Cyberpunk 2077 has made an impact since its release in December 2020. The video game is based on a tabletop roleplaying game designed by Mike Pondsmith, who was involved in the video game. While the video game has had a few problems since release, it is popular. And when something is popular, it gets adapted.
A quick bit of history on Cyberpunk. The first edition of the RPG, Cyberpunk 2013, was released in 1988. 2013 had four supplements, including Hardwired, written by Walter Jon Williams, basing it on the novel he wrote. It was followed up two years later with the second edition, Cyberpunk 126.96.36.199. 2020 expanded the setting, the character roles, and the mechanics; the game was rereleased in 2014. The third edition, Cyberpunk V3.0, released 2005, wasn’t as well accepted; changes to the setting left the fanbase cold and the artwork was controversial. Finally, in conjuction with the video game, Cyberpunk RED was fully released in November 2020, a month before 3077‘s release. The RPG is seeing a renaissance, complete with new miniatures including one of Pondsmith and his dog.
Going back to Cyberpunk 188.8.131.52, the game made Night City the default setting, where the city was a supplement for 2013. Night City was very much inspired by William Gibson’s Chiba City, with dashes of Hardwired and other cyberpunk works plus other sources such as Blade Runner. Night City became a living, breathing city, with gangs and gang wars, corporate headquarters and corporate wars, besieged citizens, besieged cops, and many ways to escape, some of which are legal. Life is cheap, cybernetics expensive, and going about daily business without a subscription to a paramedic service.
In the Cyberpunk setting, there are a few subscription emergency services. The services’ contracts lay out how a recovery team will retrieve the wounded subscriber, though there are added costs to that on top of the monthly subscription fee. Reviving a clone costs even more on top, plus the fees for making a memory backup. They’re the US health care system expanded as US gun violence also expanded. Trauma Team International is the largest of these subscription emergency services, but not the only one. REO Meatwagon, also mentioned in the core rules, is one competitor determined to carve a slice of the pie, even if it means shooting down a Trauma Team aerodyne.
The day-to-day job of a Trauma Team crew sounds like it would make for drama, whether in game or in an adaptation. One part paramedic, one part combat recon, all dystopia. Thus, in September 2020, Dark Horse Comics released the first issue of Cyberpunk 2077: Trauma Team, then released issues 1-4 as a trade paperback in March 2021. The series was written by Cullen Bunn, with art by Miguel Valderrama, colours by Jason Vordie, and lettering by Frank Cvetkovic.
The series follows Nadia, a young medtech who joined Trauma Team International out of a sense of duty. Even after two years of service, she still had some idealism. However, when a heavily cybered solo manages to kill everyone on her rescue squad except her and the client, she’s taken off duty for psych eval. Her first response after returning to duty is to retrieve a client in an apartment block in gang-controlled territory. The platinum membership client turns out to be the solo who killed her previous team wounded and pinned down by gangers, leading to Nadia having to make difficult choices.
Night City in the four issues is a neon-filled grime even in the nicer parts of the city. The apartment block looks like it should be condemned, except that would mean someone in the city government cared. The solo’s abilities may seem superhuman, but that’s what cybernetics can do in the game. Enhanced reflexes, enhanced strength, and a lack of empathy for humanity; medical science in 2077 has made amazing advances.
In terms of appearance, the comic takes queues from Blade Runner, with neon lights and rain, masses of people wandering through the streets, the forgotten dregs in a desperate fight, and corporate negligence. Nadia’s Trauma Team is kitted out for a war zone, which describes many parts of Night City too well. In game terms, Nadia is a medtech, the client is a solo, the rescue squads are composed of medtechs and solos, and Nadia’s psychologist is a corporate. The story definitely fits in the setting.
Cyberpunk 2077: Trauma Team fits right into Night City and the Cyberpunk franchise. Idealism is the first thing to die in a dystopia, something Nadia finds out the hard way. While playing a Trauma Team employee is out of the scope of the video game, the comic expands the setting for fans, showing what happens when a rescue squad encounters resistance.
There’s been talk about the 1999 film, Galaxy Quest, getting a sequel. The movie was popular with fans of science fiction, particularly of Star Trek. The cast was strong, with Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub, Missi Pyle, Darryl Mitchell, Sam Rockwell, and Enrico Colatoni. The plot involved a group of aliens called Thermians who, after watching the fictional series Galaxy Quest came to Earth to get help from the crew, all without realizing that the TV series was fictional.
The Thermians convince Jason Naismith (Allen), who played Commander Taggert on the show, that the special effects they showed him were real. Taggert manages to cajole the rest of his castmates plus Guy Fleegman (Rockwell) who played an extra to hear out the Thermians. The first hurdle is that while the fictional characters know what to do, the actors who played them are clueless. Everything was a set with special effects added in post-production. As the movie contunues, the actors figure out who their characters are and what they meant to fans both earthbound and alien. The moment that Alexander Dane (Rickman), a classically trained actor who is not happy with how his career turned out, figures out how Dr. Lazarus has motives is particularly poignant.
The film made gentle fun of Star Trek, the series’ actors, and the fans. The Thermians built the Protector based on “archival footage”, down to items, like the chompers, that didn’t make any sense to include. On Earth, fans of the series help out as they can, with their encyclopedic knowledge of the old series, knowing the Protector better than the actors do.
The cast had great chemistry. The writing was strong with room for improvisation as needed. The movie had a heart to it that many blockbusters forget about including. The movie wasn’t so much a parody of Star Trek as a love letter to the series, the cast, and the fans. And that’s where an adaptation is going to have problems.
