Apologies for the lack of column this week. Lost in Translation will return next week with a seasonal installment.
November is Mystery Science Theatre 3000 remake month for Lost in Translation, where the column looks at some of the movies featured on MST3K and see where they failed and how to remake better. This week, Eegah!, featured during the show’s fifth season.
Eegah! was originally released in 1962 as a very low budget B-movie. It stars Arch Hall, Jr as Tom, Marilyn Manning as Roxy, Arch Hall, Sr, as Roxy’s father, and Richard Kiel as the title character. The plot is straightforward; a caveman, Eegah, lurking in the mountains near the California desert is discovered by Roxy. Or, Roxy is discovered by Eegah when he comes out to see what strange contraption she’s in. Before Eegah can do anything with Roxy, Tom arrives in his car, scaring the caveman away. Both Tom and Roxy do get a look at Eegah.
When Roxy tells her father, he arranges for a helicopter to take him into the mountains, where he plans to take a photo of Eegah. The caveman, though surprises him, leading to an injury. WHen Roxy hasn’t heard from her father in over two days, she and Tom head out to the desert in his dune buggy to start a search. Tom makes the decision for Roxy to stay in the car and honk if she sees the caveman.
Attracted by the noise, Eegah stalks out. He sees Roxy once again and, like any caveman in love, scoops her out, accidentally honking the horn. He fights off Tom and his shotgun and leaves with Roxy, returning to his cave. Inside, Roxy’s father is alive. His injury was self-inflicted from tripping over his own camera case. Eegah introduces Roxy to the family, long dead ancestors that are still around. The caveman even shows her his etchings.
To stay safe, Roxy does what she can to fend off Eegah’s advances. She even shaves off his beard after he sees her doing the same for her father. Eegah leaves to get flowers for his beloved, and Roxy and her father see a chance to escape. As they do so, they find Tom, and all three make a run in the dune buggy to get back to town. Eegah, though, is not easily dissuaded. He manages to track the trio back to town, searching through malls and streets and ultimately to the country club. Police are called because there’s a caveman threatening members, and before Roxy can stop them, they gun down Eegah.
Eegah! is not a terrible movie. It’s also not a good movie. It’s a solid B-movie with some problems pulling it down. The low budget isn’t helping, but the key problem is an inconsistent tone. The movie was meant to be a horror film, but along the way, the monster gets humanized. That tends to reduce the horror of the situation. Eegah is no longer the mysterious, dangerous other. But humanizing him is the right choice for the movie. It’s the attempt to pull him back to the other that falls flat.
Of course, the horror in the remake is the realization of who really is the monster. Eegah, for all his menace, is still a caveman, without the veneer of society built up over the past few millennia. He doesn’t have to be portrayed as simple; Richard Kiel’s version of the character has an intelligence to him that stands out. Eegah isn’t aware of modern advances, like doorknobs, so expecting him to use them is silly. It’s how everyone else treats him. This can set up the tragic ending that the original had with Eegah’s death by the hands of the police.
Time has not been kind to some of the elements in the movie. Tom will need a new job. The one he has in the original is a gas station attendant, complete with the neatly pressed white suit. Unless the movie moves to Oregon or New Jersey, Tom’s job is long gone. The music will need to be updated. Eegah! took advantage of cars, girls, and rock-and-roll as a draw, and there’s nothing preventing similar additions. “Beauty and the Beast” and even “Samson and Delilah” are classic stories, so tapping into those veins gives a base to work from. The original touched upon “Samson and Delilah”, with Eegah’s tragic course locked in once Roxy shaved him.
The biggest issue the movie had was the budget. The movie doesn’t neem blockbuster levels of money, but a little more would help with tightening the script. creating sets, and adding to the number of extras to make the town feel lived in. Little touches that help make the movie immersive, bringing the audience closer to the characters.
Eegah! is typical of movies featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, not so bad to be unwatchable, but, instead, falling well short of its potential. With work and a real budget, it is possible to pull out the good movie lurking within.
A new Sonic the Hedgehog trailer was released earlier this month and it corrected the biggest problem that the movie had. Sonic now looks like Sonic.
That may not mean much, but the original trailer had Sonic looking like a normal hedgehog mutated to be blue and big. Which could have been recoverable at the time, except Detective Pikachu had trailers showing various recognizable Pokémon interacting with live action as well with no sign of changes from the original designs.
What could Paramount Pictures do when faced with this hurdle? Delay the release and call in a fan, Tyson Hesse, who has worked for Archie Comics on their Sonic titles. The result, the new Sonic design which actually looks like Sonic. This is key. Video game adaptations have a poor reputation, thanks to such early releases as Double Dragon and Super Mario Bros. Adapting from games has been discussed here at Lost in Translation, but the biggest hurdle is translating gameplay into a narrative. It should be simple, but what works as a game – running around gathering rings to defeat the villain – doesn’t always translate well.
