With the holidays over, let’s ease back into the reviews. Two and a half years ago, Lost In Translation covered the audio drama adaptation of Star Wars. NPR and LucasFilm teamed up two more times, bringing The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to radio. Today, we’ll examine the radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back.
When Star Wars was released in 1977, it could stand alone. The plot was resolved, though there were a few plot lines still left dangling. The end was satisfying, with the Empire’s planet-killing super-weapon destroyed. Sure, the Empire wasn’t completely defeated, but the Rebellion had struck a major blow against it.
In 1980, The Empire Strikes Back came out. The Rebellion was on the run. The base on the fourth moon of Yavin was known, thanks to Vader escaping after the Death Star’s destruction. The Empire is busy looking for the Rebel Alliance’s headquarters, sending out probe droids to planets in the Outer Regions, a sparsely populated part of the Galaxy Far Far Away that includes Tattooine. The Rebels have started making a new HQ on Hoth, a frozen planet with its own problems like hostile local lifeforms. Then the Imperial probe droid arrives.
The movie can be broken down into X main parts. The first is on Hoth, ending with the Rebel Alliance fleeing the planet with Empire in pursuit. The characters split up. Luke heads to Dagobah to learn from Yoda, a little green Muppet of great wisdom. Leia, Han, and Chewbacca are chased by Vader, through a dense asteroid belt. While Han, Leia, and Chewbacca try to figure out what’s wrong with the Falcon’s hyperdrive, Luke begins his training. Through shenanigans, the Falcon loses the Imperial pursuit and flies sublight to Cloud City on Bespin, where Han knows the Baron-Administrator, Lando Calrissian.
However, thanks to Boba Fett knowing the same shenanigan that Han used, Vader is alerted to where the Falcon is. Leia, Han, and Chewbacca are taken prisoner to be held to draw Luke out. On Dagobah, Luke’s training is intense as he has to unlearn his bad habits and relearn using the Force. A trip through a tree filled with the Dark Side of the Force warns that Luke may become his worst enemy, replacing Vader. However, he feels the pain of his friends and leaves to Bespin.
On Bespin, Han is handed over to Fett, Leia and Chewbacca make their escape, and Lando shows whose side he really is on. Luke arrives to have a lightsabre fight with Vader, who is trying to turn him to the Dark Side. The major revelation – Vader is Luke’s father – comes out, and Luke sees that there is a way out that doesn’t involve becoming Vader’s apprentice. He lets himself fall through Bespin’s ventilation system. Leia picks him up and the Falcon returns to the Rebel Fleet.
Empire ends with Han in carbonite in the hands of a bounty hunter, Luke missing a hand, the Rebellion on the run without a home. The movie is very much the middle of a trilogy, with the heroes on the edge of disaster, despite the previous win. The movie is also very tight in its plot. Luke has his training and Han and Leia are pursued by the Empire. The film keeps things personal for the characters. There is no massive climactic space battle. The final action scene is the heroes trying to escape.
The audio adaptation brings back Brian Daley to write the script, and the same cast for the returning characters. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels again reprise their roles as Luke and 3P0, respectively, and Billy Dee Williams joins the cast to play Lando again. Ann Sachs, Bernard Behrens, Perry King, and Brock Peters are back, and are joined by new cast members John Lithgow as Yoda, Peter Miachel Goetz as Admiral Ozzel, Gordon Gould as General Veers, Nicholas Kepros as Captain Needa, David Rache as Admiral Piett, Don Scardino as Wedge, and Alan Rosenberg as Boba Fett. The cast is interesting, almost an alternate universe dream cast for the film. John Lithgow at times sounds more like Cookie Monster, another of Frank Oz’s characters, than Yoda when being playful, but takes on the wisdom of the ages when Yoda turns serious.
The radio play starts earlier than the film, with the ambush of a Rebel convoy protected by Renegade Flight by the Empire, ending with the complete destruction of all fighters and freighters in the convoy. There’s more depth given to the Imperial officers, including Needa wishing to see some action before the Galactic Civil War is over and a rivalry between Ozzel and Piett. The format does require dialogue to paint the scene. The use of the Force gets narrated by the user. Luke calls his lightsabre to him, and Vader explains that he his channeling his anger when he chokes. Luke destroying an AT-AT single-handed was done through the point-of-view of the Command Centre.
Not all actions were explicitly narrated. Some were handled through an off-comment. One that worked well came from an interchange between the Deck Officer at Echo Base and Han when the latter was trying to find out if Luke had returned despite having 3P0 nattering about the Falcon‘s hyperdrive.
Deck Officer: “Why are you holding your hand over the protocol droid’s mouth?”
Han: “He’s got a cough.”
3P0: muffled complaints
With Luke’s training, Yoda is giving instructions on what to do, which is what is seen in the movie. The sound effects are straight from LucasFilm, with Ben Burtt supervising. Music is John Williams, and like the movie, the soundtrack is part of the storytelling of the audio drama.