Since the movie was first released, there’s been attempts to either make a sequel or make a TV series. Currently, Simon Pegg is looking at adapting the movie as a TV series. The catch is, how would it work? Would it be the new series that was created in-universe with the same cast? Would the adaptation focus on the actors instead of their characters? Would the series be serial instead of episodic? What will be done about the hole left by the passing of Alan Rickman?
On the plus side, Simon Pegg has the capability to understand the draw of Galaxy Quest to audiences. With Shaun of the Dead, he had a love letter to horror and zombie movies while still being comedic. Likewise, Hot Fuzz was also a love letter, this time to 80s and 90s action movies like Point Break. Pegg also played Scotty in the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot movie, and has made the convention circuit to meet fans of his works. If anyone will be able to create a gentle parody, Pegg is the one. At the same time, there is trepidation.
Galaxy Quest was bottled lightning when it was released. Recreating it will take a deft touch under someone who can pull in the different parts of the movie and maintain the chemistry the cast had. It will be tough.
Ten years. When I started Lost in Translation, I didn’t expect the reviews to last long. I thought I’d run out of material. However, Hollywood insists on adapting everything. Everything. Some adaptations are done well; others, not so much.
The early years, I went after the easier works, the ones that had been around a while. Once I figured out this reviewing thing, I started to get into more complex works and into more complex reviews. There’s very little that is out and out terrible that there isn’t a glimmer of something good inside it. I’m also taking more time when a work needs it. Sometimes, there’s just no getting around dealing with a multi-season storyline and it takes time to watch and to read both original works and adaptations.
The pandemic of 2020-2021 added a new twist. My way of choosing works to review involved going to a music or video store and checking out the offerings. Lockdown prevented that. Online shopping is good when you need something specific but isn’t as good when it comes to browsing. Same goes with streaming services. It made finding works to review a bit more difficult, but I found ways.
Ten years. It doesn’t seem like such a long time, but I can see how I’ve improved since the first review. Time does fly, even 2020 in hindsight. Thank you, everyone, for following, for supporting, and for letting me figure out just how adaptations look. There are some changes coming for Lost in Translation later this year. Details will come out once they’re nailed down.
Lost in Translation is approaching a major anniversary mark, so it’s a good time to look back over the years. Today, let’s start at the beginning, with the first review posted, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the early days of Lost in Translation, I went after the easier, low-hanging fruit, and ST:TNG was well in reach. I had watched both the original and the then new Trek when TNG first aired in 1987.
When TNG’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”, first aired, the original had been in syndication for eighteen years, gaining a fan base that was too young to watch the series when it first aired. In between the last original Trek episode and “Encounter at Farpoint”, there had been an animated series and four films, beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, all with the original cast. TNG, though, guaranteed a weekly hit of Star Trek, thanks to first-run syndication; ratings weren’t going to be an issue, just sales to TV stations.
The first two seasons were rough. TNG re-used some scripts for a proposed but unfulfilled Star Trek II TV series with the original crew of the Enterprise. The Star Trek II series ultimately became ST:TMP, and the mappings of characters can be seen between the movie and TNG. The obvious ones are Kirk and Decker to Riker, Xon, the Vulcan science officer who died in a transporter accident, to Data, Ilya to Troi, and Argyle and MacDougal to Scotty. The mappings aren’t perfect; there was an effort to make the new characters their own selves. With Troi, some of the Deltan culture, such as openness to sex, had to be toned down for television. Data’s quest for humanity mirrors Spock’s quest to balance and integrate his Vulcan and Human halves, but the paths each took are different.
It does take time for a TV series to get settled in, for character to develop to what fans will remember. TNG was no different. Season three was when the characters sorted themselves out. Still, the worst episode of TNG, the second season flashback episode “Shades of Gray”, is still better than TOS‘ worst, the third season’s “Spock’s Brain”. Meanwhile, the best of TNG pushed the envelope of Trek storytelling. “Darmok” explored the language gap in first contact while bypassing the universal translator.
In the time since the last TNG episode, the two-parter “All Good Things…”, in 1994, more Trek has been made. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which began during TNG‘s run and Star Trek:Voyager began the year after TNG‘s end. Star Trek: Enterprise began after Voyager‘s run ended. Today, there are three concurrent Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks. Picard is a direct sequel to TNG while Lower Decks follows the crew of another starship in the same era. At this point, TNG is the more familiar Trek series, thanks to having a longer run and and the subsequent series set in the same era.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is a good example of a successful reboot, matching the original series in quality, both highs and lows, and becoming its own entity.
Lost in Translation has covered BattleTech a couple of times, once for the animated adaptation, the other for the fan-made Tex Talks BattleTech series. BattleTech started as a tabletop wargame, featuring BattleMechs, giant piloted mecha that are the kings of the battlefield of the future. The wargame spawned RPGs and video games, the most recent of which being published by Harebrained Schemes.
Among the various video games was MechWarrior 4 series, with MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries being released in 2002. The game allowed the player to become Spectre, the leader of a mercenary unit. The unit takes on several contracts in the region known as the Chaos March, the border between the Capellan Confederation and the Federation Commonwealth during the time of the FedCom Civil War. However, one of missions for the players takes place on Solaris VII, the Game World, where individual and teams of MechWarriors battle in arenas much like combat sports today, except with giant mecha. Matches are recorded and sent through the known galaxy, allowing for massive revenue for the licensor and licensees.
