, still sees the thorns. She sees the media focused on just Josie. She sees how she and Melody are being shifted away. Most movies in this genre – band climbing to fame – sees the lead singer arguing with her bandmates and letting her ego get away from her. The live action Jem and the Holograms is a good example of this plot. However, Josie cares too much about Valerie and Melody to just toss them aside; they’ve worked too hard together to get where they are. Nothing will get in between them.
Wyatt and Fiona realize how close the Pussycats are, so arrange to turn Josie into a solo act. First, Valerie and Melody are lured to a fake taping of Total Request Live where the real Carson Daly and a fake Carson Daly (Aries Spears) try to murder them. With Josie alone, Wyatt passes along a new remix of a new song to Josie to listen to, one with subliminal messaging telling her that she’s far better than Melody and Valerie. Valerie and Melody manage to escape both Carson Dalys and return, only to be driven away by Josie.
Alone, Josie storms off, still listening to the remix with the subliminal messaging. She winds up skipping Alan M.’s gig as a solo guitarist, leaving him to the tender mercies of Alexandra. Josie does break through the brainwashing, though, and realizes what happened. With help from Alexander and Alexandra, Josie gets the proof she needs that Megarecords, Wyatt, and Fiona are up to no good. Fiona catches her in the act, though, and forces her to go to the Sega Megarena to perform.
Melody and Valerie catch up at the Megarena. Josie tries to make up for her bad behavior to them, but the bridges are too badly burnt. Fiona threatens to kill Valerie and Melody to force Josie to go on stage, to the point of having an MTV news bulletin already created reporting the deaths of the bandmates in a firey explosion. Josie acquiesces, but still tries one more time to make up with her friends. All looks lost, until the deus ex puer cohortem arrives, in the form of Dujour. They had managed to land their private jet. Unfortunately, they set down outside a Metallica concert and only escaped the fans because of one of Dujour knew “Enter the Sandman“. Dujour isn’t up for a fight, but they are the distraction Josie needs to try to free her friends. Too bad the car Valerie and Melody are in are on a turntable, letting Fiona catch Josie in the act.
Josie, though, has had enough and launches herself at Fiona. With chaos breaking out, Valerie and Melody break free and help out. Valerie takes on Wyatt leaving Melody to deal with Fiona’s bodyguards. The latter fight isn’t fair; Melody knows kung fu. Valerie manages to clothesline Wyatt. Josie goads Fiona into swinging a guitar at her; the miss destroys the machine controlling the subliminal messages. Agent Kelly arrives with several other G-Men. Josie reveals the plot to them, telling them that Fiona and Wyatt were brainwashing teenagers. Kelly has little choice but to throw Fiona under the bus and takes her away.
The Megarena is still filled with an audience who wants to see Josie and the Pussycats play. The Pussycats are blown away by the size of the crowd, but still go on with the show, even without the subliminal messages, giving the audience a chance to make its own decision on whether to like the band. The Pussycats bring down the house.
The movie is a satire of the music industry and consumerism. Dujour is the boy band of the day. Product placement is everywhere, obvious and obnoxious, none of it paid placement. There’s even an Evian ad in a whale tank. The Pussycats get co-opted to sell everything, even themselves. There are times when the movie is cynical about the music industry. At the same time, the movie understands its target audience. Teenagers are media savvy and know when they’re being pandered to, with some extras for fans of the cartoon. Fiona’s plot is comically over the top to satisfy a very human need, the need to be accepted. All from Archie Comics’ film studio, Riverdale Productions. Josie and the Pussycats isn’t what is expected from the company*.
The characters from the comic are critical to making the movie about the Pussycats instead of any other all-girl band. Josie is the ambitious one, wanting to become a rock star, the one pushing her bandmates. Valerie is the rock, the one still anchored to reality that her friends can count on. Melody is still the ditz, not quite all there and capable of completely missing the obvious. Josie and Alan M. are trying to be a couple, with Alexandra trying to insert herself into Alan M.’s life. Alexandra remains true to her comic book incarnation, unpleasant but willing to let herself be dragged along when the going gets tough. She even keeps her skunk stripe. The effort is there to keep the characters true to the original. Again, it helps that the owners of the property are involved; that’s one less separation between the original work and the adaptation.
The movie has had an effect on the characters in the comics. The names given in the film – Josie McCoy, Melody Valentine – have been accepted as canonical. Valerie‘s last name was Smith in the comics, though it changes to Brown when Pepper Smith returns. With the New Riverdale line of comics, with new but still familiar designs for all of the Archie characters, the Pussycats get a look that fits in with the movie, though Melody is less a ditz and more living in her own comic book that just crosses over with Josie and the Pussycats.
The live action Josie and the Pussycats is an evolution for the characters. They were brought up to date, given a new sound that resonated with the era, and yet remained true to their comic book forms. While the movie didn’t do well in theatres, it provided satire of an industry while delivering a comic book-style plot that would fit in with the animated adaptation of 1970.
* Then again, the publisher has released such titles as Archie Meets Kiss, Archie Meets the Punisher, and Archie vs Sharknado, so maybe the movie isn’t all that unexpected.
No new review today. Trying to get the details I need for the next one, which will return next week.
Meanwhile, enjoy an older post.
