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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Actors have traditionally been a superstitious lot. From warding off bad luck by telling thespians “break a leg” to rituals to calling Shakespeare’s MacBeth “The Scottish Play”, there are a number of little rituals both onstage and backstage. Given the propensity for accidents to be taken as a foreboding of doom, a mystery gets expanded into superstition. Gaston Leroux, the author of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, based his story on a mystery at the Opéra national de Paris, where a skeleton was used as a prop in a play.
Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was originally serialized in Le Galois from September 1909 to January 1910, then released in one volume in March 1910. The story reveals the secret of Christine Daaé’s success as an opera singer and her relationship with both her Angel of Music and with Raoul, the Vicomte of de Chagny. When Christine and Raoul were young, they used to listen to her father speak of the Angel of Music, and he promised to send the Angel to her after he died. Christine showed great promise, but when her father died, the life went out of her music. But when Christine nails the music in Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod, she gains the attention of opera aficionados.
At the Paris Opera House, the retirement of the previous manager brings in M. Moncharmin and M. Richard in as management. Up to that point, anything that went wrong, including deaths, was blamed on the Opera Ghost. M. Moncharmin and M. Richard, though, weren’t familiar with theatrical superstitions. Even when the Opera Ghost himself left notes with demands, they ignored the dire warnings. First, they sold Box Five, the Ghost’s box. No one was ever seen in it, but it was in use by the Opera Ghost. When it was sold to other theatre attendees, they heard the Opera Ghost but did not see him.
The Ghost did provide a way to make peace with him. During Faust, also by Gounod, management needs to do four thing: leave Box Five for the Ghost; have Christine take the role of Margarita in place of La Carlotta, the Opera’s diva; have Mme Giry return as the box-keeper for Box Five; and, accept the conditions set for the Ghost’s monthly allowance as the previous management had. Otherwise, Faust would suffer a curse. La Carlotta, at the same time, receives a letter written in red ink telling her to not sing that night or suffer a fate worse than death. While a mere threat wouldn’t keep the diva away from performing, a hearse going by her window as she read the message added a new level. Being superstitious, Carlotta would have stayed home, but the threat and the visit from M. Richard’s private secretary had her wondering if Christine was trying to usurp her place, so she goes to perform.
Faust starts without problems. Christine appears on stage. On seeing Raoul, she falters, having problem with her minor role. Carlotta makes her grand appearance as Margarita and starts singing without any problems at all. Until she croaked like a toad. She makes an effort, but her voice is gone. To make matters worse, the Opera’s chandelier crashes down, killing a guest of M. Richard’s.
With proof that the Ghost would interfere with the Opera, the new management has little choice. Mme Giry gets her old job back. But Christine disappears. Raoul discovers that she is once again with her Angel of Music, and goes out to find her, only getting a note asking him to meet her at the masquerade ball. Christine finds him and draws him away to talk to him one last time. When she leaves, Raoul finds it within him to follow her, to discover that Christine is meeting with Erik.
Slowly, the truth is revealed. Christine’s Angel of Music, the Opera Ghost, is Erik, who took her in as a protégé. But instead of just teaching her to sing, he fell in love with her, a possessive love where she is not allowed to speak with others. Raoul is in great danger if Christine is seen with him. Yet, Christine betroths herself to Raoul and plans to escape Erik.
Erik, though, catches on to the plan. He strikes first, kidnapping Christine during a performance of /Faust/. The police get involved, as does Raoul, who tries to explain who the Opera Ghost is. Evidence points to Erik having stolen the Count of Chagny’s carriage, racing off towards Brussels. Erik’s Persian henchman, though, knows otherwise and offers to bring Raoul to see both Christine and Erik by travelling beneath the Opera to Erik’s house on the underground lake. Erik gives Christine a choice, agree to marry him or see the Opera destroyed during a performance. Given the choice, Christine does what she can to delay Erik, ultimately choosing to marry him. However, this choice opens a flood which washes Raoul and Christine out, never to be seen again. Erik dies of a broken heart.
The Phantom of the Opera has been adapted before, including the 1925 film with Lon Chaney, the 1943 film with Claude Rains, and the 1974 Phantom of the Paradise with Paul Williams. Andrew Lloyd Webber was looking to put on a romantic musical and was pointed at The Phantom. The novel isn’t so much romantic as tragic, with romance being the key to the Phantom’s fall. Webber watched the 1925 and 1943 films, but didn’t see a way to get the story to translate to a musical. However, he found a used copy of the then out of print novel and read that, leading to the creation of the musical. Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera opened in London’s West End in 1986 and on Broadway in 1988. The musical is the longest running Broadway musical and the second longest West End musical after 1985’s Les Misérables.
The problem when analysing with stage productions is that they can change with each performance. Little things come and go, actors hit marks differently in subtle ways. A long running musical also has cast changes during its run, and The Phantom of the Opera has been on Broadway for thirty years. Musicals based on a novel need to change the approach in two ways. The first is run time. Novels take as long as they need. Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was first serialized, running several months. Audiences are willing to sit through about two to three hours, but the actors also have a limit on how long they can perform.
The second way a musical changes a narrative is that the story is carried by the music. There is still action, still dialogue, but the thrust of the plot is done with music, both the singing and the background music. Different ranges carry different roles; two roles with the same range, ie, two tenors or two sopranos, set up a conflict between the characters. With The Phantom, Christine and La Carlotta are both sopranos and both are in competition to be the diva of the opera being staged.