The studio’s decision to bring in a fan, though, shows that video games are being respected more. People do get annoyed when a favourite book gets mangled for the sake of a movie or TV series, the result being an audience that fails to show up. Video games, much like comic books, are now being given the same treatment; the fans have an expectation that the studio has to fulfill instead of the studio slapping a name on a project.
However, there’s another change in the newest trailer. Tone. The first trailer goes for the action feel, a fight against overwhelming odds. The latest turns the movie into more of a comedy. It could be that the movie is an action-comedy road trip, and that’s not a bad thing with the character. The change is noticeable, though, down to the choice of music. The new trailer introduces a sense of fun to the movie. That may be the film’s salvation. People are willing to forgive a movie for not being great if it’s at least fun to watch. Cleaning up the main problem – Sonic’s appearance – and adjusting audience expectations will go a long way to get an audience interested.
The biggest problem with the new trailer is that it almost tells the entire story on its own. While the goal of a trailer is to entice the audience, it’s possible that the only thing left untold is the ending, and there may be enough hints already to see how the end will happen. This isn’t a problem unique to Sonic. Far too many studios will use the key plot points in advertising to get attention without realizing what is being given away. Paramount may have gone too far in correcting the original trailer here.
Will Sonic the Hedgehog be a great movie? Probably not. But it’s not aiming for that level. It’s trying to be a fun movie, judging from the latest trailer. Audiences will get to decide for themselves in 2020.
November is Mystery Science Theatre 3000 remake month for Lost in Translation, where the column looks at some of the movies featured on MST3K and see where they failed and how to remake better. This week, The Crawling Hand, featured during MST3K‘s first season on Comedy Channel.
Originally released in 1963, during the Space Race portion of the Cold War between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Horror movies look at what’s happening and make events go wrong on the worst way possible. The first lunar landing, the Apollo 11 mission, was still six years away, so no one knew what could happen on the moon’s surface. This opens the door for horror movies to imagine whatever they want happening in the cold, dark depths of space.
The Crawling Hand begins with a lunar mission going wrong in the worst way possible. The astronaut on board the returning capsule has been out of communications for far too long with dwindling oxygen. When he finally does appear, looking gaunt and haunted, he begs mission control Steve Curan (Peter Breck) to hit the rocket’s self-destruct. With great reluctance, Curan does so.
When a rocket is blown to bits, bits of rocket tends to land on the ground. A young couple, Paul Lawrence (Rod Lauren) and foreign student Marta Farnstrom (Sirry Steffen) are at a secluded beach and spot one of those bits, the astronaut’s arm. With the romantic interlude shattered, the two leave, but Paul, being a medical student, notes the arm. As the young lovers drive away, the arm twitches.
Paul returns later to retrieve the arm and take it to the room he rents from Mrs. Hotchkiss. When no one is looking, the arm starts crawling around, the hand dragging the rest of the appendage. The hand is possessed by a murderous alien, somehow, and finds its first victim, Mrs. Hotchkiss. Paul discovers the body and calls for the police. Sheriff Townsend (Alan Hale, Jr, a year before landing the role of the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island) arrives to take notes, examine the crime scene, and start the investigation. After calling the coroner, he leaves to follow up on his questioning.
The hand is not satisfied with just one victim. Paul nearly becomes the next and is strangled, but instead of killing him, the hand infects him with the murderous spirit. The coroner arrives and finds the pick up to be a two-fer. Paul recovers in the coroner’s wagon beside Mrs. Hotchkiss’ body. He escapes and returns to his room.
The film becomes a fight between Paul and the alien within on controlling or succumbing to the murderous impulses. Paul becomes the Sheriff’s prime suspect after several attempted murders. Curan and his colleague, Dr. Weitzberg (Kent Taylor), arrive after hearing of some of goings on and tracking debris from the rocket’s explosion. The scientists have made the connection but, in order to prevent a panic in the general public, are keeping their hypothesis to themselves.
Paul has also come to a similar conclusion. He grabs the arm and makes a run to the town’s junkyard. The police are hot on his heels, but arrive too late to see the hand disappear into the piles of junk after it escapes Paul. The danger of the hand ends by the paws of two hungry cats, releasing Paul from the alien’s influence.
