Giant monsters are a draw. A staple of B-movies in the Fifties and Sixties, giant monsters allow for the visceral feel of seeing civilization destroyed. They’re more a force of nature than a living being, an unnatural disaster that takes more than just human ingenuity to stop, let alone destroy. But the giant monster had to start somewhere, and that somewhere is 1933’s King Kong.
Kong features the giant ape, hinted at in legend. Starring Fay Wray as aspiring actress Ann Darrow, Robert Armstrong as infamous director Carl Denham, Bruce Cabot as love interest Jack Driscoll, and Frank Reicher as Captain Englehorn, Kong tells the story of one man’s obsession to be the most successful and famous director and one ape’s tragic encounter with beauty. Denham has learned of a mythical being on an uncharted island discovered by a Norwegian freighter and is determined to go and film this creature. When agencies refuse to allow their actresses to talk to him, Denham heads out to do his own talent scouting. He discovers Ann Darrow, a starving actress on a streak of bad luck. He gives her a proposition, which has to reword – she can star in his next blockbuster if she can leave the next morning.
Ann’s appearance onboard the Venture causes some stir. The first mate, Driscoll, doesn’t take immediately for having a woman on board, a superstitious holdover. Denham and his money speak louder for the Captain of the Venture, though. The ship sets off with Ann aboard. Denham has a specific course to be followed, going away from even small chartered islands to the middle of the sea, where a lone island sits. According to what Denham discovered from the Norwegian freighter, the island has a small village on a peninsula, blocked off from the rest of the island by a large wall. Beyond the wall is a god that the villagers worship. Denham believes that whatever this god is will be worth capturing on film for audiences across the world to see.
During the trip, Ann and Jack grow closer to each other. Jack is kept busy on his shifts, but Ann has nothing else to do once Denham is done with his test shots of her. Jack’s beliefs about women on a ship being bad luck lessens.
On the island, Denham takes a small contingent with him to watch the island natives. They arrive in time to see a ritual, where a young woman is being set up to be sacrificed to the island’s god. However, the chieftain (Noble Johnson) sees Denham trying to film. Denham, through Englehorn, tries to parlay with the tribe. The chieftain wants to trade for Ann and is denied. Denham and the crew are forced to leave and go back to the Venture.
The chieftain is not one to be rebuffed. He takes a small group with him to the Venture and kidnaps Ann. When her disappearance is discovered, Denham and Jack take several armed men back to the island, arriving in time to see the island god appear. Kong is smitten by Ann and takes her before Jack can do anything to free her. Jack and Denham give chase, but beyond the wall is an island filled with prehistoric wonders and dangers. Even Kong must fight through these dangerous creatures.
Jack manages to rescue Ann, though only he and Denham survived being beyond the wall. Jack and Ann return to the village with Kong on their heels. The massive doors in the wall aren’t enough to keep the enrage giant ape out. King breaks through and wreaks havoc on the village. With effort, Denham uses large gas grenades to knock out Kong so that he can be secured for the trip back to New York City. Denham isn’t just seeing film revenues; he’s looking at being big on Broadway with the new star attraction, King Kong.
Opening night becomes closing night. Photos by papparazzi anger Kong and the steel restraints he’s in aren’t enough. He grabs Ann again and climbs up various buildings until he finds the tallest around, the Empire State Building. Too far for anyone on the ground to deal with, the US Army Air Corps is called in to send a flight of biplanes to deal with Kong.
Kong is a masterwork of stop-motion animation by Willis O’Brien, who would later mentor Ray Harryhausen. Edits between the stop-motion Ann and the real Fay Wray are seamless. Kong has a presence on screen, as real as the actors around him. King Kong would become the top grossing film of 1933 and Fay Wray became known for her role as Ann Darrow.
Hollywood dominated giant monster movies until the early Sixties, then Japan, on the strength of Godzilla took over. The original Godzilla was a morality play about the dangers of atomic energy and weaponry, with Godzilla destroying Tokyo on a rampage and only stopped through drastic means. Later entries in the films had Godzilla seen as a threat and menance or as the defender of Earth, though not necessarily humanity. Naturally, when there’s two heavyweight kings, people want to see what happens when the clash, thus the 1962 King Kong vs Godzilla.
The film begins with a newscast with a story about an earthquake in the Arctic, breaking apart icebergs. The changes in the currents result in a nuclear submarine being sent to investigate. Meanwhile, the head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), is upset that Tokyo TV’s ratings are abysmal. He learns of the newly discovered Faro Island and its monster and sends Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Fujita (Kenji Sahara) to bring the monster back, whatever it is.
