Lost in Translation has looked at Jem and the Holograms before. The original cartoon was based on Hasbro’s line of dolls developed to challenge Mattel’s Barbie. The cartoon was popular but failed in its primary mission, selling the doll line. The 2015 film revival faltered at the box office because fans were expecting the cartoon. IDW picked up the Jem license for an ongoing series of comics beginning in 2014, leaning heavily on the cartoon as a base but going its own direction.
Lost in Translation has also looked at fan works before. Fan works can be variable in quality, but the common theme is that they’re made by fans. Fans will get into the minutiae about what they’re fanatical about, and may know the work possibly better than the creators. With the cost of recording technology coming down far enough to let anyone with a mind to creating a video do so, fan works are getting more common.
The video takes the form of a live-action version of the 80s cartoon, including a bumper halfway through where a commercial break would be, but mixes in some of the ideas from the IDW comic. The characters’ appearances are based on the cartoon, with an eye to the wigs and costumes seen there. Almost every major character from the cartoon makes an appearance, including the Limp Lizards. It’s obvious that Feldman was and is a fan of the series.
The plot would fit in after the series if slightly overblown. Jem and the Holograms are still big in the music world, garnering attention for their latest efforts to raise funds for the Starlight Foundation. Eric Raymond, though, has hit rock bottom. His schemes have failed. The Misfits are in prison. There’s nowhere for them to go. In a nod to IDW’s continuity, Stormer really misses Kimber and isn’t doing well in prison. But Kevin, who is totally an American, really, has information that will help Eric and the Misfits turn their fortunes around.
It’s not just the attention to detail in the characters, though. “Truly Outrageous!” includes several songs that reflect not just the plot but how the characters are feeling. There’s also the required morale of the story, the bits needed in the 80s to qualify what would be thirty minute toy ads as educational programming. The morale is a little heavy-handed, but that appeared in the original cartoon, too. The film is well aware of what it is, and even winks at the fourth wall to let the audience in on the fun.
The result is a video that pays homage to the original cartoon, taking the ideas shown there and expanding on them. “Truly Outrageous!” is definitely Jem.
Lost in Translation has looked at a couple of Batman adaptations in the past, one for the Fluxx card game and once for the Adam West series. Created by Bob Kane, the character has been around since 1939, with his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, and has gone through many iterations, from World’s Greatest Detective to the always prepared Bat-god. Batman is one of DC Comics’ Big Three alongside Superman and Wonder Woman. Naturally, a popular character will be noticed by Hollywood, leading to Batman’s first silver screen appearance, the 1943 fifteen-chapter serial Batman, starring Lewis Wilson as Bruce Wayne, Douglas Croft as Dick Grayson, Shirley Patterson as Linda Page, William Austin as Alfred, and J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Tito Daka.
The US in 1943 had just entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December of the previous year. The United States had maintained official neutrality despite sending materiel to the Allied Forces in Europe until the bombing. After the attack, the American war effort redoubled. Propaganda produced during the war wasn`t subtle. Even such notables as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney weren’t above making unflattering caricatures of Axis leaders. Serials, being a way to pull in an audience to the movie theatre, took advantage.
The 1943 Batman serial is a product of its time. The villain, Daka who was created for the serial, is a racist stereotype, plotting against the US. In the first chapter, “The Electrical Brain”, the narrator all but cheers the decision to place Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Even Batman calls Daka a “Jap”. The racism isn’t always front and centre, but it lurks under the surface.
That said, the war does provide the villain a motive. Daka has a new weapon, a radium-powered disintegration ray. Coupled with a device that turns people into his own controlled zombies, Daka is a credible threat to the US. Worse, Daka is getting help from the criminal element in Gotham City. Needing help, the American government calls in secret agent Batman who brings along his youthful sidekick Robin to find and stop the Japanese agent.
Each step of the investigation in each chapter of the serial brings Batman and Robin closer to Daka. Criminal lairs are found, crooks are defeated, all leading up to finding Daka’s lab. Daka, though, needs a larger source of radium. Despite losing one of the ray guns to Batman, Daka has extras, larger models, and a source of radium to power them would let Japan bring the war to the US. Complicating matters, Bruce’s girlfriend, Linda, needs his help to clear her uncle’s good name. Daka kidnapped her uncle and turned him into a mind-controlled zombie. Worse, Linda also suffers the same fate. It’s up to Batman and Robin to stop Daka and help his zombified victims.
Lewis Wilson’s Batman is nothing like Adam West’s, Kevin Conroy’s, or Christian Bale’s. His is a detective first, not a martial artist. Criminals are afraid of him, but will attack him if the odds are in their favour, around three-to-one or better. Douglas Croft’s Robin, though, is the youthful ward, similar to Burt Ward in the 1966 series. The Dynamic Duo of the serial reflects the Batman and Robin of the comics of the time, with some changes imposed by the change in format.
As mentioned above, Batman is a secret agent working for the US government. Vigilantism wasn’t allowed by film censors of the the day. No taking the law into your own hands. But government agents fighting against the Axis threat? Perfectly fine. The line comes up once in the first chapter; for the rest of the serial, there’s no mention of the government connection. The Gotham City Police Department aren’t sure of Batman, wanting to arrest him.
Serials have limited budgets. They’re backup features, not the main draw, though a popular serial can bring an audience back week after week. Columbia, the studio behind Batman, took a risk and had it run fifteen chapters, the longest serial they had to date. This meant stretching a budget a bit longer than normal, even if the budget is bigger overall. This means that some elements need to get dropped. The Batmobile was once such victim. While Batman had a car, he had to share with Bruce Wayne. The difference – Bruce had the top down on his convertible while Batman kept the roof up.
The costumes are recognizably the Dynamic Duo’s. While black and white film doesn’t allow for checking that the colours are correct, both Batman and Robin and wearing costumes that come from their comic counterparts. Spandex isn’t yet available, and fabrics like nylon are being rationed due to the needs of the American armed forces. Batman’s costume starts looking a little baggy at times; chalk that up to the nature of the times. Despite that, the costumes are accurate.
The serial looks off when compared to today’s Batman media – comics, cartoons, and movies – but there isn’t a way to adapt a work that hasn’t yet been made. Batman works with the material DC released up to 1943 and reflects that time in both the US and the character’s history.
As mentioned during the History of Adaptations series, the Eighties were a strange decade for entertainment. Music videos entered their hey day. Music ran the gamut of genres. From New Wave to Heavy Metal, from Rockabilly to Hip Hop, Top 40 charts had a mix of them all.
Popular music filtered into other areas. Television shows, while never one to discount pop music, adopted more as characters listened to their radios. This wasn’t new; even older series like Peter Gunn worked in music. In the case of Peter Gunn, jazz music at a jazz club where some of the action occurred weekly was a natural fit. But most shows used a variation of their theme song for background music when a radio wasn’t in the scene. That changed thanks to one show, Miami Vice.
