Works adapted for television produce a new set of concerns. With movies, one of the big limitations is time; commercial film releases run anywhere between ninety minutes to two hours, with rare releases reaching the three-hour mark. A television series, however, has far more running time available to it than a feature film. Even accounting for commercials, there’s still twenty-two to forty-five minutes of show each episode. Long-running series may run out of original material before ending and will need to create new content*. With novels, especially those in a series, it’s possible to keep using existing content in a TV show. HBO’s A Game of Thrones is an exemplar of this sort of planning. Adapting a movie as a TV series, though, means that the show’s writers will be adding material. Today’s review looks at that situation.
In 1999, George Lucas released the first of the prequel movies, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. In the gap between that film and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, released in 1983, numerous tie-in novels, comics, games, and toys were produced, creating the Star Wars Expanded Universe, or EU. The EU added more characters and settings to Star Wars. With the prequel movies filling out more of the history of the Rebellion, more EU products were created to fill in details not covered by the movies.
Such is the case with the CG-animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the series covered the Clone Wars at several levels, from the clones on the front to the politics of the Senate to the Jedi Council. The Clone Wars ran for six seasons, from 2008 until 2014, before ending. During its run, familiar characters mingled with new ones, showing the toll of the wars on all levels of Republic and Separatist society.
The Clone Wars started with a feature movie, with Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi and a number of clone troopers defending Christophis against the Separatist droid army. Young Ahsoka Tano is introduced as Anakin’s padawan, an attempt by the Jedi Council to try to teach Skywalker the dangers of his inability to let go of those he holds dear. Once the battle is won, Anakin and Ahsoka are assigned the task to retrieve Jabba the Hutt’s son, who has been kidnapped, to get the gang boss’s favour. The search leads to Teth, where the Separatists are holding the Huttlet. Anakin leads a force of clone troopers against the droids’ base, leading to a showdown against the assassin, Asajj Ventress, a protege of Count Dooku. Senator Padmé Amadala of Naboo finds out about Anakin’s mission and tracks down Ziro the Hutt on Coruscant, but discovers that he is part of the conspiracy against Jabba and the Jedi. With the help of C3PO, Padmé escapes and Ziro is arrested. On Tatooine, Anakin deals with Count Dooku long enough for Ahsoka to return the Huttlet.
The first season continues in a similar vein, at least to begin with. “Ambush”, the first regular episode, features Yoda and several clones on a mission to meet with the king of Toydaria. The episode sets the tone, showing that the clones, even though they look alike, are individuals, and Yoda treats them as such. As the seasons progress, the stories become darker, with the Jedi forced into becoming what they are not and Darth Sidious’ manipulations starting to pay off. That’s not to say that the first season was all light-hearted. Clones and Jedi died on-screen, and one Jedi fell to the Dark Side before being killed by General Grievous. The first season also showed why the Republic was fighting; the episodes “Storm over Ryloth”, “Innocents of Ryloth”, and “Liberty on Ryloth” depict what the droid army did with the Twi’leks and the liberation of their homeworld.
Being placed between the second and third prequel places a few limitations on the series. First, several characters had script immunity due to appearances in Revenge of the Sith. That’s not to say that the couldn’t inflict non-permanent injuries and psychological issues on existing characters. Second, new characters had to be written out in a way that their absence in Sith made sense. In particular here, Ahsoka could not be Anakin’s padawan by the end of the series. Likewise, Venrtess could not remain Dooku’s apprentice.
As mentioned at the beginning, adapting movies for television may mean adding new material. The Clone Wars did just that, but in a way that added to the original. New characters, like the aforementioned Ahsoka and Ventress, clone troopers Waxer, Boil, and Fives, and bounty hunter Cad Bane had their own stories that intersected with the lives of the original cast. In addition, minor characters like General Grievous had their roles expanded. Grievous, first seen in Sith primarily escaping before being defeated by Obi-Wan, is shown to be far more dangerous and far more callous, killing several Jedi and targeting medical frigates.