The submarine finds an unusual iceberg, one emitting radiation. It crashes in the the berg, causing it to crack open, revealing Godzilla, frozen since the 1955 movie. Now free, Godzilla destroys the sub with his atomic breath and begins his march towards Japan. On the island, Sakurai and Fujita arrive in time to see a ritual by the native islanders get interrupted by a giant octopus crawling out of the ocean. The village appears to be doomed but the island god, King Kong, arrives to battle the creature. The octopus is sent back to the ocean. After the battle, the villagers set out clay pots filled with the juice of a local red berry, a non-addictive narcotic. Kong drinks from the pots and falls asleep.
Sakurai and Fujita get Kong tied to a raft to be dragged back to Japan by ship. Mr. Tako arrives to check up on his people, and has to be told not to rest on the plunger detonator for the explosives set up on the raft in case Kong wakes up and tries to escape. The ship, though, is stopped by a Japanese Self-Defense Force ship and is ordered to take Kong back to Faro Island. One daikaiju is more than enough, thank you very much.
Godzilla reaches the shores of Hokkaido and lays waste to the country side. The JSDF sends out everything it has – tanks and artillery – but is repulsed with casualties. To try to stop Godzilla, the JSDF sets up a large pit, Kong, though, wakes up and despite the explosives, escapes to reach mainland Japan. He finds Godzilla.
The first meeting in the film is a draw. Kong hurls boulders at Godzilla but is repulsed by his opponent’s atomic breath. Godzilla then goes on to fall into the JSDF’s trap but escapes it unarmed. Tokyo, being in the path of Godzilla’s destruction, is evacuated. Power lines with a million volts are set up in the way to stop Godzilla, but the electricity instead powers Kong. The JSDF manage to stop Kong using a gas made from the same red berries found on Faro Island.
Realizing that the only way to stop a giant monster is with another giant monster, the JSDF flies the sleeping Kong to Mount Fuji, where Godzilla was last seen. In the final battle between the two, Godzilla gets an early edge with his atomic breath. It’s not until Kong is struck by lightning that he has the strength to fight back. The battle results in both falling through a village and landing in the Pacific Ocean. Kong is last seen swimming away, while there is no trace of Godzilla. At best, the battle is a draw, but Japan is safe, for now.
/King Kong vs Godzilla/ exists solely to have the two giants battle each other. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, though some were created just for this movie. Kong’s background is very close to the 1933 movie, with a small island with giant creatures and a small village of humans treating Kong as a god. Godzilla is a threat to Japan, leaving a trail of destruction and is unstoppable by conventional means. The first fight is a technical win for Godzilla; Kong escaped when he realized that he wasn’t able to get past Godzilla’s atomic breath. The film even tosses in a “beauty and the beast” motif for Kong, with the giant ape falling for Sakurai’s sister, Fumiko (Mie Hama). Even with the changes for setting, the film keeps close to the mythology set by King Kong; the giant ape is recognizable.
The biggest change for Kong is that he’s now played by Shoich Hirose instead of being stop-motion animation. Godzilla has always been portrayed by a man in the suit, this time by the original Godzilla actor, Haruo Nakajima. The change means that Kong’s motions are more fluid than stop-motion animation allows. Kong, though, is still recognizable as Kong.
For a movie that is about a battle between the most famous giant monsters, King Kong vs Godzilla takes effort to present Kong’s background faithfully. The change in the nature of the character’s portrayal allows for Kong to throw rocks, leading to a brains versus brawn battle. The end result removes the slow discovery of Kong, but the movie’s purpose wasn’t to re-introduce the character but to get him to Japan for the big fight. In the end, Kong remains king, with the film staying close to his origins, only giving him a boost to deal with Godzilla at the end.
Lost in Translation has noted a few times that television may be the better medium for adapting novels, particularly series of novels. Provided it doesn’t fall victim to poor ratings, the adaptation can take the time needed to present the story at a proper pace instead of trying to cram everything into two to three hours. Let’s take a look at such an adaptation, Syfy’s adaptation of the James SA Corey series of novels, The Expanse.
With Leviathan Wakes published in 2011, The Expanse tells the story about life in the Solar System after being colonized. While Earth is still the birthplace of humanity, Mars and the Asteroid Belt are homes for a large number of people. Things start with relations friendly between the three locations, with a coalition of Earth and Mars treating the Belt as a protectorate. Underneath the friendliness lies friction, not enough to start a war, but enough to take a good excuse to launch one.
Leviathan Wakes is told from two perspectives. One is from the view of James Holden, the executive officer, or XO, of the Canterbury, an ice hauler working between the Belt and Saturn. The other is from Detective Miller’s, a Belter born and raised on Ceres station working for Star Helix, who has the law enforcement contract on the asteroid. The two stories start far apart; but as events happen, they start to intermingle.