In 1984, the head of NBC wanted to get in on the popularity of music videos, not just the videos themselves but the esthetics. To this end, Anthony Yerkovic created and Michael Mann produced Miami Vice. Set in, naturally, Miami, the look reflected the scene there, with pastels and neons dominating. However, for the focus of the show, the nascent War on Drugs came into play. Miami was and is a natural port for bringing in illicit and illegal drugs from Central and South America into the US. Drug dealers and drug smugglers could make in a week as much as a vice cop made in a year*. The difference between what a vice detective could live on and the high life of people in the illegal drug industry made for a easily exploitable conflict.
With Don Johnson as Miami native Detective James “Sonny” Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as New York transplant Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, the series delved into the Miami underground, the seamier side of the city. However, Crockett is seen with a boat, a fancy car, and an alligator. How can he afford that on his salary? Thanks to the War on Drugs, civil forfeiture and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 allowed law enforcement agencies to make use of items impounded as a result of a criminal investigation. Crockett’s boat and car belong to the Metro-Dade Police Department; one early episode involved an departmental auditor questioning his use of the equipment and threatening to take it all away.
Once the early episode oddities, including comedic elements, settled down, the series became a police drama. Popular music was used not just for radio but as background music, to set the mood of a scene. The pilot episode made good use of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight“, setting the mood for the climax in a way that a variation of the main theme couldn’t. One song, Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues“, was adapted into the episode of the same name, with Frey himself guest starring as a pilot smuggling drugs from Central and South America.
Miami Vice made its mark on television, lasting until 1989. Other series began to use techniques pioneered by the show, like using popular music to set the mood of a scene. Many singers and groups got a boost by being featured on the show. Having a song on Miami Vice was a sign of a singer making it big. Anytime a visual cue to the Eighties is needed in a movie or TV show, the fashion comes from Miami Vice.
Fast forward a bit to 2006. The War on Drugs has led to the militarization of American police departments. Drug dealers countered by getting their own heavier weapons. Miami is still a conduit for drugs into the US. Illicit drugs are big money makers at all levels. In this climate, Michael Mann brought Miami Vice to the big screen. The film version of the show starred Colin Farrell as Crocket and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs.
The film opens with Crockett and Tubbs getting a call from a former informant, now informing for the FBI, that he’s in trouble. One of the cartels threatened to kill the informant’s wife if he didn’t confess to the killing of Russian agents that tried to infiltrate the organization. Tubbs races off to try to help the wife, but is too late. The informant takes his own life by stepping out in front of a semi with Crockett watching. The detectives head to the murder scene, only to be called off by Lieutenant Castillo (Barry Shabaka Henley), which just piques their curiosity. The investigation leads to Crockett and Tubbs infiltrating the cartel to find who was responsible.
The movie version could fit in as a two-part episode of the original series, or a series of episodes spread out over the series’ run, much like the Calderone saga, which began in the pilot and appeared through to the third season. The difference is what could be filmed. Even in the watershed time slot of 10pm, television can only go so far. The MPAA rating of R allowed for sex, violence, and language that could not appear on even the most lenient broadcaster in the Eighties. However, the movie didn’t get self-indulgent with the freedom the rating provided. Michael Mann had a distinct vision in mind.
Mann realized there was a difference in how digital cameras picked up light compared to traditional film. Knowing the difference, he came in with an eye to how things would look when shot on location. The result is that Miami can be dramatic all on its own, with colours that would put the original series’ pastels to shame. The skies above the city added to the mood in ways even the soundtrack could not, and there was no way to plan for such ideal conditions yet they occurred. Mann shot on location; there was no way Vancouver or Toronto could be a stunt double for Miami.
Casting worked for the most part. The main quibble would be Henley as Lt. Martin Castillo, a role that Edward James Olmos owned. In the original, in a squad wearing pastels, Castillo wore simple black and white. He stood apart from his detectives. Henley’s Castillo may have been better as Gregory Sierra’s Lt. Lou Rodriguez, though that character survived only four episodes. This is more to the credit of Olmos, who brought an intensity to the character, then anything that Hanley did or did not do.
One thing Mann wanted to do was to separate the film from the original. Not even the original theme made an appearance. However, one song made a return. Mann used a cover of “In the Air Tonight” performed by Nonpoint. In the film released to theatres, the song is played over the end credits. However, the director’s cut moves it to just before the climax, where it fits in to set the mood of the characters, much like how the original Collins version of the song did.
The movie made its budget thanks to the international release. It came out strong in 2006, bumping Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest out of the top spot at the box office, but faded away. The film was an update to the TV series, moving it to then-modern times where the War on Drugs was entrenched. However, the movie is now becoming a cult favourite thanks to Mann’s cinematography. It’s not the TV series from the Eighties because it wasn’t made in the Eighties, it was made with the sensitivities of 2006.
* This was an issue during Prohibition in the Roaring Twenties. The high rate of corruption among Prohibition agents came about because bootleggers could slip them $50 or $100 and not feel the loss while giving the agents a large bonus. Eliot Ness and his team were called the Untouchables because they weren’t susceptible to bribes, making them rare agents.
Universal Studios had a success with their 1999 remake of The Mummy. The movie had two sequels, an animated spin-off series, and a prequel series. There was interest in the classic monster. Why not go back to that well?
In 2017, Universal released a new remake of The Mummy, this time with Tom Cruise. The remake brought the setting from the 1930s to today. Things have changed greatly over time, especially in the Middle East. Will the change affect the movie?
The film begins in England of 1127 as Crusaders bury one of their own with a red gem. Jump to now, and an excavation for a subway tunnel breaks into the tomb, showing yet again that England buries important people in odd spots. The construction team is told to go elsewhere as Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, and his team take over the site. Jekyll begins a narration, flashing back to Ancient Egypt and Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), heir to the Pharoah’s throne, learns that she’s been bumped when her baby brother is born. Scorned, she performs a rite in the name of Set and is reborn a monster, killing her father and brother. All she needs is a mortal man to become the living vessel of Set, but before she can complete the ritual, she’s discovered, mummified alive, and taken to be buried as far away from Egypt as possible, in Mesopotamia.
Modern day Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq, is not the best place to be. Thanks to the American invasion in 2003, insurgents abound. Two American soldiers allegedly on long-range recon but, really, searching for antiquities, i.e., looting, observe a village. Sergeant Nick Morton (Cruise) and Corporal Chris Vail sneak in to see if there are any antiquities. However, they’re spotted and get pinned down. Vail calls in an airstrike; the appearance of an armed drone firing missiles scatters the insurgents. The missile strike also collapses the building Morton and Vail are trapped on and opens a long-lost tomb, one Morton expected to find.
