Author: Scott Delahunt

 

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Lost in Translation has looked at the difficulties inherent in adapting a television series to a movie before.  However, challenges exist to be met.  Let’s take a look at one of the challenges, expanding the audience to pull in more than just the core fandom.

Movies are expensive to make, with the 2015 Jem and the Holograms being an outlier at only US$5 million to make and today’s blockbusters regularly exceeding US$200 million.  An adaptation cannot afford to turn away potential audiences, but word of mouth by fans can also break a movie.  This is one reason why superhero movies start at the origin; while fans are well aware of how a character got his or her abilities, the average person might not.

Television deals with the problem of getting new viewers up to speed every week.  Continuity lockout harms a TV series, preventing new audiences from jumping into the show.  Streaming can help, with older episodes available on the network’s website, but that’s a recent technology.  In the past, streaming and even video tapes weren’t available to the general audience.  Television worked around that, with characters painted with broad strokes and creative use of opening credits.  With the broad strokes, characters can be described using short phrases, such as the angry guy, the jokester sidekick, and the long-suffering spouse, all of which is easy to portray in a two-minute clip.

Opening credits, though, can set up the situation faster.  While not in use as much today, the expository opening theme outright states what’s going on.  Classic examples of such opening credits include Gilligan’s Island, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The Powerpuff Girls.  Handy, efficient, and not used much in film since the Sixties* as technology progressed enough to overlay titles on action sequences, allowing the film to get to the plot right away.

At the same time, if opening credits aren’t going to be used, how can a film get a new audience up to speed without having fans yawn at old information?  Time is limited in a film; few people will sit through a five hour movie.  For this analysis, let’s take a look at Mystery Science Theatre 3000MST3K had a ten year run with three different broadcasters, starting at KTMA in Minneapolis, then moving to Comedy Central and ending at the SciFi/SyFy Channel.  During its run, the show used an expository theme song to let audiences know what its premise was.  The opening theme was flexible enough to account for a cast change, going from Joel to Mike and even adjusting for a network required ongoing plot.  The short version – evil mad scientist inflicts terrible movies on a victim trapped on an orbiting station; the victim builds friends out of spare parts to help make fun of the terrible movies.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie, released in 1996 and riffing on This Island Earth, didn’t make use of the opening theme the TV series had.  Instead, the movie opened in Deep 13 with Dr. Clayton Forrester, played by Trace Beaulieu outright telling the audience what will happen.  Normally, the adage is “Show, don’t tell,” but this time, the telling was just part of the equation.  It’s what is going on while Dr. F is telling the audience what to expect that shows what the movie will be about.  As Dr. F monologues, he’s walking through his lab, showing that he’s not all that effective at being an evil mad scientist.  Up on the movie-budget upgraded Satelite of Love, Mike Nelson, played by Michael J. Nelson, is in the middle of a 2001: A Space Odyssey parody, running on a giant hamster wheel with Gypsy(Jim Mallon) and Cambot observing when Tom Servo(Kevin Murphy) arrives to warn him about the latest nutty thing Crow T. Robot(Trace Beaulieu).  Crow, who has seen one too many World War II prison camp movies, has decided the best way to escape the SOL is to tunnel out.  In these two scenes alone, the situation is introduced, the characters are shown for they are, and the movie has started.  It took a little longer than the TV series’ opening credits, but here, the audience is brought into the movie, ready to put aside any suspension of disbelief and establishing the film as a comedy.

Given the nature of the series, MST3K has some extra challenges most TV shows don’t have.  Most shows use commercial breaks to generate revenue and drop in a minor cliffhanger.  When adapted, the show changes to match the format of the big screen, keeping the plot moving through the beat structure of film.  MST3K, though, used commercial breaks in part to have the characters react via skit to what they saw and in part to give the audience a respite from the featured movie**.  A feature film, though, doesn’t have real commercial breaks; audiences would riot.  MST3K: The Movie had to use other means to get to the skits, including a broken film and Mike and the bots just walking out of the theatre to find Servo’s interociter.  The result was the same, a break from the film to let the characters react to what they saw and a break for the movie audience from This Island Earth, a slow-paced film that had far too much telling and too little showing, with the alleged main character just along for the ride.

Of course, the movie wasn’t only for new audiences.  Long-time viewers could find in-jokes throughout the film, including the use of “Torgo’s Theme” from Manos, The Hands of Fate as Mike uses the external graspers.  The movie didn’t rely as much on callbacks as the TV show did, making it a good introduction to new viewers.  Any callbacks in the movie, such as “Torgo’s Theme” can give a veteran fan an in to circulate the tapes*** to a new fan.  Continuity is important, but a new viewer, especially watching the movie of the TV series, needs to be able to understand what’s going on without needing a ten-page synopsis of the show.

Other movies adapted from a TV series reviewed here at Lost in Translation made an effort to introduce the characters to a new audience.  Star Trek: The Motion Picture made sure that the audience knew that Kirk and McCoy were still friends, despite whatever had happened prior to the movie, and that Kirk and Spock were friends, but something happened to the latter before he rejoined the crew of the Enterprise.  Likewise, with Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, the opening scenes establish who Eddy and Patsy are, two women who refuse to grow up, with Eddy rolling out of her car drunk after a fashion event.

Introducing the characters and situation isn’t a problem for just TV series adapted into film.  Other media have the same problem, letting the audience know what’s going on and who the main characters are.  With television, though, the medium is similar to film, both being visual, that it can be too easy to forget that the characters need to be re-introduced.  Failure to do so locks out a portion of the potential audience, leaving them outside and not watching.  Without the extra audience, the film could flop at the box office.

* There are exceptions, such as the entire 007 film run, and even Die Another Day turned the traditional Bond titles into a plot-relevant sequence.
** The series riffed on older B-movies, serials, and shorts, where the quality of the featured film was guaranteed to be bad but with hooks for the riffs.  Alien from L.A. was but one film, but represented the type of work found on MST3K, bad but watchable with people having fun with it.
*** The series encouraged fans to circulate tapes of the episodes because of the limited access early audiences had.  Not all cable companies carried Comedy Central at the time, and international audiences had to deal with a complex web of rights and licenses that the MST3K crew didn’t have to worry about.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The short version, adaptations continued to dominate the silver screen.  With studios risk adverse, they want to maximize audiences.  It’s still not a guarantee of success, but adapting a popular work is one way to draw in a crowd.  Couple adapting with popular actors, and studios see a sure thing.  The New Teens are looking a lot like the Fifties, where popular adaptations far outnumbered popular adaptations.  Let’s break down the top ten films by box office, using the numbers compiled by Box Office Mojo.  Remember that popularity isn’t necessarily a sign of quality, just of what is popular.