Miller’s assignment on Ceres has him and his partner, Havelock, trying to find out what happened to the local organized crime gangs, the griega, as solo operators and young punks muscle in on the action without repercussion. Since the case is stalling out, Miller’s boss gives him, and only him, a new assignment – a missing person to be retrieved who may not want to be retrieved, Julie Mao.
Over on the Canterbury, Holden registers a distress signal, forcing the Cant to respond. He takes engineer Naomi, mechanic Amos, medic Shed, and pilot Alex in a shuttle over to check out the Scopuli. The ship is dead, no power, no life, no bodies, yet still transmitting. The Cant picks up an engine signature, but before Holden can get his crew out of the Scopuli, the unknown ship fires nuclear missiles at the Canterbury, destroying her with all hands except the rescue party.
Leviathan Wakes switches point of view between Holden and Miller. Holden and his crew try to stay alive while getting the blame for starting a war between Mars and the Belt, eventually picking up the Rocinante. Miller gets more obsessed with finding Julie Mao. Both run into senior members of the Outer Planets Alliance, with Holden meeting Fred Johnson and Miller running into Anderson Dawes. The storylines intertwine, as Holden searches for the reason why the Cant was destroyed and Miller gets closer to finding Julie at the cost of his career. On Eros, the two meet. As bad as the storylines were getting when they were apart, they get worse after the meeting. The common element is Julie Mao.
In 2014, Syfy picked up the license for The Expanse and began airing the ten episode first season at the end of 2015. The series stars Steven Strait as Holden, Dominique Tipper as Naomi, Wes Chatham as Amos, Cas Anvar as Alex, and Thomas Jane as Miller. Today is just a look at the first season and how it adapts Leviathan Wakes.
Season one takes its cues from Leviathan Wakes. The events in the book are portrayed on screen. However, the series does away with the having just two perspectives. The story is still split between Holden and Miller, but other details are added in. With a novel, hinting at what’s happening outside the perception of the main characters works. Leviathan Wakes has Holden and Miller on the outside and trying to peer into a complex set of relationships between governments, corporations, and private citizens. Television, though, doesn’t work as well with hinting. Showing what is just mentioned in the background, such as a suicide ramming run by a Belter ice hauler against a Martian warship, adds to the impact. There are many cogs and gears happening behind the story in The Expanse; showing some helps make the setting real, even if it means pulling in details from the other novels and the short stories and novellas.
The series keeps to the pace of the novel. Turns out, ten episodes isn’t enough to adapt the entire novel. Instead of rushing through to cram Leviathan Wakes into one season, the first season ends about midway through the book at a spot that works for a natural end point. It’s a cliffhanger ending, to be sure, but the end point works for the both the story and the season. The characters are in a safe enough spot after everything that has happened, though the main mystery is still not shown.
Season one also keeps the the mix of genres of the novel, a mix of space opera, noir, and horror. The tension remains steady through the series, with things ramping up for the two-part season finale. The depth of the setting is on full display, as the Belt, Mars, and Earth find their reasons to begin hostilities. The TV series keeps the dynamic feel of the setting by showing it beyond what is hinted at in Leviathan Wakes.
The first season of The Expanse shows how television can adapt a novel far better than a movie or even a series of movies. Television allows for the quieter moments, the scenes that are focused on the characters, both of which are heavily used in Leviathan Wakes. Horror works best when the audience’s imagination is allowed to take over; hinting at what’s lurking is better than showing it outright. When the payoff comes, the audience experience the full horror of what’s happening.
The danger of a television adaptation is that it may not be completed. Syfy aired three seasons of The Expanse. Amazon picked up the series for the fourth season coming soon. With A Game of Thrones being a massive hit for HBO, it was only natural for other channels to find their own version. Syfy went with a space opera with political machinations running in the background. However, costs, especially for a series set in space, have a price, and that means the risk of being dropped despite viewership. The Expanse takes a massive story and presents it at a proper pace. The characters are easily recognizable, the setting’s details come through, and the plot is unmarred by the translation to the new medium. With the number of books released, Amazon and whoever comes afterward, has enough to work with for years.
There are movies that are essentially vehicles to showcase the star. It’s not a new phenomenon; the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road to … series of movies are a good example. Unless the star is more than a flash in the pan, the films become forgettable. When the star has true talent, the movie can transcend the purpose of cashing in on the star’s popularity. In the Eighties, Michael J. Fox broke out during the run of Family Ties, becoming a favourite of audiences. During the show’s run from 1982 to 1989, he appeared as a guest star in several other TV series and TV movies before making the jump to the silver screen with Back to the Future.