Of course, when there’s a sport, there is a sports announcer. In the game, the announcer is Duncan Fisher, voiced by George Ledoux. Ledoux wanted to get into Duncan’s head a little better, so he commissioned Cody Ouellette to write a short story about Fisher’s past. Ouellette at the time was a writer for BattleCorps, a subscription-based website that provided stories, news events, and scenarios for players. However, the story, “The Last Contender”, isn’t considered canon. It also doesn’t quite fit as fanfiction, considering what the story was commissioned for. It is an adaptation, though.
The story leans heavily on setting knowledge. As mentioned, Solaris VII is the Game World, along the lines of Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Silesia is the main city, home to the major arenas and split into sectors controlled by the major Houses/nations. Kai Allard-Liao and his customized Centurion, Yen-Lo-Wang, appear in a number of BattleTech works, including Michael Stackpole’s Blood of Kerensky trilogy covering the Clan Invasion. Allard-Liao was considered the best in the Solaris games, having won the Grand Championship two years in a row. Naturally, any MechWarrior in the games would want to test his mettle, much like Duncan does.
Like the early years of Vegas and Atlantic City, organzied crime has a foothold on Solaris VII. Fixing games isn’t unheard of. However, strong arming a pilot who has a massive walking tank tends to not go well. The media is also pervasive on Solaris; there is a demand for the games throughout the known galaxy, though there are elements that are not happy with them.
The story’s focus on Duncan Fisher is its strength. “The Last Contender” is about how an ambitious man became a popular announcer, bitter but still in love with the games, the former athlete now in the broadcast booth. All to get into the mind of a character for a small portion of a video game. But it works.
Duncan Fisher’s legacy continues, though. The character is memorable and has appeared in a number of the Black Pants Legion’s videos and is the arena announcer in Mechwarrior Online. Ledoux’s portrayal of the character gives nuance that is unexpected for an announcer role.
“The Last Contender” is a bittersweet story. One door closes, opening a new door for Duncan, who may not be ready for the change. There’s no doubting that Ouellette knows the setting, having worked with it prior to writing “The Last Contender”. Ledoux’s reading fits the grittier parts of Solaris VII, the side that the media would never show to offworld viewers. Combined with Shaw’s art, the story paints a picture of a man thrown off stride and trying to deal with the hand life dealt him.
This review might be a little shallow. The Pokémon franchise is huge. Starting with the video game Pocket Monsters: Red and Green on the Nintendo Game Boy in 1996, there have been twenty-two games in the main series, easily more than that with spin-off games, mobile games for smartphones, a trading card game, an anime series with just under 1150 episodes, and several movies, including the live action Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Twenty-five years of Pokémon is a lot. Pokémon is the biggest media franchise.
The general idea of games in the Pokémon franchise is to become a Master Trainer, catching, training, and evolving Pokémon to use in fights against other Pokémon trainers. In the anime, Ash Ketchum is on a quest to do just that, starting in the Kanto region before going off into the world with his army of Pokémon, all trapped in Pokéballs except for Pikachu. The pika-style Pokémon doesn’t like being confined, but still travels with Ash and his friends as they confound Team Rocket.
The video game, Detective Pikachu introduces a new character, Tim Goodman, who arrives in a different city, Ryme City, to search for his missing father. The first being he meets in a Pikachu in a deerstalker hat. The Pokémon greets Tim, introducing himself as Detective Pikachu and Tim understands him. However, Tim is the only one who does. Tim also can only understand Pikachu. The first case they tackle, as a training mission for the player, is to track down an Aipom that has stolen a necklace from a little girl. As Tim and Detective Pikachu follow the trail left by the Aipom, they discover that something is amiss among the Pokémon.
While looking for Tim’s father the duo discover the existence of a drug called “R” that was meant to be a miracle drug. However, the creation of R involved genetic material from Mewtwo, not the Mew that was intended. The Mewtwo genetic material causes Pokémon to rampage. The investigation leads to the detective duo tracking down all of Mewtwo’s cells to return, finding the culprit responsible for R, and preventing the release of R from a large machine. Once done, Tim and Pikachu head off to continue to look for Tim’s father.
Naturally, something popular will be adapted as a movie. The live-action Detective Pikachu debuted in 2019, starring Ryan Reynolds as the title character, Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, Kathryn Norman as Lucy Stevens, Bill Nighy as Howard Clifford, Chris Geere as Roger Clifford, and Ikue Otani reprising her role as Pikachu when others need to hear the character. Detective Pikachu is Nintendo’s first live-action film since Super Mario Bros. This time around, Nintendo had, via The Pokémon Company, had more control over the film.
The movie starts similarly to the video game, with Tim travelling to Ryme City. When he was younger, Tim wanted to be a Pokémon trainer, but could never get one of his own. His dreams faded, and he became an insurance adjuster. News of his father’s death, though, hit him hard as he travelled. Tim’s first stop after visiting the police for details, where he finds out his father died after a car crash. He then heads to his father’s office where he finds a vial marked “R” which gets opened. Tim tosses the vial away after inhaling the gas. He continues to explore the office and sees motion. Being careful, Tim arms himself with a stapler and calls out the intruder. The intruder is a Pikachu wearing a deerstalker hat, who tells Tim to drop the stapler. It takes a bit of work to convince Tim that he isn’t hearing things, that Pikachu is talking to him. Pikachu is as amazed as no one has ever understood him before.
Outside, several Aipom are around where the vial lands. The Aipom begin a rampage and head up to the office. They break in, and chase Tim and Pikachu out of the office and up to the roof. The rampage doesn’t last long, but is long enough to force Pikachu and Tim to dive into a garbage chute to escape. However, a discussion afterwards between Tim and Pikachu leads Tim to believe that his father may still be alive, as Pikachu was also in the car crash.
