Toy manufacturers know that a successful TV series based on one their products leads to better sales. Deregulation in the 80s allowed toy makers to fund what were essentially half-hour toy ads masquerading as cartoons and live-action shows. The key issue is getting the target audience to watch, which means making the shows enjoyable to watch. Hasbro has had the most success with their spin-off series, from the various Transformers efforts to My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. The latter series has helped Hasbro gain in sales while other toy makers saw sales falling. From the creative point of view, the success of a series based on a toy hinges on two elements – the popularity of the show and the popularity of the toy. If either drops, the show is no longer supported. There have been times when the show’s popularity far outstripped the sales of the toy it was based on. One of the exemplars of the phenomenon is Captain Power & The Soldiers of the Future.
Mattel‘s major line has been Barbie. The doll has sustained the company for almost 60 years. However, few companies want to rely on just one product to sustain them. Mattel expanded its toy lines to include items of interest to boys, with Hot Wheels the best known line. In a competitive market, companies are always searching for the next big thing to cash in on. Mattel thought they had found that next big thing with interactive TV.
In the 80s, interactive TV was in its embryonic stage. The idea of viewers participating with what they watched became possible as electronics took advantage of the potential of the silicon chip. While the first patent in the US for interactive TV was issued in 1994, the concept predates the patent. NABU Networks was an ambitious attempt to combine cable television with an Internet-like connection with the ability to play games appeared in 1983, though it folded in 1986. By 1987, Mattel developed a version of the technology for their own use, but didn’t have yet have a toy developed.
In steps Gary Goddard, who had an idea for a live-action children’s series. Mattel saw a way to use their new technology, The result is Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Mattel had requirements, mainly at least three minutes of interactivity per episode, but allowed Goddard to develop the series the way he wanted. Technically, this means that Captain Power isn’t an adaptation but a joint effort. However, the development of the series was separate from the interactive technology and the toys released. The fate of Captain Power is still instructive.
The toys and the show were parallel developments. Goddard, who also acted as the producer, decided to film in Toronto, Ontario. To qualify for tax breaks*, he had to make a decision about which parts of the show would use Canadian talent and which parts wouldn’t. He went with using American writers, including J. Michael Straczynski, Larry DiTillio, Marc Scott Zircee, Michael Reaves, and Christy Marx. Goddard reasoned that if the writing was strong, the directors, all pulled from Toronto’s television industry, would be able to work with the scripts despite being unfamiliar with science fiction**. The writing staff was able to work with the requirements. The big one was the three minutes of interactivity . The closing credits provided one minute, and the writing staff started most episodes with an action sequence that led into the main plot, eating up another minute there. A climactic action sequence would use the last required minute, if not more.
Mattel developed the toy line, including the PowerJet and action figures. The PowerJet and similiar, like the PowerBase and the MagnaCycle, were deisgned to interact with the TV series and with three video tapes released. The toys reacted to signals in the shows, scoring both hits made on targets and hits made on the toy. Get hit too often, the pilot ejects. The toys could be played with as stand-alone, not needing the show or the video cassettes, but the main focus was the interactivity.
Captain Power, for being a live-action kids show designed for a thirty minute time-slot, was ambitious. It was the first series to feature a regular CGI character with Soaron, voiced by Deryck Hazel, followed later by Blastarr, voiced by John Davies. The sets were built at an unused bus repair facility. Effects, barring the lasers, the flashing targets, and Soaron and Blastarr, were all practical. Even the back story showed work. When the series starts, the Metal Wars, the last battle between man and machine, are over, with the machines under Lord Dread, played by David Hemblen, winning. The Earth is a desolate, blasted landscape, with pockets of humanity trying to survive against the Bio-Dread Empire. However, a light stands against the darkness. Captain Jonathan Power, played by Tim Dunigan, has assembled a small team. Equipped with Power Suits, the Soldiers of the Future stand against Dread and his army of robots.
Each member of Power’s team has a specialty. Major Matthew “Hawk” Matheson, played by Peter MacNeill is the aerial expert; his suit includes wings and jets to let him fly. Lieutenant Michael “Tank” Ellis, played by Sven Thorsen, is the heavy assault expert. Sergeant Robert “Scout” Baker, played by Maurice Dean Wint, is the infiltration and espionage expert, with a suit that can project a camouflage to let him blend in with the Bio-Dread troopers, and Corporal Jennifer “Pilot” Chase, played by Jessica Steen, is the technical expert and pilot of the team’s Jump Ship. The characters had history, as well. Tank is the product of a cloning experiment. Hawk lost his son during the Metal Wars. Pilot was a member of the Dread Youth, an organization meant to install blind loyalty to Lord Dread into young adults.
That brings up another point. The series was dark. The villain already won by the start of the series. Dread’s forces were robots commanded by humans whose uniforms were modelled after after the Nazi’s. Even the Dread Youth were a reference, this time to the Hitler Youth. Topics covered by various episodes included the loss of a child and how people treated victims of AIDS in the late 80s. The final episode ended with the death of one of the main characters. Soaron digitized victims, sending them into Dread’s Overmind computer. Captain Power also had a story arc; each episode built up towards the season’s climax. The writing staff did not dumb their scripts down, and were inspired by science fiction series of the past, including Star Trek and The Twilight Zone.
Scripts were written for a second season but were never filmed. The series was not renewed. The sales of the toys weren’t strong enough for Mattel to consider funding a second season. On top of that, Captain Power came under fire for its violence. That combination led to the series ending on a downer with the death of Pilot. However, the series transcended what Mattel wanted from it. It was a well-written science fiction series, first and foremost, and it picked up an adult audience through word of mouth and on USEnet.
A reboot of the series has been announced. Phoenix Rising has signed on Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens to develop the new series as a weekly hour-long show. The new series is still in development, though, and no air date has been set.
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future shows the limitation of being tied to a toy line. If it had been separate, the success of associated toys wouldn’t have been a factor in the decision to end the series. However, since it was, Mattel had to make the choice in continuing to produce an unsuccessful toy line to support a popular show, and went with its own bottom line. Such is the nature of the corporate world. However, when the creative staff, from writers to directors to actors, all pitch in, a work can go beyond its origins and be remembered.
* Canadian content regulations uses a points system. To qualify as a Canadian production, over half the production must include Canadians. The writing staff could be all American, provided the production made up the difference elsewhere. Goddard used Canadian directors, as mentioned, and kept all the post-production companies in Toronto busy during Captain Power‘s only season. The other benefit of qualifying as CanCon is that it made the show easier to sell to Canadian stations. Canadian television has CanCon broadcast requirements, a minimum about of time that has to be Canadian-made. Captain Power, being CanCon, helped fill that requirement.
** Toronto was and is often used as a stunt double for American cities. The directors of the time were more used to shows like mysteries and police procedurals. The last major science fiction series attempted in Toronto prior was The Starlost, which had many problems.
For television, the Nineties were the age of syndication. Streaming and the thousand-channel universe were still just beyond the horizon, but cable channels and local stations had time to fill. First run syndicated series filled in the hours, including Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its spin-off, Xena: Warrior Princess.
Hercules started as a series of TV movies with Kevin Sorbo as Hercules and Anthony Quinn as Zeus. After the TV movies were successful, the series was greenlit. During the first season, Lucy Lawless made several appearances, including as Xena in several episodes. The popularity of the character led to a spin-off series. While Hercules and Xena had their own sidekicks – Iolaus, played by Michael Hurst, and Gabrielle, played by Renee O’Connor, respectively – the two shows shared common supporting characters. Salmoneus, played by Robert Trebor, and Autolycus, played by Bruce Campbell, among them.
Neither series felt restricted by history; for fans, this was a feature, not a bug. Myths were used as inspiration for episodes. The Greek gods were given new personalities, though ones that fit with known mythology. Zeus was an old man, regretting his wilder youth. Aphrodite, played by Alexandra Tydings, was a Valley Girl, at times oblivious of her effect on mortals. Ares, especially as played by Kevin Smith on Xena, was charming, but that was a veneer over seething destructive rage. Hercules and Xena both lasted six seasons. Later seasons included the occasional episode in modern times, with Hercules taking on the name Kevin Sorbo and acting on a TV series about his legendary journeys, while Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer (Ted Raimi) were reincarnated. With Sam Raimi in charge of the production, even the car, the one that has been in every movie he’s made since The Evil Dead, made appearances.
The setting seemed ideal for tabletop roleplaying. Thus, West End Games, publisher of Star Wars The Roleplaying Game, picked up the license and published the Hercules & Xena Roleplaying Game in 1998. At that point, WEG had been successful with the Star Wars license, using a mechanic known as the D6 system. The system first appeared in the licensed Ghostbusters RPG, then was refined for Star Wars. WEG’s success is such that Lucasfilm is still using the company’s sourcebooks*.