The owner of the map Morton stole, er, hunted as an antiquity, arrives with the rest of Morton’s unit. Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance) orders Morton and Vail to accompany Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) down into the tomb. She makes not of the burial arrangements, how they differ from what has been found in Egypt. Morton and Vail are looking more at the antiquities. During the investigation of the tomb, mercury drips on to Morton. In Ahmanet’s time, mercury was used in a ritual to reduce the will of men.
Word filters down of the return of the insurgents. Halsey wants to bring up the tomb, despite it being deep underwater. Greenway wants everyone to leave ASAP. Morton shoots the Gordian knot and the chain keeping the tomb in place. It comes up, as do thousands of spiders. They shouldn’t be aggressive, but Vail is bitten. Ahmanet worms her way into Morton’s mind, cursing him to be the new vessel of Set.
With the tomb hauled up and flown out by helicopter under the eyes of a murder of crows that just arrived, the next obstacle is a massive sandstorm. The tomb is loaded in to the airplane fast, and the craft takes off as the sandstorm hits. The flight gives Halsey time to read the inscription on the tomb, showing that she has never watched a horror movie in her life. Morton gets drawn back into the dreamscape with Ahmanet; when he returns, Vail, who has been showing signs of illness during the flight, is at the tomb, trying to open it. Greenway tries to stop him only to be stabbed for the effort. Morton winds up shooting Vail. Which is when the bird strike happens.
Over England, the aircraft is hammered by a murder of crows, killing the flight crew, damaging the plane’s engines and weakening the structure. Morton helps Helsey into a parachute and gets her away safely. She is the only survivor. As such, Halsey is called in to identify the remains found in the wreckage. Ahmanet’s tomb is missing, though the crash happened near a bog. In the morgue, Morton wakes up in a body bag. Vail appears and gives a spectral, cryptic warning before disappearing as Halsey enters.
At the crash, Ahmanet’s tomb is found. The crash site investigators open it up and become her forst victims in millennia. She drains their life force, gaining strength from them, then animates their remains to begin her undead army.of minions, the first of many. Ahmanet knows what she wants, and what she wants is to make Set a living god.
Morton understandably tries to get drunk after all the weirdness that has happened. Helse finds him and brings him up to speed on what’s going on, with Ahmanet and with him. Vail reappears, only to Morton, and tries to get him to follow. In the women’s washroom, Vail provides more details, how Ahmanet is the source of the curse. While Morton is missing, Helsey calls in Dr. Jekyll.
Morton manages to get out of the bar and into a back alley. Rats under Ahmanet’s control swarm him but somehow escapes and gets to the main road with Halsey. Ahmanet uses her influence to summon Morton to the bog, where she attacks him. She raises her dagger to plunge it into his chest and sees that the gem stone is missing. Halsey catches up and tries to get Ahmanet off Morton. He grabs the dagger and stabs her. Helsey grabs the dagger out of Ahmanet and runs off with Morton. They try to escape in an ambulance, but with Morton driving and Ahmanet in his head, he drives in a circle. Her minions try to break into the ambulance, and don’t stop moving when they lose limbs.
Dr. Jekyll has a sense of timing. As things look dim for Morton and Halsey, he and a team arrive to stop Ahmanet. He takes everyone back to to his headquarters, where it is shown that Dr. Henry Jekyll is, indeed, that Dr. Jekyll. He his the head of the Prodigium, from the Latin phrase, monstrum vel prodigium, or “a warning of monsters” (maybe; a check with an instructor at the University of Alberta, Dr. Kelly A. MacFarlane, shows a something along the lines of “monster or ports”, which could be massaged into what the movie uses). The organization exists to contain evil, something the good doctor is all too personally familiar with. The Prodigium is keeping Ahmanet neutralized by injecting her with mercury and freezing it so she can be dissected for examination. Ahmanet isn’t dissuaded. She continues to seduce Morton, promising him an eternal reward, one he doesn’t understand.
At the Crusaders’ tomb, a Prodigium technician finds the missing gem stone. Ahmanet feels it and sends a spider to take over one of the techs to break her free. Loose, she wreaks havoc. During the chaos, Dr. Jekyll needs to take his injection, but Morton interrupts that in a bid to negotiate. Jekyll becomes Hyde and throws Morton around. Morton manages to inject Hyde with his serum, but it’s too late.
There’s now a race to get the gem stone. Dr. Jekyll wants the stone to stop Ahmanet and study her. Morton wants the stone to try to break his curse. Ahmanet wants the stone to bring Set to Earth. The princess has an advantage; she can call upon the dead to do her bidding, including the Crusaders. She gets the gem first and puts it back on the dagger. Finding Morton, she tries to complete the ritual again. Morton steals the dagger and stabs himself, opening him up to being possessed by Set but not under Ahmanet’s control. Using Set’s power, Morton fights Ahmanet, then disappears. He’s last seen in the movie in the desert, a restored Vail by his side, searching for a cure for his curse.
The orignal 1932 film was gothic horror with a doomed romance. Boris Karloff had top billing as The Mummy. The 1999 remake was a pulp action/horror starring Brandon Fraser as Rick O’Connell and Arnold Vosloo as the title monster. The movie focused more on O’Connell, but Imhotep had a presence through out the film. The 2017 version was action-adventure. Tom Cruise got top billing as Nick Morton. The title monster was the threat but didn’t maintain a presence throughout the film. And that may be the movie`s biggest issue.
The tone of monster movies have changed over the history of cinema. Once just creatures in a horror film, over time, monsters became less creatures of the night to fear and more something that could be defeated. The Fifties and the advent of nuclear power and weapons meant that humanity could be far more destructive than just one monster. Radiation because both the cause and the cure. Slasher movies replaced the monster with a monstrous human. Films like The Terminator and Tremors hearkened back to classic monsters, unrelentless and alien, and the sequels to both started to go back to action over horror. With the 2017 The Mummy, the tone fit in with those sequels.
The remake also tended to bounce around, unsure of what it wanted to be. There was action, but not enough to be a true action-adventure. It flirted with horror, but shied away before getting too serious, leaving jump scares behind. It hinted at a gothic romance, but the heavy-handed narration hammed home that Ahmanet didn’t want a lover, she wanted a vessel for Set. Cruise’s character had no agency; Morton was dragged from plot point to plot point. In the 1999 remake, Rick O’Connell made decisions, sometimes bad ones, and chose to fight to stop Imhotep. Morton was cursed and couldn’t escape it. He was a damsel in distress. Ahmanet was the mover and shaker of the film, but she was relegated to the background.
Nick Morton was not the character to focus the film on. Several characters could have carried the remake far better, including Ahmanet, with her quest to bring Set in to walk the Earth, and Dr. Jekyll and the Prodigium, including Halsey. Yet both were pushed to the side. The studio was counting on the star power of Tom Cruise, which meant putting Nick Morton front and centre instead of someone who moved the plot instead of being dragged along by it.