1) Finding Dory – sequel to the Disney/Pixar original work, Finding Nemo.  A surprising entry, given the strength of what follows.
2) Captain America: Civil War – second sequel to Captain America: First Avenger, an adaptation.
3) The Secret Life of Pets – original.
4) The Jungle Book – Disney’s live action remake of its animated adaptation of the story by Rudyard Kipling.
5) Deadpool – adapted from the Marvel character and the most comic book movie ever made*.
6) Zootopia – An original Disney animated movie.
7) Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice – adapted from characters and situations seen in DC Comics.
8) Suicide Squad – another DC Comics adaptation.
9) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – an original movie in the Star Wars franchise.
10) Doctor Strange – adapted from the Marvel comic.
Note that Rogue One and Doctor Strange are still in theatres.  The Star Wars prequel could finish 2016 higher in the list and also dominate the 2017 list.

For all the complaints people have about adaptations, audiences went out to see them more than original works.  The breakdown has two completely original works, two sequels/prequels to original works, and six adaptations or sequels to adaptations.  It’s telling that most of the original works are animated, especially from Disney, who used to plumb animated features from fairy tales.  Studios just aren’t going to give up the potential income from popular adaptations, no matter the outcry.  At this point, original works will need top talent just to get a budget from studios.  Depending on the work, an original may need to go to television just to get noticed.  For balance, let’s look at the bottom ten.

10) Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – fictionalized adaptation of the memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker
9) Assassin’s Creed – adaptation of the video game.
8) Snowden – a biopic of Edward Snowden.
7) Mechanic: Resurrection – sequel to the remake, The Mechanic.
6) Manchester by the Sea – original.
5) Free State of Jones – loosely based on a historical event.
4) Blair Witch – remake of The Blair Witch Project.
3) God’s Not Dead 2 – sequel to a movie based on Rice Broocks’ God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in An Age of Uncertainty.
2) Keanu – original.
1) Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life – adapted from Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts.
Note that Assassin’s Creed is still in theatres after being released on December 21.  Manchester by the Sea opened in limited release November 18 and had a full release December 16 and is still in theatres.

The bottom ten has four adaptations, two sequels to adaptations, one original work, and two movies based on real events, including the Snowden biopic.  Being at the bottom isn’t necessarily a sign of quality.  Manchester by the Sea has been nominated for a number of awards, including Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Screenplay, and has been listed on the American Film Institute’s Top Ten Films of the Year.  What the bottom ten show is that adaptations run the gamut of popularity and that we’re still in an era where adaptations outnumber original works.  However, with two exceptions, every decade in the history of movies shows that trend.  The exceptions were the Eighties and Nineties.

Adaptations aren’t going away any time soon.  People are still getting out to see them in theatres.  At this point, quality is important; repeat audiences are driving the numbers for several films.  For now, expect more original works in unexpected media, like animation or television.

* I’d say “shamelessly the most comic book movie,” but the movie lives in audacity, contributing to its popularity.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The Eighties were a weird time in entertainment.  Popular original works outnumbered popular adaptations for the first time in movie history.  Regulations about advertising to children were relaxed, leading to animation adaptations of toys and anything that a toy could be made from.  The latter meant popular movies became fodder for cartoons, even if the film wasn’t originally meant for children, like Rambo and RobocopLost in Translation has already looked at one animated adaptation from the era, Back to the Future.  Another series, though, was more successful.

The Real Ghostbusters ran from 1986 until 1991, undergoing a title change to Slimers and the Real Ghostbusters in its third season.  Despite being tied to the film, Ghostbusters, a court case between Filmation and Columbia/Sony forced the adaptation to change its name as Filmation had the name first, leading to adding The Real to the title.  The Real Ghostbusters was licensed out to DiC, who farmed out the animation to several Japanese studios, giving the series a unique look.  While Columbia had the rights to the movie by virtue of being the production company, the studio didn’t have the rights to the actors’ appearances, leading to main characters who had a passing resemblance to the original cast.  One episode, “Take Two”, goes as far to explain the differences – the movie is an in-universe adaptation of the characters’ lives.  Venkman even goes so far to remark that Bill Murray doesn’t even look like him.

The cast was small, cosnisting of five voice actors total.  Arsenio Hall, best known now for his talk show, was starting out in his career when he voiced Winston Zeddmore, the guy the Ghostbusters hired when business picked up during Gozer the Gozerian’s invasion of New York.  Maurice Lamarche, who has played roles such as the Brain on Pinky and the Brain, played Egon Spengler, scientist and inventor.  Lorenzo Music, best know for playing Carleton the Doorman on Rhoda and Garfield the cat* in the cartoon based on the comic strip Garfield, portrayed Peter Venkman, scientist and all-around smarmy dude.  Laura Summer got her first work as a voice actor playing Janine Melnitz and almost every other woman in the first two seasons.  Frank Welker, who has made a career out of being a non-human voice, including Megatron in the original Transformers, among others, played Ray Stantz, scientist and inventor, Slimer, and a large number of other ghosts and supernatural creatures.  Summer was replaced by Kath Soucie with the name change to Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters, but, for the purpose of this review, the renamed series will be treated as a separate work to come later.

Adapting Ghostbusters to a weekly format wasn’t a problem.  The nature of the movie allowed for further adventures for the team.  Ghostbusters was a business; the team could easily continue busting ghosts in an adaptation.  Indeed, the “ghost of the week” plot carried the series.  The series also treated the events of the movie as occurring in-universe.  Peter did get slimed by Slimer at the hotel and the team did fight Gozer the Gozerian in the form of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man  The goal to adapting well is to bring the core of the original, in this case, Ghostbusters into the new medium, even with all the restrictions on the adaptation.  A number of elements of the movie just wouldn’t fly.  Venkman’s lecherousness was toned down, but didn’t completely disappear; his casual cruelty was removed.  Janine kept her crush on Egon until executive orders in Slimer forced the writers to excise it.  Repeatable violence isn’t allowed, but very few children would have access to backpack-sized unlicensed nuclear accelerators*.  The Ghostbusters also only shot at ghosts to pull them into their traps, reducing the potential harm further.  The action could thus match what was shown on screen, complete with slime.

