Author: Scott Delahunt

 

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Last week, Lost in Translation looked at the idea of parodies and how they are different from adaptations. This week, a look at the flip side of parodies, the remake that serves as a comedy vehicle.

A comedy vehicle is a work, typically a movie, that highlights the lead’s comic ability. The plot is secondary to the showcase of talent. This tends to hold whether the work is original or an adaptation. Examples include movies starring Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell. Audiences turn out specifically for the star of the movie. They know what to expect from the film. Even with television, the nature of the star influences the direction of a TV series, /Seinfeld/ being a good example.

That isn’t to say that any movie starring a comedian is a comedy vehicle. A comedy, whether in theatres or on television, requires actors who are aware of the timing needed to deliver lines. For television, a rule of thumb is to check the title. If the title and the lead character are named after the star, ie, I Love Lucy and Seinfeld, chances are it’s a vehicle for the star. The rule isn’t perfect; The Bob Newhart Show was named after Bob Newhart with his character sharing his first name, but it was an ensemble series. With movies, it’s not as clear cut, but the advertising will promote the star as much as the film. To clear up the differences, let’s look at two of Robin Williams’ works. Mork and Mindy was created specifically for Williams after his appearances as the character on Happy Days. Hook, though, was created by Steven Spielberg because of his love of Peter Pan and used Williams’ ability to be child-like in the role of Peter.

Adapting a work to become a comedy vehicle has an appeal to studios. The adaptation has two built-in audiences – fans of the original work and fans of the star. Studios use the star power of the leads in other works to draw in audiences. People know what to expect, whether the movie stars Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Julia Roberts, or Jennifer Lawrence. With adaptations, the popularity of the original acts as the draw. The Harry Potter movies were going to draw crowds, whether they had leads with star power in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or not. When a work is a bit more esoteric then attaching a star can help with drawing an audience. In 1982, Philip K. Dick was known to fans of literary science fiction, but relatively unknown outside that circle. Having Harrison Ford, then known for films like American Graffiti, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, play Deckard in Blade Runner could bring in a wider audience.

The problem here is that, with a comedy vehicle, what draws in fans of the original work may get tossed aside. With the Blade Runner example above, Ford was a good fit for the role. With a comedy vehicle, the roles will get changed to suit the actors. Fans of the original may not recognize the new character. In a parody, a change of name to the role isn’t a problem; Captain James B. Pirk is definitely not Captain James T. Kirk, but a mockery. In a comedy remake, that difference gets lost. It’s not too bad when the original is also a comedy, but when it isn’t, audiences start getting mixed reactions.

In general, the change in tone can throw off fans of the original work. Light family fare includes humour to keep the tone light, but the work may not necessarily be a comedy. The work doesn’t have to become a comedy vehicle in order to throw off audiences. Taking family fare and turning it into something dark can result in the same mood whiplash. The difference is that in that case, audiences would be wondering if they and the adapters had seen the same work. When a work becomes a comedy vehicle, it comes across as laughing at not just the original but also the fans. Parodies are up front about their intent and include some space between them and originals. Adaptations that become comedy vehicles lack that separation. It’s the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone.

The result is an audience that is turned off from the adaptation. Few people like being laughed at, whatever the reason. This is on top of having expectations dashed, especially if the marketing doesn’t prepare the audience for what the movie really is. The 2009 movie adaptation of Land of the Lost is the perfect example here. It took a Saturday morning series aimed at children and turned it into an movie featuring adult humour, losing the audience who watched the original show who expected and wanted something closer to what was aired in 1974.

Ultimately, adaptations and comedy vehicles have different goals. An adaptation is bringing a work from one medium to another or remaking in the same medium with an eye on bringing in fans of the original. Comedy vehicles exist for the stars and their fans, and plot is secondary. The two approaches are at odds with each other. Unless the comedy vehicle can make allowances, the adaptation will suffer.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Lost in Translation hasn’t looked at many parodies in the past, just four. Parodies are unusual cases when it comes to adaptations. Without an original work, a parody couldn’t exist, yet the nature of parodies means that changes happen. The goal of the parody is humour, not accuracy.

There are three of types of parodies. The broadest is the genre or style parody, where the goal is to have fun with a number of works, not just one. A good example of this sort is Blazing Saddles, parodying the Western genre as a whole. Another example is Top Secret!, a parody of both spy movies set during the Second World War and of movies starring Elvis Presley. Genre parodies take the tropes of the genre and twist them around, holding them up in a new light. A successful parody can even shape how future regular films in the genre use the tropes. This sort of parody is generally not an adaptation. No specific work is used as the base; these parodies draw from several works, pulling out common themes.

Narrowing in, the next type of parody does use a specific work, but no specific story from the work. This happens when the original is a series or franchise. Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, The Orville, and Quark all parody Star Trek. Star Wreck and The Orville use The Next Generation as the base while Quark, because it first aired in 1977*, only had the original Trek to work from. All three have different takes on Star Trek; all three have their own plotlines separate from but similar to Trek. Licensing tends to be the issue with these parodies. If not official, the creators don’t have access to likenesses from the original. Details get changed to keep lawyers happy. Once the parody gets going, it also takes on its own life, with characters developing away from the ones they were based on. This sort of parody may explore ideas from the original work, but for humour instead of the original intent. The Trek episode, “The Enemy Within”, where a transporter accident separated Kirk into two beings, one good, one evil, explores the nature of humanity, the yin and yang inherent in all of us. The Quark episode, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ficus”, takes the idea of the characters being separated into good and evil and uses it for humour, with Ficus, the Spock equivalent except being a plant, not affected at all. Ficus was unaffected because, “there are no good or evil plants, there are just plants.” For this type of parody, the focus is humour, not accuracy, but will use themes from the original.

Galaxy Quest falls under this sort of parody, but instead of using Star Trek episodes as the base, it uses the the industry and the fanbase as the source. Again, licensing and likenesses are a key factor. Because Galaxy Quest deals with the life of the actors long after their show was cancelled, care needs to be taken to not say or imply anything that could be misconstrued. At the same time, the movie also took pains to get the fandom right. Galaxy Quest used ideas from Trek‘s fandom to create its own narrative, yet still be a parody of the TV series. In particular, Guy was well aware of the redshirt effect and was desperate to not suffer the same fate. Galaxy Quest is not a typical parody, but still falls under the narrower form.

Finally, there are the parodies that use the original work’s story. These are rare and tend to happen with older works that have fallen into the public domain. Wayne and Shuster’s “Rinse the Blood Off My Toga” is a good example here. The sketch takes Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and turns it into a film noir mystery. The few parodies that use a work that falls under copyright get around the issue in one of two ways. First, the original work is used as a base, building a new story off it without using it directly. Young Frankenstein uses this method, The other way is to just license the original. Airplane! is the exemplar here, with creators Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker having licensed Zero Hour to use the work’s script to pile on with jokes.

This last type of parody is very close to being an adaptation. The difference here is intent. The main goal of a parody is humour, whether through slapstick or satire. Adding humour doesn’t necessarily mean a work is a parody. Gnomeo and Juliet is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet aimed for a younger audience, using humour to keep the attention of viewers. It’s not a parody, though; the aim wasn’t to spoof the play, just make it accessable to a younger audience. The line between the two can be fine, with Airplane! madly hopping over it, scuffing any trace the line may have had.