The biggest issue the movie has is budget. To quote Joel, “You can tell it’s a low budget movie because they can’t wreck the cars.” Throwing money at a problem isn’t always a solution, unless the problem is insufficient money. The Crawling Hand is a B-movie. There is potential, but budget limitations creates restrictions. The biggest restriction is special effects. Mission control is a meeting room, not the banks of computers and operators monitoring 24/7 that NASA regularly shows. The crawling hand is closer to Thing from The Addams Family than a creeping threat. Jump scares and hands pulling open gates and doors get used to build tension.
The start of the movie lingers on mission control longer than needed, especially considering the 89 minute running time. A shorter introduction at mission control, done by actually showing what’s going on, gives more time to the rest of the movie’s run time to build up tension. Again, part of this is budget; if the movie can’t damage a car, forget about blowing up a (model) rocket. The scientists are almost in their own movie, separate from Paul’s problems until they come in to save Paul’s bacon.
The ending has a serious problem. Cats eat away the muscle of the hand. That’s more, “We’re running out of budget,” than a proper ending. It takes away from the characters the audience has been following from the beginning. A Deus ex cattus that comes from nowhere. It’s not satisfying. Paul, Sheriff Townsend, Curan, any of these three stopping the hand would make the ending decent. A random cat that was never shown before? That’s more an ass-pull.
The general plot works, though. Something in space causing people to re-enact The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While the film doesn’t reference the Robert Louis Stevenson story at all, and has its own approach, the two are similar. The main difference is that the change is caused by an external stimulus. For a horror movie, the key will be the build up to Paul’s first on-screen murder attempt. The hand needs to be a factor, being the title character. The effects budget for the hand needs to allow for it to lurk in scenes.
As for characters, the scientists need to either be limited to the initial scene setting up the arrival of the hand on the beach or be a presence throughout. They can’t disappear for half of the movie and reappear out of nowhere. Paul and Sheriff Townsend are needed. Paul’s love interest is almost an afterthought, used to show how far gone Paul is and what makes him fight back. A trope for the era, it won’t fly today.
The Crawling Hand has potential, but to fulfill the potential, it needs a proper budget, some adjustment in focus, and a far more satisfying ending. It did deserve its time in the MST3K spotlight, but only because it could have been much more than it was.
Two weeks back, Lost in Translation reviewed The Raven, a film “suggested by” the poem of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. While the movie is a showcase of horror, especially with Lugosi’s portrayal of a man who took a flying leap off the precipice of sanity, it really didn’t have much to do with “The Raven” other than set dressing and an odd interpretive dance number. The film itself is well worth watching, so changing it might break some delicate balances.
Instead, the proposal is to change the “suggested by” from just “The Raven” to “inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe.” The movie pulls in from many of Poe’s work, “The Pit and the Pendulum” being the most obvious, and a twist on “A Cask of Amontillado” with the sliding walls. The idea is less focused on any one of Poe’s works. A quick look at Wikipedia and the list of Poe’s works and collections show that he published mainly in newspapers and magazines. The best title may for the film may come from Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, but that may not have the draw that “The Raven” does. The goal is managing audience expectations; the film uses Poe’s works for inspiration and mood, so that needs to remain.
Remaking The Raven will require a deft touch and the right cast. Modern technology can make or break the remake. Today’s makeup skills have improved since 1935, thanks to new materials and techniques. While impressive for the time, Karloff’s fake eye after Bateman is subjected to Dr. Vollin’s tender care looks, well, fake in close ups. Today, makeup and prosthetics can have the eye look and behave as a real eye.
However, the temptation to go overboard has to be fought. The Raven works as horror because of what lies beneath the surface. Vollin appears as a respectable surgeon up until the point where the facade shatters. Until that happens, the horror has to be kept simmering beneath, not out in the open. The tone of Poe’s works can act as a guideline here. The Raven doesn’t have to be effects heavy. Good use of lighting and background music can help scenes feel off kilter.
What may also help is lengthening the film. The Raven ran just over an hour, a length not seen in today’s films. Today, films are at least ninety minutes long, and some can run up to three hours, though those are rare. An extra thirty minutes can help build up the obsession Vollin has for Jean and set up the deathtraps at the end. Lingering shots over Vollin’s bookshelves showing key works, including Poe’s, to hint at what’s to come at the end.
The climax is where the danger lies in a remake. The temptation to go all action works against the story. Sure, there are deathtraps, but they work on the idea of an awaited death that steadily creeps closer and closer. Rushing the ending removes the tension. In the 1935 film, what stops Vollin is his own madness; he is the cause of his own downfall through his torment of Bateman, Having Jean be the instrument takes away much of Bateman’s torture and Vollin’s narcissism. Jean, too, is a victim, but not one that Vollin wants to torture right away like he does with her father and with Bateman.
