Minor problems with shipping has delayed getting to The Untouchables with Robert Stack. I had been hoping that it would have showed up sooner, but them’s the breaks. The first entry for The Untouchables will be next week.
This week, though, a look at an idea for remakes. Hat tip to @DiscordianKitty for the idea on Twitter. Her idea, “Instead of remaking great movies, they should remake bad movies based on good stories but did not meet expectations.” The idea has merit. Today, when finding a favourite movie to watch is a matter of checking streaming services, it is the terrible and the unpopular movies that get the short shrift. Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, is never going to be unavailable. It is too much a classic film to let slip into obscurity.
A few ground rules. The big one is that if there is another film in the franchise, the franchise gets excluded. Cult classics also don’t count for the list; they have a charm on their own. B-movies will only be added if they are truly dire; the nature of a B-movie meant it was a backup feature, not the main draw, and didn’t get the attention, budget, or cast a feature would. This holds for direct-to-video films and TV movies; only the most dire will be mentioned. And while Mystery Science Theater 3000 did show cheesy movies, the worst they could find, it’s too easy to list something just because it was featured on the show.
The ten movies that deserve a remake, in reverse order:
10 – Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
I almost left this off the list. Originally based on the John Varley short story of the same name, the movie was made for public television, with a corresponding budget. It will be difficult to bring the gravitas that Raul Julia had, but the story does deserve a second attempt to be brought to film.
9 – Gigli
The only film on ths list I haven’t seen, Gigli suffered from studio interference, wanting to take a dark romantic comedy story and turn it into a star-driven vehicle for Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck to cash in on their tabloid-exploited relationship. The film tanked with word of mouth giving warning about the quality. The original plot may be salvageable and, without studio meddling, could be a decent film, Just don’t re-use the title or turn it into a star vehicle.
8 – The Black Hole
The Black Hole came out in 1979, but harkened back to older science fiction movies, which was the film’s main problem post-Star Wars. Expectations were hard to manage. The movie is really a Gothic horror film with science fiction trappings, something Disney wasn’t going to green light at the time.
7 – Ator the Fighting Eagle
The main issue the movie had was pacing. There was a lot Ator was trying to do and limited time to get everything out. While the movie might be better served as a TV series, it could be remade with an eye on ensuring that the pace is kept moving. Turn it into a series of two or three films if needed.
6 – Battleship
Battleship was several good ideas turned into a mediocre, by-the-numbers slog. The movie’s biggest sin is bringing the USS Missouri in the final quarter. The name of the movie is Battleship; bring in the battleship early.
5 – Howard the Duck
Howard is the only franchise film on the list. I have it here because the Marvel Cinematic Universe has introduced Howard in a post-credit sequence at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. The main issue Howard had was relying on practical effects, though CGI wasn’t a viable option at the time. With today’s rating system, Beverly’s job can remain the same as in the comics. There was a plan for a Howard TV series helmed by Kevin Smith, but that has been cancelled.
4 – Plan 9 From Outer Space
While it is tempting to add more Ed Wood movies to the list, Plan 9 is the one that really qualifies for inclusion here. Plan 9 has several problems, from low budget to Bela Legosi’s death to needing a good editor. There is a nugget of a good idea, but Wood’s imagination could not be matched by his skill or his budget.
3 – Dungeons & Dragons
Wizards riding dragons fighting! Rogues skulking about! What could go wrong? All of it went horribly wrong. The direct-to-DVD sequels were far better, able to meld mechanics and plot. The catch will be to not feel like a D&D inspired by-the-numbers fantasy novel. It’s a fine line to walk.
2 – Super Mario Bros
Don’t just take my word for it; Steven Savage has words on this movie. The movie wastes so much talent and ignores gameplay and even the colours of the iconic characters. A remake that follows the plot of any of the Mario games would be an improvement.
1 – Manos: The Hands of Fate
There is a dark horror film lurking in this minimal budget film that wants to come out, even if it’s as a student film.
Did I miss a movie? Do you disagree with my choices? Please, leave a comment below.
Over the next few weeks, Lost in Translation will be looking at various incarnations of The Untouchables, including two TV series and a feature film. However, each of those can trace back to the real-life Untouchables, a group of agents who took down Al Capone in during Prohibition. The Untouchables, led by Eliot Ness, gained their nickname by turning down sizable bribes. The name also was used for Ness’ autobiography, the 1959 TV series, the 1987 film, and the 1993 TV series.
There is a history lesson to get through first, to set up the era. Prohibition, the banning of alcohol except for very limited uses or, if today’s media existed in the Roaring Twenties, “The War on Alcohol”, ran from January 19, 1920 until December 5, 1933. Instead of just enacting laws, the US went with a Constitutional amendment, the Eighteenth. To enforce the amendment, the Volstead Act was enacted, with Congress overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. The Act banned “intoxicating beverages”, which was further defined as anything having greater than 0.5% alcohol by volume. The restriction included home-brewing of beer but, thanks to the Bureau of Internal Revenue, not home wine making.
The Volstead Act also provided for the creation of the Bureau of Prohibition, a branch of the Treasury Department that was charged to enforce the law. The Bureau of Prohibition was understaffed, with an initial 1500 agents for the entire US, and lacked resources, with a budget of $500 000 (a little under $6.8 million today). There were no initial requirements to become an agent other than be recommended by a Congressman or local politician. Cronies easily slipped into the Bureau.
The lack of budget caused another problem. People weren’t willing to just stop drinking alcohol. Booze is a social lubricant; people enjoy going out for a couple of drinks with friends. Prohibition was brought in because of excesses, but it didn’t take into account the reasons why people drank alcohol. There is a huge difference between having a glass of wine with dinner and polishing off a six-pack in an hour. Since all alcohol, with exceptions for medicinal purposes and home-made wine, was illegal, the only way to get alcohol was to turn to the criminal element. Organized crime saw a massive influx of cash during Prohibition, enough that it was cheaper to pay off a Prohibition Agent with a year’s salary, $3000, to look the other way. Agents were underpaid, at least in the field. Combined with cronies put in by politicians who frequented speakeasies, the Bureau of Prohibition was a bandaid on a sucking chest wound.
Even if a speakeasy was found and closed, the fines involved weren’t enough to dissuade the fined from re-opening elsewhere. The Volstead Act just didn’t go far enough to be a deterrent. There were enough ways around the laws and enough people who didn’t care about the laws to stop the flow of alcohol. Organized crime flourished, allowing men like Al Capone to get rich while controlling cities.
A few things changed because of the corruption and lack of effect the existing laws were having. In 1927, the IRS started investigating tax evasion by mobsters and bootleggers. The IRS didn’t care where the income came from; it just wanted the income declared and taxed. In May, the ruling in the United States v Sullivan ruled that, yes, criminals still had to file tax returns, though the Fifth Amendment allowed for not revealing the source. With this, the IRS created a special unit specifically to go after tax evasion by mobsters.