That out of the way, the Webber musical remains close to Leroux’s novel. Some changes are made – little details such as the operas being put on. M. Moncharmin and M. Richard become M. André and M. Firmin, more to work with the music’s meters. Instead of Roméo et Juliette and Faust, both used by Leroux to foreshadow and set the tone, Webber uses the fictional opera Hannibal and provides a score to the Phantom’s own work, Don Juan Triumphant, then uses that same music as the base for the climax with Raoul, the Phantom, and Christine.
One major change is how Raoul and Christine are betrothed. The novel implies an engagement. The musical has them secretly wed away from the Phantom’s prying eyes. The early part with the young Raoul and young Christine were cut, later added through song as Christine becomes wistful for that happier time. The fates of the three leads, though, is still left in the air. La Carlotta gets an expanded role in the musical. As the Opera’s diva, she acts as a foil to Christine. It’s amusing when the Phantom curses her to croak like a toad, but Carlotta never stops blaming Christine for what happens.
The musical keeps Christine’s introduction as she moves from being in the chorus to becoming a lead singer, much to La Carlotta’s annoyance. Raoul isn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown; he’s in love with Christine but not to the point that he’s lost his mental faculties. The Phantom becomes a sympathetic character, releasing Christine when all his lost so that she may have her happiness even if he can’t have his. The result is very much a tragedy, with the Phantom an anti-hero.
Other key scenes kept are the masquerade, though instead of the Raoul discovering the secret of the Opera Ghost and Christine’s Angel of Music, the Phantom discovers the secret wedding. The staging of the Phantom’s opera is expanded and leads to Raoul’s pursuit of Erik, this time without the Persian. The ending still has the fates of the three leads left in the air, with Raoul and Christine running away together and the Phantom disappearing.
Given the restrictions of the format, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera remains faithful to Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, itself based on rumours and mysteries at the Opéra national de Paris, many still unsolved today. The translation of the tragedy to a musical takes advantage of the music to give depth to the characters and scenes in a way prose can’t.
The nature of television has changed greatly over the years. First cable and now online streaming services are forcing traditional broadcast channels to change their approach. Online streaming also allows for binge watching, something only possible previously through recording with either a video tape recorder or a digital video recorder (or DVR) or through boxed sets once a season was released on DVD. Coupled with the advent of the Internet from specialist use only to a near ubiquitous service, reactions to news shows can be seen instantly. When a show becomes a breakout hit, news spreads fast. That’s the case with the Netflix series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a remake of the 1980s series, She-Ra: Princess of Power.
Thanks to the deregulation of children’s cartoons under Ronald Reagan, what was once forbidden by FCC regulations became commonplace in the Eighties. The first of the thirty minute animated ads was Pac-Man in 1983, based on the popular arcade game. Pac-Man was followed shortly by the syndicated series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a Filmation production featuring the Mattel action figures.
He-Man had a definite look to it. The action figures used the same base mold as much as possible, with the differences between figures being mostly how they were painted, the head sculpts, and the accessories. He-Man ran two season for 130 episodes. The popularity of the series and the action figures led to a spin-off, She-Ra: Princess of Power. Again, the action figures tended to have similar appearances, being based off the same mold. The differences, like He-Man, were in the painting, the head sculpts, and, now, the brushable hair.
She-Ra first aired in 1985 and, like He-Man was a Filmation production. Filmation was known at the time for keeping their animation costs down through reuse of cels. With the character designs based on the action figures, where the manufacturing costs were kept down by reusing the same base mold as often as possible, the same body only needed a different set of colours depending on the character.
The series pilot begins on Eternia, with the He-Man character The Sorceress having a dream of when Hordak tried to attack Eternia and only to be forced back. However, Hordak took a baby girl with him. The Sorceress wakes up, only to see the magical sword meant for someone of great destiny floating in the air. The sword opens a door and a magic portal, then drops to the ground. The Sorceress summons Prince Adam and Cringeor to Castle Greyskull to send them through the portal with the sword to find this person of destiny.
Adam and Cringeor walk through, arriving near the village of Thaymor on Etheria and find an inn to get some lunch. Certain elements at the inn distrust him; he is a stranger in town and the Evil Horde is known to send spies. Two in particular, Bow and Cowl, keep an eye on him. When a trio of Horde robot troopers arrive and start bullying the locals, Adam steps in to defend. Seeing a potential ally, Bow steps out to assist and the pair roust the Horde troopers before escaping to Bright Moon.
Adam meets the Great Resistance, which isn’t looking all that great. It’s still a fledgling revolution, but it has made some impact. As Adam meets the the Resistance’s leader, Glimmer, word arrives that the Horde has attacked Thaymor and enslaved the villagers because two of the Resistance attacked troopers there. A plan to rescue the village is made, with Adam joining. As the fighting breaks out, Adam become He-Man.
Leading the Horde army in the attack on the village is Force Captain Adora, with her lieutenants, Mantenna, Catra, and Scorpia. The regulars of the Resistance fall to Mantenna’s stun beams, while Glimmer fights Catra in her panther form. He-Man and Battle-Cat arrive. Battle-Cat deals with Catra and He-Man removes Scorpia from the fight. Adora tries to shoot He-Man, but he destroys her gun by throwing his sword. She runs away, knowing when she’s outmatched. He-Man persues, cornering her. When Adora picks up a nearby sword, He-Man draws the only sword he has left, the one for the person of destiny. The sword singles out Adora. Caught by surprise of the discovery, He-Man is knocked out by Adora, who takes the sword.