Last piece to work out is the title. Again, The Raven was merely suggested by “The Raven”, and while it does include the poem in a couple of scenes, it’s more the raven as a symbol of death that gets used by Vollin. However, to get the audience in the proper frame of mind to enjoy the remake, the title needs to invoke Poe. As discussed above, Poe published his works singly, but Grotesque and Arabesque may just work, especially if Jean remains a dancer in the remake.
Improving a work like The Raven is difficult. The film is a study of one man’s madness and how he takes it out on others, with Bela Lugosi delivering a brilliant role as Vollin. Remaking the film would take a delicate touch, even with the modern techniques available now, and one wrong note could sour the entire movie.
A couple months back, Lost in Translation reviewed the first season of The Expanse based on the series by James SA Corey. The first book of the series, Leviathan Wakes, is a mighty tome on its own, resulting in the first season covering only half of it. Instead of trying to push the entire book into the first season and rushing the story line, the studio focused on the pace, allowing the horror lurking beneath the surface to build much like it did in the novel. The end of the first season was a natural break point with a satisfying conclusion with not everything wrapped up.
This review is going to cover just to the end of Levianthan Wakes. The second season of The Expanse wraps up the book by the seventh epsiode, leading into the next book augmented with information from short stories in the setting and dealing with the fallout from the events in the first book. The first seven episodes of the season wrap up the book.
The latter half of Leviathan Wakes switches from hard SF and film noir to horror and first contact. A molecule, called “protomatter”, has been discovered and a corporation is doing everything it can to keep the discovery under wraps until they find a way to monetize it. Earth and Mars are on the brink of a war that will affect the Belt and beyond even if Belters take no part in it. Miller finds Julie Mao, dead. Then things get worse.
The corporation turns Eros into a radioactive experiment with protomatter, dooming anyone who can’t escape. Holden and Miller have to fight their way to the Rocinante and pick up a near-lethal level of radiation that can’t be handwaved away. Ultimately, the decision is made to destroy Eros before it can reach Earth, though even hitting it with a spaceship on a high-G burn doesn’t go easy. It comes down to a disgraced cop on his final case to save Earth.
Season two of The Expanse continues with the increased viewpoints beyond just Miller and Holden. We’re shown what is going on in the halls of power on Earth, the troops on the ground on Mars, the people waiting in the Belt. Everything still hinges on Holden and Miller, though. Decisions get made to set Eros up for destruction. There is a lot of action in the latter half of the book, and describing action takes more time than just showing it on screen. A raid that takes a few chapters can be done in one episode with no loss of story. Each medium has its strengths and drawbacks, and a visual medium can handle a visual element far better than text.
The pacing does pick up, but that follows from the novel. The protomatter’s secret is revealed; it is extraterrestrial and capable of transforming a living organism into a form it needs. And Eros is filled with it and heading to Earth. The pacing of the series accelerates like an object falling due to gravity, and the payoff is the same as in the novel.
The Expanse continues to pull in from other stories in the series to flesh out what’s happening, keeping the storytelling more or less linear, with a few exceptions in shown in flashbacks. The series also works at making it easy to tell who is from where, from distinctive hairstyles to slang and lingo to even tattoos. The series brings the setting alive despite the limitations of being filmed in a gravity well.
Poetry, like songs, aren’t adapted to other media often, not like prose or serial art. The goal of a poem is more about emotion than narrative, though there are poems that are stories. Such poems, though, are limited by length. Like songs, it can be a stretch to expand a poem from what is written to fill a time slot. Some studios have tried, though. What helps is using a well-known poem, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s works.
Poe’s “The Raven” is a staple in high school, serving as an introduction to mood and tone while not being so esoteric to turn students away. The moodiness of “The Raven” allows for dramatic reading, with readers being able to set their own interpretation of the words. The poem is told from the view of a man who is suffering from grief and possibly more and wanting salvation, only to torture himself when a raven enters his home and says just one word, “Nevermore.”
Universal had a number of successes with horror movies, including Dracula with Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, both released in 1931. Lugosi and Karloff became draws for audiences, so Universal teamed them up, first in The Black Cat, based on Poe’s short story of the same name, and then in 1935 with The Raven.
The Raven starred Lugosi as Dr. Richard Vollin, Karloff as Edmond Bateman, Irene Ware as the dancer Jean Thatcher, Samuel S. Hinds as her father Judge Thatcher, and Lester Matthews as her beau Jerry Halden. While Karloff had top billing, the movie is really Lugosi’s. His Vollin provides the plot for the film. The catch of the movie, though, is that it is “suggested by” Poe’s “The Raven”. The film warns audiences that the adaptation might not be faithful.