Casting is again important. The non-film cast members may not sound exact, but they do have the proper delivery. What helps here is that the cast is familiar with playing the characters already and that they have the movie to work from. Han isn’t as flamboyant this time around, but he is still ready to go off to do what needs to be done, whether it’s paying off Jabba or escaping TIE fighters. Ann Sachs has Leia’s leadership; nothing is going to get in her way if she can help it. Brock Peters brings a new dimension to Vader. Lithgow does sound like Frank Oz, even if he’s not quite on point with Yoda. The character, though, can go from frivolous and curious to serious within the span of a few lines, and Lithgow can keep up with the change.
What does help with the adaptation is that the movie is personal. The plot hangs on the characters. There isn’t much room to branch off, unlike R2 and 3P0’s escapades while waiting for Luke and Ben at the Mos Eisley cantina. There still is added depth, like the Piett-Ozzel rivalry, but that comes from needing dialogue to carry the scene instead of visuals.
The radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back puts in an effort to recreate the movie into a medium that lacks the visual spectacle expected from Star Wars. This effort pays off as the radio play still keeps things tight and tense to the end, even when the ending is known.
Some characters are memorable, no matter why they were created. For whatever reason, the character resonates and lasts longer than the creator maintains hime or her. For Rowan Atkinson, his character Mr. Bean may be his best known. Mr. Bean began to form while Atkinson was at Oxford doing his Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. The character’s earliest appearances includes Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival in 1987] and on a 1990 Thames Television special. Fifteen episodes of Mr. Bean were created between 1990 and 1995 for first Thames then for Central Independent Television.
Mr. Bean is essentially pantomime, using and requiring very little dialogue. Atkinson’s physical comedy, from facial expressions to body language, carries the episodes for the most part. He used his appearance at Just For Laughs to see if the character’s humour transcended the language barrier by asking to be placed on the French programme track. Mr. Bean’s appeal lies in his core concept, a man and his teddy bear in a world that they don’t understand nor are understood by. Mr. Bean is a man-child who goes into everyday situations and makes his own way through life.
The character gained popularity in North American thanks to the CBC in Canada and HBO and PBS in the US. Naturally, if something is popular, a studio will adapt it to film. Or, in the case of Bean, studios – Working Title Films and Tiger Aspect Films. The goal was to bring Mr. Bean to the silver screen and to new audiences. Rowan Atkinson is once again the title character, with Peter MacNicol, Pamela Reed, Harris Yulin, Larry Drake, and Burt Reynolds co-starring. The plot is simple enough; Mr. Bean has to accompany the painting, Whistler’s Mother, from the Royal National Gallery in London to its new home at the Grierson Art Gallery. Bean, though, is not the best employee at the National Gallery. Staff at the Grierson Art Gallery, though, are expecting Dr. Bean, having gotten confused on what Bean does. It doesn’t help that Bean describes his job as sitting in a chair and looking at paintings.
Mr. Bean becomes a force of chaos in the lives of the Langleys. David (MacNicol) and Alison (Reed) are on shaky ground with their marriage as it is. The arrival of Mr. Bean, is the flashpoint. During the chaos of preparing for the revealing of Whistler’s Mother, David starts realizing that Mr. Bean might not be the art historian he was led to believe. After a dry run for the reveal ceremony, David confirms with Bean that the latter knows nothing about art. While David tries to make sure that Bean doesn’t have to be involved in the ceremony, he leaves the Englishman with the painting. A wayward sneeze leads to the painting getting defaced. Mr. Bean’s best efforts don’t help. However, just as Mr. Bean is a force of chaos, he can get things done, albeit in an unorthodox way. Fixing the painting, fixing the Langleys, and getting a vacation drive the film to the end, with Mr. Bean triumphant in the end.
The movie doesn’t change much about Mr. Bean beyond showing what he does for work. Even that is more to get the plot going than anything else. There’s some reuse of gags from the TV series, but nothing that would throw off fans. Mr. Bean is still funny even in reruns, after all. The main problem with the film is that the plot often gets in the way of watching Mr. Bean. The character works well as pantomime, but with a larger cast than a TV episode, dialogue gets added. The result is a movie in two parts, one focused with Mr. Bean, the other happening around him.
Bean the Movie works as an introduction of the character to a new audience, providing a traditional storytelling structure to unleash Mr. Bean into. For fans, the plot gets in the way of what they want to see, but there is plenty of Mr. Bean in the film to satisfy. The balance is difficult to maintain, though. Overall, the movie adapts the character well, but the balance needed some adjusting.
Still looking at fan adaptations this week. It turns out, animated Star Trek fan works are a thing, along with fan podcast series. Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at Curt Danhausen’s memorial to James Doohan, “The Quintain” and how he used Filmmation’s art style and approach to animation to be a one-man studio. This week’s review, Star Trek: The Paradise Makers, looks at what a team can do.
