Two announcements got the hackles of fans riled up this past week. First, NBCUniversal announced a new Battlestar Galactica series for their new streaming service, Peacock. The other was a remake of The Princess Bride, via Variety.
Let’s start with the latter. Norman Lear, who produced The Princess Bride, is still active and has a vast library of works that he’s considering for remakes. The new One Day At a Time is just the beginning. However, Variety’s story says that there are people who want to remake the movie, not that there is a remake coming. However, the backlash already from the potential remake shows how fraught adaptation can be. The Princess Bride was released in 1987, over thirty years ago. Thirty years is about how long it used to be between remakes. The difference today is that the originals or most loved versions can be found on DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming, and reruns. The Princess Bride is also a beloved film; it touches the heart while being a fond parody of fantasy. When a fan wants to watch The Princess Bride, it’s not difficult to find the original and introduce new people to the movie. A remake doesn’t have a reason to exist.
Which brings us to the new Battlestar Galactica series. The most recent reboot series ran from 2004 to 2010, so not even out of recent memory. That series came about 25 years after the original first aired, again, a generation later. The 2004 series was a critical success, with tight writing and characters who were far too human. The problem is that a new /Galactica/ series is coming far too soon. The intended audience still remembers watching the 2004 series first run.
Between the two, though, other remakes slipped through the cracks, showing the fandom of The Princess Bride and Battlestar Galactica. Other series being remade for the Peacock streaming service include Saved By the Bell and Punky Brewster. Normal Lear is closer to a remake of Maude than a remake of The Princess Bride. The backlash about those three series being remade is non-existent. All three are at least thirty years old and not on a constant stream of reruns. Maybe the lesson here is to avoid the hugely popular series and movies when looking to remake something and go right for something that is known but not familiar. Doing so will give room to make adjustments for the progress of history.
No new column today. Feel free to explore past entries, including this post on expanded universes.
A while back, Lost in Translation looked at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux’ Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. Webber had gone back to the original novel while composing the Broadway hit, but this wasn’t the first adaptation. The Phantom of the Opera had been adapted twice before in film, and combined with Faust in a third. Today, a look at the second adaptation, 1943’s Phantom of the Opera with Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, and Claude Rains as the Phantom.
The Leroux novel featured a man torn apart by obsessive love, a woman torn between her passion for singing and her love for fiancé, and a young man devoted to his fiancée’s well being. Erik, the Phantom, sees Christine Daaé as a brilliant diva and stops at nothing to put her up on centre stage. Christine sees the Phantom as her Angel of Music, the one mentoring her and giving her the ability to become a lead singer. Raoul is worried about Christine’s health, as she pours all of herself into becoming the best diva in Paris. The end is tragic, with Erik dead and Raoul and Christine lost after a flood in the Parisien sewers.
With the World War II still going on and the US now joining in on two fronts, the War in Europe and the War in the Pacific, audiences States-side were looking for entertainment to distract themselves from what was happening overseas. Film had become the special event out, replacing theatre. Radio gave people something to listen to nightly, but the movies didn’t have real life interrupting with breaking news. Movie stars were larger than life, with gossip pages tracking their comings and goings. Spectacles became popular, a way to see something beyond the mundane.
Phantom of the Opera strove to do that. The movie opens with an opera, with barotone Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) as the leading man and Biancarolli (Jane Farrar) as the leading woman. Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster) is part of the chorus, though she dreams of being more. Off in the wings, Inspector Raoul Dubert (Edgar Barrier), keeps watch, mostly on Christine. In the orchestra pit, violinist Erique Claudin (Claude Rains), is having problems as decades of playing the violin have resulted in a carpal tunnel injury. Erique, though, has his own dreams. He has a concerto that he wants published, and he sees Christine as the leading lady in it.
Erique’s personal life is in a similar shape as his hand. He has no money for rent, having used it to anonymously pay for singing lessons for Christine. The conductor has noticed that Erique can’t play as well as he used to and releases him from the orchestra with a small pension. And the concerto he wrote and submitted for publication has gone missing at the publisher’s office.
Seeing his life and dreams sinking, he starts tearing apart the publisher’s office to try to find his presumably rejected concerto. As he does so, Erique hears Franz Liszt (Fritz Lieber, not the science fiction writer but his father) playing the concerto. Without the context – that Liszt believes that the concerto is worth publishing – Erique snaps. He attacks the publisher, choking him to death. The publisher’s assistant has no choice but to toss a pan of acid at Erique, burning his face. Erique flees into the sewers.
Meanwhile, Christine has to deal with two would-be suitors, Anatole and Raoul. The two are both smitten with her and try to compete for her attention. Christine, though, is more interested in her singing career. Duty calls Raoul away; the opera house has noticed that some items have been stolen, including a cloak and some prop masks. The mask lets Erique hide his disfigurement away as he skulks through the opera house, taking advantage of superstition. Anything that goes wrong is blamed on the Phantom.
The next show, Biancarolli is again the leading lady, but the wine she drinks on stage has been drugged. She falls unconscious backstage, giving Christine her big break. Taking over Biancarolli’s role, Christine wows the audience. Biancarolli recovers near the end and hears Christine. Afterwards, she accuses Christine and Anatole of drugging her and demands Raoul arrest them both. Raoul refuses due to lack of evidence. Biancarolli insists then that the critics not mention Christine in their reivews. That earns her a visit from the Phantom the next night, leaving her and her maid dead.
The opera house shuts down as the police investigate. After the owners of the opera receive a note demanding Christine replace Biancarolli, Raoul comes up with an idea to trap the Phantom. An opera will be performed, but not with Christine in the lead. As well, since the opera requires the performers to wear masks until the end, Raoul will have his men, also masked, among the singers. Once the opera is done, Liszt will play Erique’s concerto to draw the man out.
Erique, though, is a few steps ahead. He kills one of police officers, taking his mask and robe. Erique then heads up to the dome and, under the cover of the opera, cuts through the chains holding the chandelier up. Once the chandelier crashes down, the Phantom joins the throng and pulls Christine away. He leads her through the sewers, past a lake, to a chamber under the opera house. It’s dark, but he can hear the music coming from above, away from everyone else.