Fox, though, didn’t rest. The Eighties were an odd time, where the usual game of Follow-the-Leader played by studios didn’t work. Popular works begat backlash works which also become popular. Fox, though, was bankable, with a natural charm that appears throughout his career, and he was willing to work. He followed up Back to the Future with Teen Wolf, also released in 1985.
Teen Wolf is, in short, an Eighties teen comedy, covering all the problems a teenaged boy would have in the decade – trying to deal with puberty, trying to date the popular girl, trying to deal with bullies, trying to be the team star. The twist, though, is that Fox’s character, Scott Howard, is a werewolf.
Scott has the usual problems. He has a crush on Pamela, played by Lorie Griffin, the popular girl dating the star of the rival basketball team, Mick (Mark Arnold). Scott is on his school’s basketball team, the Beavers, but they’re not a great team. The 5’4″ or 163cm tall Scott is the second best player on the Beavers, and he has problems sinking foul shots. Said foul came from Mick, who tends to bully those he sees as lessers. Scott is also oblivious, not recognizing the crush his friend Boof (Susan Ursitti) has for him. As for puberty, Scott is going through a change even his health class couldn’t help him with. Scott’s best friend, Stiles (Jerry Levine), is there to help, sort of.
The changes come slowly, bit by bit. Fingernails turn into claws and back. Eyes glow. In a pile trying to retrieve a loose ball, Scott growls, sending everyone on both teams back. The changes aren’t all a pain. Scott’s basketball game improves. But the inevitable happens and he changes at a game. Instead of mass panic and a riotous mob, the home team cheers because Scott in his wolf form gives the Beavers their first win.
The usual reactions in a werewolf movie – fear, panic, mobs rising up to strike the lycanthrope down – are avoided. Scott is popular. He’s the star basketball player. He can stand up to the people trying to keep him down. And he gets the popular girl. Technically, she gets him, but only for what she can get from him.
As Scott embraces his wolf side, he starts getting an ego to go with his popularity. He starts alienating everyone, Boof, his teammates. His father (James Hampton), though, gives him The Talk, the lesson on being himself. Turns out, Scott was never bitten. His lycanthropy is genetic. His father is a werewolf. In the championship basketball game, Scott leaves the wolf out, playing as himself, and using his head. Mick, in trying to get Scott to wolf-out, fouls out, his fourth foul on Scott. The movie ends as it begins, with Scott having to make a foul shot.
Outside the supernatural element, Teen Wolf is a very typical teen comedy from the decade. Lycanthropy stands in for puberty, and the goal is laughs. If it wasn’t for Michael J. Fox, the movie would be forgotten. Fox’s natural charm carries the film, giving it more exposure than it would’ve had. As a result, the movie spawned a cartoon series in 1986 and a sequel, Teen Wolf Too with Jason Bateman, in 1987. That should’ve been it, but almost thirty years after the movie’s release, MTV produced a TV series based on the movie.
The TV series, also called Teen Wolf, first aired in 2011 and ran six seasons, ending in 2017. Given that the series has a total run time that is two magnitudes longer than the original movie, changes are expected, just to fill the time. Let’s just look at season one, which covers about the same amount of time in-film as the original movie, from the start of the sports season to city championships.
Tyler Posey takes over the Scott role, now called Scott McCall. Instead of basketball, he plays lacrosse, and wants to make the first line. Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) is still Scott’s best friend, but instead of being the party loving slacker of the movie, he’s more a geek. The popular girl is Lydia (Holland Roden) instead of Pamela, and while she plays up the mean girl aspect, she hides an intellect as she manipulates the lacrosse team captain, Jackson (Colton Haynes), for social position. Scott doesn’t have a crush on her; instead, Stiles does, and he sees through her facade. Scott’s love interest is the new girl in town, Allison (Crystal Reed).
The new series uses today’s expectations of urban fantasy and the supernatural, with Scott being bitten by a werewolf to gain the curse. His transformation happens slowly over the first episode, with him suddenly getting better at lacrosse and making the first line. But with better health and agility comes a few other problems, like anger issues, claws, and fangs. Scott also gains the attention of Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin), a werewolf in town trying to find who killed his sister.
Jackson is suspicious of Scott; no one improves that much at lacrosse over the summer. He suspects steroids at first, but digs too deep over the course of the first season. Scott has to juggle his new love life, his friends, Derek, and, new to the series, werewolf hunters. To make matters worse, the leader of the hunters is his new girlfriend’s father (JR Bourne), making the typical problems look tame.