The Paradise Maker is a two-part series from Sagittarii Productions, with special effects by Tommorrows Magic. The feature runs over two hours, all animated. It took the team four years to complete. Animation styles include rotoscoping and chroma-key to add in architecture and iconic Star Trek gadgets.
The feature uses a known idea from Star Trek: TOS, that of Star Fleet officers going rogue. There have been a few in Kirk’s time who have ignored orders and gone their own way, including Commodore Matt Decker in “The Doomsday Machine”, Garth of Izar (“Whom Gods Destroy”), Commander Spock (“The Menagerie”), and even James T. Kirk himself (Star Trek: The Motion Picture among other events). Dr. Xiang LI’s self-aggrandizing fits in.
The animation style fits in with the Filmmation series while being a little more fluid. The aquashuttle comes from the animated series, though not lifted directly. The use of chroma-key allows for using real settings and architectural photos and film to save time. Even then, the small team still needed four years. The regular cast of characters are recognizable in appearance. Lost in Translation has mentioned before on how difficult it is to portray Spock, so props to Jay Prichard for tackling the role and trying to balance cold logic with hidden human emotion.
The Paradise Makers fits in the first season of Star Trek, with Dr. Mark Piper (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) retiring and new Ship’s Surgeon Dr. Leonard McCoy reporting for duty. The Enterprise and the Bowfin appear as expected, with the animated series having influence for stylization and requirements for animation. Animation also allows for sets that the live action series didn’t detail, such as ground installations on airless worlds, something The Paradise Makers shows early in Part 1. There’s always a tradeoff; more time needed but fewer restrictions save those imposed by the setting.
The plot would fit in with the original Star Trek. The feature is a morality play on what happens when ambition is not tempered. Dr. Xiang Li risks the lives of the planet and of the crew of the Enterprise all to become a god. Even Garth of Izar at least waited until he became a captain before playing god. However, as Arthur C. Clarke puts it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” something Star Trek touches on repeatedly.
The Paradise Makers was put together by fans of the original Star Trek. Ideas that appeared in the original and the animated series appear, with nods to the progression of today’s technology. The feature has core elements of Star Trek from the superficial – the gadgets, the sounds, the music – to the building blocks, including the message wrapped up in a captivating story. The Paradise Makers also shows what a team can do to put together a feature, even if it takes them four years to complete.
/Lost in Translation/ is going to take it easier the next few weeks starting today after submerging into Prohibition and Chicago of the eaerly 30s. Fan adaptations will be on the menu for the next few weeks. This week, a look a Kadir Deniz‘ “KITT vs KARR” series. A quick reminder about the approach Lost in Translation takes with fan works – the quality isn’t as important as the understanding of the source works. Fan works are good for learning storytelling and film techniques without the pressure to produce something for sale.
The series that Deniz is adapting, Knight Rider aired originally from 1982 to 1986, was created by Glen A. Larson, and starred David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight and William Daniels as the voice of KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand. KITT is an artificially intelligent vehicle, aiding Michael as he works for the Foundation for Law and Government, bringing justice to people who are often above the law. KARR, the Knight Automotive Roving Robot, voiced by Peter Cullen, was FLAG’s prototype, an early design put aside in favour of KITT. The difference between the two is that KARR was programmed for self-preservation while KITT’s programming placed the life of his passengers and the people around him above his own. KARR was introduced in the first season episode, “Trust Never Rusts”, and thanks to fan interest, returned in the season three episode, “K.I.T.T. vs K.A.R.R.”.
In the first episode of Deniz’ series, KARR is portrayed as he appeared in the latter half of “K.I.T.T. vs K.A.R.R.” The music and dialogue are pulled from existing episodes. Deniz, though, created the storyline for the series of videos. The camera angles used are a mix and include classic angles from the TV series to new angles possible thanks to being CG animated. The only real hints that the series is CG animation are how Michael moves and how the trailer breaks apart. KITT and KARR are spot on, and Michael is wearing his classic ensemble from the series.
There’s a nod to the 2008 Knight Rider series with the black Mustang Shelby, the car that portrayed KITT in the remake series. Again, the episode is all CG animation. The cinematography is based on the original series, but expands, allowing Deniz to make the episode his while still being a fan work. KITT’s abilities are all ones that have appeared in the series, even the skiing.
The latest episode available. KARR’s plot continues and he has help from someone with a grudge against Michael. There’s still classic camera angles as seen in the original series, almost indistinguishable. The problem seen with the tractor-trailer as KITT turbo boosts through in the first episode is more cleaned up this time around. The chase reflects the series; KITT’s shell could withstand bullets, but missiles were to be avoided. The final twist, Airwolf, comes from the Donald Bellisario created series, Airwolf, starring Jan Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke and Earnest Borgnine as Dominic Santini. Hawke had a deal with Archangel, played by Kent McCord; the Firm would get Airwolf back if Archangel could recover String’s brother Saint-John, a POW in Viet Nam. Airwolf, as it appears in the third episode, is a perfect replica of the model used in the TV series. Even how it appears up from behind the cliff rings true; Hawke and Santini often came from below the line of sight in the helicopter. The end theme of the third episode blends the the themes of both Knight Rider and Airwolf, which caps a note perfect episode.