On the surface, Raoul and Anatole realize that Christine has disappeared. As they race off to find her, Liszt continues with the plan to play the concerto. Erique hears it and starts to play along on his piano. He encourages Christine to sing, as he based the music off a folk song she loves. The music from the sewers helps Raoul and Anatole find Christine. They arrive to find that she has unmasked the Phantom. A stray shot brings down the sewers on top of Erique. Raoul, Anatole, and Christine escape with their lives.
There were many changes to Leroux’s novel in the film. The addition of Anatole, the changing of some names, such as Christine’s last name and Carlotta to Biancarolli, and Raoul’s profession and demeanor. However, the biggest change was in the focus. While /Phantom of the Opera/ is considered to be one of Universal’s horror films, the movie is more focused on Christine, not the Phantom.
The movie is definitely a spectacle, with lavish costumes, especially for the operas performed. Having Nelson Eddy as a lead means giving him time to sing, so some focus is spent on that. Where the novel has the focus on the Phantom to the point where even if he’s not in a scene, his shadow hangs over it, the movie separates the Phantom from the rest of the cast. He’s not so much a figure of horror as a mystery to be solved. There is as much time spent on Christine and her love triangle as there is on Erique. The operas also take up time from the film, turning it into a musical. Unlike Webber’s musical, the operas aren’t necessarily plot-related. They’d be background if less time was spent on them.
The movie still pulls beats from the novel. The Phantom does take refuge in the Parisien sewers, there is a chandelier that drops, there is a lake that the Phantom takes Christine near. The diva is still jealous and protective of her position. But the feel is off. While Erique does kill several people, there is no feeling of horror. While Erique has slipped past the threshold of madness, with the focus off him, he’s just a danger to Christine, not a figure to pity.
Phantom of the Opera is almost an in-name-only adaptation. It takes the plot and the trappings, but changes the focus away from the title character. The movie spends far more time on the opera and on Christine without showing that Erique’s love for her is obsessive and possessive. The story gets watered down and Claude Rains is wasted in the role of the Phantom.
Superman is the first and best known superhero, creating the genre in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Since then, there have been many stories written about the Last Son of Krypton, leading to the character being adapted to radio, television, film, and books. Today, a look at the first Superman feature film, 1951’s Superman and the Mole Men.
Prior to 1951, there had been theatrical Superman releases, but they were serials run before the main feature, much like the 1943 Batman series. /Superman and the Mole Men/ was a low budget film, not quite running an hour. The movie starred George Reeves as Clark Kent and Superman, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, Walter Reed as Bill Corrigan, Ray Walker as John Craig, and Jeff Dorey as Luke Benson. Reeves and Coates would go on to reprise their roles in Adventures of Superman, Reeves for the entire run and Coates for just the first season. The popularity of the series made getting other roles difficult for them both, being typecast as Clark and Lois.
The movie begins with Clark and Lois arriving in the town of Silsby, population 1430 and home to the the world’s deepest oil well. The well is the draw for the Daily Planet’s top reporters, but they discover that the well is being shut down. Corrigan, the foreman, isn’t forthcoming on why, not to Lois and Clark, not to company PR rep John Craig, and not to his workers, who are wondering why the expensive tools are being buried. Lois feels like the trip is a waste. Clark feels there’s another story brewing. Corrigan isn’t forthcoming, though.
That night, while the visitors from Metropolis are at the Silsby Hotel, a second set of visitors arrives, coming up from the sealed well. Short, mishapen, they skulk around, eventually finding their way to the seventy-year-old security guard. The guard is found the next morning, dead. A doctor called in rules that he died of a heart attack. Given his age, it’s a reasonable call, except Clark notices that the guard’s tangerines are glowing, and the bag they came in is halfway across the room.
Clark pushes Corrigan on why the well is being closed. Corrigan comes clean; the well is deep, about six miles deep. The company kept going after finding a pocket of natural gas, hoping to find an oil gusher. Instead, the drill brought up goo that glows in the dark. Without a Geiger counter, it’s hard to tell if the goo is radioactive radium or just naturally phosphorescent. Corrigan also tells Clark that the drill suddenly hit a hollow pocket at about six miles down.
Alone, Lois starts to place a phone call. She’s interrupted by the visitors from below. The scream alerts Clark and Corrigan, who rush over to see what happened. They find Lois alone, but she describes what she saw. The group returns to Silsby, where news of the Mole Men is travelling like gossip.
Luke Benson isn’t one to let anything terrorize his hometown and will do what it takes to stop the Mole Men, including inciting a near-riot. The Mole Men, though, are peaceful. A young girl sees them and invites them into her room, where they play. It’s only when the girl’s mother comes into the room and sees the Mole Men that the situation turns worse.
The mother’s screams alert the town, and the mob rushes off to go after the creatures. Clark disappears, to Lois’ dismay, but she follows the story and the mob down the street. When she arrives, Superman is already there. The townsfolk, apparently not getting the Daily Planet, reacts badly, and they try to shoot Superman. Benson tries to punch Supes, earning a sore hand in the process. Superman disarms the mob, bending one rifle in half.
The Mole Men flee. Benson and his henchmen take a pack of hounds to try to find them, resulting in a chase across the desert to a reservoir. Superman catches up and warns Benson of what could happen. The Mole Men may be radioactive and if they fall into the reservoir, they will pollute the town’s drinking water. Benson and his cronies ignore the warning. One shoots a Mole Man. In a flash, Superman is off to catch him before he falls into the reservoir. The other Mole Man escapes, for now.
As Superman takes the wounded Mole Man to the hospital, Benson resumes his pursuit of the remaining one. The chase ends at an abandoned shed. The Mole Man is trapped inside as Benson and his cronies set fire to it. The Mole Man escapes and finds his way back to the oil well. He returns the next day with two more Mole Men and a weapon.
At the hospital, a surgeon manages to save the life of the wounded Mole Man, Lois, Corrigan, and Craig catch up to Clark, already at the hospital, though Superman has left again. Corrigan and Craig warn that Benson and the mob are on their way to kill the Mole Man there. Clark dashes out to check on the Mole Man while Lois, Corrigan, and Craig wait up front for the mob. Superman lands in front and stops the mob from entering. Benson slips away and spots the three returning Mole Men, who get the first shot on him. Superman realizes that they are looking for their friend, so brings the wounded one out, then steps in front of the laser to protect Benson.
