Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation covered the difference between adaptations and parodies. The short version is that the two have different goals that can be at odds. Naturally, there are exceptions. Young Frankenstein took the 1931 Universal class Frankenstein and, while keeping the beats, turned it into not just a parody of the original, but also a sequel and a correction of the main flaw Victor Frankenstein had, being a deadbeat father. Airplane!, though, is an entirely different kind of parody altogether.
During the Seventies, the disaster movie took off. Spearheaded by Airport in 1970, based on the book by Arthur Hailey, many disaster movies came out during the decade, each with a star-studded cast. Airport itself spawned three sequels, Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concorde – Airport ’79. Other disaster flicks of the decade include 1974’s The Towering Inferno and Earthquake and 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. Audiences were drawn to mass destruction on film.
Naturally, when something gets popular, it gets parodies. David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker decided to take improv act Kentuck Fried Theater and turn it into a movie, The Kentucky Fried Movie, One segment of the film was “That’s Armageddon” which parodied the disaster movie genre, though using a tower on fire instead of an airplane. While ZAZ didn’t direct the film – that was left to John Landis – they wrote the script. With a successful film under their belt, they decided to parody an old film, taking one they had recorded overnight. The lucky film was Zero Hour!.
Adapted from the CBC teleplay Flight Into Danger, Zero Hour!, written by Hailey, told the story of Ted Stryker, played by Dana Andrews, a World War II fighter pilot who lost his squadron on a bombing mission five weeks before the end of the war. The target was shrouded in fog and the strike force came in too low. Stryker survived, but six of his fellow pilots never made it back. Eleven years later, Striker is having problems holding down jobs to the point where his wife, Ellen (Linda Darnell) leaves with their son, Joey (Raymond Ferrell), to fly across Canada to Vancouver. Stryker catches up at the airport, buying a ticket on the cross-Canada flight.
Cut to the cockpit, where the pilot and co-pilot (Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Steve London) are discussing the flight. A fog is covering the Prairies from Regina to Calgary, but since the flight is going to Vancouver, that shouldn’t be a problem. A four-engine DC-4 should be able to get from Ottawa to Vancouver without having to stop to refuel. Once the passengers are settled in, the plane takes off.
Ted tries to talk to his wife, but Ellen’s mind is made up. To help pass the flight, Ted asks the stewardess, Janet Turner (Peggy King in her first movie role), if Joey can visit the cockpit. With the pilots’ permission, Ted and Joey take a look around. While there, Janet gets the pilots dinner orders, both of them going for the grilled halibut. With Joey welcome in the cockpit, Ted goes back to speak to his wife to find out what went wrong between them.
The first hint that something’s wrong comes after the plane has flown into a thunderstorm. A woman starts complaining about severe stomach aches. Janet fetches her some Dramamine to help, then calls the pilot on the intercom. She believes the woman has severe airsickness, but she’s never seen it this bad. The pilot asks Janet to find a doctor on board. After asking a few passengers, Janet finds Dr, Baird (Geoffrey Toone) and asks him to take a look at the sick woman. As Baird examines the woman, Joey gets the same symptoms. The problem is severe; the doctor wants the plane on the ground as soon as possible. The problem is that the fog is thick all the way to the Rockies; there’s nowhere to land except Vancouver. With some questions, the source of the illness is traced to the fish. Everyone who ate fish is going to become violently ill, including the pilots.
The co-pilot is the first of the flight crew to be affected by the illness. The pilot toughs it out with some help from Dr. Baird, but soon is not able to continue flying the plane. He manages to turn on the autopilot to keep the plane on course, but someone needs to land the craft. Janet goes walks along the aisle, looking for someone who can take over. To keep the passengers from panicking, she says that the co-pilot is ill, but the pilot just needs someone to handle the radio. The only passenger on the flight who has any flight experience and hasn’t had the fish is Ted, and he’s hesitant because of what happened in the war.
On the ground, the airline realizes there is a problem in the air. Harry Burdick (Charles Quinvlivan) takes charge and calls in Martin Treleaven (Stewart Hayes) to help talk the replacement pilot down. Problem is, Treleaven flew with Ted during the war and is well aware of Stryker’s record. Both men have to put aside the past to work together to get the plane down. Emergency crews and gear are on standby, in case Stryker misses the runway or even the airport. Ted, though, gets it together, fights through his PTSD, and makes the worst landing Treleaven has ever witnessed. At the end, though, the plane is down with no loss of life.
The plot to Airplane! is the same, beat for beat. ZAZ added to the script, embellishing scenes in the Zero Hour! and adding scenes to parody the Airport series of films. Changes were made, the biggest being moving the setting south to the US with a Los Angeles to Chicago flight. This change meant that the airline had to change from Cross Canada to Trans America. Characters were renamed. Ted Stryker became Ted Striker (Robery Hayes). Ted’s wife Ellen because his ex-girlfriend Elaine (Julie Haggerty), a stewardess on the flight. The stewardess Janet became Randy (Lorna Patterson). Dr. Baird turned into Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen); Burdick, Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges); Treleaven, Rex Kramer (Robert Stack). Airplane! expanded the flight crew to three, due to the needs of the Boeing 707 replacing the DC-4, thus having Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves), Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and Victor Basta (Frank Ashmore). The changes of the crew name allowed for some word play during take-off. One thing that didn’t change with the flight crew was including a sports figure. “Crazy Legs” Hirsch was a receiver with the LA Rams at the time of shooting Zero Hour!. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for the LA Lakers and was dragged out of the cockpit where his uniform.
The tone of the movie changed, as would be expected of a parody. Except, ZAZ had cast serious actors for the roles, not comedians. Airplane! was the film that launched comedy careers for Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges; prior to the movie, both were known for serious, dramatic roles. Even the music, composed by Elmer Bernstein, ramped up the seriousness. The sheer dramatic tone provided a contrast to the gags happening. And gags did happen, in the background, in the foreground, off to the side, and in front of the camera. The script was changed, mostly by giving different answers to questions, questions such as, “Can you face some unpleasant facts?”
One role that got expanded was that of Johnny, who was essentially a gofer. ZAZ and Landis handed the role to Stephen Strucker and let him do what he wanted. The result, Johnny went from extra to manic character who was in his own movie, one where there wasn’t an airplane without a flight crew doomed to crash. The new Johnny also provided contrast to the ultra-serious nature of the plot.
Not every scene in Airplane! came from Zero Hour!. Scenes at the airports, both in LA and Chicago, were added. These came from the Airport series, where the scenes set up the in-flight character drama. The young transplant patient, Lisa Davis (Jill Whelan), and the singing nun (Maureen McGovern) came directly from Airport 1975. The additional scenes allowed for more gags, including the argument over what the red and white zones are for and Kramer fighting his way through religious missionaries. In the air, the added characters allowed more parodies, including of coffee ads and of a scene from 1958’s Crash Landing.
Not every scene was a spoof, though. Some were played straight. Near the end, as Ted is bringing the jet in on its final approach, there’s a shot of an older fire truck with firefighters watching the sky with a dalmatian. That had to be tossed in, right? The truck is out of date, and dalmatians aren’t used for firefighting except as mascots these days. That shot, though, came right out of Zero Hour!, the only difference being the breed of dog. The final approach and landing, outside Johnny’s antics and additions to dialogue, were beat-for-beat and almost word-for-word from Zero Hour!, including how the plane crashed on to its belly and skidded.
The popularity of Airplane! and the nature of the jokes wound up killing off the disaster movie for a decade and a half. When the genre began a revival in the Nineties, the focus was more on natural disasters, not airplane crashes. Arthur Hailey, having written Airport, not only created the disaster movie trend in the Seventies, became its end through the spoofing of Zero Hour! The drama of those films could not be taken seriously because of Airplane!
Given the nature of Airplane!, it would be expected that major changes would be done to Zero Hour!. What’s surprising is how intact the original movie is, turning Airplane! from parody to comedic remake. In Airplane!‘s favour, Zero Hour! was a black and white film relegated to late night TV slots, the periods where few people watch or even record. There was room for an update of the original, going from propellor aircraft to jet, though ZAZ still kept the prop sounds. More people are familiar with Airplane! than the movie it remade. Without Zero Hour! to build on, Airplane! wouldn’t be as well known or loved today.