As the season progresses, Scott learns to control his wolf side, tracks down the alpha werewolf who bit him, and finally opens himself to Allison, but several lives are turned upside down along the way. Allison had no idea of her family’s secret until her Aunt Kate (Jill Wagner) shows her. Jackson and Lydia are injured with potentially fatal consequences.
The main difference from movie to TV series is seriousness. The original was a teen comedy. The TV series is a teen drama, but it takes its beats from the movie. The slow reveal of Scott’s abilities, the sports focus in the early part of season one, even the bowling scene from the movie makes an appearance, though altered for who the new characters are. Scott still has his problems, but his ego isn’t one of them. His problems start with typical ones for teenagers, made worse because of his curse. Nothing goes smooth for him. Like Fox’s Scott, Posey’s problems don’t go away when he’s a werewolf.
Season one of Teen Wolf takes the ideas from the movie and brings them to today, with today’s views on urban fantasy and the supernatural. Werewolves are again something the public fears because of the danger they represent. They’re not superstars on the field of play gaining adoration. The TV series is a product of its own time, not of the Eighties, even if it borrows from that decade. The result is the same story, a teenager trying to cope with life and changes, just told in a different way, more serious, with more depth.
Batman, the character, has been around for eighty years since his first appearance in Detective Comics #27. Over that time, he has been in a number of different media, including serials, television, animation, film, and games. The character has been portrayed in a number of ways for 80 years, allowing for a Batman for everyone’s tastes.
Cutting to the chase, one of the more recent adaptations is also a spin-off. The LEGO Batman Movie features the Batman from The LEGO Movie, itself also an adaptation. The LEGO Movie is also a hard movie to follow up on, having not only been entertaining and thought provoking, but also a cinematic way to play with LEGO. Batman in The LEGO movie was both a parody and a kid’s view of the character, dark, gritty, and very, very serious. Will Arnett played the character straight, despite the absurdity, much like Leslie Nielsen in Airplane and Adam West in the 1966 Batman TV series.
The LEGO Movie well enough to garner a sequel and Batman was popular enough to get a spin-off. This time, set in LEGO Gotham, the movie features Batman and characters associated with him. Emmett, Wildstyle, and Unikitty aren’t around; this isn’t their movie. Instead, LEGO Batman has Will Arnett, Michael Cera as Dick Greyson, Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth, and Zack Galifianakis as the Joker. Even the minor characters were voiced by an impressive cast, including Mariah Carey and Billy Dee Williams as Two Face.
LEGO Batman opens with black, like all important movies, followed by the type of music that makes studio execs and parents nervous. Batman even narrates that, then provides a quote that becomes important to the main theme of the movie.
The big opening features the Joker with every villain from Batman’s rogues gallery planting a bomb underneath Gotham City that, if it explodes, would send the city into the endless void beneath the city. The Joker offers Gotham a deal – provide the mayor and Batman, the city goes unexploded. As time ticks down, the mayor arrives, but there’s no sign of Batman, worrying the Joker. However, the master of disguise that Batman is has already arrived, in the form of the mayor. Batman breaks out a new song and proceeds to defeat the A-list, B-list, C-list, and D-list villains, leaving the Joker for last.
All the Joker wanted was for Batman to acknowledge him as his greatest enemy. Batman steadfastly refuses, calling Superman his greatest enemy and saying he needs no one and the Joker means nothing to him. The Joker does get away as Batman dives to defuse the bomb and saves the city once again.
Later that night, Bruce Wayne arrives at James Gordon’s retirement party. Gordon is stepping down as Police Commissioner, allowing his daughter, Barbara, take over the role. Barbara is a graduate of Harvard for Police and has cleaned up cities like Bludhaven through physical abilities and spreadsheets. It’s love at first sight for Bruce, who is so smitten he accidentally adopts Dick Greyson without realizing it. Barbara, though, hasa plan to clean up crime that doesn’t involve Batman.
Joker, meanwhile, enacts his latest plan to get Batman to admit he’s the greatest enemy. All he needs is the Phantom Zone ray. The plan is somewhat convoluted as he surrenders not just himself but every Bat-villain into Barbara’s custody, sending all of the villains to Arkham Asylum. Batman and Barbara both know that the Joker is up to something, but Batman believes the best place to keep him is in the Phantom Zone.
After a theft where Batman uses Dick, now using Robin as a code name, as an expendable minion, steals the projector from Superman”s Fortress of Solitude. Breaking into Arkham is a little more difficult than expected, but Batman sends the Joker to the Phantom Zone. Barbara takes the opportunity to lock Batman and Robin away.