Given the low budget, the special effects can be expected to be weak. The crew, though, worked around the limitation. Most of Superman’s powers come from superstrength and invulnerability. Superman doesn’t flinch from gunshots. Rubber can be used for the rifle that is meant to be twisted into a pretzel. Superspeed is shown in his reactions, pulling Lois out of the way of a gunshot. Flight gets trickier, but the movie shows Superman running towards the camera and leaping up, then changes to show the view of the ground from his view. The big effect was the moment where Superman swoops in to catch the falling Mole Man; it’s a quick enough scene that it’s over before the wires can be seen.
Effects, though, aren’t the best criteria to judge an adaptation. Comics have a huge advantage; effects are limited to the artist’s imagination and the cost of ink and paint. Reproducing Jack Kirby‘s art in film or television would push computer graphics to the limit even today. Simpler artwork, such as Superman picking up a car, as seen on the cover of Action Comics #1, still requires extra work as a practical effect. The goal is to represent the character to the medium’s best effort.
George Reeves managed to look like both Clark and Superman. While Christopher Reeve showed the transition from mild-mannered Clark to self-confident Superman through a change of posture and voice, Reeves used wardrobe. His Clark wears oversized suits; Superman is thinner but fit. Clark isn’t as mild-mannered in the movie; he takes the lead on the investigation of the well’s closure where Lois is willing to write off the trip as a lost cause.
Personality-wise, Superman is still Superman. In the movie, he made sure that no one was hurt if he could help it. He never threw the first punch. Superman made the discovery that the Mole Men weren’t dangerous except through passive touch. Benson may have been the villain, but Superman wasn’t going to let the Mole Men take their revenge on him. Reeves’ Superman came from the comics of the time and would still be recognizable compared to today’s version.
B-movies don’t get a large budget, so corners have to be cut. Comparing Superman and the Mole Men to today’s big budget movies isn’t fair. However, the B-movie got to the heart of who Superman was, even with the limited time it had. Superman’s origins were skipped over with an narration during the opening credits. The film jumped to its story early and kept the focus on the plot and on Clark/Superman. Superman and the Mole Man was very much a Superman story.
Last week, Lost in Translation took a look at King Kong vs Godzilla, a match up between the giant ape that create the giant monster movie and the walking, breathing warning about atomic power that was inspired by him. Kong, though, has had several remakes, throughout the decades, the most recent being Kong: Skull Island.
One theme missing from King Kong vs Godzilla was the price of obsession. Carl Denham’s push to discover and bring back Kong led to a giant ape rampaging through Manhattan. However, Dunham never really paid the price for his obsession. Kong did. In 1933, horror movies and monster movies didn’t have the distinct types of victims that exist today, but today’s distinctions are a result of the Hays Code and subsequent movie ratings systems.
Today, there are three types of victims in a horror or monster movie, determined by type of victim. The first is the redshirt, whose only role is to allow the monster to demonstrate what it can do. Redshirts are lucky if they even get a name in most films. The second type is the deserving victim, someone who goes out of his or her way to cause others pain and receives a karmic reward via the monster. This victim tends to give sympathy to the monster. The third victim is the sympathetic victim, whose death is meant to get the audience cheering the heroes against the monster. This type of victim tends to have on screen development and is generally a likeable character. While not from a monster movie, Dead Meat from Hot Shots is a prime example, if exaggerated.
Kong: Skull Island was released in 2017 and starred John Goodman as Monarch executive Bill Randa, Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Preston Packard, Tom Hiddleston as ex-SAS member James Conrad, Brie Larson as photographer Mason Weaver, Corey Hawkins as Monarch geologist Houston Brooks, and John C. Reilly as US Army Air Force Lt Hank Marlow. The film moves the time and place of the film, from then-current 1933 in King Kong to just days after the withdrawal of American troops from Viet Nam in 1973. The beginning of the film, though, is in 1944 as the pilots of an American P-51 – Hank Marlow – and a Japanese Zero shoot each other down over an uncharted island. Both survive parachuting down and try to continue their fight on the ground, only to have the fight broken up by the arrival of Kong.
In 1973, Randa and Brooks need to push a senator for funding for an expedition to an island discovered only thanks to satellite photography. Randa needs to get the funding locked in before the war in Viet Nam is over, but the announcement occurs before he can get into the senator’s office. With some brow beating, Randa gets his funding plus a military escort. Col Packard’s helicopter squadron, now available thanks to the ceasefire and withdrawal, is assigned to join the expedition. Randa and Brooks find a tracker, ex-SAS Conrad, who charges far more than expected. Rounding out the crew, photographer Weaver is the last to board the ship.
The captain of the transport ship refuses to go through the electrical storms surrounding Skull Island, so Packard and his squadron fly through it. It’s a rough flight, but once through, the skies are clear and calm. Birds take off at the sound of the choppers. Everything is calm and peaceful except for the helicopters. The team lands to start their respective jobs. The helicopters are carrying seismic charges to determine what lays below the surface and split into two separate flights with a rendezvous point at the north end of the island. The charges are dropped, giving Brooks a good idea of what lies below. As Randa expected, the bedrock has a hollow layer.
The explosions do attract attention. Not all the wildlife on the island is frightened by the the explosions. Instead, one particular part of the wildlife is drawn out to see what is happening and he is not pleased. In most monster movies, military force seldom works unless there is overwhelming firepower. Packard and his squadron do not have overwhelming firepower, though they do hurt Kong. Kong does far more than hurt the squadron. All the helicopters are destroyed and several of Packard’s men are killed. The rest are scattered across the island.
There are two tales of obsession in the movie. The first is Col. Packard’s push to destroy Kong for killing his men. Packard is willing to lose everything he has in his desire for payback. The other tale is Randa’s. Kept a secret until Packard forces Randa to tell it at gunpoint, the Monarch exec was crew on board a US Navy ship in the Pacific during WWII. The ship was destroyed with the official records saying it was enemy action. The photo of the ship Randa carries show otherwise, with rents through the hull like it had been attacked by something with giant claws.
Packard and Randa are with one set of survivors. The second set, including Conrad and Weaver, are sticking to the plan and are trrying to make it to the north end of the island. They find waht looks like an abandoned ruin, which turns out to be not so abandoned. There is a tribe living on the island, who are used to the megafauna that lives there. Kong isn’t the only giant animal; there are also giant water buffalo who are content to leave things in peace. The tribe produces a second surprise, Hank Marlow.