Lost in Translation has taken a look at a number of tabletop role-playing games, the most recent being Tails of Equestria. In those reviews, the goal was to see how well the source material was adapted as a game. Today, the goal is to determine what would adapt well as a game.
Tabletop RPGs bring together a group on a regular basis to play, to socialize, and to relax. Existing settings helps reduce set up time. Settings based on existing works allow the players to get a good idea of what sort of play is expected in a game. What makes for a good source to be adapted? The big thing is playability. There needs to be something for the players to do in the game. The goal doesn’t have to be all combat all the time. Investigations, intrigue, and exploration are all viable options. The implication here is that there is more to the setting than what is shown in the original work; that the main characters aren’t the only movers and shakers.
Related to the above, can the players have an effect on the setting of the same importance as the main characters? Sure, only Luke Skywalker can destroy the first Death Star, but can players in a Star Wars setting aid the Rebellion in a way that is just as meaningful? The effect doesn’t have to be achieved in the first session; the goal of an entire Star Wars RPG campaign could be to bring down the Empire in a sector, with the end taking place at the same time as the Battle of Endor. Star Wars: Rogue One could easily be a campaign, getting the plans for the Death Star into the hands of Princess Leia. Without that, the Rebellion would be destroyed.
Next, does the plot of the original work allow for expansion? Some works come down to the actions of one character. A hypothetical The Last Starfighter RPG* has the problem of every starfighter pilot except Alex being killed by a Ko-Dan sneak attack. The movie doesn’t show what happens afterwards, but there isn’t much detail to the setting beyond that needed to drive the plot. Few players want to play Dead Pilot #10. Likewise, a Rumble in the Bronx RPG, based on the Jackie Chan movie, doesn’t work; Jackie’s character is the critical one in the story, and there isn’t a way to expand the cast to allow for player characters. However, a tabletop RPG based on the entire Jackie Chan movie catelogue can and has been done.
The game publisher has another issue unique to the industry. Will the adapted game bring in something that a more generic game can’t? The generic game doesn’t have to be as broad as Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS; there are games that handle just one genre, such as D&D with fantasy. The goal, though, is to have the adaptation represent the original far better than the broader games in the genre. Take Victory Games’ James Bond 007 Role Playing Game as an example. At the time, its competition included TSR’s Top Secret, Flying Buffalo’s Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, and Hero Games’ Danger International, but the game had the draw of 007 himself. The result was a game with mechanics that could be seen happening on screen without having to be excessively house ruled to be playable, a game that reflected the source well. That’s not to say that a broader game can’t be used to adapt a work. GURPS has had a number of licensed adaptations, including The Prisoner and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
Of course, game publishers can’t just adapt a work at will. The owners of the originals want to be compensated. Thus, the big question, the one that can make or break an adaptation – is the license available and affordable. Game publishing is still a business. If a license costs more than the expected return on investment, then it’s not worth pursuing. Likewise, if a license just isn’t available, like with the Harry Potter series, then no amount of money is enough. The game just won’t exist legally, and few game publishers have the money to afford a lawyer to fend off the inevitable lawsuit that would occur by ignoring the licensing needs.
How does this work? Let’s take Star Trek, which has had a number of RPGs based om it, the most recent being published by Modiphius. The players do have something to do – they can be officers on board a Starfleet vessel exploring new worlds and new civilizations, going boldly where no one has gone before. As Starfleet officers, the players can make discoveries similar to the ones Kirk, Picard, and Janeway have. Star Trek: Voyager showed that there are ships in Starfleet not named Enterprise that also explore the unknown. Each of the Trek RPGs was designed with the setting in mind; while Traveller could be adapted to the setting, the various publishers have made an effort to keep to the feel of the franchise. As for the license, Modiphius is the current holder for the purposes of publishing a tabletop RPG.
A potential licensed RPG shoould have these questions in mind. Let’s use a hypothetical Reboot RPG, since it’s fresh in memory. Players would have a wide variety of things to do, from fighting viruses to winning games to dealing with or even being software pirates. If in a different system other than Mainframe, the players can have a similar impact to the main cast, the exception being the events in Daemon Rising, where it took a small handful of Mainframers and a friendly virus to stop Daemon. The plot in Reboot, especially once the ongoing one begins in season 2, still allows for players to do their own thing, even during Daemon Rising. The key to the mechanics will be to allow for the range of characters seen in the show; binomes like the Crimson Binome, Binky, and Algernon, sprites like Dot, Bob, and big and little Enzo, and even benign viruses. Devices like the Guardians’ key tools, like Glitch, and the Code Masters’ staff will need to be worked out. As it stands now, a superhero game may be the best “generic” system to emulate the series, but a game that can reflect Reboot specifically would be ideal. The only question is, is the license available to a publisher? That can only be found out by a potential designer.
Licensed tabletop RPGs have a tightrope to walk, They have to be true to the source material while still being playable. If done well, though, the game can introduce a new pastime to fans of the original and introduce gamers to a new work that they might not have heard of before.
* Note that FASA released a wargame based on The Last Starfighter, where one player took the forces of the Ko-Dan Empire and a second played the Star League. One of the scenarios in the game was the final battle from the movie, complete with rules for the Death Blossom.
The latest buzz about Reboot comes from the trailer for the new Netflix series, Reboot: The Guardian Code. It’s the first major work in the franchise since the cliffhanger end of the fourth season. Let me paraphrase Luke Skywalker from Star Wars: The Last Jedi here.