Deniz’ series isn’t complete. He’s working on it as he can, but he has released some test footage for future entries on his YouTube channel. He has captured the feel of the original series and has created a work that fits with the tone of the series while telling his own story.
So far, Lost in Translation has introduced the Prohibition era and the Untouchables and has looked at the TV series starring Robert Stack and the 1987 film with Kevin Costner. To wrap up, there’s one more TV series about Eliot Ness and his team of Untouchable Prohibition agents, the 1993 series with Tom Amandes as Eliot Ness, John Rhys-Davies as Prohibition Agent Michael Malone, and William Forsythe as Al Capone.
The 1993 The Untouchables series was produced during the height of syndication, where independent channels could choose packages of shows to fill in gaps in programming. While these shows didn’t have the ratings that network series had, they did have an audience with a few syndicated series becoming cult hits. At the same time, it is possible for a show to get lost in the shuffle or not hit all markets. Still, The Untouchables ran two seasons.
The pilot episodes present both Ness and Capone as they grew up, contrasting their childhoods and teen years. Capone got involved in criminal activity at a young age while Ness worked on oratory, boxing, and getting himself ready for a possible political career. As adults, Ness convinces his brother-in-law to sponsor him to be a Prohibition Agent while Capone moves up the rungs to become Johnny Torrio’s right hand man and, later, successor in the South Side Gang. The two men’s paths will cross.
The rest of the series gets into the details of the battle between Ness and Capone. Other elements of the time make appearances, from organized labour and the organized crime’s attempts to get a hook into it to internal strife within Capone’s mob. The series also contrasts Ness and Capone, showing their differences and showing where they are similar. Ness is very much a family man, one who is devoted to his wife and daughter. Capone cares for his son, but while he does love his wife, his treatment of her makes her wonder.
Like the 1959 series and the 1987 film, the 1993 series goes back to the autobiography Ness wrote with Oscar Fraley. The ’93 series also pulls from The Last of the Untouchables by former Untouchable Paul Robsky with Fraley. The 1993 series also dramatizes events, building off historical events to tell a crime story. Unlike the 1959 series, the latest version of The Untouchables keeps Capone and stays linear. There’s no sense of the episode being a news reel. Instead, it is the continuing battle between law & order and organized crime for control of Chicago.
The 1993 series pulls from the previous incarnations and from the books written by Ness and Robsky to bring everything into one continuity. Television has an advantage that film does not – time. As long as a TV series is allowed to continue, the production can delve into details that need to be glossed over for film. Movies may have the budget to pull off a scene like the Stairway Shootout in the 1987 film. TV allows for getting closer to the characters, seeing what makes them tick, and seeing what can throw them off. The 1993 series gets into the lives of Ness and Capone, making them more human than the portrayals from the movie. Both men have flaws. And it’s these flaws that create drama.
Tom Amandes’ Eliot Ness is charming, competent, a square jawed hero with simple needs, closer to Costner’s portrayal than Stack’s. The depth the series provides to him helps set up Ness as charismatic; the audience can see that he is a leader. That’s not to say that Stack’s Ness wasn’t; the nature of storytelling with the original kept the focus on Ness’ investigations and on the gangsters instead of Ness’ personal life.
The choice to include the private side of Ness is what makes the 1993 The Untouchables its own work, separate from but building on top of what came before. As a result, the series takes a slower approach to getting Capone, including small wins along the way. The series also shows what a TV show can do in contrast to movies; the audience can get closer to the characters and discover why they behave as they do.
Last week, Lost in Translation looked at the 1959 TV series with Robert Stack. The series took liberties, but presented the episodes with a feel like a newsreel. Stack played Eliot Ness as a straight edge cop and head of a squad as dedicated to law enforcement as he was. The series did acknowledge that they took ideas from Ness’ autobiography, The Untouchables, co-written by Oscar Fraley.
In 1987, about thirty years after the series, give or take, David Mamet wrote and Brian De Palma directed an new adaptation of the autobiography. The film, also called The Untouchables starred Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, Robert De Niro as Al Capone, Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone, Andy Garcia as George Stone/Giuseppe Petri, Charles Martin Smith as Oscar Wallace, and Billy Drago as Frank Nitti. Connery won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Malone, and the film was nominated for three others, Best Original Score, written by Ennio Morricone, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design.
The film focuses on the Untouchables’ pursuit of Al Capone. Ness’ first outing in Chicago goes as it did historically, a lot of notice and no whiskey; Capone’s men had been tipped off by someone on the Chicago Police Department. Despite the headlines, Ness pushes on. He gathers a core group of men he can trust – former beat cop Malone, rookie cop Stone, and IRS accountant Wallace, who was assigned to help Ness with an eye on nailing Capone for tax evasion.