Marlow and the Janapese pilot survived their encounter with Kong, mostly by not shooting him first. Neither had a loaded, working pistol, so they managed to escape and work togther once they found the tribe. The Japanese pilot died six years after crashing on Skull Island, killed by what Marlow calls “skullcrawlers”, giant two limbed lizards. The skullcrawlers live below the ground, in the hollow of the bedrock. The only thing keeping them from bubbling up and spreading like vermin is Kong, the last of his kind.
A third survivor, Jack Chapman, got caught alone. During the war, he was known in the sqaudron for all the letters he wrote to his son, Billy, to the point where his squadmates made fun of him for it. Alone, all he has is his letters to his son to keep him going. Alone, though, there’s nothing he can do when a skullcrawler finds him.
Kong: Skull Island doesn’t bring King Kong to New York. Kong is needed on Skull Island to keep the skullcrawlers in check. The hunt for Kong takes the entire movie, ending in a climactic battle between Kong and the largest of the skullcrawlers. Packard and Randa’s obsessions lead to their deaths, as fitting for deserving victims.
The movie takes its inspiration from films set during the Viet Nam war, including Platoon and Apocalypse Now. Kong is the largest he has been on screen. Instead of stop-motion animation, motion-capture CGI was used, giving the giant ape a more natural movement. The idea of beauty felling the beast didn’t quite make it into the film; while Kong met Weaver, it wasn’t like Kong meeting Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow. Yet that meeting did let Kong know that not every newcomer was out to kill him.
Kong: Skull Island was more focused on the perils of obsession, as seen with Packard and Randa. There’s also some world building going on. Randa and Brooks were researching the Hollow Earth Theory where there is another civilization lurking underneath the surface of the world. Skull Island proves to be a way in, except for the small problem of the megafauna living on and under the island. A post-credits sequence shows that Kong is not the only giant monster around.
The remake takes a different approach, one that reflects not just the time it is set in but the time it was made in. In 1933, explorers sought out new locations and brought back proof, from unusual flora and minerals to living creatures not found anywhere else. Today, concerns about potential ecological devestation caused by removing or introducing a species from an environment can point to specific examples, such as cane toads in Australia. Removing Kong from Skull Island to take him to New York City would cause environmental havoc in both locations, something known in 1973. Keeping the focus on the hunt for Kong, though, covers most of the original movie. While the escape up the Empire State Building is an iconic scene, it’s just the climax of the original Kong.
Kong: Skull Island does take its cues from the original. There is a scene where Kong is caught in old anchor chains during the climactic battle, taken from the 1993 film where Kong is chained on stage. In both the original and the remake, Kong escapes the chains. The sea voyage is cut back in the remake, treated as a montage, so that the film can get to the action on Skull Island sooner. In 2017, King Kong is a known element, so delays in seeing him are going to leave audiences unsatisfied.
The remake builds a new mythology for the original giant monster. Kong isn’t just a giant ape worshipped as a god by a primitive tribe. He is a defender of the island and everything that lives on it, giving the film depth. The original Kong was about the spectacle. Skull Island is about the human condition and ecological dangers, a reflection not of 1933 but of 1973 and of 2017.
Giant monsters are a draw. A staple of B-movies in the Fifties and Sixties, giant monsters allow for the visceral feel of seeing civilization destroyed. They’re more a force of nature than a living being, an unnatural disaster that takes more than just human ingenuity to stop, let alone destroy. But the giant monster had to start somewhere, and that somewhere is 1933’s King Kong.
Kong features the giant ape, hinted at in legend. Starring Fay Wray as aspiring actress Ann Darrow, Robert Armstrong as infamous director Carl Denham, Bruce Cabot as love interest Jack Driscoll, and Frank Reicher as Captain Englehorn, Kong tells the story of one man’s obsession to be the most successful and famous director and one ape’s tragic encounter with beauty. Denham has learned of a mythical being on an uncharted island discovered by a Norwegian freighter and is determined to go and film this creature. When agencies refuse to allow their actresses to talk to him, Denham heads out to do his own talent scouting. He discovers Ann Darrow, a starving actress on a streak of bad luck. He gives her a proposition, which has to reword – she can star in his next blockbuster if she can leave the next morning.
Ann’s appearance onboard the Venture causes some stir. The first mate, Driscoll, doesn’t take immediately for having a woman on board, a superstitious holdover. Denham and his money speak louder for the Captain of the Venture, though. The ship sets off with Ann aboard. Denham has a specific course to be followed, going away from even small chartered islands to the middle of the sea, where a lone island sits. According to what Denham discovered from the Norwegian freighter, the island has a small village on a peninsula, blocked off from the rest of the island by a large wall. Beyond the wall is a god that the villagers worship. Denham believes that whatever this god is will be worth capturing on film for audiences across the world to see.
During the trip, Ann and Jack grow closer to each other. Jack is kept busy on his shifts, but Ann has nothing else to do once Denham is done with his test shots of her. Jack’s beliefs about women on a ship being bad luck lessens.
On the island, Denham takes a small contingent with him to watch the island natives. They arrive in time to see a ritual, where a young woman is being set up to be sacrificed to the island’s god. However, the chieftain (Noble Johnson) sees Denham trying to film. Denham, through Englehorn, tries to parlay with the tribe. The chieftain wants to trade for Ann and is denied. Denham and the crew are forced to leave and go back to the Venture.
The chieftain is not one to be rebuffed. He takes a small group with him to the Venture and kidnaps Ann. When her disappearance is discovered, Denham and Jack take several armed men back to the island, arriving in time to see the island god appear. Kong is smitten by Ann and takes her before Jack can do anything to free her. Jack and Denham give chase, but beyond the wall is an island filled with prehistoric wonders and dangers. Even Kong must fight through these dangerous creatures.
Jack manages to rescue Ann, though only he and Denham survived being beyond the wall. Jack and Ann return to the village with Kong on their heels. The massive doors in the wall aren’t enough to keep the enrage giant ape out. King breaks through and wreaks havoc on the village. With effort, Denham uses large gas grenades to knock out Kong so that he can be secured for the trip back to New York City. Denham isn’t just seeing film revenues; he’s looking at being big on Broadway with the new star attraction, King Kong.