“Everything in that trailer you just watched is wrong.”
Let’s back up a bit. Reboot was the first fully computer animated series, produced by Mainframe Entertainment in Vancouver, British Columbia. The series aired on ABC in the US for almost two full seasons beginning in 1994 and YTV in Canada for its full run, including the fourth season comprising of two TV movies. The opening credits set up the entire premise of the show – Bob, a Guardian, is in Mainframe to protect the city from viral threats, including Megabyte and Hexadecimal, and from incoming games. Helping him are Dot and Enzo Matrix, Phong, Frisket, and the entire population of Mainframe.
The first two seasons were episodic, thanks to ABC’s requirements. Each episode featured Bob dealing with plots by the series villains. Megabyte’s machinations were of a system conqueror, looking to expand his base using his neo-Viral armies. The would-be viral overlord maintained a veneer of civility over his brutality, much like a mob boss. Hex, though, was random, pure chaos. Of the two, she had the greater power, but because she is random, she doesn’t have the focus to be the threat Megabyte is.
Once ABC was out of the picture, Reboot went to an ongoing story arc*. Beginning with “AndrAIa”, which introduced the young game sprite of the same name, the threat of a Web invasion became the ongoing plot through to the end of the second season, ending with Bob being tossed into the Web and Megabyte trying to turn Mainframe into Megaframe. Season three broke down into four arcs, Enzo becoming a Guardian, Enzo and AndrAIa travelling through the Net by game hopping, Enzo searching for Bob, and Enzo returning to a badly damaged home. The first of the season four TV movies introduced a new villain, Daemon, who was first mentioned in season three’s “The Episode With No Name”. The second of the TV movies had a second Bob appear and ended with Megabyte in control of the Principle Office.
Through the four seasons, several characters outside the leads were introduced – the hacker Mouse, Megabyte’s heavies Hack and Slash, software pirate The Crimson Binome, and perpetual annoyance Mike the TV – all of whom had their own development. Reboot expanded beyond Mainframe and sister city Lost Angles to include the Net, the World Wide Web, and other systems with their own unique looks.
What’s wrong with Reboot: The Guardian Code? There is almost nothing of the original series in it. The Guardians aren’t programs; they’re users sent into the computer. The villain is a hacker, not a virus. Megabyte, the only character from the the original to appear in the trailer, is the hacker’s heavy, not the dangerous system conqueror who took over Mainframe twice. The computer characters don’t look like the sprites or binomes. This isn’t what fans of the original series were waiting for.
The other problem is that the show might be worth watching for its own merits. But being tied to Reboot, fans are already turning away. If The Guardian Code was its own thing, not attached to an existing series, it may have had a chance at a fan following. The potential is there; young adults defending cyberspace from within and without against a deranged hacker, may not be the most original concept but there is a foundation to build on. Characters could develop without expectation. As it stands now, Tamara will now be compared to Dot, Mouse, and AndrAIa, and that is tough competition. With three changes, though, The Guardian Code could be an original work.
Reboot: The Guardian Code as it appears in the trailer is what /Lost In Translation/ is trying to highlight as something to avoid. There is only superficial connections to the original series, and that will drive fans of the original away.
* It’s said that Reboot went darker once ABC was out of the picture, but the first season episode “The Medusa Bug”, where Hexadecimal introduces a bug that turns all of Mainframe to stone, would fit in with the post-ABC episodes.
Last week, during the analysis of the TV adaptation of The Dresden Files, I mentioned that pragmatism will play a factor in how a work gets adapted. There will be times when what the original work envisioned just cannot be translated over to a new medium, whether the cause is budget, technical limitations, or needs of the new medium. Pragmatism does not necessarily affect quality, provided that there’s effort put in to acknowledge not just the change but what was changed. The originals tend to be written works – novels, short stories, even comics – where there isn’t a limitation based on practicality. Words and pictures cost time and energy to create, but can go beyond earthly limitations.
Let’s start with budget, a big factor in making both movies and TV series. No studio has an unlimited source of cash and no movie has made an infinite amount of money. Budgets, through methods that seem like dark sorcery, are drawn up based on expected rates of return. Even then, there’s no guarantee of success. Big budget flops have occurred. Sometimes, the studio is just using the film for other reasons, as in the case of Alien From L.A., where the movie was meant to get money out of a country under international sanctions. Low budget works have to work around the restriction. The ITV Playhouse adaptation of “Casting the Runes” didn’t have the budget to show the demon or the climactic plane crash; instead, the teleplay relies on using the actors’ reactions to hint at what’s happening and getting the viewers’ imaginations to fill in the rest of the details. However, budget isn’t always a limiter in a production. Studios are aware of how much production elements cost and won’t try overextending capabilities.