The search for Tim’s father leads to meeting Lucy, an intern at GNN, and her Psyduck. While Lucy’s main duties are the network’s social media and puff pieces like, “Top Ten Cutest Pokémon”, she senses that there is a deeper story happening. She and Tim follow a few leads that point to a lab owned by Clifford Industries. The remains of the lab still have some of the Pokémon being experimented on.
The clues come together and the villain’s plot is revealed. The R gas will be released during Ryme City’s anniversary, fusing Pokémon and their partners together. Only Tim and Pikachu can stop the plot and finally find Tim’s father.
The Pokémon in the game are rendered to appear three dimensional while still resembling their original appearance. The opening credits show the Pokémon as being integral to the setting, with a herd of Bouffalant corralled in a farm and Pidgeot flying over fields. Pikachu is easily identified, as is Psyduck. Having Ikue Otani reprise her role as Pikachu’s voice is a nice touch.
The movie leans heavily on Pokémon lore. The “R” on the vials of R gas is the logo for Team Rocket, though they don’t appear. Mewtwo is specifically mentioned to have been retrieved from the Kanto region, the setting for the early seasons of the anime and for Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back. Pokémon Detective Pikachu is effectively a sequel of sorts to Mewtwo Strikes Back. However, Pokémon Detective Pikachu can stand alone; the movie explains things along the way for the Pokémon rookie.
Adapting mystery and horror works have their own tightrope to walk; the audience is there for the hidden. It is possible to adapt a mystery faithfully; Mystery on the Orient Express is a good example. Brannagh was faithful to Agatha Christie’s novel, but the novel is considered a classic. The Evil Dead remake used the same beats as the original, but threw in new twists to keep the movie fresh. Pokémon Detective Pikachu uses a similar method as Evil Dead; the elements are there, but with twists to keep anyone in the audience off-guard from knowing the ending during the opening credits.
Casting usually makes or breaks a film. The movie’s cast is solid. Ryan Reynolds is believable as Detective Pikachu, portraying the Pokémon as a determined, caffeine-addicted character. Justice Smith holds his own against Reynolds, showing his chops during the questioning of Mr. Mime. The two have chemistry despite Reynolds doing voice work as Pikachu.
Because it is a mystery, Pokémon Detective Pikachu isn’t an accurate adaptation of the video game. However, it does keep the beats from the game. The movie also uses the Pokémon franchise to both fit in and expand the setting. Unlike Super Mario Bros., Pokémon Detective Pikachu made an effort to reflect the original work, and the effort pays off.
Remakes and reboots tend to come after about a generation after the original, typically about 30 years. Prior to the invention of affordable home entertainment, such as televisions, VCRs, and DVDs, the time allowed for a new generation to grow up and the previous generation to forget details about the original. With VCRs, DVDs, and streaming, the only limitation in getting an original work is availability. Studios may remove a work from being available, but while that may affect streaming services, physical media can still be played.
The remake is still a viable approach today, though. Breakthroughs in technology all for a new look at a work that is generally available in one for or another. Actors aging up or getting popular and thus more expensive does happen. No studio is going to get Tom Hanks for what he was paid when he starred in Bosom Buddies.
In 2002, Jason Statham starred in the French-produced film, The Transporter; his Frank Martin, the title character, was a breakout role for him. The movie was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and was directed by Corey Yeun and Louis Leterrier. Frank, in the movie, is a getaway driver for hire who calculates his role precisely. He has three rules; 1) once a deal is made, it is final; 2) no names; and 3) never open the package. The opening scene, where Frank is the getaway driver demonstrates the professionalism and preciseness he has. Three bank robbers need him after a robbery, but they break the deal by bringing a fourth. Frank refuses to leave until the fourth is dealt with. Once the fourth is gone, by being shot by his comrades, Frank begins his getaway.
Of course, a movie where nothing goes wrong will get dull. Frank breaks one of his rules during a job and opens the package. Turns out, he was transporting a young woman, Lai Kwai, played by Shu Qi. Frank still makes the delivery, but the guy who hired him, Darren Bettancourt (Matt Shulze), tries to eliminate loose ends. The explosion destroys Frank’s car, but not Frank, who was out of it at the time.
Since Bettancourt broke Frank’s first rule, never change a deal, by trying to kill him, Frank heads back to get vengeance. Bettancourt is out but his henchmen aren’t. When Frank is done Bettancourt’s villa, he has left behind broken and dead henchmen and taken Bettancourt’s car, where Shu Qi just happens to be. The action escalates as Bettancourt tries to kill Frank and Frank tries to get away. Car chases, martial arts sequences, including a fight on an oil-filled concrete floor where Frank is using bicycle pedals as skates, and gun fights lead to the breathless climax.
The plot of The Transporter is thin, but serves to deliver on the action. Audiences who saw the trailer came in with the expectation of an action flick, and that’s exactly what they got. An action flick with the stakes at the personal level. No threat to destroy the world, no corporation trying to upset democracy, just one man versus another and his henchmen. The movie would go on to have two sequels.
As mentioned above, remakes take about a generation. A remake of The Transporter would be expected anywhere between 2022 and 2042, but in 2015, Luc Besson, along with Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, penned The Transporter Refueled. Released by the same studio, the new film introduced a new Frank Martin, this time played by Ed Skrein. Joining Frank is his ex-spy father, Frank Sr, played by Ray Stevenson. The Refueled Frank has the same rules as the original. It’s when the rules are broken when things get interesting for Frank.