The point of view remains on Ness and his men for the bulk of the film. Capone is is kept removed from the day to day operations of his mob, making it difficult to pin him on any crime. The mob boss does keep his own men in line, with force if needed. The choice is be loyal to Capone or die. Ness, however, earned the loyalty of the Untouchables. The difference between the mobsters and the law enforcement agents is wide. Capone has an expensive home, has staff who will serve the finest dinner on silver plates and wine in crystal glasses. Ness has a simple house, crammed in between two similar houses, a wife and child, simple furnishings. When Ness goes out with his team, they go to a cheap diner.
Ness’ investigation includes a raid on a smuggling convoy along the Canadian border with the RCMP’s assistance, where he manages to arrest Capone’s bookkeeper. With some persuasion, the bookkeeper helps Wallace to decode the ledgers. Capone doesn’t take the news well. Nitti is sent to make sure the bookkeeper doesn’t testify, resulting in both the bookkeeper and Wallace dead. Capone ups the ante by having Malone killed as well.
Undaunted, Ness continues the fight. In his dying breath, Malone tells Ness about Capone’s other bookkeeper being sent out of town by rail later that night. Malone and Stone stake out the railway station, leading to one of the tensest scenes in cinema history. The clip below doesn’t show the tension building as Ness watches people arriving and trying to figure out who could be part of Capone’s gang. The shootout is the release of that tension.
With the bookkeeper, Ness is able to build a case for tax evasion against Capone. Despite an attempt at jury tampering, Capone is found guilty, is fined $50 000 and is given 11 years in prison.
The movie takes a few liberties. Some were needed because of the nature of the medium. Ness had ten men initially, all under thirty and idealistic. It’s harder to corrupt a young man full of idealism than an experienced man who has seen how the world works. The TV series could bring in different members through the use of a rotating cast of supporting actors. A film doesn’t have that luxury, so Ness has just Malone, Wallace, and Stone. Frank Nitti didn’t die during Capone’s trial from a fall from a building; Nitti took over Capone’s mob when Capone went to prison and died by his own hand in 1943. However, the film did keep the focus on Ness’ investigation of Capone.
While some of the historical facts were loose, visual details were accurate. Chicago landmarks were used, and the fashion of the era for men and women, for high class and for working class, was accurate. Visually, the film is lush. The 1959 TV series didn’t have the luxury of colour, so couldn’t be anywhere near as lush. The advantage of movies is budget, and The Untouchables made the most of this advantage.
Like the 1959 series, the 1987 film lets drama outweigh historical accuracy in a few areas. However, the strength of the cast, the writing, and the filming lets audiences ignore differences until well after the film is over. The Untouchables is a crime drama, a war between law & order and criminal enterprise, and is well worth viewing even if it isn’t 100% accurate.
Next week, Tom Amandes as Eliot Ness.
Three weeks ago, Lost in Translation took a brief examination of the history surrounding Prohibition, Al Capone and the organized crime that built into empires thanks to bootlegging, and the Bureau of Prohibition agents known as “The Untouchables” led by Eliot Ness. From 1921 until 1933, a war between gangs and Federal agents waged, with the only real way to shut down the gangsters being charges of tax evasion brought against them by the IRS. Always pays your taxes. The IRS doesn’t mess around.
Ness, with Oscar Fraley, wrote an autobiography called The Untouchables which was optioned by Desilu productions. The pilot episode of The Untouchables series, “The Scarface Mob”, starred Robert Stack as Eliot Ness, Neville Brand as Al Capone, and Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti and was narrated by Walter Winchell. The two-part pilot covered Ness’ campaign to take down Capone, taking out breweries and distilleries and showing some of the problems The Untouchables had thanks to local police and political corruption.
With Capone dealt with in the pilot, the rest of the series focused on Ness taking on other mobsters. Frank Nitti (still played by Bruce Gordon), Waxey Gordon, Ma Barker, Dutch Schulz, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, “Bugs” Moran, “Lucky” Luciano, the Purple Gang, and many others had their stories fictionalized for the series. Ness wasn’t involved in the investigation and arrest in most of the mobsters. The New York City-based gangsters, like Schulz and Luciano, were targeted by Assistant District Attorney Thomes Dewey.
The episodes did show the difference between The Untouchables and the mobsters they faced. While the gangsters were living the high life, getting tailored suits, eating the best food, and driving the best cars in the most expensive locations, Ness and his men had to make do with regular suits and whatever food they could afford, and whatever vehicle the Bureau supplied while on a case. Even when it comes to weapons, the gangsters have semi-automatic pistols while The Untouchables only have .38 revolvers. Both sides, though, have access to the classic Tommy gun.
With Walter Winchell narrating, each episode took on the feel of a newsreel, preserving the feel of the era and allowing the show to have episodes from different parts of the 30s, pre- and post-Prohibition. The episodes unfold out as morality plays, with the moral being “Crime does not pay.” Given the era, though, crime may not have paid, but it did allow gangsters to rent happiness. Still, on The Untouchables, mobsters wound up either in prison or dead, no matter how much money they gained.