Where a budget may allow for an effect, technical limitations may be the bigger restriction. The advent of computer graphics in special effects has reduced the difficulty of staging effects. However, CGI isn’t a cure-all. Practical effects and props are still more cost effective than computer generated objects and easier for actors to interact with. In books, literary or comic, if a creator wants a character to own something specific, there is nothing to prevent the object from existing in the work. A custom piece of jewellery, an unusual and impractical weapon, or, as seen in The Dresden Files, a battered Volkswagen Beetle can easily be added. On screen, it’s not as easy. Jewellery can be approximated, but an exact likeness may not be possible because of the materials used. On TV, Harry Dresden’s Blue Beetle was replaced with a war surplus Jeep; the latter being more readily available than the now collector piece VW Beetle. The key when working around technical limitations is to remember why the original object was chosen. The adapted piece of jewellery should reflect the heritage the original has, from age to design. With the TV version of Dresden, the Jeep was of similar vintage as the Beetle, old enough that its mechanics were simple enough to not be affected by Harry’s tech bane nature.
The needs of the new medium may cause changes that don’t make sense otherwise. Television and film are visual media, often not having a narrator. Even when there is a narrator, the insights provided are for what’s not shown, such as a character’s thoughts. In contrast, written works use words to paint scenes for the reader; the narrative carries the story. Whether the point of view is first person or third, the reader gets to see what the author wants to show. Film and TV default to third person, specifically, the cameras. Even DOOM, based on the first person video game, only had a short scene from that point of view. Audiences want to see the actors. And while writers can show what characters are thinking and feeling directly, on screen, the actors have to do the heavy lifting. In the Dresden books, Bob is a spirit in a skull with some limited ability to take over a cat’s body for short joyrides. On TV, though, a skull doesn’t do that much, and Bob would be, effectively, a disembodied voice. Giving Bob a body, though, allows the actors to play off each other, adding to the depth of the scene. Human actors are also far more convincing than cat actors, who may become difficult to work with when naptime hits.
Another restriction placed on an adaptation by the needs of the new medium is time. Books don’t have time limits; readers read at their own pace. As long as the reader enjoys the work, there isn’t a problem. Television and movies, though, do have time limits. With TV, a work has to fit a thirty- or sixty-minute time slot as a series or a two-hour slot if a mini-series of movie of the week, plus leave time for advertising within the slot. Theatrical films have a minimum running time of around eighty to ninety minutes, any shorter and audiences won’t bother, and seldom run longer than two and a half hours. Longer films have happened, but tend to be ones that will draw an audience because of the running time. The film adapations of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first and shortest of the Potter novels, still had to lose scenes to fit the allowed time, which also took into account the young age of the likely audience. Even when spread across a full television season, details can be lost because there’s just not enough time to show everything in a novel.
Comic books run into similar. Unlike written novels, comics are a visual medium, but one with its own language. Comics are a series of panels, each one contributing to the story. Readers know how to fill in the details from one panel to another. Artists can compress time by showing a clock in two separate panels having a later time in the second. They can slow down time by repeating an image with minor changes between panels. Individual issues of a run may not fill the time of even a thirty-minute TV slot, but multi-part stories can work for feature film. The aesthetics of a comic book is difficult to pull off; Deadpool being a rare exception. A well done adaptation from a comic can be done well, but the studio involved cannot be lulled by the fact that comics and film are both visual. They have separate tropes, sometimes similar but not always.
Getting an adaptation perfect may not always be possible. The change in medium necessitates changes to the work. It’s in the how the change is done that will make the difference to an audience.
Adapting literature has a few issues that don’t appear when adapting other media. The major one is time; writers don’t have many limits on how long a story can be other than those imposed by format. Short stories can run up to 7500 words; novellas 17 500 to under 40 000 words, and novels 40 000 words or more. Getting a story to fit the time available in another medium requires bits to removed. Film is the main culprit. Few films break 120 minutes; longer books will still lose details. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone lost key plot points needed in later movies. Blade Runner dropped two major elements – the loss of real animals and the rise of Mercerism – just to get the main plot into the running time. And even when the full novel gets adapted, the restriction of the running time makes the result feel flat, losing the depth of work, as with Dragons of Autumn Twilight.
Television today provides an alternate approach when it comes to adapting novels. While each individual episode doesn’t provide much time, typically about 42 minutes interrupted by 18 minutes of advertising, a season in the US or a series in the UK can provided up to 22 episodes, enough time to get into the depth of a novel. While television was once a wasteland catering to the lowest common denominator, the three channel lineup has given way to competition between hundreds of cable channels and streaming services. A Game of Thrones is the exemplar, in both how a novel can be adapted well and how a series of novels can be outpaced by its adaptation. The adapted series is subject to the whims of the audience, though.
Let’s look at a specific example, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The series of novels tells the story of Harry Dresden, the only practicing wizard detective in Chicago and possibly the entire country. Starting with Storm Front published in 2000, there have been 15 novels and a book of short stories written starring Harry. He has dealt with a number of natural and supernatural threats to Chicago, including “Gentleman Johnny” Marcone and the Mob, werewolves, the Red and Black vampire courts, the Summer and Winter Courts of the Sidhe, and various other paranormal entities. Harry isn’t alone, though. Despite himself, he has a number of allies, including Bob, spirit bound to a skull to assist the wizard who owns it, Karrin Murphy, a member of the Chicago Police Department who initially tossed a few cases Harry’s way; the Knights of the Cross, wielders of magical swords charged with defending humanity; Waldo Butters, the Assistant Medical Examiner who picked up on magical doings because of the bodies passing through the morgue; and Mouse, a temple dog the size of of a Tibetan mastiff. Complicating things is the Wizards Council, who distrust Harry after he killed his uncle in self-defense. In particular, Morgan is waiting for Harry to make one mistake.