So, when WEG released Hercules & Xena, the game was available in two forms. The first was a single book in full colour including photo stills from the series. The second was a boxed set that included the book and added a second book for game masters plus adventures to get players going and a set of the special dice used. These dice were six-sided, but instead of pips or numbers, they had appropriate markings. Five of the dice had two hydra heads and four chakrams while the sixth, meant to be the wild die, had one hydra head, three chakrams, one Eye of Hera, and one Thunderbolt of Zeus.
WEG modified the D6 system, using the d6 Legends mechanic. Instead of adding up the numbers that showed up on the dice, players just had to count successes. With the included dice, successes were chakrams, after Xena’s preferred weapon. Hydrae were failures. With the wild die, the Thunderbolt of Zeus was counted as a success and then allowed the player to roll the die again. The Eye of Hera cancelled a success and allowed the GM to introduce a complication if so wanted. The system provided for cinematic action, just like the shows the game is emulating. The RPG provided for specialties based on what was seen in the shows, including Xena’s pinch, Hercules swinging Iolaus around to hit opponents, and Hercules’ chest stomp. If a move wasn’t included, there was enough information to create it.
Mechanics, though, aren’t the only way to provide the tone, though they help. The game doesn’t require much bookkeeping; the GM sets a target difficulty and the players attempt to beat it with their skill dice roll. Character creation is quick – spend twenty-four dice among the eight attributes, then spend ten dice among skills and specialties, purchase equipment, and that’s it. The main book even helps with describing a number of different types of characters, from warrior to priestess to chronicler to entrepreneur and the suggested attributes and skills for them. Players are also not limited to creating human characters. Centaurs, nymphs, and satyrs are all possibilities for characters.
The game itself is written as if it was a set of scrolls written by Salmoneus and found only recently. The writing is such that it is possible to hear Robert Trebor’s voice while reading, and includes a few wink-nudge moments, just like the two TV series. The example of play in the main book, despite not featuring any of the characters from either shows, could easily have been in an episode. The overall presentation does bring out the setting of Hercules and Xena. The GM’s book, Scroll of the Ancient World, includes tips on how to role play the gods, from Aphrodite’s Valley Speak to Hades’ dark brooding.
The game did have some problems. The main book wasn’t enough alone to run the game; it was missing key sections, especially on how combat worked, though the base mechanic was detailed enough to let players figure it out. Starting characters were nowhere near the competency of the characters from the show, including Joxer. The GM’s book had suggestions on how to start players with experienced characters, but even then, they wouldn’t come close to Gabrielle or Salmoneus. The main book, though, did include stats for the main characters in both series. This was also a complaint with the Star Wars RPG. The game does include the stats for the main and recurring characters, though, allowing players to take on their roles.
The core rules also hinted at a number of planned supplements that would expand the game, allowing for greater flexibility. However, WEG’s parent company, a shoe importer, ran into financial problems. The importer pulled funds from WEG to remain afloat before filing for bankruptcy. WEG could not sustain itself with the loss of cash and wound up closing, losing all of its licenses. Hercules & Xena was the last RPG published under the WEG name, with later game releases done in partnership with other companies.
Licensed role playing games need to balance playability with accuracy to the source. A good core mechanic is a start, but the presentation needs to maintain the tone of the original. The Hercules & Xena RPG has both. The system is solid, having been refined with other games, and the writing brings out the details that drew fans into watching both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.
* Dave Filoni has mentioned in commentaries for Star Wars: The Clone Wars that several designs for equipment have come from The Star Wars Source Book published by WEG.
Some time back, Lost in Translation reviewed the A-Team movie. However, the years since then has broadened the definition of adaptations and what it means for one to be successful, so it’s time to take a second look.
In 1982, television was going through a renaissance. Many of the staples of the Seventies were on their last legs and ending, either through decisions by showrunners to end the run or through low ratings. One victim of the latter was Happy Days, which had begun its dominance in ratings in 1974. By 1983, it was a shell of what it was, having replaced most of its core cast, ultimately bringing in Ted McGinley. The show was ripe for counter-programming, something that wouldn’t have been thought of in its heyday, when it was just too popular to risk an unknown show against.
NBC had a new series it had piloted with a two-hour movie. The A-Team wasn’t a sitcom; instead, it was a light action-comedy featuring four Vietnam veterans. The general mood in the US about the Vietnam War was beginning be open to the idea of characters having served during the conflict. When The A-Team debuted as a regular series, it pulled in over a quarter of the viewing audience. The show was a change of pace from a tired sitcom.
The narration during the opening credits provided the show’s backstory. A US Army Special Forces unit, the A-Team was ordered to hit the Bank of Hanoi. They returned several days after the armistice and were arrested. The man who gave them the orders, General Morrison, had been killed in the final days of the war, so it became the Army’s word against the A-Team’s. The team broke out of the stockade before their trial and disappeared into the Los Angeles underground, where they became soldiers of fortune.
The pilot picks up with a reporter being held by bandits in Mexico near San Rio Blanco. His protege in LA, Amy Allen, played by Melinda Culea, needs help getting him freed and searches for the mythical A-Team. She’s sent to several locations and meets several odd characters, including Mr. Lee, before meeting the team. The wild goose chase has a purpose. The leader of the A-Team, Colonel John “Hannabal” Smith (George Peppard), wants to make sure she’s not working for the Military Police. However, he’s convinced that Amy is who she says she is and takes the job. However, Amy wants to go along, in part to cover the story of the rescue.
The team gathers. Getting Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Tim Dunigan) and Sergeant Bosco “B.A.” Baracus (Mr. T) is easy enough. Code phrases used on a radio call-in show gets the meeting place and mission needs sent out to them. Getting the last member of the team, though, is a problem. H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz) is in a VA mental institution and may very well be insane*. Face is the one chosen to break Murdock out.
Getting to Mexico is an issue. B.A. hates flying, especially if Murdock is the pilot. Driving will take time, though, which the team doesn’t really have to pull off the plan Hannibal has in mind. Hannibal tries to distract B.A. long enough so he doesn’t realize that they’re going to the airport. It almost works, though B.A. does get a punch in before the sedative takes effect. He’s out for the duration of the trip, giving the team time enough to reset his watch to reflect the how long a road trip would have been.
In Mexico, Face convinces the local film liaison that the movie allegedly being made needs some equipment, including armour plating and a heavy vehicle. The script isn’t the greatest, and Face complains about the quality of both the story and the director, but what can he do? The liaison gets the gear requested. In San Rio Blanco, Hannibal engages the townsfolk in getting their help to drive out the bandits. The initial plan succeeds, but runs into an unexpected hitch – the bandits are associated with a guerilla band who are better armed than the A-Team. What the guerillas aren’t, though, is a highly trained team with a knack for defying the odds led by a man who can come up with contingencies as the battlefield changes. The A-Team gets the reporter home and the town freed of bandit and guerilla influence.
Back in L.A., Amy convinces Hannibal that she is useful to the team, being the legitimate contact with access to news records. As such, she’s not wanted by the Military Police and isn’t on Colonel Lynch’s (William Lucking) radar as part of the team. The series is thus set up.
When The A-Team gets greenlit, some cast changes are made. Dunigan is replaced by Dirk Benedtic, who was the actor creators Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell had in mind for the role. NBC, though, wanted Dunigan, even though he looked too young for the part. The series followed a similar format as the pilot – the A-Team would be hired to help people who were desperate and outmatched, typically against criminal elements. There would be a montage of the team preparing for the climactic fight, putting together makeshift armoured vehicles and booby traps. Because of its time slot, there were very few deaths. Most of the damage went to vehicles, which crashed in spectacular ways.
Each member of the team has a specialty. Hannibal is the leader and a master of disguise. When he wasn’t leading a mission for the A-Team, he earned a pay cheque as an actor, usually as the monster in a Hollywood B-movie. B.A. is not just the muscle but also the team’s mechanical and electronics expert. Face is the con man, the grifter, the one who interacts with officials to smooth the way for the rest of the team. He’s also the accountant, keeping track of expenditures. Murdock is the team’s pilot and the foil to B.A. Amy is their contact to the legitimate world, allowing for more extensive intelligence on targets.
Over the five season run of the show, there were more cast changes. Colonel Lynch was replaced by Colonel Decker (Lance LeGault), who was more relentless in pursuing the team. Amy was replaced by Tawnia (Marla Heasley), a fellow reporter, who was then replaced by Frankie “Dishpan Man” Santana (Eddie Velez). In the final season, Robert Vaughn joined the cast as General Hunt Stockwell.
