The issue of a translations has come up before, most notably in the analysis of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. When examining a work originally created in a foreign language, the accuracy of translation comes up. Today, a look at how language barriers go into adding complexity to adapting.
Translations aren’t cut-and-dried. Languages have quirks, some of which might not translate to another. Add in cultural differences and getting the idea presented in a paragraph or even just a sentence. Idioms grow from language and culture and may not have a proper translation. Expletives are an extreme example; the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop shows the difference between swearing in English, which tends to use bodily functions, and swearing in Quebecois French, which tends to use elements of the Catholic Church. In a more family friendly vein, puns – plays on words – fall apart between languages. A French pun based on how close cheval (horse) and cheveux (hair) can’t be repeated in English. Going the other way, the werewolf/where wolf pun from Young Frankenstein can’t be translated well into French; werewolf translates to loup garou while where wolf becomes où est le loup.
It is possible to work around the limitations. The various English Asterix comics managed to keep the gist of most of the puns without accurately translating the names. Obelix’s dog has a near perfect replacement name despite not being a perfect translation; Idéfix, after idée fixe or a fixed idea, became Dogmatix, after dogmatic, which can involve fixed ideas, and adds in a quick extra pun. The druid, Panoramix, after the wide view parnorama, became Getafix, since everyone went to him for magic potions. The blacksmith, Cétautomatix, from c’est automatique or “it’s automatic” became Fulliautomatix, “fully automatic”. The bard, Assurancetourix, after assurance tous risques, or “comprehensive insurance”, which what he needs when he tries singing, becase Cacofonix, after cacophony, which accurately describes his singing. The goal in the translations was to maintain, if not the exact pun, a pun based on the character. The characters haven’t changed, just the names only because puns are very much language based.
That still leaves the nature of the language. English doesn’t really have an equivalent to either tutoyer or vouvoyer, using the informal or formal you, respectively. Likewise, the levels if formality in Japanese honourifics don’t always translate well, leaving a character sounding stiffly more formal than intended. A blind-idiot translation, where words are translated without a sense of context, creates a mess. The translator needs to understand the originating culture; fortunately, most do. At the same time, the result also depends on the translator’s own culture, and, sometimes, this results in a more formal approach even when the original wasn’t.
The above problem occurs in older works. Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, the source of several movies and a blockbuster stage musical, was originally written in French. The English translation is very formal, having been done in 1911, when most novels were written in a more formal manner than today.
What this means for adaptations of translated works is that the goal may not be to preserve the language but the intent. Language changes over time. English is constantly mugging other languages for new words. Spoken language varies from written. Today, audiences expect the dialogue in a film to reflect how English is spoken now. Studios typically aren’t going to release a work that is inaccessible to the general audience. Yet, older works, no matter the original language, bring expectations. King Henry VIII won’t sound like a Bronx storekeeper except for comedic purposes; the audience won’t put up with the change.
In short, a foreign language work adds an extra degree of complexity to adapting it. Unless cultural biases are taken into account, subtleties could be lost, and the adaptation will feel flat.
Remakes happen. The known element is popular with audiences, for all that people moan about the lack of original movies. Lost in Translation has looked at the problems different sources have when being translated to film, but remaking a movie has its own issues. For most genres, it’s not a problem. People will enjoy the same story over and over, whatever the format. For horror and mystery, there’s a problem.
Horror and mystery rely on tension and the unknown. In horror, it’s a question of when something happens, with setting, lighting, and music the only cues. Mysteries rely on solving the puzzle, following clues to the end. In both genres, knowing the end result takes away from the suspense. The remake of The Evil Dead took the same situation – a cabin in the middle of the woods and a group of young adults – and, while having similar beats to the original, added its own twists so that audiences couldn’t rely on their knowledge of the older movie.
Before the Eighties, most older films could be found either in repertory theatres or on television, either late night or weekend mornings. With the typical time between original movie and a remake being about thirty years or so, a new generation of audience could grow up without having seen the source. The Eighties, though, were when the VCR took off with hardware and available movies coming down in cost to be practical for the home. Specialty cable stations added to the availability of older movies. Today, with DVDs and streaming, if a film exists, it can usually be found somewhere on demand. A movie from the Eighties, ie, thirty years ago, is still available to the next generation of audience. The twists and turns that made an original movie suspenseful now makes a remake predictable. Yet, people want the familiar. Directors of remakes are in a tough spot. The audience wants the remake to be faithful, but not too faithful.
Slasher films and monster movies have an out. Audiences are there to see the star – the slasher or the monster, different sides of the same coin – do what they do best, kill people. Few people watch a Godzilla movie to cheer the Japanese Self-Defense Force; they’re there to see Godzilla stomp through Tokyo. Toho has rebooted the series, but hasn’t really remade the original.
Another issue with horror remakes is that horror films tend to reflect the fears of the time they are made. Going back to Godzilla, the original film was made in response to the growing fears of atomic weapons, made in a country that had the first and only two atomic bombs dropped on it. Other fears that have shown up include machines turning on humanity (Maximum Overdrive, The Terminator), humanity’s interference with nature (The Thing, Sharktopus), loss of identity (The Fly, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Borg), the faceless other (zombie films), and the seductive other (vampire movies). While some of those fears are part of being human, others change as understanding is gained and political winds blow.