In 1930, the Bureau of Prohibition was taken from Treasury and placed under the Department of Justice. Prohibition agents were investigating more violent crimes, which fell better under the umbrella of Justice. In Chicago, the US attorney appointed Eliot Ness as Special Agent in Charge of the area. Ness gathered the top agents in Chicago, all of whom were incorruptible and skilled, in order to take down Capone’s mob. After a few attempts at working with the Chicago Police Department on raids that were busts because of corruption in the department, Ness and his team worked alone on raids that did put a dent in Capone’s criminal empire.
Ultimately, Al Capone was arrested for tax evasion. The Volstead Act just could not do justice to everything the mobster did in his career. Capone was tried and convicted of five counts of tax evasion in 1931 and was sentenced to eleven years in prison and a then-record $50 000. Capone’s gang continued without him, but the biggest blow to rumrunners was to come.
In 1933, Utah became the thirty-sixth state to sign off on the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth entirely, ending Prohibition. However, there were some lasting effects. Organized crime got a strong foothold and a large infusion of cash during Prohibition. Corruption among Prohibition agents and local police left both with poor reputations, even if it wasn’t a majority of law enforcement officers involved. Several states ran into problems with revenues; taxes on alcohol funded a number of budgets. The Federal government lost $11 billion in tax revenue and spent another $300 million to enforce Prohibition.
There’s still some holdovers from the era. Cocktails became popular during the time; bartenders added juices, colas, ginger ale, and maple syrup to the bathtub gin they served to hide the taste of the raw alcohol and the impurities from the distilling process. NASCAR has its roots in bootleggers racing each other, even after Prohibition ended. Non-American breweries and distilleries made new in-roads to the US market. At least one brewery, Sleeman Breweries in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, has included its role in provided beer to the US during Prohibition in promotional material.
The stage is now set to review the various versions of The Untouchables, from three different eras. Each review will link back to this if a refresher is needed on the era. If some of what happens seems familiar, remember that some lessons take a long time to learn.
Some interesting announcements came up the past few days that involve remakes/reboots/adaptations. Let’s take a look.
First up, Comedy Central is working with Mike Judge for a new Beavis and Butt-Head series, with two seasons confirmed. Judge will also return as the voice of the titular characters. The deal between Judge and Comedy Central includes possible spin-offs.
Next, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Bill Lawrence are working with MTV to make new episodes of Clone High. The original series ran one season, thirteen episodes, but became a cult hit.
Finally, a potential Groundhog Day TV series is in the works. The series will be based on the movie starring Bill Murray, who played a reporter who was stuck in the same Groundhog Day repeatedly. The movie is now shorthand for any similar plot where a character or group of characters have to relive the same day over and over.
The question, really, is why? Why bring these three works back? Beavis and Butt-Head ran from 1993 to 1997, with a 2011 revival. Clone High ran one season in 1993. Groundhog Day was also released in 1993. That’s roughly 20 years, or one generation. Memories will have faded somewhat, especially with the animated series. Beavis and Butt-Head did have a reputation in its time for being a little much for parents’ groups. Memories fade over time, and 20 years is a lot of time in human years. Two are reboots, bringing back series. Both being animated helps; voice actors may have aged but the characters haven’t. With Groundhog Day, it’s a change of format, though how that will work remains to be seen. Will it be a season of the same episode each week with minor changes? Or will it be more like 24, where audiences will go through the life of a reporter on one day, the same day, season after season? Time will tell.
Unrelated to the above, Derek Kolstad and David Leitch are teaming up to bring the video game My Friend Pedro to TV. Kolstad was the writer for John Wick; Leitch was a co-director of the film. The game itself follows a man’s battle through the underworld at the behest of a sentient banana named Pedro. The game’s launch trailer may give a better idea. Or not.
Two animated series being brought back, a classic movie turned into a TV series, and a live-action TV series of a video game. Sounds about right.
A few weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at Alien Nation and the difference between film and TV. The Alien Nation TV series got into more world building and character development than the original film could, thanks to the time a TV series can provide over a film’s 120 minutes run length. Movie’s main strength is delivering a spectacle bigger than life, but blockbuster leaves little time for introspection. TV has time to spare.
Another science fiction movie and subsequent TV series also shows the difference. The 1990 film, Tremors, spun off into a franchise with four sequels, a prequel, and a TV series. Tremors is a monster movie, inspired by older B-movies, with writing that shows the writers are well aware of what normally happens in such movies. Starring Kevin Bacon as Val McKee, Fred Ward as Earl Bassett, Finn Carter as Rhonda LeBeck, Reba McIntyre as Heather Gummer, and Michael Gross as Burt Gummer, Tremors tells the story about a monster attack on the town of Perfection, Nevada.
As the movie unfolds, Val and Earl discover the existance of a subterranean monster. They rescue geology student Rhonda and return to Perfection to spread the word of the danger. The townsfolk dub the monsters “Graboids” for lack of a better word, but do ask Rhonda about them. She guesses that they are prehistoric, having never appeared in the fossil record. The townsfolk learn quickly about how graboids hunt – they sense their prey using soundwaves carried through the ground. Graboids can burrow quickly under soft soil, but hard rock stops them. One is killed by forcing it to run into a hard rock outcropping. Another breaks in the wrong goddamn rec room. Yet another is killed by luring it with thrown stones before tossing a pipe bomb for it to eat. The problem is, graboids are smart and can learn. What works with one won’t work with the next.
The movie had a strong cast, with Michael Gross playing against his previous role of Steven Keaton on Family Ties, the complete opposite of Burt Gummer. Ariana Richard played Mindy and would later play Kathy in Spaced Invaders and Lex in Jurassic Park. Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Finn Carter had amazing on-screen chemistry together. Boosting the strong cast was a well written script that had the light touch of humour along with the action and scares a monster movie needs. Finally, the graboids weren’t front and centre. The tension in the film came from not knowing when a graboid would appear, leaving a lot to the imagination to the audience, similar to how /Jaws/ worked around the problems of the mechanical shark.
A cult classic in the 90s naturally spawns direct-to-video sequels. Tremors 2: Aftershocks was released in 1996 and brought back Fred Ward and Michael Gross to deal with graboids at a Mexican oil refinery. Earl went after the $50 000 reward and, when he realized how severe the problem was, called in Burt. However, the graboids themselves had a twist. While Earl and Burt were ready to deal with graboids, the monsters went through a change. Part of the graboid life cycle sees a different form, shriekers, tear out of the monster as part of reproduction. Shriekers hunt on the ground, seeking out prey using its heat sense, and tend to multiply with the more they eat. Burt and Earl are over-gunned for the situation, leading to creative use of heat and explosives to deal with the shrieker incursion.