The series’ main problem is that it used up Capone in the pilot. Today, taking down Capone would be the focus of at least a season if not the series. With Capone serving time during the years the 1959 series covered, writers on the series had to use other mobsters. Fortunately, Prohibition had created a number of colourful gangsters. Ness, however, didn’t interact with many of them. Historical accuracy, at least in this frame, was loose. The goal of the series, though, was to tell good crime drama stories that kept viewers coming back week after week, something that happened over four seasons and 117 episodes.
Next week, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness.
Some interesting announcements came up the past few days that involve remakes/reboots/adaptations. Let’s take a look.
First up, Comedy Central is working with Mike Judge for a new Beavis and Butt-Head series, with two seasons confirmed. Judge will also return as the voice of the titular characters. The deal between Judge and Comedy Central includes possible spin-offs.
Next, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Bill Lawrence are working with MTV to make new episodes of Clone High. The original series ran one season, thirteen episodes, but became a cult hit.
Finally, a potential Groundhog Day TV series is in the works. The series will be based on the movie starring Bill Murray, who played a reporter who was stuck in the same Groundhog Day repeatedly. The movie is now shorthand for any similar plot where a character or group of characters have to relive the same day over and over.
The question, really, is why? Why bring these three works back? Beavis and Butt-Head ran from 1993 to 1997, with a 2011 revival. Clone High ran one season in 1993. Groundhog Day was also released in 1993. That’s roughly 20 years, or one generation. Memories will have faded somewhat, especially with the animated series. Beavis and Butt-Head did have a reputation in its time for being a little much for parents’ groups. Memories fade over time, and 20 years is a lot of time in human years. Two are reboots, bringing back series. Both being animated helps; voice actors may have aged but the characters haven’t. With Groundhog Day, it’s a change of format, though how that will work remains to be seen. Will it be a season of the same episode each week with minor changes? Or will it be more like 24, where audiences will go through the life of a reporter on one day, the same day, season after season? Time will tell.
Unrelated to the above, Derek Kolstad and David Leitch are teaming up to bring the video game My Friend Pedro to TV. Kolstad was the writer for John Wick; Leitch was a co-director of the film. The game itself follows a man’s battle through the underworld at the behest of a sentient banana named Pedro. The game’s launch trailer may give a better idea. Or not.
Two animated series being brought back, a classic movie turned into a TV series, and a live-action TV series of a video game. Sounds about right.
A few weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at Alien Nation and the difference between film and TV. The Alien Nation TV series got into more world building and character development than the original film could, thanks to the time a TV series can provide over a film’s 120 minutes run length. Movie’s main strength is delivering a spectacle bigger than life, but blockbuster leaves little time for introspection. TV has time to spare.
Another science fiction movie and subsequent TV series also shows the difference. The 1990 film, Tremors, spun off into a franchise with four sequels, a prequel, and a TV series. Tremors is a monster movie, inspired by older B-movies, with writing that shows the writers are well aware of what normally happens in such movies. Starring Kevin Bacon as Val McKee, Fred Ward as Earl Bassett, Finn Carter as Rhonda LeBeck, Reba McIntyre as Heather Gummer, and Michael Gross as Burt Gummer, Tremors tells the story about a monster attack on the town of Perfection, Nevada.
As the movie unfolds, Val and Earl discover the existance of a subterranean monster. They rescue geology student Rhonda and return to Perfection to spread the word of the danger. The townsfolk dub the monsters “Graboids” for lack of a better word, but do ask Rhonda about them. She guesses that they are prehistoric, having never appeared in the fossil record. The townsfolk learn quickly about how graboids hunt – they sense their prey using soundwaves carried through the ground. Graboids can burrow quickly under soft soil, but hard rock stops them. One is killed by forcing it to run into a hard rock outcropping. Another breaks in the wrong goddamn rec room. Yet another is killed by luring it with thrown stones before tossing a pipe bomb for it to eat. The problem is, graboids are smart and can learn. What works with one won’t work with the next.
The movie had a strong cast, with Michael Gross playing against his previous role of Steven Keaton on Family Ties, the complete opposite of Burt Gummer. Ariana Richard played Mindy and would later play Kathy in Spaced Invaders and Lex in Jurassic Park. Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Finn Carter had amazing on-screen chemistry together. Boosting the strong cast was a well written script that had the light touch of humour along with the action and scares a monster movie needs. Finally, the graboids weren’t front and centre. The tension in the film came from not knowing when a graboid would appear, leaving a lot to the imagination to the audience, similar to how /Jaws/ worked around the problems of the mechanical shark.
