Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: 1979
Original Story: Moonraker
Publication Date: 1955
Previous Story: Live and Let Die
Next Story: Diamonds Are Forever
Villain: Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale)
Heavy: Chang (Toshiro Suga), Jaws (Richard Kiel)
Bond Girls: Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), Corinne Dufiur (Corinne Cléry), Manuela (Emily Bolton). Special note here on Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), who pairs up with Jaws.
Other Notable Characters: M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewellyn), Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), General Gogol (Walter Gotell), Minister of Defense Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen)
Gadgets: Wrist dart gun (used by 007), X-ray safecracker (used by 007), Q-Branch modified gondola (used by 007), Q-Branch modified speedboat (used by 007), poison pen (used by Dr. Goodhead), flamethrower perfume atomizer (used by Dr. Goodhead), laser torch (used by the US Space Marines), explosive bolos (used by Q-Branch technician)
Plot of Original: Sir Hugo Drax uses his companies and fortune to create a ballistic missile with the secret intention to launch it against London with a nuclear warhead supplied by SMERSH. Bond first gets involved because M suspected something was up with Drax’s luck at bridge.
Plot of Film: Industrialist Hugo Drax uses his company, Drax Industries, to choose a small group of men and women to house in a space station in order to repopulate the Earth after using a rare nerve gas to kill the existing human population.
Other than the name, Moonraker, and the name of the villain, there’s not much in common between the novel and the movie. When Moonraker was written in 1955, the Arms Race and the Space Race were just beginning. The Soviet satellite, Sputnik I, would be launched two years after the novel’s publication. The US and the USSR were building their nuclear arsenals, and other nations were trying to keep up to have their own deterrence, including the UK. The novel fits in with then-current events.
While the Arms Race continued in 1979, other matters overshadowed the world of entertainment. Star Wars, released in 1977, ignited a desire for more science fiction films set in space. The American Space Shuttle program introduced the concept of a reusable space craft. In 1976, only the prototype Enterprise had been built. It’s look, though, was distinctive. Instead of a silver rocket as all previous manned and unmanned launches had been, the new shuttle had wings to help glide after re-entry. Visually, it was a distinctive craft, ideal for being on film.
To get to 007 being in space, though, there had to be a reason for him to go up. Moving Drax’s base of operations from the English countryside to a space station was definitely a way to do that. Since the Space Shuttle plays a large role, an American agent, Dr. Holly Goodhead, is involved, taking the place of the novel’s Scotland Yard Special Branch agent Gala Brand, who is also embedded in Drax’s organization. However, since Dr. Goodhead is involved in the shuttle side of Drax Industries, Corinne Dufour becomes Drax’s aide.
Even the characterization of Drax changed. The novel’s version was boisterous, at least in public. He was a self-made millionaire, and has the apparent luck to find key metal deposits. Bond first meets Drax at M’s club. M had invited 007 there to figure out how Drax could win consistently at bridge. In the movie, Drax is more reserved, using a few layers to separate himself from the general public and even higher level officials. Ultimately, Drax is revealed to be a high-ranking Nazi officer. The movie version of Drax didn’t have the overt Nazi background, though he did have the idea of creating a master race with a base in Brazil.
The Drax of the novel does appear in a way in a later 007 film, Tomorrow Never Dies, in the persona of Eliot Carver. While Carver in the film is based on the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates, he also has the personality of the Drax of the novel. In a nod to the novel, the Minister of Defense mentions playing bridge with Drax.
One scene that did make it from the book is Drax’s attempt at killing Bond and Dr. Goodhead. In the novel, Drax leaves Bond and Gala to die in the exhaust of the launch vehicle. They escape through a ventilator shaft. In the movie, Bond and Dr. Goodhead escape the same way. The difference between the two is that Bond was ready to kill himself to destroy the Moonraker rocket in the novel, one life for millions. In the movie, he is actively looking for escape as the countdown hits ten seconds.
The movie was a way to have 007 tap into the audience that went out to see Star Wars. The Moore-era tended to be far more flamboyant, with Moonraker one of the films used to show how far the movies had gotten from the original concept. At the same time, the film managed to keep the scenes in space believable. The assault on Drax’s space station had no artificial gravity until a tech gets the station to spin again. Outside the station, the battle is in micro-gravity, allowing for three-dimensional movement.
While the desire to pull in the science fiction fan is there, the other problem that the film had was the change in times between 1955 and 1979. The Arms Race was well in gear in 1955, but in 1979, everyone involved was looking at the dangers of mutually assured destruction. The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks, or SALT, were an attempt to scale back arsenals without completely losing the ability for self-defense. SALT I occured in 1967, SALT II in 1972. Having Britain expand nuclear capability in the film would’ve been jarring to the audience at the time. Changed the Moonraker project from ballistic missile to one man’s desire to restart humanity moved the danger out of the Cold War and into supervillainy.
Bernard Lee made his last appearance as M in the movie. He passed away in 1981 before filming started for For Your Eyes Only. Richard Kiel’s Jaws is the first heavy to make a second appearance in a 007 film. He first appeared in the previous 007 movie, The Spy Who Loved Me and was an unstoppable force then. Jaws is also the only heavy to ever switch sides and help Bond, with the help of Dolly, who didn’t meet Drax’s standards for perfection. Shirley Bassey returns for the third time to sing the theme song.
Among the music in the film are shout-outs to a couple of key science fiction films. Also sprach Zarathrusta, Opus 30 by Richard Strauss was originally used in 2001: A Space Odyssey at the beginning, when the Monolith is shown. The other film reference is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with the four notes used by the aliens to initiate first contact with Earth.
One thing that didn’t make it into the movies is Bond’s drug use. It’s not that Bond regularly shoots up heroin. Instead, he takes advantage of pharmaceutical aid provided by the Service. In Moonraker, he requested Benzedrine, an amphetamine, which he then washes down with champagne. His goal was to come across as inebriated and bold while playing bridge with M against Drax. The combination, not recommended, leads to Bond getting far too overconfident. In “The Living Daylights”, Bond uses stimulants to remain alert while on counter-sniper duty, then using sedatives in order to sleep. While he only uses the drugs while on assignment, the extremes he reaches is aiding his burnout and PTSD. Moonraker also has Bond reading about the dangers of a “murder drug” in use in Japan and the dangers of marijuana. Today, the dissonance would be intentional, but in 1955, Fleming may not have been aware of the mixed messages.
One detail from the novel that has gotten lost in the films is the nature of the 00 section. The novel mentions the three agents under M, with Bond having seniority. The other two, 008 and 0011, were both recovering from injuries in the line of duty. Fleming didn’t get into details, but the implication seems to be that there were six prior 00 agents that have since moved on, either through promotion or death.
The movie is filled with double entendres. While Holly Goodhead’s name isn’t quite on par with Goldfinger‘s Pussy Galore or Diamonds Are Forever‘s Plenty O’Toole, the movie more than makes up for it in other ways. Q may have had the best double entendre at the end, with “He’s attempting re-entry, sir.“
The nature of the passage of time is the main factor in the differences between the novel and the movie. Both Moonrakers are a product of their times, with the movie taking advantage of technology that wasn’t even dreamt of when the novel was first released. The further the franchise gets from the years immediately after World War II, the more James Bond becomes a relic of the time. Updating the character and the franchise is needed with each new movie, while still keeping close to the core of the character. It’s a difficult line to walk, and the film may have strayed a little too far.