Tremors 3: Return to Perfection was a 2001 direct-to-video that saw the survivors of the original film return, including Ariana Richardson as Mindy, Charlotte Stewart as Nacy, Mindy’s mom, Robert Jayne as Melvin, Tony Genaro as Miguel, and introduced new characters Jodi Chang (Susan Chung), niece of Walter and the new owner of Walter’s store and Jack Sawyer (Shawn Christian), who has started a graboid tour for tourists. Of course, Burt Gummer is still around. This time around, it’s the shriekers who have a new twist. As part of graboid reproduction, shriekers begin a moulting process to turn into a new form, one capable of launching itself and gliding for distances. This new form is dubbed “Ass-blasters” by Jodi. Ass-blasters complete the reproduction cycle by carrying a graboid egg, and their ability to glide allows them to take the egg far from the original hunting grounds.
When Burt returns to Perfection, he finds out that there are a few problems happening. Three graboids are in the area as are a number of shrikers and, soon, a number of ass-blasters. Each form as their ideal means of eradication, and each form learns. Burt and the townsfolk fight off the shriekers and ass-blasters and two of the graboids, The US Department of the Interior steps in, though, as graboids are an endangered species. The final graboid,an albino one dubbed “El Blanco” is placed under protection. An uneasy truce exists between Perfection, now federally protected land, and El Blanco. However, an ass-blaster does survive the film, having been captured and sold by Nancy to fund Mindy’s college tuition.
Over the course of the first three movies, there is a lot of worldbuilding. Once graboids became known to the general public, tourism started. Walter Chang’s ideas of creating graboid merchandise isn’t far fetched. There is worldbuilding and a cult following. The SciFi channel needed a new series, and with the producers working on a Tremors series, the inevitable happened. Tremors: The Series began airing on SciFi in 2003. While the order of episodes got jumbled, it didn’t affect the series as much as Fox’s maltreatment of Firefly.
Characters from Tremors 3 returned, though with new actors. Lela Lee took over as Jodi Chang and Marcia Strassman picked up the role of Nancy. Mindy was off at college, as set up by Tremors 3. Robert Jayne, though, returns as Melvin Plug, a role he had in the original Tremors. New characters came in as well, with Victor Browne’s Tyler Reed buying Desert Jack’s Graboid Adventure tour business and Gladise Jimenez as Rosalita Sanchez who bought a ranch in the area to get away from her Vegas life. Dean Norris portrayed WD Twitchell, the Department of the Interior agent assigned to keep an eye on El Blanco. However, only one man could be Burt Gummer.
The first three filmed episodes, “Feeding Frenzy”, “Shriek and Destroy”, and “Blast from the Past” act as reminders of what the graboids, shriekers, and ass-blasters can do. It doesn’t take long for El Blanco to claim a victim in the first episode, and Tyler almost became the second if not for the timely intervention of Burt. Twitchell from time to time has Burt and Tyler investigate possible graboid sightings elsewhere, seeing that Gummer is the foremost expert on hunting graboids.
Tremors: The Series explores the idea of living in an area where there is a man-eating monster lurking around and how the townsfolk adapt to the threat. The series also looks at how the rest of the world reacts to the idea of graboids. For the most part, the graboids are an oddity. People in the know treat them as a threat, but graboids are an endangered species. There are extreme fans of both El Blanco and Burt Gummer. There are animal rights activists trying to free the graboid. Everything is within the realm of possibility if giant man-eating worms lurked under the ground.
There is also a mini-arc of episodes dealing with Mixmaster, a method of conjoining DNA from various animals. While the graboids aren’t results of the secret experiments, being older than fossils, other creatures that appear in and near Perfection are, creating a threat to not just the town but the world. Key behind Mixmaster is Cletus Poffenberger (Christopher Lloyd), who has been monitoring the situation for several decades. Even Burt was unaware of a secret corporate facility in the valley.
The TV series allows the cast and crew to explore the relationships between the townsfolk of Perfection, where they get along and where they don’t. Burt and Nancy represent the history of the town. Jodi is very much her uncle’s niece, to the point where Nancy gave her a back-handed compliment about being better suited as a CEO for a multi-national corporation. Rosalita and Tyler are the newcomers trying to adjust to life in a town where death is always underfoot and each of them reacts differently.
The casting is strong, in all of main, guest, and supporting cast. The characters are treating the situation as serious, even if the audience is being allowed to laugh at situations. It wouldn’t be a Tremors TV series without Burt, the breakout character from the original movie, thanks to Michael Gross’ portrayal of him. The writing maintains the mix of action, humour, and tension that the movies introduced, still nodding to the B-movie monster movies while remembering modern sensibilities.
/Tremors: The Series/ follows the previous movies seamlessly. What helps is having the same creative team continuing to tell the story of Perfection. They are familiar with the characters, the setting, and the premise, and can build upon all of that while still remaining true to the original. The series gives space to expand the Tremors-verse and make the world a little more weird. Like Alien Nation: The Series, Tremors: The Series takes advantage of the TV format to expand the world and dig deeper into the setting and the characters, something the films didn’t have time to do.
Remakes tend to come about twenty to thirty years after a popular original work’s release. During that time, there’s usually an improvement in film making technology combined with the original fading into the pop subconscious. However, since the advent of home playback technology such as video tape recorders, DVD, Blu-Ray, and conversion to digital formats, finding the original without waiting for it to show up as late-night or weekend afternoon filler is easy. Even in the 80s, when Beta and VHS were gaining popularity, some works could only be found during late night double-features on local TV stations.
The 1989 movie, Weekend At Bernie’s falls into the desirable range. The title has fallen into the pop subconscious; people who haven’t seen the movie are aware that Bernie is dead and is being dragged around for plot reasons. The film may not cost much to get rights to; it’s nowhere near being a Star Wars or a Back to the Future in terms of namespace. The movie is also easily found on DVD, though.
Weekend At Bernie’s starred Jonathan Silverman as Richard, Andrew McCarthy as Larry, Catherine Mary Stewart as Gwen, Don Calfa as Paulie, and Terry Kiser as Bernie. The movie breaks down into three acts. The first act sets up the relationships between the characters. Richard and Larry are young up and comers at an insurance firm trying to track down a couple of million dollars worth of discrepancies. Finding that one person has received four half-million dollar payouts, they go to their boss, Bernie Lomax, with the proof. Bernie mentions that the deceased would have multiple policies with different payout times, except the policies involved were purchased after the beneficiary died. Bernie praises the hard work and invites Richard and Larry to his home on Hampton Island.
That problem solved, Larry forcefully encourages Richard to ask summer intern student Gwen out on a date. Said date goes well except for Richard exaggerating his living situation. Richard still lives at home with her parents thanks to New York’s high cost of living. Larry did off his apartment, but Richard didn’t think Gwen would appreciate the cockroaches living there. The ruse falls apart and Gwen is not happy to be deceived.