The end result is that, no matter what type of parody a work may be, it can’t be held to the same standards as an adaptation. With most adaptations, the effort is to keep to the original, putting in little twists to keep the work fresh, with humour a possible addition but not the focus. Parodies ultimately have a goal that is separate from bringing a work from one medium into another or rebooting a work. Accuracy isn’t as important as the humour. It is unfair to judge a parody by the same standards of other adaptations.

* Quark may have been the first to parody /Star Wars/, with the episode “May the Source Be With You”, given its timing.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Lost in Translation has covered The Transformers before, both the G1 cartoon and Michael Bay movie. The quick recap – two factions of giant robots, the Autobots and the Decepticons, from the war-ravaged world Cybertron, arrive on Earth. Both sides need energy, but the Autobots are willing to work with the inhabitants of Earth to get what they need while the Decepticons take it by force. Leading the Autobots is Optimus Prime, usually voiced by Peter Cullen, a wise robot who favours peaceful means but will fight when pushed. The Decepticons are led by Megatron, who rules through force and fear, though he keeps Starscream around anyway. The various Transformers series and movies may or may not tie into the same continuity, so different series can and have played around with canon.

Before getting into Bumblebee, let’s look at Bumblebee, the character. Bumblebee was part of the first line of Transformers sold in toy stores, being available from 1984 until 1986. In the G1 cartoon, he was one of the first Transformers seen on screen, during the Autobot-Decepticon war on Cybertron. Bumblebee was also the first Transformer to meet humans, the Witwickies. Bumblebee is as iconic as Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Starscream.

What makes Bumblebee approachable is that he comes across as being a younger Autobot, relatable to the younger audiences. He’s not that large for a giant robot. His original alternate form was a Volkswagen Beetle, a car whose popularity came from how cute it looked instead of performance. Adding to the innocense of the character, the Beetle was part of the hippie movement and Flower Power in the Sixties. Bumblebee, despite being an Autobot soldier in a war fighting Decepticons, looks innocent and relatable. Perfect for being the first Autobot to meet humans and for being the first Autobot to headline a movie solo.

Bumblebee opens on Cybertron. The Autobots are losing the war against the Decepticons. Optimus Prime, once again voiced by Peter Cullen, is sending out scouts to find a location for the Autobots to hide and rebuild. B-127 (Dylan O’Brien) is sent to Earth, landing in an military training facility in California of 1987. The soldiers, led by Sector 7 agent Colonel Burns, played by John Cena, chase the Autobot scout. B-127 takes advantage of seeing a Willys Jeep and takes on its form to get some space, only to wind up trapped at a mine. The Autobot does what he can to not hurt the humans.

Unfortunately, B-127 was followed. Blitzwing (voiced by David Sobolov) has no problems with collateral damage on his mission to find out where Optimus Prime is. During the battle with B-127 and the subsequent interrogation of the Autobot, Blitzwing winds up killing almost all of Burns’ unit, save the Colonel himself. The Autobot manages to destroy Blitzwing, but is unable to speak after the Decepticon destroyed his voice box and is so damaged that even his memory core fails. Before collapsing completely, B-127 sees a Volkswagen Beetle and transforms into the same vehicle.

Elsewhere, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld, who played Spider-Gwen in /Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse/[http://codex.seventhsanctum.com/2019/01/19/lost-in-translation-279-spider-man-into-the-spider-verse/]) is not having a good life. She has all the angst of a teenager of the late Eighties – bad job, dealing with the clique of Heathers of her school, an annoying younger brother, Otis (Jason Drucker), and a new neighbour, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr), who is romantically interested in her – plus she aches over the loss of her father. Her mother, Sally (Pamela Adlon), has remarried to Ron (Stephen Schneider) and has moved on with her life. Charlie, though, can’t.

To feel closer to her late father, Charlie uses the money from her food concession stand job to buy parts she finds at her Uncle Hank’s (Len Cariou) junk yard to rebuild a classic Corvette. When searching for a key part, she discovers an old yellow Beetle under a tarp. She checks out the car and has one of her rare smiles. Charlie pays for the parts and heads home. The next morning is her eighteenth birthday. Her mother and stepfather give her well-meaning gifts. Still down, Charlie heads to her uncle’s junkyard and pleads with him, offering anything, including cleaning the bathroom there, just to get the Beetle. Hank gives the car to her, not expecting the Beetle to start. Charlie, though, learned mechanics from her father and gets the Beetle home. She also gets the car’s radio going briefly.

B-127’s radio not only gets local stations, it also broadcasts his location. Two Decepticons, Shatter (voiced by Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) pick up the signal while executing an Autobot lieutenant on one of Saturn’s moons. The trace the signal to Earth, the western coast of North America.

She starts to suspect that the Beetle might not be what it looks like when an unusual part drops from the undercarriage. B-127, now having amnesia due to the memory core failure, is as afraid of her as she is of him. The two manage to communicate, the Autobot through body language, and learn about each other. Charlie also gives him a name, Bumblebee, because of his colour and the Beetle’s basic shape. On an outing, they walk into some woods to be alone. Bumblebee shows what happened to his voice box. Charlie does what she can to fix it and repairs a holographic projector and a memory cell. The contents of the cell get projected – the last orders Optimus Prime gave to Bumblebee, protect Earth from the Decepticons.

Shatter and Dropkick arrive on Earth and adopt a new form, cars. It turns out that they are Triple Changers[https://tfwiki.net/wiki/Triple_Changer], picking up a second alternate form, a jet and a helicopter, respectively. They head west, but run into Agent Burns with a lot more backup than before and Dr. Powell (John Ortiz). Powell wants to treat the situation as a first contact moment, negotiating peacefully with the aliens. Burns is more wary, having seen what one can do. Shatter, though, presents herself and Dropkick as emissaries from the Decepticons looking for a renegade who needs to be brought back to Cybertron. While Powell and others at Sector 7 are convinced, Burns shows a bit more genre savviness and points out the name, Decepticons. He’s overruled, though.

Every character has an arc in the movie. Charlie’s is to move on with her life without forgetting her father. Bumblebee’s is to regain his memory and protect Earth. Being voiceless through most of the movie, Bumblebee has to communicate through body language and his eyes. For a non-human CGI character, Bumblebee does this well. The movie is essentially a story about a girl and her car that changes into a robot.

Unlike the previous entries in the live-action Transformers series, the Transformers seen in Bumblebee resemble their G1 cartoon appearances. In particular, Soundwave, Shockwave, and Starscream are easily recognized. Soundwave even sounded like his G1 cartoon counterpart, especially with “Ravage, eject!” And, yes, Ravage went from cassette to robotic jaguar. There’s a number of Easter eggs for fans of the G1 cartoon. Given the Eighties soundtrack, “The Touch” by Stan Bush, featured in the 1986 The Transformers: The Movie did come up.

Bumblebee is also a prequel to the Michael Bay movies. Sector 7 is shown in its early stages. A young Agent Simmons (Nick Pilla) appears in Sector 7’s headquarters. However, familiarity with any other Transformers property isn’t needed to watch the movie. The number of Transformers on screen at any one time is no more than three once off Cybertron. On Cybertron, Optimus Prime is notable, but the others are there to boost the armies on both sides. They’re not important to the story in Bumblebee beyond showing the desperate situation B-127 is leaving. Knowing what’s coming is also not important. While Bumblebee’s voice is damaged, the reason for it is shown on screen. The story uses the damage to help build the relationship between Bee and Charlie. The focus is on those two characters, not the wider context of the cartoon and movies.