Mysteries may not rely on the fear of the day, but they do rely on the puzzle. With information at the audience’s fingertips today, it’d be easy to do a quick search to find out whodunit. Adapting a mystery from literature doesn’t quite have the same problem; the audience is there to see a story they enjoyed on screen, not solve the puzzle. Remaking a mystery, though, needs to create new twists to keep the audience on its toes. There are exceptions, such as Columbo where the draw is to see how the detective solves the murder, but most mysteries rely on not knowing who the killer is until the reveal. Even the live action Scooby-Doo, while still using the tropes of the cartoon including having the monster really be someone the kids have met, created its own plot instead of using one of the animated episodes.
There are ways around the problem. The first is to make the new movie a reboot, picking up where the previous film left off. The TV series Ash vs Evil Dead is a continuation of the original The Evil Dead with Ash getting into more trouble. It’s easier with slasher films and monster movies; the star is the attraction, so even with new casting, as long as the main character acts in the expected way, the audience is satisfied. Mysteries may have a harder time, depending on how much the original actor was tied to the character. Peter Falk made Columbo his character; it’ll be some time before an audience will accept a newcomer to the role. However, other characters, like Sherlock Holmes, have been portrayed by a large number of different actors.
The key in any remake is to provide the audience what they expect. With horror, the expectation is suspense and scares; with mysteries, it’s a whodunit. The characters in the remake should behave like they did in the original, even if the plot has changed. Shaggy shouldn’t sound like an Oxford scholar and Ash Williams shouldn’t be the luckiest man alive. Get these details correct, and the audience won’t mind changes to the plot.
From Russia With Love
Bond: Sean Connery
Release Date: 1963
Previous Film: Dr. No (1962)
Next Film: Goldfinger (1964)
Original Story: From Russia With Love
Publication Date: 1957
Previous Story: Diamonds Are Forever
Next Story: Dr. No
Villain: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya)
Heavy: Donovan “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw)
Bond Girls: Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson)
Other Notable Characters: Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz), Major Boothroyd/Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), M (Bernard Lee), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell)
Gadgets: Watch garrotte, used by Grant. Briefcase with survival rifle, hidden knife, hidden currency, hidden ammunition, and tear gas cannister disguised as a tin of talcum powder, used by 007. Bug detector, used by 007.
Plot of Original: SMERSH tries to kill 007 with an eye on embarrassing the British Secret Service.
Plot of Film: SPECTRE tries to steal a Soviet decryption machine using 007 and a Soviet cypher clerk while still embarrassing 007 and British intelligence..
The biggest change is who the opposition is. The novel had SMERSH acting against 007. The studio changed that to SPECTRE, keeping SMERSH involved but as one of the agencies being played by Blofeld’s organization. All of the Soviet senior staff mentioned in the novel – General Grubozaboyaschikov, General Vozdvishensky, Colonel Kikitin, and General Slavin – are gone, replaced by Blofeld. Rosa Klebb is now a defector from SMERSH to SPECTRE, and Grant is an assassin under her command.
The movie also rearranges and collapses the first third of the novel. A briefing by the head of SMERSH works in a book but not in a film. Audiences know how meetings go and are watching the movie to escape them. Kronsteen still gets his chess championship, but it’s now at the international level, not just for supremacy in Moscow. The scene also changes the focus, by showing Kronsteen’s planning ability by defeating the Canadian MacAdams instead him having to worry about not leaving the chess match against the Russian Markhov because of his summons.
Bond’s first appearance also gets changed. In the novel, he is first seen in his apartment, reminising, the only woman around being his housekeeper, May. In the movie, Bond is enjoying an afternoon off with Sylvia Trench, who he met in Dr. No, something not possible in the film continuity since that was the first book adapted.
The movie follows the novel more or less as wrtitten with minor changes. Darko Kerem becomes Ali Kerem Bey, for example, but nothing major. Bond meets Tatiana, gets information out of her, and takes her on the Orient Express out of Turkey. On the train, Grant makes his move. That’s where the movie diverges from the book. In the book, Bond’s Q-branch briefcase has the hidden knife, but not the talcum powder tear gas. In the movie, Bond bluffs Grant into opening the briefcase. Not knowing the special way to get in, Grant gets a face full of tear gas, allowing Bond to act. The hidden knife does come out; Checkhov’s gun comes in many forms.
The fight between Bond and Grant in the book is followed by arrival in Paris, the delivery of Tatiana, and a final appearance by Klebb, who gets one kick in at Bond before being taken away by France’s Deuxième Bureau. The movie adds an escape from the train, a helicopter chase with Bond on foot and a boat chase before reaching Venice. Klebb gets her last appearance, but instead of poisoning Bond with her shoe despite her best efforts, Tatiana shoots her, ending her story.
There were minor changes because of the different format. What can be done in a book might not be allowed in a movie. In particular, the nudity in the novel, not explicit but there, gets covered up. Topless women get bras; the nude men get towels. One other change that does stand out is 007’s choice of pistol. In the book, Bond has his Beretta. His movie counterpart is using his signature Walther PPK. Movie Bond received the pistol in Dr. No because his Beretta had snagged on his holster in a previous mission. In the original Dr. No novel, Bond was forced to change pistols for the same reason, except that previous mission was in From Russia With Love. It’s a minor change, but thanks to the movies being in the wrong order, creates an interesting switch.