Lost in Translation hasn’t looked at many parodies in the past, just four. Parodies are unusual cases when it comes to adaptations. Without an original work, a parody couldn’t exist, yet the nature of parodies means that changes happen. The goal of the parody is humour, not accuracy.
There are three of types of parodies. The broadest is the genre or style parody, where the goal is to have fun with a number of works, not just one. A good example of this sort is Blazing Saddles, parodying the Western genre as a whole. Another example is Top Secret!, a parody of both spy movies set during the Second World War and of movies starring Elvis Presley. Genre parodies take the tropes of the genre and twist them around, holding them up in a new light. A successful parody can even shape how future regular films in the genre use the tropes. This sort of parody is generally not an adaptation. No specific work is used as the base; these parodies draw from several works, pulling out common themes.
Narrowing in, the next type of parody does use a specific work, but no specific story from the work. This happens when the original is a series or franchise. Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, The Orville, and Quark all parody Star Trek. Star Wreck and The Orville use The Next Generation as the base while Quark, because it first aired in 1977*, only had the original Trek to work from. All three have different takes on Star Trek; all three have their own plotlines separate from but similar to Trek. Licensing tends to be the issue with these parodies. If not official, the creators don’t have access to likenesses from the original. Details get changed to keep lawyers happy. Once the parody gets going, it also takes on its own life, with characters developing away from the ones they were based on. This sort of parody may explore ideas from the original work, but for humour instead of the original intent. The Trek episode, “The Enemy Within”, where a transporter accident separated Kirk into two beings, one good, one evil, explores the nature of humanity, the yin and yang inherent in all of us. The Quark episode, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ficus”, takes the idea of the characters being separated into good and evil and uses it for humour, with Ficus, the Spock equivalent except being a plant, not affected at all. Ficus was unaffected because, “there are no good or evil plants, there are just plants.” For this type of parody, the focus is humour, not accuracy, but will use themes from the original.
Galaxy Quest falls under this sort of parody, but instead of using Star Trek episodes as the base, it uses the the industry and the fanbase as the source. Again, licensing and likenesses are a key factor. Because Galaxy Quest deals with the life of the actors long after their show was cancelled, care needs to be taken to not say or imply anything that could be misconstrued. At the same time, the movie also took pains to get the fandom right. Galaxy Quest used ideas from Trek‘s fandom to create its own narrative, yet still be a parody of the TV series. In particular, Guy was well aware of the redshirt effect and was desperate to not suffer the same fate. Galaxy Quest is not a typical parody, but still falls under the narrower form.
Finally, there are the parodies that use the original work’s story. These are rare and tend to happen with older works that have fallen into the public domain. Wayne and Shuster’s “Rinse the Blood Off My Toga” is a good example here. The sketch takes Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and turns it into a film noir mystery. The few parodies that use a work that falls under copyright get around the issue in one of two ways. First, the original work is used as a base, building a new story off it without using it directly. Young Frankenstein uses this method, The other way is to just license the original. Airplane! is the exemplar here, with creators Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker having licensed Zero Hour to use the work’s script to pile on with jokes.
This last type of parody is very close to being an adaptation. The difference here is intent. The main goal of a parody is humour, whether through slapstick or satire. Adding humour doesn’t necessarily mean a work is a parody. Gnomeo and Juliet is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet aimed for a younger audience, using humour to keep the attention of viewers. It’s not a parody, though; the aim wasn’t to spoof the play, just make it accessable to a younger audience. The line between the two can be fine, with Airplane! madly hopping over it, scuffing any trace the line may have had.
The end result is that, no matter what type of parody a work may be, it can’t be held to the same standards as an adaptation. With most adaptations, the effort is to keep to the original, putting in little twists to keep the work fresh, with humour a possible addition but not the focus. Parodies ultimately have a goal that is separate from bringing a work from one medium into another or rebooting a work. Accuracy isn’t as important as the humour. It is unfair to judge a parody by the same standards of other adaptations.
* Quark may have been the first to parody /Star Wars/, with the episode “May the Source Be With You”, given its timing.
Lost in Translation has covered The Transformers before, both the G1 cartoon and Michael Bay movie. The quick recap – two factions of giant robots, the Autobots and the Decepticons, from the war-ravaged world Cybertron, arrive on Earth. Both sides need energy, but the Autobots are willing to work with the inhabitants of Earth to get what they need while the Decepticons take it by force. Leading the Autobots is Optimus Prime, usually voiced by Peter Cullen, a wise robot who favours peaceful means but will fight when pushed. The Decepticons are led by Megatron, who rules through force and fear, though he keeps Starscream around anyway. The various Transformers series and movies may or may not tie into the same continuity, so different series can and have played around with canon.
Before getting into Bumblebee, let’s look at Bumblebee, the character. Bumblebee was part of the first line of Transformers sold in toy stores, being available from 1984 until 1986. In the G1 cartoon, he was one of the first Transformers seen on screen, during the Autobot-Decepticon war on Cybertron. Bumblebee was also the first Transformer to meet humans, the Witwickies. Bumblebee is as iconic as Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Starscream.
What makes Bumblebee approachable is that he comes across as being a younger Autobot, relatable to the younger audiences. He’s not that large for a giant robot. His original alternate form was a Volkswagen Beetle, a car whose popularity came from how cute it looked instead of performance. Adding to the innocense of the character, the Beetle was part of the hippie movement and Flower Power in the Sixties. Bumblebee, despite being an Autobot soldier in a war fighting Decepticons, looks innocent and relatable. Perfect for being the first Autobot to meet humans and for being the first Autobot to headline a movie solo.
Bumblebee opens on Cybertron. The Autobots are losing the war against the Decepticons. Optimus Prime, once again voiced by Peter Cullen, is sending out scouts to find a location for the Autobots to hide and rebuild. B-127 (Dylan O’Brien) is sent to Earth, landing in an military training facility in California of 1987. The soldiers, led by Sector 7 agent Colonel Burns, played by John Cena, chase the Autobot scout. B-127 takes advantage of seeing a Willys Jeep and takes on its form to get some space, only to wind up trapped at a mine. The Autobot does what he can to not hurt the humans.
Unfortunately, B-127 was followed. Blitzwing (voiced by David Sobolov) has no problems with collateral damage on his mission to find out where Optimus Prime is. During the battle with B-127 and the subsequent interrogation of the Autobot, Blitzwing winds up killing almost all of Burns’ unit, save the Colonel himself. The Autobot manages to destroy Blitzwing, but is unable to speak after the Decepticon destroyed his voice box and is so damaged that even his memory core fails. Before collapsing completely, B-127 sees a Volkswagen Beetle and transforms into the same vehicle.
Elsewhere, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld, who played Spider-Gwen in /Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse/[http://codex.seventhsanctum.com/2019/01/19/lost-in-translation-279-spider-man-into-the-spider-verse/]) is not having a good life. She has all the angst of a teenager of the late Eighties – bad job, dealing with the clique of Heathers of her school, an annoying younger brother, Otis (Jason Drucker), and a new neighbour, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr), who is romantically interested in her – plus she aches over the loss of her father. Her mother, Sally (Pamela Adlon), has remarried to Ron (Stephen Schneider) and has moved on with her life. Charlie, though, can’t.
To feel closer to her late father, Charlie uses the money from her food concession stand job to buy parts she finds at her Uncle Hank’s (Len Cariou) junk yard to rebuild a classic Corvette. When searching for a key part, she discovers an old yellow Beetle under a tarp. She checks out the car and has one of her rare smiles. Charlie pays for the parts and heads home. The next morning is her eighteenth birthday. Her mother and stepfather give her well-meaning gifts. Still down, Charlie heads to her uncle’s junkyard and pleads with him, offering anything, including cleaning the bathroom there, just to get the Beetle. Hank gives the car to her, not expecting the Beetle to start. Charlie, though, learned mechanics from her father and gets the Beetle home. She also gets the car’s radio going briefly.
B-127’s radio not only gets local stations, it also broadcasts his location. Two Decepticons, Shatter (voiced by Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) pick up the signal while executing an Autobot lieutenant on one of Saturn’s moons. The trace the signal to Earth, the western coast of North America.