A cult classic in the 90s naturally spawns direct-to-video sequels. Tremors 2: Aftershocks was released in 1996 and brought back Fred Ward and Michael Gross to deal with graboids at a Mexican oil refinery. Earl went after the $50 000 reward and, when he realized how severe the problem was, called in Burt. However, the graboids themselves had a twist. While Earl and Burt were ready to deal with graboids, the monsters went through a change. Part of the graboid life cycle sees a different form, shriekers, tear out of the monster as part of reproduction. Shriekers hunt on the ground, seeking out prey using its heat sense, and tend to multiply with the more they eat. Burt and Earl are over-gunned for the situation, leading to creative use of heat and explosives to deal with the shrieker incursion.
Tremors 3: Return to Perfection was a 2001 direct-to-video that saw the survivors of the original film return, including Ariana Richardson as Mindy, Charlotte Stewart as Nacy, Mindy’s mom, Robert Jayne as Melvin, Tony Genaro as Miguel, and introduced new characters Jodi Chang (Susan Chung), niece of Walter and the new owner of Walter’s store and Jack Sawyer (Shawn Christian), who has started a graboid tour for tourists. Of course, Burt Gummer is still around. This time around, it’s the shriekers who have a new twist. As part of graboid reproduction, shriekers begin a moulting process to turn into a new form, one capable of launching itself and gliding for distances. This new form is dubbed “Ass-blasters” by Jodi. Ass-blasters complete the reproduction cycle by carrying a graboid egg, and their ability to glide allows them to take the egg far from the original hunting grounds.
When Burt returns to Perfection, he finds out that there are a few problems happening. Three graboids are in the area as are a number of shrikers and, soon, a number of ass-blasters. Each form as their ideal means of eradication, and each form learns. Burt and the townsfolk fight off the shriekers and ass-blasters and two of the graboids, The US Department of the Interior steps in, though, as graboids are an endangered species. The final graboid,an albino one dubbed “El Blanco” is placed under protection. An uneasy truce exists between Perfection, now federally protected land, and El Blanco. However, an ass-blaster does survive the film, having been captured and sold by Nancy to fund Mindy’s college tuition.
Over the course of the first three movies, there is a lot of worldbuilding. Once graboids became known to the general public, tourism started. Walter Chang’s ideas of creating graboid merchandise isn’t far fetched. There is worldbuilding and a cult following. The SciFi channel needed a new series, and with the producers working on a Tremors series, the inevitable happened. Tremors: The Series began airing on SciFi in 2003. While the order of episodes got jumbled, it didn’t affect the series as much as Fox’s maltreatment of Firefly.
Characters from Tremors 3 returned, though with new actors. Lela Lee took over as Jodi Chang and Marcia Strassman picked up the role of Nancy. Mindy was off at college, as set up by Tremors 3. Robert Jayne, though, returns as Melvin Plug, a role he had in the original Tremors. New characters came in as well, with Victor Browne’s Tyler Reed buying Desert Jack’s Graboid Adventure tour business and Gladise Jimenez as Rosalita Sanchez who bought a ranch in the area to get away from her Vegas life. Dean Norris portrayed WD Twitchell, the Department of the Interior agent assigned to keep an eye on El Blanco. However, only one man could be Burt Gummer.
The first three filmed episodes, “Feeding Frenzy”, “Shriek and Destroy”, and “Blast from the Past” act as reminders of what the graboids, shriekers, and ass-blasters can do. It doesn’t take long for El Blanco to claim a victim in the first episode, and Tyler almost became the second if not for the timely intervention of Burt. Twitchell from time to time has Burt and Tyler investigate possible graboid sightings elsewhere, seeing that Gummer is the foremost expert on hunting graboids.
Tremors: The Series explores the idea of living in an area where there is a man-eating monster lurking around and how the townsfolk adapt to the threat. The series also looks at how the rest of the world reacts to the idea of graboids. For the most part, the graboids are an oddity. People in the know treat them as a threat, but graboids are an endangered species. There are extreme fans of both El Blanco and Burt Gummer. There are animal rights activists trying to free the graboid. Everything is within the realm of possibility if giant man-eating worms lurked under the ground.
There is also a mini-arc of episodes dealing with Mixmaster, a method of conjoining DNA from various animals. While the graboids aren’t results of the secret experiments, being older than fossils, other creatures that appear in and near Perfection are, creating a threat to not just the town but the world. Key behind Mixmaster is Cletus Poffenberger (Christopher Lloyd), who has been monitoring the situation for several decades. Even Burt was unaware of a secret corporate facility in the valley.
The TV series allows the cast and crew to explore the relationships between the townsfolk of Perfection, where they get along and where they don’t. Burt and Nancy represent the history of the town. Jodi is very much her uncle’s niece, to the point where Nancy gave her a back-handed compliment about being better suited as a CEO for a multi-national corporation. Rosalita and Tyler are the newcomers trying to adjust to life in a town where death is always underfoot and each of them reacts differently.