There are two actors making their first appearance here. First, Desmond Llewelyn appears as Major Boothroyd/Q. Major Boothroyd was a character in Dr. No, but was played by Peter Burton in that film. Llewelyn will appear in the most 007 films, his last time as Q in The World Is Not Enough, working alongside five different James Bonds in that time. Walter Gotell makes his first appearance, playing Morzeny, a SPECTRE trainer. Gotell reappears in the main line of 007 as General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me, and reprises the role in Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, and The Living Daylights.
With the change from SMERSH to SPECTRE, Ernst Blofeld makes his first appearance, albeit without revealing him. The white Persian cat becomes the villain’s signature. Blofeld takes over the role General Grubozaboyaschikov had, the head of the organization. This time, the organization is a private one, beholden to no government. SPECTRE is shown to be able to infiltrate even the highest ranks of Soviet intelligence, getting Klebb to defect.
From Russia With Love isn’t quite yet the classic 007 movie. The seeds are there, though. Suave Bond, beautiful women, fast car chases, gadgets, the only missing item is the set piece at the villain’s lair. The fight between the Gypsies and the Bulgars hint at what is to come in that respect. Audiences, though, turned out for the movie, sustaining the demand for more.
Remakes aren’t going away. Audiences will flock to an adaptation of a known work. Television is becoming more and more a source for the remake mill. If a TV series won its time slot in the ratings, it goes on lists of possible adaptations. Likewise, if a series influences how later, similar shows are made, it, too, becomes fodder for a remake.
However, television has a wrinkle that film doesn’t – syndicated reruns. With theatrical releases, there seems to be a twenty-five to thirty year gap between original and remake, depending on how well the original was received. That gap is the equivalent of a generation, enough time for a new generation to be born and grow up. During this time, film technology can improve and expand, providing a new way to tell the story. Films made in the Twenties remade in the Fifties could take advantage of colour, sound, and widescreen.
Syndicated reruns means a TV series is on the air for longer than the original run, keep a show alive in its original medium for far longer than a movie can ever hope for. If a series runs long enough, the syndicated reruns can air the same day as a new episode. The length of time between original and remake gets longer. But remakes and reboots do happen. Some are long awaited; others appear to come from out of the blue.
Another wrinkle television has, especially with long-running series, is a role gets associated with the actor playing it. This happens when the series is focused on that character. Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files is tied to James Garner. Likewise, Columbo is very much Peter Falk and Quincy is Jack Klugman. It’ll take time for these connections to fade.
When choosing a work to remake, it may be better to look at older series. Not from the Seventies, series from that decade are easily available and still have a large number of fans who are satisfied with DVD box sets of the show. Why not go back to the black & white days of TV. Not every series then is good for fodder. Rocky Jones, Space Ranger isn’t well known under that name, though Manhunt is Space is, especially the MST3K episode riffing it, is. There is a series that turned out to be as influential on how mysteries were made as Miami Vice was to dramas, police and otherwise – Peter Gunn
Created by Blake Edwards, Peter Gunn ran for three seasons from 1958 to 1961. The first two seasons ran on NBC, the third on ABC. The series starred Craig Stevens as the well-dressed private investigator, Peter Gunn, Lola Albright as his girlfriend, Edie Hart, Herschel Bernardi as police detective Lt. Jacoby, and Hope Emerson as Mother, the owner of Mother’s, a jazz club. When Emerson passed away during the second season, Minerva Urecal continued the role. The theme, written by Henry Mancini, was a hit. Mancini would win the first Album of the Year Grammy for The Music from Peter Gunn, compiling the music used in the first season. One of the musicians performing in the jazz combo for the series was a young John Williams.
Each episode of Peter Gunn ran about 25 minutes, allowing for a five minute ad break, and would start with a quick scene of the crime to be solved, often murder. Once Peter is hired, he’d dig into the case, question suspects, and get into fisticuffs, often on the wrong end. The series didn’t shy from having the lead get beaten up by mobsters and other assorted thugs. The first episode, “The Kill”, saw Mother’s bombed in retaliation to Peter’s investigating. Edwards brought film noir to television, fitting it to a half-hour slot.
There’s two ways to remake the series. The obvious way, which is what Edwards did for a 1989 remake, with Peter Strauss as Gunn and Peter Jurasik as Jacoby, is to bring the show to today. When Peter Gunn came out, a jazz soundtrack was novel, a new way to present a detective story. Today, thanks to shows like Miami Vice, using popular music is a given for dramas. Jazz, while still unusual, wouldn’t be as much a stand out today as it was in 1958. The idea, though, is still valid. Keep the jazz score, or change it up with something that fits today’s television without necessarily using Top 40 songs. The original had a signature style of music; a remake needs to have one, too.
The other approach would be to keep Peter Gunn in the late 50s. The series would have a distinctive look just from using the fashions of the era plus the chrome of the older cars. The jazz score would help accentuate the era, with the occasional period rock song. With the advantage of hindsight and time, the show can delve into social issues of the decade, not necessarily as a morale of the week, but to highlight how different life was then for different people.
Either way, a few details are hard-coded into the series. First, Peter and Edie are a couple. There’s no “will they or won’t they” going on. It was obvious in the original that Peter and Edie are a loving couple, with only the morality of the time preventing the answer of “they have.” The only television couple that is more up front about how much they love each other is Gomez and Morticia Addams. Second, Peter is well dressed, well coifed, wearing expensive clothes. At a time when the technology was rare and expensive, Peter had a car phone. Peter Gunn is not workaday like, say, Jim Rockford. Instead, he’s suave, even when he takes a beating.