Frank’s latest job involves three women all dressed the same, all wearing the same wig. They need him to drive them away from a bank robbery, leading to a car chase that leaves several French police cars broken on the streets of Nice. The client, though, changes the deal by getting Frank’s father involved. Frank Sr is interested beyond just the need to get an antidote to a poison he was given. Frank Jr isn’t, sticking to his professional rules. Eventually, Frank Jr does involve himself, first for his father’s life and, when the poison turned out to be a hoax, to be able to live with himself.
Much like the original’s plot, the plot of Refueled is thin, an excuse for the action. The client is responsible for most of the motive behind the action, with Frank along for the ride, though once he decides to get involved, he has his own agency. Frank is given more background, from having a family member with him to hints of being a mercenary before becoming a getaway driver for hire. The antagonist has ties to Frank, having a shared past.
Skrein bring to the role of Frank the same energy Statham did in the original. Bioth portray Frank as professional in his dealings as a contract getaway driver. Skrein’s Frank also does not pick up a gun during the film, becoming a problem in a climactic fight. Frank, though, has no problems with picking up pipes, hoses, ropes, or axes when his opponents are armed. Frank is unique in the film in not using firearms; he’s the driver, not the muscle, though he can defend himself when needed.
Adding Frank Sr allowed the film to include a chemistry that was sparse in the original. While Statham’s Frank could sit down with Inspector Tarconi to talk, Skrein’s had a good relationship with his father, humanizing Frank and giving a contrast to his professional persona. The chemistry between Skrein and Stevenson works on screen to emphasize the relationship between the characters. Indeed, a film about Frank Sr would be interesting to see, either before his retirement as a spy or what he does after Refueled.
With Besson on board, Refueled has an anchor to the original. The plot would fit with Statham, even if some details would have to be changed. Skrein’s portrayal of Frank fits in with the previous films. Refueled isn’t deep, but it does deliver on the promise of action. As a reboot, The Transporter Refueled adds to the character without skimping on what audiences are expecting. Despite being an early reboot, the movie succeeds at being one.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been successful with characters that the general public is mostly unaware of, including Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Wildly successful despite licensing their heavy hitters – Spider-Man and the X-Men – to other studios. The early successes came from recognizing that each character had an implied style; Iron Man fits naturally into a techno-thriller while Thor is epic fantasy and Black Panther is ideal for Afrofuturism. Marvel Studios is willing to give lesser known characters a chance as a result, allowing the mixing of superhero with another genre.
Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales issue 110 in 1963, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Doctor Stephen Strange was a top surgeon in New York City, with the arrogance to go with it. However, with pride comes a fall, and the greater the pride, the greater the fall. For Strange, he had a long drop. After a car accident where he drove off the cliff, Strange found his career ended thanks to hands too damaged for even the second best surgeon to heal fully.
Unable to accept his fate, Strange exhausted his wealth to find a way to heal his hands. When Western medicine provided no hope, he switched to Eastern and learned of Kamar-Taj in Tibet. Spending the last of his wealth to get there, he scoured Tiber until he found the Ancient One, the master of Kamar-Taj. The Ancient One refused to heal Strange’s hands and instead offered to teach the doctor about mysticism, which he turned down. However, thanks to a freak blizzard, Strange couldn’t leave. He discovered that the Ancient One’s apprentice, Baron Mordo, was trying to take over Kamar-Taj. Mordo discovered Strange knew about his plans and restrained him with magic. The Ancient One was too powerful for Mordo to overcome, though.
Having witnessed the power of magic, Strange changed his mind about learning mysticism, reasoning that the only way to stop Mordo was to learn magic himself. After years of study, Strange mastered magic and became the Ancient One’s successor to being Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange returned to New York, his hands healed thanks to his mastery of magic. He settled in the Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village along with Wong, whose family line served the Ancient One during his six hundred year lifetime. As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange fought such beings as Loki, the Dread Dormammu, Satannish, and the Undying Ones, along with more terrestrial threats like Baron Mordo and Kaecilius, defending the Earth alone and along side teams like the Avengers and the Defenders.
In 2016, the character got his own film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, Doctor Strange also starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and Benedict Wong as Wong. The film acts as Strange’s origin story, showing how he went from arrogant surgeon to Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange’s fall is straight from the comic, updated to reflect today’s technology. He is still the top surgeon, he still is arrogant, and he still has a car accident that destroys the function in his hands. This time, the reason for the crash is him trying to use his smartphone while driving. Strange spends his wealth and uses his research skills to try to find a way to heal his hands so that he can return to work. Western medicine again fails, leading Strange to seek out Kamar-Taj.
The search leads to Kathmandu, where Strange meets Mordo. Mordo leads him to where the Ancient One awaits. Strange is hesitant, not believing in mysticism, and gets kicked out of the Ancient One’s building. However, the doctor is persistant, staying outside day and night until let back in. The persistance pays off, and Strange is taken to Kamar-Taj. Strange is put through training, having to learn to accept the idea that magic is real. But once he gets past that hurdle, his learning accelerates.
Kaecilius is the main problem. While the world is unaware, Kaecilius is working with the Dread Dormammu to weaken the mystic shields protecting Earth. His first attempt to weaken the shields failed; the Ancient One is very capable of self-defense, and decapitation is difficult against a master of the mystic arts. Kaecilius is aware of another way to bring down the shields. There are three Sancta Santorum – one in London, one in Hong Kong, and one in Greenwich Village. When Kaecilius strikes in London, the Ancient One, Strange, and Mordo arrive too late to stop the destruction. During the fight, Strange gets flung through a portal and winds up in the Greenwich Village Sanctum Santorum.