Eventually, the truth is revealed to Adora. She is Prince Adam’s twin sister, taken away by Hordak as a baby to Etheria. Adora returns with Adam to Eternia, but Hordak follows, intent on getting her back. With Skeletor teaming up with Hordak, She-Ra fights alongside He-Man, then returns to Etheria to join the Resistance.
The first five episodes, initially made as a movie then broken up for TV, set up the remainder of the series. Few know Adora’s secret identity as She-Ra. The rest of the series is episodic. Being syndicated, pre-emption due to sports or breaking news is always a threat, and an episode may not even air. The episodic nature means a missed episode doesn’t throw the narrative. The status quo remains; the Horde is pushed back but never fully defeated.
Earlier this month, Netflix debuted the remake of the series, She-Ran and the Princesses of Power. Instead of showing one episode a week, Netflix provided the entire season at once, allowing the audience to binge the series in one go. Helmed by Noelle Stevenson, best known for the comics Lumberjanes and Nimona, the new She-Ra is only thirteen episodes long, one fifth the length of the original’s seasons. The new length means that the remake has to get to its key elements. The remake also isn’t based on existing action figures, though Super 7 is producing figures based on the new designs. This change gives the animators room to make the characters more distinctive beyond just outfits and colours.
The first episode, unlike the original, puts the focus on Adora. She’s a newly promoted Force Captain in the Horde, much to the chagrin of her best friend and foster sister Catra. Catra has ambitions to eventually be in charge of the Horde, though, like a cat, she has a bit of a lazy streak. The training the cadets go through prepare them to take on the dangerous Princesses of the Whispering Wood and Bright Moon. To celebrate the promotion and to prepare for the invasion of the Resistance fort at Traymor, Adora and Catra borrow a skiff and head to the Whispering Wood.
Catra isn’t one to let someone else drive, so she fights with Adora to take the rudder of the skiff, resulting in Adora falling off. While Catra gets the skiff back under control, Adora sees a strange sword. She reaches out for it and gets pulled into a landscape both alien and familiar to her while a voice calls to her. Before she can find out more, Catra returns and brings her back to reality. Still, the sword and the landscape nag at her, so Adora sneaks out after lights out.
In Bright Moon, Princess Glimmer and Queen Angella are having a loud disagreement over Glimmer’s actions against the Horde, leading to her being grounded and sent to her room. Her best friend, Bow, wants to show his new gadget, a device that tracks the location of First Ones artifacts. Glimmer sneaks out with Bow to find a blip that appeared.
Turns out, the blip is the sword that Adora is looking for. Being on opposite sides, they get into a fight over the sword, one that is interrupted by a monster. When the creature traps Bow and Glimmer, Adora grabs the sword, plunging her back into the strange landscape. There, she learns about her destiny to save Etheria from danger. When she returns to reality, she has the chance to escape with the sword. Instead, Adora can’t leave Glimmer and Bow even if they are part of the Resistance. Adora says the magic words, “By the honor of Greyskull,” and becomes She-Ra. She drives off the monster, much to the amazement of Bow and Glimmer.
When Adora returns to her normal self, she surrenders to Glimmer. The trio walks through the Whispering Wood back to Bright Moon. Along the way, they find an old First Ones installation, one that explains more about She-Ra, Etheria, and the Horde. However, the installation is old and begins to fall apart, forcing Glimmer to expend her magical energy to get everyone out. Once back at Bright Moon, Glimmer vouches for Adora, though Queen Angella is hesitant to have a Horde Force Captain around. Glimmer, though, convinces her mother to allow Adora to stay. She also has the idea to rebuild the old Princess Alliance, one that fell apart when Angella was younger. The Resistance already has Princess Netossa and Princess Spinnerella.
The next few episodes focus on recruiting more Princesses. WIth the help of She-Ra, the trio convince Princess Perfuma of Plumeria, Princess Mermista of Sea Gate, and Princess Entrapta of Dryl. The attempt to recruit the young Princess Frosta of the Kingdom of Snows fails when Princess Scorpia and her plus one, Catra, arrive. WIth Adora focused on Catra, Scorpia is able to cause havok which leads to the first big defeat Adora faces.
The most obvious change from the original She-Ra is the animation style. The shorter season means that the animators can spend more time on individual episodes, leading to a more fluid animation. The new character designs include a range of body shapes, sizes, and colours, leading a far more diverse cast than the original series. Adora now looks her sixteen years of age. She-Ra has bicycle shorts under her skirt, allowing her to not flash people when she performs athletics. The audience can tell the characters apart at a glance.
The new series also reflects how storytelling on television has changed in the past two decades. While most episodes can stand alone, there is a definite order. With the original series, syndication meant that some episodes could be shown out of order. With a single source, Netflix in this case, there’s no danger of pre-emption or an episode appearing out of order. This also means that any given episode should not be skipped. Each one builds to the climax of the season.
Despite the lower number of episodes, the remake goes into more depth with the characters that do appear. With no requirement to sell the latest toy release, the new She-Ra can keep the cast smaller, allowing the show to go deeper with the characters. One big change is that She-Ra isn’t just an alternate identity and form for Adora; instead, she is there for Etheria and has appeared in the past. The remake does more with Bow than the original series did, turning him from the token male to a rounded character with interests beyond the Resistance, such as belonging to the Etheria maker community. Madame Razz isn’t the bumbling comic relief who can’t cast the correct spell; now, she is more like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back if he’d been on Dagobah for a couple of centuries. Netossa and Spinnerella are more than close friends; with Adora, Bow, and Glimmer showing how magical friendship is, Netossa and Spinnerella can be a couple.