The series started having problems near the end. The episodic nature of the show meant that it began to feel stale later in the run. An attempt to shake things up by having General Stockwell fake the A-Team’s death and become their commander didn’t help ratings; the change was too jarring for the remaining viewers. Massive shake ups tend not to work and are seen as a desparation move by audiences, usually coming too late to be of help. The fifth season change also took the show away from the original concept of a Special Forces unit accused and on the run for a crime they didn’t commit.
However, with three strong seasons and a decent fourth, the series still has fans and name recognition. Hollywood, not one to ignore the lure of an easy draw, spent time trying to build a remake, with the earliest work done in the mid-90s. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that the movie was released. The new cast included Liam Neeson as Hannibal, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B.A., Bradley Cooper as Face, and Sharlto Copley as Murdock. With the time difference, the conflict that the A-Team was in changed from the Vietnam War to the second Gulf War.
However, the movie begins eight years before the end of Gulf War II, with a scene similar to the pilot movie. Renegade General Tuco (Yul Vasquez) is interrogating a man hidden by shadows. Since the man won’t talk, Tuco orders the man’s death, using his own pistol. However, said pistol doesn’t work, not having a firing pin. Tuco decides to let his dogs have him instead. The seated man uses the firing pin to unlock his handcuffs just as the dogs arrive. When he steps into the light, we see Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith.
Elsewhere, B.A. Baracus has returned to his former gang to recover his beloved. The gang isn’t willing to just let him leave, which they soon regret. With the gang down, B.A. gets into his beloved GMC Vandura, painted in the classic colours from the original series, and leaves. However, as he heads to a new life, he gets stopped at gunpoint by Hannibal, who notices the Ranger tattoo on B.A.’s arm. With some convincing, B.A. agrees to help Hannibal rescue his teammate.
Face is in deep trouble. He was caught with Tuco’s wife and the General is not happy about it. Tuco wants to set fire to the tires Face is trapped in, but the Lieutenant is buying time, mostly by aggravating the General. Face does get enough time for Hannibal and B.A. to arrive, but they leave with Tuco in hot pursuit. They need a way out and Hannibal has a man in mind. However, this man is in a hospital, but B.A.’s arm needs patching up. At the hospital, Hannibal looks for his man while a doctor sews up B.A.’s wound. Turns out, the “doctor” was Hannibal’s pilot, H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, who is in the hospital as a psychiatric patient.
The four take the hospital’s helicopter. Tuco follows in one that is more heavily armed. Murdock takes his chopper through moves that no one sane would try, resulting in B.A. gaining a phobia about flying. Hannibal goads Tuco while keeping an eye on an electronic readout. His plan succeeds; Tuco is lured across the border while engaging in an act of hostility against US military personnel, and a fighter jet is just waiting for the battle to cross the border.
Hannibal pulls the team together as a unit, bringing B.A. back into the Rangers and getting Murdock out of the psych ward, to the point where they are a crack unit in Iraq. Near the end of the conflict, Hannibal is brought into General Morrison’s (Gerald McRainey) for one last mission. Iraqi insurgents have a set of US Treasury plates that would allow for perfect forgeries of American currency, and CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) wants them back. Meanwhile, DCIS investigator Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel) approaches her ex, Face, to warn him against going after the plates.
Since Hannibal outranks Face, the team takes the mission. Hannibal’s plan goes off without a hitch, every contingency taken into account, even B.A.’s fear of flying. Preparation involves scrounging a number of parts, mostly from the private military contractor Black Forest without their knowledge. The team steals the stolen plates and delivers both them and the money already printed to the base. However, at the base, General Morrison’s HMMVV explodes, followed by a strike by Black Forest personnel led by Brock Pike (Brian Bloom). The shipping container holding the printed money and the plates explode and the plates disappear.
Hannibal and his team are arrested and tried for the theft of the plates and the money and are sentenced to dishonourable discharges and prison time in separate facilities. Sosa is also court-martialed, leading to her demotion. After six months, Lynch approaches Hannibal with an offer – accept the agent’s help in escaping in return for finding the missing plates. Lynch provides photos of Pike and an unknown Arab in Frankfurt at the Konigsbank. Hannibal already has plans to escape and just needed a reason. He fakes his own death to escape his prison, kidnaps Face, who has managed to turn his sentence into a spa retreat, then the two free B.A. during a prisoner transfer. Murdock turns out to be the more difficult break out; Sosa, who is still searching for the plates and now Hannibal, has tracked down Murdock to a VA hospital in Germany. With the help of a 3-D film, the team break out Murdock and go on to steal a C-130 Hercules.
The escape isn’t smooth. Stealing any American military aircraft gets immediate attention and two drones are dispatched to shoot down the Hercules. Sosa tries to countermand the orders to shoot down the plane, but the drones destroy the C-130. One of the drones picks up parachutes from an air-droppable tank. The team managed to get inside the tank before the plane exploded. The drones continue their attack. Face shoots one down, but the wreckage takes out two of the three parachutes used by the tank to slow its fall. Hannibal manages to control the plummet using the main gun’s recoil to redirect the tank to land in a lake and then to slow the fall.
In Frankfurt, Hannibal has a plan to get the Arab man, involving pinpoint timing. The plan almost gets derailed, though. Pike recovers quickly from the assault and tries to catch up with the plates. B.A. has him, but during his time in prison, he decided to take a path of non-violence; killing Pike is out of the question. But the team does escape with the Arab and the plates. Sosa catches up to Pike and takes him into custody.
Lynch, though, is still working on getting the plates for himself. Hannibal deduces the Arab’s identity and, before he can make his next move, a gunship obliterates the hideout, killing the Arab. Lynch then takes custody of Pike, working to close off loose ends. Hannibal calls Sosa, wanting to make a deal, the plates for full clemency. Lynch has Sosa’s phones tapped and hears the conversation. What he doesn’t have tapped is the burner phone Face slipped to her earlier, where he explains the plan to her.
The plan to deal with Lynch is a shell game – distract, disrupt, and reveal. Lynch falls for the game, but has Pike standing by as a wild card. But the plan, Face’s, not Hannibal’s, is flexible enough to handle the unexpected addition. Lynch is exposed. But the director of DCIS, Sosa’s boss, has the team arrested for unlawful escape. He wants that case off his books, even if the team did the heavy lifting in stopping Lynch and recovering the Treasury plates. The team, though, promptly escape and disappear into the Los Angeles underground.
The first thing of note for the movie is that it is an origins story. These men aren’t yet the A-Team of the TV series, but end the movie becoming them. As such, the movie expands on the original opening narration, using it to end the film. However, the elements of the original are there. The characters are recognizable. Casting helped here. Neeson channels George Peppard as Hannibal, using similar body language and vocal tones. Cooper has the charm of Face. Jackson brings a new interpretation to B.A. that still fits with what’s seen in the original series. Copley’s Murdock might be crazier than the original.
The tone of the movie varies, from drama to action to comedy, at points causing a mood whiplash. That’s more a factor of what’s expected in today’s entertainment, which does include deeper looks into motives than action-comedies in the Eighties. The movie does delve into the backstory presented in the TV series, pulling names from the team’s past and giving faces to names. The plot is more involved, with two agencies and a mercenary corporation all after the same MacGuffin. The world isn’t as black and white as in the TV series, but the core, that the A-Team are the heroes, remains.
The movie adds a few extras for the long-time fan. First is a post-credits sequence that features Benedict as Face’s fellow prisoner and Schultz as a doctor called in to consult on Murdock. A more subtle Easter egg comes up when the team breaks Murdock out of the German psychiatric facility. The movie sent, The Greater Escape uses the classic theme tune as the credits roll. Among the stars of the movie are Reginald Barclay, Schultz’s character on Star Trek: The Next Generation and G.F. Starbuck, a reference to Benedict’s character on the original Battlestar Galactica. Several scenes would fit without a problem in the original series, as well.
With a PG-13 rating, the movie avoids some of the problems of the original series. Since the show aired at 8:00pm for most of its run, very few people died on screen and none to the full auto fire that the A-Team used. In the movie, there is a body count, though the A-Team is far more judicious on where they shoot, unlike, say, Pike. The language is a little more salty, what one would expect for soldiers on deployment. Again, it’s the difference between prime time television and the PG-13 rating.
There were some problems with the film. The take on The A-Team went darker than the series did through most of its run, barring the final season. With the CIA and DCIS working against each other putting the A-Team in the middle of the fight and betrayals by trusted sources, the stakes were higher than helping someone deal with a criminal element. There was no Amy Allen; Sosa took on the Colonel Lynch role from the TV series, leaving the team on their own. If there was a sequel, an Amy could be introduced, but the movie didn’t make enough at the box office to justify a follow-up. The big problem was the focus. The movie covered the A-Team’s backstory instead of their exploits as soldiers of fortune in the Los Angeles underground. As such, the movie set up a series that never happened.