Strange has some time to recover and explores the building. He is somewhat surprised to see that he is back in New York City but takes advantage of the time he has. When Kaecilius and his minions arrive, Strange is somewhat prepared. One of the minions winds up stranded in the Sahara Desert, and the Cloak of Levitation breaks free to help Strange fight the invaders. Kaecilius does wound Strange before leaving.
Thanks to his new knowledge, Strange is able to get to the hospital he used to work at and convince a former co-worker to begins surgery to save his life. He even helps by astrally projecting to give pointers. Kaecilius’ other minion, who was left behind at the Sanctorum, manages to follow Strange to the hospital. There is a fight on the astral, but when Strange begins to flatline, his co-worker shocks him. The electrical energy passes through the astral and into the minion. Strange works out the implications and tells her to up the amperage. The next shock kills the minion, which causes Strange to question himself. While he was arrogant as a surgeon, he did believe in the Hippocratic Oath, particularly, “Do no harm.”
Strange isn’t given time to work things out. The Hong Kong Sanctorum is under attack. By the time Mordo and Strange arrive, it’s too late; the building has collapsed. Strange, not wanting to kill anyone and not wanting Earth open to the Dread Dormammu, uses forbidden sorcery, temporal sorcery, through the Eye of Agamotto. The destruction starts to reverse, but Dormammu, coming from a timeless dimension, is not stopped. Strange decides to take the fight to Dormammu, bringing along time. It doesn’t matter how many times Dormammu kills him, Strange keeps looping in time. Dormammu finally bargains with Strange and Earth is saved.
The mid-credits sequence sees Strange talking with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about being extra-dimensional beings and asking when he will go home. Thor replies that he and his brother, Loki, are searching for their father, Odin. Once Odin is found, all three will return to Valhalla. The post-credit sequence has Mordo beginning a crusade against sorcerers, especially those who break the laws of magic.
Casting for Doctor Strange is perfect. Cumberbatch has the proper look for the character, and the costume doesn’t need as much CGI or skintight material as characters like Spider-Man and Deadpool, Cloak of Levitation aside. Even with a lesser known character, accuracy does help sell the adaptation. As an origins story, things are being set up, so what is shown at the beginning isn’t what Doctor Strange is during the run of the titles he appears in. His most obvious magic items, the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto, are there.
There are some changes made to the background, though minor. Mordo and Strange aren’t rivals at Kamar-Taj, but break apart because of Strange’s use of forbidden sorcery. Strange’s hands aren’t fully healed, but he’s working on strengthening them. The key element of Strange’s background, though, remains intact – the pride, the fall, and the atonement, all done with a fantasy backdrop.
Marvel Studios is well aware that their success has been from being able to adapt titles from the comic page to the silver screen without compromising the characters. Fans and the general public alike can enjoy what’s onscreen. Doctor Strange is no different. The changes are minor and the film delivers a spectacle.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer is a major work in the Cyberpunk movement. While he didn’t create the genre, he coined the phrase cyberspace, the collective hallucination representing data abstracted from memory of every computer in the human system, accessed by millions. Neuromancer is the first of Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, and is followed by Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. The novel has one of the best first sentences in literature, let alone just science fiction; “The sky above the port was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel.” The one line alone sets up the tone for the entire story.
The main characters of the novel are Case, console cowboy and artist of the crooked deal; Molly, the archetypal street samurai; Armitage, ex-special forces and leader of the team; and Peter Riviera, creator of holograms. As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that each of these characters are inherently broken. Molly has issues in her past and is looking to avenge the death of Johnny. Armitage is a personality construct built on top of the remains of Colonel Corto, the commanding officer of Operation Screaming Fist, where the special forces team was shot down by the Russians leaving Corto as the sole survivor. Rivera gets off to betrayal and is a drug addict, using hypos instead of the more common dermal patches. As for Case, he stole from the wrong people and, when caught, had the talent burned out of him. He turns to being a minor league fixer in Night City, along Ninsei in Chiba City and he still has the problem of not knowing who to not steal from.
Case gets recruited by Armitage and Molly; they need a hacker and they were given his name by their employer. The carrot for Case is being able to punch deck once again, return to cyberspace. The stick, installed while repairing his nerves and replacing his pancreas, is a number of toxin sacs that will dissolve unless he’s given the counter agent, after the job is done. The details of the job, though, are on a need to know basis, with Armitage deciding on who needs to know.
The first part of the job involves the retrieval of the memory construct of McCoy Pauley, aka The Dixie Flatline. The hacker earned the handle after surviving brain death after brushing up against an AI. He’d go one to suffer brain death two more times before finally dying of a heart attack when his artificial heart finally failed. Before that, Sense/Net offered a sum of money to Dix that he couldn’t turn down to make a full recording of his brain and memory. To retrieve the construct, Case runs on the cyberspace matrix, dealing with Sense/Net’s digital defenses. Molly, with the help of the anarchist Panther Moderns, handles the physical security and grabs the construct. The run doesn’t go smooth; Molly winds up with a broken leg. Case, though, is back in his element.
The job leads to London, to Istanbul, and to Freelight Station. Along the way, Case starts digging into the job, trying to find out who is paying and what the end goal is. Wintermute is more then happy to fill in the details, though the AI isn’t telling Case everything, just enough to keep stringing Case along. In the L5 Lagrange point, more help is recruited, this time from the Zion cluster, founded by Rastafarians who never returned to Earth after constructing Freelight Station. Freelight is the home to Tessier-Ashpool SA, a conglomorate that formed when two families, the Tessiers and the Ashpools, merged their family businesses. T-A, the corporation, has holdings in Berne and Rio, where they have AIs.