She starts to suspect that the Beetle might not be what it looks like when an unusual part drops from the undercarriage. B-127, now having amnesia due to the memory core failure, is as afraid of her as she is of him. The two manage to communicate, the Autobot through body language, and learn about each other. Charlie also gives him a name, Bumblebee, because of his colour and the Beetle’s basic shape. On an outing, they walk into some woods to be alone. Bumblebee shows what happened to his voice box. Charlie does what she can to fix it and repairs a holographic projector and a memory cell. The contents of the cell get projected – the last orders Optimus Prime gave to Bumblebee, protect Earth from the Decepticons.
Shatter and Dropkick arrive on Earth and adopt a new form, cars. It turns out that they are Triple Changers[https://tfwiki.net/wiki/Triple_Changer], picking up a second alternate form, a jet and a helicopter, respectively. They head west, but run into Agent Burns with a lot more backup than before and Dr. Powell (John Ortiz). Powell wants to treat the situation as a first contact moment, negotiating peacefully with the aliens. Burns is more wary, having seen what one can do. Shatter, though, presents herself and Dropkick as emissaries from the Decepticons looking for a renegade who needs to be brought back to Cybertron. While Powell and others at Sector 7 are convinced, Burns shows a bit more genre savviness and points out the name, Decepticons. He’s overruled, though.
Every character has an arc in the movie. Charlie’s is to move on with her life without forgetting her father. Bumblebee’s is to regain his memory and protect Earth. Being voiceless through most of the movie, Bumblebee has to communicate through body language and his eyes. For a non-human CGI character, Bumblebee does this well. The movie is essentially a story about a girl and her car that changes into a robot.
Unlike the previous entries in the live-action Transformers series, the Transformers seen in Bumblebee resemble their G1 cartoon appearances. In particular, Soundwave, Shockwave, and Starscream are easily recognized. Soundwave even sounded like his G1 cartoon counterpart, especially with “Ravage, eject!” And, yes, Ravage went from cassette to robotic jaguar. There’s a number of Easter eggs for fans of the G1 cartoon. Given the Eighties soundtrack, “The Touch” by Stan Bush, featured in the 1986 The Transformers: The Movie did come up.
Bumblebee is also a prequel to the Michael Bay movies. Sector 7 is shown in its early stages. A young Agent Simmons (Nick Pilla) appears in Sector 7’s headquarters. However, familiarity with any other Transformers property isn’t needed to watch the movie. The number of Transformers on screen at any one time is no more than three once off Cybertron. On Cybertron, Optimus Prime is notable, but the others are there to boost the armies on both sides. They’re not important to the story in Bumblebee beyond showing the desperate situation B-127 is leaving. Knowing what’s coming is also not important. While Bumblebee’s voice is damaged, the reason for it is shown on screen. The story uses the damage to help build the relationship between Bee and Charlie. The focus is on those two characters, not the wider context of the cartoon and movies.
While the movie is very much a science fiction action flick, the core of it belongs to the characters Bumblebee and Charlie. While Charlie was created for the movie, Bumblebee wasn’t. The goal, then, is to determine if the character made the translation over. Of course, the various Transformers series and the live-action movies all have differing continuity. It’s a feature, not a bug. It does make judging whether the movie works as an adaptation.
The key part is what was covered about the character of Bumblebee earlier. He is a friendly introduction to the Autobots, close to human size, with a cute exterior that isn’t normally threatening. Throughout Bumblebee, the Autobot took pains to not hurt Charlie or her friends and family on purpose. He went out of his way to warn Agent Burns, trying to protect him from the Decepticons. Bumblebee is a protector, not a destroyer. The only time he was a threat to humans in the movie was when they were a threat to Charlie. Also, throughout his incarnations, Bumblebee is loyal to Optimus. This, too, carries over, even with Optimus on Cybertron. Considering Bumblebee’s amnesia, this core of his personality still survived the memory core failure. From the character perspective, Bumblebee remained true to his previous incarnations.
The loose continuity in Transformers media does complicate matters, but in the movie, Bumblebee has his classic yellow VW Beetle alternate mode. While licensing was an issue with the first live-action movie, this wasn’t a problem for Bumblebee. Using a Beetle allowed the film to have fun with a chase sequence; Beetles weren’t know for being fast, just cute. The use of the Beetle kept the movie light.
Overall, Bumblebee is a good live-action adaptation, fitting in with the continuity of the Bay films while still standing alone. No knowledge of the character is needed, yet the character is true to both his previous appearances in the Michael Bay films and his animated counterparts.
Lost in Translation has covered several Spider-Man adaptations in the past, including Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and its reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Both focused on Peter Parker, the Spider-Man introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15. Spider-Man is Marvel’s flagship character. Whenever a new character gets a title, Spider-Man is there to reinforce the idea that the hero is part of the Marvel Universe. As a result, Spidey has met most of Marvel’s heavy hitters, from the Avengers to the X-Men. New York City may be a large city, but heroes will cross each others’ paths.
Peter, though, isn’t the only Spider-Man in Marvel Comics. Thanks to alternate universes, there can be an infinite number of Spider-Men. Indeed, some are from a different Marvel Universe, like the Spectacular Spider-Ham, who first appeared in Marvel Tails Starring Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham; Spider-Gwen, the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 who became Spider-Woman, as seen in Edge of Spider-Verse #2; and Miles Morales, from Marvel’s Ultimate line, who took up the mantle of Spider-Man after Peter Parker died, as seen in Ultimate Fallout #4. In a possible future of the main Marvel Universe, Miguel O’Hara becomes Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2099. In the main continuity, Dr. Otto Octavius, Doc Octopus himself, once took over Peter’s body to become the Superior Spider-Man. And that’s just scratching the surface of Spider-Men, not even touching the versions that have appeared in animated series, in live action film and TV, and in video games, nor the Spider-related characters, like Spider-Woman, Venom, and Araña. Marvel released a limited series, Edge of the Spider-Verse, that featured stories of the various version of Spider-Man, bringing them together to fight the dangers of the Inheritors across the Marvel Multiverse.
Marvel does track its multiverses. Anything done under a Marvel logo, be it film, TV, or streaming, Even the company’s comics that aren’t part of the main continuity, like the New Universe and the mangaverse, are part of the overall multiverse. The Peter Parker from the classic cartoon is a different one from Tobey Maguire’s in the Raimi Spider-Man, who is a different one from the main continuity, but they are all Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
Pulling even a fraction of all the available Spider-People is daunting. The general audience is most familiar with Peter Parker, thanks to decades of him being the face of Spider-Man outside comics. Fans will know of the others, but the rest of the movie-going public might not. With a runtime of just under two hours, there’s not much space to introduce all of them in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, even if the number of alternate Spider-Beings is limited.
Into the Spider-Verse opens with Peter Parker (voiced by Chris Pine) introducing himself as Spider-Man, giving a brief rundown on who he is and what he’s done for ten years, with scenes taken from the various Spider-Media, from comics to film, and the different tie-ins, like the classic cartoon and a Christmas album. Once Peter’s intro is done, though, the focus turns to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a high school student just starting at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions, a private school that only takes the best and brightest. Miles aced the entrance exam, but isn’t sure that he belongs there. At one point, he tries failing a true/false test, getting a zero. His teacher saw through it, though.
Miles’ life is complicated, like most teenagers’ lives are. He does wind up talking to another new student, “Wanda” (Hailee Steinfeld), who laughed at his lame excuse for being late for science class. Miles also sneaks out to meet up with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who shows him a safe spot to practice his graffiti. Aaron still has a shady side gig, the point where he and Miles’ father, police officer Jeff Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) have had arguments about leading to estrangement. As Miles works on his latest project, a radioactive spider, having escaped from Alchemex, lurks, eventually biting the teen.
The next day, the effects of the spider’s bite appear. Miles’ thoughts seem loud to him and are appearing on screen around him. His attempt to put to use some advice his uncle gave him on talking to girls fail horribly with Wanda when his hand gets stuck in her hair, leading to an impromptu haircut for her and stony silence for him. With nothing going right, Miles returns to his dorm room and flips through is roommate’s comics, finding the first Spider-Man comic and realizes that he’s having the same thoughts and problems the Peter Parker in the comic is having. Miles returns to the underground chamber where his artwork is and finds the dead spider. He then hears a fight nearby.