In the Phantom Zone, the Joker gathers several LEGO versions of filmdom’s villains – Sauron, Voldemort, King Kong, Dracula, Godzilla, even “British robots” that like to yell “EXTERMINATE!” With this lot, the Joker will force Batman to admit that they need each other.
The movie is a character study of Batman, using every incarnation of him, comic, cartoon, and film. LEGO Batman makes references to events from the Christopher Nolan movies, the Tim Burton movies, and the Leslie H. Martinson movie. The character is recognizable and covers similar ground, but takes a deeper look into what becoming a loner does to him. LEGO Batman is driven by two things, a desire to keep others feeling what he did when his parents were shot and a desire to not go through those emotions again. It’s when he is forced to confront what he has become that he realizes that he can’t protect his friends, and he needs them.
The LEGO Batman Movie has its “kid playing LEGO” moments, following the style of The LEGO Movie. Many of the sound effects are just the voice actors providing them, such as, “Pew pew pew!” At the same time, the movie has depth that many of the Batman movies don’t get into, such as the effects of fighting crime while dressed as a bat. LEGO Batman isn’t a parody but a pastiche of all previous incarnations, but while treating the plot like an amusement, the psychology of Batman isn’t there for comedy. His motives are examined, his ego and bravado a shield.
Despite, or maybe because of, its origins, The LEGO Batman movie may be the best representation of the character on film. The character, despite being a toy, has depth, as does the Joker. They both have a need that Batman manages to deny for both, and only when he can break past the denial can the city be saved.
Last month, Lost in Translation analyzed the Renault Brazil live action D&D cartoon ad. Turns out, it’s not the only ad to adapt a cartoon. Today, Lost in Translation will look at the potential ads have for adaptation and take a look at another cartoon adapted into a live-action ad.
Let’s start with the actual adaptation, a car ad based on /Wacky Racers/. First airing in 1968, Wacky Races was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that ran for seventeen episodes. Inspirations for the cartoon may have included The Great Race, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. The plot for each episode was simple – ten racers try to get to the finish line. Characterization was done in broad strokes; no one character, with two exceptions, got much screen time. The exceptions were Dick Dastardly and Muttley, who could be considered the stars of the series. Dastardly’s goal was to win, by hook or by crook. Dick Dastardly is so fixated on cheating that he never realizes that his schemes require him to race ahead of the pack to set things up. He could win if he never stops to cheat.
In 2014, French director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet and production company Partizan teamed up to create an ad for Peugeot, a live action version of Wacky Races with the Peugeot 208 added. Clocking in at 1:16, it’s about a tenth of the length of a typical Wacky Races short. Most of the characters from the cartoon are in the ad. Missing, though, are Pat Pending and his Converticar, Rufus Roughcut and Sawtooth in the Buzz Wagon, and Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear in the Arkansas Chug-a-bug. Given the length, the ad would’ve been too busy with those three cars in it.
The ad plays out like a Wacky Races short, with the characters trying to win. Dick Dastardly, naturally, tries to cheat and gets hoist on his own petard yet again. There’s no dialogue; there’s no time for it. Instead, the characters are portrayed through body language. This is where the nature of the original work helps. The characters are broad, so if the look is right, the body language follows. With Dastardly and Muttley, the laughs are critical, and the ad gets those right. The ad works as an adaptation because it gets to the core of the cartoon, the race.
This is where advertising has an edge when it comes to adaptations. Ads have a running time between thirty seconds and two minutes. With time shifting technologies like the VCR and DVR, audiences can fast forward past ads. Advertisers need to make the audience want to stop and watch. Getting the details right will catch the attention of viewers. Getting an adaptation’s look right gets that attention. But that’s just the first step.
A good adaptation gets people talking and sharing links. It’s how both the Renault Brazil and the Peugeot ad got into the sights of Lost in Translation. It’s not just getting the look right, but getting the core right. With Wacky Races, it’s easy enough; the original didn’t have that much depth beyond racing with odd cars and odd characters. But even with a work that has depth, the ad doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting. It just has to resonate enough for viewers to fill in what’s missing. Renault Brazil’s ad did that; it used the D&D cartoon’s popularity in Brazil to fill in the missing details. Miss what makes the original tick, though, and the differences will be jarring. Even if an audience stops zipping through ads to see what’s going on, the right look won’t save a bad adaptation. Worst case, the ad drives away the folks the advertiser was trying to hook.
Here’s where the time limitations help. In longer form adaptations, such as movies, the time available may be too much for the original work to fill without having to add details. In advertising, there may not even be enough time to get everything in. The ad has to cut to the essence. The Renault and the Peugeot ads did just that by getting to the action without wasting time for explanations. The audience fills in the gaps. Viewers unaware of the original work still get a fun ad to watch. The ads have no need for filler.