Catra deserves a special mention here. She may not have her original counterpart’s ability to turn into panther, but the new Catra doesn’t need the ability. She also has a complex personality. Shadow Weaver raised both her and Adora and while what Adora went through was child abuse, Catra was the scapegoat of the two. Yet Catra didn’t blame Adora for it. The two were best friends as cadets. When Adora left, Catra felt betrayed, even though Adora pleaded for her to join her. Catra has ambition, and doesn’t understand why Adora left.
The relationships between characters is complex. The one between Adora and Catra above means that they’re not rivals or enemies, nor fighting because one is good and one is evil. They’re people first, not icons. All of the cadets, including Lonnie and Kyle, grew up with propaganda painting the Princesses as the enemy, as “dangerous instigators,” more concerned with their own kingdoms than protecting Etheria. The Horde is doing Etheria a favour defeating the Princesses. And there’s a nugget of truth in the propaganda; the Princesses are more concerned about their kingdoms and their subjects after the Princess Alliance broke apart.
At the same time, the Horde is very much evil. It’s located in the Fright Zone. It poisons the land. It attacks and destroys villages while labelling the locations forts. The people living under the control of the Horde aren’t told this, though. Outside the Fright Zone, it’s known as the “Evil Horde”, something Adora is surprised to find out. In the original, Hordak had no problem calling his army “the Evil Horde” in his henchmen’s presence. He revelled in being evil. The new Hordak is well aware of the power of public relations.
The characters are more relatable; each one has a personality that the intended audience can identify with or knows someone like that. Adora is the new girl at school and a tomboy. Glimmer is the older sibling who is always arguing with Mom and Dad. Entrapta is the easily distracted friend who may be on the autistic spectrum. Bow is the one boy who doesn’t mind playing with girls and has geeky knowledge. Mermista is the sober second thought, willing to go along with her friends even while pointing out what they’re doing can get them into trouble. Catra is the former best friend that they grew up; the split comes from growing up and getting new interests. The characters are more than just a one-note being.
Gone are the comic relief characters like Cowl and the Twiggits, As mentioned above, Madame Razz wasn’t portrayed as bumbling and forgetful, but as a trickster mentor whose memory problems may or may not be real. But comedy still exists in the series. This time, though, it comes from the main characters. Adora learning about what’s in the Whispering Wood and her discovery of Horsey, or Swift Wind as he prefers. There’s still action and drama, too, again, all coming from the characters instead of being a side show.
There’s also more to Etheria than what appears on the surface. The remake has its own written language, one that has plot relevance. Madame Razz may herself be a First One. Not all kingdoms are fighting against the Horde; one joined right away thanks to poor relations with the others. There’s more to Etheria than what’s seen on the surface.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power takes the original series and gives it more depth. The world building gives Etheria and its inhabitants a history while the characters are more than just powers and a simple description. The remake is one of the rare ones that improve on the original while still building on it.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 ran for ten years, taking some of the worst B-movies made and having a laugh with them. The series showcased a number of films, like Alien From LA, that missed the mark of being good by a wide margin. Yet, some of the featured movies had a nugget of a good idea. It was the execution of the idea that had problems. Space Mutiny is one of those movies.
Released in 1988, Space Mutiny starred Reb Brown as David Ryder, Cisse Cameron as Dr. Lea Jensen, and John Philip Law as Elijah Kalgan, and featured special effects by John Dykstra. Said special effects came from the original Battlestar Galactica, but let’s not quibble. South Africa wasn’t known for being a source of masterful special effects. The plot of the movie, well, that’s where the problems start. The movie is disjointed, with multiple elements seeminly tacked on. There is a spaceship, the Southern Sun, played by the Battlestar Galactica, whose mission was to find a new home for the generations of colonists on board. Several generations have lived their lives on board the Southern Sun without ever having set foot on a planet. A new planet, though, is near. So are space pirates, in league with Kalgon, who wants the colonists to settle on the planet.
Kalgon has the Enforcers, the ship’s security/police detail, under his control. He doesn’t have the ship’s flight crew, including Ryder, under his influence. However, a pirate attack featuring Cylon Raiders reduces the number of Starvipers, played by Colonial Vipers, and forces Ryder to make a hasty landing on the Southern Sun‘s landing bay. Sabotage causes the Starviper to crash. Ryder escapes the exploding ship through a short-range transporter, though his passenger, an important professor who never gets mentioned afterwards, perishes.
Ryder teams up with Dr. Jensen and discover the mutiny. Ryder rallies the rest of the ship’s crew to take the fight to the mutineers, leading to the engineering section being the main battlefield. The mutiny is put down, the space pirates’ main ships, played by Cylon Basestars, are destroyed, and the colonists are free to land on the planet. Or not. This doesn’t include the subplot with the Bellerians, a sect of women-only monks who arrived by Galactica shuttle prior to the first pirate attack. The Bellerians added a mystic element, though only to convince Commander Alex Jansen, played by Cameron Mitchell, to let people on the discovered planet, maybe?
The disjointed nature of the plot wasn’t the only problem. Continuity errors popped up. Pity poor Lieutenant Lemont, played by Billy Secord, who can’t even call in dead for her shift. Lemont was shot dead in one scene, but is shown later arriving on the bridge to start her shift. That would be a great reason to mutiny on its own. The Southern Sun‘s engineering section is an industrial power plant, with brick walls. Proper set dressing might have hid the inconsistencies, but someone should have at least noticed the windows and blocked the shot to avoid having them in frame.