The novels find Harry taking on what should be a simple case that get him in over his head against something far more dangerous. Nothing goes easy for Harry, either because he’s so far behind in the plot that he doesn’t realize what he’s up against or because, being human, he makes mistakes. Yet, he still gets the job done with the help of his friends. Cases are solved.
In 2007, the SyFy Channel began airing an adaptation of The Dresden Files. The hook is obvious; a detective show crossed with urban fantasy fits perfectly with the cable channel’s mandate and doesn’t stretch a special effects budget like a science fiction series would. Lasting one season, the series starred Paul Blackstone as Harry, Terrence Mann as Bob, Valerie Cruz as Murphy, and Conrad Coates as Morgan. The show didn’t adapt any of the books, but took the characters and situations and created new cases for Harry to solve. The feel of the show – the only practicing wizard detective in Chicago trying to maintain the masquerade while dealing with supernatural threats – kept close to the books. The details, though, are another matter.
Blackthorne as Harry worked; the actor is tall and lanky. He just didn’t wear the same outfits Harry did on the covers of the books. Harry’s blasting rod became a drumstick and his staff became a hockey stick. His mother’s bracelet, allowing him to defend himself against magical attacks, remained. His car, a vintage Volkswagen Beetle nicknamed “The Blue Beetle” despite having a patchwork of colours thanks to Harry’s tech bane and various damage from his work, became a war surplus Jeep. Continuing with the cast, the Irish-American Murphy was portrayed by a Latina. That aside, Cruz was a convincing Murphy in all other aspects. Bob went from a spirit in a skull to a ghost cursed to be tied to a skull and its owner. Again, Mann did get Bob’s personality correct.
Some of the changes came about because of the switch in medium. Television is very much a visual medium. Bob being stuck in a skull in the books isn’t a problem; Butcher showed the interaction and relationship between Harry and Bob using narrative. On TV, though, the narrative is carried by the actors, not a narrator, and body language becomes key to informing the audience. An inanimate skull won’t have that. An actual actor playing to Harry’s can show the chemistry and relationship far better.
With Murphy, Cruz wasn’t originally meant portray her. Instead, she was supposed to play Susan Rodriguez, Harry’s girlfriend. However, Cruz switched her role with Rebecca McFarland, who was supposed to play Murphy. Cruz brought the essence of Murphy, except for the Irish-American part. Watching Cruz on screen as Murphy, she is the tough, no-nonsense cop from the books.
The Blue Beetle became a casualty of pragmatism. Volkswagen Beetles are now collector items; few owners are going to let a studio turn a valuable car into a banged and battered vehicle with a pathwork of colour and primer. Older Jeeps, though, are easier to get, thanks to Hollywood making war movies, and a battered Jeep is natural for those films. Another issue is that Blackthorne stands 6’4″, making getting in and out of a Beetle interesting, especially when resetting between takes.
The Dresden Files TV series manages to get the tone right, but flubs the details. Renaming the characters doesn’t work; the show is very much like the books. The little details, though, hurt the adaptation and can throw fans out of the narrative.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was originally meant to advertise a new line of My Little Pony toys. Instead, it became a massive hit, not just with the intended audience of pre-tween girls but with people of all ages. Toys and other merchandise sold well, enough that Hasbro showed gains while other toy companies were struggling, but audiences tuned in because of the characters. Within the Mane Six alone – Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Twilight Sparkle – there is a pony to appeal to everyone. Their core natures meant that any episode featuring two of them would have a conflict that the ponies would have to work out. No one pony is given preference, so resolving the conflict means finding a compromise that works for both. For the target audience, it’s a lesson in how to get along with friends who act differently.
The Mane Six aren’t the only characters in Equestria. Applejack and Rarity have younger siblings, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, who, along with Scootaloo, form the Cutie Mark Crusaders, a trio of young fillies who want to grow up. Parallels to younger siblings and to puberty may be intended with them. Other ponies have made appearances, as regulars, such as DJ Pon-3 and Big Mackintosh, or as visitors to Ponyville, such as Trixie and Cheese Sandwich, the latter based on and voiced by “Weird Al” Yankovic.
With a series that mixes fantasy adventure with slice of life, there is plenty of room for ponies other than the Mane Six to get together and save Equestria. Online roleplaying fora exist for just that. With people wanting to play in Equestria, an official licensed role-playing game should have been expected. In early 2017, River Horse released* Tails of Equestria, the official My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic RPG.
Tails of Equestria comes as a single hardback book. The cover features art by Amy Mebberson with three ponies on an adventure, none of whom are part of the Mane Six. The unicorn on the cover is the sample PC (Pony Character) in character creation. Inside, stills from the show are used to illustrate the rules being explained on the page. There’s even a full spread map of Equestria and surrounding lands. PCs aren’t stuck in Ponyville; they can travel to such places as Manehattan and Vanhoover.