The poem guides the movie, though. The film begins with Jean driving and failing to make a turn to a detour, leaving her injured. Only one doctor has the knowledge and skill to help her, Dr. Vollin, but he’s left his career. Judge Thatcher manages to convince him to go to the hospital, where Vollin begins his obsession over Jean.
The surgery is a success and Jean is able to get to her next performance, an interpretation of “The Raven” with her as the bird. Vollin’s obsession grows, though, and he hatches a plot when Bateman arrives at his doorstep wanting surgery to change his appearance. What no one suspects is that Vollin has a second obsession, torture. To escape his torture, he needs to torture someone else. Batemen is his first victim, becoming disfigured after surgery. Vollin makes an offer to Bateman – become his hands in what he has planned, and he will remove the disfigurement. Batement agrees.
Vollin invites Jean, her father, her beau, and their friends for an evening’s soiree. During this time, Vollin puts his plot to action. Bateman grabs the Judge, taking him down to a deathtrap straight from Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”. It’s only when Jean and Jerry are trapped in a sliding room trap that Bateman acts, releasing the trapped couple and throwing Vollin in.
The Raven uses the poem for mood, the idea of obsession and of self-torture. Vollin is a tragic character, but by his own hand. He sets up his own demise, a very Poe-like approach. But the closest the film gets to adapting the poem is the interpretive dance sequence. Vollin does recite a few lines of the poem, and he uses a raven as his symbol. A doctor using a symbol of death isn’t reassuring, and it does foreshadow what will happen.
With the film being “suggested by”, there is no Lenore. However, if the poem is included in the movie, can there be a Lenore? There’s no one by that name, but Jean fills the role for Vollin. Even going metaphorically get be a stretch, though. The Raven is more inspired by “The Raven” and other works of Edgar Allen Poe than a proper adaptation. In that light, the film works. There is the horror and dangers of obsession, a theme Poe touches on in several works. As an adaptation, however, The Raven misses the mark.
The World Wide Web is an equalizer when it comes to entertainment. While major studios have money to throw into marketing, word of mouth can be more effecting online. It shouldn’t be surprising that web series have become popular the way TV series and films have. Rooster Teeth began as a machinima producer with Red vs Blue, using Halo: Combat Evolved to tell the story of the forces defending a strategic box canyon. Rooster Teeth’s latest hit is RWBY, with season seven coming this November.
RWBY, pronounced “Ruby”, follows four students at the Beacon Academy on the world of Remnant – Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang. Team RWBY learns how to work as a team and with their classmates, including Team JNPR (“Juniper”), with the goal of becoming Huntresses to fight off the Grimm, monsters out of fairy tales that roam the lands of Remnant endangering the inhabitants. Created by Monty Oum, the series has action, comedy, and drama in equal portions, sometimes intermingling. The series uses fairy tales, myths, and legends for inspiration, tweaking them for the story and setting.
Season one sees Team RWBY as fresh students at the Beacon Academy. As the series progresses, they discover the larger world around them, including criminal organizations, the White Fang (a Faunus terrorist group), and different types of Grimm. The Grimm, though, do attack Beacon, causing it to fall and leaving Team RWBY working to clean up.
The Fall of Beacon is where the novel, RWBY After the Fall, by EC Myers, picks up. Instead of following Team RWBY, as the series does, After the Fall chronicles a different team, Team CFVY (“Coffee”), composed of leader and fashion plate Coco Adel, rabbit Faunus Velvet Scarletina, blind but crafty Fox Alistair, and burly yet gentle Yatsuhaishi Daishi. It’s not just Beacon having problems with the Grimm after the Fall of Beacon. All of Remnant is being overrun and Huntresses and Huntsmen are needed, even if they haven’t completed their education.
While the focus is on Team CFVY, Team RWBY shows up in flashbacks that show CFVY trying to come together. Coco, Fox, Velvet, and Yatsu are distinct characters, with their own motives and personalities. They are sent to the continent of Vacua, a land of desert and Fox’s home, where the inhabitants keep on the move. With the Grimm around, life gets difficult. Worse, a group of refugees being protected by CFVY are inflicted by mood bombs, pushing negative emotions to the point of in-fighting and drawing the Grimm to them. Adding to the problem are Bertilak and Carmine, experienced Huntsmen protecting Edward and Gus who have their own mission.
Team CFVY is pushed to their limits as they try to deal with everything, the refugees, the Huntsmen and their charges, and the Grimm. The only haven may lie on the coast, but getting there is one challenge after another. The team has to dig deep into their personal reserves to be the heroes they were training to be.