Bernie, in the meantime, Bernie is meeting with Vito (Louis Giambalvo), Vito’s girlfriend Tina (Catherine Parks), Vito’s assistant Marty (Gregory Salata), and Paulie. Vito is a mobster working with Bernie to use the insurance company to launder money, except the laundering has been discovered. Bernie’s solution is to have Paulie kill Richard and Larry; he’ll set things up so he won’t be around for the hit. During the dinner, Tina plays footsie with Bernie. When Bernie leaves, Tina makes an excuse to powder her nose and follows her out, not aware that Vito has sent Marty after her.
The Labour Day weekend arrives. Bernie is the first to the island, getting the murder-suicide set up. Paulie is a little early, at least from Bernie’e viewpoint. Paulie gives Bernie a lethal overdose of drugs and leaves him seated in a chair. Richard and Larry arrive on the island, find their way up to Bernie’s house and let themselves in. They look around for Bernie, expecting that he’s out mingling. Instead, they find his dead body and the drugs planted by Paulie. The first act is spent establishing who everyone is and why it’s safe to laugh at what will be happening to Bernie. Bernie Lomax is not a decent human being. Richard is also due some payback, but not to the same degree as Bernie.
The second act covers the island’s wandering party. No matter where the party starts, it always ends up at Bernie’s. Anyone and everyone on the island shows up. Richard and Larry, who haven’t called the police yet because Larry was concerned that they’d be blamed for Bernie’s death, watch as people talk to Bernie without noticing that Bernie barely reacts. Thanks to a lifeguard giving Bernie a massage, Lomax’s neck is broken, allowing him to turn towards or away from anyone talking to him. Almost everyone at the party is too self-absorbed to notice that Bernie Lomax is dead.
The exception is Gwen, whose family also has a place on the island. Gwen wants to thank Bernie for the summer internship. Richard, who was wanting to call the police again because someone needs to be told that Bernie is dead, hangs up and intercepts Gwen. She gets diverted while Richard and Larry remove Bernie from the party and dump him outside on the beach. With Bernie not around, Gwen decides to listen to Richard who is horrible at apologizing but is starting to come clean. They head up to a lighthouse to look around, when Richard is blinded by the light and falls through the trap door and down the stairs. He and Gwen wind up on the beach, a wonderful night, just Richard, Gwen, and Bernie’s body drifting in with the tide. Richard manages to get Gwen to leave, then grabs Larry to bring Bernie back to the house, where they put him in bed.
The night isn’t over yet. Tina arrives, angry that Bernie stood her up and as drunk or even more so than Bernie’s party guests. She storms up the walk and into the house, demanding to know where Bernie is. Richard and Larry stand aside when she retrieves a large knife from the kitchen, telling her he’s in bed. Tina drunkenly stumbles upstairs, throws open the door, and her mood changes on seeing Bernie. Thirty minutes later, Tina returns downstairs, much happier. When she leaves, Richard and Larry are in shock that even Tina hadn’t noticed. As Larry puts it, “I get yelled at if I just lay there.” Tina leaves, and Richard and Larry call it a day.
The final act opens the next morning when Richard wakes up at 11am. Larry is out on the porch near the pool playing Monopoly with Bernie. Richard wants to call the police, but Gwen arrives to again thank Bernie for the internship that she couldn’t do the previous night. Marty has let Vito know that Paulie is as rusty as the hitman thought, so Paulie has also returned to the island. While Richard tries to delay Gwen so that Larry can dump Bernie somewhere, Paulie sneaks up on the house. The hitman hears Larry running around overhead and is in the perfect spot for Bernie to land on him when dumped. After a brief struggle, Paulie chokes Bernie and finds no pulse.
Richard manages to ward off Gwen again, then goes back to the phone to call the police, this time using the phone with the answering machine. Instead of dialing out. he gets the conversation recorded between Bernie and Paulie with Lomax’s plans to kill the two schmucks with the caveat that Bernie cant be around. Richard and Larry figure the safest place to be is off the island with Bernie. Since no one knows Bernie isn’t dead, they figure making Bernie walk around with them is the best thing to do. They make a dash to the ferry and miss it by seconds. Paulie, though, hadn’t, and is surprised to see Bernie racing towards the ferry.
After some thought, Richard and Larry figure out there is another way off the island – Bernie’s boat. The initial escape has some minor problems, but they do get going, only to run out of gas. Paulie gets to the mainland first and hires a water taxi to get back to the island. Everything starts coming together, with Gwen finally getting to see Bernie only to be told that he’s dead. Richard tries to explain, but given his tall tales earlier, Gwen is skeptical. The skepticism disappears when Paulie returns and empties a revolver into Bernie. The hitman then notices the witnesses and tries to shoot them, except the revolver is empty. He pulls out a second gun and starts chasing Richard, Larry, and Gwen. Bernie is left lying on the floor, a leg blocking a set of stairs.
The chase ends when Larry takes the initiative to draw off Paulie while Richard and Gwen hide in a bedroom. He gets a lucky break when Paulie tries to push Bernie out of the way and gets kicked in the groin for his efforts. The hitman shoots off the rest of the bullets in his revolver at Bernie then starts to reload. Larry sees his best change, grabs the phone with its long cable, and starts wrapping Paulie up in it. He decks the hitman, who falls into a headlock from Bernie.
The police are finally called. Bernie is put on a gurney to be taken to the ambulance. Paulie is arrested and put into a straitjacket. Richard takes his first vacation to spend time with Gwen on the island before she goes back to school. Larry decides to stay a couple of days in Bernie’s home to get in on the wandering party. It’s a happy ending for almost everyone, even Bernie, who finally gets buried.
The movie works thanks to the writing and the cast. It’s a screwball comedy with people to cheer for and against. The film sets up who deserves what happens, for good and for ill. Bernie, being the cheating bastard he is, gets the worst of it. Richard, thanks to his lies to Gwen, has to go through a few trials himself. And despite Bernie being dead, the movie keeps things light as a comedy should be.
Remaking Weekend At Bernie’s needs to pay attention to the details. The first act sets up several non-literal Checkhov’s Guns in the first act that come back in the third to complicate Richard and Larry’s plans. Even when the audience knows who and what these Guns are, characters don’t. In many comedies, a lack of communication that creates problems that can be cleared up if people would just talk causes audiences to raise their disbelief. In Weekend At Bernie’s, while people talking would clear things up, the people who could have done something were too self-involved to notice Bernie was dead, Paulie wasn’t going to tell anyone except Vito and Marty that he killed Bernie with an OD, and Richard and Larry were given a reason to not let anyone know Bernie was dead. Thus, only the audience has all the information.
Casting will be important. Terry Kiser portrayed Bernie before and after the character’s death. The postmortem smirk Bernie kept up added to the comedy. Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy had a chemistry together that comes out on screen; it is easy to believe that they are friends despite the personality differences. The three actors work well together, which helps when Richard and Larry have to carry Bernie around. A remake will need actors who get along. The new Bernie will need to be good at physical comedy without speaking. Robert Downey, Jr, may be an ideal new Bernie; he can do comedy, see Tropic Thunder. The rest, I’m not sure of.