Opening night becomes closing night. Photos by papparazzi anger Kong and the steel restraints he’s in aren’t enough. He grabs Ann again and climbs up various buildings until he finds the tallest around, the Empire State Building. Too far for anyone on the ground to deal with, the US Army Air Corps is called in to send a flight of biplanes to deal with Kong.
Kong is a masterwork of stop-motion animation by Willis O’Brien, who would later mentor Ray Harryhausen. Edits between the stop-motion Ann and the real Fay Wray are seamless. Kong has a presence on screen, as real as the actors around him. King Kong would become the top grossing film of 1933 and Fay Wray became known for her role as Ann Darrow.
Hollywood dominated giant monster movies until the early Sixties, then Japan, on the strength of Godzilla took over. The original Godzilla was a morality play about the dangers of atomic energy and weaponry, with Godzilla destroying Tokyo on a rampage and only stopped through drastic means. Later entries in the films had Godzilla seen as a threat and menance or as the defender of Earth, though not necessarily humanity. Naturally, when there’s two heavyweight kings, people want to see what happens when the clash, thus the 1962 King Kong vs Godzilla.
The film begins with a newscast with a story about an earthquake in the Arctic, breaking apart icebergs. The changes in the currents result in a nuclear submarine being sent to investigate. Meanwhile, the head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), is upset that Tokyo TV’s ratings are abysmal. He learns of the newly discovered Faro Island and its monster and sends Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Fujita (Kenji Sahara) to bring the monster back, whatever it is.
The submarine finds an unusual iceberg, one emitting radiation. It crashes in the the berg, causing it to crack open, revealing Godzilla, frozen since the 1955 movie. Now free, Godzilla destroys the sub with his atomic breath and begins his march towards Japan. On the island, Sakurai and Fujita arrive in time to see a ritual by the native islanders get interrupted by a giant octopus crawling out of the ocean. The village appears to be doomed but the island god, King Kong, arrives to battle the creature. The octopus is sent back to the ocean. After the battle, the villagers set out clay pots filled with the juice of a local red berry, a non-addictive narcotic. Kong drinks from the pots and falls asleep.
Sakurai and Fujita get Kong tied to a raft to be dragged back to Japan by ship. Mr. Tako arrives to check up on his people, and has to be told not to rest on the plunger detonator for the explosives set up on the raft in case Kong wakes up and tries to escape. The ship, though, is stopped by a Japanese Self-Defense Force ship and is ordered to take Kong back to Faro Island. One daikaiju is more than enough, thank you very much.
Godzilla reaches the shores of Hokkaido and lays waste to the country side. The JSDF sends out everything it has – tanks and artillery – but is repulsed with casualties. To try to stop Godzilla, the JSDF sets up a large pit, Kong, though, wakes up and despite the explosives, escapes to reach mainland Japan. He finds Godzilla.
The first meeting in the film is a draw. Kong hurls boulders at Godzilla but is repulsed by his opponent’s atomic breath. Godzilla then goes on to fall into the JSDF’s trap but escapes it unarmed. Tokyo, being in the path of Godzilla’s destruction, is evacuated. Power lines with a million volts are set up in the way to stop Godzilla, but the electricity instead powers Kong. The JSDF manage to stop Kong using a gas made from the same red berries found on Faro Island.
Realizing that the only way to stop a giant monster is with another giant monster, the JSDF flies the sleeping Kong to Mount Fuji, where Godzilla was last seen. In the final battle between the two, Godzilla gets an early edge with his atomic breath. It’s not until Kong is struck by lightning that he has the strength to fight back. The battle results in both falling through a village and landing in the Pacific Ocean. Kong is last seen swimming away, while there is no trace of Godzilla. At best, the battle is a draw, but Japan is safe, for now.
/King Kong vs Godzilla/ exists solely to have the two giants battle each other. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, though some were created just for this movie. Kong’s background is very close to the 1933 movie, with a small island with giant creatures and a small village of humans treating Kong as a god. Godzilla is a threat to Japan, leaving a trail of destruction and is unstoppable by conventional means. The first fight is a technical win for Godzilla; Kong escaped when he realized that he wasn’t able to get past Godzilla’s atomic breath. The film even tosses in a “beauty and the beast” motif for Kong, with the giant ape falling for Sakurai’s sister, Fumiko (Mie Hama). Even with the changes for setting, the film keeps close to the mythology set by King Kong; the giant ape is recognizable.
The biggest change for Kong is that he’s now played by Shoich Hirose instead of being stop-motion animation. Godzilla has always been portrayed by a man in the suit, this time by the original Godzilla actor, Haruo Nakajima. The change means that Kong’s motions are more fluid than stop-motion animation allows. Kong, though, is still recognizable as Kong.
For a movie that is about a battle between the most famous giant monsters, King Kong vs Godzilla takes effort to present Kong’s background faithfully. The change in the nature of the character’s portrayal allows for Kong to throw rocks, leading to a brains versus brawn battle. The end result removes the slow discovery of Kong, but the movie’s purpose wasn’t to re-introduce the character but to get him to Japan for the big fight. In the end, Kong remains king, with the film staying close to his origins, only giving him a boost to deal with Godzilla at the end.
Lost in Translation has noted a few times that television may be the better medium for adapting novels, particularly series of novels. Provided it doesn’t fall victim to poor ratings, the adaptation can take the time needed to present the story at a proper pace instead of trying to cram everything into two to three hours. Let’s take a look at such an adaptation, Syfy’s adaptation of the James SA Corey series of novels, The Expanse.
With Leviathan Wakes published in 2011, The Expanse tells the story about life in the Solar System after being colonized. While Earth is still the birthplace of humanity, Mars and the Asteroid Belt are homes for a large number of people. Things start with relations friendly between the three locations, with a coalition of Earth and Mars treating the Belt as a protectorate. Underneath the friendliness lies friction, not enough to start a war, but enough to take a good excuse to launch one.
Leviathan Wakes is told from two perspectives. One is from the view of James Holden, the executive officer, or XO, of the Canterbury, an ice hauler working between the Belt and Saturn. The other is from Detective Miller’s, a Belter born and raised on Ceres station working for Star Helix, who has the law enforcement contract on the asteroid. The two stories start far apart; but as events happen, they start to intermingle.