Spider-Man has located the Kingpin’s secret facility, being used to breach dimensional barriers to bring back Fisk’s deceased wife and son. The problem that Spidey has realized is that the device could collapse the space-time continuum, destroying not just Brooklyn, but multiple dimensions. Fisk’s device manages to lock on five other universes before Spider-Man can stop the process. The fight, though, leaves Spider-Man badly hurt. Spidey hands the key that can destroy the device to Miles, who sneaks away. Before he leaves, though, Miles witnesses Kingpin dealing the death blow to Spider-Man.
When news gets out about the hero’s death, New York City mourns. Peter Parker was well respected as both himself and as Spidey. His widow, Mary Jane (Zoë Kravitz), is surrounded by well wishers. Miles, still in shock and feeling responsible, attends funeral in the crowd in a cheap costume. He tries to train alone, but while he has Spider-Man’s agility, the rest isn’t there yet. To try to work out his thoughts, he heads to Peter’s gravestone. While there, a stranger approaches him. Miles reacts instinctively, knocking out the man. When he gets a closer look, he discovers that it’s a brunette Peter.
Once he recovers, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), goes through the same intro Miles’ Peter had at the beginning, except this Spider-Man had been around for over twenty-five years, had been married to MJ but later divorced and hadn’t been taking it well. He’s older, heavier, and not quite on his game. The two head out to Alchemex’s headquarters in Harper Valley, where the plan is for Peter to sneak in, retrieve the files needed to recreate the key, now broken after Miles ran from Fisk’s henchmen, grab a bagel, and sneak out. Nothing in Peter B. Parker’s life ever goes smooth. He runs into Fisk’s chief researcher and Brooklyn Visions guest physics lecturer, Doctor Olivia “Liv” Octavius, Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn) herself.
Miles and Peter escape the facility, lugging a desktop PC while being chased by armed mad scientists and Doc Ock as Miles is being taught how to use Peter’s web shooter. The competency of Miles’ late Spider-Man, though, means that the villains had to up their own game, and the pair are in deep trouble. However, a newcomer swings in to help. Spider-Woman, from another of the five dimensions, saves the boys and retrieves the computer before Doc Ock could grab it. “Wanda”, or, as she should be called, Gwen Stacy, gives her own backstory in the same manner as both Spider-Men before, this time with her own dimension’s Peter Parker having been the Lizard.
The three decide that the best place to try to figure things out is at the home of Peter’s Aunt May (Lily Tomlin). Aunt May had been expecting them and isn’t surprised at seeing her nephew at the door despite his funeral. She leads Miles, Peter, and Gwen to her Peter’s underground lair and introduces them to the other dimensional travellers – Peter Parker (Nicholas Cage), from 1933, in black and white, a masked detective in a noir pulp style; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her SP//dr mecha which she copilots with a radioactive spider; and Peter Porker (John Mulaney), the Spectacular Spider-Ham. The three go through their backstory in unison, much like the previous backstories.
With the five extra-dimension Spider-beings now gathered, the plan turns from stopping Kingpin to getting everyone home then stopping Kingpin. The problem is that there should be six, but the one from Miles’ dimension is dead. To avoid having anyone left behind, though. Miles has to step up, control his abilities, and become the new Spider-Man for his dimension.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may have done the impossible. The movie introduced Spideys that weren’t Peter Parker, provided their backstory, gave them all credible motivations, and made them all interesting, while still keeping to their comic origins. Even the animation styles used for the characters kept to their original titles. Spider-Ham’s animation harkens to both Disney and Warner Bros; Spider-Man Noir’s kept to black and white, including the dots that older, pre-computer inking used; Peni was straight up anime-style. Yet the styles didn’t clash. By the time they appeared, the idea of dimensions colliding was well in effect in the film.
Introductions were quick, getting the point across, becoming a running gag, then turning into a proper ending with Miles’ version. The movie is Miles’ story, but there’s room for the other Spideys. Relationships between characters were real. The relationship between Miles and his father showed all the awkwardness when a teenaged boy is trying to become his own person but is still dependent on his parents. Peter B. Parker’s life falling apart, especially in contrast to the successful Peter of Miles’ dimension, shows a man who lost his direction. Yet, that Peter hasn’t gone to the extremes that Wilson Fisk did by creating a means to break dimensional walls to get his wife and son back.
There is the required Stan Lee cameo, this time as Stan, the owner of a comic book shop who gives Miles some advice. “It [the costume] always fits, eventually.” While the costume Miles bought didn’t fit, when he stepped up, he made the costume his, and it did fit who he is. The quote from Stan Lee during the credits really does apply to Miles, and to many people in real life, “That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it’s the right thing to do, is indeed, without doubt, a real superhero.” Even when he was trying to deal with his new powers, Miles did help Spidey because it was the right thing to do.
To emphasize that Miles’ dimension was different, little things changed. Some were obvious, some were in the background. His father was an officer of the Police Department of New York City, or PDNY. Koca-Soda has the ad at Times Square. Movie posters had familiar pictures but new titles, like Simon Pegg’s From Dusk to Shaun. Getting details right is a key element that can make or break an adaptation. Into the Spider-Verse went beyond that here.
As a film, Into the Spider-Verse will be the Spider-movie that all others will be judged against. While the movie is Miles’ story, the different Peter Parkers brought a nuance to the character not seen in any of the movies so far, an older Peter instead of the high school and university students portrayed so far. The movie managed to hit the right tone, a bit of comedy, a bit of drama, a bit of superhero action, just as in the comics. Spidey couldn’t solve his problems using his powers in his comic titles, and neither could any of the Spideys in the movie. Peter B. Parker eventually realizes that he was in the wrong and he needed MJ in his life. Miles and his father reconcile. Gwen opens a little to letting people get close to her.
The humour comes through in appropriate times. When the Spider-Man of Miles’ dimension dies, it is a sombre moment. Later, though, as Peter and Miles steal Dok Ock’s computer, the tone lightens. The scientists recognize Spidey, since he was wearing the costume, and one yells out, “It’s Spider-Man! He’s stolen a bagel!” before they break out their lasers. Even in the climactic fight, all the Spideys keep up with the patter, a Spider-Man trademark.
As an adaptation, the movie doesn’t adapt The Edge of the Spider-Verse, nor was it meant to. It took the concept from the mini-series and from the video game, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and brought it to film. The characters, though, are true to their original works, complete with appropriate animation style. The result is a film that embraces its comic book heritage instead of ignoring it.
Do stay past the credits. An eighth Spidey, Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), makes an appearance, travelling back to when it all began, 1967. Worth staying for and is a brilliant adaptation on its own.
Lost in Translation usually handles English-language adaptations, in part due to a lack of fluency in other languages. The culture differences can make it difficult to determine how an adaptation is or isn’t working. Serdar at Ganriki covers Japanese works, original and adapted, far better. However, a new Netflix series came up, one that deserves a look here.
Blazing Transfer Student (Honō no Tenkōsei or 炎の転校生) began as a manga by Shimamoto Kazuhiko, running in Weekly Shōnen Sunday from 1983 to 1985, running 118 chapters. In 1991, Gainax produced a two-part adaptation of the manga that went directly to video, covering the first chapters. The manga followed Takizawa Noboru, a transfer student to Honjakuniku High. Late on his first day, Takizawa had to deal with the overzealous hall monitor, Jonichi Koichi, in the manner that all conflicts are dealt with at Honjakuniku, a fight. With help from the lovely Yukari, Takizawa deals with not just the hall monitor, but other students, transferring from school to school, as he develops his ultimate attack, the National Railway Punch!
The manga was a parody of shōnen tropes, turning them all to 11. Every attack was called out. The characters treated the situations as if they were life and death. The anime followed in the same vein, with Takizawa winning against his rival, Ibuki Saburo, because “Takizawa Railway Train Punch!” was the shorter phrase. Blazing Transfer Student was, first and foremost, a comedy. Gainax followed in the same vein with the anime.
An older series doesn’t seem likely for adaptation, yet Netflix dipped into that well. Blazing Transfer Students Reborn, released for streaming on Netflix in 2017, stars the boy band Johnny’s West – Shigeoka Daiki, Hamada Takahiro, Kamihama Tomohiro, Kotaki Nozomu, Kiriyama Akito, Fujii Ryusei, and Nakama Junta – as the title characters, each keeping his name, sort of. Kaga Takeshi, Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef, voices Takizawa, now the principal. Kawashima Umika plays Hikari, a fellow student and Takizawa’s assistant.