The low budget comes up in other places. A computer used to verify Ryder’s identity card is clearly an 386 clone complete with a 5-1/4″ floppy drive. To the crew’s credit, that floppy drive worked as the card scanner, but only for audiences not familiar with the device. The carts used by the Enforcers were modified golf carts; the added mass to make the vehicles look futuristic affected performance, so the “high speed” chases weren’t impressive. The reuse of Battlestar Galactica shots leads to questions like, “Why are both landing bays out if the explosion happened in just one?” It’s not like the other landing bay is being used as a museum.
With the problems out in the open, what can be done to remake Space Mutiny so that it isn’t a mess? As seems to be the case with anything featured on MST3K, the core issue is budget. The crew did what they could with what they had, from using an industrial plant for the engineering section to using a corporate office for the bridge. The use of the industrial plant meant that the Southern Sun was one of the few movie starships that was OHSA compliant, with railings to prevent people from falling to their deaths. Sure, that instead led to people dying and falling over the rails, or “railing kills” as Mike and the Bots put it, but that added some visual drama, if overdone at times.
With a proper budget, the next step is to get proper special effects instead of putting the Galactica in reverse. Give the Southern Sun its own look. Make it a proper generation ship, not a repurposed warship. Sure, have a starfighter squadron there, but the goal is that the ship isn’t military. The remake should have its own look, if for nothing else the ability to license the designs to model kit companies.
While getting the special effects worked out, next to be tackled is the plot. The big problem with the mutiny is that the mutineers have a point. There’s a planet. The mutineers and their ancestors have been on board the /Southern Sun/ for lifetimes without ever having set foot on a planet. What is the harm of letting off colonists who want to settle on this planet instead of the Southern Sun‘s intended destination. After several generations, there should be more than enough colonists to settle both worlds. It’s not like space travel doesn’t exist, even if it takes time. The mutiny could have been ended before it began if both sides sat down to negotiate. There’s no indication in the movie that anyone even tried that. If the mutineers are meant to be the villains, then they need to be shown as villainous beyond breaking “the law of universe”.
If the space pirates are to be kept and the mutineers are to be in league with them, then a different motive needs to be found. Instead of wanting to settle on the planet, have the mutineers sell the colonists to the pirates. A ship full of humans willing to toil on a new planet must be worth something to some alien trader who doesn’t care if humanity is sapient. The colony ship – it doesn’t have to be a generation ship now, just far from home – is ripe for the taking. The colonists want to settle on the planet below.
Turning the generation ship into a colony ship fixes a few other problems, such as if this is as far as humanity has gotten, where did the pirates and the Bellerians come from? Now, instead of being lifetimes away from the start point, it’s just a matter of months or years. Have a crewmember or two mention previous colonies that have disappeared without a trace over the past few years to add some foreshadowing. This also ensures that the audience’s sympathies are with the colonists, not the mutineers.
After the plot is cleaned up, figure out what to do with the Bellerians. They were a last minute addition to pad /Space Mutiny/ out long enough to be released in theatres. Do they add to the story? Can they? Assuming that they can be worked into the narrative, it’s easier to have them already on board, separate from both crew and colonists, heading to start a new monastery on the planet being colonized. Define what they can and can’t do early, and decide if the mysticism is needed. The Bellerians should add to the narrative, not be a sidebar.
Costuming needs to be updated. Some of the costumes, mostly worn by women, date the movie to the mid- to late-80s. Blue bodysuits, while having the advantage of being visually attractive for the make gaze, don’t portray a sense of military discipline. Of course, if the ship is being used for colonial operations, it may not even be military. Given Public-Private Partnerships even today, a government colonization effort with private contractors isn’t that farfetched, and may give a little extra motive to the mutineers. This may mean that the uniform worn by crewmembers are stylish while still being functional for being onboard a spaceship, with the wearer being able to get into a spacesuit during an emergency. The colonists can then be easily distinguished by not wearing a uniform.
Sets are the last hurdle to get over. Space Mutiny tried to use an existing industrial plant to get past some of the need in building the engineering section. This got the movie the machinery needed plus interesting ground to stage a laser battle and chases, but also brought in brick walls and windows. CGI could be used to replace some of the problems, but creating a background that looked like a spaceship’s engineering section, completely with drives, but practical effects allow for the actors to interact with the set more believably. Unlike, say, the Death Star in Star Wars, the Southern Sun had protective railings to keep engineering crew from plummeting to their deaths by accident. It’s a touch that needs to be kept, even if to have a few railing kills. A few, not everyone shot in engineering.
Finally, continuity. Unless the Bellerians have the ability to bring the dead back to life, let Lt. Lemont stay dead. Let her have her time off. Make sure that the remake flows to the end, without sudden trips that pull the audience out of the story. The scale of the story needs to make sense. The original implied that there was a galactic and even universal tribunal creating laws, except the Southern Sun was far from its home. Set expectations early.
Space Mutiny, like many films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, had problems with execution. The movie, though, has the germ of a good movie, just waiting to be coaxed out.
Audience acceptance of adaptations can be finicky. Everything can be set up just so but if something is off, the audience is thrown. On the flip side of that, an adaptation can get a lot wrong, but if it gets certain details right, the audience will just go along for the ride. Casting plays a role in this. Adaptations that audiences weren’t sure about did well when certain actors were announced. Likewise, fans have become divided when their dream casting didn’t happen.