Actors have traditionally been a superstitious lot. From warding off bad luck by telling thespians “break a leg” to rituals to calling Shakespeare’s MacBeth “The Scottish Play”, there are a number of little rituals both onstage and backstage. Given the propensity for accidents to be taken as a foreboding of doom, a mystery gets expanded into superstition. Gaston Leroux, the author of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, based his story on a mystery at the Opéra national de Paris, where a skeleton was used as a prop in a play.
Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was originally serialized in Le Galois from September 1909 to January 1910, then released in one volume in March 1910. The story reveals the secret of Christine Daaé’s success as an opera singer and her relationship with both her Angel of Music and with Raoul, the Vicomte of de Chagny. When Christine and Raoul were young, they used to listen to her father speak of the Angel of Music, and he promised to send the Angel to her after he died. Christine showed great promise, but when her father died, the life went out of her music. But when Christine nails the music in Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod, she gains the attention of opera aficionados.
At the Paris Opera House, the retirement of the previous manager brings in M. Moncharmin and M. Richard in as management. Up to that point, anything that went wrong, including deaths, was blamed on the Opera Ghost. M. Moncharmin and M. Richard, though, weren’t familiar with theatrical superstitions. Even when the Opera Ghost himself left notes with demands, they ignored the dire warnings. First, they sold Box Five, the Ghost’s box. No one was ever seen in it, but it was in use by the Opera Ghost. When it was sold to other theatre attendees, they heard the Opera Ghost but did not see him.
The Ghost did provide a way to make peace with him. During Faust, also by Gounod, management needs to do four thing: leave Box Five for the Ghost; have Christine take the role of Margarita in place of La Carlotta, the Opera’s diva; have Mme Giry return as the box-keeper for Box Five; and, accept the conditions set for the Ghost’s monthly allowance as the previous management had. Otherwise, Faust would suffer a curse. La Carlotta, at the same time, receives a letter written in red ink telling her to not sing that night or suffer a fate worse than death. While a mere threat wouldn’t keep the diva away from performing, a hearse going by her window as she read the message added a new level. Being superstitious, Carlotta would have stayed home, but the threat and the visit from M. Richard’s private secretary had her wondering if Christine was trying to usurp her place, so she goes to perform.
Faust starts without problems. Christine appears on stage. On seeing Raoul, she falters, having problem with her minor role. Carlotta makes her grand appearance as Margarita and starts singing without any problems at all. Until she croaked like a toad. She makes an effort, but her voice is gone. To make matters worse, the Opera’s chandelier crashes down, killing a guest of M. Richard’s.
With proof that the Ghost would interfere with the Opera, the new management has little choice. Mme Giry gets her old job back. But Christine disappears. Raoul discovers that she is once again with her Angel of Music, and goes out to find her, only getting a note asking him to meet her at the masquerade ball. Christine finds him and draws him away to talk to him one last time. When she leaves, Raoul finds it within him to follow her, to discover that Christine is meeting with Erik.
Slowly, the truth is revealed. Christine’s Angel of Music, the Opera Ghost, is Erik, who took her in as a protégé. But instead of just teaching her to sing, he fell in love with her, a possessive love where she is not allowed to speak with others. Raoul is in great danger if Christine is seen with him. Yet, Christine betroths herself to Raoul and plans to escape Erik.
Erik, though, catches on to the plan. He strikes first, kidnapping Christine during a performance of /Faust/. The police get involved, as does Raoul, who tries to explain who the Opera Ghost is. Evidence points to Erik having stolen the Count of Chagny’s carriage, racing off towards Brussels. Erik’s Persian henchman, though, knows otherwise and offers to bring Raoul to see both Christine and Erik by travelling beneath the Opera to Erik’s house on the underground lake. Erik gives Christine a choice, agree to marry him or see the Opera destroyed during a performance. Given the choice, Christine does what she can to delay Erik, ultimately choosing to marry him. However, this choice opens a flood which washes Raoul and Christine out, never to be seen again. Erik dies of a broken heart.
The Phantom of the Opera has been adapted before, including the 1925 film with Lon Chaney, the 1943 film with Claude Rains, and the 1974 Phantom of the Paradise with Paul Williams. Andrew Lloyd Webber was looking to put on a romantic musical and was pointed at The Phantom. The novel isn’t so much romantic as tragic, with romance being the key to the Phantom’s fall. Webber watched the 1925 and 1943 films, but didn’t see a way to get the story to translate to a musical. However, he found a used copy of the then out of print novel and read that, leading to the creation of the musical. Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera opened in London’s West End in 1986 and on Broadway in 1988. The musical is the longest running Broadway musical and the second longest West End musical after 1985’s Les Misérables.
The problem when analysing with stage productions is that they can change with each performance. Little things come and go, actors hit marks differently in subtle ways. A long running musical also has cast changes during its run, and The Phantom of the Opera has been on Broadway for thirty years. Musicals based on a novel need to change the approach in two ways. The first is run time. Novels take as long as they need. Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was first serialized, running several months. Audiences are willing to sit through about two to three hours, but the actors also have a limit on how long they can perform.
The second way a musical changes a narrative is that the story is carried by the music. There is still action, still dialogue, but the thrust of the plot is done with music, both the singing and the background music. Different ranges carry different roles; two roles with the same range, ie, two tenors or two sopranos, set up a conflict between the characters. With The Phantom, Christine and La Carlotta are both sopranos and both are in competition to be the diva of the opera being staged.
That out of the way, the Webber musical remains close to Leroux’s novel. Some changes are made – little details such as the operas being put on. M. Moncharmin and M. Richard become M. André and M. Firmin, more to work with the music’s meters. Instead of Roméo et Juliette and Faust, both used by Leroux to foreshadow and set the tone, Webber uses the fictional opera Hannibal and provides a score to the Phantom’s own work, Don Juan Triumphant, then uses that same music as the base for the climax with Raoul, the Phantom, and Christine.
One major change is how Raoul and Christine are betrothed. The novel implies an engagement. The musical has them secretly wed away from the Phantom’s prying eyes. The early part with the young Raoul and young Christine were cut, later added through song as Christine becomes wistful for that happier time. The fates of the three leads, though, is still left in the air. La Carlotta gets an expanded role in the musical. As the Opera’s diva, she acts as a foil to Christine. It’s amusing when the Phantom curses her to croak like a toad, but Carlotta never stops blaming Christine for what happens.
The musical keeps Christine’s introduction as she moves from being in the chorus to becoming a lead singer, much to La Carlotta’s annoyance. Raoul isn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown; he’s in love with Christine but not to the point that he’s lost his mental faculties. The Phantom becomes a sympathetic character, releasing Christine when all his lost so that she may have her happiness even if he can’t have his. The result is very much a tragedy, with the Phantom an anti-hero.