Adaptations will happen. It’s the nature of the entertainment business. Studios want a return on investment, and audiences will turn up for a remake. Today, though, there is a lot of works available that still resonate with the general populace. There’s no reason to remake the same TV series over and over. Delve into TV’s history and there’s a wealth to be mined. Peter Gunn has been considered for a remake series. Steven Spielberg was working on a pilot of a new Peter Gunn series for the 2013-2014 TV season for TNT, but the show wasn’t picked up.
Sherlock Holmes is a character that has lasted in the imaginations of readers for well over 130 years. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Holmes and his partner, Dr. John Watson, solved many a mystery. Each of Holmes’ adventures were written from Watson’s point of view, a filter through which Holmes could explain his deductions to readers. Over time, Holmes has been adapted in many ways from theatre to television, the most recent being Elementary. It was only a matter of time before he was adapted as a garden gnome.
Watson wasn’t the only character that remained in the pop subconscious. Other of Doyle’s creations are as well known, including Irene Adler, Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty. An equal match to Holmes’ intellect, Moriarty appeared in the story, “The Adventure of the Final Problem”, published December 1893 in Strand Magazine and with the collection of short stories, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, in the same year. In it, Holmes had already deduced who the Napoleon of Crime was and had plans to arrest him and key members of his gang. Moriarty, though, worked out who was behind all his recent setbacks and promised Holmes mutual destruction if the detective continued to work against him. Holmes sees no problem with that, with a career of detective work behind him that bettered London. The chase is afoot, and Holmes and Moriarty meet again at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. After a fight, both tumble into the Reichenbach Falls, never to be seen again.
Doyle meant for “The Final Solution” to be the last Sherlock Holmes adventure. He was getting tired of writing about the character. Fans, though, demanded more, despite the apparent death. Doyle obliged with The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1902. Professor Moriarity returned in The Valley of Fear, published in 1915 as a lead up to the events in “The Final Solution”.
Moriarty intrigued fans of Sherlock Holmes. Despite having just the two appearances, Moriarty challenged Holmes on a intellectual level, an equal match for the detective where their final meeting resulted in their demise. Not just a villain, but a foil, a nemesis. One that can be expected to appear in an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Even one where the detective is a garden gnome.
When Gnomeo & Juliet was released in 2011, the movie exceeded box office expectations. When a movie does that well, sequels are expected. Since Shakespeare never wrote a Romeo & Juliet: Part II, mostly because the titular characters died in the original play, there’s not much to build from there. However, low-hanging puns are easy to build upon, leading to Sherlock Gnomes. Gnomeo & Juliet managed to hit most of the beats of the Shakespearean play, changing only near the end. Could the creative team do the same with Sherlock Gnomes?
Most of the cast of Gnomeo & Juliet returned, the main exception being Jason Stathem as Tybalt. Joining the cast are Johnny Depp as Sherlock Gnomes, Chiewetel Ejiofor as Dr. Watson, Mary J. Blige as Irene, and Jamie Demitriou as Moriarty. Once again, the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin form the bulk of the soundtrack, with the exception of a piece by Jacques Offenbach. The crew comprised of people from Gnomeo & Juliet who weren’t otherwise busy with other projects.
The movie opens with Sherlock Gnomes and Watson foiling the plans of Moriarty to smash some helpless garden gnomes at the museum. Gnomes and Moriarty have been matching wits for some time, with the villain leaving clues to taunt and test the detective. This time, though, it appears that Moriarty himself is smashed.
Elsewhere, Ms Montague and Mr. Capulet move together from 2B and Not 2B Verona Drive in Stratford-upon-Avon to a brownstone on Baker Street in London. The garden gnomes are put out in the small garden. Once alone, they animate once again. Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith) and Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) announce they will retire once the new garden is properly set up, with Juliet (Emily Blunt) and Gnomeo (James McAvoy) appointed the new gnome leaders. The scene lets audiences familiar with the first movie catch up on the characters, with Benny (Matt Lucas) having his hat repaired between movies. As the garden work goes on, Juliet is spending less time with Gnomeo. Feeling neglected, he decides to go on an adventure to find the flower that brought him and Juliet together in the first place, the purple Cupid’s Arrow Orchid.
Juliet discovers Gnomeo’s foolish adventure and goes out to save his butt. She is not impressed; she wants the garden in top shape. As they argue, they hear Benny call for help. When they return to the garden, the rest of the gnomes have disappeared. However, Gnomes and Watson are on the scene. With very little explanation, Gnomes begins searching for clues on the disappearance, ignoring questions from Gnomeo and Juliet. The detectives find Moriarty’s calling card and leave, with Juliet and Gnomeo on their heels.
Gnomes may not want meddlesome assistants with him, but he’s stuck with the newcomers. The clues lead through London, meeting a variety of ornaments from Chinatown to a toy store where Irene is in charge. All leads to a final encounter with Moriarty, who managed to escape his apparent smashing with just minor, reparable damage, at the Tower Bridge. The final battle sees Sherlock and Moriarty fighting then falling from the Bridge much like the illustration shown at the beginning of the movie.