While the movie is very much a science fiction action flick, the core of it belongs to the characters Bumblebee and Charlie. While Charlie was created for the movie, Bumblebee wasn’t. The goal, then, is to determine if the character made the translation over. Of course, the various Transformers series and the live-action movies all have differing continuity. It’s a feature, not a bug. It does make judging whether the movie works as an adaptation.

The key part is what was covered about the character of Bumblebee earlier. He is a friendly introduction to the Autobots, close to human size, with a cute exterior that isn’t normally threatening. Throughout Bumblebee, the Autobot took pains to not hurt Charlie or her friends and family on purpose. He went out of his way to warn Agent Burns, trying to protect him from the Decepticons. Bumblebee is a protector, not a destroyer. The only time he was a threat to humans in the movie was when they were a threat to Charlie. Also, throughout his incarnations, Bumblebee is loyal to Optimus. This, too, carries over, even with Optimus on Cybertron. Considering Bumblebee’s amnesia, this core of his personality still survived the memory core failure. From the character perspective, Bumblebee remained true to his previous incarnations.

The loose continuity in Transformers media does complicate matters, but in the movie, Bumblebee has his classic yellow VW Beetle alternate mode. While licensing was an issue with the first live-action movie, this wasn’t a problem for Bumblebee. Using a Beetle allowed the film to have fun with a chase sequence; Beetles weren’t know for being fast, just cute. The use of the Beetle kept the movie light.

Overall, Bumblebee is a good live-action adaptation, fitting in with the continuity of the Bay films while still standing alone. No knowledge of the character is needed, yet the character is true to both his previous appearances in the Michael Bay films and his animated counterparts.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Lost in Translation has covered several Spider-Man adaptations in the past, including Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and its reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Both focused on Peter Parker, the Spider-Man introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15. Spider-Man is Marvel’s flagship character. Whenever a new character gets a title, Spider-Man is there to reinforce the idea that the hero is part of the Marvel Universe. As a result, Spidey has met most of Marvel’s heavy hitters, from the Avengers to the X-Men. New York City may be a large city, but heroes will cross each others’ paths.

Peter, though, isn’t the only Spider-Man in Marvel Comics. Thanks to alternate universes, there can be an infinite number of Spider-Men. Indeed, some are from a different Marvel Universe, like the Spectacular Spider-Ham, who first appeared in Marvel Tails Starring Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham; Spider-Gwen, the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 who became Spider-Woman, as seen in Edge of Spider-Verse #2; and Miles Morales, from Marvel’s Ultimate line, who took up the mantle of Spider-Man after Peter Parker died, as seen in Ultimate Fallout #4. In a possible future of the main Marvel Universe, Miguel O’Hara becomes Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2099. In the main continuity, Dr. Otto Octavius, Doc Octopus himself, once took over Peter’s body to become the Superior Spider-Man. And that’s just scratching the surface of Spider-Men, not even touching the versions that have appeared in animated series, in live action film and TV, and in video games, nor the Spider-related characters, like Spider-Woman, Venom, and Araña. Marvel released a limited series, Edge of the Spider-Verse, that featured stories of the various version of Spider-Man, bringing them together to fight the dangers of the Inheritors across the Marvel Multiverse.

Marvel does track its multiverses. Anything done under a Marvel logo, be it film, TV, or streaming, Even the company’s comics that aren’t part of the main continuity, like the New Universe and the mangaverse, are part of the overall multiverse. The Peter Parker from the classic cartoon is a different one from Tobey Maguire’s in the Raimi Spider-Man, who is a different one from the main continuity, but they are all Peter Parker and Spider-Man.

Pulling even a fraction of all the available Spider-People is daunting. The general audience is most familiar with Peter Parker, thanks to decades of him being the face of Spider-Man outside comics. Fans will know of the others, but the rest of the movie-going public might not. With a runtime of just under two hours, there’s not much space to introduce all of them in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, even if the number of alternate Spider-Beings is limited.

Into the Spider-Verse opens with Peter Parker (voiced by Chris Pine) introducing himself as Spider-Man, giving a brief rundown on who he is and what he’s done for ten years, with scenes taken from the various Spider-Media, from comics to film, and the different tie-ins, like the classic cartoon and a Christmas album. Once Peter’s intro is done, though, the focus turns to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a high school student just starting at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions, a private school that only takes the best and brightest. Miles aced the entrance exam, but isn’t sure that he belongs there. At one point, he tries failing a true/false test, getting a zero. His teacher saw through it, though.

Miles’ life is complicated, like most teenagers’ lives are. He does wind up talking to another new student, “Wanda” (Hailee Steinfeld), who laughed at his lame excuse for being late for science class. Miles also sneaks out to meet up with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who shows him a safe spot to practice his graffiti. Aaron still has a shady side gig, the point where he and Miles’ father, police officer Jeff Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) have had arguments about leading to estrangement. As Miles works on his latest project, a radioactive spider, having escaped from Alchemex, lurks, eventually biting the teen.

The next day, the effects of the spider’s bite appear. Miles’ thoughts seem loud to him and are appearing on screen around him. His attempt to put to use some advice his uncle gave him on talking to girls fail horribly with Wanda when his hand gets stuck in her hair, leading to an impromptu haircut for her and stony silence for him. With nothing going right, Miles returns to his dorm room and flips through is roommate’s comics, finding the first Spider-Man comic and realizes that he’s having the same thoughts and problems the Peter Parker in the comic is having. Miles returns to the underground chamber where his artwork is and finds the dead spider. He then hears a fight nearby.

Spider-Man has located the Kingpin’s secret facility, being used to breach dimensional barriers to bring back Fisk’s deceased wife and son. The problem that Spidey has realized is that the device could collapse the space-time continuum, destroying not just Brooklyn, but multiple dimensions. Fisk’s device manages to lock on five other universes before Spider-Man can stop the process. The fight, though, leaves Spider-Man badly hurt. Spidey hands the key that can destroy the device to Miles, who sneaks away. Before he leaves, though, Miles witnesses Kingpin dealing the death blow to Spider-Man.

When news gets out about the hero’s death, New York City mourns. Peter Parker was well respected as both himself and as Spidey. His widow, Mary Jane (Zoë Kravitz), is surrounded by well wishers. Miles, still in shock and feeling responsible, attends funeral in the crowd in a cheap costume. He tries to train alone, but while he has Spider-Man’s agility, the rest isn’t there yet. To try to work out his thoughts, he heads to Peter’s gravestone. While there, a stranger approaches him. Miles reacts instinctively, knocking out the man. When he gets a closer look, he discovers that it’s a brunette Peter.