The main characters, despite not being allowed to look exactly like the original actors, did have enough details in common to make it easy to see who was who.  Egon had glasses and the hair style, along with Lamarche’s Harold Ramis impersonation.  Peter kept some of Bill Murray’s smarmy charm**.  Summer recreated Janine’s accent.  Ray still had his weight.  Winston was still the workman of the group, the one who was more down to Earth.  Equipment matched what was shown on screen.  And to add to the accuracy, the design of Slimer in the 2016 reboot movie was partially based on his appearance in the cartoon.

As mentioned above, the series could have kept to a “ghost of the week” plot, mirroring the jobs the Ghostbusters had in the movie prior to the containment system shutdown and the fight against Gozer.  The writers, though, went beyond that.  The first episode, “Ghosts R Us”, had a trio of ghosts working a scam to drive the Ghostbusters out of business.  The team fought Samhaim, the spirit of Hallowe’en, in “When Hallowe’en Was Forever”, written by J. Michael Stracynski of Babylon 5 and Thor fame.  Even with “ghost of the week” plots, not every ghost was busted.  Several were able to move on after completing a task that kept them tied to the land of the living.

Going beyond the above, the writers delved into myth, legend, and classic literature.  Samhaim was but one character based on myth and legend.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse appeared in “Apocalypse — What, Now?”  Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was adapted as “The Headless Motorcyclist”, updating the legend for modern times.  The team accidentally busted the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come in “Xmas Marks the Spot”.***

Then there’s the adaptation within the adaptation, “Collect Call of Cathulhu”(sic).  Written by Michael Reeves, the episode goes beyond just using the trappings.  The episode acts as an introduction to the Cthulhu mythos as created by HP Lovecraft and other writers.  Guest characters are named after other writers who had contributed to the Mythos; Clark Ashton after Clark Ashton Smith and Alice Derlith after publisher August Derlith.  Lovecraft himself is name-dropped as the creator of the Mythos, with his writings in Weird Tales cited in-character by Ray.  Cultists of Cthulhu appear, along with Spawn of Cthulhu and a Shoggoth.  The episode even quotes Lovecraft, specifically “The Nameless City” – “That is not dead which can eternal lie,/And with strange aeons even death may die.”  The episode climaxes with the awakening of Cthulhu, a being that, to quote Egon, “makes Gozer the Gozerian look like Little Mary Sunshine”, and the Ghostbusters fighting to just stop the Elder God, using the Mythos as a guide.

Even when not using classic literature for plots, the series has references to works that would be unexpected in a TV series aimed at a younger audience.  In “Ragnarok and Roll”, the spell used to begin Ragnarok is the Elven inscription of the One Ring from JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Franz Kafka’s Metamorphisis is referenced in “Janine Melnitz, Ghostbuster” as Janine reads out some of the jobs that have come in; “And some guy named Samsa says he’s possessed by the ghost of a giant cockroach.”

The Real Ghostbusters puts an effort into continuing the story from the movie, even while explaining away the differences.  The series sets itself up as an alternate continuity where the original movie is a movie about the animated characters.  The characterization builds from what was shown in the movie and expands on what was originally shown.  The Real Ghostbusters is a worthy adaptation, taking into account the limitations imposed on it by the medium and expanding the ghosts thanks to not needing special effects beyond ink and paint.

* In an interesting twist, Bill Murray would later voice Garfield in the movies based on the strip.
** And if a child did have one, repeatable acts would be a minor concern.
*** While almost every TV series has had an episode based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, few had the Ghosts of Christmas running a gambit to teach a main character about the meaning of the season while still having Scrooge around.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

As a source of adaptations, sitcoms are rare.  They are often too tied to the time they aired and are considered to be fluff.  Over the course of Lost in Translation, only two adaptations based on a television comedy have been reviewed, The Naked Gun and The Beverly Hillbillies.  The rest of the adaptations, barring the animated series, have a focus on action and drama, from Doctor Who to The Equalizer.  Action series and dramas provide more conflict that works on the silver screen.  The Naked Gun added bigger budget action sequences to the comedy, taking advantage of the medium.

That’s not to say that a popular series won’t have fans clamouring for a movie, even if the series isn’t known for action, more so if the TV show reaches cult status.  Welcome to Absolutely Fabulous, a British series about two women, Eddy and Patsy, who aren’t so much trying to recapture their youth as continue it.  AbFab first aired in 1992 on the BBC and was based on a sketch two years prior on French & Saunders, starring Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, who plays Eddy.

Eddy runs her own public relations firm, representing an eclectic group of clients.  Her best friend, Patsy (played by Joanna Lumley), works as a magazine editor and enables much of Eddy’s behavior.  Eddy’s daughter, the long suffering Saffron (Julie Sawalha), is the reality anchor Eddy needs.  Too bad Saffy is still in high school when the series starts.  Saffy does get some support from her grandmother, Eddy’s mother (June Whitfield).  Rounding out the core cast is Eddy’s assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), who tends to be in her own world most of the time, most likely without the chemical aide that Eddy and Pasty prefer.

The core of the series was Eddy and Pasty misbehaving, breaking the taboos on what women were expected to do, and their stubborn refusal to learn a lesson.  Patsy is a long-time party girl who lives on air, alcohol, and cigarettes.  Eddy does eat, but allows herself to be encouraged by Patsy.  Somehow, they get out of their scrapes, but Eddy and Patsy are not role models.

Twenty-five years after the original French & Saunders sketch, Absolutely Fabulous: The Move began filming.  The movie opened in the United Kingdom in July 2016 and reunited the core cast.  To get the script written, Dawn French made a bet with Jennifer Saunders that a script wouldn’t be ready by the end of 2014.  Saunders won the bet.

The movie picks up with Eddy and Patsy attending a fashion show and over-indulging; nothing having changed except them being older.  Saffron has married and since divorced, and, with her thirteen year old daughter, Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), is visiting her mother’s oversized home.  Saffron is still cynical about her mother and still doesn’t get along with Patsy.  Lola is indifferent to the undercurrants happening.  Eddy has a problem; her income isn’t matching her outgo.  Her ex-husband, Marshall (Christopher Ryan), has decided to transition to being a woman* and needs the money.  Eddy is pinning her hopes on selling her memoir, but the meeting at the publisher reveals that the book is filled with “blah blah blah” thanks to Bubble, who was supposed to transpose what Eddy dictated.

Patsy, while assisting with the setup of a fashion show, makes a discovery that could help Eddy.  Kate Moss needs a new PR rep.  What should be a simple insider secret becomes a well known, thanks to Eddy having trouble with her smartphone.  When Kate Moss arrives at the fashion gala, there’s a race between Eddy and rival PR person, Claudia Bing (Celia Imrie), to get to her.  The result is Kate being knocked into the Thames, disappearing into the water.