Sherlock Gnomes takes a few liberties with “The Final Solution”, though the movie isn’t really an adaptation of the story, just the characters in it. Still, key beats from the story show up, such as Gnomes travelling to various locations to keep a step ahead of Moriarty. Much like Holmes, Sherlock Gnomes is brusque and lacking in social skills. In the literature, Watson acts as the filter between Holmes and the reader. In the movie, Watson fills the same role, not just to the audience but also with the gnomes the two meet. Gnomes is also a master of disguise, much like his progenitor, including disguising himself and Juliet as a squirrel in order to retrieve one of Moriarty’s calling card from the cutest Hound of the Baskervilles to be on screen. Being a family film, Sherlock Gnomes elides Holmes’ addictions, though as a garden gnome, it’d be hard to show his heroin habit.
The movie borrows an idea from the Robert Downey, Jr. in showing how Sherlock’s thought processes work. Instead of slowing down the action, Sherlock Gnomes uses black and white animation, showing how the detective works out problems. The processes aren’t that easy to understand, being meant more for comedy than actual problem solving tips. Gnomes also has Holmes’ eye for detail and observation, able to tell that Gnomeo and Juliet are having a lovers’ quarrel within seconds of meeting them.
With the basic premise of telling an adventure of Sherlock Holmes as a garden gnome, the movie could have taken an easy route of having just a gnome that looks like Holmes solve a mystery set to the music of Elton John and be done with it. Instead, Sherlock Gnomes brings in Holmes as he is in Doyle’s stories, intelligent, arrogant, and dismissive, and still highlights what would have been his last adventure if Doyle had his way while turning the character into a ceramic ornament. Gnomeo & Juliet demonstrated that the creative team could keep to the beats of a tragedy while still making a feature for the entire family. Sherlock Gnomes follows in the same footsteps.
DC Comics has its triumvirate – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Superman has had many adaptations on radio, television, and film, the latter two both live action and animated. Batman hasn’t had as many over the character’s existence, but has picked up on the number of film adaptations over the past two decades. Wonder Woman, not so much. The character had her own TV series in the Seventies and has appeared in the various DC-based cartoons featuring a full team of heroes, but her solo appearances are lacking compared to the other two in the Big Three.
Created by William Moulton Marston, who also developed the lie detector, Wonder Woman was to offset the more violent titles. Instead of beating her opponents into defeat, she’d use the power of love to change their ways, using her version of the lie detector, the Lasso of Truth, to rehabilitate them. Since her debut in 1941, her approach has changed, becoming an Amazon warrior, willing to take the steps that Superman and Batman would not.
Over the past ten years, DC’s domination of superhero moves have waned as Marvel Studios finally figured out how to make interesting movies. Marvel’s approach to The Avengers movies forced DC to accelerate their Justice League titles. The problem that Warner has right now, though, is that all of the DC-based movies look like the Batman films. While that approach works for the character*, it didn’t with Man of Steel or Batman vs Superman, turning both into colourless messes.
After a few fits and starts, Warner finally had a Wonder Woman movie released in 2017. Directed by Patty Jenkins, the film was the top grossing superhero film for the year and finished behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the live-action Beauty and the Beast overall. Even Justice League only wound up tenth. Turns out, representation is key. Wonder Woman is a feminist icon; the character is the best known superheroine, able to bring in an audience that normally wouldn’t consider a capes-and-spandex movie.
The movie opens briefly in the present with a voice over narration by Diana (Gal Gadot) about the problems of the world. A Wayne Foundation armoured truck delivers a briefcase to her. Inside are a photo of Wonder Woman standing with several men in a wartorn town and a note, triggering a flashback to Diana’s days as a child on Themiscyra. Diana is the only child (played by Lilly Aspell) among the Amazons, having been fashioned by clay by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and has no mind for studies, instead wanting to watch the Amazons train. While the Amazons are hidden, they are prepared for the day when Ares tries to destroy mankind and the world again. To prevent that end, Zeus left a weapon capable of killing a god on the island.
As Diana grows older (now played by Emily Carey), she convinces her mother to let her train. Diana’s aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright) pushes her past her limits, working the girl to be the best she can. As a full grown woman, Diana is capable of standing her own against several Amazons at once, but when Antiope pushes to far, something inside Diana pushes back, sending Antiope flying. Diana walks away to brood over what happened. As she does so, a German plane crashes off the coast.
Diana rescues the young pilot, unaware that a German warship has sent several boats to retrieve him. The Germans pierce through the veil that surrounds Themiscyra and land on the beaches. The Amazons fight the invasion, but swords, spears, and arrows can only do so much against trained soldiers with rifles. The Amazons win, but at a cost.
The young pilot is interrogated with the Lasso of Hestia, compelling him to give his name, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and his mission, an American officer working for British intelligence as a spy. He discovered German General Ludendorf (Danny Huston) and Dr. Isabella Maru (Elena Anaya) in the Ottoman Empire creating new weapons, including poison gas, to fight the Allies in the Great War. Diana insists on going off to fight, suspecting Ares behind the war, but her mother denies her. Undaunted, Diana breaks into the tower holding the god-killer sword. She takes it, the Lasso of Hestia, a shield, and the costume. Dressed and armed, she takes Steve to a small harbour. Her mother arrives, not to stop her, but to say goodbye, giving Diana Entiope’s circlet to wear. The parting is bittersweet.