At the beginning of the series, Shigeoka arrives at his new school, wondering about the nature of his transfer. The moment he steps foot on campus, he is whisked away by othger students and taken to a boxing ring, where the rest of the transfer students are already fighting. Most are already fighting. Kamiyama is trying to escape while Fujii just poses. Several of the transfer students already have special attacks; Fujii has his Shining Wink, capable of blinding people; Kotaki has his pompadour, which can grow when he needs it; and Nakama has a HUD in his eyeglasses, though it’s not as useful as one would expect. Kiriyama, a weapons master, pulls out a tiny katana. Hamada is versatile with martial arts. Shigeoka turns out to be average. Very average. Nothing special about him at all average.
The fight last long enough for the audience to wonder why the students are fighting. The episode is well aware that this would happen and asks the same thing. Turns out, none of the transfer students know why. They plot an escape. The school locks down, with teams of students hunting the newcomers, some with butterfly nets. One by one, each transfer student is captured and taken back to the ring. Shigeoka, though, has fallen for Hikari, and will do anything for her, including fighting. She encourages him to develop his own special attack, the National Railway Punch!
Back in the ring, Shigeoka tries to summon the National Railway Punch! However, the other students also have that ability. As it turns out, they have something else in common than just the Punch. They are all called Kakeru and have been recruited by Takizawa to clean up schools infested with bureaucratic evil. Each episode following features several of the transfer students being sent to another school to end the evil there. From zombification curry to a girls school that would give St. Trinian’s a fright, the Kakerus are pushed to their limits. All is not right at their own school, though. Takizawa has an ulterior motive. He, with Hikari’s help, is looking for the true blazing transfer student.
The new series may be live action, but it takes its cues from the manga. Sound effects are also written on screen. The fighting is over the top, using wire-fu to hold characters in place in the air as they monologue. Each of the students is a different shōnen archetype: the gangster, the beautiful one, the weapons master, the martial artist, the uber-brain, the crybaby, and the totally average guy. The narrator, Wakamoto Norio, provides the inner thoughts of the characters as needed, along with explaining the unexplainable and occasionally providing snark. Takizawa is exactly as he looked like in the manga and anime, being represented by a statue with holographic projectors in his eyes.
Blazing Transfer Students Reborn doesn’t take itself seriously, though the characters do take their missions like they were life and death situations. The violence is toned down from the manga, in part because what an artist can do with a still picture or an animated sequence for laughs becomes not so funny when done to a real person. Technically, the new series is a sequel, but it makes the jump from manga to live action, bringing along the conventions of the drawn medium to the screen without shame. With a few decades having passed since the end of the manga, the series has some room to play in, yet keeps to the tone of the original.
Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: 1979
Original Story: Moonraker
Publication Date: 1955
Previous Story: Live and Let Die
Next Story: Diamonds Are Forever
Villain: Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale)
Heavy: Chang (Toshiro Suga), Jaws (Richard Kiel)
Bond Girls: Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), Corinne Dufiur (Corinne Cléry), Manuela (Emily Bolton). Special note here on Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), who pairs up with Jaws.
Other Notable Characters: M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewellyn), Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), General Gogol (Walter Gotell), Minister of Defense Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen)
Gadgets: Wrist dart gun (used by 007), X-ray safecracker (used by 007), Q-Branch modified gondola (used by 007), Q-Branch modified speedboat (used by 007), poison pen (used by Dr. Goodhead), flamethrower perfume atomizer (used by Dr. Goodhead), laser torch (used by the US Space Marines), explosive bolos (used by Q-Branch technician)
Plot of Original: Sir Hugo Drax uses his companies and fortune to create a ballistic missile with the secret intention to launch it against London with a nuclear warhead supplied by SMERSH. Bond first gets involved because M suspected something was up with Drax’s luck at bridge.
Plot of Film: Industrialist Hugo Drax uses his company, Drax Industries, to choose a small group of men and women to house in a space station in order to repopulate the Earth after using a rare nerve gas to kill the existing human population.
Other than the name, Moonraker, and the name of the villain, there’s not much in common between the novel and the movie. When Moonraker was written in 1955, the Arms Race and the Space Race were just beginning. The Soviet satellite, Sputnik I, would be launched two years after the novel’s publication. The US and the USSR were building their nuclear arsenals, and other nations were trying to keep up to have their own deterrence, including the UK. The novel fits in with then-current events.
While the Arms Race continued in 1979, other matters overshadowed the world of entertainment. Star Wars, released in 1977, ignited a desire for more science fiction films set in space. The American Space Shuttle program introduced the concept of a reusable space craft. In 1976, only the prototype Enterprise had been built. It’s look, though, was distinctive. Instead of a silver rocket as all previous manned and unmanned launches had been, the new shuttle had wings to help glide after re-entry. Visually, it was a distinctive craft, ideal for being on film.
To get to 007 being in space, though, there had to be a reason for him to go up. Moving Drax’s base of operations from the English countryside to a space station was definitely a way to do that. Since the Space Shuttle plays a large role, an American agent, Dr. Holly Goodhead, is involved, taking the place of the novel’s Scotland Yard Special Branch agent Gala Brand, who is also embedded in Drax’s organization. However, since Dr. Goodhead is involved in the shuttle side of Drax Industries, Corinne Dufour becomes Drax’s aide.
Even the characterization of Drax changed. The novel’s version was boisterous, at least in public. He was a self-made millionaire, and has the apparent luck to find key metal deposits. Bond first meets Drax at M’s club. M had invited 007 there to figure out how Drax could win consistently at bridge. In the movie, Drax is more reserved, using a few layers to separate himself from the general public and even higher level officials. Ultimately, Drax is revealed to be a high-ranking Nazi officer. The movie version of Drax didn’t have the overt Nazi background, though he did have the idea of creating a master race with a base in Brazil.
The Drax of the novel does appear in a way in a later 007 film, Tomorrow Never Dies, in the persona of Eliot Carver. While Carver in the film is based on the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates, he also has the personality of the Drax of the novel. In a nod to the novel, the Minister of Defense mentions playing bridge with Drax.
One scene that did make it from the book is Drax’s attempt at killing Bond and Dr. Goodhead. In the novel, Drax leaves Bond and Gala to die in the exhaust of the launch vehicle. They escape through a ventilator shaft. In the movie, Bond and Dr. Goodhead escape the same way. The difference between the two is that Bond was ready to kill himself to destroy the Moonraker rocket in the novel, one life for millions. In the movie, he is actively looking for escape as the countdown hits ten seconds.
The movie was a way to have 007 tap into the audience that went out to see Star Wars. The Moore-era tended to be far more flamboyant, with Moonraker one of the films used to show how far the movies had gotten from the original concept. At the same time, the film managed to keep the scenes in space believable. The assault on Drax’s space station had no artificial gravity until a tech gets the station to spin again. Outside the station, the battle is in micro-gravity, allowing for three-dimensional movement.
While the desire to pull in the science fiction fan is there, the other problem that the film had was the change in times between 1955 and 1979. The Arms Race was well in gear in 1955, but in 1979, everyone involved was looking at the dangers of mutually assured destruction. The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks, or SALT, were an attempt to scale back arsenals without completely losing the ability for self-defense. SALT I occured in 1967, SALT II in 1972. Having Britain expand nuclear capability in the film would’ve been jarring to the audience at the time. Changed the Moonraker project from ballistic missile to one man’s desire to restart humanity moved the danger out of the Cold War and into supervillainy.
Bernard Lee made his last appearance as M in the movie. He passed away in 1981 before filming started for For Your Eyes Only. Richard Kiel’s Jaws is the first heavy to make a second appearance in a 007 film. He first appeared in the previous 007 movie, The Spy Who Loved Me and was an unstoppable force then. Jaws is also the only heavy to ever switch sides and help Bond, with the help of Dolly, who didn’t meet Drax’s standards for perfection. Shirley Bassey returns for the third time to sing the theme song.