Once he recovers, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), goes through the same intro Miles’ Peter had at the beginning, except this Spider-Man had been around for over twenty-five years, had been married to MJ but later divorced and hadn’t been taking it well. He’s older, heavier, and not quite on his game. The two head out to Alchemex’s headquarters in Harper Valley, where the plan is for Peter to sneak in, retrieve the files needed to recreate the key, now broken after Miles ran from Fisk’s henchmen, grab a bagel, and sneak out. Nothing in Peter B. Parker’s life ever goes smooth. He runs into Fisk’s chief researcher and Brooklyn Visions guest physics lecturer, Doctor Olivia “Liv” Octavius, Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn) herself.

Miles and Peter escape the facility, lugging a desktop PC while being chased by armed mad scientists and Doc Ock as Miles is being taught how to use Peter’s web shooter. The competency of Miles’ late Spider-Man, though, means that the villains had to up their own game, and the pair are in deep trouble. However, a newcomer swings in to help. Spider-Woman, from another of the five dimensions, saves the boys and retrieves the computer before Doc Ock could grab it. “Wanda”, or, as she should be called, Gwen Stacy, gives her own backstory in the same manner as both Spider-Men before, this time with her own dimension’s Peter Parker having been the Lizard.

The three decide that the best place to try to figure things out is at the home of Peter’s Aunt May (Lily Tomlin). Aunt May had been expecting them and isn’t surprised at seeing her nephew at the door despite his funeral. She leads Miles, Peter, and Gwen to her Peter’s underground lair and introduces them to the other dimensional travellers – Peter Parker (Nicholas Cage), from 1933, in black and white, a masked detective in a noir pulp style; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her SP//dr mecha which she copilots with a radioactive spider; and Peter Porker (John Mulaney), the Spectacular Spider-Ham. The three go through their backstory in unison, much like the previous backstories.

With the five extra-dimension Spider-beings now gathered, the plan turns from stopping Kingpin to getting everyone home then stopping Kingpin. The problem is that there should be six, but the one from Miles’ dimension is dead. To avoid having anyone left behind, though. Miles has to step up, control his abilities, and become the new Spider-Man for his dimension.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may have done the impossible. The movie introduced Spideys that weren’t Peter Parker, provided their backstory, gave them all credible motivations, and made them all interesting, while still keeping to their comic origins. Even the animation styles used for the characters kept to their original titles. Spider-Ham’s animation harkens to both Disney and Warner Bros; Spider-Man Noir’s kept to black and white, including the dots that older, pre-computer inking used; Peni was straight up anime-style. Yet the styles didn’t clash. By the time they appeared, the idea of dimensions colliding was well in effect in the film.

Introductions were quick, getting the point across, becoming a running gag, then turning into a proper ending with Miles’ version. The movie is Miles’ story, but there’s room for the other Spideys. Relationships between characters were real. The relationship between Miles and his father showed all the awkwardness when a teenaged boy is trying to become his own person but is still dependent on his parents. Peter B. Parker’s life falling apart, especially in contrast to the successful Peter of Miles’ dimension, shows a man who lost his direction. Yet, that Peter hasn’t gone to the extremes that Wilson Fisk did by creating a means to break dimensional walls to get his wife and son back.

There is the required Stan Lee cameo, this time as Stan, the owner of a comic book shop who gives Miles some advice. “It [the costume] always fits, eventually.” While the costume Miles bought didn’t fit, when he stepped up, he made the costume his, and it did fit who he is. The quote from Stan Lee during the credits really does apply to Miles, and to many people in real life, “That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it’s the right thing to do, is indeed, without doubt, a real superhero.” Even when he was trying to deal with his new powers, Miles did help Spidey because it was the right thing to do.

To emphasize that Miles’ dimension was different, little things changed. Some were obvious, some were in the background. His father was an officer of the Police Department of New York City, or PDNY. Koca-Soda has the ad at Times Square. Movie posters had familiar pictures but new titles, like Simon Pegg’s From Dusk to Shaun. Getting details right is a key element that can make or break an adaptation. Into the Spider-Verse went beyond that here.

As a film, Into the Spider-Verse will be the Spider-movie that all others will be judged against. While the movie is Miles’ story, the different Peter Parkers brought a nuance to the character not seen in any of the movies so far, an older Peter instead of the high school and university students portrayed so far. The movie managed to hit the right tone, a bit of comedy, a bit of drama, a bit of superhero action, just as in the comics. Spidey couldn’t solve his problems using his powers in his comic titles, and neither could any of the Spideys in the movie. Peter B. Parker eventually realizes that he was in the wrong and he needed MJ in his life. Miles and his father reconcile. Gwen opens a little to letting people get close to her.

The humour comes through in appropriate times. When the Spider-Man of Miles’ dimension dies, it is a sombre moment. Later, though, as Peter and Miles steal Dok Ock’s computer, the tone lightens. The scientists recognize Spidey, since he was wearing the costume, and one yells out, “It’s Spider-Man! He’s stolen a bagel!” before they break out their lasers. Even in the climactic fight, all the Spideys keep up with the patter, a Spider-Man trademark.

As an adaptation, the movie doesn’t adapt The Edge of the Spider-Verse, nor was it meant to. It took the concept from the mini-series and from the video game, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and brought it to film. The characters, though, are true to their original works, complete with appropriate animation style. The result is a film that embraces its comic book heritage instead of ignoring it.

Do stay past the credits. An eighth Spidey, Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), makes an appearance, travelling back to when it all began, 1967. Worth staying for and is a brilliant adaptation on its own.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Lost in Translation usually handles English-language adaptations, in part due to a lack of fluency in other languages. The culture differences can make it difficult to determine how an adaptation is or isn’t working. Serdar at Ganriki covers Japanese works, original and adapted, far better. However, a new Netflix series came up, one that deserves a look here.

Blazing Transfer Student (Honō no Tenkōsei or 炎の転校生) began as a manga by Shimamoto Kazuhiko, running in Weekly Shōnen Sunday from 1983 to 1985, running 118 chapters. In 1991, Gainax produced a two-part adaptation of the manga that went directly to video, covering the first chapters. The manga followed Takizawa Noboru, a transfer student to Honjakuniku High. Late on his first day, Takizawa had to deal with the overzealous hall monitor, Jonichi Koichi, in the manner that all conflicts are dealt with at Honjakuniku, a fight. With help from the lovely Yukari, Takizawa deals with not just the hall monitor, but other students, transferring from school to school, as he develops his ultimate attack, the National Railway Punch!

The manga was a parody of shōnen tropes, turning them all to 11. Every attack was called out. The characters treated the situations as if they were life and death. The anime followed in the same vein, with Takizawa winning against his rival, Ibuki Saburo, because “Takizawa Railway Train Punch!” was the shorter phrase. Blazing Transfer Student was, first and foremost, a comedy. Gainax followed in the same vein with the anime.

An older series doesn’t seem likely for adaptation, yet Netflix dipped into that well. Blazing Transfer Students Reborn, released for streaming on Netflix in 2017, stars the boy band Johnny’s West – Shigeoka Daiki, Hamada Takahiro, Kamihama Tomohiro, Kotaki Nozomu, Kiriyama Akito, Fujii Ryusei, and Nakama Junta – as the title characters, each keeping his name, sort of. Kaga Takeshi, Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef, voices Takizawa, now the principal. Kawashima Umika plays Hikari, a fellow student and Takizawa’s assistant.