Location was a key element in the film. The setting was an island with limited access, no cars, just ferries and other boats. The limitations are to prevent an easy solution, just jumping into a car to take Bernie to the police station or the hospital. The isolation is needed. Problem is, while cell phones were rare, bulky, and expensive in 1989, in 2020, everyone has a smartphone. There has to be a reason why Richard, Larry, and Gwen can’t use one on the island. Poor cell coverage is a possibility, which allows for people still taking photos and videos of Bernie’s hijinks without them being uploaded right away. The proliferation of smartphones creates problems with remakes, really.
The final portion that needs to be done well in a remake of Weekend At Bernie’s is the writing. Small details at the beginning, such as Bernie negotiating for a Maserati, the fired handyman, and the gardener, all come back at the end. The remake has to show the Chekhov’s guns to the audience; hiding details from the viewers does no one any favours. The first act could be tightened up; it takes up a third of the movie, but the act also front loads the information needed for the rest of the film to work. Common advice from people using word-of-mouth to get friends to watch Weekend At Bernie’s is to wait out the movie until it reaches the island, so there is room to tighten up the first act. It will be a balancing act, get everything needed for the later acts set up in a quick enough time to keep the narrative flowing.
Weekend At Bernie’s looks like it should be an easy remake, but the devil is in the details. Digging into the film, there are many areas where a remake can trip up and fall short of the original.
A while back, Lost in Translation mentioned the term “replicative fading” during the review of the remake of The Green Hornet. I meant to expand on the idea sooner than this, but now is as good a time as any.
I took the term “replicative fading” from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Up the Long Ladder“, where it was used to describe what was happening to a society of clones. The idea works better with the concept of photocopying; there will be some loss of resolution in a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. The result is, that after few iterations, the last photocopy will look like a smudged, blurred version of the original. Modern scanning and printing technology will increase the number of iterations, and the smudging and blurring won’t be as bad as it would in 1990, but some degradation will be found.
When it comes to adaptations, especially ones where the remake/adaptation is better known, the risk is that a further remake is based on an earlier adaptation instead of going back to the original. The Wizard of Oz is a good example here. The original novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published by L. Frank Baum in 1900, was turned into a stage play in 1902 and the iconic film, The Wizard of Oz, in 1939. Baum turned Oz into a series after the success of the first book and the Broadway adaptation. Today, though, most people are more aware of the 1939 film than the books, with the movies – The Wiz, the 1978 all-black remake starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, Richard Pryor as the Wizard, and Michael Jackson as Scarecrow, and the 2004 made-for-TV movie Muppets Wizard of Oz with Ashanti as Dorothy and Muppets in most of the other roles – having been derived from there.
Frankenstein is another work that has seen replicative fading over the years. Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus was adapted into a number of plays, some of which were authorized. Through the plays, Peggy Webling’s 1927 version in particular, the movie Frankenstein has several changes and additions to the original story, changing the work about a man trying to run away from his creation to one about a man playing God and being delivered hubris. The Monster turns from being a crafty, intelligent, malevolent being to a child-like innocent afraid of fire. This gets called out in the TV series, The Librarians, in the episode “… And the Broken Staff”, where Ezekiel, who has only seen the film adaptation, tries to stop the Monster using a lighter and is surprised when it gets smacked out of his hands. The Monster wasn’t so much stopped as redirected by the protagonists; modern amenities such as plastic surgery and professional sports gave the Monster what he wanted. However, in Young Frankenstein, the film goes back and corrects problems in the film and the original story by pointing out that Frankenstein is a very poor father. Young Frankenstein, though, demonstrates that replicative fading doesn’t mean a bad movie.
Typically, replicative fading happens when an adaptor isn’t aware of an older work, either due to obscurity or lack of availability compared to the remade work. The Magnificent Seven could be an example. The 1960 version of the film was based on Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. The works that were adapted from the The Magnificent Seven, excluding direct sequels, include the 1980 Roger Corman film, Battle Beyond the Stars, a 1998 TV series, and the 2016 remake. All kept to the ideas of the Western; Battle Beyond the Stars only moved the setting to space.
Replicative fading can be avoided. The simplest way is to go back to the original work. Andrew Lloyd Webber did this with The Phantom of the Opera, going back to Gaston Leroux’s original novel. This is in contrast to the 1943 movie, Phantom of the Opera, where the focus shifted off the Phantom. Going back to the original can provide a new perspective on the story, one that other adaptations may not have picked up on.
The catch, though, is that some works are better known through an adaptation. The Wizard of Oz is a good example, as is Frankenstein. Being too different from the better known work may throw audiences off. Referring to the original in some way, such as including the original author in the title as Bram Stoker’s Dracula did, will flag the work as not an adaptation of an adaptation. Ultimately, word of mouth will make or break a release.
Today’s audiences are more savvy than before, thanks to the near-ubiquitous means of finding original works. An in-name-only adaptation won’t fly. There is a good reason for studios to avoid replicative fading, if only to stand out. Replicative fading may disappear, especially for more recent works that are easily found on DVD, Blu-Ray, or streaming, and through e-books. It is easier to get to the original, and if one is spending the money to get a license, might as well spend the money to make a good adaptation.
Lost in Translation has looked at a number of live-action adaptations, the most recent being the 2002 Scooby-Doo adaptation. With adaptation fever going strong in Hollywood, let’s take a look at what makes live-action movies of animated or drawn original work.
A live-action adaption can come from a number of sources, such as video games, comics, and animation both Western and Eastern. Not included are adaptations of written works; the default for literature of all genres is live action unless there is something about the original work that suggests that a different medium would work better. Watership Down has an all-rabbit cast, an animated adaptation became necessary, especially at the time it was made.
The first, obvious question is “Why?” Why make a live-action adaptation of a work? There are several answers. The main one, though, is that the studio is hoping to make money off the movie, either through getting more money back at the box office than spent or by getting a big enough tax wrote-off for a stinker. No one wants to make a money-losing film on purpose. With cartoons, just making an animated movie will only get the target audience, even for a long-running franchise such as Scooby-Doo. Changing to a live-action movie, especially with actors that are a draw, means getting more of an audience than just the fans, and a larger potential audience means a larger potential box office return.
Sometimes, the decision is because of the director’s vision. Scott Pilgrim vs the World came about because Edgar Wright had read the original graphic novels and thought he could turn them into a film. Wright went for live action in part because Toronto was easier to film than to redraw, but he wound up dealing with the video game metaphors of the graphic novels. While the film wasn’t a box office smash, it has the capability of being a cult film. The biggest problem was that Scott Pilgrim didn’t fall neatly into any marketing box.