The movie did get some elements right. The cast, as mentioned above, had the chemistry and were recognizable as their characters, not just in looks but also in personalities. It’s not just a matter of using catch phrases, but knowing when to use them and why. Several scenes would have fit in with the TV series, just through the banter and camaraderie. The film definitely lived up to the action standard set by the TV series.
The movie remake of The A-Team is a hit-and-miss affair. Some problems could have been shored up, but there was an effort to have the team feel like the original, a difficult task.
* Through the series, Murdock displays different neuroses, so it could be an act. However, some of the act continues even when no one is around. He may have an untreated condition that he hides by acting crazier.
With students now done with the school year, why not look at an adaptation set in a school? Like fingerprints, no two fictional schools are the same. Some are prestigious, accepting only the best and the brightest. At the other end, there is St. Trinian’s, a school for girls that takes in juvenile delinquents known for terrorizing rival schools and even the locals.
St. Trinian’s started as a panel cartoon gag strip by Ronald Searle. The first St. Trinian’s appeared in 1941, but, with the Second World War looming, Searle enlisted and was stationed in Singapore, where he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. After the war, he resumed the St. Trinian’s strip, though his time as prisoner meant that the cartoon took a darker turn. Searle wrote the strip between 1946 and 1952, compiling the collections in five books. The girls of St. Trinian’s were delinquents, as the various cartoons showed. Field hockey matches against the school were bloody, closer to guerilla warfare than actual sport. The older girls dressed provocatively, modifying their uniforms for effect. However, the teaching staff wasn’t much better, and shared their young charges’ interests is smoking, drinking, and gambling.
Two years after the last of the St. Trinian’s strips, a film adaptation was made. Directed by Frank Laudner and written by Laudner, Sidney Gilliat, and Val Valentine, The Belles of St. Trinian’s brought the wretched hive of scum and villainy to the British silver screen. With the St. Trinian’s strip consisting of gag-a-day cartoon panels, a plot had to be created for the movie. However, given the nature of the school, even a wild plot would fit.
The movie opens with the Sultan of Makyad looking for a boarding school for his young, impressionable daughter, Fatima. Fatima’s governess suggests St. Trinian’s as she knows the headmistress there. The Sultan agrees as his race horse, Arab Boy, is in Barchester County, the same location as the school, and would be able to visit both his horse and his daughter at the same time.
In Britain, the back-to-school trains are busy as students head off to their boarding schools. The screaming from the girls never ends, terrifying everyone in between them and St. Trinian’s. Streets clear out as everyone, from storekeepers and shoppers to hens and the police constable, hide from the returning menace. The girls of St. Trinian’s are well known in the county and are avoided. The police superintendent wants something solid to pin against the school to shut it down, but the Ministry of Education hasn’t sent inspectors after losing two assigned to the school.
However, St. Trinian’s is facing a problem that would see the school closed – a lack of funds. Headmistress Millicent Fritton, played by played by Alastair Sims in drag, returns from her much needed summer vacation only to be told by her accountant that the school has too many outstanding bills to pay and nowhere near enough money to pay them. To add to Millicent’s headaches, her twin brother bookie Clarence, also played by Alastair Sims, returns with his daughter Arabella, played by Vivienne Martin. Bella is upset about being expelled unfairly; after all, her class mate destroyed the library and was allowed to stay. Millicent explains that the library was insured. Clarence, though, isn’t so much interested in Arabella’s education as he is in getting information about Arab Boy.
The school’s sixth form, led by Arabella, and fourth form, including Fatima, take the time to find out more about Arab Boy. In a trial run, the horse wins with a large margin, impressing both sets of girls. Arabella is concerned, though; her father could wind up paying out too much money if Arab Boy wins. The fourth form, though, sees a chance at winning big, and call in Flash Harry, played by George Cole. With their limited funds, even at ten-to-one odds, the fourth form girls wouldn’t get much, unless they can get some of the £100 cash that Fatima’s father gave her.
Millicent, while appearing somewhat doddering, knows exactly the type of people – students and staff – she has at the school, and had put away Fatima’s money for safekeeping. The fourth form girls explain the situation but get nowhere. Millicent, though gets an idea. St. Trinian’s needs £4000, but only has £400. Ten-to-one odds would pay the bills and keep the school open another year. She calls on Flash Harry and lays down the bet.
The sixth form, though, wants Arab Boy to lose. Their plan is to steal the horse until after the race is over. However, Florrie, another girl of St. Trinian’s overhears, and taunts the fourth form with the news. Florrie eventually does tell the younger girls the details after being subjected to a makeshift rack. When Arabella and her form go to steal the horse, they find Arab Boy already gone.
Arab Boy’s whereabouts are discovered the next morning by the sixth form; the horse was enjoying the morning sun through the window of the fourth form’s dorm. This triggers a war between the fourth form, the sixth form, and the teaching staff, who just want to be paid. The fourth form smuggle the horse out the window while the teachers distract the sixth form with a frontal assault.
The film takes pains to keep authenticity with the comic strip. The uniforms worn in the film are modelled after the ones drawn Searle. Several scenes come directly from the strip, including Florrie’s torture and the field hockey match, where the referee, the opposing team’s coach, and the opposing team are taken off the field one by one on stretchers. The opening and closing credits include a a parade of St. Trinian’s drawings by Searle. The result is a movie that incorporates the essence of the cartoon strip while fleshing it out for the needs of a longer work.
The Belles of St. Trinian’s was popular, enough so to have three direct sequels and a continuation of sorts in 1980 with The Wildcats of St. Trinian’s. In 2007, the film franchise was given a reboot with St. Trinian’s, with an eye to updating the setting while still keeping to the roots. The new movie was based on both Searle’s work and The Belles of St. Trinian’s, with Rupert Everett taking on the Alastair Sims roles as both Headmistress Camilla Fritton and her art dealer brother, Carnaby.
The movie begins with Carnaby driving his daughter, Annabelle, played by Talulah Riley, to her new school, St. Trinian’s. Annabelle is horrified at what she sees on the way on to the grounds – burnt out car, a shrunken head, and other dire warnings. The school itself has seen better days. Carnaby is transferring Annabelle from her old school, the Cheltenham Ladies’ College, because he thinks he can get a good discount on his daughter’s tuition. He does manage to haggle Camilla down to £2300, which really doesn’t help her out. Annabelle has no choice but to start school at St. Trinian’s.
Head Girl Kelly, played by Gemma Arterton, gives Annabelle a quick tour of the school and introduces the new girl to the different cliques — the chavs, the geeks, the emos, the posh totties, and the first years. Annabelle doesn’t fit in right away with any of the cliques. Later in the evening, she is the victim of a prank pulled by the entire school. She tries to get her father to come pick her up, but he blows her off. Frustrated, Annabelle slaps her cell phone hard enough with her field hockey stick to shatter a bust down the hall. The act of destruction is seen by Miss Cleaver, played by Fenella Woolgar, who, instead of punishing Annabelle, recruits her for the field hockey team.
In London, the new Minister of Education, Geoffrey Thwaites, played by Colin Firth, wants to make his mark on the position. Formerly in charge of prisons, Geoffrey wants to bring the same approach he used there on schools, by taking the worst school in the nation and forcing it to reform. One of his aides has flashbacks to when he was undercover at St. Trinian’s, showing the PTSD he picked up from the time in country. But, since St. Trinian’s is the worst school, both in academics and in behaviour, that is where Geoffrey will start his reforms.
The banks, though, have other ideas. St. Trinian’s is £500 000 in debt, and after having had six final notices ignored, a representative hand delivers the final final notice, giving Camilla four weeks to raise the money, or else have the school turned over to the bank. Making matters worse, Carnaby tries to convince Camilla to just let the school shut down so it could be sold. The girls of St. Trinian’s, though, have mastered the art of electronic surveillance and learn about the looming debt. Kelly comes to the conclusion that, since the adults look to be useless, the girls will have to save the school. If they don’t, they’ll have to go to normal schools.
The Minister arrives in the morning, hoping to find the excesses at St. Trinian’s during the field hockey match between the school and Cheltenham, where his daughter, Verity (Lucy Punch), is the star player and terror. He is surprised to see his former flame, Camilla, as headmistress, though. The match is viscious, with casualties on both teams. Geoffrey takes advantage of the chaos to sneak around. He discovers the various unauthorized extracurriculars the St. Trinian’s girls have, including the religious education teacher crucified, the distillery for knock-off vodka and the pay-per-minute chat line run by the posh totties. However, he’s caught and is shown the way out, though a third story window.