The run into Villa Straylight, home of the Tessier-Ashpool family, goes wrong. While Case and the Dixie Flatline are guiding a military-grade virus into the T-A system, home of the AI, Molly is in the villa and runs into the Ashpool founder, who managed to live a couple hundred years thanks to anagathics and cryogenics, being thawed out everyone once in a while to help the corp. He slows Molly down, though she winds up speeding up his death. After that, she finds Peter and Lady 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool, the current scion of the family. Peter has betrayed the team to 3Jane and her thawed ninja, turning the tables on Molly. This leaves Case to come in to finish the job.
Case, though, is dealing with his own issues on the righteous tug Marcus Garvey. The Armitage construct finally crumbles, leaving Corto on the bridge of a yacht docked to the Garvey reliving his escape from Russia to Finland during Screaming Fist. Corto ejects the bridge from the yacht, leaving him forever in orbit around Freelight. Wintermute gets in touch with Case, lays out the problem, and insists on having Case along with Garvey and her captain Maelcum to be the backup plan. After some convincing, Maelcum brings out an ancient shotgun, the sole weapon for the sole vessel and sole member of the Rastafarian Navy, ready to storm Freelight and Villa Straylight.
On board Freelight, Case checks in on Dix and the virus. The virus has merged with the AI’s boundaries, meshing with it and slipping inside. Then Case tries to flip back, only to find himself on an island. Who he expected to be Wintermute turns out to be a different AI, or, rather, another side to the T-A AI. Wintermute’s goal was to merge the two sides of the AI, bringing together the id and the ego of the two. The other half does not want the merger to happen, being unsure of what the result would be. Case breaks out of the AI’s trap.
Case does manage to get the information, help Molly, and force 3Jane to provide the AI’s true name, allowing the two parts to merge. Payment is made to the survivors Case and Molly; Peter was hunted down my 3Jane’s ninja but was already poisoned via his drugs by Molly. The Dixie Flatline even gets his wish; his construct is wiped. The toxin sacs in Case are neutralized thanks to the rage he experienced during the run; a flushing and replacement of his blood removes the threat completely. On returning Earthside, Case and Molly are together for a few days before she leaves, not wanting to have a repeat of what happened with Johnny. Case returns home, only to find that it’s not really home anymore. He stops at his old watering holes, but then disappears.
Neuromancer was groundbreaking in 1984. Gibson wove noir/crime with science fiction, with neither feeling like it was tacked on. The heist relies on the cyber, and the cyber on the heist. There are details that may not work as well today, such as the opening line, but other little details are still in the future for us. The cryogenics the Tessier-Ashpools use are still in development today. The Mercedes in Instanbul is a self-driving car that’s long out of the early development we’re seeing by Tesla and Google. Cybernetic limb replacements, as seen used by Ratz in Night City, aren’t available today, but 3-D printing of prosthetic limbs may be paving a road in that direction. Neuromancer doesn’t read like a story from the Eighties, despite being influenced by the the era.
In 2002, the BBC produced a two-part radio drama based on the book. The drama starred Owen McCarthy as Case, Nicola Walker as Molly, James Laurenson as Armitage, John Shrapnel as Wintermute, Colin Stinton as the Dixie Flatline, David Holt as Peter, and David Webber as Maelcum. The drama ran under two hours total and that’s the adaptation’s main problem. To get as much of the plot in, parts of the book had to be cut out. Gone are the parts set in Chiba. While on first glace, the opening part in Night City might be seen as not needed, not having the part takes away from the emotional impact when Case is on the island created by the other AI. Dixie’s laugh is also not quite right; while Stinton does provide an annoying laugh, it’s not electronic. Also gone is most of the run on Sense/Net, though it is there, and the trip to Istanbul to pickup Riviera. Other parts are glossed over.
Also gone is the drug use. Granted, there may be restrictions about the portrayal of drug use, but it is a key element in the story. Case’s use of drugs started when he tried to find a replacement for the thrill of punching deck in cyberspace. Riviera goes even further, using hard drugs that were available in the Eighties. Molly is on painkillers after breaking her leg inside Sense/Net’s HQ. It’s a sign of the characters being outside the law and society and how broken Case is. Even when Armitage upgrades Case’s system to make most recreational drugs useless, the hacker manages to score something that can bypass the lockout.
That said, other than the loss of the Chiba parts, the radio drama proceeds much like the novel, with the focus on the heist. Case becomes the narrator for the story, allowing Gibson’s prose to come through. Details get lost, but the key beats of the story are kept. A listener unaware of the original novel would not notice what is missing. To that degree, the adaptation is good, with a cast that can handle the roles well.
The drama’s main problem falls to two areas, a small cast and a short run time. The novel has a number of characters that do reappear during the run on Straylight, especially when Case flatlines. Their appearances are important to the story. The run time leads to the dropped parts mentioned above. If a radio drama has to cut key parts, it doesn’t bode well for any possible film adaptations[https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/deadpool-director-tim-miller-adapt-neuromancer-fox-1028185]. Gibson packs a lot into Neuromancer‘s 287 pages.
BBC’s adaptation of Neuromancer should have been longer, but what it does keep stays faithful to the novel. Is it perfect? No, but it is a good effort hampered by limitations imposed on it.
With the holidays over, let’s ease back into the reviews. Two and a half years ago, Lost In Translation covered the audio drama adaptation of Star Wars. NPR and LucasFilm teamed up two more times, bringing The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to radio. Today, we’ll examine the radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back.
When Star Wars was released in 1977, it could stand alone. The plot was resolved, though there were a few plot lines still left dangling. The end was satisfying, with the Empire’s planet-killing super-weapon destroyed. Sure, the Empire wasn’t completely defeated, but the Rebellion had struck a major blow against it.