Miller’s assignment on Ceres has him and his partner, Havelock, trying to find out what happened to the local organized crime gangs, the griega, as solo operators and young punks muscle in on the action without repercussion. Since the case is stalling out, Miller’s boss gives him, and only him, a new assignment – a missing person to be retrieved who may not want to be retrieved, Julie Mao.
Over on the Canterbury, Holden registers a distress signal, forcing the Cant to respond. He takes engineer Naomi, mechanic Amos, medic Shed, and pilot Alex in a shuttle over to check out the Scopuli. The ship is dead, no power, no life, no bodies, yet still transmitting. The Cant picks up an engine signature, but before Holden can get his crew out of the Scopuli, the unknown ship fires nuclear missiles at the Canterbury, destroying her with all hands except the rescue party.
Leviathan Wakes switches point of view between Holden and Miller. Holden and his crew try to stay alive while getting the blame for starting a war between Mars and the Belt, eventually picking up the Rocinante. Miller gets more obsessed with finding Julie Mao. Both run into senior members of the Outer Planets Alliance, with Holden meeting Fred Johnson and Miller running into Anderson Dawes. The storylines intertwine, as Holden searches for the reason why the Cant was destroyed and Miller gets closer to finding Julie at the cost of his career. On Eros, the two meet. As bad as the storylines were getting when they were apart, they get worse after the meeting. The common element is Julie Mao.
In 2014, Syfy picked up the license for The Expanse and began airing the ten episode first season at the end of 2015. The series stars Steven Strait as Holden, Dominique Tipper as Naomi, Wes Chatham as Amos, Cas Anvar as Alex, and Thomas Jane as Miller. Today is just a look at the first season and how it adapts Leviathan Wakes.
Season one takes its cues from Leviathan Wakes. The events in the book are portrayed on screen. However, the series does away with the having just two perspectives. The story is still split between Holden and Miller, but other details are added in. With a novel, hinting at what’s happening outside the perception of the main characters works. Leviathan Wakes has Holden and Miller on the outside and trying to peer into a complex set of relationships between governments, corporations, and private citizens. Television, though, doesn’t work as well with hinting. Showing what is just mentioned in the background, such as a suicide ramming run by a Belter ice hauler against a Martian warship, adds to the impact. There are many cogs and gears happening behind the story in The Expanse; showing some helps make the setting real, even if it means pulling in details from the other novels and the short stories and novellas.
The series keeps to the pace of the novel. Turns out, ten episodes isn’t enough to adapt the entire novel. Instead of rushing through to cram Leviathan Wakes into one season, the first season ends about midway through the book at a spot that works for a natural end point. It’s a cliffhanger ending, to be sure, but the end point works for the both the story and the season. The characters are in a safe enough spot after everything that has happened, though the main mystery is still not shown.
Season one also keeps the the mix of genres of the novel, a mix of space opera, noir, and horror. The tension remains steady through the series, with things ramping up for the two-part season finale. The depth of the setting is on full display, as the Belt, Mars, and Earth find their reasons to begin hostilities. The TV series keeps the dynamic feel of the setting by showing it beyond what is hinted at in Leviathan Wakes.
The first season of The Expanse shows how television can adapt a novel far better than a movie or even a series of movies. Television allows for the quieter moments, the scenes that are focused on the characters, both of which are heavily used in Leviathan Wakes. Horror works best when the audience’s imagination is allowed to take over; hinting at what’s lurking is better than showing it outright. When the payoff comes, the audience experience the full horror of what’s happening.
The danger of a television adaptation is that it may not be completed. Syfy aired three seasons of The Expanse. Amazon picked up the series for the fourth season coming soon. With A Game of Thrones being a massive hit for HBO, it was only natural for other channels to find their own version. Syfy went with a space opera with political machinations running in the background. However, costs, especially for a series set in space, have a price, and that means the risk of being dropped despite viewership. The Expanse takes a massive story and presents it at a proper pace. The characters are easily recognizable, the setting’s details come through, and the plot is unmarred by the translation to the new medium. With the number of books released, Amazon and whoever comes afterward, has enough to work with for years.
There are movies that are essentially vehicles to showcase the star. It’s not a new phenomenon; the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road to … series of movies are a good example. Unless the star is more than a flash in the pan, the films become forgettable. When the star has true talent, the movie can transcend the purpose of cashing in on the star’s popularity. In the Eighties, Michael J. Fox broke out during the run of Family Ties, becoming a favourite of audiences. During the show’s run from 1982 to 1989, he appeared as a guest star in several other TV series and TV movies before making the jump to the silver screen with Back to the Future.
Fox, though, didn’t rest. The Eighties were an odd time, where the usual game of Follow-the-Leader played by studios didn’t work. Popular works begat backlash works which also become popular. Fox, though, was bankable, with a natural charm that appears throughout his career, and he was willing to work. He followed up Back to the Future with Teen Wolf, also released in 1985.
Teen Wolf is, in short, an Eighties teen comedy, covering all the problems a teenaged boy would have in the decade – trying to deal with puberty, trying to date the popular girl, trying to deal with bullies, trying to be the team star. The twist, though, is that Fox’s character, Scott Howard, is a werewolf.
Scott has the usual problems. He has a crush on Pamela, played by Lorie Griffin, the popular girl dating the star of the rival basketball team, Mick (Mark Arnold). Scott is on his school’s basketball team, the Beavers, but they’re not a great team. The 5’4″ or 163cm tall Scott is the second best player on the Beavers, and he has problems sinking foul shots. Said foul came from Mick, who tends to bully those he sees as lessers. Scott is also oblivious, not recognizing the crush his friend Boof (Susan Ursitti) has for him. As for puberty, Scott is going through a change even his health class couldn’t help him with. Scott’s best friend, Stiles (Jerry Levine), is there to help, sort of.
The changes come slowly, bit by bit. Fingernails turn into claws and back. Eyes glow. In a pile trying to retrieve a loose ball, Scott growls, sending everyone on both teams back. The changes aren’t all a pain. Scott’s basketball game improves. But the inevitable happens and he changes at a game. Instead of mass panic and a riotous mob, the home team cheers because Scott in his wolf form gives the Beavers their first win.