Other key scenes kept are the masquerade, though instead of the Raoul discovering the secret of the Opera Ghost and Christine’s Angel of Music, the Phantom discovers the secret wedding. The staging of the Phantom’s opera is expanded and leads to Raoul’s pursuit of Erik, this time without the Persian. The ending still has the fates of the three leads left in the air, with Raoul and Christine running away together and the Phantom disappearing.
Given the restrictions of the format, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera remains faithful to Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, itself based on rumours and mysteries at the Opéra national de Paris, many still unsolved today. The translation of the tragedy to a musical takes advantage of the music to give depth to the characters and scenes in a way prose can’t.
When adapting a tabletop RPG, the ideal original work is one that allows for more people in the setting than just the main characters. Star Trek, in its various incarnations, allows for other Starfleet officers, creating an instant hook for an RPG. Television, though, works best with a limited cast, mainly for budgetary reasons, with a broad hook. Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files was prime for a TV adaptation, with one central character, a small core of supporting characters, and numerous recurring guest characters. For an RPG, though, that isn’t the best set up.
Or is it? As the series of novels grew, Butcher expanded the setting. Harry Dresden isn’t the only wizard in the world, just the only one to open a detective agency. Over the course of the series, Harry picks up an apprentice, deals with the various threats both mundane and supernatural, has to work around the wizardly White Council, and keeps the peace among the supernatural factions and the Mob in Chicago. There is a world beyond just Harry Dresden. This is where Evil Hat Productions comes in.
Evil Hat developed the Fate RPG by building on the Fudge system with elements that went beyond just attributes and skills. Called Aspects, these elements allow players and GMs to use drama points, called Fate Points, to modify the narrative. Players can invoke the Aspects to gain an advantage for their characters; GMs can invoke the same Aspects to put the characters into a disadvantageous position. Fate doesn’t encourage the old “killer DM” play; the goal is for everyone to have fun and be challenged.
At this point, there’s two levels of adaptation going on. First, the adapting of The Dresden Files as a tabletop RPG. Second, the adapting of Fate to The Dresden Files. Fate is Evil Hat’s house system, a concept seen widely in the tabletop RPG industry. Game mechanics take time to develop and playtest. Many RPG publishers, once their mechanics are worked out, don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time a new game is released. When licensing a title, one of the issues faced by RPG publishers is making sure that the work can fit into their mechanics.
Evil Hat’s approach to Fate, especially for The Dresden Files and their previous game, the original work Spirit of the Century, was to emulate the writing process. While that approach may not work for some players, it does set the tone of the game, reflecting Dresden‘s literary background. The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, released in 2010, comes in two volumes, Volume 1: Your Story and Volume Two: Our World. That’s not unusual for tabletop RPGs; while getting both mechanics and setting into one book is ideal, if there is too much information, printing over two thick volumes makes sense.
Our World details Harrry Dresden’s Chicago, as presented in the novels. The city isn’t just the landmarks that can be found in a Wikipedia entry. Our World adds the elements that have appeared in the novels – characters, themes, the vampiric Red and White Courts, the police, the Mob, the morgue, and even Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History that became a zombie. Anything and everything players could want if they want to play in Harry’s Chicago.
Your Story contains the mechanics of Fate, how to roll the dice and how to create a character. Being an urban fantasy RPG, the Dresden game has to include not just regular skills but also supernatural abilities, with some extrapolation from what’s seen in the books to provide players a range of options. To help players, the game includes templates based on characters who appeared. Included in the templates are Wizard, like Harry, Champion of God, like Michael, Were-Form, like Billy and the Alphas, and White Court Vampire, like Thomas. Most templates have a Fate Point refresh cost, so some may not be available depending on the initial amount of points available at start. However, Pure Mortals, like Karrin Murphy and Waldo Butters, gain two Fate Points for use to buy stunts, to offset not having access to supernatural abilities, reflecting how such characters in the books can survive being around Harry.
Fate was designed as a generic game system, one that can be modified as needed for different settings. The core easily takes additions, though some care is needed. Gameplay revolves around the Fate Point economy, encouraging players to let their Aspects restrict them so that they can use those very same Aspects to save the day. Characters, though, aren’t the only ones who get Aspects. Everything can, from the city the game takes place in to a specific location to the current scene. The approach at the time was new, but one that gained a following. The GM and players work together to create their own city, if they want one, allowing the campaign and its theme to be personalized for the group.
Presentation in RPGs often helps sets the tone, With the Dresden RPG, it’s not just adapting the mechanics for the settings, it’s also the maginalia commenting on the main text. Used often to help explain a concept, either by directly commenting or refering to an event in the books, the marginalia is written as Harry, Bob, and Billy, in different handwriting. At one point, when the main text is using Harry himself as an example for character creation, Harry corrects his player, Jim, and then tells him to roll better.
RPGs have a tough challenge when adapting a work. They have to take the work, extract information, and make the setting playable for others beyond the creators while still providing players options to go beyond what has been produced. Evil Hat managed to hit this mark with The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, taking Jim Butcher’s creation and presenting it in a way that players can have their own adventures in Harry’s world, whether as Dresden and his companions in Chicago or as their own group elsewhere.
Thanks to some early entries in the field, video game movies aren’t appreciated. Super Mario Bros. is one of the big offenders, having been a poor adaptation of the source material. Mortal Kombat was the exception when it came out in 1995, but video game adaptations were still done through licensing arrangements with a studio, placing how the game appears completely out of the original publisher’s hands. In 2001, a game publisher decided to try its hand at making their own film adaptation
Square had great success with its Final Fantasy line of video games. Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi in 1987, the first Final Fantasy was available on the Nintendo Entertainment System and localized for the US in 1990. The next two installments of the game, FFII in 1988 and FFIII in 1990, were released only in Japan. The two games weren’t so much sequels as new stories exploring the same themes as the first, setting a pattern for the rest of the series. When FFIV came out in 1991, it was for the Super Nintendo and released in the US as FFII. FFV was a Japan-only release in 1992 and had a sequel, Final Fantasy: Legend of the Cryptids. FFVI came out in 1994 with an American release as FFIII.
Up to this point, the series was two-dimensional sprites; the draw was the story-telling with the game play. In 1997, with the introduction of the PlayStation, FFVII moved to three-dimensional characters and a more modern setting. The game also retained its numbering in the American release. Square followed up with FFVIII in 1999, turning the setting into more of a planetary romance with a mix of magic and technology with a hint that the world had avanced since the end of FFVII. FFIX rounds out the original PlayStation console games, coming out in 2001 and moving the setting back to fantasy. As newer consoles came out, Square and, after 2003, Square-Enix brought out more FF sequels, covering everything from traditional consoles to Windows to mobile gaming.
While each entry in the Final Fantasy series is a standalone adventure, there are themes that return every game. Young heroes coming together despite tragedies, the difficulty of the heroes working together, an ancient evil returning, rebellion against a government. Magic is based on elements, both the traditional Japanese and Western, and must be balanced within itself and with nature. Technology isn’t necessarily evil, but neither is it necessarily good; it, too, must balance with nature. There are recurring characters, of a sort. Cid, who first appeared in FFII acts as a mentor to the main character and may or may not be part of the party depending on the entry. Biggs and Wedge, named after characters in Star Wars, have appeared in games starting with FFV and are typically used as comic relief.