At the beginning of the series, Shigeoka arrives at his new school, wondering about the nature of his transfer. The moment he steps foot on campus, he is whisked away by othger students and taken to a boxing ring, where the rest of the transfer students are already fighting. Most are already fighting. Kamiyama is trying to escape while Fujii just poses. Several of the transfer students already have special attacks; Fujii has his Shining Wink, capable of blinding people; Kotaki has his pompadour, which can grow when he needs it; and Nakama has a HUD in his eyeglasses, though it’s not as useful as one would expect. Kiriyama, a weapons master, pulls out a tiny katana. Hamada is versatile with martial arts. Shigeoka turns out to be average. Very average. Nothing special about him at all average.

The fight last long enough for the audience to wonder why the students are fighting. The episode is well aware that this would happen and asks the same thing. Turns out, none of the transfer students know why. They plot an escape. The school locks down, with teams of students hunting the newcomers, some with butterfly nets. One by one, each transfer student is captured and taken back to the ring. Shigeoka, though, has fallen for Hikari, and will do anything for her, including fighting. She encourages him to develop his own special attack, the National Railway Punch!

Back in the ring, Shigeoka tries to summon the National Railway Punch! However, the other students also have that ability. As it turns out, they have something else in common than just the Punch. They are all called Kakeru and have been recruited by Takizawa to clean up schools infested with bureaucratic evil. Each episode following features several of the transfer students being sent to another school to end the evil there. From zombification curry to a girls school that would give St. Trinian’s a fright, the Kakerus are pushed to their limits. All is not right at their own school, though. Takizawa has an ulterior motive. He, with Hikari’s help, is looking for the true blazing transfer student.

The new series may be live action, but it takes its cues from the manga. Sound effects are also written on screen. The fighting is over the top, using wire-fu to hold characters in place in the air as they monologue. Each of the students is a different shōnen archetype: the gangster, the beautiful one, the weapons master, the martial artist, the uber-brain, the crybaby, and the totally average guy. The narrator, Wakamoto Norio, provides the inner thoughts of the characters as needed, along with explaining the unexplainable and occasionally providing snark. Takizawa is exactly as he looked like in the manga and anime, being represented by a statue with holographic projectors in his eyes.

Blazing Transfer Students Reborn doesn’t take itself seriously, though the characters do take their missions like they were life and death situations. The violence is toned down from the manga, in part because what an artist can do with a still picture or an animated sequence for laughs becomes not so funny when done to a real person. Technically, the new series is a sequel, but it makes the jump from manga to live action, bringing along the conventions of the drawn medium to the screen without shame. With a few decades having passed since the end of the manga, the series has some room to play in, yet keeps to the tone of the original.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Last week‘s look forward to this year mentioned that superheroes aren’t going away. Superhero works may become the new Western because the new genre doesn’t carry the historical problems while still providing for morality plays. Right now, though, the success of superhero works is mainly through adaptations of existing characters and titles. Marvel Comics and DC Comics have seen success with the transition of their works to movies and television.

Naturally, the success of superhero movies and TV series are creating a backlash. Part of it is the source – comic books have been considered for children and teenagers, not something an adult would be caught reading, works like Watchmen and Maus notwithstanding. Another part of it are two decades, the Eighties and the Ninties, when original works were more popular than adaptations, unlike the rest of the history of film[http://psychodrivein.com/lost-in-translation-history-of-adaptations-wrapping-up/].

Is it possible to create an original superhero TV series not based on an existing character or setting? There have been attempts in the past. Mutant X lasted three seasons in syndication and ended after the its studio was sold, though the series was originally meant to tie in with Marvel’s X-Men until Fox sued. Misfits of Science ran one season in the mid-Eighties. Heroes survived four seasons despite a writer’s strike and network interference. The track record isn’t great for original superhero works, but the audience didn’t exist then like it does now.

Television may be the better medium to attempt an original superhero work. Movie studios are risk adverse and the budget to do a superhero movie well may be too high for an unknown work. No one wants to be responsible for a $150 million superbomb. Television is more competitive today, so risks need to be taken just to get viewers. What might not be popular in theatres could garner attention on the small screen; the admission cost is lower with the biggest investment being time, not money. Television also allows for viewing on the viewer’s schedule, thanks to time shifting through DVRs/PVRs and, going old school, VCRs.

They key to succeed with an original superhero work is to embrace the tropes. The colourful costumes, the obvious heroes and villains, the morality, everything found in the comics need to be taken seriously, even if the situation is bizarre. The DC television series have had success because the characters were treated seriously. A man returning home to clean up his city, a teenager whose original mission was over by the time she reached Earth, and a forensics analyst trying to clear his father’s name are solid ground to build from, and Arrow, Supergirl, and The Flash all did that successfully.

The next catch, though, is to not be just superheroes. DC’s television universe, known as the Arrowverse after the first series to air, and Marvel’s cinematic universe aren’t just superhero stories. Arrow includes both family and crime drama. Supergirl sees Kara adjusting after getting to Earth too late to raise her cousin while dealing with a demanding boss and helping her adopted sister. Ant-Man is a superhero heist movie. Iron Man is a superhero techno-thriller. Captain America: The First Avenger was a superhero pulp war story while its sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a superhero political thriller. Even the original movie The Incredibles is a superhero family drama crossed with a spy thriller. Pure superheroics can happen – look at The Avengers and Justice League – but an original work will needs its own spin on superheroes.

Television does long form dramas well. Character development needs time, something that a two hour film just doesn’t have. A new superhero character can be introduced, with personality and abilities laid out over the course of a few episodes. Too slow will lose viewers, though, but that’s true whatever the genre. The goal is to present a character who is a superhero. Marvel’s approach to heroes may work well here; the characters have powers, but they aren’t useful in dealing with the more serious problems in their day-to-day life. Peter Parker may have spider-based powers, but they haven’t helped him deal with school, job, or family.

The series’ world can be introduced to the audience over time. There’s no need to go into the history of supers in the first ten minutes of the first episode. Details can be filled in, from a TV in the background mentioning a hero in a different city to a character, main or supporting, making a mention. Building that world, though, needs to be done before the series starts. The world of the new superhero needs to make sense to the viewers, especially when asking them to suspend their disbelief on how physics works in the series. How are supers treated? Will the superhero character needs a secret ID and how will he or she maintain it? Who are the rest of the cast? Even DC’s solo heroes on television have an extensive supporting cast backing them.

For film, the big problem is getting everything packed into a two hour time span. An origins film could work, but that often means that everything else will get overshadowered as the character becomes a superhero. Smallville spent ten seasons showing how Clark Kent became Superman; movies don’t have that luxury. Audiences will be showing up to see superheroic action, unless the marketing can convey properly what the movie is about. Film also has the potential for a larger budget, allowing for cutting edge special effects, even with the likelihood of an original superhero movie having a lower budget due to risk aversion. It’s probably best to get the actual origins – how the character became a superhero – out of the way early but have the repercussions of them last through the film. If the origins are interesting, as seen in Deadpool, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Iron Man, then make them the focus of the movie. The goal is to tell a story that will keep audiences in their seats.