Setting the film in the now may have also hurt it. The original was made just ten years after the discovery of Tutenkhamun and could take advantage of the alleged curse opening Tut’s tomb placed the on archaeologists. The 1999 remake went with the same era, allowing for an easier suspension of disbelief. Films like Raiders of the Lost Ark were in the public’s consciousness, so similar films could lean a bit on what it had done for modern pulp. Placing the film into the now meant touching on urban fantasy, but there’s no evidence of the tropes in that genre. Tropes are not bad; they act as shorthand for the genre. Blindly using them causes problems. Ignoring them outright also causes problems. Urban fantasy deals with what lurks behind the shadows of cities. Ahmanet, though, didn’t lurk.
Ultimately, the 2017 remake took its cues from the action parts of the 1999 remake. Like a photocopy of a photocopy, the fine details of the original version of The Mummy got blurred and lost.
Alas, no new post this week. However, if you’re in Ottawa and at CanGames, I will be there.
Universal Studios has a gold mine when it comes to adaptations. The studio released three of the best known horror films, each featuring a now classic monster – 1931’s Dracula and Frankenstein, and 1932’s The Mummy, the latter two starring Boris Karloff in the title roles. Each of these films presented the villain as something other to be just feared. Two, Dracula and Frankenstein, were adapted from literature written by Bram Stoker and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, respectively. The Mummy, though, was an original film and the second to star Boris Karloff.
The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 kept Egyptology in the minds of audiences for a decade. Even after the opening of the tomb, the careful examination of recovered artifacts, including Tutankhamun himself, took years. Adding to the mystique was the alleged curse dooming anyone who had opened to tomb. Fertile ground for writers, indeed.
The script went through several drafts and changes before reaching what is seen on screen. The original story, Cagliosto by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer, went through rewrites to move the film from San Francisco to Cairo, using the interest in Egyptology to tell a story of forbidden love enduring across time.
The film begins at a British Museum archaeological dig in Egypt of 1921. Sir Joseph Whemple, played by Arthur Byron, and his assistant, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) are busy cataloguing the finds, including the mummified remains of Imhotep (Karloff the Uncanny, as he was billed for the movie) and gold box holding casket with a scroll. Whemple’s friend, Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan), arrives at Sir Joseph’s request to examine the items. Muller examines Imhotep and his tomb and determines that the mummy was buried alive with all invocations to protect the soul removed, chiseled away. Dr. Muller also confirms that the Scroll of Thoth, which returns life to the dead when read, is in the casket, though there is also a curse that will kill whosoever removes the scroll.
Muller and Whemple go outside to talk about the findings. Whemple wants to continue his investigations, but Muller insists that everything should be buried and forgotten. Norton, though, lets his curiosity get the better of him and reads the scroll. Behind him, Imhotep opens his eyes and begins to move. Norton, though, remains unaware and continues to read the scroll until Imhotep puts a hand down on the table. Looking up, Norton sees the mummy and laughs like a madman as Imhotep takes the scroll and walks out.
Ten years later, Whemple’s son Frank (David Manners) is working with Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie) to help the British Museum and the Cairo Museum with another dig. Imhotep arrives, now fleshed out and calling himself Ardath Bey, with information on the resting place of Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, a priestess of Isis and his illicit lover. Pearson and Frank take a team to recover Ankh-es-en-amon and bring her and her treasures to the Cairo Museum, where she is put on display.
Imhotep uses a ritual to call for his lover. Elsewhere in Cairo, Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a woman studying in Cairo, hears the call. She leaves the nightclub she’s in to go to the Cairo Museum, where she collapses in front of Frank. Frank helps her inside and a spark of love ignites in him and in Helen. She recovers, but later runs across Imhotep. He hypnotizes her, reawakening her past life as Ankh-es-en-amon. In the past, when she died, Imhotep stole the Scroll of Thoth in a bid to revive her, much as Isis did with Osiris, but was found and stopped. For his transgressions, he was wrapped and buried alive.
To ensure that Ankh-es-en-amon won’t die again, Imhotep must go through a ritual where he turns her into a mummy herself, then read from the Scroll of Thoth to bring her back to immortal life, allowing them to live together for all eternity. The exhibit at the Cairo Museum has everything Imhotep needs. As the ritual begins, Frank realizes what is about to happen to Helen and races to the museum with Pearson. They arrive in time, but are unable to stop Imhotep. Instead, the mummy incapacitates them with his ring. Helen recovers just enough to realize what is happening and calls on her memories to plead to Isis. Before Imhotep can kill Helen, Isis raises her ankh and creates a beam of light that burns the Scroll of Thoth, breaking the spell keeping Imhotep in a state between life and death, destroying him.
Karloff made a name for himself with his portrayal of Frankenstein, giving the Creature a child-like sensibility. As Imhotep, he uses his physicality to convey both strength and weakness. He moves stiffly, like his body is still not what it was. Lighting casts dramatic shadows across his face. The moment when Norton finishes reading the Scroll of Thoth, the merest opening of his eye carried more weight for the scene than anything else there. Karloff played a man who would do anything for his love, no matter the cost, ensuring that The Mummy would be a classic Universal monster.
Studios know when they have a marketable character. While Imhotep wasn’t in further films, the mummy as a monster reappeared in several work, including The Mummy’s Hand, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy – both from Universal – and a series from Hammer Films. In 1999, Universal returned to the 1932 version, remaking it as The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep.
The remake begins in Ancient Egypt, showing the illicit affair between Imhotep (Vosloo) and Anck-su-numan (Patricia Velasquez), the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I. Caught in the act, Imhotep raises a sword to the Pharaoh, but it is Ankh-su-numan who kills the ruler. She implores Imhotep to escape as only he can resurrect her, then kills herself. Imhotep doesn’t get far and is caught. His punishment is to be mummified and eaten alive by scarab beetles.
In 1923, a unit of the French Foreign Legion is caught in Hamunaptra hidden in the caldera of a volcano. The leader of the unit gets his men ready to repulse an attack by mounted riders, then runs away, leaving Rick O’Connell (Fraser) to take over. He keeps them from breaking, with the exception of Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor), who is the first to run. The riders attack, overwhelming the defenders. Beni takes refuge within the ruin, closing the doors to everyone, friend and foe alike. Soon, it’s just Rick alone, but one of the Magi who watch over the hidden city, Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), invokes magic to scare off the invaders.
Elsewhere, in Cairo, Evelyn “Evy” Carnahan, librarian and Egyptologist, is busy reshelving books in the museum’s library when she has some problems while standing on a ladder. The resulting disaster sees the shelves fall like dominoes. She’s told to get the mess cleaned up. As she does so, her brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), arrives with a map to the lost city of Hamunaptra. Evy discovers that the man her brother stole it from is being held prisoner, scheduled for execution, and rushes to the prison. She makes a deal with the warden (Omid Djalili) for Rick’s release. The warden, though, not only wants a piece of the action, he wants to join the expedition.