As the company worked on getting FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX published, Square set up a division, Square Pictures, to release films based on their games. The first and, ultimately, only movie created was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Released in 2001 with Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara directing, The Spirits Within was an ambitious project, with the film being completely computer animated. The ambition came with a high price tag; computers of the time, Penium IIIs running at 933MHz – were being pushed to their limits rendering the film’s frames.
In The Spirits Within, the Earth of 2065 has been overrun by alien creatures known as Phantoms that can pull a person’s soul out of their body, killing them. Even a touch leads to an infection that is fatal if not cured in time. Humanity is isolated into barrier cities protected by an energy field. People who leave the city must go through decontamination to ensure no Phantom infection has occurred.
All is not loss yet, though. Doctor Aki Ross, voiced by Ming-Na Wen, and Doctor Sid, voiced by Donald Sutherland, discover of a way to defeat the Phantoms. If the eight signature spirits can be found and combined, the Phantoms can be pushed off Earth. During a trip to the ruins of New York City to gather the sixth signature spirit, Aki is stalked by Phantoms, only to be rescued by her former boyfriend, Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his squad, the Deep Eyes – Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi), and Jane Produfoot (Peri Gilpin).
On return to the barrier city, Aki finds out that General Hein (James Woods) has decided that the best way to destroy the Phantoms infecting the Earth is to turn the Zeus cannon, an orbital laser, on them. To protect the Earth and its Gaia spirit, Aki reveals that not only is she infected, the spirit signatures she’s collected are keeping the infection at bay.
The seventh signature is found, though Aki’s infection worsens. She falls into a coma and, while unconscious, dreams of how the Phantoms first arrived on Earth. Aki is brought out of her coma by Sid who uses the seventh signature to control the infection.
Hein, believing that Aki is under control of the Phantoms, decides that his plan is still the correct one. He lowers the energy field of the barrier city, intending to let a few Phantoms in. Legions swarm the city, causing havok. Hein escapes to the Zeus space station. Gray, the only member of Deep Eyes to escape alive, joins Aki and Sid on their space ship to find the eight signature.
It becomes a race against time. Hein opens fire with the Zeus cannon while Aki and Gray seek out the eighth signature spirit. One of Hein’s shots kills the spirit, but Aki has a vision of the Gaia of the Phantoms’ home world. The infection within her becomes the eight signature spirit and combines with the other seven. To transmit the completed spirit to the alien Gaia, Gray sacrifices himself. On the Zeus station, Hein orders the cannon into overload, ignoring warnings from techs and computers. The cannon overloads, destroying the station and killing all aboard. The alien Gaia and the Phantoms leave Earth, returning home.
Several of the recurring FF elements can be seen in the above. There’s the young heroes with some issues between each other. Despite the different spelling, Doctor Sid is still the wise mentor to the lead character, Aki. The nature of spirits returns, and how introducing an alien spirit can cause problems. The biggest change is that The Spirits Within is science fiction with some fantasy elements, a huge change from FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX, the three most recent games prior to the movie’s release. Also unlike the games released, The Spirits Within was set on Earth.
The film was a commercial failure. Part of the problem was the sheer cost of production. The budget for the movie was US$137 million, higher than 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace at $115 million. Most of the cost was in the animation, from the hardware to the sheer amount of time animators needed to put the film together. Other problems existed. As mentioned above, video game adaptations were known to be poor. The characters, while rendered to be as realistic as possible, fell into the uncanny valley. There was something just off enough to make the characters seem less than real. And, for a video game movie, there wasn’t much action. The Final Fantasy series of games did offer more than just pure action, adding characterization, investigation, and exploration, but the draw of video games is the action. Audiences found the story to be slower than expected. Because of the loss, Square Pictures closed shop and the merger between Square and Enix was delayed.
Artistically, the film was lush. Backgrounds were detailed. Characters had blemishes. The ruined Earth was heartbreaking to see. The Phantoms provided a harsh alien light to the world. Perhaps the movie could have been better off as another entry in the FF line of games, allowing players to immerse themselves into it as Aki, Gray, and the Deep Eyes.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within wasn’t quite what Final Fantasy fans were expecting, but it did touch upon similar themes as the games had. The failings of the movie are technical. As an adaptation, it is a worthy entry in the Final Fantasy line up and breaks the video game adaptation curse.
Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: 1983
Previous Film: For Your Eyes Only
Next Film: A View to a Kill
Original Story: “Octopussy”
Publication Date: Serialized in the Daily Express in 1965; released in Octopussy and The Living Daylights collection in 1966. Both dates are after Ian Fleming’s death.
Previous Story: The Man With the Golden Gun
Next Story: none; Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis under the penname Robert Markham in 1968.
Villain: Kamal Kham (Louis Jourdan); General Orlov (Steven Berkoff)
Heavy: Gobinda (Kevir Bedi), Mischka and Grishka (David & Anthony Meyer)
Bond Girls: Octopussy (Maud Adams), Magda (Kristina Wayborn), Bianca (Tina Hudson), Octopussy`s girls
Other Notable Characters: Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), M (Robert Brown), Minister of Defense (Geoffrey Keen), Gen. Gogol (Walter Gotell), Vijay (Vijay Amritraj), Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell)
Gadgets: Q-Branch modified three-wheeled taxi with turbo; acid fountain pen with radio receiver (used by Bond); liquid crystal TV watch (used by Bond); alligator sub (used by Bond); yo-yo buzzsaw (used by unnamed hitman)
Opening Credits: “All Time High“, written by Tim Rice and John Barry, performed by Rita Coolidge.
Closing Credits: “All Time High”, reprised
Plot of Original: 007 tracks down a retired Royal Marine Major who had killed a German officer during the post-war investigations in order to get two bars of Nazi gold.
Plot of Film: After 009 dies at the British Embassy in West Germany after escaping a circus in East Berlin with a forged Fabergé egg, 007 is called in to trace the real Fabergé Egg from Sotheby’s where it is up for auction to the seller, a rogue Russian general who is using the smuggling of Russian artwork to fund his plot and to set up an atomic blast on a US Army base in Feldstat, West Germany, to frame the American government. To stop the plot, Bond infiltrates Octopussy’s Circus and finds not only the rogue general and his bankroller, but also 009’s murderers.
It may be easier to state what remained the same. Both the short story and the movie have an octopus. The short story focuses on Major Smythe, who was in the Miscellaneous Objectives Bureau during and after World War II. Bond is the catalyst for the story, but doesn’t play much of a role. Smythe confesses to killing a German officer after the war in order to steal Nazi gold, then while waiting for Scotland Yard to arrive, goes hunting the scorpion fish and gets poisoned by his prey in a Pyrrhic victory over it.
The original short story becomes Octopussy’s backstory, though updated because of the era. Major Smythe served in the Korean War, and is Octopussy’s father. She is well aware of who Bond is, thanks to the events in the short story.
Octopussy pulls from one other of Ian Fleming’s short stories, “The Property of a Lady”. The auction scene at Sotheby’s plays out in a similar manner, with Bond upping the bid to flush out the seller. However, neither “The Property of a Lady” nor “Octopussy” can fill a 131 minute film. Current events in 1983 had the Cold War easing back ever so slowly. The Iron Curtain started to look rusty, and the economic standing of the Soviet Union was starting to creak. The plot involving a rogue general was within the realm of possibility, as was the potential Soviet invasion of Europe. The production pulled in elements from both short stories as a base for the movie, which went in its own direction.