London is a confusing whirlwind for Diana. So many new sights, sounds, and smells. Steve takes her to get appropriate clothes, with the help of his secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). After a few hours and many outfits tried, Diana gets an outfit that’s slightly less conspicuous. Leaving the store, Steve and Diana are followed by German spies. They confront the Germans in an alley, where Diana shows how effective she can be.
At Allied HQ, Steve gives over Dr. Maru’s notebook. Diana is able to decrypt it, understanding the languages used. However, she’s learning that in man’s world, women aren’t listened to. Diana goes off on the assembled generals, who have denied Steve’s request to track the General to Belgium. Steve pulls her out, explaining that he is going anyway, only convincing her after using the Lasso on himself. He makes a stop to pick up reinforcements, con man Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and smuggler The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).
On the way to find Ludendorf, Diana leads an impromtu charge through No Man’s Land, clearing a path for the British troops to follow while reducing the German defences. She continues through to liberate the village of Veld, with assistance from Steve and his men. Diana is getting a harsh lesson in modern warfare, seeing the damage wrought to people and their lives.
The team tracks Ludendorf to German High Command. The General, opposed to the Armistice, had killed the rest of the Command with his new gas. The gathering at High Command is a show, one put on to demonstrate the new weapon by using Veld. Angered, Diana finds her own way into the aerodrome where Ludendorf is stockpiling the gas and begins her attack. The final battle of the film is one for Diana’s heart.
There were changes made to the character as created in 1941. The biggest is moving the date of Diana’s first appearance in the setting. When Wonder Woman was first published, World War II was an ongoing war, appearing in newspaper headlines daily. The US hadn’t yet formally joined the war, but was supplying the Allies supplies while trying to appear neutral. Comics of the time gained a secondary purpose, propaganda, so naturally, Wonder Woman fought Nazis. With the war now part of history and using Ares as the film’s villain, moving the setting to World War I made sense. World War I, also known as the Great War and the War to End All Wars, saw casualties in the millions, saw technological advancements that outstripped defenses, and saw an entire generation reduced in four years. Showing Ares having a hand in creating that War works in the context of the film. The movie didn’t show all the horrors of the war, but did show enough to give the audience an idea of the nature of warfare.
Gal Gadot as Diana worked well. She looks like the character, which is critical when adapting from a comic book. Appearances are everything. There were a few times in the film where Gadot’s appearance called back to Lynda Carter’s turn as Wonder Woman in the Seventies. While the movie was far more serious than the show, the portrayals aren’t that much different. Both find that they are fighting with the Power of Love. Chris Pine isn’t necessarily Lyle Waggoner, but he does bring charm to the role of Steve Trevor. Lucy Davis’ Etta Candy also harkens back to the comic and the first season of the TV series. Etta is there as contrast to Diana, but even she has her moments of heroism. Moving the time didn’t change the characters; they adapted well.
Wonder Woman is an origins story. Unlike Batman and Superman, Diana’s origins don’t leave her passive. She defies her mother and trains then leaves Themiscyra. Diana explores the world of men and carves out her piece of it. She is a warrior, but one who fights for love. The movie explores how she came to that decision.
The movie managed to add something that, until then, was missing from the DC adaptations – humour. The levity came from character moments, usually between Diana and Steve, typically centering around the different cultural attitudes about sex. Diana is well read about the subject and the Amazons are open and honest with each other. Steve, though, is coming from an American upbringing that has far more hangups than today.
Wonder Woman despite the changes, does keep to the nature of the character and the comics. Changes that were made help with the story without really taking away from the character. Diana is still Diana, warrior and defender of mankind. She is still recognizable on the screen in costume or regular clothes.
* To quote Batman from The LEGO Movie, “I only use black. And sometimes very, very dark gray.“
Apologies. Life got hectic and I wasn’t able to prepare a proper column. Lost in Translation will return last week.
Lost in Translation has looked at Jem and the Holograms before. The original cartoon was based on Hasbro’s line of dolls developed to challenge Mattel’s Barbie. The cartoon was popular but failed in its primary mission, selling the doll line. The 2015 film revival faltered at the box office because fans were expecting the cartoon. IDW picked up the Jem license for an ongoing series of comics beginning in 2014, leaning heavily on the cartoon as a base but going its own direction.
Lost in Translation has also looked at fan works before. Fan works can be variable in quality, but the common theme is that they’re made by fans. Fans will get into the minutiae about what they’re fanatical about, and may know the work possibly better than the creators. With the cost of recording technology coming down far enough to let anyone with a mind to creating a video do so, fan works are getting more common.
The video takes the form of a live-action version of the 80s cartoon, including a bumper halfway through where a commercial break would be, but mixes in some of the ideas from the IDW comic. The characters’ appearances are based on the cartoon, with an eye to the wigs and costumes seen there. Almost every major character from the cartoon makes an appearance, including the Limp Lizards. It’s obvious that Feldman was and is a fan of the series.
The plot would fit in after the series if slightly overblown. Jem and the Holograms are still big in the music world, garnering attention for their latest efforts to raise funds for the Starlight Foundation. Eric Raymond, though, has hit rock bottom. His schemes have failed. The Misfits are in prison. There’s nowhere for them to go. In a nod to IDW’s continuity, Stormer really misses Kimber and isn’t doing well in prison. But Kevin, who is totally an American, really, has information that will help Eric and the Misfits turn their fortunes around.