Eddy is blamed for Kate’s death as the world goes into mourning over the loss of the supermodel.  Paparazzi camp outside Eddy’s house, hoping to get a photo of the killer.  With some help, Eddy and Patsy escape the cameras and start their own investigation into what happened to Kate.  They realize that things float, so they find a boat, find Bubble, and go back to the scene of the crime.  To trace where Kate’s body went, Eddy and Patsy push Bubble into the Thames, but lose her in the dark.

Now responsible for the apparent deaths of two people, Eddy and Patsy do what they think best – flee the country.  Without money, though, they need a way to pay for their flight from justice.  Fortunately for them, Lola has a credit card from her father.  Eddy and Patsy take Lola with them to Cannes.  Once in southern France, Eddy and Patsy work out a way to get the money they need and start looking for one of Patsy’s old flames, Charlie (Barry Humphries).

In London, Saffron discovers that Lola has disappeared.  With the help of her new boyfriend, police inspector Nick (Robert Webb), she starts trying to trace where her daughter has gone.  Her investigation leads her to a drag queen karaoke night** to find Christopher (Glee‘s Chris Colfer), Eddy’s stylist.  Christopher gives up Eddy’s location.

In Cannes, Charlie’s a bust, but Eddy finds a different way to get the money they need.  Duchess Lubliana (Marcia Warren), the richest woman in the world, is alone and has bad eyesight.  The new plan is put into effect; Patsy, as Pat Stone, marries the Duchess to gain access to her money.

However, the police discover where Eddy and Patsy have escaped to.  Because of the enormity of the crime, even the French police are willing to assist their British counterparts, leading to a car chase that ends in Bubble’s pool.  Bubble is alive, having floated to France after being pushed into the Thames by Eddy and Patsy, and has been staying in her home.  The police and Saffron catch up to Eddy and Patsy.  Eddy gives a soulful confession to Saffron.  Then Bubble reveals that Kate is still alive.

Watching AbFab: The Movie is like returning to family; a dysfunctional family, but one that is familiar.  With Jennifer Saunders writing the script and the return of most of the original cast, the stage is set.  With most characters, growth is expected.  Edina is not most characters.  The entire point of Eddy is that she is stuck in her 20s and refuses to mature while the normal people around her – mostly consisting of her daughter, Saffron – do grow up.  The plot is very much something that Eddy and Patsy would get themselves into.  Eddy and Patsy still have not learned from their mistakes.  Saffron has changed, but dealing with her mother has left her cynical and trying not to make the same mistakes with her own daughter.  The movie is more than just an extended episode of AbFab, but doesn’t lose what made the TV series a cult favourite.

* This makes Marshall the second regular character to be transgender.  The first is Patsy, who has a bit of jealousy because Marshall will at least find shoes in his size.
** The drag queens in the scene are real and brought their own costumes and make up.  One was dressed as Patsy, and had her mannerisms down pat.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The Universal monsters have become iconic since their first appearances. Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera (1925) brought the tragic character on screen.  Bela Legosi as Dracula (1931) provided the baseline for future cinematic vampires.  Boris Karloff as The Mummy (1932).  Claude Rains as The Invisible Man (1933).  Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman (1941).  But the most endearing character may have been Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster, in the 1931 Frankenstein.  Karloff portrayed the Monster as a child, with a wonder about him as he discovers the world around him, turning the character from the vengeful being in Mary Shelley’s novel to a tragic victim hunted down by villagers.

The success of Frankenstein led to sequels, including Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).  Classics beget spoofs, much like the Abbott and Costello movie.  With a film that has permeated pop culture, further parodies were due.  Thus steps in Gene Wilder.  Because both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein had scared him as a child, Wilder had an idea for a script that rewrote the ending of both movies.  He had set it aside when his new agent, Mike Medavoy, suggested that Wilder team up with Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman for a movie, actors that Medavoy also represented.  Wilder reworked a scene from his script and submitted it.

The resulting movie, Young Frankenstein (1974), was co-written by Wilder and Mel Brooks, with Brooks directing it.  Wilder starred as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, pronounced “Fron-ken-steen” as he tried to distance himself from his grandfather Victor.  Boyle played the Creature, portraying the Creature with the same child-like approach that Karloff used.  Feldman played Igor, pronounced “Eye-gor”, the grandson of Victor Frankenstein’s assistant.  Frederick is a famed neurologist, teaching at a university, when he is found by a lawyer for his grandfather’s estate.

Frederich makes the trip to Transylvania, meeting Igor and Inga, played by Teri Garr.  Igor takes Frederick and Inga to the Frankenstein castle, which has been maintained by Frau Blucher, played by Cloris Leachman.  Blucher is excited for Frederick’s visit; it’s a chance for Victor’s experiment to live again.  The movie then follows the beats of the original movie, from the theft of a suitable body for the Creature to raising the body up to be hit by lightning to even the Creature meeting the little girl.  All through this, though, are bits of humour, which is the true draw of the film.  Young Frankenstein diverges from the original when Frederick makes the decision to take care of the Creature, unlike Victor’s attempts to subjugate his Monster.  Frederick’s efforts lead to a song and dance number that goes wrong, leading to angry villages with torches and pitchforks.  Even with that, everyone gets a happy ending, from Frederich and Inga to the Creature and Elizabeth, Frederich’s former fiancée played by Madeline Kahn, and even the angry villagers.

The beats aren’t the only factor at play.  Young Frankenstein was filmed in black and white, making it an outlier where every other movie being made that decade was in colour.  But it’s not just being in black and white that adds to the mood.  The credits, the cinematography, the music, all were done in the style of the original movie.  Brooks even had the original lab equipment on hand, thanks to Kenneth Strickfaden, who built the equipment for the original movie.  Young Frankenstein maintains the mood of the original, thanks to lighting, while still being funny, a difficult task pulled off with style.

Beyond just aesthetics, the cast raised a good movie into a comedy classic.  Wilder, Boyle, and Feldman worked well together.  Wilder admitted in a bonus feature on the Young Frankenstein DVD that several roles were good until their actors took them, whereupon the roles became great.  Kahn was originally thought of as Inga, but she preferred Elizabeth.  Garr read for Inga in a German accent.  Kenneth Mars took the role of Inspector Kemp and elevated what was written in the script.  Leachman as Frau Blucher dominates her scenes.  Even Gene Hackman in his role as the Blindman is more than what was written for the scene.