The different cliques have to work together to keep the school open. They enlist the help of Flash Harry, played by Russell Brand, who is their main contact with other criminal elements. He gives the girls a crash course in crime, but Kelly comes up with the master plan – the theft of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” from the National Gallery. A field trip to the Gallery lets the girls find the security systems and map out how to get in and out. The biggest challenge, though, is getting into the museum. That problem is solved by the new teacher, Miss Dickinson (Lena Headey), who has been trying to get a School Challenge team together. The finals would be held at the Gallery. All the girls need to do is get a team to the finals to get in with security distracted.
However, Geoffrey is still a threat. He returns to St. Trinian’s with the press in tow. His goal is to expose the school’s nefarious activities on camera. The girls are ready for him and go to Code Red, even with ten-year-old twins Tara and Tania (Cloe and Holly Mackie) testing their homebrewed explosives. There is no sign of the problems he found earlier, with a nun teaching the religion class. Worse, Geoffrey flings Camilla’s dog out of the school and into a mulcher in front of cameras, leading him to be the headline, not the St. Trinian’s.
The posh totties become the School Challenge team. While they aren’t necessarily the brightest girls, though they do get the occasional flashes of brilliance, they are the most photogenic. Through means mostly foul, they defeat their opponents, impressing the show host, Stephen Fry. In the finals, they will face Cheltenham. But this does let them get the break-and-enter team a way in.
With The Belles of St. Trinian’s, the memory of Searle’s strip was still fresh, only having ended two years prior to the film’s release and the fifth complilation, Souls in Torment having been released in 1953. The reboot, though, came out fifty-five years after the last published St. Trinian’s cartoon. Times had changed. What was once shocking for movie audiences became quaint. Technology offered more opportunities for mischief. However, St. Trinian’s made efforts to keep to the essence of both Searle’s work and the 1954 film.
First, the uniforms, while updated to take advantage of modern fabrics and sensibilities, were still recognizably St. Trinian’s. The older girls modified the outfits, but even in Searle’s work, they did the same. The definition of scandalous has changed over time, so the uniforms reflected the modern meaning.
The 2007 St. Trinian’s also showed more dead girls than the 1954 film, keeping in line with the strip. Movie ratings systems grew more granular over time, allowing for a difference between a younger teen audience and an older teen audience. A St. Trinian’s girl floating in a fish tank isn’t as unsettling to the older audience. The school itself is far more chaotic in the reboot, reflecting Searle’s work a little closer. The school grounds also showed the dangers more, from the burning car to the various warnings with graffiti.
/St. Trinian’s/ also carries on the tradition set by The Belles of St. Trinian’s, having a male actor play the headmistress and her brother. Alastair Sims’ version of Headmistress Fritton was more dowdy and just getting into the sorts of activities her girls were familiar with. Everett’s Headmistress Fritton encouraged her girls to explore themselves and become the threat the merciless world needs. Both versions cared about the school and the students.
Finally, to show the plan to both the girls and the audience, Polly (Lily Cole) created an animation. The animation is in Searle’s style, though with charicatures of the cast. It’s a nice nod to the original, with some Easter eggs to be found, without confusing new audiences. The animation also furthers the plot, showing the obstacles during the heist.
St. Trinian’s took on the challenges of being both a reboot and an adaptation with two sources, one of those being an adaptation as well, with the added difficulty factor of updating a setting that, while not tied to its time, was shocking for its era. The smoking may have gone, but the attitude remained. In the reboot’s favour, it returned the focus to the students. St. Trinian’s updated the source while remaining true to both the cartoon strip and The Belles of St. Trinian’s.
With the recent death of Adam West, it’s past due to take a look at his most endearing role, the 1966 Batman TV series and feature film.
Lost in Translation covered the origin of Batman back while analysing Batman Fluxx. Created in 1939 in the pages of Detective Comics, Batman represents the crossover from mystery men to costumed crimefighters, with a dash of Zorro. Since then, the character has evolved, going from grim hunter of criminals who used pistols to master detective who refuses to kill. Batman’s rogues gallery includes some of the most colourful villains in comics, including the Joker, the Riddler, and Catwoman, all of whom emphasize different aspects of the hero in their clashes.
Superhero adaptations have tended to lag about a decade behind the events in the comics themselves. The general audience isn’t as familiar with current events in titles, either having read the books when younger or just picking up on the better known storylines after the fact. Studios want a wide net when adapting, so minutiae in continuity, always a pain with comics, is often the first to be trimmed. Thus, during a time when DC Comics was turning Batman into the dark detective he’s best known as now, Fox and producer William Dozier were going a different direction, one more in tune with the Batman of the Fifties.
Today, the 1966 Batman TV series is seen as pure camp. Adam West starred as the Caped Crusader, with Burt Ward as Robin, the Boy Wonder. Together, they fought crime that the Gotham City Police Department was unable and incapable of handling. Deep underneath Stately Wayne Manor, the Batcave contained crime fighting equipment that predated many techniques now in use, including DNA analysis.
The series was a comedy, one without a laughtrack. For the first two seasons, Batman aired twice a week, with the first episode ending on a cliffhanger, typically a death trap where Batman and Robin faced certain doom, a doom that would be resolved at the beginning of the second episode. The villains, guest stars all, threatened the safety of the citizens of Gotham City and only Batman and Robin could stop them, usually in a climactic fight in the villain’s hideout filmed with a dutch angle.
Despite, or possibly because of, the series being a comedy, West played Batman serious, which heightened the comedic aspects but also gave the series and the character gravitas. The TV series didn’t shy away from why Bruce Wayne became Batman. Likewise, Ward, Stafford Repp (Chief O’Hara), Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon), and Alan Napier (Alfred) all approached their roles as if the series was a drama. The odd situations and brightly coloured villains stood out in the contrast.
Batman attracted guest stars. Regular villains included Caeser Romero’s Joker, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, and Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, all playing against type. Romero kept his signature mustache, not quite hiding it under the Joker’s white make up. Other actors who appeared on the series include Victor Buono as King Tut and Vincent Price as Egghead. Even if they couldn’t get a role as a villain, other actors appeared during the weekly wall-climbing sequence, commenting on the oddness of two costumed crimefighters walking on their walls.
After the first season, the studio wanted to sell the series to foreign markets. To help with the sales, the studio made the Batman the Movie. The goal of the film was to introduce the series and its stars. To further intrigue audiences, the movie included four villains – the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman. With one exception, all were played by their regular actors. Julie Newmar wasn’t available for filming, so Lee Meriweather filled in. With four key villains, it wasn’t just Gotham City in danger, but the entire world, as they scemed to kidnap the delegates to the United World Headquarters.
The movie kept to the tone of the TV series. Helping there was being filmed between seasons, with the same cast and crew. Lorenzo Semple Jr*, who had also written several of the episodes, wrote the script for the movie, keeping the tone consistent. With the added time allowed by a film, 105 minutes instead of two 24-minute episodes, the story could be given time to unfold and the Bruce Wayne side of Batman could be explored. Just like the TV series, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara were stymied by the villains and had to turn to Batman and Robin to save the day. The film includes some now-classic lines, including, “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”
The third season of the series saw several changes. The first was going to a more episodic approach, with each episode self-contained. No more cliffhangers to be resolved at the beginning of the next episode. The other major change was the introduction of Batgirl, played by Yvonne Craig. Barbara Gordon, the Commisioner’s daughter, joined the Dynamic Duo in their crusade against crime to keep Gotham City safe. Eartha Kitt stepped into the role of Catwoman when Julie Newmar was again unavailable. The episodes felt a little more rushed as the plot needed to be wrapped up at the end instead of allowing for the usual two parts. However, the change in approach gave the actors a bit of a break; the episodes were still meant for a half-hour time slot, which now aired once a week. There were some two- and three-part episodes, but they were still aired one part a week.
The TV series reflected an older version of Batman, one that was more camp than the current version. Yet, the actors treated the characters seriously. The commentary with the movie by Adam West and Burt Ward showed that, even with the problems they faced – Ward especially – they still realized that they were playing Batman and Robin. The series was a comedy; the roles were still important to them and to the actors playing the villains. This approach is why the series is still beloved even today.
The movie of the series is a perfect example of adapting properly. In its favour, the goal the studio had was to give international audiences a taste of what the TV series offered. Changing that focus would have created problems for keeping the new audience. The movie’s budget also allowed to film on location instead of in studio and for the use of new bat-gadgets, including the Bat-copter and the Bat-boat. Footage of both would appear in the following seasons as needed.