In 1980, The Empire Strikes Back came out. The Rebellion was on the run. The base on the fourth moon of Yavin was known, thanks to Vader escaping after the Death Star’s destruction. The Empire is busy looking for the Rebel Alliance’s headquarters, sending out probe droids to planets in the Outer Regions, a sparsely populated part of the Galaxy Far Far Away that includes Tattooine. The Rebels have started making a new HQ on Hoth, a frozen planet with its own problems like hostile local lifeforms. Then the Imperial probe droid arrives.
The movie can be broken down into X main parts. The first is on Hoth, ending with the Rebel Alliance fleeing the planet with Empire in pursuit. The characters split up. Luke heads to Dagobah to learn from Yoda, a little green Muppet of great wisdom. Leia, Han, and Chewbacca are chased by Vader, through a dense asteroid belt. While Han, Leia, and Chewbacca try to figure out what’s wrong with the Falcon’s hyperdrive, Luke begins his training. Through shenanigans, the Falcon loses the Imperial pursuit and flies sublight to Cloud City on Bespin, where Han knows the Baron-Administrator, Lando Calrissian.
However, thanks to Boba Fett knowing the same shenanigan that Han used, Vader is alerted to where the Falcon is. Leia, Han, and Chewbacca are taken prisoner to be held to draw Luke out. On Dagobah, Luke’s training is intense as he has to unlearn his bad habits and relearn using the Force. A trip through a tree filled with the Dark Side of the Force warns that Luke may become his worst enemy, replacing Vader. However, he feels the pain of his friends and leaves to Bespin.
On Bespin, Han is handed over to Fett, Leia and Chewbacca make their escape, and Lando shows whose side he really is on. Luke arrives to have a lightsabre fight with Vader, who is trying to turn him to the Dark Side. The major revelation – Vader is Luke’s father – comes out, and Luke sees that there is a way out that doesn’t involve becoming Vader’s apprentice. He lets himself fall through Bespin’s ventilation system. Leia picks him up and the Falcon returns to the Rebel Fleet.
Empire ends with Han in carbonite in the hands of a bounty hunter, Luke missing a hand, the Rebellion on the run without a home. The movie is very much the middle of a trilogy, with the heroes on the edge of disaster, despite the previous win. The movie is also very tight in its plot. Luke has his training and Han and Leia are pursued by the Empire. The film keeps things personal for the characters. There is no massive climactic space battle. The final action scene is the heroes trying to escape.
The audio adaptation brings back Brian Daley to write the script, and the same cast for the returning characters. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels again reprise their roles as Luke and 3P0, respectively, and Billy Dee Williams joins the cast to play Lando again. Ann Sachs, Bernard Behrens, Perry King, and Brock Peters are back, and are joined by new cast members John Lithgow as Yoda, Peter Miachel Goetz as Admiral Ozzel, Gordon Gould as General Veers, Nicholas Kepros as Captain Needa, David Rache as Admiral Piett, Don Scardino as Wedge, and Alan Rosenberg as Boba Fett. The cast is interesting, almost an alternate universe dream cast for the film. John Lithgow at times sounds more like Cookie Monster, another of Frank Oz’s characters, than Yoda when being playful, but takes on the wisdom of the ages when Yoda turns serious.
The radio play starts earlier than the film, with the ambush of a Rebel convoy protected by Renegade Flight by the Empire, ending with the complete destruction of all fighters and freighters in the convoy. There’s more depth given to the Imperial officers, including Needa wishing to see some action before the Galactic Civil War is over and a rivalry between Ozzel and Piett. The format does require dialogue to paint the scene. The use of the Force gets narrated by the user. Luke calls his lightsabre to him, and Vader explains that he his channeling his anger when he chokes. Luke destroying an AT-AT single-handed was done through the point-of-view of the Command Centre.
Not all actions were explicitly narrated. Some were handled through an off-comment. One that worked well came from an interchange between the Deck Officer at Echo Base and Han when the latter was trying to find out if Luke had returned despite having 3P0 nattering about the Falcon‘s hyperdrive.
Deck Officer: “Why are you holding your hand over the protocol droid’s mouth?”
Han: “He’s got a cough.”
3P0: muffled complaints
With Luke’s training, Yoda is giving instructions on what to do, which is what is seen in the movie. The sound effects are straight from LucasFilm, with Ben Burtt supervising. Music is John Williams, and like the movie, the soundtrack is part of the storytelling of the audio drama.
Casting is again important. The non-film cast members may not sound exact, but they do have the proper delivery. What helps here is that the cast is familiar with playing the characters already and that they have the movie to work from. Han isn’t as flamboyant this time around, but he is still ready to go off to do what needs to be done, whether it’s paying off Jabba or escaping TIE fighters. Ann Sachs has Leia’s leadership; nothing is going to get in her way if she can help it. Brock Peters brings a new dimension to Vader. Lithgow does sound like Frank Oz, even if he’s not quite on point with Yoda. The character, though, can go from frivolous and curious to serious within the span of a few lines, and Lithgow can keep up with the change.
What does help with the adaptation is that the movie is personal. The plot hangs on the characters. There isn’t much room to branch off, unlike R2 and 3P0’s escapades while waiting for Luke and Ben at the Mos Eisley cantina. There still is added depth, like the Piett-Ozzel rivalry, but that comes from needing dialogue to carry the scene instead of visuals.
The radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back puts in an effort to recreate the movie into a medium that lacks the visual spectacle expected from Star Wars. This effort pays off as the radio play still keeps things tight and tense to the end, even when the ending is known.