After the Fall may be the first tie-in novel based on a web series, an indication of the evolution of where audiences find their entertainment. The novel also branches off from the main series, showing what is happening beyond the exploits of Team RWBY. The world of Remnant gets a little bigger with After the Fall. By moving to another continent, there’s no chance of derailing the main plot, a risk if the original series is still ongoing. An episodic series, like Star Trek: The Next Generation, doesn’t run that risk. RWBY, though, isn’t episodic. Each episode builds off the previous and towards the next. The separation is needed.
At the same time, the draw is Team RWBY. They’re the stars. The series is named after them. The need to appear. The cameos may or may not be enough, depending on the reader. However, by putting the focus on Team CFVY, the novel presents several new lenses to view Team RWBY. The setting allows for and has even presented other teams, such as Team JNPR. There is room for more teams. Team CFVY is believable as attendees at Beacon.
The writing is solid. EC Meyers presents the story with a light touch, making for a quick but deep read. He has the mix of action, drama, and comedy that RWBY has. Coco, Fox, Velvet, and Yastu may be a year older than Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang, but they still have a lot to learn, especially from each other. There’s hints of what lies in the future for Team CFVY, but only if they can survive their challenges.
Taking an animated series and translating it to a text-based medium takes a deft touch. EC Meyers pulled off the trick by remembering the source and making sure that the characters fit in the setting. RWBY‘s first tie-in novel brings the setting to life, expanding it through the eyes of a new team.
Fast food is highly competitive. So many options for the person who just wants to have a quick, inexpensive meal. Each fast food chain has its own way of getting attention, from mascots to sponsorships to tie-ins to other mainstream media. Burger King had three XBox/XBox 360 video games. Arby’s has its anime-aware Twitter account. KFC produced a dating sim featuring the Colonel. McDonald’s has its ubiquitous nature. So what is a chain like Wendy’s supposed to do?
Would you believe a tabletop role-playing game?
Wendy’s made available a free RPG called Feast of Legends, where players are called by Queen Wendy, first of her name, breaker of fast food chains, defender of all things fresh, never frozen, ruler of the realm of Freshtovia since 1969, to defend the realm against the evils of the dark art of frozen beef and their practitioners. The land of Beef’s Keep have fractured over how to treat beef, with some siding with Creepingvale and the United Clown Nations and going with freezing.
Yes, the goal is to sell Wendy’s hamburgers and other foods with subtle and, at times, not so subtle jabs at the competition. Lurking beneath the marketing is a solid game mechanic that takes inspiration and cues from the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons since the turn of the millennium. The question becomes, can a fast food restaurant be adapted as a tabletop RPG?
Back a bit, I went through what is key for adapting a work to a tabletop RPG. The five points to watch for are:
1. Is there something for the players to do?
2. Can the players have the same impact on the setting as the main characters?
3. Does the plot of the original work allow for expansion?
4. Will the adapted game bring in something that a more generic game can’t?
5. Is the license available?
The last one is easy to answer. Wendy’s is the publisher, bypassing the need to get a license. Skips the middleman and gets the game out. The third question is the big one, though. The original has no plot. The original is a fast food restaurant. There is no plot, just a daily war between the folks behind the counter and the ravening mass of humanity determined to leave nothing in its wake but destruction, or, as they mass calls itself, customers. While the idea of playing the last stand of the unfortunates standing against the horde may be appealing, that’s not what Feast of Legends is about. It’s an epic fantasy based on the menu at Wendy’s. There’s going to be a lot of stretching of points here.
The RPG does give something for the players to do and not only are their characters having the same impact as the main ones, they are the leads. Queen Wendy needs brave souls to fight for Freshtovia, and given the number of competitors for the fast food dollar, there is room for expansion.
Mechanically, Feast of Legends is what is called a “fantasy heartbreaker“, a fantasy RPG that tries to be different from D&D but still relies heavily on the older game. What would be a liability, though, works in the favour of Feast. Leaning on what D&D has done makes it easier to get buy-in from players and an easier learning curve, even for rookies. This leaves room for developing the world itself, which is where Feast starts to shine.
Feast is a marketing tool. The game doesn’t shy away from that fact. Instead, it revels in it. Not only are the players working on Queen Wendy’s behalf, their opponents are from the competing fast food restaurants. The classes are reskinned as Orders, each one named after different parts of the menu, such as Order of the Beef, Order of the Chicken, and Order of the Sides. Each Order has its own sub-Order, named after specific items on the menu. There are special abilities that each Order gets, but, broadly speaking, the Order of the Chicken is the magical class, Order of the Beef the fighter class, and Order of the Sides the roguish class with a touch of magic.