The usual reactions in a werewolf movie – fear, panic, mobs rising up to strike the lycanthrope down – are avoided. Scott is popular. He’s the star basketball player. He can stand up to the people trying to keep him down. And he gets the popular girl. Technically, she gets him, but only for what she can get from him.
As Scott embraces his wolf side, he starts getting an ego to go with his popularity. He starts alienating everyone, Boof, his teammates. His father (James Hampton), though, gives him The Talk, the lesson on being himself. Turns out, Scott was never bitten. His lycanthropy is genetic. His father is a werewolf. In the championship basketball game, Scott leaves the wolf out, playing as himself, and using his head. Mick, in trying to get Scott to wolf-out, fouls out, his fourth foul on Scott. The movie ends as it begins, with Scott having to make a foul shot.
Outside the supernatural element, Teen Wolf is a very typical teen comedy from the decade. Lycanthropy stands in for puberty, and the goal is laughs. If it wasn’t for Michael J. Fox, the movie would be forgotten. Fox’s natural charm carries the film, giving it more exposure than it would’ve had. As a result, the movie spawned a cartoon series in 1986 and a sequel, Teen Wolf Too with Jason Bateman, in 1987. That should’ve been it, but almost thirty years after the movie’s release, MTV produced a TV series based on the movie.
The TV series, also called Teen Wolf, first aired in 2011 and ran six seasons, ending in 2017. Given that the series has a total run time that is two magnitudes longer than the original movie, changes are expected, just to fill the time. Let’s just look at season one, which covers about the same amount of time in-film as the original movie, from the start of the sports season to city championships.
Tyler Posey takes over the Scott role, now called Scott McCall. Instead of basketball, he plays lacrosse, and wants to make the first line. Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) is still Scott’s best friend, but instead of being the party loving slacker of the movie, he’s more a geek. The popular girl is Lydia (Holland Roden) instead of Pamela, and while she plays up the mean girl aspect, she hides an intellect as she manipulates the lacrosse team captain, Jackson (Colton Haynes), for social position. Scott doesn’t have a crush on her; instead, Stiles does, and he sees through her facade. Scott’s love interest is the new girl in town, Allison (Crystal Reed).
The new series uses today’s expectations of urban fantasy and the supernatural, with Scott being bitten by a werewolf to gain the curse. His transformation happens slowly over the first episode, with him suddenly getting better at lacrosse and making the first line. But with better health and agility comes a few other problems, like anger issues, claws, and fangs. Scott also gains the attention of Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin), a werewolf in town trying to find who killed his sister.
Jackson is suspicious of Scott; no one improves that much at lacrosse over the summer. He suspects steroids at first, but digs too deep over the course of the first season. Scott has to juggle his new love life, his friends, Derek, and, new to the series, werewolf hunters. To make matters worse, the leader of the hunters is his new girlfriend’s father (JR Bourne), making the typical problems look tame.
As the season progresses, Scott learns to control his wolf side, tracks down the alpha werewolf who bit him, and finally opens himself to Allison, but several lives are turned upside down along the way. Allison had no idea of her family’s secret until her Aunt Kate (Jill Wagner) shows her. Jackson and Lydia are injured with potentially fatal consequences.
The main difference from movie to TV series is seriousness. The original was a teen comedy. The TV series is a teen drama, but it takes its beats from the movie. The slow reveal of Scott’s abilities, the sports focus in the early part of season one, even the bowling scene from the movie makes an appearance, though altered for who the new characters are. Scott still has his problems, but his ego isn’t one of them. His problems start with typical ones for teenagers, made worse because of his curse. Nothing goes smooth for him. Like Fox’s Scott, Posey’s problems don’t go away when he’s a werewolf.
Season one of Teen Wolf takes the ideas from the movie and brings them to today, with today’s views on urban fantasy and the supernatural. Werewolves are again something the public fears because of the danger they represent. They’re not superstars on the field of play gaining adoration. The TV series is a product of its own time, not of the Eighties, even if it borrows from that decade. The result is the same story, a teenager trying to cope with life and changes, just told in a different way, more serious, with more depth.
Batman, the character, has been around for eighty years since his first appearance in Detective Comics #27. Over that time, he has been in a number of different media, including serials, television, animation, film, and games. The character has been portrayed in a number of ways for 80 years, allowing for a Batman for everyone’s tastes.
Cutting to the chase, one of the more recent adaptations is also a spin-off. The LEGO Batman Movie features the Batman from The LEGO Movie, itself also an adaptation. The LEGO Movie is also a hard movie to follow up on, having not only been entertaining and thought provoking, but also a cinematic way to play with LEGO. Batman in The LEGO movie was both a parody and a kid’s view of the character, dark, gritty, and very, very serious. Will Arnett played the character straight, despite the absurdity, much like Leslie Nielsen in Airplane and Adam West in the 1966 Batman TV series.
The LEGO Movie well enough to garner a sequel and Batman was popular enough to get a spin-off. This time, set in LEGO Gotham, the movie features Batman and characters associated with him. Emmett, Wildstyle, and Unikitty aren’t around; this isn’t their movie. Instead, LEGO Batman has Will Arnett, Michael Cera as Dick Greyson, Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth, and Zack Galifianakis as the Joker. Even the minor characters were voiced by an impressive cast, including Mariah Carey and Billy Dee Williams as Two Face.
LEGO Batman opens with black, like all important movies, followed by the type of music that makes studio execs and parents nervous. Batman even narrates that, then provides a quote that becomes important to the main theme of the movie.
The big opening features the Joker with every villain from Batman’s rogues gallery planting a bomb underneath Gotham City that, if it explodes, would send the city into the endless void beneath the city. The Joker offers Gotham a deal – provide the mayor and Batman, the city goes unexploded. As time ticks down, the mayor arrives, but there’s no sign of Batman, worrying the Joker. However, the master of disguise that Batman is has already arrived, in the form of the mayor. Batman breaks out a new song and proceeds to defeat the A-list, B-list, C-list, and D-list villains, leaving the Joker for last.
All the Joker wanted was for Batman to acknowledge him as his greatest enemy. Batman steadfastly refuses, calling Superman his greatest enemy and saying he needs no one and the Joker means nothing to him. The Joker does get away as Batman dives to defuse the bomb and saves the city once again.