With books, the goal is to find actors who can pass for how the characters are described. The author may or may not have a specific actor in mind when creating a character. Fans may pick up on the description and figure out who the author was using as a reference. Other works, the author may not have anyone particular in mind. In this case, the casting director should be aware of the characters’ general appearance. Some works make the casting work harder, particularly those with a young cast that grows over the series of novels. Since the appearances are all in the description, it shouldn’t be difficult to get close. Mind, some cases are harder than others; Harry Dresden, being canonically six-foot-nine, has a limited pool of actors to work from. The adaptation went with six-foot-four Paul Blackthorne as Dresden, then used camera angles as needed to emphasize his height.
The Harry Potter books make for an interesting case with child actors. The initial casting of Harry, Hermione, and Ron worked; the young actors resembled their character’s description from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. However, each book ages the characters one year. It is hard to tell what a child actor will look like in a decade. With the Harry Potter movies, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint grew with the roles, but that isn’t a guarantee.
On the flip side, casting for the Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation caused a rift among fans. While the films went with Dakota Fanning and Jamie Dornan as the leads, fans wanted Alexis Bledel and Matt Bomer instead, going so far to start a petition to have the cast changed. The adaptation did well in theatres, though the backlash against the cast may have meant the film under performed.
More visual media provide a definite base to begin casting from. Not every role is locked into a specific look, just a general appearance. However, certain types of works become iconic. Animation is one of those. The art shows the character, from general appearance to mannerisms. Even comic books have distinctive characters, particularly the costumes. In these cases, ignoring the iconic looks may cause problems. Audiences, though, are aware of the restrictions and can adjust their perceptions while watching the adaptation. Some notable exception have come up, making for pleasant additions to their adaptations.
The 2002 Scooby-Doo movie did well at the box office, thanks to its star power. Matthew Lillard, though, deserves special mention. As Shaggy, Lillard managed to channel Casey Kasem’s portrayal, getting the voice right. Adding to his performance, he managed to get Shaggy’s unique walk. Of all the cast, Lillard was his role the most. In fact, Lillard has since taken over as the voice of Shaggy after Kasem passed away in 2014.
In a case of where getting the casting right would make or break a film, Karl Urban as Judge Dredd in the 2012 Dredd. Urban insisted that Dredd’s face would never be seen, correcting a major issue with the 1995 Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone. The one time Dredd is seen without his helmet, he’s in shadow, with no facial features showing. Urban became Dredd for the film, and while the film wasn’t as successful at the box office, it became an instant cult classic thanks to the portrayal.
Sometimes, the announcement of a casting choice can get an audience on board, even if there were reservations before. Michael Bay’s Transformers was seeing fan pushback on the idea of a live-action adaptation. Then the studio announced that the voice of Optimus Prime was cast – Peter Cullen would be reprising the role that was his when the cartoon first appeared in 1984. Fan reception changed, and the movie, while still having problems, succeeded well enough to have three sequels.
When it comes to adapting a live-action work, the limitations are obvious. Unless an actor has a child that looks much alike, and there are some who do, the adaptation will have to go with best fit. The appearance may not be important; instead, the portrayal is critical. The original actors will have set the characters; the new cast will have to adjust to expectations. Karl Urban once again shows how it’s done as Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the 2009 Star Trek reboot. While Urban doen’t look like DeForest Kelly, he once again channeled the character. Urban’s co-star, Zachary Quinto, had an added difficulty. Unlike the rest of the cast, Quinto had one of the original cast of Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy, playing the older version of his character, Spock. Audiences could compare the two directly. Helping, though, was all the character development Spock had gone through in the movies. Quinto’s Spock was the younger version, Nimoy the mature. The result, though, was that Quinto held his own.
Casting is important. Getting the right actor for a role is key, for original works and adaptations. With adaptations, getting fans on board means getting someone who can be the character. When that happens, the adaptation grows beyond expectations.
Lost in Translation will be taking the next two weeks off and will return November 10.
When adapting a tabletop RPG, the ideal original work is one that allows for more people in the setting than just the main characters. Star Trek, in its various incarnations, allows for other Starfleet officers, creating an instant hook for an RPG. Television, though, works best with a limited cast, mainly for budgetary reasons, with a broad hook. Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files was prime for a TV adaptation, with one central character, a small core of supporting characters, and numerous recurring guest characters. For an RPG, though, that isn’t the best set up.
Or is it? As the series of novels grew, Butcher expanded the setting. Harry Dresden isn’t the only wizard in the world, just the only one to open a detective agency. Over the course of the series, Harry picks up an apprentice, deals with the various threats both mundane and supernatural, has to work around the wizardly White Council, and keeps the peace among the supernatural factions and the Mob in Chicago. There is a world beyond just Harry Dresden. This is where Evil Hat Productions comes in.
Evil Hat developed the Fate RPG by building on the Fudge system with elements that went beyond just attributes and skills. Called Aspects, these elements allow players and GMs to use drama points, called Fate Points, to modify the narrative. Players can invoke the Aspects to gain an advantage for their characters; GMs can invoke the same Aspects to put the characters into a disadvantageous position. Fate doesn’t encourage the old “killer DM” play; the goal is for everyone to have fun and be challenged.
At this point, there’s two levels of adaptation going on. First, the adapting of The Dresden Files as a tabletop RPG. Second, the adapting of Fate to The Dresden Files. Fate is Evil Hat’s house system, a concept seen widely in the tabletop RPG industry. Game mechanics take time to develop and playtest. Many RPG publishers, once their mechanics are worked out, don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time a new game is released. When licensing a title, one of the issues faced by RPG publishers is making sure that the work can fit into their mechanics.