The series delved into other parts of the Galaxy Far Far Away. Seasons three and four showcased the Nightsisters, a sect of the Witches of Dathomir, and Asajj Ventress. Mandalore, the home of some famed armour, also had several episodes focused on it and its internal politics. The Galaxy felt larger as a result, away from Tatooine and Coruscant. At the same time, classic equipment seen in the original Star Wars began appearing, from the Y-Wings to the evolution of the clone trooper armour to look more and more like that used by stormtroopers.
The Clone Wars also managed to make Revenge of the Sith a stronger movie. Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side is shown throughout the series, as Palpatine introduces doubt that worms through his mind. The deaths of the Jedi as a result of Order 66 hit harder. No longer are they nameless characters in a montage but Plo Koon, Kit Fisto, and Aayla Secura, Jedi who have appeared and were developed as full characters in their own right.
As an animated adaptation, The Clone Wars took characters that were larger than life in movies and brought them in a new form on television. The animation evolved over the run of the series, noticeable even in the first season, and evolved to handle more difficult challenges. There were times when certain elements, such as the clone troopers, the battle droids, and General Grievous, were indistinguishable from what appeared on screen in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The eye to detail and the desire to respect the films came through. While it is true that Lucasfilm was still the studio behind The Clone Wars, not all of the studio’s releases matched the quality and care shown in the animated series.** The Clone Wars is well worth studying as a successful adaptation.
* I’m ignoring filler episodes here. Filler is more commonly seen in anime based on manga, where the series has to wait for new content to be created.
** The Star Wars Holiday Special stands out as a prime example here.
Since the series first aired in 1966, Star Trek has made inroad into not just geek culture but global culture. It is rare to find anyone unfamiliar with the concepts of the series and unable to name at least one Captain. The show’s prominence and tropes also make it ripe for parodies. Each series and movie in the Trek franchise has been fodder for humourists. The franchise even was featured as the first review here at Lost in Translation.
Fan films are getting less expensive to make. With CGI, many effects that would be too expensive to do practically, like crashing a car or blowing up a model starship, now just needs a skilled artist. The camera equipment needed has also fallen in price while becoming digital and smaller. The Canadian low-budget horror movie Manborg was made for around Cdn$1000 and featured extensive green-screening and stop-motion animation. The Four Players used limited sets and CGI in four separate shorts featuring the characters from Super Mario Bros. Today, it is very possible to equal the effects of the big screen with inexpensive software coupled with skill and talent.
Star Wreck started as a series of shorts on YouTube. Five friends in a two-room apartment used blue-screening technology to digitally add the sets needed. Outdoor sets were found in the Finnish outdoors. The sixth, Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, received a budget sliightly under 14 000 Euros and a feature-length DVD release. The version watched for this review was the Imperial Edition. Star Wreck followed the exploits of the CPP Potkustartti, or as the subtitles call it, the CPP Kickstart*, her captain, James B. Pirk, and her crew, including Commander Info, an android, and Commander Dwarf, a Plingon. The end of Star Wreck V saw Pirk, Info, and Dwarf stranded on Earth in the early 21st Century, trying not to change the course of history.
In the Pirkinning begins with Pirk drunk and tired of being stuck in a primitive era. He reunites with Info and Dwarf and, armed with the knowledge of where the Vulgar (Vulcan) ship that made first contact is, starts working to build a new Kickstart. Unfortunately, the man who contacted the Vulgars, Johnny Cochbrane (Zefram Cochrane), sold the ship to the Russians. Pirk takes his crew, all two of them, to a Russian nuclear facility and convinces them to overthrow capitalism to bring back the Soviet Union. Among those working at the facility is Sergey Fukov** (Chekov), an ancestor of one of Pirk’s former crewmen. Sergey also worked at Chernobyl, where he had accidentally turned off the wrong cooling unit instead of the unit in his quarters.
With his newly Soviet Russian army, Pirk convinces President Ulyanov to assist in the building of the new CPP Kickstart. With control of the Russian army and the new Kickstart and her sleds (shuttlecraft), Pirk overthrows Ulyanov, declares himself Emperor, invades Europe and then the United States. No country can withstand the invasions, which is sold via propaganda as liberating the invaded nations. The P-Fleet is built, with all vessels having twist drives (warp drives), shove engines (impulse drives), twinklers (phasers), and light balls (photon torpedoes). Too bad the P-Fleet was built by the Russians; the maximum speed the ships can maintain is Twist Factor 2.