One problem that does occur in comics and is starting to occur with the both Marvel and DC’s cinematic universes is continuity lockout, where readers need to be familiar with the entire output of a company to understand what’s happening. DC’s Arrowverse have had three crossover events where the casts of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow appear on an episode of each series in an interconnected storyline. If a viewer somehow wasn’t aware of the other series, the new characters would be a mystery, even if the episode gave enough detail to allow the view to get through to the end. Continuity lockout can happen even if there is just one series if the show lasts long enough. Supernatural uses a “Previously On” segment to get viewers up to speed with what’s needed for the upcoming episode, but even there, a new viewer jumping on in season 10 may not be aware of what happened to Sam and Dean’s mother, detailed in season 1.

Superheroes aren’t going away any time soon. Adaptations of superhero comics will continue to hit television and movie theatres. There is room for an original superhero work in those media, but it will take effort to make the work successful. Just following on the coattails of the leaders won’t draw an audience. The new work, movie or TV series, needs to stand on its own. It’ll take work, but it is possible.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Last week, Lost in Translation took a look at the top grossing movies of 2018. What can be expected in 2019?

Adaptations aren’t going away anytime soon. When they succeed, studios get a huge return on their investment. Guaranteed audiences are the reason why studios will continue to rely on adaptations for income. People are still getting out to them, despite complaints that there’s nothing original. Risk aversion exists with both studios and audiences today. That said, not every adaptation is a guaranteed success. Mortal Engines/ may not make its own budget, though it has only been out less than a month. The only way studios will stop relying on adaptations is if there is a long streak of massive flops as audiences look elsewhere for entertainment. That isn’t going to happen right away.

On the other hand, remakes are going to become scarce. The problem remakes face today is the availability of originals through DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming services. Why watch a remake of, say, The Breakfast Club when the original is available on Netflix? There are a couple of exceptions. The first is when the original is outside recent memory, such as A Star is Born. Recent, right now, means anything after 1980. Prior to then, the acceptability of a remake goes up unless the film is a cultural touchstone. With A Star is Born, the original was released in 1937 and remade in 1954 and 1976, ignoring the 2013 Bollywood version. A black and white film remade today in colour would slip past the audience reluctance for a remake, possibly getting by on not being generally known as one.

The other exception for remakes is when there’s a new approach to the work. This is a risking venture, especially with today’s social media. Too big a change and the screaming will travel on social networks far faster than a marketing department can keep up. In particular, changing the composition of the main cast, either gender or race, can get certain elements to decry the change without even seeing the film at all. Word of mouth is now faster than traditional marketing.

Superheroes aren’t going away anytime soon. While Warner Bros. slowed down on the DC cinematic universe, Marvel Studios kept going in 2018. The DC television series, though, are still around, having had a crossover event. At this point, superheroes are the new Western – morality plays without the historical baggage. Superhero adaptations will remain the main source, but there should be attempts at original superhero works. It may take a few tries, with several bombs along the way, but the appetite is there. The cast and crew will have to accept superheroic tropes, which may take some getting used to. Marvel’s approach to superhero movies and TV series may have the best chance of succeeding for an original work – cross superheroes with another genre.

Television, including streaming services, may be where original video works come from. With the silver screen dominated by adaptations, original works need to come from somewhere. Netflix and Amazon have released original series as well as adaptations. Traditional broadcasters will need to keep up just to maintain their share of the audience. The competition for viewers is intense and not going to get better, even with time-shifting devices like digital video recorders. TV today will be the source of remakes and adaptations in 2038.

Adapting Young Adult literature may be on its way out. While there have been stand outs, both in YA literature and in its adaptation, the glut means that no one work gets all the attention. YA novels will still get written; readers enjoy the works. Movies and TV series based on them, though, will get more selective. There hasn’t been a YA novel this past year that garnered the attention that The Hunger Games had. Few will be filmable as a movie; novels tend to have far more details than can be used in a two hour film. The most likely adaptation will be a miniseries, though a full TV series isn`t out of the question.

Finally, a video game movie will draw an audience. The live action Detective Pikachu will bring the Pokémon world to life. This will add pressure to the competiting Sonic the Hedgehog film. Detective Pikachu had the head start, releasing its trailer first. At least one of the movies should break the video game movie curse.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

It’s the end of the year. Once again, just as in 2016 and 2017, adaptations were the order of the day. The top ten films as compiled by Box Office Mojo:

1) Black Panther – adaptation of a comic.
2) Avengers: Infinity War – sequel to an adaptation of a comic.
3) Incredibles 2 – sequel to an original movie.
4) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – sequel to an adaptation of a novel.
5) Deadpool 2 – sequel to an adaptation of a comic.
6) Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch– adaptation of a children’s book.
7) Mission: Impossible – Fallout – sequel to an adaptation of a TV series
8) Ant-Man and the Wasp – sequel to an adaptation of a comic
9) Solo: A Star Wars Story – sequel/prequel to an original movie.
10) Venom – adaptation of a comic

The first original film on Box Office Mojo’s list is A Quiet Place, coming in at twelfth place. The first remake, A Star Is Born, comes in at eleventh. If people are getting tired of reboots, remakes, and adaptations, the box office isn’t reflecting it. Audiences are still turning out for the adaptations. The breakdown of the top ten includes seven sequels, up from five last year, and five that can trace back to a comic book, down from six last year. The past year was slightly more literary, with two movies that can trace back to books, up from one in 2016.

The takeaway – superheroes aren’t going anywhere yet. Black Panther tapped into an audience overlooked in the past and succeeded, opening the door for more works not featuring white male leads, much as Wonder Woman did last year. This may a signal that Marvel’s Captain Marvel and Valiant’s Faith will find their own audiences and give Marvel Studios the room to go ahead with films featuring characters like the Falcon and Spectrum.

It can be helpful to take a look at the bottom ten movies, again from Box Office Mojo:

10) Henchmen – adaptation of a short film, “Henchmen: Ill Suited” (short film)), released December 7.
9) Half Brothers – very little info found, but may be original.
8) Invisible Hands – documentary.
7) Gangsterdam – French-made original movie.
6) The Breadwinner – original movie, released through Theatrical On Demand.
5) TVTV: Video Revolutionaries – documentary.
4) That Way Madness Lies – documentary, released December 14.
3) Higher Power – original.
2) The Legend of Hallowaiian – original.
1) Realms – original.

The catch with these films is that they were all in limited release, which constrained how much they could earn. The Legend of the Hallowaiian was released to the most theatres, 20, and just for one day as a way to promote its DVD release. Documentaries are usually of limited interest, as are foreign films. The Breadwinner had an unusual means of release, relying on the audience to do the work of getting the film into a theatre. Quality may not be the issue with where the movies fell in the yearly standing. However, there is only just one adaptation. Of the rest, there are three documentaries, five original works, and one that’s unknown but probably original. Adaptations tend to have initial costs, mainly licensing, that are needed up front that a larger studio can front that a smaller one might not. The one adaptation, Henchman, was based on the director’s own original short film, cutting out the middlemen.