There is also the challenge of taking a video game or an animated work and turning it into a live-action production. This may be the thought behind the various attempts at making a live-action Akira, which has been in development hell at Warner Bros since 2002 and Sony during the 90s. The animated film of the manga was a visually stunning work, catching attention outside Japan. The problem that the studios keep running into is that even the animated film leans on Japanese culture and history, especially the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It may be easier to make a live-action adaptation of Black Lagoon; the source would have to be toned down to PG-13. But Black Lagoon doesn’t have the name value that Akira and Dragonball have.
Hollywood adapting a Western source can also be fraught with problems. Finding an actor who can portray a character is part of the art of casting. Finding one who looks like an existing character and can match their mannerisms requires a search. Matthew Lillard as Shaggy in the live-action /Scooby-Doo/ movies is a casting director’s high point. Most casting decisions are to be close enough and hope the actor can bridge the gap; Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men movies, Robert Downey, Jr as Tony Stark in the Avengers movies, and Christopher Reeve in /Superman/ all took their roles and made them theirs. It’s rare to see an actor misused in an adaptation today, but Super Mario Bros. does show that it is possible. Mojo Nixon, really? Casting does matter. The first of the Michael Bay Transformers movies caught fans attention by having Peter Cullen back as the voice of Optimus Prime.
With comics, special effects are limited to the imagination and the paint the artist has available, and with digital colouring, paint really isn’t an issue. Jack Kirby’s artwork, something he was able to produce for several titles a month, is colourful and detailed. The Kirby Krackle is named for his style. Even simpler energy blasts, like the Human Torch’s flames, Iceman’s ice bolts, and the Transformers’ laser shots, take time and money to reproduce in a live-action work. Characters like Superman, whose core abilities are physical and can be reproduced through practical effects, including wire work, and Batman, who is still human who has gone through training, are easier to put on screen. CGI has made effects easier today, though, so Kirby Krackle can be expected.
Adapting video games has been covered before. The biggest problem is, whether the game is being adapted to live-action or animated, that the nature of a video game is that the player is active in the storytelling, even if the plot is railroaded. Television and movies are passively watched, with, usually, no viewer input. This is on top of casting, finding actors who can pass as the main character. In some games, character customization is an option, so what one person pictures the lead character, others may not agree.
No matter the source, there’s always a chance that a celebrity will use the adaptation as a vehicle, pulling the attention to the celeb and away from the work. The adaptation will aim for the fans of the celeb, possibly to the detriment of fans of the original. The result is usually a mess, something that gets a brief flurry of attention before being forgotten. The problem is that studios will go by the numbers the celeb vehicle produced and make decisions off that without considering the why behind them.
Adaptations will be with us for the foreseeable future. There’s too much money in them to not make them. The goal is to figure out how and why they work and how and why they fail. Knowing the restrictions in advance will help studios avoid losing money and bring the best product for the audience possible,
On a related note, I will be on a panel at Renaissance Press’ Virtual Conference called “The book was better… or was it? The art of adaptation” on June 6 at 4p, EDT, with three other panelists. Registration is free but space is limited because of technical limitations. Check out the other panels, too; the conference runs June 5-7. There will also be a Discord channel for vendors.
Lost in Translation has covered how important casting is when it comes to the success of an adaptation. Today will be a deeper dive into one of the works mentioned in the past entry, the 2002 live-action Scooby-Doo.
The original cartoon, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? first aired in 1969 and featured four teenagers and their talking Great Dane. Fred (Frank Welker), Daphne (Stefanianna Christopherson for the first season followed by Heather North), Velma (Nicola Jaffe), Shaggy (Casey Kasem), and Scooby-Doo (Don Messick) got involved in supernatural mysteries that had more mundane causes each week, becoming an almost instant hit. The characters covered the range of broad role, from Scooby and Shaggy’s cowardly approaches to Fred’s leadership to Velma’s intelligence, to Daphne’s resilience and ability to find danger. Scooby and Shaggy were the draw; in every incarnation of the series, while the rest of the gang may come and go, Scooby and Shaggy are inseparable.
The series came and went, but thanks to syndication, it was always available in one incarnation or another. The typical episode had the gang learn about a mystery and discover a monster is trying to scare people away. They would search for clues and once they had enough, Fred came up with the trap to catch the monster. The plan wouldn’t work out; someone, typically Shaggy and Scooby, though Daphne could cause problems at times, would foul things up enough to cause things to go awry, but the monster would be caught and there would be the reveal.
Each episode was well written enough that it was possible for the audience to follow the investigation and work out who the villain really was, though a few red herrings were tossed in to make it challenging. In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, the red herring was a character named Red Herring, a rival to Fred. The show never tried any trickery with the clues; everything was laid out for the audience.
Not every Scooby series followed the format. The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo had Scooby, Shaggy, and Daphne round up ghosts the Scooby accidentally let loose, though he had the help of new charaters. Joining the gang were Scrappy-Doo (also voiced by Messick), Flim-Flam (Susan Blu), and Vincent van Ghoul, who looked like and was voiced by Vincent Price.
With the advent of modern special effects, it became possible to have live actors interact with CG animated characters. Films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit showed how traditional animation could stand with and interact with Bob Hoskins. CGI speeds up the process of adding an animated character. By 2002, CGI was a mature technology, though still being experimented with. This allowed for a live-action Scooby-Doo movie with an accurate depiction of Scooby.
The live-action film and its 2004 sequel, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, starred Sarah Michelle Geller as Daphne, Freddie Prinze, Jr as Fred, Linda Cardellini as Velma, Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, and Neil Fanning as the voice of Scooby-Doo. The first live-action film shows the gang splitting up after a messy investigation to go their own ways, only to come back together when each are invited to an island to solve a mystery. They come back together and working as a team solve the mystery. The movie lays out the clues for the audience, who can figure out who the villain really is.
The sequel pulls from the past series for its monsters, going as far back as the first episode ever for the Black Knight Ghost. The sequel plays out more like a typical episode, though with added drama as Shaggy and Scooby realize that they haven’t been the most useful members on the team. To be fair, sometimes, their screw-ups were more effective than any plan Fred had. The sequel also lays out the clues, and the audience can figure out who the villain is, though the movie doesn’t make it easy.
The movies aren’t Shakespeare, but they do deliver on being /Scooby-Doo/. The cast is what makes the movies. While Geller and Prinze were the names being used to bring in the audience – the pair were known to be dating prior to the movie’s release and married shortly after – they didn’t dominate the screen. Fred and Daphne weren’t the driving characters in the original series, but Prinze and Geller brought out the characters’ humanity and desires. Linda Cardellini was ideal as Velma, getting the voice and the look. Matthew Lillard, though, became Shaggy. Lillard had the voice, the mannerisms, and Shaggy’s walking gait. There’s also a chemistry among the actors; they are believable as a team of friends who started solving mysteries. Between this chemistry and Lillard becoming Shaggy, the movies were elevated from what they could have been.