While Young Frankenstein is a parody, it builds off the original, using /Frankenstein/ as the base to hang the jokes on while still keeping the mood.  Young Frankenstein works as a sequel of the original as much as it does a parody.  The effort put in by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks pays off.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

As a genre, superheroes are dominating theatre screens.  Characters from Marvel and DC are taking up residence on the silver screen, bringing in record box office returns.  This wasn’t always the case.  For the longest time, superheroes were relegated to television cartoons, TV series and movies much like Wonder Woman and Captain America and, before that, serials and animated shorts.  The change from backup feature to blockbuster came with Superman: The Movie in 1978.

The character Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938, heralding a new type of hero.  Prior to Superman, most heroes were men of mystery, costume or not.  Superman blazed the way for superheroes and is DC Comics best known character.  Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster*, Superman started with X-ray vision, super strength and super speed, being able to out run a locomotive and leap over tall buildings.  As the comic continued, Superman gained more and more powers, some serious, such as from going from leaping to flying, some silly, like super typing skills.  In his secret identity of Clark Kent, Superman worked as a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet along side colleague, rival, and love interest Lois Lane and cub photographer Jimmy Olsen, all working under editor Perry White.  Over time, Superman’s rogues gallery has grown, but his best known foe is Lex Luthor, corrupt industrialist.

Another way Superman set himself aside from the mystery men of the time was his origin.  Superman was not of Earth but was the sole survivor of the destruction of the planet Krypton, sent to Earth as an infant.  The young boy was found by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who adopt the child as their own.  The raise the young lad, naming him Clark after Martha’s maiden name, and instill a sense of right and wrong, and have him keep his powers hidden.

The 1978 Superman is a retelling of his origin, from being sent from Krypton hours before the planet’s destruction to his first appearance in Metropolis and beyond.  His early years, as a young boy and as a teenager, are given a strong focus, showing the influences that his parents and his time in Smallville have on him as a hero.  In Metropolis, he gets dropped into the busiest newsroom in the city at the Daily Planet and is teamed up with Lois Lane.  His first night in the tights sees him rescue Lois after the helicopter she’s in malfunctions and crashes, then nab a cat burglar halfway up an apartment building, stop armed robbers from getting away from the police, rescue a young girl’s cat stuck in a tree, and help Air Force One land after losing an engine.

Lex Luthor, during this time, is hatching a scheme to corner the market in seaside real estate.  Step one was to buy up desert land in the west.  Step two is to steal a nuclear missile that in step three he will detonate along the San Andreas fault, sending California into the sea.  Lex recognizes that Superman is a potential threat to his success   With the story printed with the interview Lois has with Superman, Lex figures out that shards of Krypton, kryptonite, could be lethal to the hero.

The movie stays faithful to the character of Superman, but not necessarily his powers.  The ending involves Superman flying fast enough to go back in time, something that hadn’t been demonstrated in the comic.  Helping to stay faithful is the casting of the characters.  Christopher Reeve was an unknown actor at the time, but he was able to play both Clark Kent and Superman, showing differences between the two through voice and posture.  In one scene, he straightens himself, gaining confidence and changing his voice enough to look like Superman, then deflates and slumps to go back to being Clark.  Margot Kidder as Lois Lane protrayed the reporter as someone who not only can get into trouble but can also get out of most of that trouble.  Gene Hackman, as Lex, with Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty as henchmen Eve Teschmacher and Otis, showed the deviousness of the original character with chemistry among the three to carry their parts of the film.  Marc McClure looks the part of Jimmy Olsen.

The cast isn’t the only factor turning the movie into a success.  The scope of the film is epic, despite focusing on Clark.  Lex’s scheme threatens the entire West Coast.  The film even starts deep in space for the credits, coming in to Krypton, then follows young Clark on his trip to Earth.  The music adds to the epic feel.  The main theme even uses the syllables in the name Superman as part of the music.

As mentioned a while back, there are adaptations that become the definitive version of a work.  Such is the case with Superman.  It was the top grossing film of 1978, with people returning to see a man fly.  Audiences use Christopher Reeve as the measuring stick to compare other actors in the role.  The influence of Superman is still felt even almost forty years later.

* Joe Shuster was the focus of a Heritage Minute, a short film that features key times in Canadian history.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Marvel is riding high with the live action movie adaptations of its books.  This wasn’t always the case.  The first Marvel comic to be adapted for the big screen laid an egg.  However, Marvel had a better record on television, with The Incredible Hulk lasting from 1977 to 1982.  The success of Hulk brought the character into mainstream attention, with the series having an influence on the character’s movie entry in Marvel’s Avengers Initiative.  That same success led to the first authorized Captain America movie*.

Captain America was a 1979 TV movie starring Reb Brown, known for his roles in Yor and Space Mutiny, as Steve Rogers.  Steve is an former Marine turned drifter artist, hoping to travel along the California coast line in his van.  He receives a telegram from Simon, played by Len Birman, who wants to talk to Steve about his father’s research.  The Full Latent Ability Gain, or FLAG, is a serum that can maximize the human body’s potential.  FLAG has a drawback; the serum causes cells to degenerate faster, leading to death.  Steve declines the offer to test the FLAG serum on himself. and heads out.

Fate, however, brings him back.  Steve finds his friend, Jeff Hayden, injured in his own home, attacked by a thug sent by Harley, played by Lance LeGault, on the orders of Brackett, played by Steve Forestt.  Brackett wants a filmstrip** of Hayden’s work to use to complete a neutron bomb and wants Steve out of the way.  Harley lures Steve with the knowledge of who killed Jeff.  Steve shows up at the out of the way location at night, where Harley demands the filmstrip.  In the ensuing chase, Steve is forced off the road and over a cliff on his motorcycle.

To save Steve`s life, he is given the FLAG serum while in ER.  Unlike the previous test subjects, there is no cell rejection; the serum works.  Steve’s healing accelerates under the influence of the serum, but he has no desire to find out what else FLAG has done for him.  He doesn’t get to stay ignorant; Harley kidnaps him from the hotel, taking him to a meat plant.  Steve breaks away from his captors and plays cat-and-mouse among the sides of beef.  His newfound strength lets him take out Harley and his men, including through the use of a thrown slab of beef, the only object thrown in a fight in the movie.