Evil Hat’s approach to Fate, especially for The Dresden Files and their previous game, the original work Spirit of the Century, was to emulate the writing process. While that approach may not work for some players, it does set the tone of the game, reflecting Dresden‘s literary background. The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, released in 2010, comes in two volumes, Volume 1: Your Story and Volume Two: Our World. That’s not unusual for tabletop RPGs; while getting both mechanics and setting into one book is ideal, if there is too much information, printing over two thick volumes makes sense.
Our World details Harrry Dresden’s Chicago, as presented in the novels. The city isn’t just the landmarks that can be found in a Wikipedia entry. Our World adds the elements that have appeared in the novels – characters, themes, the vampiric Red and White Courts, the police, the Mob, the morgue, and even Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History that became a zombie. Anything and everything players could want if they want to play in Harry’s Chicago.
Your Story contains the mechanics of Fate, how to roll the dice and how to create a character. Being an urban fantasy RPG, the Dresden game has to include not just regular skills but also supernatural abilities, with some extrapolation from what’s seen in the books to provide players a range of options. To help players, the game includes templates based on characters who appeared. Included in the templates are Wizard, like Harry, Champion of God, like Michael, Were-Form, like Billy and the Alphas, and White Court Vampire, like Thomas. Most templates have a Fate Point refresh cost, so some may not be available depending on the initial amount of points available at start. However, Pure Mortals, like Karrin Murphy and Waldo Butters, gain two Fate Points for use to buy stunts, to offset not having access to supernatural abilities, reflecting how such characters in the books can survive being around Harry.
Fate was designed as a generic game system, one that can be modified as needed for different settings. The core easily takes additions, though some care is needed. Gameplay revolves around the Fate Point economy, encouraging players to let their Aspects restrict them so that they can use those very same Aspects to save the day. Characters, though, aren’t the only ones who get Aspects. Everything can, from the city the game takes place in to a specific location to the current scene. The approach at the time was new, but one that gained a following. The GM and players work together to create their own city, if they want one, allowing the campaign and its theme to be personalized for the group.
Presentation in RPGs often helps sets the tone, With the Dresden RPG, it’s not just adapting the mechanics for the settings, it’s also the maginalia commenting on the main text. Used often to help explain a concept, either by directly commenting or refering to an event in the books, the marginalia is written as Harry, Bob, and Billy, in different handwriting. At one point, when the main text is using Harry himself as an example for character creation, Harry corrects his player, Jim, and then tells him to roll better.
RPGs have a tough challenge when adapting a work. They have to take the work, extract information, and make the setting playable for others beyond the creators while still providing players options to go beyond what has been produced. Evil Hat managed to hit this mark with The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, taking Jim Butcher’s creation and presenting it in a way that players can have their own adventures in Harry’s world, whether as Dresden and his companions in Chicago or as their own group elsewhere.
The problem with copying a copy is image degradation – finer details are lost thanks to the resolution of the copier. When the image is simple, such as words in a sans-serif font or stick figures with thick lines, the losses are minimal and the details are easily seen. With an intricate painting with precise colours, the loss of detail hurts the copy. This tends to hold with adaptations.
It’s not that the adaptations of adaptations are bad. Many are acclaimed, including shows like M*A*S*H, which was based on the movie of the book, and the 1959 Ben Hur, a remake of the 1925 silent film adaptation Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ which itself was based on the novel of the same name. However, each step away from the original brought on changes. Robert Hooker’s MASH: A Novel of Three Army Doctors focused on the hijinks of the surgeons and nurses of the 4077. The movie built on it but added an anti-war angle, which was continued into the TV series, which then added more serious elements. The TV series may have had hijinks, but some of the practical jokes were done to keep sanity and the humour was kept out of the operating room.
What happens is that, unless the crew making the new adaptation takes a look at the original, they won’t know what needed to be removed to for the new format. If the crew is only familiar with the first adaptation of a work, there may be a wealth of detail they are unaware of. For example, if a studio decided to make a Harry Potter TV series based on the movies instead of JK Rowling’s books, key details will be lost, such as the importance of Neville Longbottom, who will lead the resistance at Hogwart’s in Year 7. Neville was critically ignored in the early movies because the studio wasn’t aware of what he would do later in the novels.
Yet, as mentioned above, adaptations of adaptations can stand on their own. The 1931 Frankenstein may be the definitive version with Karloff’s childlike monster, but the film owed more to the various plays that were written based on the original work than on Mary Shelley’s story. The M*A*S*H TV series won numerous awards over its eleven seasons. The 1959 Ben Hur was the most popular movie in its year of release. Just as adaptations aren’t necessarily bad, adaptations of adaptations aren’t necessarily bad. Comparing them to the original means following through the generations to see what went missing and why.
Part of the problem is that there are times that an adaptation becomes the definitive version of a work, despite the presence of the original. Movies like 1939’s The Wizard of Oz and TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Stargate SG-1 have surplassed their original works. With The Wizard of Oz, adaptations including The Wiz, with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and Muppets Wizard of Oz build off the movie, not L. Frank Baum’s original novel. The popularity of Buffy and SG-1 means that a remake of either, which has been suggested for both, needs to take into account the events in the TV series.
Despite the the loss of details from original works, adaptations of adaptations appear to be able to fill in the blanks, adding instead of removing. What helps is the original fading into the background. A more obscure original work leave both the adaptation and the adaptation of the adaptation wriggle room to make changes. The hypothetical Harry Potter TV series doesn’t have that wriggle room, while the M*A*S*H TV series needed that space to allow the characters to develop. The Harry Potter novels are still too popular to ignore outright.