The problem the film has is that all the easier stories to adapt have been done. For Your Eyes Only ran into the same issue, having used other short stories in its collection for plot elements. With Octopussy and The Living Daylights, the short stories were more character pieces or investigative, with little action. At the time, 007 movies were blockbuster spectaculars, with set action pieces in exotic locales. A quieter pace would have fit the original story, but audiences have a different image in mind for the franchise.
Octopussy also had one problem that no other EON 007 production had, a competing Bond movie. Sean Connery was in Never Say Never Again, the Thunderball remake. Octopussy was competing with the original 007. Helping was the return of John Barry to score the movie, bringing the original musical themes woven into the soundtrack.
After For Your Eyes Only, Roger Moore felt he was getting too old to play 007. The search for the new Bond was continuing when Octopussy was made. Moore’s contract to play the role was over, but he was convinced to be Bond on a film by film basis. He’d play 007 one more time in A View to a Kill, making him the actor the role the most EON films with seven.
Casting notes – Robert Brown makes his first appearance as M in the film. Vijay Amritraj, a successful former tennis player, makes his film debut. Maud Adams makes her third appearance in the franchise; her first was in The Man With the Golden Gun as a supporting character, her second was uncredited in For Your Eyes Only.
The Living Daylights
Bond: Timothy Dalton
Release Date: 1987
Previous Film: A View to a Kill
Next Film: License to Kill
Original Story: “The Living Daylights
Publication Date: February 4, 1962 as “Berlin Escape” in The Sunday Times; 1966 in Octopussy and The Living Daylights as a collection of short stories.
Previous Story: Thunderball by original publication date, The Man With the Golden Gun by collection publication date.
Next Story: The Spy Who Loved Me by original publication date; none by collection publication date; Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis under the penname Robert Markham was published in 1968.
Villain: Gen. Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé), Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker)
Heavy: Necros (Andreas Wisniewski)
Bond Girls: Kara Milovy (Maryam D’Abo)
Other Notable Characters: Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss), M (Robert Brown), Minister of Defense (Geoffrey Keen), Gen. Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), Gen. Gogol (Walter Gotell), Kamran Shah (Art Malik), Felix Leither (John Terry)
Gadgets: Aston-Martin V8 Vantage with bulletproof windows, laser tire slashers, mini-rocket launcher, head’s-up display, outriggers, and self-destruct (driven by Bond); key ring with whistle activated stun gas and explosive; ghetto blaster (used by Q branch tech in preparation for use by American intelligence)
Opening Credits: “The Living Daylights“, written by Pål Waaktaar and John Barry, performed by a-ha.
Closing Credits: “If There Was a Man“, written by Chrissie Hynde and John Barry, performed by The Pretenders.
Plot of Original: 007 is assigned to counter-sniper duty to protect a defector leaving East Berlin. When he goes to shoot the KGB sniper, he discovers that she is a cellist he had been admiring from afar in the three days prior to the defection. 007 shoots, hitting her in the hand instead of killing her.
Plot of Film: 007 is assigned to protect a defector who specifically asked for him, leading to the events in the short story relocated to Bratislava in then-Czechoslovakia. During the defector’s debriefing, he reveals the existence of Smiert Spionen – SMERSH – run by a rogue general. A KGB team grabs the defector, though. 007, however, knows the alleged rogue, Gen. Pushkin. He starts his investigation with the cellist to find out who arranged for her to be the sniper. Pushkin is on the same trail, though, and gets to her first. 007, though, has the cello case with her rifle and blank ammunition. With this knowledge, 007 works to track down the false defector to Afghanistan and disrupts an arms for opium deal.
The film doesn’t so much change the plot of the original as expand it. On its own, “The Living Daylights” takes up not even seven minutes of the movie’s runtime, necessitating an expansion of the plot. With 131 minutes to fill, the script had to add a new story that would last the entire movie, essentially turning the rest of the movie into a different work built off the short story. The needs of the new story moves the counter-sniper mission to Bratislava, but keeps the core of “The Living Daylights”. The movie is a good example of the differences between short story and film. The story isn’t has epic as the Roger Moore era, but the stakes will still be felt around the world.
Another major change is that the seven minutes taken from the short story are the last five to six pages. The rest of the story leading up to the defector making his escape is a look into how Bond prepares for the mission and how he sees his job. At this point in his literary career, Bond is tired of being Her Majesty’s blunt instrument. A more modern take may even diagnose him with stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. 007 disobeys orders – kill the Soviet sniper – and doesn’t care if word that he deliberately did not take the killing shot gets back to M. Bond’s disdain for his job does come through in the movie; he has broken the world between professionals – members of the intelligence community – and everyone else.
As mentioned, the setting has changed. The original short story is set in East and West Berlin. The defection begins in East Berlin, but Bond’s sniper position is in the West. The defector needs to run thirty yards through an open area to get to and over the Berlin Wall. In 1987, the Wall was still around, but much leakier than in 1962. The move to Bratislava works to emphasize the villain’s plan, with Bond expected to kill the sniper. From the storytelling side, the movie also means that Bond takes a more active role in the mission than just waiting for the sniper to appear. Instead of the defector running thirty yards to climb over the Berlin Wall, Bond now needs to get him out of Czechoslovakia under a much higher police presence.
The Living Daylights is the first of the two Timothy Dalton /007/ films. Dalton took the character back to his roots in Fleming’s novels, a move that wasn’t appreciated at the time. Audiences were more familiar with Roger Moore’s more flamboyant Bond, though even his version still had a dark side to him. In 1987, 007 was a franchise, with the quirks that come with that. After the world saving that Moore’s Bond did, Dalton’s worked on a more personal level. Dalton’s approach is similar to Daniel Craig’s in Casino Royale, a return to the origins.
The late Eighties saw the Cold War cool off. With Gorbachev’s policies of Perestroika and Glasnost thawing relations between East and West, the Soviet Union was not seen as the threat it was in the Fifties, when Fleming created Bond, and the Sixties, when Dr. No started the film series. Any Soviet plot had to be done by a rogue element who was against the opening of borders. Bond is a throwback, as comes up in later films.
The movie got into a bit of trouble with the Red Cross. At one point, Koskov and Whitaker take advantage of the organization’s reputation and symbol to move arms and opium. While there was no lawsuit, the studio added a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, to make sure people knew that such use was not approved by the Red Cross.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been compared to the American involvement in the Vietnam War. The USSR spent a lot in time, money, and blood for little gain in the country, much for the same reason why NATO got mired in Afghanistan. To make things even more jarring for a modern audience, Bond is working with the same group that NATO fought. Afghanistan is where empires go to die.
Several key cast and crew changes occur. Walter Gotell makes his last appearance as Gen. Gogol, having played the role in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill. He also appeared in From Russia With Love as Morzeny, a trainer for SPECTRE. Caroline Bliss takes over from Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny in this movie and returns in the role in the next. Joe Don Baker returns during the Pierce Brosnan run as the CIA agent, Jack Wade, starting with GoldenEye. The score for The Living Daylights is the last one done by John Barry. John Terry, is the 6th actor in the main EON continuity to play the role of Felix Leiter and the 7th after Bernie Casey in Never Say Never Again, the Thunderball remake with Sean Connery.