Steve talks with Simon, who mentions the elder Roger’s nickname as a crusading lawyer, Captain America.  Simon offers a job as a special agent, which Steve accepts.  Simon arranges for extra equipment, updating Steve’s van, adding a new motorcycle with jet assist, and a bulletproof shield that can be thrown as a deadly weapon.  While he tests out the new motorcycle, Brackett sends men to chase him down by helicopter.  Thanks to the new motorcycle and FLAG-enhanced abilities, Steve manages to turn the tables.

Brackett is busy working on Hayden’s daughter Tina, using her to figure out where the filmstrip was hidden.  He pieces together what Hayden meant when mentioning his wife with his final breaths and finds the filmstrip.  Brackett takes Tina hostage and the filmstrip to his weapons expert, who can finish the neutron bomb with the information on the strip.  The bomb gets loaded on to a truck and shipped out.  However, Steve’s enhanced hearing picks up a clue on where Tina could be, leading to an oil refinery owned by Brackett.

Simon provides one last present to Steve, a costume to help hide his identity as Captain America.  Cap heads to the refinery to rescue Tina and stop Brackett.  He sneaks in but is spotted.  The alarm sounds, but Steve’s enhanced abilities are no match for the guards.  Tina is rescued, but the neutron bomb plot is revealed.  With some research, the target is located.  Steve and Simon fly off to stop Brackett.

A second made-for-TV movie, /Captain America II: Death Too Soon/, followed, with Reb Brown back as Cap and Christopher Lee as the terrorist, Miguel.  Miguel holds a town in check with a virus that causes rapid aging.  Unless paid or unless Cap can stop him, Miguel plans to gas a city and withhold the antidote, letting the city die of old age in hours.

The TV movies take liberties with Cap’s background.  Captain America: The First Avenger shows the origins well, with Steve Rogers volunteering for a super soldier program and gaining super abilities as a result, and only being frozen after a fight against the Red Skull.  In the comics, Cap is found by Namor, is thawed, and becomes one of the founders of the Avengers.  That is a lot of backstory to fit into a two-hour TV movie, so the change to an former Marine makes some sense.  Steve became an artist once thawed out, so that part is accurate.  In 1972, thanks to the Watergate scandal, Steve gives up the role of Cap out of disgust with the government and becomes Nomad, a wandering hero.  That storyline, though, only lasted a year.  The change to California is explained by keeping costs down; the studio was based in the state.

In the Seventies, the main names when it comes to live-action superheroes were Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman, all characters with similar power sets – super strength and endurance, all easily portrayed with practical effects, camera angles, and sound effects.  The cost of energy blasts in post could be prohibitive, as seen with the original Battlestar Galactica, but jumping higher than normal uses the simple camera trick of running the film of someone jumping down in reverse.  A drifting hero working for the government covers all the TV series mentioned; it’s a concept audiences should be familiar with and works for Captain America.

Reb Brown, while not the best actor around, is earnest as Captain America and, just as important in a superhero series, has the physique needed.  The earnestness helps when considering that Cap was often considered a Boy Scout in the comics of the time.  The music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter is very Seventies with brassy horns and doesn’t quite survive the passage of time.  The concept, a hero working for a secret organization, is common, from the OSI in The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman to the Foundation for Law and Government in the later series, Knight Rider.

Captain America and its sequel are very much Seventies-era made-for-TV movies, suffering from budget limitations.  They take liberties with Cap’s background, but keep close to the characterization of the time.  The needs of gaining a television audience forced some changes. The movies are definitely curiosities, and make a valiant effort, but fall short as adaptations.

* The Turkish film 3 Dev Adam, released in 1973, featured Captain America fighting Spider-Man and was not authorized by Marvel.
** A filmstrip is a series of still photos placed on a strip of photographic film as a means of presentation, much like an early version of a PowerPoint presentation, often with an accompanying recording on cassette, vinyl, or reel-to-reel with signals to let the viewer know when to change the slide.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The Eighties were an odd decade.  The usual follow-the-leader methods loved by studios went out the window as almost anything went.  It was the first decade where popular original works outnumbered popular adaptations.  Music videos were an art form and could turn a near miss into a hit.  Such was the case in 1984 with the original Ghostbusters.  The Ray Parker Jr. video for the movie’s main theme showed more of the movie than traditional trailers, getting people interested in seeing the film.

Ghostbusters went on to be one of the top grossing movies of the Eighties.  The movie, an action-comedy, followed a team of scientists who branched out into a business after their funding was cut by the university.  Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray, saw the potential of the business.  However, Venkman’s ethics were at best loose, allowing him to take advantage of any situation.  The technical geniuses behind the team were Ray Stantz, played by Dan Aykroyd, and Igon Spengler, played by Harold Ramis.  Ray was the wide-eyed enthusiast, eager to explore the possibilities.  Igon was the rational scientist, armed with all literature written on the subject of ghosts, including Tobin’s Spirit Guide.  As business picked up, the Ghostbusters added two more to the crew, Winston Zeddmore, played by Ernie Hudson, who joined the guys in the field, and Janine Melnitz, played by Annie Potts, the receptionist/secretary/general help.

The pick up in business wasn’t just people finally having someone to call to deal with hauntings.  The increase in spectral activity signalled the return of Gozer the Destructor, a dangerous entity that had been banished once before by Tiamat.  Gozer’s minions, the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper, are released to find mortal bodies to inhabit.  Meanwhile, Dana Barrett is having some spectral problems.  Dana is a musician, a cellist with a symphonic orchestra and one of Ghostbusters’ first customer.  Venkman, of the loose professional ethics, starts chatting her up, eventually getting a date with her.  One of the reasons she had called the team was that there was a complaint about her TV being too loud during a time when she hadn’t been home.  Her neighbour, Louis Tully, played by Rick Moranis, vouches for her.

On the night of the date, Louis throws a big party for all his clients in his apartment.  He hears Dana in the hall and heads out there to try to get her to pop in for a moment, but she’s non-commital.  She ducks into her apartment.  Louis tries to get back to his, but the door is locked.  Then the Terror Dog appears.  Louis runs, but is chased down and caught outside a fancy restaurant.  Louis isn’t the only person to encounter a Terror Dog that night.  Dana sits down on her chair to rest before getting ready for her date with Venkman, only for the chair to sprout demonic arms to hold her in place.  The door to her kitchen opens, revealing a doorway to another plane guarded by a Terror Dog.

When Louis and Dana return, the are inhabited by the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper, respectively.  The Keymaster must find the Gatekeeper to open the gate keeping Gozer from returning to Earth.  Venkman discovers Dana sleeping above the covers* and gets teh rest of the team to do what they can to find out what happened to her.  Igon researches and digs up the details of Gozer and what could become of the Earth if the Gozerian is freed.