All adaptations all the time won’t work in advertising. The goal is always to be fresh or fresh enough to draw attention without bringing ridicule to the product being marketed. The more competitive the market, the more creative ads need to get. If every car was marketed through a live-action cartoon, one company would just have to show their cars in a different light to stand out. However, ads do have a good chance of getting an adaptation right because of their limitations. They have to do a lot in the short time allotted.
The dominance of adaptations at the box office has created a backlash, people from in the industry and outside observing who keep predicting that adaptations have run their course and will soon be replaced by original works. Yet, the past few years have shown otherwise. In 2018, though, the top ten money making films were adaptations, sequels, or sequels of adaptations. As long as adaptations are making money, there’s no reason for a studio to take a risk on an original work that doesn’t have a built-in fandom. Hollywood is risk adverse right now. But where does the backlash come from?
First, there’s the memory of the time when all the popular movies were original. Let’s examine that time, though. I went through the History of Adaptations series to see when adaptations overtook original works and discovered that there were only two decades, the Eighties and the Nineties where that happened. The rest of film history, adaptations performed better at the box office than original works. While money may not be the best way to judge a film’s impact – see Ingagi from the Thirties – it’s how films are tracked. Consider the age of the people complaining about the lack of original films; there’s a good chance that they grew up in the two decades where original works were more popular. The Eighties, though, were an odd decade. Entertainment was varied. Film, music, television, all were pushing boundaries. In all three media, follow-the-leader acts didn’t works as well as previous or later decades. Audiences weren’t interested in more of the same and had a wide variety to choose from.
Another issue with the memories of popular original movies is that some of the works the “originals'” were based on fell into obscurity. The Ten Commandments is obviously adapted from the Bible, but Cecil B. Demille remade his 1923 version in 1956 using technology not available for the first movie, tech such as sound, colour, and widescreen. Ben Hur, though, wasn’t directly from the Bible. Instead, the film was a remake of a 1925 movie which itself was an adaptation of an 1880 novel, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Saturday Night Fever, from 1977, was adapted from an article, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night”, publish in 1976 in New York Magazine. Even The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an adaptation of a stage production, The Rocky Horror Show. What might be remembered as original may really be an adaptation.
Next, the sources of today’s adaptations may be off-putting to some parts of the general audience. In the Twenties and the Fifties, adaptations tended to be taken from literary sources, novels and plays. In 2018, though, half the top ten movies were comic book adaptations. High brow versus low brow. And while the adaptations were well done, unlike previous efforts, comics aren’t considered high or serious art by the general populace. If studios could make the money comic book movies get by adapting literary fiction, there wouldn’t be a lit-fic shelf left empty by Hollywood producers. Some producers do try, though. Baz Lurhmann has adapted some staples of high school English reading lists, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. While there is a built-in audience, that audience consists of high school students who don’t even want to deal with Coles Notes/Spark Notes. Low-brow works don’t get respect; they appeal to the common person.
There is adaptation fatigue. Every once in a while, people want to see something different, something outside their usual experience. When the choices are adaptation or adaptation or remake of an adaptation, it’s natural to start wondering if Hollywood can ever make something original. It’s a fair thought, at least for the silver screen. Television, despite a number of successful adaptations like A Game of Thrones and Good Omens, is now the source of original works. The competition for viewers today is strong, between the 5000-channel lineup of cable to streaming services to YouTube channels for the very niche interests. A well done adaptation gets attention, but so does a well done original. Want original? Check your TV listings.
The question isn’t “Can Hollywood make something original?”, it’s, “What would it take for Hollywood to make an original movie?” If an original work can get the same money as a blockbuster adaptation, studios will start to work on their own takes before the groundbreaking film finishes its first week in theatres. Until then, adaptations will rule movie theatres.
Fans can get creative. Sometimes, fans can create an adapation that surpasses anything that professional studios can do. Sometimes, though, the creativity is willing, the skill level isn’t quite there. Or maybe there’s a time crunch. It’s not an issue for fans who are building up their skills, be it writing or drawing. Animation, though, is skill- and time-intensive. For those fans without the skills, there is another way.
Machinima, technically, is the use of any pre-existing computer graphics engine to create images. The most popular graphics engines used by fans just happen to be video games. Rooster Teeth wasn’t the first, but may be the best known thanks to Red Vs Blue, a series using Halo about the men on enemy armies defending a critical box canyon from the other side. Several video game engines have been used, including Quake, Halo, and The Sims 2 and later versions. What the games have in common is a sandbox mode that allows for free play and being very customizable by players.