The race is on. A group of American treasure hunters are also on the trail to the lost city, and they have their own guide, Beni. On the paddleboat leaving Cairo, though, the Magi attack, trying to get both the map and the key to Hamunaptra. They aren’t successful; the map gets destroyed but Jonathan manages to grab the key before escaping the boat, now aflame thanks to the fighting.
Both groups arrive at Hamunaptra. Evy directs Rick and Jonathan, while the Americans dig elsewhere. Evy’s location is correct, though she’s quick to allow the Americans to take over the dig site. She finds a way down below the statue of Anubis where Rick can start his own digging. The warden finds another route, leading him to a tomb adorned with what look like gemstones. As he pries the stones off, he discovers too late that they are scarab beetles as they burrow within him. He runs off. Evy, Rick, and Jonathan discover a tomb marked “He Who Shall Not be Named” and as they investigate, the warden runs by screaming. They witness him hit a wall and stop, dead.
The Magi attack again overnight. The fight is to a standstill as Rick threatens Bay with a stick of dynamite, but the Magi warn both sets of seekers to leave, giving just one day to leave Hamunaptra. Of course, no one listens. The Americans find the Book of the Dead, though they can’t get it open; it needs a key. At night, Evy manages to liberate the Book and opens it. She reads from it, reawakening Imhotep. However, the mummy does not have eyes nor a tongue.
What Imhotep has is locusts. Everyone scatters, seeking shelter. Inside the lost city, Rick, Evy, and Jonathan are safe until the scarabs pour out. They run, seeking higher ground. Once out of the beetles’ way, they watch the swarm continue their path of destruction. Evy stumbles on a trap door and falls inside, finding one of the Americans. Unfortunately, Imhotep had found him first, taking the American’s eyes and tongue. As he approaches Evy, Imhotep recognizes her as Anck-su-numan. Rick and Jonathan find her and get her out. Imhotep gives chase, but runs into Beni. Beni tries to hold the mummy off with a crucifix and, when that doesn’t work, tries a couple more holy symbols before bringing out the Star of David. Imhotep recognizes the symbol, that of the slaves of Egypt from his time, and offers Beni a choice to follow, with riches his reward.
The survivors return to Cairo. Rick wants to leave the country knowing what’s coming. Evy, though, wants to put the mummy back where he belongs, having read the book that brought him back to life. It’s too late, though. Imhotep is finishing his work, finding and killing the Americans who opened the box holding the Book of the Dead, with Beni’s help. The ten plagues of Egyst also begin, with locasts descending and water turning into blood.
Evy works out what is needed to stop Imhotep, the golden Book of Amun-Ra to counter the black Book of the Dead. The Book of Amun-Ra is hidden at Hamunaptra in the stature of Horus. Ardeth Bay arrives, not to hinder the heroes but to help now that Imhotep is back, and throws in with Rick, Evy, and Jonathan. Before they can leave, Imhotep catches up and takes Evy away with him.
To get back to the lost city, Rick engages the last member of the Royal Air Force in the country, Winston (Bernard Fox). Imhotep tries to stop them, and is partially successful in getting Winston’s biplane to crash, but Rick, Jonathan, and Bay continue on foot. They push is to get the Book of Amun-Ra before Imhotep can resurrect Anck-su-numan at Evy’s expense.
There are major changes between the original and the remake. The 1932 version was close to a gothic romance, with Helen being the focus of Imhotep’s affections and desires. That romance carried through to the 1999 remake, but as the motive for the mummy. There was no seduction of Evy, no attempt to reconnect over time past. Instead, the remake’s Imhotep worked to resurrect his lover using Evy. The remake was more action-horror, with comedy added here and there. The heroes are far more involved in stopping Imhotep than in the original.
The story in general didn’t change that much, though placement of the fate of Imhotep in Ancient Egypt and how he was defeated did. Director Stephen Sommers had seen the original and based his movie on it. With the added budget and runtime his film had, he could work in more ideas. The focus shifted from Imhotep to Rick, Evy, and Jonathan, thus requiring that they be the ones who defeated the mummy, not a plea to an Egyptian goddess. However, it was Evy’s knowledge that saved the day, much like it was Helen using her no longer regressed memories of the past in the original.
The remake also showed Imhotep changing as he grew in power. Because of how long it took to get Karloff into the full mummy makeup and costume, eight hours just to put on and two hours to remove, that look for the mummy was for just one scene, shot over seven hours. The remainder of the film, Karloff is in robes showing only his head and hands, with him showing both the strength and weakness of the mummy through body language. The remake had Industrial Light and Magic doing the special effects – physical, matte paintings, and CGI. Computer graphics allowed the filmmakers to show Imhotep regaining his body as the movie progressed, adding details that just weren’t possibly in 1932, like a scarab running out a hole in Imhotep’s chest and up into another hole in his cheek. ILM, already used to CG effects, pushed their knowledge with the movie, building Imhotep from the skeletal structure up while using motion capture of Vosloo as a base.
The CGI allowed the film to show the threat that Imhotep posed. While turning water into blood was more a reaction shot of actors drinking and spitting out the foul tasting liquid, the locusts and the scarabs turned into credible threats. One insect might be creepy. Thousands to the point of blotting out the sun is a danger. What would be difficult or impossible to do in 1932 is some work at a computer in 1999 and today. The danger is the overuse, something ILM was aware of.
Comparing Imhoteps, Karloff brough a quiet menace to the role. Every movement was measured. His mummy was a deliberate, thinking monster with one goal, reunite with Ankh-es-en-amon and rule with her at his side for eternity. Vosloo’s Imhotep had barely controlled rage in every step. His mummy still carried anger over what was done to him, yet, he, too, worked towards reuniting with his love. Both saw their lover in another woman.
The 1999 remake of The Mummy changed the tone of the story, going from the original’s gothic romance to a action-horror. Both films resonated with audiences, but the remake changed the focus away from Imhotep to the heroes, Rick, Evy, and Jonathan. The change, though, comes after decades of the mummy being portrayed as a monster, not a tragic lover. Audience expectations mean adapting the story to both fit and challenge was is expected on screen. The 1999 version did use ideas in the original and expanded and explored them in the new genre.
When a movie gets popular, a bandwagon forms to get in on the action. Right now, superheroes, fantasy, and urban fantasy are popular. Look at the popular films of 2017; of the top ten, six are superhero movies. The Lord of the Rings films showed there was an audience for fantasy, leading to novels like A Game of Thrones and Elfstones of Shannara being adapted for television. Supernatural is still going into its 13th season, not to mention all the vampire TV series that have come and gone over the past decade.
What if one movie could tie all three together, riding on the coat tails of all that has come before? In 2011, The Asylum rose to the challenge with the SyFy feature, The Almighty Thor. As a character, Thor is very much open source. Myths and legends are well out of copyright and Marvel can trademark the appearance of characters based on them but not necessarily the name. However, The Mighty Thor is right out; hence, The Almighty Thor.