Alas, the Keymaster and Gatekeeper meet, releasing Gozer.  The power needed to open the gate was provided by the ghosts the team have busted and contained, thanks to human bureaucracy in the form of Walter Peck, played by William Atherton.  The released ghosts terrorize Manhattan and the Ghostbusters are given all due authority required to end the emergency.  Gozer, feeling benevolent to his would-be defeaters, allows the Ghostbusters to choose how their world dies.  While Winston, Venkman, and Igon are able to blank their minds, Ray thought of the most harmless thing he could, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

Ghostbusters was followed up with a sequel in 1989, an animated series, The Real Ghostbusters, from 1985 to 1991, a tabletop RPG in 1986, and a video game in 2009 that featured voices of the four original Ghostbusters.  An attempt at a third movie kept running into problems, to the point where co-creator Aykroyd considered the video game to be the third movie.  In 2016, the drought ended.

The new Ghostbusters was a reboot of the franchise.  Instead of Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddmore, new Ghostbusters were created and introduced.  The movie starts with a tour of the old Aldredge manor in New York City, where the family had locked up their daughter, Gertrude, who had dabbled in the black arts.  Gertrude was said to be locked in the basement, which hadn;t been opened since.  However, when Gertrude starts trying to break free, the curator locates Dr. Erin Golbert, played by Kristen Wiig, at the prestigious university she works at.  He found her name on a book she co-wrote with Abby Yates about the paranormal, a book Erin thought had been remaindered and is now trying to disavow in order to get tenure.

Erin tracks down her old friend Abby at a much less prestigious university to try to get the book pulled from sale.  Unlike Erin, Abby has continued her research into the paranormal and is now working with Jillian Holtzman, a nuclear engineer and mad scientist, played by Kate McKinnon.  The three women go to the Aldredge manor to investigate and do find the ghost of Gertrude.  Erin tries to communicate with Gertrude and is slimed for the effort.  All three women run out of the manor, fear giving way to elation as they see their paranormal theories validated.

The next day, Erin is let go by her university as the YouTube video Holtzman put up makes the circuit.  Erin goes to see Abby to try to get work there, but the dean of Abby’s university, after learning that the department still exists, cuts all funding.  Abby and Holztman take the equipment and follow Erin out.  They decide to try getting into business; Holtzman has created a few devices that need field testing anyway.  Their first stop is a former firestation, the same one from the original movie.  On hearing the monthly rent, the next stop is an office over the Chinese restaurant Abby regularly orders from.

Meanwhile, in the New York subway, MTA worker Patty Tolan spies someone disappearing off the platform and into the tunnel.  Patty chases him, warning him that the train is coming.  She stops when she sees a spectral entity floating above the tracks.  She contacts the Ghostbusters and shows them where she saw the ghost.  Holtzman gives Erin her new device, a proton pack that should be able to catch the ghost.  There are some problems, including range and recoil, and the women have to get out of the tunnel before the next train arrives.

Patty joins the team, providing the Ghostbusters someone who knows the history of New York City and a vehicle on loan from her uncle.  Their big break comes when a ghost is reported at a heavy metal concert.  The Ghostbusters arrive in their new car, a hearse from Patty’s uncle that has been repainted by Holtzman.  They split up inside the concert hall, searching for the ghost.  Patty finds a room full of mannequins and, knowing horror movies and possibly Doctor Who, walks away from the room full of potential nightmares.  The ghost, inhabiting one of the mannequins, follows her.

The four Ghostbusters make short work of the mannequin, but the ghsot flees upwards, through the ceiling and into the concert.  While at first the audience and the act on stage think its all part of the performance, things change when the ghost tosses the lead singer into the stack of amps.  The Ghostbusters arrive and spread out, with Patty moshing over the audience to get into position and Abby not having the same luck.  The first shots miss, and the ghost lands on Patty.  With careful aim, Holtzman hits the ghost and pulls it off Patty, allowing the others to trap it with their pack.  Holtzman sends out her latest investion, the ghost trap, and seals the ghost away.

The success at the concert leads to more calls.  Erin hires a new secretary, Kevin Beckman, played by Chris Hemsworth.  Unlike Janine in the original movie, where she was the best receptionist the Ghostbusters could afford on the cheap, Kevin was hired by Erin solely to be eye candy.  Kevin has trouble with answering phones.  Business picks up, but the Ghostbusters realize there’s a pattern to where the ghosts are appearing and track it on a map.  Each sighting occurred on a ley line, and the intersection of two ley lines is where the most powerful one will appear.  They also recognize the one constant in each sighting, a bellhop named Rowan, played by Neil Casey.

Rowan sees himself as an underappreciated genius and will show the world otherwise.  The Ghostbusters close in on him and find his lair in the basement of the hotel, the Mercado.  Rowan tries to tell the Ghostbusters about how difficult it is for him to get anywhere in the world**, and apparently commits suicide over being brought in by the police.  While searching his equipment, Erin finds a copy of the book she and Abby wrote and takes it along with her.

That night, Erin reads through the book she found and sees the annotations Rowan has made, which includes him killing himself then returning.  She runs out to warn the mayor to evacuate the city.  At the Ghostbusters’ office, Abby, working late, has her own encounter with a ghost.  She manages to elude it, but it flies away.  The ghost, Rowan, instead takes over Kevin’s body.  Abby brings in Holtzman and Patty.  Unable to reach Erin, the three women head down to the Mercado in Times Square.

Along the way, the three women in the new Ecto-1 stop to bust a ghost at a hotdog stand.  Slimer, however, turns the tables and steals Ecto-1, going off on a joy ride.  The three Ghostbusters run the rest of the way to Times Square to face off against the denizens of Times Square of yore, including a ghostly version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of the Twenties.**  The Ghostbusters destroy most of the balloons but one, good old Stay-Puft himself, lands on them.  Balloons being balloons, though, are not match to Swiss Army knives, as Erin demonstrates.

Reunited, the four women turn to get through the mass of ghosts under Rowan’s command.  Holtzman’s inventions all come out, from the ghost shredder used by Patty to proton grenades thrown by Abby to twin pistol-sized proton packs that Holtzman kept for herself.  They fight through the ghosts to face off against Rowan.  Being magnanimous in apparent victory, Rowan gives the Ghostbusters the choice of his final form.  Patty chooses the cute little harmless ghost in their logo.  Rowan agrees, and turns into a cartoon version of the logo before growing into a far more sinister version.