From Russia With Love
Bond: Sean Connery
Release Date: 1963
Previous Film: Dr. No (1962)
Next Film: Goldfinger (1964)
Original Story: From Russia With Love
Publication Date: 1957
Previous Story: Diamonds Are Forever
Next Story: Dr. No
Villain: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya)
Heavy: Donovan “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw)
Bond Girls: Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson)
Other Notable Characters: Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz), Major Boothroyd/Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), M (Bernard Lee), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell)
Gadgets: Watch garrotte, used by Grant. Briefcase with survival rifle, hidden knife, hidden currency, hidden ammunition, and tear gas cannister disguised as a tin of talcum powder, used by 007. Bug detector, used by 007.
Plot of Original: SMERSH tries to kill 007 with an eye on embarrassing the British Secret Service.
Plot of Film: SPECTRE tries to steal a Soviet decryption machine using 007 and a Soviet cypher clerk while still embarrassing 007 and British intelligence..
The biggest change is who the opposition is. The novel had SMERSH acting against 007. The studio changed that to SPECTRE, keeping SMERSH involved but as one of the agencies being played by Blofeld’s organization. All of the Soviet senior staff mentioned in the novel – General Grubozaboyaschikov, General Vozdvishensky, Colonel Kikitin, and General Slavin – are gone, replaced by Blofeld. Rosa Klebb is now a defector from SMERSH to SPECTRE, and Grant is an assassin under her command.
The movie also rearranges and collapses the first third of the novel. A briefing by the head of SMERSH works in a book but not in a film. Audiences know how meetings go and are watching the movie to escape them. Kronsteen still gets his chess championship, but it’s now at the international level, not just for supremacy in Moscow. The scene also changes the focus, by showing Kronsteen’s planning ability by defeating the Canadian MacAdams instead him having to worry about not leaving the chess match against the Russian Markhov because of his summons.
Bond’s first appearance also gets changed. In the novel, he is first seen in his apartment, reminising, the only woman around being his housekeeper, May. In the movie, Bond is enjoying an afternoon off with Sylvia Trench, who he met in Dr. No, something not possible in the film continuity since that was the first book adapted.
The movie follows the novel more or less as wrtitten with minor changes. Darko Kerem becomes Ali Kerem Bey, for example, but nothing major. Bond meets Tatiana, gets information out of her, and takes her on the Orient Express out of Turkey. On the train, Grant makes his move. That’s where the movie diverges from the book. In the book, Bond’s Q-branch briefcase has the hidden knife, but not the talcum powder tear gas. In the movie, Bond bluffs Grant into opening the briefcase. Not knowing the special way to get in, Grant gets a face full of tear gas, allowing Bond to act. The hidden knife does come out; Checkhov’s gun comes in many forms.
The fight between Bond and Grant in the book is followed by arrival in Paris, the delivery of Tatiana, and a final appearance by Klebb, who gets one kick in at Bond before being taken away by France’s Deuxième Bureau. The movie adds an escape from the train, a helicopter chase with Bond on foot and a boat chase before reaching Venice. Klebb gets her last appearance, but instead of poisoning Bond with her shoe despite her best efforts, Tatiana shoots her, ending her story.
There were minor changes because of the different format. What can be done in a book might not be allowed in a movie. In particular, the nudity in the novel, not explicit but there, gets covered up. Topless women get bras; the nude men get towels. One other change that does stand out is 007’s choice of pistol. In the book, Bond has his Beretta. His movie counterpart is using his signature Walther PPK. Movie Bond received the pistol in Dr. No because his Beretta had snagged on his holster in a previous mission. In the original Dr. No novel, Bond was forced to change pistols for the same reason, except that previous mission was in From Russia With Love. It’s a minor change, but thanks to the movies being in the wrong order, creates an interesting switch.
There are two actors making their first appearance here. First, Desmond Llewelyn appears as Major Boothroyd/Q. Major Boothroyd was a character in Dr. No, but was played by Peter Burton in that film. Llewelyn will appear in the most 007 films, his last time as Q in The World Is Not Enough, working alongside five different James Bonds in that time. Walter Gotell makes his first appearance, playing Morzeny, a SPECTRE trainer. Gotell reappears in the main line of 007 as General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me, and reprises the role in Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, and The Living Daylights.
With the change from SMERSH to SPECTRE, Ernst Blofeld makes his first appearance, albeit without revealing him. The white Persian cat becomes the villain’s signature. Blofeld takes over the role General Grubozaboyaschikov had, the head of the organization. This time, the organization is a private one, beholden to no government. SPECTRE is shown to be able to infiltrate even the highest ranks of Soviet intelligence, getting Klebb to defect.
From Russia With Love isn’t quite yet the classic 007 movie. The seeds are there, though. Suave Bond, beautiful women, fast car chases, gadgets, the only missing item is the set piece at the villain’s lair. The fight between the Gypsies and the Bulgars hint at what is to come in that respect. Audiences, though, turned out for the movie, sustaining the demand for more.
Sherlock Holmes is a character that has lasted in the imaginations of readers for well over 130 years. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Holmes and his partner, Dr. John Watson, solved many a mystery. Each of Holmes’ adventures were written from Watson’s point of view, a filter through which Holmes could explain his deductions to readers. Over time, Holmes has been adapted in many ways from theatre to television, the most recent being Elementary. It was only a matter of time before he was adapted as a garden gnome.
Watson wasn’t the only character that remained in the pop subconscious. Other of Doyle’s creations are as well known, including Irene Adler, Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty. An equal match to Holmes’ intellect, Moriarty appeared in the story, “The Adventure of the Final Problem”, published December 1893 in Strand Magazine and with the collection of short stories, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, in the same year. In it, Holmes had already deduced who the Napoleon of Crime was and had plans to arrest him and key members of his gang. Moriarty, though, worked out who was behind all his recent setbacks and promised Holmes mutual destruction if the detective continued to work against him. Holmes sees no problem with that, with a career of detective work behind him that bettered London. The chase is afoot, and Holmes and Moriarty meet again at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. After a fight, both tumble into the Reichenbach Falls, never to be seen again.
Doyle meant for “The Final Solution” to be the last Sherlock Holmes adventure. He was getting tired of writing about the character. Fans, though, demanded more, despite the apparent death. Doyle obliged with The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1902. Professor Moriarity returned in The Valley of Fear, published in 1915 as a lead up to the events in “The Final Solution”.
Moriarty intrigued fans of Sherlock Holmes. Despite having just the two appearances, Moriarty challenged Holmes on a intellectual level, an equal match for the detective where their final meeting resulted in their demise. Not just a villain, but a foil, a nemesis. One that can be expected to appear in an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Even one where the detective is a garden gnome.