The mechanics take advantage of being menu items. To encourage the players to eat off the Wendy’s menu, there are mechanical advantages depending on what’s being consumed. An added benefit is if the item being eaten matches the name of the character’s order, the player gets advantage on every roll made that night, rolling two twenty-sided dice and taking the better result. If a player decides to eat from a competitor, then woe be on the character as penalties apply. The worst may be from eating gas station food, a -2 to Intelligence all night.
The world of Beef’s Keep includes a map. Keeping with the hamburger theme, there are two mountain ranges, Top Bun Mountains and Bottom Bun Mountains. Freshtovia, Creepingvale, and the United Clown Nations aren’t the only realms; there’s also The Box, the Twin Cities of Carl, and the Temple of Panda. Other named features include Lake John Silver and Roast Beach. The greatest threat comes from the Deep Freeze, home of the Ice Jester and his United Clown Nations. The adventure that comes with the game has the players take on the Jester and his minions, Grumble, the Beef Burgler, and the Fry Fiends, to protect Freshtovia from being flash frozen.
The setting is very tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at Wendy’s competition. The game is not meant to be taken seriously, though the work that went into it was serious. The goal of the game is fun. There’s room to explore beyond the adventure. After all, Creepingvale is nearby with its creepy king with the paper crown, waiting to sneak his minions up to the border of Freshtovia when no one is looking.
Feast of Legends is a very loose adaptation of the Wendy’s menu and chain. As a tabletop RPG, there’s a few gaps, but not many. The artwork is on par with the larger RPG publishers. As an adaptation, well, it exists for marketing purposes, but there is a sense of fun that went into the game. Mechanically, the game is sound, and emphasizes the message the publisher wants to get across, “Eat at Wendy’s”. For its price, the game is far better than it has a right to be, but Wendy’s wanted something memorable for its audacity, not its drawbacks. The creators hit the right balance between game and marketing, making something that can be played and that people will want to try out.
While music covers are the main way to remake a song, the translation from song to film or TV is rare. Songs are typically short, covering a brief moment in time. However, some songs have been adapted. These songs usually have a narrative that can be expanded on to fill the time of a film.
This time out, though, Lost in Translation will look at the movie Convoy, adapted from the song written by Bill Fries and Chip Davis and performed by Fries as CW McCall. When “Convoy” hit the airwaves in 1975, citizen’s band, or CB, radio was becoming popular. Long-distance truckers adopted the technology, giving them the ability to talk to someone while on the road, giving each other tips and warnings along the way. For someone driving across country alone, CB radio provided a connection to others, much like social media today does. Also like today’s social media, CB radio had its own jargon and codes. The song “Convoy” uses the lingo, giving a trucking feel.
The song itself is about a convoy of long-haul trucks led by the narrator, Rubber Duck, crossing the country, LA to New York, while police try to stop them. The reasons aren’t given, but more trucks join up as the convoy crosses the US. There’s some ribbing, mostly to Pig-Pen and his cargo of hogs, and one driver carrying dynamite. The police escalate, bringing in the Illinois National Guard’s tanks. There’s a conflict, not explained, but something to build on. “Convoy” peaked on Billboard’s Hot Country charts, so, naturally, someone saw a way to build off it.
The Seventies saw a move away from the traditional Western and even the spaghetti Western. Audiences were ready for something different yet the same. The “outlaw trucker” genre, best exemplified by 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit, slipped into the role of the Western, though briefly, riding on country music about long-haul drivers like “Convoy”. Using the song as the basis for a movie made sense at the time.
In 1978, Convoy appeared on the silver screen, directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Kris Kristofferson as the Rubber Duck, Ali MacGraw as Melissa, Franklyn Ajaye as Spider Mike, Burt Young as Love Machine/Pig-Pen, Madge Sinclair as Widow Woman, and Earnest Borgnine as “Dirty” Lyle Wallace. The film was the second-to-last one that Peckinpah would direct.
The movie opens in the Arizona desert with the Rubber Duck in his Mack hauling a tank trailer being baited by Melissa in a Jaguar. The fun ends when a deputy sheriff pulls them both over after being run off the road by them. Melissa races off, leaving the Duck back on the road on his own. He’s soon joined by Love Machine and Spider Mike, who gives the former the new handle Pig Pen because of the load of hogs he’s hauling. Spider Mike is trying to earn money to help pay for the baby his wife about to give birth to. While they’re rolling down the highway, they hear over the CB that the road is clear of smokeys. Turns out, the news is coming from Sheriff “Dirty” Lyle Wallace, a corrupt cop who doesn’t like truckers. He manages to get $70 from each of the drivers before they move on. Turns out, there’s a history between Wallace and the Duck, one that the movie doesn’t expand on. Neither care much for the other, though the Duck is more willing to stay out of Wallace’s hair if given a chance.