Another problem Emperor Pirk faces is the overpopulation of Earth. He sends the P-Fleet out to scout for new worlds to colonize. Most of the close ones aren’t suitable for human life, as the expendable redshirts would attest to if they hadn’t died demonstrating the lack of suitability. However, the CPP Kalinka, commanded by Sergey Fukov, discovers a maggot hole (worm hole) from which an alien ship emerges. Following Pirk’s General Order 3, the instant destruction of any alien vessel, Fukov orders the alien vessel destroyed. After investigating the wreckage, though, it turns out the occupant was human.
The P-Fleet arrives at the maggot hole to investigate and, if needed, to conquer any worlds beyond for colonization. The Kalinka is ordered into the maggot hole, Pirk figuring that the rust bucket and her captain would be no major loss to the P-Fleet. Instead, Fukov reports back that the inside of the maggot hole changes colour. The rest of the fleet enters the hole and spots two larger alien vessels that use a signal to exit. Pirk’s crew figures out what the signal was and uses it to exit as well.
At this point, the breadth of science fiction knowledge of the creators is shown. There’s a space station, the Babel 13 (Babylon 5), sitting near the hopgate (jump gate). When negotiations break down with Commander Jonny Sherrypie (Commander John Sheridan), Pirk orders the P-Fleet to strike. The resulting battle is something that many pre-CGI filmmakers could only dream about. The P-Fleet has the early advantage, with their twinklers and light balls, but once ships like the Backgammon (Agamemnon) get in range, they open fire. The ships from the Trek part of the parody have special effects similar to what was seen in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. The Babylon 5 portion, though, use special effects that wouldn’t be out of place on the original series. The resulting scene is one that should be studied as an example of how to get details right.
During the battle, the Excavator, commanded by Psy-Co (Psy Corp) officer Festerbester (Alfred Bester) appears and targets the P-Fleet’s flagship, mainly because Pirk’s ship is the only one with enough light balls to continue the battle. Festerbester is portrayed by the same actor playing Fukov, just as Walter Koenig played both Chekov and Bester. The battle is decided by a twist core split resulting in an explosion that destroys both the Kickstart and the Excavator.
The difficulty in reviewing In the Pirkinning is not just working out how well the parody captures the essence of both Star Trek and Babylon 5, but dealing with watching a foreign language film relying on subtitles. There is a culture gap between Finland and Canada that Star Wreck demonstrates. The treatment of Russians was the first indication of the difference between Finnish and Canadian humour. The subtitles assisted; whenever a Russian spoke, ze subtitles bekame a form of accent as the Russians happily overthrew kapitalism to bring back kommunism. The subtitles for the unintelligible Scottish engineer were just as unintelligible.
It was obvious while watching In the Pirkinning that the cast and crew knew their science fiction, that they had watched both Trek and B5. Sherrypie’s penchant for long-winded speeches, the entire mirror universe vibe of Emperor Pirk’s P-Fleet, the dual role of Fukov and Festerbester, the exploding plasma consoles on the Kickstart all show the level of detail and knowledge. The parody still respects the original works even while poking fun. Only a fan could get both series well enough to parody without being mean-spirited. Some of the details may have been lost in translation***, but, overall, the parody managed to pull together two distinct TV series and keep their tone while adding to the work.
Next week, Daredevil.
* For ease, I will stick to the English translation, mainly to keep the pun of the name.
** Pronounced exactly as you’re thinking.
*** So to speak. *cough*
First, A Lupin the Third live action movie has been announced! The movie will be a prequel, showing how Lupin met his crew.
Next, it’s weird where you can find an adaptation. Back while getting info for the comments about the It’s a Wonderful Life sequel, I discovered that the movie is an adaptation of a short story, “The Greatest Gift” by Philip van Doren Stern. Unlike the sheer mess of rights that It’s a Wonderful Life became, van Doren Stern properly renewed his copyright in 1971 on his story.