Combined, the Adam West TV series and movie are an important part of Batman lore. Later adaptations would still pay homage to the work. Batman: The Animated Series introduced one of Bruce Wayne’s childhood heroes, the Grey Ghost, voiced by West himself. Elements of the TV series can be seen even in Tim Burton’s Batman of 1989. DC Comics even released a continuation comic for the series, Batman ’66. Adam West has left a legacy that will be remembered fondly.
Technological progress has a way of making older works show their age. In many adaptations, updating the technology to modern ideas of the near future doesn’t harm the work. But what happens when an iconic item becomes outdated?
Case in point, the 1965-70 TV series, Get Smart. Created by Mel Brooks with Buck Henry, Get Smart was a parody of the spy thrillers of the time, including 007 and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, and featured outlandish gadgets that never quite worked properly. The series starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Secret Agent 86, and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99, two agents of CONTROL who fought against the machinations of KAOS, run by Siegfried, played by Bernie Kopell, and his right-hand man, Shtarker, played by King Moody. Max’s boss, the Chief of CONTROL, played by Edward Platt, suffered as Max investigated nefarious schemes, but admitted that CONTROL wouldn’t be half as effective without 86. The opening of the first episode provides a perfect example of how technology changes the intent of a scene. As a stage production is about to start, a phone begins to ring, and Max excuses himself to go to the lobby to answer his shoe. In 1965, this is an unusual situation, something that is absurd. Today, even with warnings and request to turn off all phones, someone in the audience will still take a call.
Get Smart, though, was more than the gadgets. Like many good parodies, like Airplane!, the characters took the situations seriously. That’s part of the humour, the dichotomy between the absurdity of the situation and the seriousness of the characters. With a TV series, the characters also have to be engaging enough for people to keep watching week after week. Max knew his spycraft, even if there were times he stumbled into saving the world or times that 99 came through in the clutch.
As the series progressed, the relationship between Max and 99 grew closer, resulting in a wedding and adding a domestic side to the series. Still, even with the domestic episodes, the series was still a spy spoof, with all the comedic aspects of the core coming through. The in-laws are in town? Great time for KAOS to wreak havoc, just to see how Max and 99 handle both.
There were several attempts at revivals. The first was the theatrical release, The Nude Bomb, with Don Adams returning as Max and 99. Edward Platt’s death in 1974 meant that a new actor, Dana Elcar, had to be brought in as the Chief. The movie took advantage of not being on television and went risque. A second made-for-TV movie, Get Smart, Again reunited Adams and Feldon. A short-lived revival TV series in 1995, also called Get Smart, brought back Adams and Feldon, with Max now the Chief of CONTROL and his son Zack, played by Andy Dick, a field agent. Even Inspector Gadget could be seen as Get Smart aimed at children, with Adams voicing the eponymous character, who was a walking gadget malfunction, who bumbled around while his niece Penny did the hard work.
In 2008, Warner Bros. released Get Smart, a remake/reboot starring Steve Carell as Max, Anne Hathaway as 99, and Alan Arkin as the Chief of CONTROL. Instead of being a period piece, the movie was set in the current era. The movie changed things up, with Max being a very thorough analyst who wants to be a field agent. His briefings run 600+ pages and gets down into what the subjects of investigation like to eat. In a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, his notes on one potential threat is shown on screen; “The Claw” was another villain from the TV series.
Max’s arrival at work takes him through a museum dedicated to espionage, with one section set aside for CONTROL. In the section, several of the old gadgets from the TV series are on display, including the old cone of silence, Max’s car, and the shoe phone. The entrance to CONTROL itself is through a set of doors, much like the opening credits to the TV series, complete with the classic theme song playing. The gags through the doors change, as should be expected, but the sequence does hammer home the idea of being in CONTROL’s headquarters. Max’s briefing is dry but thorough, but that thoroughness prevents him from becoming a field agent; the Chief needs him as an analyst.
KAOS escalates its total war against CONTROL, first bombing CONTROL’s HQ then going after field agents. Max and 99 are the first to respond after the bombing, investigating the ruins of the headquarters to find the perpetrators. Max’s quick thinking and knowledge of the fire suppression systems lets 99 go deeper into the headquarters, but that same quick thinking and knowledge leaves the Chief with a dent in his forehead. Because of the shortage of field agents, Max’s request to become one is approved, with the idea that KAOS won’t know who he is.
The Chief pairs rookie 86 with experience field agent 99 and sends them to Russia to investigate Ladislas Krstic (David S. Lee), the munitions supplier for KAOS. The flight to Russia, though, has Siegfried’s heavy, Dalip, played by Dalip Singh aka the Great Khali. Max and 99 use a hidden escape from the plane, though Max wasn’t able to get his chute on in time. Dalip follows, taking the now spare chute. Agent 99 does what she can to get rid of Dalip and prevent Max from plummeting to his death.
At Krstic’s manor, the pair discover the location of stolen nuclear material and bomb-making facility, a bakery in Moscow. Max and 99 head directly there, sneaking in and looking for the yellow cake uranium. Max finds it plus actual yellow cake at a birthday celebration, and plants explosives. During this, though, Siegfried, played by Terrance Stamp, finds him and takes him prisoner. The two men try to get the details of what each other know, with Max getting details about Siegfried’s plans to bomb the president. Siegfried leaves Shtarker, played by Ken Davitan, in charge to finalized preparations, which gives Max a chance to escape.
The bakery explodes. During the chaos, Max and 99 run into Dalip again. Fighting the KAOS heavy gets nowhere, so Max uses his knowledge from analysing tape after tape to convince Dalip to stop fighting and help them escape. He’s mostly successful, but he and 99 do get away from the exploding bomb factory/bakery and return to Washington to report in. The Chief sends Agent 23, Max’s idol played by Dwayne Johnson, to make sure that the facility is gone. Problem is, Agent 23 reports that there’s no sign of the uranium. All evidence that there’s a cover up points to Max, who is taken into custody. While in his cell, he hears a coded message for him relayed through Ryan Seacrest; the bomb is in Los Angeles.
Max executes an escape from CONTROL’s prison cells. The escape leads through the espionage museum. Max takes the suit, the gun, the shoe phone, and the car. The roaring escape ends not far from the museum as the car runs out of gas. He tries to commandeer a car, driven by Bernie Kopell in a cameo, but that car is rear-ended. Max does find a car and heads to L.A, where he finds the Chief, 99, and 23. Agent 86 works out who the double agent is and reveals his identity. In the process, he prevents the bomb from exploding and ends the KAOS plot to kill the president.
In a Get Smart adaptation, several elements are expected. The gadgets, as mentioned above, are important, not only in being used but not working correctly. The cone of silence received an upgrade but still didn’t work properly. The shoe phone, though, is outdated thanks to cell phones. Yet, the movie managed to work it in, thanks to call forwarding. Even the new gadgets, like Max’s Swiss Army knife, don’t work right.
Casting was also key. Steve Carell played Max much as Don Adams had, straight, allowing the absurdity of what was happening carry the comedy. Anne Hathaway has a more-than-passing resemblance to Barbara Feldon, and there are several scenes where Hathaway is a dead ringer for Feldon. Terrance Stamp took a darker tone to Siegfried, but Ken Davitan’s Shtarker blunted the darkness by being a comedic sidekick and punch-clock villain. Even Fang, Agent K-13, had a counterpart in the remake – a puppy that Max wanted to adopt but only if he became a field agent.
The writers were able to work with the original material well. The original series had a number of catch phrases that would recur, most of them Max’s but some from 99 and even Siegfried. It’d be easy to just have Max spout them; instead, the script worked the catch phrases in organically. Siegfried did get his, “This is KAOS. We don’t ‘ka-fricking-boom’ here,” thanks to Shtarker. Max had, “Missed it by that much,” “Would you believe?” and “Sorry about that Chief,” in situations where it made sense. The last phrase came up after Max hit the Chief with a fire extinguisher. Even 99 got in a, “Oh, Max.” Anyone not familiar with the lines wouldn’t have seen these shoehorned in while fans of the original series could laugh.
Even some of the TV series’ gags were reused. Along with the malfunctioning gadgets, other staples that appeared included Agent 13. In the TV series, the agent, played by Dave Ketchum, would appear in the oddest, tightest locations. Bill Murray played 13 in the film, appearing inside a tree near CONTROL’s safe house near the Washington Memorial, his complaints about his assignment and the problems of being stuck in the tree echoing Ketchum’s 13 and his issues. The movie is also book-ended by scenes of Max arriving and leaving CONTROL, much like the opening and closing credits.