Adaptations aren’t going away anytime soon. The audience is still there for them. Studios will bank on that. Superheroes are also popular. There is the possibility that an original superhero movie could be a breakout hit, but it’d have to follow the Marvel method of being a superhero movies crossed with another genre. Otherwise, original works will have to bring something new to theatres, something that an adaptation can’t.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Moonraker
Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: 1979
Original Story: Moonraker
Publication Date: 1955
Previous Story: Live and Let Die
Next Story: Diamonds Are Forever

Villain: Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale)
Heavy: Chang (Toshiro Suga), Jaws (Richard Kiel)
Bond Girls: Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), Corinne Dufiur (Corinne Cléry), Manuela (Emily Bolton). Special note here on Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), who pairs up with Jaws.
Other Notable Characters: M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewellyn), Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), General Gogol (Walter Gotell), Minister of Defense Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen)

Gadgets: Wrist dart gun (used by 007), X-ray safecracker (used by 007), Q-Branch modified gondola (used by 007), Q-Branch modified speedboat (used by 007), poison pen (used by Dr. Goodhead), flamethrower perfume atomizer (used by Dr. Goodhead), laser torch (used by the US Space Marines), explosive bolos (used by Q-Branch technician)

Opening Credits: “Moonraker” written by John Barry and Hal David, performed by Shirley Bassey
Closing Credits: “Moonraker (End Theme)

Plot of Original: Sir Hugo Drax uses his companies and fortune to create a ballistic missile with the secret intention to launch it against London with a nuclear warhead supplied by SMERSH. Bond first gets involved because M suspected something was up with Drax’s luck at bridge.
Plot of Film: Industrialist Hugo Drax uses his company, Drax Industries, to choose a small group of men and women to house in a space station in order to repopulate the Earth after using a rare nerve gas to kill the existing human population.

Differences:
Other than the name, Moonraker, and the name of the villain, there’s not much in common between the novel and the movie. When Moonraker was written in 1955, the Arms Race and the Space Race were just beginning. The Soviet satellite, Sputnik I, would be launched two years after the novel’s publication. The US and the USSR were building their nuclear arsenals, and other nations were trying to keep up to have their own deterrence, including the UK. The novel fits in with then-current events.

While the Arms Race continued in 1979, other matters overshadowed the world of entertainment. Star Wars, released in 1977, ignited a desire for more science fiction films set in space. The American Space Shuttle program introduced the concept of a reusable space craft. In 1976, only the prototype Enterprise had been built. It’s look, though, was distinctive. Instead of a silver rocket as all previous manned and unmanned launches had been, the new shuttle had wings to help glide after re-entry. Visually, it was a distinctive craft, ideal for being on film.

To get to 007 being in space, though, there had to be a reason for him to go up. Moving Drax’s base of operations from the English countryside to a space station was definitely a way to do that. Since the Space Shuttle plays a large role, an American agent, Dr. Holly Goodhead, is involved, taking the place of the novel’s Scotland Yard Special Branch agent Gala Brand, who is also embedded in Drax’s organization. However, since Dr. Goodhead is involved in the shuttle side of Drax Industries, Corinne Dufour becomes Drax’s aide.

Even the characterization of Drax changed. The novel’s version was boisterous, at least in public. He was a self-made millionaire, and has the apparent luck to find key metal deposits. Bond first meets Drax at M’s club. M had invited 007 there to figure out how Drax could win consistently at bridge. In the movie, Drax is more reserved, using a few layers to separate himself from the general public and even higher level officials. Ultimately, Drax is revealed to be a high-ranking Nazi officer. The movie version of Drax didn’t have the overt Nazi background, though he did have the idea of creating a master race with a base in Brazil.

The Drax of the novel does appear in a way in a later 007 film, Tomorrow Never Dies, in the persona of Eliot Carver. While Carver in the film is based on the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates, he also has the personality of the Drax of the novel. In a nod to the novel, the Minister of Defense mentions playing bridge with Drax.

One scene that did make it from the book is Drax’s attempt at killing Bond and Dr. Goodhead. In the novel, Drax leaves Bond and Gala to die in the exhaust of the launch vehicle. They escape through a ventilator shaft. In the movie, Bond and Dr. Goodhead escape the same way. The difference between the two is that Bond was ready to kill himself to destroy the Moonraker rocket in the novel, one life for millions. In the movie, he is actively looking for escape as the countdown hits ten seconds.

Commentary:
The movie was a way to have 007 tap into the audience that went out to see Star Wars. The Moore-era tended to be far more flamboyant, with Moonraker one of the films used to show how far the movies had gotten from the original concept. At the same time, the film managed to keep the scenes in space believable. The assault on Drax’s space station had no artificial gravity until a tech gets the station to spin again. Outside the station, the battle is in micro-gravity, allowing for three-dimensional movement.

While the desire to pull in the science fiction fan is there, the other problem that the film had was the change in times between 1955 and 1979. The Arms Race was well in gear in 1955, but in 1979, everyone involved was looking at the dangers of mutually assured destruction. The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks, or SALT, were an attempt to scale back arsenals without completely losing the ability for self-defense. SALT I occured in 1967, SALT II in 1972. Having Britain expand nuclear capability in the film would’ve been jarring to the audience at the time. Changed the Moonraker project from ballistic missile to one man’s desire to restart humanity moved the danger out of the Cold War and into supervillainy.

Bernard Lee made his last appearance as M in the movie. He passed away in 1981 before filming started for For Your Eyes Only. Richard Kiel’s Jaws is the first heavy to make a second appearance in a 007 film. He first appeared in the previous 007 movie, The Spy Who Loved Me and was an unstoppable force then. Jaws is also the only heavy to ever switch sides and help Bond, with the help of Dolly, who didn’t meet Drax’s standards for perfection. Shirley Bassey returns for the third time to sing the theme song.

Among the music in the film are shout-outs to a couple of key science fiction films. Also sprach Zarathrusta, Opus 30 by Richard Strauss was originally used in 2001: A Space Odyssey at the beginning, when the Monolith is shown. The other film reference is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with the four notes used by the aliens to initiate first contact with Earth.

One thing that didn’t make it into the movies is Bond’s drug use. It’s not that Bond regularly shoots up heroin. Instead, he takes advantage of pharmaceutical aid provided by the Service. In Moonraker, he requested Benzedrine, an amphetamine, which he then washes down with champagne. His goal was to come across as inebriated and bold while playing bridge with M against Drax. The combination, not recommended, leads to Bond getting far too overconfident. In “The Living Daylights”, Bond uses stimulants to remain alert while on counter-sniper duty, then using sedatives in order to sleep. While he only uses the drugs while on assignment, the extremes he reaches is aiding his burnout and PTSD. Moonraker also has Bond reading about the dangers of a “murder drug” in use in Japan and the dangers of marijuana. Today, the dissonance would be intentional, but in 1955, Fleming may not have been aware of the mixed messages.

One detail from the novel that has gotten lost in the films is the nature of the 00 section. The novel mentions the three agents under M, with Bond having seniority. The other two, 008 and 0011, were both recovering from injuries in the line of duty. Fleming didn’t get into details, but the implication seems to be that there were six prior 00 agents that have since moved on, either through promotion or death.

The movie is filled with double entendres. While Holly Goodhead’s name isn’t quite on par with Goldfinger‘s Pussy Galore or Diamonds Are Forever‘s Plenty O’Toole, the movie more than makes up for it in other ways. Q may have had the best double entendre at the end, with “He’s attempting re-entry, sir.