It’s not just the attention to detail in the characters, though. “Truly Outrageous!” includes several songs that reflect not just the plot but how the characters are feeling. There’s also the required morale of the story, the bits needed in the 80s to qualify what would be thirty minute toy ads as educational programming. The morale is a little heavy-handed, but that appeared in the original cartoon, too. The film is well aware of what it is, and even winks at the fourth wall to let the audience in on the fun.
The result is a video that pays homage to the original cartoon, taking the ideas shown there and expanding on them. “Truly Outrageous!” is definitely Jem.
Lost in Translation has looked at a couple of Batman adaptations in the past, one for the Fluxx card game and once for the Adam West series. Created by Bob Kane, the character has been around since 1939, with his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, and has gone through many iterations, from World’s Greatest Detective to the always prepared Bat-god. Batman is one of DC Comics’ Big Three alongside Superman and Wonder Woman. Naturally, a popular character will be noticed by Hollywood, leading to Batman’s first silver screen appearance, the 1943 fifteen-chapter serial Batman, starring Lewis Wilson as Bruce Wayne, Douglas Croft as Dick Grayson, Shirley Patterson as Linda Page, William Austin as Alfred, and J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Tito Daka.
The US in 1943 had just entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December of the previous year. The United States had maintained official neutrality despite sending materiel to the Allied Forces in Europe until the bombing. After the attack, the American war effort redoubled. Propaganda produced during the war wasn`t subtle. Even such notables as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney weren’t above making unflattering caricatures of Axis leaders. Serials, being a way to pull in an audience to the movie theatre, took advantage.
The 1943 Batman serial is a product of its time. The villain, Daka who was created for the serial, is a racist stereotype, plotting against the US. In the first chapter, “The Electrical Brain”, the narrator all but cheers the decision to place Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Even Batman calls Daka a “Jap”. The racism isn’t always front and centre, but it lurks under the surface.
That said, the war does provide the villain a motive. Daka has a new weapon, a radium-powered disintegration ray. Coupled with a device that turns people into his own controlled zombies, Daka is a credible threat to the US. Worse, Daka is getting help from the criminal element in Gotham City. Needing help, the American government calls in secret agent Batman who brings along his youthful sidekick Robin to find and stop the Japanese agent.
Each step of the investigation in each chapter of the serial brings Batman and Robin closer to Daka. Criminal lairs are found, crooks are defeated, all leading up to finding Daka’s lab. Daka, though, needs a larger source of radium. Despite losing one of the ray guns to Batman, Daka has extras, larger models, and a source of radium to power them would let Japan bring the war to the US. Complicating matters, Bruce’s girlfriend, Linda, needs his help to clear her uncle’s good name. Daka kidnapped her uncle and turned him into a mind-controlled zombie. Worse, Linda also suffers the same fate. It’s up to Batman and Robin to stop Daka and help his zombified victims.
Lewis Wilson’s Batman is nothing like Adam West’s, Kevin Conroy’s, or Christian Bale’s. His is a detective first, not a martial artist. Criminals are afraid of him, but will attack him if the odds are in their favour, around three-to-one or better. Douglas Croft’s Robin, though, is the youthful ward, similar to Burt Ward in the 1966 series. The Dynamic Duo of the serial reflects the Batman and Robin of the comics of the time, with some changes imposed by the change in format.
As mentioned above, Batman is a secret agent working for the US government. Vigilantism wasn’t allowed by film censors of the the day. No taking the law into your own hands. But government agents fighting against the Axis threat? Perfectly fine. The line comes up once in the first chapter; for the rest of the serial, there’s no mention of the government connection. The Gotham City Police Department aren’t sure of Batman, wanting to arrest him.
Serials have limited budgets. They’re backup features, not the main draw, though a popular serial can bring an audience back week after week. Columbia, the studio behind Batman, took a risk and had it run fifteen chapters, the longest serial they had to date. This meant stretching a budget a bit longer than normal, even if the budget is bigger overall. This means that some elements need to get dropped. The Batmobile was once such victim. While Batman had a car, he had to share with Bruce Wayne. The difference – Bruce had the top down on his convertible while Batman kept the roof up.
The costumes are recognizably the Dynamic Duo’s. While black and white film doesn’t allow for checking that the colours are correct, both Batman and Robin and wearing costumes that come from their comic counterparts. Spandex isn’t yet available, and fabrics like nylon are being rationed due to the needs of the American armed forces. Batman’s costume starts looking a little baggy at times; chalk that up to the nature of the times. Despite that, the costumes are accurate.
The serial looks off when compared to today’s Batman media – comics, cartoons, and movies – but there isn’t a way to adapt a work that hasn’t yet been made. Batman works with the material DC released up to 1943 and reflects that time in both the US and the character’s history.
As mentioned during the History of Adaptations series, the Eighties were a strange decade for entertainment. Music videos entered their hey day. Music ran the gamut of genres. From New Wave to Heavy Metal, from Rockabilly to Hip Hop, Top 40 charts had a mix of them all.