The game’s mechanics are easy enough to learn. There are three attributes – Body, Mind, and Charm – rated at a die type, from the four-sided die to the best die, the twenty-sided die. Most rolls will involve one of the attributes, though talents may modify the die type rolled. The Gamesmaster (GM) sets the difficulty anywhere from 2, very easy, to 20, “has anybody ever done this?” A roll of 1 results in bad luck; something goes wrong and hinders the pony. If the pony’s player wishes, he or she can use one or more Tokens of Friendship, the game’s drama point mechanic, to reroll the die, roll the next larger die and take the better result, or even succeed without rolling, depending on how many Tokens are spent. Other ponies can help, reducing the number of Tokens of Friendship needed to get a result. Teamwork makes tasks easier.
Character creation is quick. There’s ten steps, but each step only requires a simple choice. Players just have to decided on type of pony, whether to be brainy or brawny, what their Cutie Mark talent is, a quirk, and a name. Pony portraits are encouraged, either drawn by hand or through an online pony creator, the latter with parents’ permission and supervision. The unicorn on the cover, Firebrand, has a hand-drawn pencil portrait as an example. River Horse also has character sheets with pony outlines to fill in available for sale. If players prefer, they can use MLP toys as miniatures.
The game is aimed at the younger audience of the TV series. The writing is simple and direct, well illustrated when needed. The game reinforces the main theme from the cartoon, friendship is magic. Even if a player doesn’t give another a Token of Friendship to help in a task, ponies are encouraged to work together and give a helping hoof. The quirks, minor drawbacks that limited what a pony can do, help show how two ponies are different but can still work together. The game gets a little heavy-hoofed with the message, but the target audience won’t notice. There are helpful hints for the GM through out the game, with more in the GM’s section on how to run the game. There’s even an option to run a Cutie Mark Crusader-style game, with players being young colts and fillies trying to discover what their cutie mark talent is.
Tails of Equestria also has an adventure for beginning players. The Mane Six need to find out what’s turning ponies into statuettes but they promised to give their pets a party. The players are recruited to watch over the pets while the Mane Six are gone. Given that Fluttershy’s rabbit, Angel, is the complete opposite of his name, things don’t go smooth for the PCs. And while it seems like the Mane Six are off having an epic adventure while the PCs are rounding up wayward pets, the end of the adventure leads into the first expansion set, The Curse of the Statuettes.
Mechanics alone do not determine the tone of a game, though matching them to the setting helps greatly. MLP:FIM has its own themes, the big one being the power of friendship. Violence doesn’t solve problems; friendship does. Tails of Equestria follows this theme. The combat section takes just two pages and is called “scuffling”. Ponies who lose all their stamina need to rest; they get to see stars around their head when stamina reaches zero. Ponies that help each other see the difficulty of their tasks get reduced. One pony might not be able to lift a heavy table; four ponies can easily move it to where they want it. The focus of the game is on friendship. Even the number of Tokens of Friendship depends on the number of friends, including the GM, who are playing. A new player means a new friend, so everyone else gets an extra Token while the new pony gets a number equal to everyone playing, even the people who couldn’t make it. After all, a friend is still a friend, even if they’re not at the table.
The only real problem with Tails of Equestria is how it handles the Elements of Harmony. Every Pony Character must choose one, but there isn’t much on how the Elements are used. The idea is that if a task fits one of the Elements well, a pony with that Element can succeed without having to roll. Fortunately, the adventure included in the book shows how it works, but there isn’t much else.
Tails also has a small bestiary, just containing the creatures needed for the introductory adventure. The same section also has the Mane Six fully statted out plus generic ponies of all three types. The expansions should have more details; The Bestiary of Equestria has far more if players are interested, including new character types like Griffons and Buffalo. River Horse is supporting the Tails of Equestria line with a wide range, including a sourcebook for the MLP:FIM theatrical movie.
Game designers have a difficult task when adapting a work to a game of any sort. With tabletop RPGs, the goal is to take what has been shown and expand it so that players can have fun in the setting. Tails of Equestria took My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and presented the setting as a place for players to play in and have fun, much like the cartoon invites audiences to do. With only small problems, Tails of Equestria gets to the heart of MLP:FIM and makes it possible for players to do the same thing the Mane Six do, have adventures with friends helping each other out.
* In North American, the game and its supplements is distributed by Ninja Division.
Nostalgia is powerful, especially when decision makers choose what to remake. It works to get long time fans in, but an original’s target audience may be far younger than the fans have become. Today, a look at once such case, 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle from Universal Pictures.
The characters of Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose first appeared in 1959 on Rocky and His Friends, airing in black and white on ABC. In 1961, NBC picked up the series and aired it as The Bullwinkle Show in colour until cancelling the show in 1964. In syndication, the series became known as The Rocky Show, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Adventures of Bullwinkle and Rocky. While the series had low-quality animation from an outsourced studio and a small cast of voices, the writing featured puns, satire, and self-deprecating humour.
A typical episode of the show would have two parts of an ongoing story featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle acting as bookends. Between the two chapters, other shorts appeared, including “Fractured Fairy Tales”, retelling classic fairy tales with a twist; “Peabody’s Improbably History“; “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties”, a parody of older melodramas; “Aesop and Son”, fracturing fables instead of fairy tales; “Bullwinkle’s Corner”, where Bullwinkle mangles poetry; and “Mr. Know It All”, where Bullwinkle demonstrates what not to do in different situations. All of this – the two chapters featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle and four other shorts – fit into a half-hour episode, including commercials.