Lillard’s portrayal of Shaggy wasn’t unnoticed. When Casey Kasem retired from regular voice acting in 2009 due to illness, Lillard stepped into the role and has played Shaggy since. Kasem left big shoes to fill, and Lillard just happened to have the right sized feet.
Casting is important. The right choice turns a film that could go horribly wrong into a delight. The perfect choicem like Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, makes a film well worth watching and re-watching.
Science fiction has been used to examine modern problems in a framing that allows for some separation, showing the issue in a way that is non-threatening while still laying out the problem. The separation makes the acceptance of the work palatable. Sometimes, the work can go a little too far, and sometimes, going too far is needed. The Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” was blatant about the absurdity of hating people based on skin colour, but the message needed hammering in 1969. However, movies have limited time to delve into deeper ideas. Film has a limited run time, so the action tends to get the lion’s share of screen time. It’s a balancing act.
As seen in the History of Adaptations, the Eighties[http://psychodrivein.com/lost-in-translation-the-history-of-adaptations-1980-89/] saw more popular original works than popular adaptations for the first time in film history. If something became popular, studios tried to jump on the bandwagon only to discover that the bandwagon popped somewhere else. Still, some genres became popular, even if they don’t appear on the list. The buddy cop movie, like the Lethal Weapon series and Beverly Hills Cop movies, did grab attention, especially when the pairing, or grouping as in Beverly Hills Cop, were made of opposites. Still, to get attention even in a popular genre, a film needs to have its own hook.
In 1988, Alien Nation added a science fiction hook to the buddy cop film. Set in the near future of 1991, just three years past the release date, the Earth has been visited by a spaceship filled with alien refugees. Kept in camps until the ACLU argued that the Newcomers still have access to the inalienable rights in the US, they’re allowed out of their camps to find homes and employment. Not everyone is happy about it; some Americans are worried about being able to compete with Newcomers, who are smarter and stronger than humans.
Because of the hostility, Newcomers, called slags by bigots, tend to live in neighbourhoods known as Slagtown. At the same time, companies are just as happy to take Newcomer money as anyone else’s and will tailor ads to the new demographic. The movie frames everything from the view of Detective Matthew Sykes, played by James Caan, who has issues with Newcomers. From his view, they’re alien, odd, and dangerous.
Sykes has reason to believe that, though. He and his partner, Bill Tuggle (Roger Aaron Brown), come across an apparently armed robbery at a corner store. Two Newcomers have the Newcomer own and his wife at gunpoint. When the robbery goes apparently wrong, the shopkeeper is killed, and Sykes and Tuggle try to stop the robbers from escaping. When one of the Newcomers has slugs capable of putting holes through cars, things get tense. Tuggle is killed and Sykes is injured while chasing the robbers.
The next day, Sykes gets a new partner, the first Newcomer to make detective, Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin). While his colleagues are surprised that Sykes volunteers to take Francisco as a partner, Sykes has an ulterior motive. His reasoning is that since a Newcomer was responsible for his partner’s death while robbing a Newcomer’s store, a Newcomer partner could shed some light on what’s going on. First, though, Sykes deals with his new partner’s name. He just can’t see anyone taking him seriously when introducing his new partner, Sam Francisco. Newcomers received names when they came off the spaceship and were processed and some of the people providing names got a little silly. Sykes gives Francisco the name George.
Sykes and George get assigned to a different homicide case also involving a Newcomer. Sykes doesn’t mind; he suspects that the cases are related. That case begins in the coroner’s lab. While Sykes talks with the coroner (Keone Young), George notices something off with the Newcomer corpse and talks to the Newcomer assistant.
The case naturally leads to a Newcomer strip club, where Sykes and George are hoping to interview a suspect. Instead, they talk to his girlfriend, Cassandra (Leslie Bevis). The suspect had been killed earlier through immersion in sea water by Newcomer businessman William Harcourt (Terrance Stamp) and his bodyguard, Rudyard Kipling (Kevyn Major Howard). As Sykes and George spend more time with each other, they start trusting each other more. George reveals that narcotics are involved, narcotics far more potent than anything found on Earth, narcotics that were used by the Overseers on the ship to control the Newcomers. However, as Harcourt points out to potential investors, the drug is harmless to humans and isn’t yet classified as a controlled substance in the US.
Sykes and George catch up to Harcourt, leading to a car chase that ends with a crash near the harbour. Harcourt darts into a warehouse with Sykes on his heels. Sykes, having learned the hard way that regular weapons aren’t effective on Newcomers, had picked up heavy artillery in the form of a revolver that fires .454 fusil rounds also capable of shooting through cars. Heavy artillery, though, depends on being able to hit in the right spot, and Harcourt gets away again long enough to take a large dose of the narcotic.
Thinking that Harcourt is dead, Sykes returns outside where police cruisers have arrived. Sykes explains what happened, the dead are picked up and placed into the coroner’s van, and Harcourt’s body is taken away. George compliments Sykes in his shooting. Sykes drops the bombshell; Harcourt overdosed. George knows that Harcourt isn’t dead, but changing. The coroner’s van is found, both attendants dead. When Harcourt is found, he is bigger, stronger, and violence incarnate. He focuses on Sykes, blaming him for destroying his nascent criminal empire, and chases the cop.. Sykes tries to escape by jumping on to a fishing boat, but Harcourt follows. The only solution Sykes has is to tackle Harcourt into the ocean.
The movie hits the buddy cop tropes. Sykes and George are opposites. George is a family man and operates by the book. Everything has a place with him. Sykes is off the rails, though recently pushed that way through the death of his partner. The two start antagoinistic towards each other by figure each other out, leading to George risking losing his arm to pull Sykes out of the ocean. And George helps Sykes in getting to his daughter’s wedding.
The science fiction elements does give enough of a twist to let the movie stand out. There is some work on how different the Newcomers are, from food and drink to sports to language. The alien element has an effect on the plot; it’s not a human businessman pulling string behind the scenes. At the same time, a few things fell by the wayside because of the nature of a theatrical release. The big one, the nature of racism, lurks but doesn’t really get addressed. The audience gets a glimpse at how Newcomers are adjusting to their new lives.
In 1989, the still growing Fox network was looking to expand from Saturday and Sunday programming. Alien Nation, having been released by 20th Century Fox, had enough going for it to make the jump to the small screen, becoming a science fiction police procedural. The new cast included Gary Graham as Sykes, Eric Pierpont as George Francisco, Michele Scarabelli as George’s wife Susan. New characters came on board; George’s family expanded from one nameless son to a son, Buck (Sean Six) and Emily (Lauren Woodland), and the recurring character Uncle Moodri (James Greene), who may have found a way for Newcomers to adapt to their new home. At the precinct, a new captain, Bryon Grazer (Ron Fassler) is brought in. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs appears as Sergeant Dobbs, replacing the colleagues in the movie. Jeff Marcus plays Albert Einstein, an awkward Newcomer who is the janitor at the precinct. Rounding out the new cast is Molly Morgan, playing Jill, Emily’s best friend, and Terri Treas as Cathy Frankel, Sykes neighbour and possible love interest.