When Gnomeo & Juliet was released in 2011, the movie exceeded box office expectations. When a movie does that well, sequels are expected. Since Shakespeare never wrote a Romeo & Juliet: Part II, mostly because the titular characters died in the original play, there’s not much to build from there. However, low-hanging puns are easy to build upon, leading to Sherlock Gnomes. Gnomeo & Juliet managed to hit most of the beats of the Shakespearean play, changing only near the end. Could the creative team do the same with Sherlock Gnomes?
Most of the cast of Gnomeo & Juliet returned, the main exception being Jason Stathem as Tybalt. Joining the cast are Johnny Depp as Sherlock Gnomes, Chiewetel Ejiofor as Dr. Watson, Mary J. Blige as Irene, and Jamie Demitriou as Moriarty. Once again, the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin form the bulk of the soundtrack, with the exception of a piece by Jacques Offenbach. The crew comprised of people from Gnomeo & Juliet who weren’t otherwise busy with other projects.
The movie opens with Sherlock Gnomes and Watson foiling the plans of Moriarty to smash some helpless garden gnomes at the museum. Gnomes and Moriarty have been matching wits for some time, with the villain leaving clues to taunt and test the detective. This time, though, it appears that Moriarty himself is smashed.
Elsewhere, Ms Montague and Mr. Capulet move together from 2B and Not 2B Verona Drive in Stratford-upon-Avon to a brownstone on Baker Street in London. The garden gnomes are put out in the small garden. Once alone, they animate once again. Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith) and Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) announce they will retire once the new garden is properly set up, with Juliet (Emily Blunt) and Gnomeo (James McAvoy) appointed the new gnome leaders. The scene lets audiences familiar with the first movie catch up on the characters, with Benny (Matt Lucas) having his hat repaired between movies. As the garden work goes on, Juliet is spending less time with Gnomeo. Feeling neglected, he decides to go on an adventure to find the flower that brought him and Juliet together in the first place, the purple Cupid’s Arrow Orchid.
Juliet discovers Gnomeo’s foolish adventure and goes out to save his butt. She is not impressed; she wants the garden in top shape. As they argue, they hear Benny call for help. When they return to the garden, the rest of the gnomes have disappeared. However, Gnomes and Watson are on the scene. With very little explanation, Gnomes begins searching for clues on the disappearance, ignoring questions from Gnomeo and Juliet. The detectives find Moriarty’s calling card and leave, with Juliet and Gnomeo on their heels.
Gnomes may not want meddlesome assistants with him, but he’s stuck with the newcomers. The clues lead through London, meeting a variety of ornaments from Chinatown to a toy store where Irene is in charge. All leads to a final encounter with Moriarty, who managed to escape his apparent smashing with just minor, reparable damage, at the Tower Bridge. The final battle sees Sherlock and Moriarty fighting then falling from the Bridge much like the illustration shown at the beginning of the movie.
Sherlock Gnomes takes a few liberties with “The Final Solution”, though the movie isn’t really an adaptation of the story, just the characters in it. Still, key beats from the story show up, such as Gnomes travelling to various locations to keep a step ahead of Moriarty. Much like Holmes, Sherlock Gnomes is brusque and lacking in social skills. In the literature, Watson acts as the filter between Holmes and the reader. In the movie, Watson fills the same role, not just to the audience but also with the gnomes the two meet. Gnomes is also a master of disguise, much like his progenitor, including disguising himself and Juliet as a squirrel in order to retrieve one of Moriarty’s calling card from the cutest Hound of the Baskervilles to be on screen. Being a family film, Sherlock Gnomes elides Holmes’ addictions, though as a garden gnome, it’d be hard to show his heroin habit.
The movie borrows an idea from the Robert Downey, Jr. in showing how Sherlock’s thought processes work. Instead of slowing down the action, Sherlock Gnomes uses black and white animation, showing how the detective works out problems. The processes aren’t that easy to understand, being meant more for comedy than actual problem solving tips. Gnomes also has Holmes’ eye for detail and observation, able to tell that Gnomeo and Juliet are having a lovers’ quarrel within seconds of meeting them.
With the basic premise of telling an adventure of Sherlock Holmes as a garden gnome, the movie could have taken an easy route of having just a gnome that looks like Holmes solve a mystery set to the music of Elton John and be done with it. Instead, Sherlock Gnomes brings in Holmes as he is in Doyle’s stories, intelligent, arrogant, and dismissive, and still highlights what would have been his last adventure if Doyle had his way while turning the character into a ceramic ornament. Gnomeo & Juliet demonstrated that the creative team could keep to the beats of a tragedy while still making a feature for the entire family. Sherlock Gnomes follows in the same footsteps.
Lost in Translation has looked at a couple of Batman adaptations in the past, one for the Fluxx card game and once for the Adam West series. Created by Bob Kane, the character has been around since 1939, with his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, and has gone through many iterations, from World’s Greatest Detective to the always prepared Bat-god. Batman is one of DC Comics’ Big Three alongside Superman and Wonder Woman. Naturally, a popular character will be noticed by Hollywood, leading to Batman’s first silver screen appearance, the 1943 fifteen-chapter serial Batman, starring Lewis Wilson as Bruce Wayne, Douglas Croft as Dick Grayson, Shirley Patterson as Linda Page, William Austin as Alfred, and J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Tito Daka.
The US in 1943 had just entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December of the previous year. The United States had maintained official neutrality despite sending materiel to the Allied Forces in Europe until the bombing. After the attack, the American war effort redoubled. Propaganda produced during the war wasn`t subtle. Even such notables as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney weren’t above making unflattering caricatures of Axis leaders. Serials, being a way to pull in an audience to the movie theatre, took advantage.
The 1943 Batman serial is a product of its time. The villain, Daka who was created for the serial, is a racist stereotype, plotting against the US. In the first chapter, “The Electrical Brain”, the narrator all but cheers the decision to place Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Even Batman calls Daka a “Jap”. The racism isn’t always front and centre, but it lurks under the surface.
That said, the war does provide the villain a motive. Daka has a new weapon, a radium-powered disintegration ray. Coupled with a device that turns people into his own controlled zombies, Daka is a credible threat to the US. Worse, Daka is getting help from the criminal element in Gotham City. Needing help, the American government calls in secret agent Batman who brings along his youthful sidekick Robin to find and stop the Japanese agent.
Each step of the investigation in each chapter of the serial brings Batman and Robin closer to Daka. Criminal lairs are found, crooks are defeated, all leading up to finding Daka’s lab. Daka, though, needs a larger source of radium. Despite losing one of the ray guns to Batman, Daka has extras, larger models, and a source of radium to power them would let Japan bring the war to the US. Complicating matters, Bruce’s girlfriend, Linda, needs his help to clear her uncle’s good name. Daka kidnapped her uncle and turned him into a mind-controlled zombie. Worse, Linda also suffers the same fate. It’s up to Batman and Robin to stop Daka and help his zombified victims.
Lewis Wilson’s Batman is nothing like Adam West’s, Kevin Conroy’s, or Christian Bale’s. His is a detective first, not a martial artist. Criminals are afraid of him, but will attack him if the odds are in their favour, around three-to-one or better. Douglas Croft’s Robin, though, is the youthful ward, similar to Burt Ward in the 1966 series. The Dynamic Duo of the serial reflects the Batman and Robin of the comics of the time, with some changes imposed by the change in format.