The main draw, the actual adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, featured a small number of voice actors. June Foray portrayed Rocky and every female character that appeared, including Pottsylvanian spy Natasha Fatale. Bill Scott played Bullwinkle and Pottsylvania dictator Fearless Leader. Paul Frees took on the roles of Pottsylvanian spy Boris Badenov and Captain Peter “Wrongway” Peachfuzz. The narrator of the chapters was William Conrad. The writing kept things moving at a brisk pace, allowing for a hurricane of puns. Rocky and Bullwinkle would start off in a misadventure that would lead to a cliffhanger. Along the way, Boris and Natasha would get involved and try to eliminate Moose and Squirrel in ways that would backfire on them.
While the series lasted only five seasons, syndication ensured that the show would last through reruns. Rocky and Bullwinkle appeared on over-the-air broadcast stations and cable-only channels, entertaining several generations. The show’s influence can be seen in series like The Simpsons. Naturally, this level of popularity meant that a studio executive would eventually see the benefit of a Rocky and Bullwinkle film adaptation.
In 2000, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle picks up thirty-five years after the original series’ cancellation. Rocky and Bullwinkle have returned to Frostbite Falls in a forced retirement; the town, though, is suffering from deforestation. The Narrator has returned to his home, where he narrates aspects of his daily life, much to the annoyance of his mother. Pottsylvania has turned into a democracy after the Cold War, leaving Fearless Leader, Boris, and Natasha out of power and out of work. The animated world looked bleak.
Fearless Leader, though, did not take being out of power sitting down. With Boris and Natasha, he convinces Minnie Mogul, played by Janeane Garofalo, to sign a contract to bring back The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. When Minnie pulls the contract out from animated Pottsylvania, she finds that the villains are attached to the project. The three Pottsylvanians go from being animated characters to live-action characters, with Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader, Jason Alexander as Boris, and Rene Russo as Natasha. Despite the unforeseen attachments, Minnie still tries to get the project approved, but studio head P.G. Biggershot (Carl Reiner) hates moose movies shuts the film down.
Six months later, Fearless Leader has RBTV, Really Bad Television, set up over all available cable channels. Using the power of television, he will turn every American viewer into a zombie to command as he wishes. The FBI, though, knows that Fearless Leader is up to something. The chief, Cappy von Trapment (Randy Quaid), assigns Agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to get the two people who have had the most success stopping Fearless Leader – Rocky and Bullwinkle. The mission must succeed, at any cost. Karen flies to Hollywood and breaks into Phony Pictures Studios to greenlight The Rocky and Bullwinkle Movie as a fantasy adventure road trip film.
The green light breaks through the dimensional barrier between the real world and the animated and pulls Rocky, Bullwinkle, and the Narrator out of Frostbite Falls and into the lighthouse where films are green lit. Rocky, still voiced by June Foray who also voiced all the animated women, and Bullwinkle, voiced by Kevin Scott, no relation to Bill Scott, who took on all the animated men, are now 3-D computer animation, though still recognizably themselves. The duo and Karen leave the lighthouse to begin their road trip fantasy adventure, with just forty-eight hours to get from Los Angeles, CA to New York City, NY and stop Fearless Leader and RBTV.
However, a mole in the White House warns Fearless Leader that Rocky and Bullwinkle are on their way. He orders Boris and Natasha to stop Moose and Squirrel, giving the spies a new invention created by one of RBTV’s whiz kids, the “Computer Degenerating Imagery” or CDI. In a demonstration on an animated weasel, Fearless Leader degenerates the victim, sending him where other degenerates go, the Internet. Boris, though, prefers the old ways, and loads up a RBTV van with weapons of cartoon mayhem.
Boris and Natasha catch up to our heroes in Oklahoma. They force Karen, Ricky, and Bullwinkle to leap out of their car using cartoonish bundles of TNT. With the heroes still recovering, Boris and Natasha try a more traditional method of stopping Moose and Squirrel, a cannon. Rocky and Bullwinkle use a traditional method of not being blown up – running away. Karen, though, berates Boris on his evil ways, flattering the spy and getting her close enough to put out the lit fuse. With Boris and Natasha waiting for the boom, Karen takes their van and gets Rocky and Bullwinkle in with her. Seeing all their gear on the road, Natasha starts reading the user manual for the CDI.
Temporarily foiled, Boris and Natasha give chase on foot until, through a wild coincidence, they have the opportunity to steal a helicopter. Once airborne, Natasha radios the Oklahoma State Police, telling them that they are pursuing a stolen van driven by a woman claiming to be Agent Karen Sympathy. A patrol car carrying two troopers and a cameraman from a Cops-like TV show pulls over the RBTV van and arrests Karen. She tells Rocky and Bullwinkle to keep going to New York as she’s being put into the cruiser.
The road trip continues, with Boris and Natasha still trying to stop Rocky and Bullwinkle. In prison, Karen befriends Ole (Rod Biermann), a young prison guard from Sweden who may be the only character more oblivious than Bullwinkle. The FBI agent promises to go to a movie with him if he helps her escape. Once out, though, she steals his truck after telling him that she’s just going to park it. Rocky and Bullwinkle get off track and wind up in Chicago, still pursued by Boris and Natasha. The duo also escapes and, in another wild coincidence, they meet up again, almost literally colliding with each other. Unfortunately, the police looking for Karen catch up, and our heroes are taken into custody.