The movie itself features Ragnarok, the final battle between good and evil where evil is destined to win, causing the worlds to end. Midgard – Earth – would suffer the most in this battle. Loki, played by Richard Grieco, in is home in Niflheim, chants the incantation to start the battle, then heads out to wreak havoc on Valhalla with his giant dog demons. Odin, played by Kevin Nash, senses that something is up and heads off to investigate with his sons, Baldir (Jess Allen) and Thor (Cody Deal). Thor follows Odin into the lair of the Norns (Nicole Fox, Leslea Fisher, Lauren Halperin) who foresee the end of the worlds. Thor, though, defies Fate, setting up the rest of the movie.
Odin faces off against Loki, trying to stave off Ragnarok. Loki, being a trickster, gets Odin to kill Baldir, then stabs Odin in the back. Loki needs the Hammer of Invincibility. With his dying strength, Odin sends the Hammer back to its origins, the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil. Odin’s dying words to Thor are to retrieve the Hammer before Loki can. However, Loki isn’t far and attacks Thor. The surviving son of Odin isn’t adept with weapons yet, stinging more with his words than his sword. Just as Loki is about to strike a killing blow, help appears in the form of Jarnassa (Patricia Valesquez). She strikes Loki from behind, then pulls Thor away.
The chase is on! Jarnassa pulls Thor through several gateways to escape Loki, eventually ending up in Los Angeles. She manages to get some training in for Thor, but he is stubborn and wants revenge on Loki for what he’s done. With Ragnarok in progress, the goal is to get to the Tree of Life to save Midgard and its humans while outrunning Loki and his giant dog-demons…Thor and Jarnassa reach the Tree of Life, where he recovers the Hammer. Jarnassa wants to hide Thor away for as long as it takes to train him. Thor insists on stopping Loki now.
Thor wins the argument, but in his fight against Loki, loses the Hammer to him. Loki is able to get to the Tree of Life and kill it, ensuring Ragnarok happens. Thor is sent to Niflheim. Instead of perishing, Thor figures out how to use his godly abilities and creates a new Hammer of Invicibility. He climbs out of Niflheim back to Midgard and fights Loki one more time, hammer to hammer. Thor the Warrior emerges and defeats Loki, then heads to the Tree of Life to revive it, ending Ragnarok. To ensure that the end of Midgard will never happen, Thor returns to the Norns and destroys their loom and tapestries, letting humans decide what their fate will be.
Putting aside other problems the movie has, and it has many, it plays fast and loose with Norse mythology. Baldir is fated to die by being hit by mistletoe, not Odin’s own spear. Thor and Loki are brothers, both sons of Odin. But when it comes to getting something done quick and cheap, details are one of the first corners cut. The Almighty Thor borrows from myth and legend in its own way, becoming less a product of the source and more its own movie.
Star Wars has been covered three times already here at Lost in Translation. The first time was for the prequel/reboot, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; covering how the film brought back the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The second time was for the CG animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, showed how the TV show strengthened Star Wars: Episode II – The Attack of the Clones by filling in details between that film and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The third time was for the pilot for Star Wars: Rebels, “Spark of Rebellion”, showed the potential of the recent TV series. What’s left with Star Wars?
Richard Toscan, in an attempt to revive radio drama in the US, worked at getting several works produced at KUSC, the University of Southern California’s campus radio station. One of Toscan’s students suggested adapting Star Wars as an episodic series, a natural fit given that similar serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers inspired the film and were themselves adapted as radio serials. Getting the clearances to produce such a series, though, looked expensive. However, George Lucas had gone to USC, so the rights to produce the radio series was sold to KUSC and National Public Radio (NPR) for one dollar. Lucas also made the music by John Williams and the sound design by Ben Burtt available to the production. That just left paying for the script, the actors, and the studio.
NPR turned to the one radio network with extensive experience in radio dramas, the BBC, for assistance. In return for the British rights to the series, the BBC provided the budget needed to get the production done. The adaptation was written by Brian Daley, a science fiction author who had written the earliest of the expanded universe novels, The Han Solo Adventures (Han Solo at Star’s End, Han Solo’s Revenge, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy). Daley worked from early drafts of Lucas’ scripts for Star Wars, adding material as needed to fill in the thirteen episode run, for almost six hours of radio drama.
Casting became a problem. While Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels returned as Luke Skywalker and C-3P0, respectively, the rest of the cast wasn’t. Harrison Ford was busy with Raiders of the Lost Ark. The new cast included Ann Sachs as Princess Leia, Bernard Behrens as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Perry King as Han Solo, Keene Curtis as Governor Tarkin, and Brock Peters as Darth Vader.
The debut of the series in March of 1981 saw NPR’s audience increase to three-quarters of a million new listeners, with the number of young adults and teenagers increasing four-fold. With Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back having been in theatres the previous summer, fans were looking for more Star Wars. How well did the radio drama adapt the first film?
A series, whether on TV, on radio, or even as a B-reel serial, still runs longer than most films. The Star Wars radio drama is no exception; it ran for just under six hours over thirteen episodes, about three times longer than the movie. Radio also can’t rely on visual effects to show what’s happening. Given that Star Wars pushed the limits on what can be done with special effects, the radio drama would have a steep task in front of it.
As mentioned above, Brian Daley used early drafts of the film’s script while writing his own. He expanded details from the movie. Episode 1 starts with Luke hanging with his friends, racing with them, including through Begger’s Canyon. The audience meets Biggs Darklighter, voiced by Kale Browne, and hears his plan to jump ship to join the Rebellion. Episode 2 begins with Princess Leia on Ralentiir, using her consular ship, the Tantive IV, to smuggle goods needed by the Rebellion. It’s where she learns about the Death Star and runs into Darth Vader for the first time. Leia convinced her father to let her take the Tantive IV to intercept the plans for the Death Star at Toprawa. The space battle between the Tantive IV and the Star Destroyer that begins the movie begins in Episode 3 as Leia arrives at Tatooine to find Obi-Wan Kenobi.
After Episode 3, the drama follows the action in the movie. Dialogue gets changed or added to help describe the setting and the action. Scenes get added to provide depth and motivation. Han has a rougher edge than he does in the movie, but there’s still a heart of gold. At the same time, some relationships are shown just as quick on radio as in film; C-3P0 and R2-D2’s friendship comes out in their first two minutes of air time in Episode 3. Vader benefits from the medium; it is difficult to loom and menace through sheer height on radio. Instead, Vader comes across more as a fallen paladin, philosophical and a believer in his version of the Force, thanks to added dialogue.