Among the music in the film are shout-outs to a couple of key science fiction films. Also sprach Zarathrusta, Opus 30 by Richard Strauss was originally used in 2001: A Space Odyssey at the beginning, when the Monolith is shown. The other film reference is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with the four notes used by the aliens to initiate first contact with Earth.
One thing that didn’t make it into the movies is Bond’s drug use. It’s not that Bond regularly shoots up heroin. Instead, he takes advantage of pharmaceutical aid provided by the Service. In Moonraker, he requested Benzedrine, an amphetamine, which he then washes down with champagne. His goal was to come across as inebriated and bold while playing bridge with M against Drax. The combination, not recommended, leads to Bond getting far too overconfident. In “The Living Daylights”, Bond uses stimulants to remain alert while on counter-sniper duty, then using sedatives in order to sleep. While he only uses the drugs while on assignment, the extremes he reaches is aiding his burnout and PTSD. Moonraker also has Bond reading about the dangers of a “murder drug” in use in Japan and the dangers of marijuana. Today, the dissonance would be intentional, but in 1955, Fleming may not have been aware of the mixed messages.
One detail from the novel that has gotten lost in the films is the nature of the 00 section. The novel mentions the three agents under M, with Bond having seniority. The other two, 008 and 0011, were both recovering from injuries in the line of duty. Fleming didn’t get into details, but the implication seems to be that there were six prior 00 agents that have since moved on, either through promotion or death.
The movie is filled with double entendres. While Holly Goodhead’s name isn’t quite on par with Goldfinger‘s Pussy Galore or Diamonds Are Forever‘s Plenty O’Toole, the movie more than makes up for it in other ways. Q may have had the best double entendre at the end, with “He’s attempting re-entry, sir.“
The nature of the passage of time is the main factor in the differences between the novel and the movie. Both Moonrakers are a product of their times, with the movie taking advantage of technology that wasn’t even dreamt of when the novel was first released. The further the franchise gets from the years immediately after World War II, the more James Bond becomes a relic of the time. Updating the character and the franchise is needed with each new movie, while still keeping close to the core of the character. It’s a difficult line to walk, and the film may have strayed a little too far.
Actors have traditionally been a superstitious lot. From warding off bad luck by telling thespians “break a leg” to rituals to calling Shakespeare’s MacBeth “The Scottish Play”, there are a number of little rituals both onstage and backstage. Given the propensity for accidents to be taken as a foreboding of doom, a mystery gets expanded into superstition. Gaston Leroux, the author of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, based his story on a mystery at the Opéra national de Paris, where a skeleton was used as a prop in a play.
Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was originally serialized in Le Galois from September 1909 to January 1910, then released in one volume in March 1910. The story reveals the secret of Christine Daaé’s success as an opera singer and her relationship with both her Angel of Music and with Raoul, the Vicomte of de Chagny. When Christine and Raoul were young, they used to listen to her father speak of the Angel of Music, and he promised to send the Angel to her after he died. Christine showed great promise, but when her father died, the life went out of her music. But when Christine nails the music in Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod, she gains the attention of opera aficionados.
At the Paris Opera House, the retirement of the previous manager brings in M. Moncharmin and M. Richard in as management. Up to that point, anything that went wrong, including deaths, was blamed on the Opera Ghost. M. Moncharmin and M. Richard, though, weren’t familiar with theatrical superstitions. Even when the Opera Ghost himself left notes with demands, they ignored the dire warnings. First, they sold Box Five, the Ghost’s box. No one was ever seen in it, but it was in use by the Opera Ghost. When it was sold to other theatre attendees, they heard the Opera Ghost but did not see him.
The Ghost did provide a way to make peace with him. During Faust, also by Gounod, management needs to do four thing: leave Box Five for the Ghost; have Christine take the role of Margarita in place of La Carlotta, the Opera’s diva; have Mme Giry return as the box-keeper for Box Five; and, accept the conditions set for the Ghost’s monthly allowance as the previous management had. Otherwise, Faust would suffer a curse. La Carlotta, at the same time, receives a letter written in red ink telling her to not sing that night or suffer a fate worse than death. While a mere threat wouldn’t keep the diva away from performing, a hearse going by her window as she read the message added a new level. Being superstitious, Carlotta would have stayed home, but the threat and the visit from M. Richard’s private secretary had her wondering if Christine was trying to usurp her place, so she goes to perform.
Faust starts without problems. Christine appears on stage. On seeing Raoul, she falters, having problem with her minor role. Carlotta makes her grand appearance as Margarita and starts singing without any problems at all. Until she croaked like a toad. She makes an effort, but her voice is gone. To make matters worse, the Opera’s chandelier crashes down, killing a guest of M. Richard’s.
With proof that the Ghost would interfere with the Opera, the new management has little choice. Mme Giry gets her old job back. But Christine disappears. Raoul discovers that she is once again with her Angel of Music, and goes out to find her, only getting a note asking him to meet her at the masquerade ball. Christine finds him and draws him away to talk to him one last time. When she leaves, Raoul finds it within him to follow her, to discover that Christine is meeting with Erik.
Slowly, the truth is revealed. Christine’s Angel of Music, the Opera Ghost, is Erik, who took her in as a protégé. But instead of just teaching her to sing, he fell in love with her, a possessive love where she is not allowed to speak with others. Raoul is in great danger if Christine is seen with him. Yet, Christine betroths herself to Raoul and plans to escape Erik.
Erik, though, catches on to the plan. He strikes first, kidnapping Christine during a performance of /Faust/. The police get involved, as does Raoul, who tries to explain who the Opera Ghost is. Evidence points to Erik having stolen the Count of Chagny’s carriage, racing off towards Brussels. Erik’s Persian henchman, though, knows otherwise and offers to bring Raoul to see both Christine and Erik by travelling beneath the Opera to Erik’s house on the underground lake. Erik gives Christine a choice, agree to marry him or see the Opera destroyed during a performance. Given the choice, Christine does what she can to delay Erik, ultimately choosing to marry him. However, this choice opens a flood which washes Raoul and Christine out, never to be seen again. Erik dies of a broken heart.
The Phantom of the Opera has been adapted before, including the 1925 film with Lon Chaney, the 1943 film with Claude Rains, and the 1974 Phantom of the Paradise with Paul Williams. Andrew Lloyd Webber was looking to put on a romantic musical and was pointed at The Phantom. The novel isn’t so much romantic as tragic, with romance being the key to the Phantom’s fall. Webber watched the 1925 and 1943 films, but didn’t see a way to get the story to translate to a musical. However, he found a used copy of the then out of print novel and read that, leading to the creation of the musical. Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera opened in London’s West End in 1986 and on Broadway in 1988. The musical is the longest running Broadway musical and the second longest West End musical after 1985’s Les Misérables.
The problem when analysing with stage productions is that they can change with each performance. Little things come and go, actors hit marks differently in subtle ways. A long running musical also has cast changes during its run, and The Phantom of the Opera has been on Broadway for thirty years. Musicals based on a novel need to change the approach in two ways. The first is run time. Novels take as long as they need. Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was first serialized, running several months. Audiences are willing to sit through about two to three hours, but the actors also have a limit on how long they can perform.
The second way a musical changes a narrative is that the story is carried by the music. There is still action, still dialogue, but the thrust of the plot is done with music, both the singing and the background music. Different ranges carry different roles; two roles with the same range, ie, two tenors or two sopranos, set up a conflict between the characters. With The Phantom, Christine and La Carlotta are both sopranos and both are in competition to be the diva of the opera being staged.
That out of the way, the Webber musical remains close to Leroux’s novel. Some changes are made – little details such as the operas being put on. M. Moncharmin and M. Richard become M. André and M. Firmin, more to work with the music’s meters. Instead of Roméo et Juliette and Faust, both used by Leroux to foreshadow and set the tone, Webber uses the fictional opera Hannibal and provides a score to the Phantom’s own work, Don Juan Triumphant, then uses that same music as the base for the climax with Raoul, the Phantom, and Christine.
One major change is how Raoul and Christine are betrothed. The novel implies an engagement. The musical has them secretly wed away from the Phantom’s prying eyes. The early part with the young Raoul and young Christine were cut, later added through song as Christine becomes wistful for that happier time. The fates of the three leads, though, is still left in the air. La Carlotta gets an expanded role in the musical. As the Opera’s diva, she acts as a foil to Christine. It’s amusing when the Phantom curses her to croak like a toad, but Carlotta never stops blaming Christine for what happens.