Moving on, here’s what I hope to do for December. There will definitely be a review, though of what, I do not know yet. I’m half-tempted to review Miracle on 34th Street because of the number of times the films has been remade; movie versions in 1955, 1959, 1973, 1994, a Broadway musical in 1963, a stage play in 2006, and a half-hour puppet version at Macy’s in New York City. For the year’s end, a look back on 2013 followed a week later by a look ahead to 2014 and beyond. Given the sheer amount of news in October and November, twice even, I won’t be short of material. That leaves one week, which I may leave as a surprise.
I’m also open to suggestions. The catch is, I need to have access to the original and the new work. I am keeping my eyes open for certain titles, either due to personal interest or because of influence. However, as mentioned above, there will be times when I run across a remake or an adaptation without realizing it. Along with It’s a Wonderful Life, I found out that Bedazzled, with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley, is a remake of the 1967 film of the same name, with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. I will make a note of when I encounter the new work before the original; it could, as I mentioned previously, make a difference in how the adaptation is perceived.
Next week, back to the reviews!
This past weekend, October 11-13, 2013, saw Can*Con 2013, the 33rd Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature, held in Ottawa, Ontario. This year, Can*Con also hosted the Aurora Awards, celebrating the best in Canadian science fiction and fantasy. Can*Con is small compared to media conventions such as Anime North, Toronto FanExpo, and the San Diego ComicCon, but the size helped focus the direction of panels towards readers and writers of speculative fiction.
The conference had three panel tracks plus a special events track. The panels were aimed at authors both published and aspiring and at readers. Fan works, webcomics, graphic novels were also part of the mix; Can*Con acknowledged the breadth of formats available on paper and the web for speculative fiction. The special events track included the Auroras plus readings by guest authors and pitch sessions held by Canadian publishers. Friday and Saturday evening featured concerts and filking*.
There was a small dealer’s room with tables piled with books where authors and publishers sold their works. The diversity of the wares went from comics and graphic novels to anthologies to novels both light and dark.
The Aurora awards took place Sunday. The winners were:
Robert J. Sawyer – Lifetime Achievement Award
Best Novel – English**: The Silvered, Tanya Huff[link]
Best YA Novel – English: Under My Skin: The Wildings Vol. 1, Charles de Lint
Best Short Fiction – English: “The Walker of the Shifting Borderland”, Douglas Smith, On Spec #90
Best Poem/Song – English: “A sea monster tells his story”, David Clink, The Literary Review of Canada, July/August
Best Graphic Novel*** – English: Weregeek, Alina Pete
Best Related Work – English: Blood and Water, edited by Hayden Trenholm
Best Artist – Erik Mohr, cover art for Chizine Publications
Best Fan Publication: Speculating Canada blog, edited by Derek Newman-Stille
Best Fan Filk – Kari Maaren
Best Fan Organizational: Randy McCharles, Chair and Programming, When Worlds Collide, Calgary
Best Fan Related Work: Ron Friendman, conception and delivery of the Aurora Awards voter package.
Takeaways from the convention: Canadian speculative fiction authors, published and aspiring, would do well here. The panels are informative, there’s a chance to network with other authors, with publishers, and with fans. Fans can easily mingle with writers; panels existed for fan activities. The convention was open and welcoming, and small enough to be intimate. I will be returning.
* The singing of popular songs with the words changed to a more geeky version. The name is derived from folk music.
** The French Aurora Awards ceremony will be held at Boréal in Montreal.
*** Four webcomics were up for Best Graphic Novel – English.
This entry is going to veer away from the visual medium. Reboots don't just happen on screen. Adaptations can still be informative even when in a different genre. In the case of this entry's subject, a reboot can be polarizing.