The nature of the passage of time is the main factor in the differences between the novel and the movie. Both Moonrakers are a product of their times, with the movie taking advantage of technology that wasn’t even dreamt of when the novel was first released. The further the franchise gets from the years immediately after World War II, the more James Bond becomes a relic of the time. Updating the character and the franchise is needed with each new movie, while still keeping close to the core of the character. It’s a difficult line to walk, and the film may have strayed a little too far.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s second season on Netflix was just six episodes, but it took advantage of the nature of binge watching. This season, Jonah was subject to The Gauntlet, six moves back to back to back as Kinga tried to once and for all find the combination of bad movies that would break his mind, with the intent of turning those movies on the inhabitants of Earth. In that light, why not take a look at each movie in The Gauntlet and see if they have the potential to be remade better?

Mac & Me
There is a good movie within Mac & Me trying to get out. It was called E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Mac & Me was an attempt to do to Skittles, Coke, and MacDonalds what ET did for Reese’s Pieces. The difference, though, was blatant levels of product placement. Only Josie and the Pussycats was more obvious with product placement, and that was for satire. The aliens, vacuumed up by a NASA probe and brought back to Earth, are elastic. They stretch the same way Mr. Fantastic, Plastic Man, and Stretch Armstrong do. That broke suspension of disbelief early. The tone was inconsistent as a result.

Remaking Mac & Me isn’t worth the effort, not when ET is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming. There are good elements that can be pulled from the movie, though. While having the lead character be wheelchair bound was there to pull more sympathy for him, Eric, the Me in the title, wasn’t passive. Played by Jade Calegory, Eric drove the plot. The wheelchair and Eric’s inability to walk wasn’t a hindrance for the sake of a plot twist. Instead, the wheelchair enabled a car chase, of all things. There can be improvements, but the groundwork for a more inclusive cast, something that is needed today, is already laid down.

Atlantic Rim
The first movie from the Twenty-First Century to be featured on MST3K comes from The Asylum. Again, there’s a good movie . . . no. No there isn’t. Atlantic Rim was made to take advantage of the far better theatrical release, Pacific Rim. The US Army has three new prototype mecha being tested when monster from the deep bubble up from the depths of the sea. The mecha are colour-coded, making it easy to reuse the same cockpit by changing the ambient light. The quality of writing makes Sharknado look like Shakespeare. The characters are anime mecha jocks, the brash pilots who get killed before a big battle so that the emo main character has to step up.

There’s no reason to remake Atlantic Rim as a serious film; it’s primary purpose was to cash in on the popularity of Pacific Rim. Instead, turn it into a parody of the genre of giant mecha and daikaiju. Don’t limit the parody to just Pacific Rim; anime provides many examples of both and Godzilla is a household name. Throw in Power Rangers; the mecha are already colour-coordinated. Even toss in a transformable mecha with a wink to Transformers, live action or animated. Broaden the genre here. Turn Atlantic Rim into the Airplane of giant mecha works.

Lords of the Deep
The last of the “leans heavily on another movie” entries of The Gauntlet, Lords of the Deep is several movies away from The Abyss. An unknown species makes contact with an underwater base, while the corporate owners of the base do everything possible to suppress that knowledge, including killing personnel. The details of why the mother corporation wants to keep the knowledge suppressed isn’t gone into great detail, but the creatures, some of the cutest aliens to invade, exude a slime that provides oxygen, allowing for greater lengths of time exploring undersea.

Unlike Mac & Me and Atlantic Rim, there is a core to the movie that could be remade. First contact from the perspective from the contacted makes for a twist on the usual approach. The ocean floor, while still terrestrial, is an alien location as far as humanity is concerned. Having aliens make contact there isn’t a bad idea, though this adds an added degree of complexity for the first contact. How does an aquatic lifeform even communicate to a surface air-breathing species? This is something that can be explored. How does humanity figure out communication with an alien species? Close Encounters of the Third Kind was all about trying to learn to communicate, eventually through music.  Underwater, things change, so present the different ways an alien can try to communicate to humans who don’t know that they’re being talked to.

The Day Time Stopped
A family gets caught up in an alien war, the youngest disappears into a glowing pyramid, then the family travels to a new world to escape the destruction. Maybe. The plot soon took a backseat to the special effects in the movie. Two monsters appear and fight each other, ignoring the family. A tiny alien dances around the youngest daughter, maybe leading to the girl disappearing in the glowing pyramid.

The biggest problem is that the family, the protagonists of the movie, has very little agency. The one attempt to defend themselves from an alien miniature attack ship has the bullet fired being disintegrated and the family running and barricading themselves. The youngest daughter disappears, but there isn’t a way for the family to look for her. Things happen, but the point of view is from the spectators. Lords of the Deep at least has the cast given something to focus on while the cute aliens abduct them. For a The Day Time Stopped remake, get the family investigating, even if they don’t figure things out. Otherwise, they characters aren’t even audience surrogates. They’re just there to provide the book ends of the movie. Correcting that issue should help the film.

Killer Fish
Lee Majors, Karen Black, and James Franciscus are thieves who managed to steal a medium-sized fortune in gemstones. Joining the cast are Margaux Hemingway, Gary Collins, and Roy Brocksmith, not necessarily big name draws but solid actors nonetheless. There is no honour among thieves as each plot against the others. Franciscus’ character, Paul, plays the ultimate long game with backstab by filling a lake behind a dam with piranha, Killer Fish is one of the follow-the-leader movies about killer sea life that came out after Jaws, without necessarily focusing on just the fish. The movie was a direct-to-video release in the US.

The movie is a good demonstration of how monster movies work, even if the piranha are mostly plot device than actual looming monster. Two mooks are used as redshirts to show how the piranha work to the audience. Innocents are killed to move the sympathy from the piranha to the protagonists. Annoying characters are killed to let the audience root for the title characters, the killer fish. Ultimately, the villain is done in by the piranha while the protagonists escape. The only major changes would be to establish the leads more before and during the heist, setting up the betrayals and twists. A little more budget could help, but 1979’s special effects are practical. Not showing the piranha and just showing reactions can add to the tension until the reveal.

Ator the Fighting Eagle
Left with a young family as a baby, Ator grows up, marries his foster sister who is then promptly kidnapped by henchmen of the priest of the spider god. To get her back, Ator learns how to fight from Griba. Once trained, he sets off on his quest, joined by the Amazon, Roon. The main problem with Ator is the pacing. There is a lot going on, but the movie slows down in places. The worldbuilding is weak. Amazons appear more to serve the plot than because of any other reason.

The movie may have been better served as a TV series. This would let the world develop. The different elements thrown at the audience in the movie would be developed and introduced as needed. The cult of the spider god could be built up as the big bad of the series. Ator and his foster sister/bride could have some time to develop their relationship. The rush will be gone. The risk, though, is that the series may not survive the ratings push. In 1982, though, networks were more willing to give a series time to find an audience.

One thing that The Gauntlet did was front-load the worst of the six. Mac & Me and Atlantic Rim are dire and if anyone is going to break while watching, it’d be during these two. The rest, while not Oscar worthy, aren’t Manos: The Hands of Fate level, either. Get through the first two, and the rest of The Gauntlet is easy.

Why remake any of these movies? Kinga said it herself, after watching those movies, we’ll never be able to see another film without noticing the flaws. We can learn from mistakes, though, both ours and others. It’s a rare bad movie that has no redeeming features. Even Mac & Me has some good ideas in it, despite the poor execution.

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