Sound effects carry most of the battle scenes. There’s no way to show a flight of X-Wings diving down to the Death Star’s trench, nor is there a way to show a lightsaber other than dialogue and sound effects. The production had full access to the sounds from the movie, but it still fell on to the actors to convey a sense of determination and wonder as needed. Luke’s training on the trip to the former Alderaan had Ben coaching him at each step. For added fun, the scene with Greedo threatening Han could not have subtitles, so there was no attempt to translate “Oota goota, Solo?” into English. Han understood Greedo, so the audience had to work out what the Rodian said from the reactions, like, “Tell Jabba I’ve got his money.” And Han shot first.
The climatic battle to destroy the Death Star took up most of the last episode. While the snubfighter battle was a visual feast, the chatter between pilots gave the drama a way to show what was happening without video. The first half of the battle was presented as Leia and the Rebellion command staff on the jungle moon of Yavin listened to the pilots’ chatter, unable to do anything when Vader came out in his prototype ship. The last half of the battle was from Luke’s perspective starting just before his run through the trench.
Is it possible to have Star Wars without the visuals? Yes, as the radio drama demonstrated. The drama was Star Wars and provided depth that the movie couldn’t. The drama was successful, leading to Empire being adapted two years later. The adaptation of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi was delayed until 1996 and released on CD due to disagreements, mainly financial. The radio plays carried the feel of the movies while expanding on what was shown.
One of the main features of a superhero is the bright costume. Sure, there are superheroes who work in black or really dark grey, but the vast majority are in primary colours. Often, the costume will look like it was painted on, emphasizing the hero’s physique. Because comics are drawn, liberties can be taken with things like physics, so some costumes may be almost impossible to recreate in real life.
With comics being the popular source of adaptations today, studios have to figure out the almost impossible. Over the past few weeks, Lost in Translation has looked at a number of comic books adapted to a new medium, plus has reviewed others in the past. Josie and the Pussycats and Kingsman: The Secret Service get a pass here. The most unusual item the Pussycats wear are for on stage and is still in the realm of possibility. The wardrobe in Kingsman is based on high priced but still existing apparel found on London’s High Street.
Arrow, though, deserves a look. In the comics, the Green Arrow has worn a variant of a Robin Hood costume through most of his appearances. In the TV series, the goal was to create a costume that star Stephen Amell could wear and move in, going with a hooded cloak over dark green clothes. The costume is close to what the Green Arrow wears in the comics, and the producers are aiming at showing Oliver Queen becoming the hero.
Supergirl, on the other hand, starts with Kara Danvers embracing her Kryptonian heritage and catching a plane. The show is also lighter than Arrow; Kara is adorkable. So, hiding her costume away isn’t going to work. Fortunately for the producers, Supergirl has a number of costumes to choose from. On the show, the costume is a melding of a number of outfits seen in the comics, allowing Kara to have her own look while hinting at being Superman’s cousin. And Supergirl isn’t the only character with a costume from the comics. The Martian Manhunter in his normal guise is accurate to his appearances in the pages of DC Comics.
Both TV series can take advantage in advances in fabric thanks to man-made fibres. Older movies and TV series didn’t have the breakthroughs and it shows. The Batman serials of the mid- to late-Forties, having the added limitation of a low budget, tries to match the costumes from the comics, but between the war effort focusing on the needs of the military of both the US and the Allied Forces, the physique of the actors, and the lack of techniques, the result is “close enough but not really.” The costume looks like Batman’s, but it’s not the skintight version. The 1966 Batman with Adam West does have access to satin and nylon, but its approach to the character – played dead straight by West despite all the camp around him – meant that the more down-to-earth portrayal that Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil had wasn’t going to be seen. Adding to the fun, Cesar Romero didn’t want to shave his trademark mustache, so the Joker’s whiteface was placed on top. Yet, it worked for the series. The costumes did reflect what the characters wore, though.
The 1989 Batman by Tim Burton introduced a new twist – Batman’s costume was an armoured suit. All practical, the rubber suit allowed Michael Keaton to move, but not as acrobatically as in the comics. The change made some sense; Batman deals with people who shoot guns and he doesn’t have a power that will let him bounce bullets off his chest. His movement in the Burton film and subsequent sequels is more restricted. The costume looks right, compared to the Batman in the comics at the time, but the nature of the suit slows the actors down.
When practical effects won’t work, CGI comes into play. Over in the Marvel cinematic universe, characters that would be impossible to portray well have had their own movies. Marvel did try a practical effect for one of their characters in the past; Howard the Duck had many problems, and the appearance of the title character was one of the big ones. His appearance in the post-credits sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy is accurate. Guardians also gave audiences a proper Rocket and a proper Groot, two characters who would either be actors in costumes, puppets, or protrayed by a trained raccoon (in Rocket’s case) and a trained shrub (in Groot’s) before CGI.
Iron Man was the proof of concept. In the comics, Tony Stark has a number of Iron Man suits which he uses depending on mission requirements. The classic suit, the red and gold power armour, appeared in the first film and was as close as possible to being a recreation of the comic book version. Audiences accepted the premise of a comic book on screen. With Thor, the studio could build from the character’s appearance in the comics to present him on screen. Loki, when he appeared in costume, was resplendent in his green and gold. Marvel’s releases of today build from the comic books.
Marvel characters that appeared in films from studios other than Marvel Studios have had mixed success. The X-Men franchise, released via Fox, avoided using costumes, with an exception that will be named below. Instead, the films went with leather suits when the team broke into places. The Spider-Man franchise, even after the reboot, kept the costume best known to the general audience. However, the character’s 1977 TV series, The Amazing Spider-Man had problems; the suit didn’t quite work. Budget may have been the main problem there.
The comic book character who may have had his costume translate the best to film and television is the exception in the X-Men franchise. Deadpool went out of its way to make sure that the costumes were accurate. Colossus, being a CG character, had no problem with the transition. Deadpool’s, though, included having his eye coverings express his thoughts and emotions. Considering that his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely missed the mark, the costume in Deadpool is a complete reversal and should be applauded.
Continuing with comic book adaptations, this week’s subject is also a look at how one work can still have influence. While the 1984 Supergirl movie wasn’t the blockbuster the studio hoped for, the movie it was spun off from, the 1978 Superman, is often taken as the definitive version of the title character. As a result, audiences have expectations of what a Superman or Superman-related work involves.
Lost in Translation went through the history of the character of Supergirl in the analysis of the 1984 film. However, there’s more to the character than mentioned there. Yes, Kara Zor-El was Kal El’s cousin and became Supergirl after arriving on Earth after Argo City was destroyed. Kara was the first Supergirl, first appearing in 1959 in Action Comics #252. She wasn’t the only Supergirl.
After Kara dies in the mini-series reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths saving Superman and the multiverse, other Supergirls appeared. The first was Matrix, an artificial life form from an alternate universe, with a different power set. As Supergirl, she spent time with the Teen Titans and as a hero on her own. When Matrix finds a dying Linda Danvers, she merges, becoming an Earth-born angel. This Supergirl has a different set of powers, including wings made of fire. Eventually, this merged Supergirl falls from grace, causing Matrix and Linda to separate. Linda keeps some of the powers, though not at the same level as before, and continues to be Supergirl.