Updating Get Smart meant having to change update the sensibilities of the times. The nature of spy thrillers has changed since 1965, with the tone turning darker as the nature of the business and the tools of the trade became more known to the general audience. Adding to the difficulty, Get Smart was a comedy set at work, where work was a top secret organization dedicated to the security of the US. Overlooking that aspect would have lost part of the nature of the series. The movie, though, kept both the spy spoof and the work-com aspects, with enough scenes showing how dysfunctional CONTROL’s office is and still making fun of bureaucracy at all levels. Inter-agency rivalries were added, with the Chief butting heads with the directors of the other agencies, including the CIA and the Secret Service.
The movie remake of Get Smart had a difficult task in front of it; paying homage to a series and a character that is iconic. The result, though, shows that the challenge was met. Get Smart was a well done adaptation that managed to update the setting without losing the core of the original TV series.
After last week’s look at works that adapt characters instead of stories, it’s a good time to examine such a work. Today, Deadpool.
The character Deadpool was created in 1990, with his first appearance in New Mutants #98, written by Rob Liefield and Fabien Nicieza. Deadpool’s main ability is much like Wolverine’s, a heightened healing factor, though with the Merc with the Mouth, it’s offset by cancer. The two characters are linked through the Weapon X project, the one that gave Wolverine his adamantium skeleton and Deadpool his accelerated healing. This combination has seriously unhinged Deadpool to the point where he thinks he’s a comic book character. His appearances are marked by his ability to break the fourth wall and talk to the readers directly. In his video game appearances, he has cheered on the player.
Deadpool’s first cinematic appearance was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The problem there, though, was that his mouth was sewn shut, so he couldn’t speak. He was also decapitated in the movie, though a post-credit sequence shows him picking up his head and telling the audience to “Shh.” Ryan Reynolds, who plays the Merc with the Mouth, admitted that it was wrong, so was eager to play him again, this time properly. Thus, the Deadpool movie released shortly before Valentine’s Day, 2016..
Deadpool set out to correct the problems with the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Where the character had his mouth sewn shut previously, this time around, he talks non-stop, to the point of providing narration even into the post-credit sequence. The core plot hinges around Wade Wilson, Mr. Pool himself, trying to get the experiment that turned his Ryan Reynolds good looks into something that repulses people reversed. The man responsible, Francis, credited as Ajax*, played by Ed Skrein, provided the a treatment that halted the spread of cancer through Wilson’s body, but didn’t remove it.
However, the core plot isn’t the only part of the story. There’s a romance as well, with Wade getting engaged to Vanessa, played by Morena Baccarin. Vanessa is the reason why Wade went into the Weapon X program – he didn’t want to leave her mourning him. This connection, though, puts Vanessa in danger near the end of the movie.
The movie is a superhero comedy that, instead of taking refuge in audacity, revels in it. Deadpool is also one of the most comic book movies made, alongside Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The film opens with the cinematic version of a two-page splash page. The credits that appear wouldn’t be out of place in one of Marvel’s lighter titles, like What The–?!, credits like “A Moody Teenager” – Negasonic Teenage Warhead played by Brianna Hildebrand, “A CGI Character” – Colossus voiced by Stefan Kapicic, and “A British Villain” – Francis. Deadpool himself narrates the story, stopping the action several times to address the audience directly. Not only does he break the fourth wall, at one point, he does so while breaking the fourth wall during a flashback.
Deadpool is an origins movie, though the character’s background isn’t as well known as Superman’s or Spider-Man’s. The movie retells Deadpool’s background. However, remember that cinematic superhero universes are a thing. The movie isn’t accurate, but given it’s Wade narrating it and he believes he’s a comic book and, for the film, a superhero movie character, variances are allowed. Deadpool is structured much like a comic book. The opening shot, as mentioned above, acts as the two-page splash. Flashbacks fill in details. Narration adds extra information. The opening splash is revisited several times, once in the regular narrative flow, and at least once with a flashback.
The writers, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, pulled together the information on Deadpool’s origins and focused on his personality. Deadpool is more about the character than getting details of his history correct and presents Wade as the unhinged mutant seen in the comics. Any problems from X-Men Origins: Wolverine were erased, even called out and ridiculed by Wade himself. To emphasize that he believes he’s a character in a movie, Deadpool often comments on the film. A scene at the X-Men’s mansion has him commenting that, “It’s a big house. It’s funny that I only ever see two of you [Colossus and Negasonic]. It’s almost like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.”
The main potential point of failure was not getting Deadpool translated over to film. The movie managed to take the character concept and bring it from the pages to the silver screen while still keeping the core that made Deadpool popular.
* The name Ajax is used once. Even the DVD subtitles refer to him as Francis.
Time again to try to fix an adaptation. Previous attempts to figure out what went wrong and how to fix the problems include the Dungeons & Dragons movie, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, and the 1998 American Godzilla movie. This time out, the 2015 Jem and the Holograms film.
The biggest problem the 2015 Jem had was obvious – it wasn’t the cartoon. Not that it wasn’t animated; the movie only shared names with with cartoon, going in its own direction, one that the potential audience wasn’t interested in. The obvious solution is to build a time machine, go back to 1986, and prevent the cartoon from airing. Of course, doing that means there’s no reason to adapt the series as a movie, thus the film is never made, so there’s no reason to go back in time. Depending on the theory of temporal mechanics, this could destroy the universe from paradox; create two timelines, one with the cartoon, the other without; or have some grumpy man in a blue police call box step in grumbling how amateurs shouldn’t mess with the space-time continuum.
Given the complexities of time travel, the obvious solution isn’t workable. Given that the audience was expecting something like the cartoon, what could have been done? Simplest, and doable barring problems with rights, is to just adapt the first five episodes of the series as the movie, with the music and technology updated to reflect what’s possible now. The episodes, “The Beginning”, “Disaster” (aka “Setbacks”), “Kimber’s Rebellion”, “Frame Up”, and “Battle of the Bands”, are one story, each but the last ending with a cliffhanger and set up the premise well. Along with Jerrica/Jem, the Holograms, and the Misfits, there’s a corrupt corporate executive in Eric Raymond as the villain.
“The Beginning” introduces everyone, sets up the relationships, shows the need that the Starlight Foundation has, brings in the love interests, and puts Jerrica in the position of having to fight to keep control of her father’s company. Even Synergy is brought in before the first commercial break, to introduce Jem. The difficulty may lie in the updates. Holographic technology is better understood now, but miniaturization will still let Synergy use Jem’s earrings as projectors. The fashions are dated, but with the likes of Lady Gaga performing today, outrageous outfits shouldn’t be a problem. The music needs a careful hand; Jem and the Holograms should have a different sound from the Misfits. In the cartoon, the Misfits had a harsher tone in their music, with Jem being softer for the most part, as the song “Click/Clash” demonstrates. Given that the sequel hook had Kesha as Pizzazz, the difference between the two bands would happen.
The last of the first five, “Battle of the Bands”, provides a natural climax, as Jem and the Holograms face off against the Misfits in a battle of the bands that will determine who owns Starlight Music and will live in Starlight Mansion, with the added threat of the life of one of the Starlight Girls in the balance, thanks to Eric. A race against time for the final act should pump up the audience, with the added benefit that the Holograms succeed thanks to Jerrica’s thinking and actions.
Casting the above is easy – keep the same cast, just let the actors playing Jem and the Holograms get a little older. They had chemistry with each other and deserve a proper shot. Ke$ha as Pizzazz had promise, and Juliette Lewis as Erica Raymond nice flipped the villain’s gender without losing any of the sliminess of the corrupt exec.
That isn’t to say that the 2015 Jem movie is bad. Unlike the other movies featured in the Adaptation Fix-it Shop, Jem‘s biggest sin was not being what people wanted. The movie did get a number of items correct. The writers understood that while the Misfits were rivals, Eric Raymond was the villain. He used the Misfits for his own ends. The movie also remembered Eric’s thug, Zipper, who played a supporting role in the first five episodes of the cartoon. The fan videos that appeared deserves a look just for how the creative crew managed to fit them in. The Jem movie deserved better than a two-week run in theatres. It may have been better served by airing on a family programming channel instead, where the expectations of the audience who will be paying for the fare would be low to non-existent. As it stands, the movie made only half its $5 million budget, a rounding error for Universal in a year that included Jurassic World.
The 2015 Jem and the Holograms wasn’t a bad movie. It was just not what people wanted, and fixing that happens not on screen, but in marketing. Sometimes, misreading the audience leads to missteps.
A while back, Lost in Translation reviewed the 2015 Jem and the Holograms film. Today, let’s look at the cartoon that people were expecting to be the base of that film.