The musical keeps Christine’s introduction as she moves from being in the chorus to becoming a lead singer, much to La Carlotta’s annoyance. Raoul isn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown; he’s in love with Christine but not to the point that he’s lost his mental faculties. The Phantom becomes a sympathetic character, releasing Christine when all his lost so that she may have her happiness even if he can’t have his. The result is very much a tragedy, with the Phantom an anti-hero.
Other key scenes kept are the masquerade, though instead of the Raoul discovering the secret of the Opera Ghost and Christine’s Angel of Music, the Phantom discovers the secret wedding. The staging of the Phantom’s opera is expanded and leads to Raoul’s pursuit of Erik, this time without the Persian. The ending still has the fates of the three leads left in the air, with Raoul and Christine running away together and the Phantom disappearing.
Given the restrictions of the format, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera remains faithful to Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, itself based on rumours and mysteries at the Opéra national de Paris, many still unsolved today. The translation of the tragedy to a musical takes advantage of the music to give depth to the characters and scenes in a way prose can’t.
When adapting a tabletop RPG, the ideal original work is one that allows for more people in the setting than just the main characters. Star Trek, in its various incarnations, allows for other Starfleet officers, creating an instant hook for an RPG. Television, though, works best with a limited cast, mainly for budgetary reasons, with a broad hook. Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files was prime for a TV adaptation, with one central character, a small core of supporting characters, and numerous recurring guest characters. For an RPG, though, that isn’t the best set up.
Or is it? As the series of novels grew, Butcher expanded the setting. Harry Dresden isn’t the only wizard in the world, just the only one to open a detective agency. Over the course of the series, Harry picks up an apprentice, deals with the various threats both mundane and supernatural, has to work around the wizardly White Council, and keeps the peace among the supernatural factions and the Mob in Chicago. There is a world beyond just Harry Dresden. This is where Evil Hat Productions comes in.
Evil Hat developed the Fate RPG by building on the Fudge system with elements that went beyond just attributes and skills. Called Aspects, these elements allow players and GMs to use drama points, called Fate Points, to modify the narrative. Players can invoke the Aspects to gain an advantage for their characters; GMs can invoke the same Aspects to put the characters into a disadvantageous position. Fate doesn’t encourage the old “killer DM” play; the goal is for everyone to have fun and be challenged.
At this point, there’s two levels of adaptation going on. First, the adapting of The Dresden Files as a tabletop RPG. Second, the adapting of Fate to The Dresden Files. Fate is Evil Hat’s house system, a concept seen widely in the tabletop RPG industry. Game mechanics take time to develop and playtest. Many RPG publishers, once their mechanics are worked out, don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time a new game is released. When licensing a title, one of the issues faced by RPG publishers is making sure that the work can fit into their mechanics.
Evil Hat’s approach to Fate, especially for The Dresden Files and their previous game, the original work Spirit of the Century, was to emulate the writing process. While that approach may not work for some players, it does set the tone of the game, reflecting Dresden‘s literary background. The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, released in 2010, comes in two volumes, Volume 1: Your Story and Volume Two: Our World. That’s not unusual for tabletop RPGs; while getting both mechanics and setting into one book is ideal, if there is too much information, printing over two thick volumes makes sense.
Our World details Harrry Dresden’s Chicago, as presented in the novels. The city isn’t just the landmarks that can be found in a Wikipedia entry. Our World adds the elements that have appeared in the novels – characters, themes, the vampiric Red and White Courts, the police, the Mob, the morgue, and even Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History that became a zombie. Anything and everything players could want if they want to play in Harry’s Chicago.
Your Story contains the mechanics of Fate, how to roll the dice and how to create a character. Being an urban fantasy RPG, the Dresden game has to include not just regular skills but also supernatural abilities, with some extrapolation from what’s seen in the books to provide players a range of options. To help players, the game includes templates based on characters who appeared. Included in the templates are Wizard, like Harry, Champion of God, like Michael, Were-Form, like Billy and the Alphas, and White Court Vampire, like Thomas. Most templates have a Fate Point refresh cost, so some may not be available depending on the initial amount of points available at start. However, Pure Mortals, like Karrin Murphy and Waldo Butters, gain two Fate Points for use to buy stunts, to offset not having access to supernatural abilities, reflecting how such characters in the books can survive being around Harry.
Fate was designed as a generic game system, one that can be modified as needed for different settings. The core easily takes additions, though some care is needed. Gameplay revolves around the Fate Point economy, encouraging players to let their Aspects restrict them so that they can use those very same Aspects to save the day. Characters, though, aren’t the only ones who get Aspects. Everything can, from the city the game takes place in to a specific location to the current scene. The approach at the time was new, but one that gained a following. The GM and players work together to create their own city, if they want one, allowing the campaign and its theme to be personalized for the group.
Presentation in RPGs often helps sets the tone, With the Dresden RPG, it’s not just adapting the mechanics for the settings, it’s also the maginalia commenting on the main text. Used often to help explain a concept, either by directly commenting or refering to an event in the books, the marginalia is written as Harry, Bob, and Billy, in different handwriting. At one point, when the main text is using Harry himself as an example for character creation, Harry corrects his player, Jim, and then tells him to roll better.
RPGs have a tough challenge when adapting a work. They have to take the work, extract information, and make the setting playable for others beyond the creators while still providing players options to go beyond what has been produced. Evil Hat managed to hit this mark with The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, taking Jim Butcher’s creation and presenting it in a way that players can have their own adventures in Harry’s world, whether as Dresden and his companions in Chicago or as their own group elsewhere.
Thanks to some early entries in the field, video game movies aren’t appreciated. Super Mario Bros. is one of the big offenders, having been a poor adaptation of the source material. Mortal Kombat was the exception when it came out in 1995, but video game adaptations were still done through licensing arrangements with a studio, placing how the game appears completely out of the original publisher’s hands. In 2001, a game publisher decided to try its hand at making their own film adaptation
Square had great success with its Final Fantasy line of video games. Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi in 1987, the first Final Fantasy was available on the Nintendo Entertainment System and localized for the US in 1990. The next two installments of the game, FFII in 1988 and FFIII in 1990, were released only in Japan. The two games weren’t so much sequels as new stories exploring the same themes as the first, setting a pattern for the rest of the series. When FFIV came out in 1991, it was for the Super Nintendo and released in the US as FFII. FFV was a Japan-only release in 1992 and had a sequel, Final Fantasy: Legend of the Cryptids. FFVI came out in 1994 with an American release as FFIII.
Up to this point, the series was two-dimensional sprites; the draw was the story-telling with the game play. In 1997, with the introduction of the PlayStation, FFVII moved to three-dimensional characters and a more modern setting. The game also retained its numbering in the American release. Square followed up with FFVIII in 1999, turning the setting into more of a planetary romance with a mix of magic and technology with a hint that the world had avanced since the end of FFVII. FFIX rounds out the original PlayStation console games, coming out in 2001 and moving the setting back to fantasy. As newer consoles came out, Square and, after 2003, Square-Enix brought out more FF sequels, covering everything from traditional consoles to Windows to mobile gaming.
While each entry in the Final Fantasy series is a standalone adventure, there are themes that return every game. Young heroes coming together despite tragedies, the difficulty of the heroes working together, an ancient evil returning, rebellion against a government. Magic is based on elements, both the traditional Japanese and Western, and must be balanced within itself and with nature. Technology isn’t necessarily evil, but neither is it necessarily good; it, too, must balance with nature. There are recurring characters, of a sort. Cid, who first appeared in FFII acts as a mentor to the main character and may or may not be part of the party depending on the entry. Biggs and Wedge, named after characters in Star Wars, have appeared in games starting with FFV and are typically used as comic relief.
As the company worked on getting FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX published, Square set up a division, Square Pictures, to release films based on their games. The first and, ultimately, only movie created was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Released in 2001 with Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara directing, The Spirits Within was an ambitious project, with the film being completely computer animated. The ambition came with a high price tag; computers of the time, Penium IIIs running at 933MHz – were being pushed to their limits rendering the film’s frames.