The casting is strong, in all of main, guest, and supporting cast. The characters are treating the situation as serious, even if the audience is being allowed to laugh at situations. It wouldn’t be a Tremors TV series without Burt, the breakout character from the original movie, thanks to Michael Gross’ portrayal of him. The writing maintains the mix of action, humour, and tension that the movies introduced, still nodding to the B-movie monster movies while remembering modern sensibilities.
/Tremors: The Series/ follows the previous movies seamlessly. What helps is having the same creative team continuing to tell the story of Perfection. They are familiar with the characters, the setting, and the premise, and can build upon all of that while still remaining true to the original. The series gives space to expand the Tremors-verse and make the world a little more weird. Like Alien Nation: The Series, Tremors: The Series takes advantage of the TV format to expand the world and dig deeper into the setting and the characters, something the films didn’t have time to do.
Lost in Translation has covered how important casting is when it comes to the success of an adaptation. Today will be a deeper dive into one of the works mentioned in the past entry, the 2002 live-action Scooby-Doo.
The original cartoon, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? first aired in 1969 and featured four teenagers and their talking Great Dane. Fred (Frank Welker), Daphne (Stefanianna Christopherson for the first season followed by Heather North), Velma (Nicola Jaffe), Shaggy (Casey Kasem), and Scooby-Doo (Don Messick) got involved in supernatural mysteries that had more mundane causes each week, becoming an almost instant hit. The characters covered the range of broad role, from Scooby and Shaggy’s cowardly approaches to Fred’s leadership to Velma’s intelligence, to Daphne’s resilience and ability to find danger. Scooby and Shaggy were the draw; in every incarnation of the series, while the rest of the gang may come and go, Scooby and Shaggy are inseparable.
The series came and went, but thanks to syndication, it was always available in one incarnation or another. The typical episode had the gang learn about a mystery and discover a monster is trying to scare people away. They would search for clues and once they had enough, Fred came up with the trap to catch the monster. The plan wouldn’t work out; someone, typically Shaggy and Scooby, though Daphne could cause problems at times, would foul things up enough to cause things to go awry, but the monster would be caught and there would be the reveal.
Each episode was well written enough that it was possible for the audience to follow the investigation and work out who the villain really was, though a few red herrings were tossed in to make it challenging. In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, the red herring was a character named Red Herring, a rival to Fred. The show never tried any trickery with the clues; everything was laid out for the audience.
Not every Scooby series followed the format. The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo had Scooby, Shaggy, and Daphne round up ghosts the Scooby accidentally let loose, though he had the help of new charaters. Joining the gang were Scrappy-Doo (also voiced by Messick), Flim-Flam (Susan Blu), and Vincent van Ghoul, who looked like and was voiced by Vincent Price.
With the advent of modern special effects, it became possible to have live actors interact with CG animated characters. Films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit showed how traditional animation could stand with and interact with Bob Hoskins. CGI speeds up the process of adding an animated character. By 2002, CGI was a mature technology, though still being experimented with. This allowed for a live-action Scooby-Doo movie with an accurate depiction of Scooby.
The live-action film and its 2004 sequel, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, starred Sarah Michelle Geller as Daphne, Freddie Prinze, Jr as Fred, Linda Cardellini as Velma, Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, and Neil Fanning as the voice of Scooby-Doo. The first live-action film shows the gang splitting up after a messy investigation to go their own ways, only to come back together when each are invited to an island to solve a mystery. They come back together and working as a team solve the mystery. The movie lays out the clues for the audience, who can figure out who the villain really is.
The sequel pulls from the past series for its monsters, going as far back as the first episode ever for the Black Knight Ghost. The sequel plays out more like a typical episode, though with added drama as Shaggy and Scooby realize that they haven’t been the most useful members on the team. To be fair, sometimes, their screw-ups were more effective than any plan Fred had. The sequel also lays out the clues, and the audience can figure out who the villain is, though the movie doesn’t make it easy.
The movies aren’t Shakespeare, but they do deliver on being /Scooby-Doo/. The cast is what makes the movies. While Geller and Prinze were the names being used to bring in the audience – the pair were known to be dating prior to the movie’s release and married shortly after – they didn’t dominate the screen. Fred and Daphne weren’t the driving characters in the original series, but Prinze and Geller brought out the characters’ humanity and desires. Linda Cardellini was ideal as Velma, getting the voice and the look. Matthew Lillard, though, became Shaggy. Lillard had the voice, the mannerisms, and Shaggy’s walking gait. There’s also a chemistry among the actors; they are believable as a team of friends who started solving mysteries. Between this chemistry and Lillard becoming Shaggy, the movies were elevated from what they could have been.
Lillard’s portrayal of Shaggy wasn’t unnoticed. When Casey Kasem retired from regular voice acting in 2009 due to illness, Lillard stepped into the role and has played Shaggy since. Kasem left big shoes to fill, and Lillard just happened to have the right sized feet.
Casting is important. The right choice turns a film that could go horribly wrong into a delight. The perfect choicem like Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, makes a film well worth watching and re-watching.