Karen, Rocky, and Bullwinkle are brought before the court of Judge Cameo (Whoopi Goldberg) and are charged with one count of grand theft auto, one count of escaping prison, one count of impugning the character of a guard, four counts of talking to the audience, and eighteen counts of criminally bad puns. That number goes to nineteen thanks to Bullwinkle. The defense attorney, Bullwinkle, calls his first witness, Agent Karen Sympathy. Unfortunately, Bullwinkle forgets his the defense, not the prosecution, and makes the case for the prosecuting attorney. Judge Cameo, though, finally puts on her glasses and recognizes Rocky and Bullwinkle. Since celebrities are above the law, she dismisses the charges.
Time is running short. The fastest way to New York, NY, is by flying. Karen buys an old biplane and the threesome take off, leaving Boris and Natasha behind. The biplane can’t take the weight of everyone and loses altitude. Karen falls out of the plane. Rocky manages to catch her and flies her to New York, NY. Bullwinkle is left to fly the biplane and manages to make a wrong turn, crashing on the lawn of the White House.
In New York, people have been zombified by RBTV’s broadcast. Rocky and Karen infiltrate RBTV to try to shut down the broadcast but are caught and hooked up to the zombifier and turned into vegetables. In Washington, DC, Bullwinkle has had his chat with President Signoff (James Rebhorn). When von Trapment arrives, he sees both Signoff and Bullwinkle staring at the TV and fears the worse. Bullwinkle, though, is too thick to be affected by the broadcast. With just seconds to go before Fearless Leader’s speech, the fastest way to send Bullwinkle to New York is to scan him and email him, letting the moose surf the web to RBTV HQ where he prints himself out.
Fearless Leader starts his speech, instructing viewers to vote for him in the upcoming election. Bullwinkle, though, accidentally disrupts the broadcast then rescues Rocky and Karen. With Fearless Leader, Boris, and Natasha defeated, Bullwinkle tells the viewers to vote for whoever they want, tells whoever wins to reforest Frostbite Falls, and tells everyone to turn off their TVs. RBTV stops being Really Bad Television and becomes Rocky and Bullwinkle Television. Agent Sympathy gets a commendation from von Trapment and goes to a movie with Ole; Frostbite Falls is reforested; and the Narrator returns home to his mother.
Much like the original cartoon, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle has elements in it for both children and adults. The kids can enjoy a road trip featuring goofy cartoon characters with situations that aren’t too much different from what could be seen in reruns. Adults can also enjoy that or get into the self-deprecating humour, the puns, and the satire. Throughout the film, Rocky and Bullwinkle wink at the idea of a fourth wall, talking back to the Narrator and generally have fun with the idea of being characters. Bullwinkle’s last line in the real world compares Really Bad TV with Rocky and Bullwinkle TV, noting that there isn’t much different. In the original, similar humour comes up. For example:
Rocky: “A-bomb! Do you know what that is, Bullwinkle?”
Bullwinkle: “Yeah! That’s what they call our show!”
The film rewards a wide knowledge of movies. At one point, Fearless Leader does an impersonation of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver; essentially, De Niro parodies himself. Elsewhere, as Karen is arrested by a Oklahoma State Trooper for grand theft auto and impersonating an FBI agent:
Rocky: “But that really is Agent Karen Sympathy.”
Trooper (John Goodman): “Yeah, and I’m really John Goodman.”
The puns come from everywhere. Character names, like Agent Karen Sympathy, Signoff’s military advisors General Admission and General Store, and Minnie Mogul. Place names, like Cow Tip, Okla, and De Bitter, Ind. Even Frostbite Falls had Veronica Lake. At least a third of Bullwinkle’s lines involved a bad pun. Even visual puns were used, like the green lighting of the movie.
The movie is shameless in its satire. Its main target is Hollywood, both film and television, particularly itself. Viewers of RBTV are turned into zombies, a common accusation against all of television. Minnie Mogul rejects scripts for being “too intelligent.” Celebrities are above the law and are never found guilty, though this works for the heroes. Outside the entertainment industry, President Signoff boldly stands in the middle of the road, kissing babies. The same cluster of fast food restaurants and gas stations appear every so often along the highway.
Casting a live-action adaptation of an animated work is difficult. The animated characters have a specific look that audiences are familiar with, but the characters don’t have to obey the laws of physics in their designs. Boris is far smaller than Natasha and is closer to Rocky’s height. Even given that Rocky is large for a flying squirrel, it’d be difficult to find an actor that size. The casting for the movie did well, though. Jason Alexander needed a few extras – fake mustache and eyebrows – to look like Boris. Rene Russo only needed to change her hairstyle and add makeup as Natasha. The costuming department did the rest, matching the actors’ outfits to the animated characters’. De Niro as Fearless Leader needed a bit more work; the character also went from Pottsylvanian dictator to ruthless entertainment executive and his look reflected the change.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle made an effort to be a continuation of the original series. The initial problems – the deforestation of Frostbite Falls and the escape of the Pottsylvanian villains to the real world – were just catalysts for the main thrust of the movie, the road trip adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Once the duo reached the real world, the usual antics could be shown and played with. It’s not the destination that counts; it’s the journey. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle may not have been a critical success, or even a box office success, but it did get to the heart of the original series and brought it out on the big screen.