In 1974, Tactical Studies Rules, a small company in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, released what would become a culture-changing phenomenom. The original release of Dungeons & Dragons was a three-booklet boxed set, adapting the company's previous Chainmail fantasy miniatures rules for fantasy role-playing. As the game's popularity grew, the rules were revised and expanded. The expansion resulted in a split as Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were released. The former kept to the previous rules; non-human characters were classes in and of themselves. AD&D, however, allowed non-humans to take on roles such as fighter, thief, magic-user, or cleric.
The game exploded in the 80s. Ads for the game appeared in comics, in magazines, even on TV. AD&D entered the cultural subconscious. To be fair, it was never a smooth ride. People looking for a scapegoat latched on to the "D&D is Satanic" bandwagon. (Oddly, that didn't hurt sales. Something about forbidden fruit being the most tantalizing.) Sure, the game got tagged as a nerd pastime, but those who played enjoyed it.
After about a decade of rules revisions published through various supplements and through Dragon Magazine (TSR's own house publication), a new edition was released. The second edition brought together the various rules updates and cleaned up some of the problem spots. Around this time, TSR's licensing included computer and video games, cashing in on the new trend that was inspired by AD&D. The 90s, though, saw a boom in the number of RPG publishers competing with TSR for the top spot. Although none really came close, several companies, including White Wolf (Vampire: the Masquerade) and Steve Jackson Games (GURPS), rose up with their own systems and gained their own followings.
During the 90s, where various activist groups such as Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons failed, upper management succeeded in the destruction of TSR. As a result of some poor decisions by upper management, the company declared bankruptcy. Its assets were sold off; the biggest asset being the D&D trademark. The game was picked up by Wizards of the Coast, the creator of Magic: The Gathering. A new edition came out, called Dungeons & Dragons. The system changed the mechanics drastically, switching to a pure d20 plus modifier core mechanic, but kept the key ideas (classes and levels, Vancian magic) intact. Overall, D&D 3rd Edition was successful; the game was still the 800 pound gorilla of the industry. WotC also released the rules as part of an Open Gaming License, letting other companies use the core rules for their own settings. The 90s saw many small companies releasing settings that used the d20 rule set.
With the very brief history of D&D out of the way, we come to the subject of this entry - Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. As with the previous editions, the third edition rules gained a lot of cruft, adding to the complexity to an already complex game. In 2000, a fourth edition was released. The d20 mechanics were kept, but characters' abilities had undergone a massive change. Vancian magic, that is, magic where the caster forgets the spell after casting, was gone. Instead, characters of all classes gained powers at each level. Wizards no longer were a one-shot wands of Magic Missile at first level, nor did hostile cats pose a lethal threat to them. Fighters saw their abilities with swords improve with each level; no longer were they the meatshield at lower levels and cannon fodder at higher ones.
The potential drawbacks were vast. Would the new rules be accepted as D&D? Internet flame wars still rage over that very question. The new mechanics also saw a return to D&D's miniatures heritage. The new edition almost required minitures on a battle map. Gone was the exploration aspect of previous versions; the fourth edition changed abilities to an encounter-based economy. A good DM could bring in exploration, but the core mechanics didn't allow for a random encounter. With the new rules, a wizard could take a hit from an orc with a longsword and still fight; whether this is good or bad depends on the player.
Not all the changes were accepted by players. One common criticism is that the game feels more like a collectable card game (CCG), not a role playing game. Each power, whether a wizard's arcane spell, a priest's divine miracle, or a fighter's martial exploit, had a set of rules of its own. With the character builder, software to assist in character creation, players could print the power cards and play them like a CCG. Various players' books have been released, with some players and DMs feeling that they need to get each one to stay current. And, yet, D&D is still the 800 pound gorilla of the RPG industry. The game continues to evolve with the release of the Essentials line, a streamlined version of the fourth edition rules.
Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition shows that there is a limit to how many changes a fanbase will expect. A too large change of focus can alienate fans. Yet, the current version of the game is successful. New players keep coming in, partially through the efforts of WotC's Encounters series of games which play to the strengths of the new rules. It is possible to overcome a gap an adaptation creates by supporting the new fans. And sometimes, it is impossible to avoid alienating a portion of the existing fanbase, no matter what is done.
Next time, a young boy and his hero's adaptation.