Popular music filtered into other areas. Television shows, while never one to discount pop music, adopted more as characters listened to their radios. This wasn’t new; even older series like Peter Gunn worked in music. In the case of Peter Gunn, jazz music at a jazz club where some of the action occurred weekly was a natural fit. But most shows used a variation of their theme song for background music when a radio wasn’t in the scene. That changed thanks to one show, Miami Vice.
In 1984, the head of NBC wanted to get in on the popularity of music videos, not just the videos themselves but the esthetics. To this end, Anthony Yerkovic created and Michael Mann produced Miami Vice. Set in, naturally, Miami, the look reflected the scene there, with pastels and neons dominating. However, for the focus of the show, the nascent War on Drugs came into play. Miami was and is a natural port for bringing in illicit and illegal drugs from Central and South America into the US. Drug dealers and drug smugglers could make in a week as much as a vice cop made in a year*. The difference between what a vice detective could live on and the high life of people in the illegal drug industry made for a easily exploitable conflict.
With Don Johnson as Miami native Detective James “Sonny” Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as New York transplant Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, the series delved into the Miami underground, the seamier side of the city. However, Crockett is seen with a boat, a fancy car, and an alligator. How can he afford that on his salary? Thanks to the War on Drugs, civil forfeiture and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 allowed law enforcement agencies to make use of items impounded as a result of a criminal investigation. Crockett’s boat and car belong to the Metro-Dade Police Department; one early episode involved an departmental auditor questioning his use of the equipment and threatening to take it all away.
Once the early episode oddities, including comedic elements, settled down, the series became a police drama. Popular music was used not just for radio but as background music, to set the mood of a scene. The pilot episode made good use of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight“, setting the mood for the climax in a way that a variation of the main theme couldn’t. One song, Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues“, was adapted into the episode of the same name, with Frey himself guest starring as a pilot smuggling drugs from Central and South America.
Miami Vice made its mark on television, lasting until 1989. Other series began to use techniques pioneered by the show, like using popular music to set the mood of a scene. Many singers and groups got a boost by being featured on the show. Having a song on Miami Vice was a sign of a singer making it big. Anytime a visual cue to the Eighties is needed in a movie or TV show, the fashion comes from Miami Vice.
Fast forward a bit to 2006. The War on Drugs has led to the militarization of American police departments. Drug dealers countered by getting their own heavier weapons. Miami is still a conduit for drugs into the US. Illicit drugs are big money makers at all levels. In this climate, Michael Mann brought Miami Vice to the big screen. The film version of the show starred Colin Farrell as Crocket and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs.
The film opens with Crockett and Tubbs getting a call from a former informant, now informing for the FBI, that he’s in trouble. One of the cartels threatened to kill the informant’s wife if he didn’t confess to the killing of Russian agents that tried to infiltrate the organization. Tubbs races off to try to help the wife, but is too late. The informant takes his own life by stepping out in front of a semi with Crockett watching. The detectives head to the murder scene, only to be called off by Lieutenant Castillo (Barry Shabaka Henley), which just piques their curiosity. The investigation leads to Crockett and Tubbs infiltrating the cartel to find who was responsible.
The movie version could fit in as a two-part episode of the original series, or a series of episodes spread out over the series’ run, much like the Calderone saga, which began in the pilot and appeared through to the third season. The difference is what could be filmed. Even in the watershed time slot of 10pm, television can only go so far. The MPAA rating of R allowed for sex, violence, and language that could not appear on even the most lenient broadcaster in the Eighties. However, the movie didn’t get self-indulgent with the freedom the rating provided. Michael Mann had a distinct vision in mind.
Mann realized there was a difference in how digital cameras picked up light compared to traditional film. Knowing the difference, he came in with an eye to how things would look when shot on location. The result is that Miami can be dramatic all on its own, with colours that would put the original series’ pastels to shame. The skies above the city added to the mood in ways even the soundtrack could not, and there was no way to plan for such ideal conditions yet they occurred. Mann shot on location; there was no way Vancouver or Toronto could be a stunt double for Miami.
Casting worked for the most part. The main quibble would be Henley as Lt. Martin Castillo, a role that Edward James Olmos owned. In the original, in a squad wearing pastels, Castillo wore simple black and white. He stood apart from his detectives. Henley’s Castillo may have been better as Gregory Sierra’s Lt. Lou Rodriguez, though that character survived only four episodes. This is more to the credit of Olmos, who brought an intensity to the character, then anything that Hanley did or did not do.
One thing Mann wanted to do was to separate the film from the original. Not even the original theme made an appearance. However, one song made a return. Mann used a cover of “In the Air Tonight” performed by Nonpoint. In the film released to theatres, the song is played over the end credits. However, the director’s cut moves it to just before the climax, where it fits in to set the mood of the characters, much like how the original Collins version of the song did.
The movie made its budget thanks to the international release. It came out strong in 2006, bumping Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest out of the top spot at the box office, but faded away. The film was an update to the TV series, moving it to then-modern times where the War on Drugs was entrenched. However, the movie is now becoming a cult favourite thanks to Mann’s cinematography. It’s not the TV series from the Eighties because it wasn’t made in the Eighties, it was made with the sensitivities of 2006.
* This was an issue during Prohibition in the Roaring Twenties. The high rate of corruption among Prohibition agents came about because bootleggers could slip them $50 or $100 and not feel the loss while giving the agents a large bonus. Eliot Ness and his team were called the Untouchables because they weren’t susceptible to bribes, making them rare agents.