As can be seen above, the plots of both movies are similar.  Both have a being manipulating spectral energy to gain power and destroy the world.  In the original, the being was the extraplanar Gozer the Gozerian.  In the reboot, the being was more mundane but also more typical of the problems women in the real world face.  The devices are the same, given updates and more flashing lights in the new movie but still recognizable as what they are.  The reboot also pulls ideas from the existing franchise, including the cartoon.  Rowan’s rampage at the end of the movie is similar to the opening credits of the cartoon.  The cartoon also gave direction to Slimer’s appearance in the reboot and may have been the source for the idea of the strong recoil the proton accelerators have.

The gender flip of the main characters also means that what the guys could get away with in the first movie couldn’t be done so much in the reboot.  At the same time, Kevin was eye candy, hired by Erin because of his looks, something Venkman didn’t do in the original.  The characters don’t match up on a one-to-one basis.  Elements of the original characters, however, do appear in the reboot; there is some Igon in Holtzman, but Holtzman is definitely not Igon in drag.  Abby may be the one character that has the strongest resemblance to another, in Ray, but Abby is still her own character, with her own traits and flaws.

The use of CGI should get mentioned.  The original Ghostbusters didn’t have the luxury of affordable CGI.  The Last Starfighter, one of the first movies to use extensive CGI for special effects, came out in the same year as Ghostbusters.  The original Ghostbusters used extensive practical effects with cel animation.  The reboot could make use of CGI in place of the cel animation, but even then, practical effects were also used.  Drones were used as stand-ins for the ghosts to give the actors something to look and aim at.  Lighted extensions on the proton accelerators allowed the actors to react without having to keep the ends still to aid the animation process.  Special effects caught up to the needs of the movie, allowing for trickier shots, such as Holtzman going to town with two proton accelerators.

Is the reboot the same movie as the original?  No, and it couldn’t be.  A shot-for-shot remake would be a waste of talent.  Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon are far too talented and had such great chemistry working together that a mere gender-flip wasn’t enough.  Director Paul Feig allowed his actors room to improv, much like Ivan Reitman did in the original movie, allowing the chemistry to appear on screen.  The reboot, though, takes in the full franchise and presents it on screen.  The new Ghostbusters has fun with the material, which is what is expected with an action-comedy.

Administrivia:
Lost in Translation now has a Facebook page!

* “Three feet above the covers.”
** Special features on the DVD reveal that the balloons in the scene were based on actual balloons used in the parade of the era.  There really isn’t much difference between the ghostly balloons and the real ones.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Because of other happenings in my life, Lost in Translation will not appear this week.  I should be able to give proper attention to the review on tap when Lost in Translation returns.

In the meantime, Lost in Translation can now be found on Facebook.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Remakes of popular films have it rough; the production staff needs to balance the expectations of existing fans while still working to get new viewers in.  With cult films, the balancing act needs to account for what made the original enduring.  Remaking The Rocky Horror Picture Show is daunting enough; the movie was one of the 70s top grossing movies and still plays to packed theatres, especially around Hallowe’en, and has audience participation.  To say there are built-in expectations is to scratch the surface.  Fox, however, added another level of difficulty – The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again was made for TV.

Broadcast* television is heavily regulated as a public resource.  In the US, the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission – has issued community standards of broadcast setting down what is and what is not allowed.  Since the “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004, the FCC’s enforcement has become more strict, at least before the watershed hour of 10pm.  The Rocky Horror Picture Show covers themes that dance over the line of what is allowed.  However, since Rocky Horror‘s release in 1975, attitudes have changed.  What could only be hinted at forty years ago, such as homosexuality, can be stated outright today, though having gay characters kiss, even chastely, will still generate complaints.

Shot-for-shot remakes just lead to viewers wondering why they just didn’t watch the original.  Deviating too far from the original, especially one where there’s audience participation, will leave viewers also wanting the original.  There’s a fine line to tread, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again makes the effort to find it.  Let’s Do the Time Warp Again frames the movie as a movie, with audiences, both television viewer and in-film, being brought into the Castle Theatre during the opening number, “Science Fiction/Double Feature” sung by Ivy Levan.  The in-film audience brings in the audience participation that movie-goers would get and is one of the draws of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The plot of the movie follows the original script created by Richard O’Brien for the stage play, The Rocky Horror Show.  Between the movie and the various performances of the stage musical, there’s no getting away from it; audiences are expecting that story.  However, it’s not the plot that is key; it’s the performances.  Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter is iconic; Frank-N-Furter is a sexual omnivore casually seducing everyone around, including the theatre audience.  Curry is a tough act to follow, and his presence in Let’s Do the Time Warp Again as the Criminologist** serves as a reminder of his previous role.  Laverne Cox is up to the challenge as the new Frank-N-Furter.  While Cox doesn’t quite channel Curry, she does exude raw sexuality, predatory and assertive, in the role.  Meanwhile, Victoria Justice as Janet Weiss and Ryan McCartan as Brad Majors protray the young highschool sweethearts going through sexual liberation, Janet willingly and Brad reluctantly.  Rounding out the cast, Reeve Carney does channel Richard O’Brien as Riff-Raff, sounding much like the original.  Frank-N-Furter’s castle is played by Toronto’s Casa Loma, and looms menacingly in the stormy night.

The remake includes a few shout outs to the original movie, including Columbia saying, “I hope it’s not Meatloaf again,” during the dinner scene.  Considering all the challenges faced, the remake stepped up and delivered.  Even the cheesy CGI near the end can be forgiven; no one in Toronto would appreciate the destruction of Casa Loma after all the time and money put into renovating the building.  The biggest drawback Let’s Do the Time Warp Again had was the commercial breaks, disrupting the flow at times.  The drawback will be corrected with the DVD release, allowing viewers to watch the movie through without interruption.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again won’t replace The Rocky Horror Picture Show, nor does it try to.  The framing of the remake goes a long way to set up how to view the movie and brings in the audience participation, the biggest draw of the original movie.  The forty years between the original release and the remake’s airing gives Let’s Do the Time Warp Again the room needed to address the theme of sexual liberation, with the Unconventional Conventionlists and the Transsexual Transylvanians being a goal, not an oddity.  Given enough time, Let’s Do the Time Warp Again should reach cult status, much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and join the original movie on the repertory circuit.

* Over-the-air, though even that description is getting less and less accurate as online streaming becomes more and more popular.
** Portrayed in the original movie by Charles Gray, who also played Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever.

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