Adaptations of adaptations will happen. Movies get remade. TV series get rebooted. It’s the nature of the beast. Details can get lost. Yet, it is possible for the second generation adaptation to surpass its precursors. It takes work, but the results are worth it.
Last week, Lost in Translation took a look at animated adaptations with a high level view. It’s time to delve into a specific one to get a better view of how such things turn out.
Thanks to the success of Star Wars merchandise in 1977, toys and toy licensing became another way to make money from a movie. Sure, prior to Star Wars, there were toys made for some franchises, but not to the same extent and success. However, many of the most toyetic movies were also R-rated, meaning that the target audience for the toys were not likely to have seen the movie except in ads. However, the reduction of FCC regulations against using children’s entertainment as advertising presented a new way to introduce the characters to the new audience – cartoons. Thus, among other animated adaptations, RoboCop the Animated Series.
The original RoboCop was a violent, over-the-top satire of the Reagan era. Everyone has a gun. Automation destroys jobs. Detroit is bankrupt. The Detroit police get privatized, bought up by Omni-Consumer Products, who saw the city as a test bed for automating law enforcement. The movie wasn’t subtle. Officer Alex Murphy is shot with the symbolism of the Crucifixion. Scenes had to be trimmed to avoid the dreaded X rating, preventing the movie from getting into any theatre. Blood was shed by the barrels.
The perfect movie to adapt for children.
The 2014 remake, with its PG-13 rating, had its violence toned down. No more graphic deaths. No one getting shot with hundreds of rounds by a robot still in beta. It was one of the problems fans of the original movie would cite about the remake. The violence was reigned in. There still was violence. Drones got destroyed. Murphy got shot and burned. But the gore was gone. The remake’s satire hit closer to home, but the violence of the original allowed audiences to take a step back. The PG-13 rating was seen as the problem by fans of the original, not allowing for the over the top violence of the original.
With that in mind, if there was a backlash against the 2014 remake, how do things shake out for 1988’s RoboCop: The Animated Series? If a PG-13 rating forced the 2014 remake to focus the violence on drones, how much is lost for a weekly cartoon? Repeatable violence isn’t allowed. Shooting a gun is repeatable. Punching is repeatable. Running someone over is repeatable. And forget language. Even in syndication, there are words not allowed anywhere near children’s entertainment. “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me,” won’t be heard.
How well did RoboCop survive the translater to animation? First, a look at the the characters themselves. While Orion could license the characters, the studio couldn’t license the appearances of the actors. The actors own their looks. It’s the same reason why the character design for The Real Ghostbusters changed so much. However, the costume for RoboCop hid most of Peter Weller, so the character could be animated as accurately as the production could. Likewise, the ED-260, the upgraded version of the ED-209 from the movie, was accurate, with the new number allowing for differences due to animation.
For characters like Officer Anne Lewis and Sergeant Ross, the animation tries to be close to their looks without necessarily copying their actors. Lewis lost her curls, but the costume – body armour and a helmet with a visor – is close enough. Other characters, like the Old Man, have more extensive changes. However, Clarence Boddicker, the man responsible for killing RoboCop in both the movie and the series, has only minor changes. Boddicker appears in the opening credits and in the episode “Menace of the Mind”.
Animation helps with showing RoboCop’s abilities. The original movie used practical effects and stop-motion; the suit Weller wore slowed him down just from mass. An animated character doesn’t have that limitation, so having RoboCop lift a van by its bumper or run after a perp is easier to show. The technology of the future of Old Detroit changed, too. RoboCop and the rest of the police force use lasers. Some of the criminals still used guns, but since they were shooting RoboCop, there were no bullet wounds, no arterial sprays, nothing to worry parents about what their children were seeing.
Characterization of the characters was off. RoboCop comes off as his RoboCop 2 incarnation after community input forces several hundred new directives installed. Murphy acts more as Murphy’s cheerleader. However, the focus of the series is on action; dialogue is kept to a minimum. Bursts of dialogue aren’t much to build a character on. A few characters do change. SWAT commander Lt. Roger Hedgecock gets promoted from being a minor character in the original to a rival. Hedgecock isn’t a fan of automation and is trying to outshine Murphy. Casey Wong returns as the talking head of “Media Break”, the three-minute news segment that appeared in the movie.
A few characters were added. Dr. McNamara, an OCP designer working on the ED-260 project, wants RoboCop shelved in favour of his Enforcement Drone, and is the mastermind behind the plot in several episodes. The Vandals were a gang that caused problems in Old Detroit until stopped by RoboCop.
The series did try to work with some themes from the movie. Biting satire is out, but some still slipped in. A section of Old Detroit was called “Trickledown Town” and was where the old abandoned factories were. One episode, “No News Is Good News”, had a Geraldo Riviera parody, chasing non-stories until he focused on destroying RoboCop’s reputation. Even the idea of automating jobs came up for satire with ED-260 being pressed into traffic duty and causing collateral damage after an illegal lane change. Outside the satire, Murphy still had to come to terms with his humanity. While Lewis still saw Murphy as Murphy, others, including Hedgecock and McNamara, saw him as a machine or as a product.
RoboCop is a tough movie to turn into an animated series, especially one aimed at an younger audience. What is allowed in an R rated movie doesn’t get on television in prime time, let alone weekend afternoon for kids. RoboCop: The Animated Series had its fangs pulled because of the the new format. It tries, but the focus is more science fiction action, not violent biting satire of the Eighties. If it was a standalone work; it would be an entertaining series on its own. Tied to the RoboCop movie, the series is sanitized.