The changes to Supergirl post-Crisis came from DC’s editorial wanting Superman to be the only surviving Kryptonian. When that policy was relaxed, Kara returned, though with her origin rebooted. She’s still Superman’s cousin, but after being launched from Krypton, she loses her memory. Her first meeting with her cousin has her in disbelief; to her, he should still be an infant. In reality, she had lost time while in her lifepod.
That brings us to 2015. The CW has had success with Arrow and The Flash, showing that a broadcast network can have success with a superhero TV adaptation. CBS took the chance on the lastest from Greg Berlanti, Supergirl. With Melissa Benoist as the title character, the first season explored hope, dreams, family, and how the three mix. The analysis that follows focuses on the first season; cinematic universes tend to go in their own direction once started, even when the studio works to keep close to the original work.
The opening voice over explains the background; thirteen year old Kara Zor-El was sent by her mother to keep her cousin, Kal El, safe until he grew up. However, Kara’s pod was knocked off course into the Phantom Zone, where she lingered unaging until somehow she got out. When she reached Earth, her cousin had grown up and become Superman. Instead of her taking care of him, he finds a way to take care of her, bringing her to her foster parents, the Danvers, Jeremiah (Dean Cain) and Eliza (Helen Slater). Kara grows close to her older foster sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh).
Once Kara has graduated college, she started work at CatCo, the media empire owned by Cat Grant (Callista Flockheart), former Daily Planet journalist. The series starts with Kara being Cat’s assistant and gopher, with her name mangled to Kira. Still, Kara keeps her spirits up. She enjoys her job and her co-workers. One, IT whizkid Winslow “Winn” Schott, Jr (Jeremiah Jordan), has a crush on Kara but can’t quite tell her. Starting that day is James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who has moved from Metropolis to National City to work for CatCo as the art director. Kara is looking forward to seeing her sister; Alex had been out of town on work. All in all, Kara’s life is normal.
All the normal goes out the window when Kara sees a news report about her sister’s flight in trouble. An engine caught fire and the plane was on a course to crash in the middle of National City. Kara runs out, throwing her jacket aside and, after a few short jumps, flies off. She catches the jet, but because women need to work twice as hard to be considered even half as good as men, she has to dodge a bridge before setting the plane down in the river. Despite the efforts, news anchors criticize her for setting the jet down where rescuers couldn’t get to it immediately. Nevermind that no one died.
Alex realizes who saved her and the other passengers and confronts Kara. However, Kara is just so earnest that Alex breaks down and reveals her big secret – she’s really an agent for the DEO, the Department of Extranormal Operations, whose mandate is to protect the Earth from alien threats. Alex knows Kara isn’t a threat, but her boss, Hank Henshaw (David Harewoood), isn’t so sure, but he trusts Alex enough that he’s willing to accept Kara. The problem that the DEO is facing is that Fort Rozz, the Kryptonian prison in the Phantom Zone, has crashed on Earth, letting the prisoners escape.
Kara can’t keep her excitement at bay. At work, after Cat names the new hero “Supergirl”, Kara needs to share her news with someone. That someone is Winn, who helps Kara with a costume. As Supergirl, Kara does what she can to keep National City safe. Her appearance, though, lets General Non (Chris Vance) and Astra (Laura Benanti), the twin sister to Kara’s mother, Alura, know that there is another Kryptonian on Earth. The plane crash Kara prevented was to kill Alex, set by escapee Vartox (Owain Yeoman) under Non’s orders. Vartox tries to kill Supergirl but fails, committing suicide when she beats him.
As the season plays out, Supergirl makes a few rookie mistakes, but with the help of Winn and James and with Cat giving her a media boost, she improves and becomes the darling of National City while still helping the DEO in its mission. However, as Superman’s cousin, Supergirl is constantly compared to him. This changes after she stops Reactron, a villain Superman couldn’t completely defeat.
Other characters from the comics make appearances through the season, including Dr. T.O. Morrow; his creation, the Red Tornado; the Silver Banshee; Jemm, Son of Saturn; the Toyman; and possibly the greatest danger to National City, Maxwell Lord(Peter Facinelli). There were also some twists on villains from Superman’s Rogues Gallery. Bizarro, who in the comics looks like a twisted copy of Superman, is based on Supergirl thanks to Max Lord and his experiments with Kryptonite to create a counter to the Girl of Steel. Brainiac appears as Braniac 8, though she prefers Indigo (Laura Vandervoot).
Of note is the episode “For the Girl Who Has Everything”, which takes a cue from a Superman comic. The producers realized that the Black Mercy, a creature that traps a victim in an memory recreation of a happier time, would work better with Kara. Superman has little personal experience with Krypton, having arrived on Earth as an infant. Everything he knows about the planet comes second hand. Kara, though, was older when she was sent away. She had family and friends, all of whom perished when the planet exploded. Kara is far more vulnerable to the Black Mercy, and the episode shows how.
Just having the names of characters, though, doesn’t make the series a good adaptation. It’s how the characters are presented. Kara is earnest and adorkable, which does follow from her appearances in the comics. She’s heroic because she wants to help. The Martian Manhunter is protective of the Danvers sisters and shares with Kara the loss of a family and a home. Maxwell Lord does reflect the character in the comics, a mix of helpfulness and dangerous-ness that makes it difficult to pin down if he is a hero or a villain.
The show also gave itself an out with accuracy. “Worlds Finest”, the crossover episode with The Flash, reveals that Supergirl isn’t quite in the same universe as Arrow and The Flash. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) at one point goes through the differences between the universe he’s from and Kara’s. Cat also gets an interesting line when Kara, Barry, James, and Winn are lingering in her office, “You look like the racially diverse cast of a CW show.” Supergirl moved to the CW with its second season.
Each Supergirl episode plays like an issue of a comic. There’s character development; every character has a story arc. There’s heroics. If there’s a villain, Supergirl has a setback that helps her discover what she needs to defeat the miscreant. There’s even a end-of-episode cliffhanger, a hint on what will happen next week. Episodes have both stand-alone elements and still contribute to the the season’s main arc.
Supergirl, being the latest in Superman TV adaptations, also winks at the audience. Kara’s foster parents are played by leads in previous works. Helen Slater was Supergirl in the 1984 movie while Dean Cain was Clark Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Cain’s co-star Teri Hatcher, who played Lois Lane, appears in season 2 as Rhea. Laura Vandervoot (Indigo) portrayed Kara on Smallville.
The series has the potential to be the definitive version of Supergirl to the general audience, much like the Richard Donner Superman. The chemistry amongst the cast and Melissa Benoist’s portrayal of Kara will leave a long lasting impression that will be hard to top.