As mentioned above, Batman is a secret agent working for the US government. Vigilantism wasn’t allowed by film censors of the the day. No taking the law into your own hands. But government agents fighting against the Axis threat? Perfectly fine. The line comes up once in the first chapter; for the rest of the serial, there’s no mention of the government connection. The Gotham City Police Department aren’t sure of Batman, wanting to arrest him.
Serials have limited budgets. They’re backup features, not the main draw, though a popular serial can bring an audience back week after week. Columbia, the studio behind Batman, took a risk and had it run fifteen chapters, the longest serial they had to date. This meant stretching a budget a bit longer than normal, even if the budget is bigger overall. This means that some elements need to get dropped. The Batmobile was once such victim. While Batman had a car, he had to share with Bruce Wayne. The difference – Bruce had the top down on his convertible while Batman kept the roof up.
The costumes are recognizably the Dynamic Duo’s. While black and white film doesn’t allow for checking that the colours are correct, both Batman and Robin and wearing costumes that come from their comic counterparts. Spandex isn’t yet available, and fabrics like nylon are being rationed due to the needs of the American armed forces. Batman’s costume starts looking a little baggy at times; chalk that up to the nature of the times. Despite that, the costumes are accurate.
The serial looks off when compared to today’s Batman media – comics, cartoons, and movies – but there isn’t a way to adapt a work that hasn’t yet been made. Batman works with the material DC released up to 1943 and reflects that time in both the US and the character’s history.
As mentioned during the History of Adaptations series, the Eighties were a strange decade for entertainment. Music videos entered their hey day. Music ran the gamut of genres. From New Wave to Heavy Metal, from Rockabilly to Hip Hop, Top 40 charts had a mix of them all.
Popular music filtered into other areas. Television shows, while never one to discount pop music, adopted more as characters listened to their radios. This wasn’t new; even older series like Peter Gunn worked in music. In the case of Peter Gunn, jazz music at a jazz club where some of the action occurred weekly was a natural fit. But most shows used a variation of their theme song for background music when a radio wasn’t in the scene. That changed thanks to one show, Miami Vice.
In 1984, the head of NBC wanted to get in on the popularity of music videos, not just the videos themselves but the esthetics. To this end, Anthony Yerkovic created and Michael Mann produced Miami Vice. Set in, naturally, Miami, the look reflected the scene there, with pastels and neons dominating. However, for the focus of the show, the nascent War on Drugs came into play. Miami was and is a natural port for bringing in illicit and illegal drugs from Central and South America into the US. Drug dealers and drug smugglers could make in a week as much as a vice cop made in a year*. The difference between what a vice detective could live on and the high life of people in the illegal drug industry made for a easily exploitable conflict.
With Don Johnson as Miami native Detective James “Sonny” Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as New York transplant Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, the series delved into the Miami underground, the seamier side of the city. However, Crockett is seen with a boat, a fancy car, and an alligator. How can he afford that on his salary? Thanks to the War on Drugs, civil forfeiture and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 allowed law enforcement agencies to make use of items impounded as a result of a criminal investigation. Crockett’s boat and car belong to the Metro-Dade Police Department; one early episode involved an departmental auditor questioning his use of the equipment and threatening to take it all away.
Once the early episode oddities, including comedic elements, settled down, the series became a police drama. Popular music was used not just for radio but as background music, to set the mood of a scene. The pilot episode made good use of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight“, setting the mood for the climax in a way that a variation of the main theme couldn’t. One song, Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues“, was adapted into the episode of the same name, with Frey himself guest starring as a pilot smuggling drugs from Central and South America.
Miami Vice made its mark on television, lasting until 1989. Other series began to use techniques pioneered by the show, like using popular music to set the mood of a scene. Many singers and groups got a boost by being featured on the show. Having a song on Miami Vice was a sign of a singer making it big. Anytime a visual cue to the Eighties is needed in a movie or TV show, the fashion comes from Miami Vice.
Fast forward a bit to 2006. The War on Drugs has led to the militarization of American police departments. Drug dealers countered by getting their own heavier weapons. Miami is still a conduit for drugs into the US. Illicit drugs are big money makers at all levels. In this climate, Michael Mann brought Miami Vice to the big screen. The film version of the show starred Colin Farrell as Crocket and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs.
The film opens with Crockett and Tubbs getting a call from a former informant, now informing for the FBI, that he’s in trouble. One of the cartels threatened to kill the informant’s wife if he didn’t confess to the killing of Russian agents that tried to infiltrate the organization. Tubbs races off to try to help the wife, but is too late. The informant takes his own life by stepping out in front of a semi with Crockett watching. The detectives head to the murder scene, only to be called off by Lieutenant Castillo (Barry Shabaka Henley), which just piques their curiosity. The investigation leads to Crockett and Tubbs infiltrating the cartel to find who was responsible.
The movie version could fit in as a two-part episode of the original series, or a series of episodes spread out over the series’ run, much like the Calderone saga, which began in the pilot and appeared through to the third season. The difference is what could be filmed. Even in the watershed time slot of 10pm, television can only go so far. The MPAA rating of R allowed for sex, violence, and language that could not appear on even the most lenient broadcaster in the Eighties. However, the movie didn’t get self-indulgent with the freedom the rating provided. Michael Mann had a distinct vision in mind.
Mann realized there was a difference in how digital cameras picked up light compared to traditional film. Knowing the difference, he came in with an eye to how things would look when shot on location. The result is that Miami can be dramatic all on its own, with colours that would put the original series’ pastels to shame. The skies above the city added to the mood in ways even the soundtrack could not, and there was no way to plan for such ideal conditions yet they occurred. Mann shot on location; there was no way Vancouver or Toronto could be a stunt double for Miami.
Casting worked for the most part. The main quibble would be Henley as Lt. Martin Castillo, a role that Edward James Olmos owned. In the original, in a squad wearing pastels, Castillo wore simple black and white. He stood apart from his detectives. Henley’s Castillo may have been better as Gregory Sierra’s Lt. Lou Rodriguez, though that character survived only four episodes. This is more to the credit of Olmos, who brought an intensity to the character, then anything that Hanley did or did not do.
One thing Mann wanted to do was to separate the film from the original. Not even the original theme made an appearance. However, one song made a return. Mann used a cover of “In the Air Tonight” performed by Nonpoint. In the film released to theatres, the song is played over the end credits. However, the director’s cut moves it to just before the climax, where it fits in to set the mood of the characters, much like how the original Collins version of the song did.
The movie made its budget thanks to the international release. It came out strong in 2006, bumping Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest out of the top spot at the box office, but faded away. The film was an update to the TV series, moving it to then-modern times where the War on Drugs was entrenched. However, the movie is now becoming a cult favourite thanks to Mann’s cinematography. It’s not the TV series from the Eighties because it wasn’t made in the Eighties, it was made with the sensitivities of 2006.
* This was an issue during Prohibition in the Roaring Twenties. The high rate of corruption among Prohibition agents came about because bootleggers could slip them $50 or $100 and not feel the loss while giving the agents a large bonus. Eliot Ness and his team were called the Untouchables because they weren’t susceptible to bribes, making them rare agents.