The new format allowed for more drama to happen, with character arcs that can play out over the series. George’s homelife isn’t idyllic; Buck gets involved with the wrong crowd and is arrested and convicted of minor crimes. Susan has her own career. George and Susan decide to have a third child, and it is George who carries the fetus through its development. For all their alieness, though, the Franciscos have recognizable problems.
Sykes has his own problems. Like his movie counterpart, he is divorced with a daughter in college. He’s being forced to examine his bias against Newcomers, not just because of George and his family, but also because of his new neighbour, Cathy. It gets hard to hate someone if you know them. Sykes’ daughter appears and while he wants to be the cool dad, he has to step up and parent.
The cases Sykes and George take on are a mix. Some deal with Newcomer culture and history, delving into what happened on the spaceship before landing and how the Newcomers are faring in their new world. Others deal with the human side of the equation. The focus is more on the life that refugees and immigrants face, having moved to a strange new land. That the refugees and immigrants are aliens not from Earth add to the adjustment that everyone, Newcomer and human, have to make.
With the extra time that a 22 episode season provides, there’s more room to explore the themes of racism, of immigration, of refugees, of adapting, of the other and the lack of differences with them. But the series was cancelled after one season. The fledgling Fox network ran into financial problems and cancelled all their dramas, Alien Nation included. In the 90s, though, five made for TV movies with the original cast were made.
For a science fiction series that tackled the issues of the late 80s, it is a show that still resonates, particularly now. Immigrants and refugees arriving in the US are not treated well. Alien Nation is something that should not be needed today, but is.
Fanfilms are a way for budding filmmakers, actors, and crew to get a taste of what making a film is like. But what happens when the fans are professionals already in the business? Star Trek Continues answers that question.
Going back a bit, I mentioned the approach taken with fanworks, how, because they’re made by fans, there’s the possibility of something lacking either through inexperience or lack of budget. With Star Trek Continues, lack of experience isn’t a factor. However, even with permission from Paramount, for-profit doesn’t work, so budgets could be a limiting factor.
Star Trek Continues was meant to finish off Captain James T. Kirk’s five year mission and be the bridge from the original Trek to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The cast includes Vic Mignona as Kirk, Todd Haberkorn as Spock, McCoy portrayed by Frank Namecek for two episodes then by Chuck Huber for the remainder of the episodes, Chris Doohan as Montgomery Scott, Grant Imahara as Sulu, Kim Stinger as Uhura, and Wyatt Lenhart as Chekov. New regular characters were introduced – Dr. McKennah (Michele Specht) whose role as ship’s councellor is an experiment by Star Fleet; Chief of Security Drake (Steven Dengler), Kipleigh Brown as Helmsman Smith, backup to Sulu; Martin Bradford as Dr. M’Benga, picking the role from the original series as played by Booker Bradshaw, and Cat Roberts as Lt. Palmer. A solid lineup, indeed. Chris Doohan is the sone of James Doohan, who originally portrayed Scotty, and while they may not look exactly right, the mannerisms are dead on.
The cast is a strong point for the series. The characters are easily recognizable, not just physically, but in personality. Star Trek Continues also shows just how difficult it is to play Spock. Leonard Nimoy made the character both alien and familiar, given audiences the empathy to understand Spock even if the character found that illogical. Zachary Quinto had the extra challenge of portraying a younger Spock along side Nimoy, who had brought the character through an arc of understanding and bringing his warring selves together in peace. Haberkorn does figure out the role after a few episodes, getting more comfortable in the role. With McCoy, Namecek brought out the warmer side of McCoy, the doctor who cares for all life. Huber brought out the more acerbic McCoy; both are viable approaches to the character. Mignona has William Shatner’s style of acting down pat, not overblown but still fitting the story and the series. The series makes an effort to expand several characters’ roles, especially Uhura’s. Stinger is allowed to have Uhura as more than the woman opening hailing frequencies. Chekov receives a promotion as he tries to figure out what his Star Fleet career will be.
The guest cast includes actors from a number of other science fiction franchises. Michael Forest reprises his role of Apollo from “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Erin Gray, who played Col. Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 24th Century, plays a Star Fleet Commodore in two episodes. Lou Ferrigno, from The Incredible Hulk, puts on green makeup again as an Orion. Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor, makes an appearance and Nicola Bryant, who played his companion Peri, appears in the two part finale. John de Lancie returns to Star Trek alongside original Battlestar Galactica alumna Anne Lockhart in an episode about racism and barriers. Gigi Edgley from Farscape and Rekha Sharma and Jamie Bamber from the new Battlestar round out the guest cast. Special mention to Marina Sirtis for portraying the /Enterprise/’s computer, originally voiced by Majel Barrett, and to Michael Dorn for taking the computer role in the third episode.
The episodes themselves span the range of setting up continuity, returning to ideas explored before, and morality plays much like in the original series. “Fairest of Them All” takes place in the mirror universe after the alternate Spock sends Kirk back to his proper universe, showing the fallout of the events in “Mirror, Mirror.” “Come Not Between Dragons” shows how a situation can change once more knowledge is discovered about it. “What Ships Are For” is as subtle as the original series episode, “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”; subtle as a sledgehammer and just as needed today as the original episode was in 1969, covering refugees and efforts taken to keep them out.
The music is as important to the story as the dialogue. The score is based on the works of Alexander Courage, re-recorded for the series. Star Trek Continues could have just used a recording of music from the original series. Instead, a new arrangement is recorded to match the action of the episode, whether it’s a battle in space, a romantic scene, or the ramping up of tension. The final episode has the score bringing in elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The sets are indistinguishable from those found in the original series. Sound effects are accurate. Various regular locations onboard the /Enterprise/, such as the bridge, sickbay, engineering, and quarters, are faithfully recreated down to the props. New sets, such as for planets visited, may be made with modern techniques but reflect the style from the original series. Camera technology now allow for shots not previously possible, but those were used to accent the style of the original, not replace. Someone unaware of the nature of Star Trek Continues seeing the sets would be convinced that they were watching the original.
Costuming follows the approach taken with sets. Star Fleet uniforms are recognizable. Romulan uniforms are recognizable. The colours are bright, almost Technicolor. Even the guest stars’ outfits, new to the series, carry elements that fit in with the original series, from fabric to design. The truly alien creatures, such as the ones from “Come Not Between Dragons”, even with the better articulation thanks to modern technology, still look like they came from the original series.
What can fans in the business do in a fanfilm? What they set out to do. They have the experience and the love of the original to bring out the what drew audiences the first time again to give an ending to Captain Kirk’s historic mission. Star Trek Continues is very much Star Trek thanks to the effort of cast and crew.