As mentioned in the movie review, the Eighties saw rules and regulations over children’s programming relaxed, allowing toy manufacturers to create animated series that were effectively ads for the toys. Hasbro saw success with both Transformers and G.I. Joe, thanks to the collaboration with Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions. With the boys’ line of toys comfortable, Hasbro turned to its girls line.
The fashion doll industry is dominated by one company, Mattel. Mattel’s Barbie line dominates the doll aisles at stores. Hasbro decided to try to get a piece of the action by introducing its own line of fashion dolls, Jem and the Holograms. The initial line in 1986 featured Jerrica Benton, her rock star alter ego Jem, her younger sister Kimber, and foster sisters Aja and Shana, all of whom made up the band. A rival band, the Misfits, also received dolls – Pizzazz, Roxy, and Stormer. To round out the line, Jerrica/Jem had a boyfriend doll, Rio. The dolls and fashions were inspired by the music videos of the time, with wild coloured hair and pastel tones. The initial dolls came with music cassettes with two songs each from the Holograms and the Misfits.
The doll line lasted two years before Hasbro discontinued it due to lack of sales. Mattel’s introduction of the Barbie and the Rockers line the same year Jem and the Holograms debuted didn’t help matters. However, by the time the Jem line wrapped up, twenty-four dolls were released, including two releases each of the Holograms, the Misfits, and Rio and three sets of Jem and Jerrica.
To help with sales, Hasbro went with the Marvel/Sunbow team up that had success with G.I. Joe and Transformers. Christy Marx, who had written scripts for both prior cartoons. became the story editor for the new series, Jem and the Holograms. The series revolves around Jerrica Benton, Starlight Music, and the foster home, Starlight Girls. Jerrica starts the series as co-owner of Starlight Music, her late father’s company, along with Eric Raymond. Eric, though, sees Starlight as a means to an end, getting rich, and is using the company to line his pockets. To this end, he backs the Misfits, a punk band made up of Pizzazz, Roxy, and Stormer. Jerrica discovers Eric’s duplicity and tries to find a way to take full control of Starlight Music. The answer is a contest highlighting new bands.
Jerrica, though, doesn’t have one immediately available. She discovers, though, that her father had been working on a secret project and tracks it down to an abandoned drive-in theatre. Inside, her father’s computer, Synergy, reveals itself and its advanced holographic capabilities to Jerrica, allowing her to become Jem. Her sisters Kimber, Shana, and Aja, join Jerrica and become the Holograms. The contest boils down to one between Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits.
Pizzazz wants to win. She’s in music for the fame and has no scruples in how she gets it. She’s perfect for Eric’s purposes, sabotaging Jem’s public appearances. However, the key element is performance, and Jem and the Holograms edge out the Misfits, letting Jerrica get the money to fully own Starlight Music and fund the Starlight Girls. Thus ending the first five episodes of the series. Eric is arrested and the Misfits are looking for a new label as a result.
The series continues in a similar vein. Eric gets out thanks to being able to afford the best lawyers money can buy. The Misfits become rivals to Jem and the Holograms, trying to sabotage the latter group’s efforts any time they can. Eric continues to try to retake Starlight Music, using evvery avenue of attack he can, at least until he starts up Misfits Music with the Misfits. Meanwhile, Jerrica’s relationship with her boyfriend Rio Pacheco becomes complicated thanks to Jem. As much as Jerrica wants to tell him the truth,. Synergy insists that her technologies remain secret. The lives of the Holograms are no less complex. Kimber has her own love triangle develop between a British singer and an American stuntman, while she tries to live in the dual shadow of her sister and her alter ego.
In the third season, a new band appears. The Stingers, comprised of lead singer Riot and musicians Rapture and Minx become a rival to both Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits. Working with Eric, the Stingers take over Mistfits Music and rename it Stinger Sound. The third season ran shorter than the first two, in part because the Hasbro had discontinued the toy line. No toys, no need to advertise. However, the cartoon was a ratings success.
Each episode featured two or three songs, either as a montage related to the scene it appears in or as a more traditional 80s music video. The Misfits appear in most of the episodes, one key exception being the anti-drug “Alone Again“. Some of the draw for the series was the music; the show revolved around two bands, after all. Each band had a distinctive sound, with the Misfits having a harsher tone than Jem and the Holograms.
Ultimately, while the series was popular, that popularity didn’t translate into sales. The sheer size of the line of dolls, which included three of the Starlight Girls, Synergy, and two friends of Jem, Danse and Video, may have spread what sales there were. Availability was an issue in some areas, where the cartoon aired but the dolls weren’t in stores. Mattel’s Barbie and the Rockers may have also eaten into the sales, having a known name despite the lack of cartoon. From this view, Jem and the Holograms failed on what it was supposed to do, sell dolls. However, a cartoon that still draws in viewers over twenty-five years later, that is truly outrageous.
Lost in Translation has analyzed the two American-made Godzilla movies, both the 1998 version and the 2014. The history of Godzilla and Gojira are expanded in those, but the short version is that title kaiju began as a message about the horrors of the atomic age, espeically the atomic bomb. As the franchise progressed, Godzilla became the defender of the Earth, though not necessarily of humanity has he rampages through Tokyo leaving massive collateral damage in his wake. The 2014 Hollywood version changed the message, from the dangers of the atomic era to the dangers of climate change.
However, the 1998 and 2014 versions were not the first American adaptations. Prior to them, the animation studio Hanna-Barbera licensed the character in 1978 from Toho to create the Godzilla cartoon. What better way to entertain young children on a Saturday morning than watching a giant monster rampaging through the cities of the world? Considering that local stations, particularly in the UHF band, had more control over their time slots than today and had more hours to fill with local programming, both weekend afternoons and late-night and overnight hours, the very same young children watching the Godzilla cartoon would be able to watch an older Godzilla movie later the same weekend.
The series followed the crew of the Calico, a research vessel travelling the world’s oceans. While Captain Carl Majors was in charge of the ship, Dr. Quinn Darien was the head of the unspecified research project. Quinn had two members of her team, Brock, her research assistant, and Pete Darien, her nephew. Rounding out the team is Godzooky, Godzilla’s young nephew. When the crew of the Calico is in a tight spot, they summon Godzilla himself.
A typical episode would have the Calico in a location by the ocean making a new discovery, usually related to the giant monster of the week. The crew investigates, with Pete and Godzooky often told to remain behind because of the danger. If they were told, eventually they disobey and follow. The giant monster is found and Godzilla is summoned. The first fight between titans is a draw as the newcomer’s abilities either force Godzilla to back down or allows it to run away. The team tracks the giant monster and summons Godzilla one more time for the final fight. The draw of the show, though, is the battle between giant monsters, and the cartoon does deliver.
While the crew of the Calico was created for the cartoon, Godzooky is based on an existing character in the Godzilla mythos – Minilla. First appearing in Son of Godzilla, Minilla, known as Minya in some dubs, is the son of Godzilla. Both Minilla and Godzooky share some traits, including blowing smoke rings instead of fire and being young giant monsters. Godzooky was in the cartoon to appeal to the kids; he is very much a lovable pet who gets into trouble but is too cute to be angry with for too long. He is also very much child-like in that he wants to help even if he isn’t able to be effective.
The animation of the rest of the cast is along the lines of Hanna-Barbera’s own Jonny Quest. Techniques developed with the various Scooby-Doo series can be seen, particularly as the crew runs as a group. Godzilla is very much in line with his cinematic appearances. However, one of the draws of the movies, the casual destruction of cities as Godzilla stomps through, was reduced or completely removed, thanks to Broadcast Standards and Practices.. BS&P had strict guidelines on what could and could not be shown, and things like breathing fire on people and crushing buildings and cars underfoot were against the guidelines. As a result, Godzilla tended to use laser beams from his eyes more this is atomic breath, which was turned into a flame breath.
While Toho licensed the character, they didn’t license Godzilla’s roar. The studio worked around that limitation by hiring Ted Cassidy, best known as Lurch on The Addams Family and Ruk on the Star Trek episode, “What Little Girls Are Made Of”, to give voice to Godzilla. Cassidy’s work, combined with the animation of the title character, gave weight to the monster, keeping the fierceness associated with Godzilla.
Given that the cartoon was meant for a younger Saturday morning audience, Hanna-Barbera succeeded in what they set out to do. Godzilla lasted two season, and ran until 1981 on NBC. While not the best adaptation it could have been, the studio’s limitations, imposed from within by format and target audience and from outside by Broadcast Standards and Practices, meant that the production was going to hit diminishing returns. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but the Godzilla cartoon did remember the key elements to the kaiju‘s fame.