Later that night, Bruce Wayne arrives at James Gordon’s retirement party. Gordon is stepping down as Police Commissioner, allowing his daughter, Barbara, take over the role. Barbara is a graduate of Harvard for Police and has cleaned up cities like Bludhaven through physical abilities and spreadsheets. It’s love at first sight for Bruce, who is so smitten he accidentally adopts Dick Greyson without realizing it. Barbara, though, hasa plan to clean up crime that doesn’t involve Batman.
Joker, meanwhile, enacts his latest plan to get Batman to admit he’s the greatest enemy. All he needs is the Phantom Zone ray. The plan is somewhat convoluted as he surrenders not just himself but every Bat-villain into Barbara’s custody, sending all of the villains to Arkham Asylum. Batman and Barbara both know that the Joker is up to something, but Batman believes the best place to keep him is in the Phantom Zone.
After a theft where Batman uses Dick, now using Robin as a code name, as an expendable minion, steals the projector from Superman”s Fortress of Solitude. Breaking into Arkham is a little more difficult than expected, but Batman sends the Joker to the Phantom Zone. Barbara takes the opportunity to lock Batman and Robin away.
In the Phantom Zone, the Joker gathers several LEGO versions of filmdom’s villains – Sauron, Voldemort, King Kong, Dracula, Godzilla, even “British robots” that like to yell “EXTERMINATE!” With this lot, the Joker will force Batman to admit that they need each other.
The movie is a character study of Batman, using every incarnation of him, comic, cartoon, and film. LEGO Batman makes references to events from the Christopher Nolan movies, the Tim Burton movies, and the Leslie H. Martinson movie. The character is recognizable and covers similar ground, but takes a deeper look into what becoming a loner does to him. LEGO Batman is driven by two things, a desire to keep others feeling what he did when his parents were shot and a desire to not go through those emotions again. It’s when he is forced to confront what he has become that he realizes that he can’t protect his friends, and he needs them.
The LEGO Batman Movie has its “kid playing LEGO” moments, following the style of The LEGO Movie. Many of the sound effects are just the voice actors providing them, such as, “Pew pew pew!” At the same time, the movie has depth that many of the Batman movies don’t get into, such as the effects of fighting crime while dressed as a bat. LEGO Batman isn’t a parody but a pastiche of all previous incarnations, but while treating the plot like an amusement, the psychology of Batman isn’t there for comedy. His motives are examined, his ego and bravado a shield.
Despite, or maybe because of, its origins, The LEGO Batman movie may be the best representation of the character on film. The character, despite being a toy, has depth, as does the Joker. They both have a need that Batman manages to deny for both, and only when he can break past the denial can the city be saved.
Last month, Lost in Translation analyzed the Renault Brazil live action D&D cartoon ad. Turns out, it’s not the only ad to adapt a cartoon. Today, Lost in Translation will look at the potential ads have for adaptation and take a look at another cartoon adapted into a live-action ad.
Let’s start with the actual adaptation, a car ad based on /Wacky Racers/. First airing in 1968, Wacky Races was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that ran for seventeen episodes. Inspirations for the cartoon may have included The Great Race, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. The plot for each episode was simple – ten racers try to get to the finish line. Characterization was done in broad strokes; no one character, with two exceptions, got much screen time. The exceptions were Dick Dastardly and Muttley, who could be considered the stars of the series. Dastardly’s goal was to win, by hook or by crook. Dick Dastardly is so fixated on cheating that he never realizes that his schemes require him to race ahead of the pack to set things up. He could win if he never stops to cheat.
In 2014, French director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet and production company Partizan teamed up to create an ad for Peugeot, a live action version of Wacky Races with the Peugeot 208 added. Clocking in at 1:16, it’s about a tenth of the length of a typical Wacky Races short. Most of the characters from the cartoon are in the ad. Missing, though, are Pat Pending and his Converticar, Rufus Roughcut and Sawtooth in the Buzz Wagon, and Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear in the Arkansas Chug-a-bug. Given the length, the ad would’ve been too busy with those three cars in it.
The ad plays out like a Wacky Races short, with the characters trying to win. Dick Dastardly, naturally, tries to cheat and gets hoist on his own petard yet again. There’s no dialogue; there’s no time for it. Instead, the characters are portrayed through body language. This is where the nature of the original work helps. The characters are broad, so if the look is right, the body language follows. With Dastardly and Muttley, the laughs are critical, and the ad gets those right. The ad works as an adaptation because it gets to the core of the cartoon, the race.
This is where advertising has an edge when it comes to adaptations. Ads have a running time between thirty seconds and two minutes. With time shifting technologies like the VCR and DVR, audiences can fast forward past ads. Advertisers need to make the audience want to stop and watch. Getting the details right will catch the attention of viewers. Getting an adaptation’s look right gets that attention. But that’s just the first step.
A good adaptation gets people talking and sharing links. It’s how both the Renault Brazil and the Peugeot ad got into the sights of Lost in Translation. It’s not just getting the look right, but getting the core right. With Wacky Races, it’s easy enough; the original didn’t have that much depth beyond racing with odd cars and odd characters. But even with a work that has depth, the ad doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting. It just has to resonate enough for viewers to fill in what’s missing. Renault Brazil’s ad did that; it used the D&D cartoon’s popularity in Brazil to fill in the missing details. Miss what makes the original tick, though, and the differences will be jarring. Even if an audience stops zipping through ads to see what’s going on, the right look won’t save a bad adaptation. Worst case, the ad drives away the folks the advertiser was trying to hook.
Here’s where the time limitations help. In longer form adaptations, such as movies, the time available may be too much for the original work to fill without having to add details. In advertising, there may not even be enough time to get everything in. The ad has to cut to the essence. The Renault and the Peugeot ads did just that by getting to the action without wasting time for explanations. The audience fills in the gaps. Viewers unaware of the original work still get a fun ad to watch. The ads have no need for filler.
All adaptations all the time won’t work in advertising. The goal is always to be fresh or fresh enough to draw attention without bringing ridicule to the product being marketed. The more competitive the market, the more creative ads need to get. If every car was marketed through a live-action cartoon, one company would just have to show their cars in a different light to stand out. However, ads do have a good chance of getting an adaptation right because of their limitations. They have to do a lot in the short time allotted.