In The Spirits Within, the Earth of 2065 has been overrun by alien creatures known as Phantoms that can pull a person’s soul out of their body, killing them. Even a touch leads to an infection that is fatal if not cured in time. Humanity is isolated into barrier cities protected by an energy field. People who leave the city must go through decontamination to ensure no Phantom infection has occurred.
All is not loss yet, though. Doctor Aki Ross, voiced by Ming-Na Wen, and Doctor Sid, voiced by Donald Sutherland, discover of a way to defeat the Phantoms. If the eight signature spirits can be found and combined, the Phantoms can be pushed off Earth. During a trip to the ruins of New York City to gather the sixth signature spirit, Aki is stalked by Phantoms, only to be rescued by her former boyfriend, Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his squad, the Deep Eyes – Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi), and Jane Produfoot (Peri Gilpin).
On return to the barrier city, Aki finds out that General Hein (James Woods) has decided that the best way to destroy the Phantoms infecting the Earth is to turn the Zeus cannon, an orbital laser, on them. To protect the Earth and its Gaia spirit, Aki reveals that not only is she infected, the spirit signatures she’s collected are keeping the infection at bay.
The seventh signature is found, though Aki’s infection worsens. She falls into a coma and, while unconscious, dreams of how the Phantoms first arrived on Earth. Aki is brought out of her coma by Sid who uses the seventh signature to control the infection.
Hein, believing that Aki is under control of the Phantoms, decides that his plan is still the correct one. He lowers the energy field of the barrier city, intending to let a few Phantoms in. Legions swarm the city, causing havok. Hein escapes to the Zeus space station. Gray, the only member of Deep Eyes to escape alive, joins Aki and Sid on their space ship to find the eight signature.
It becomes a race against time. Hein opens fire with the Zeus cannon while Aki and Gray seek out the eighth signature spirit. One of Hein’s shots kills the spirit, but Aki has a vision of the Gaia of the Phantoms’ home world. The infection within her becomes the eight signature spirit and combines with the other seven. To transmit the completed spirit to the alien Gaia, Gray sacrifices himself. On the Zeus station, Hein orders the cannon into overload, ignoring warnings from techs and computers. The cannon overloads, destroying the station and killing all aboard. The alien Gaia and the Phantoms leave Earth, returning home.
Several of the recurring FF elements can be seen in the above. There’s the young heroes with some issues between each other. Despite the different spelling, Doctor Sid is still the wise mentor to the lead character, Aki. The nature of spirits returns, and how introducing an alien spirit can cause problems. The biggest change is that The Spirits Within is science fiction with some fantasy elements, a huge change from FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX, the three most recent games prior to the movie’s release. Also unlike the games released, The Spirits Within was set on Earth.
The film was a commercial failure. Part of the problem was the sheer cost of production. The budget for the movie was US$137 million, higher than 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace at $115 million. Most of the cost was in the animation, from the hardware to the sheer amount of time animators needed to put the film together. Other problems existed. As mentioned above, video game adaptations were known to be poor. The characters, while rendered to be as realistic as possible, fell into the uncanny valley. There was something just off enough to make the characters seem less than real. And, for a video game movie, there wasn’t much action. The Final Fantasy series of games did offer more than just pure action, adding characterization, investigation, and exploration, but the draw of video games is the action. Audiences found the story to be slower than expected. Because of the loss, Square Pictures closed shop and the merger between Square and Enix was delayed.
Artistically, the film was lush. Backgrounds were detailed. Characters had blemishes. The ruined Earth was heartbreaking to see. The Phantoms provided a harsh alien light to the world. Perhaps the movie could have been better off as another entry in the FF line of games, allowing players to immerse themselves into it as Aki, Gray, and the Deep Eyes.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within wasn’t quite what Final Fantasy fans were expecting, but it did touch upon similar themes as the games had. The failings of the movie are technical. As an adaptation, it is a worthy entry in the Final Fantasy line up and breaks the video game adaptation curse.
Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: 1983
Previous Film: For Your Eyes Only
Next Film: A View to a Kill
Original Story: “Octopussy”
Publication Date: Serialized in the Daily Express in 1965; released in Octopussy and The Living Daylights collection in 1966. Both dates are after Ian Fleming’s death.
Previous Story: The Man With the Golden Gun
Next Story: none; Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis under the penname Robert Markham in 1968.
Villain: Kamal Kham (Louis Jourdan); General Orlov (Steven Berkoff)
Heavy: Gobinda (Kevir Bedi), Mischka and Grishka (David & Anthony Meyer)
Bond Girls: Octopussy (Maud Adams), Magda (Kristina Wayborn), Bianca (Tina Hudson), Octopussy`s girls
Other Notable Characters: Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), M (Robert Brown), Minister of Defense (Geoffrey Keen), Gen. Gogol (Walter Gotell), Vijay (Vijay Amritraj), Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell)
Gadgets: Q-Branch modified three-wheeled taxi with turbo; acid fountain pen with radio receiver (used by Bond); liquid crystal TV watch (used by Bond); alligator sub (used by Bond); yo-yo buzzsaw (used by unnamed hitman)
Opening Credits: “All Time High“, written by Tim Rice and John Barry, performed by Rita Coolidge.
Closing Credits: “All Time High”, reprised
Plot of Original: 007 tracks down a retired Royal Marine Major who had killed a German officer during the post-war investigations in order to get two bars of Nazi gold.
Plot of Film: After 009 dies at the British Embassy in West Germany after escaping a circus in East Berlin with a forged Fabergé egg, 007 is called in to trace the real Fabergé Egg from Sotheby’s where it is up for auction to the seller, a rogue Russian general who is using the smuggling of Russian artwork to fund his plot and to set up an atomic blast on a US Army base in Feldstat, West Germany, to frame the American government. To stop the plot, Bond infiltrates Octopussy’s Circus and finds not only the rogue general and his bankroller, but also 009’s murderers.
It may be easier to state what remained the same. Both the short story and the movie have an octopus. The short story focuses on Major Smythe, who was in the Miscellaneous Objectives Bureau during and after World War II. Bond is the catalyst for the story, but doesn’t play much of a role. Smythe confesses to killing a German officer after the war in order to steal Nazi gold, then while waiting for Scotland Yard to arrive, goes hunting the scorpion fish and gets poisoned by his prey in a Pyrrhic victory over it.
The original short story becomes Octopussy’s backstory, though updated because of the era. Major Smythe served in the Korean War, and is Octopussy’s father. She is well aware of who Bond is, thanks to the events in the short story.
Octopussy pulls from one other of Ian Fleming’s short stories, “The Property of a Lady”. The auction scene at Sotheby’s plays out in a similar manner, with Bond upping the bid to flush out the seller. However, neither “The Property of a Lady” nor “Octopussy” can fill a 131 minute film. Current events in 1983 had the Cold War easing back ever so slowly. The Iron Curtain started to look rusty, and the economic standing of the Soviet Union was starting to creak. The plot involving a rogue general was within the realm of possibility, as was the potential Soviet invasion of Europe. The production pulled in elements from both short stories as a base for the movie, which went in its own direction.
The problem the film has is that all the easier stories to adapt have been done. For Your Eyes Only ran into the same issue, having used other short stories in its collection for plot elements. With Octopussy and The Living Daylights, the short stories were more character pieces or investigative, with little action. At the time, 007 movies were blockbuster spectaculars, with set action pieces in exotic locales. A quieter pace would have fit the original story, but audiences have a different image in mind for the franchise.
Octopussy also had one problem that no other EON 007 production had, a competing Bond movie. Sean Connery was in Never Say Never Again, the Thunderball remake. Octopussy was competing with the original 007. Helping was the return of John Barry to score the movie, bringing the original musical themes woven into the soundtrack.
After For Your Eyes Only, Roger Moore felt he was getting too old to play 007. The search for the new Bond was continuing when Octopussy was made. Moore’s contract to play the role was over, but he was convinced to be Bond on a film by film basis. He’d play 007 one more time in A View to a Kill, making him the actor the role the most EON films with seven.
Casting notes – Robert Brown makes his first appearance as M in the film. Vijay Amritraj, a successful former tennis player, makes his film debut. Maud Adams makes her third appearance in the franchise; her first was in The Man With the Golden Gun as a supporting character, her second was uncredited in For Your Eyes Only.