At a truck stop, while the Duck is getting a birthday present from one of the waitresses (Cassie Yates), Wallace shows up to check license plates to see if any are expired or about to expire. Pig Pen and Spider Mike use the stop’s CB radio to taunt Wallace, leading to the Sheriff coming into the stop. He easily finds Spider Mike and provokes the black man into attacking. A full-on brawl breaks out as all the truckers in the stop take advantage to get some payback against the Sheriff and his deputies. One of the waitresses calls the Duck back over the radio, in time to join the fray. The result – all the truckers plus Melissa on the run, trying to make their way to the Arizona-New Mexico state line, Dirty Lyle in pursuit but delayed, and a huge mess for the truck stop owner to deal with.
As the chase continues through New Mexico, more truckers join the convoy. Melissa asks why the Duck is leading the trucks. Duck replies that he’s not leading, they’re just following. The reasons for why the other truckers are in the convoy vary. Some, like Spider Mike, are tired of the corruption and racism of the police. Others are in it because they disagree with the then-new national speed limit of 55 mph, imposed in 1974 in response to the oil embargo by OPEC nations. And some were there for the thrills and the chance to kick some ass. The only thing all the drivers in the convoy had was they wanted to keep moving, the one thing a convoy does.
The news of the convoy spreads throughout the state. The public’s reaction supports the drivers and their “cause”. The Governor, spurred by aides who see a political opportunity, provides the truckers a place to stop for the night so he can talk with the Duck. Spider Mike, though, has to leave the convoy; news arrives that his wife is about to give birth. His route, though, takes him into Texas, where black men, let alone black truckers, are not safe.
Once the convoy stops for the night, the truckers and followers take the time to shower and rest. The Governor (Seymour Cassel) finally tracks down Rubber Duck to try to make a deal. The Duck, though, is independant. He’s not the leader; his goal is to just get away from Wallace. The Governor tries to work out a deal, but news comes over the radio that Spider Mike has been arrested in Alvarez, Texas and beaten. The Duck puts Pig-Pen in charge of the negotiations, then leaves.
The next morning, the Duck is outside Alvarez, watching the town to see what the town’s Sheriff (Jorge Russek) and Wallace have planned. Pig-Pen, though, figured out what the Duck was going to do, so brought along the original truckers running from the brawl at the trick stop with him. Instead of being outnumbered, the Duck has reinforcements, and the local Sheriff bails on seeing the trucks coming into his town.
The Duck breaks Spider Mike out of jail. Wallace was expecting the Duck to come alone, as did the Duck. The final confrontation the two had been building up to had been postponed. The truckers leave Lyle in Spider Mike’s jail cell, then make the decision to run for the Mexican border. After what they did in Alvarez, there’s no way they’d be allowed to walk away. With the Duck at the front door, they put the pedal to the metal.
However, a school bus stop separates the Duck from the rest of the convoy, a stop that may have been worked out by Wallace and the local police. The Duck is alone, with only Melissa in his truck. Wallace, however, has the Texas National Guard with him, complete with anti-riot tank. He gives the order – shoot to kill. The Duck throws Melissa out of his truck and makes his last run to the bridge and into the line of fire as Wallace opens up with a heavy machine gun. Stray shots hit the Duck’s tank trailer, causing it to explode.
The movie took what could be called a novelty song and turned it serious. It was an action movie, not a comedy, and stripped away some of the romance of the long-haul trucker. There wasn’t anyone on the side of the angels, with the truckers playing fast and loose with legalities and the police just armed thugs with authority. What does happen, though, is the conflict builds to the explosive climax. The Duck and Dirty Lyle are two sides of the same coin, independant, stubborn, and neither a leader nor a follower.
The film takes liberties with the song, but with Fries and Davis on board for the music, the lyrics could be changed for the purposes of the movie. The original song had an unexplained conflict; Convoy takes the cops versus truckers theme and gives the conflict a flashpoint and a resolution. While the movie may appear to have the Duck die at the bears’ hands, he does have one last trick to pull to come out ahead.
Convoy could have gone the novelty route; with a lighter hand it would have been a comedy. Peckinpah manages to work in some social commentary and provides a harder look at the life of long-haul truckers, removing the romance much like later Westerns did for that genre. It’s an odd combination, but the movie does build on the song. The truckers are flouting the law, the cops are overreacting, and a tank does show up.
Songs may not always provide much to build on, but with “Convoy”, there’s enough story to expand into a feature film. Convoy takes the song and gives it life and background.