Example time. First, though, let’s take a look at a TV series to be adapted. COPS is on its thirty-second season, having started in 1989 and only off the air for a couple of seasons while switching networks. COPS is a reality show, with camera crews riding along with American police officers on patrol. The series made an appearance on an episode of The X-Files, effectively becoming a crossover when the camera crew started following Agents Scully and Mulder. The draw of the show was that it was unscripted. While edited, the show wasn’t staged for viewers.
How does one recreate a reality show, especially one that relies on the unpredictability of life? Enter Grand Theft Auto V, the life of crime simulator from Rockstar Games, with the mod LSPDFR, allowing players to be the police on patrol. Jeff Favignano has been using this combination, plus other mods, to produce his own series of role play, styled after COPS.
While he has monetized his YouTube channel, the work is still by a fan. There’s also the limitation of the game engine. The goal Favignano has is to approach the events generated in game with proper police procedures. As far as GTA V allows, he succeeds. Each episode of his LSPDFR is stylized as an episode of COPS, with a few call outs in each. Surprisingly for GTA V, there aren’t many shoot outs. Favignano aims to end each call peacefully, only escalating when the characters in-game do.
The adaptation works well, until the game’s engine starts going wrong. The pathing AI often sends traffic the wrong direction, through a crime scene, pushing past or sometimes through police vehicles and officers. When things do go off, it’s the game, not Favignano. However, even the game acting up adds to the feeling of the original TV show, where a pursuit and its aftermath weren’t predictable.
Fans will create. It’s the nature of fandom. Today, there are ways to express creativity that weren’t dreamt of even thirty years ago. The results are varied, but do get to the heart of the original works.
Mysteries make for an interesting choice of adaptation. Fans read them to follow the clues and solve the mystery. The twists, turns, and red herrings work because they lead to the climax, but lose their effect once the unknown is made known. The exceptions are the classics of the genre, novels where the craft of the writing becomes the focus of interest on later readings. Sometimes, the mystery is so well crafted that it takes a second or third to follow the detective’s thought processes.
What typically happens is that the character gets adapted instead of the stories, usually as a TV series. This gives the series’ writers room to create new mysteries without spoiling the original books while still keeping to the limited time an episode has. This is essentially what happened with The Dresden Files, a series of novels that cross the detective genre with urban fantasy turned into a short-lived TV series.
Among the classic writers of the mystery genre is Agatha Christie, creator of both the British amateur detective Miss Jane Marple and the Belgian professional detective Hercule Poirot. Both characters have been adapted to a number of movies and TV series. Miss Marple may be the archetype that inspired Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote, a kindly elderly woman who helps friends and relatives. Poirot, in comparison, is more direct and tends to poke and prod at suspects with his questioning, similar to Columbo except the readers don’t know who the killer is from the beginning. One of the more well known Poirot mysteries is his tenth, Murder on the Orient Express, released in 1934, a murder on a train car stuck in the snow.
What should have been a simple train ride home for Poirot gets interesting. The head of the company gets Poirot into the last cabin on the train in a car with fourteen other passengers. One turns up dead when the train gets stuck in a snowy mountain pass, leaving thirteen suspects in what is essentially a locked room. There car in front is the dining car; in back, the owner’s private car. One or more passengers had to have killed the dead man and Poirot sets out to solve the mystery.
Along the way, Poirot discovers that the dead man had a dark secret of his own that led to the murder. The clues point to any of the suspects and are contradictory. The victim was stabbed multiple times by someone who is both strong and weak, both left- and right-handed. With time limited – the train could be dug out, giving the killer or killers the opportunity to escape before being found. Poirot relies on his ability to read people by asking questions to throw each suspect off with the aim of getting them off-balance enough to make a mistake. He does solve the mystery; the clues, while seemingly at odds with each other, do make sense at the end. Christie built the crime and suspects with the end in mind, with the clues laid out for readers to follow.
In 2017, the latest adaptation of the novel came out. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also starred as Hercule Poirot, the adaptation had a strong cast, with Johnny Depp as the murder victim and Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odam Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Sergei Polunin as the suspects. The film kept the setting in 1934, the year the novel was released.
The film opens with a scene that wasn’t in the book. Poirot, in Instanbul, wraps up a theft mystery, showing the audience who he is and what he is capable of. For those who aren’t familiar with the character, the first scene serves as the intro. The scene also gets a quick bit of action in before settling in for the setting up of the titular murder and the introduction of the suspects.
The movie also spends time introducing the setting. Train travel in 1934 is different from today. There’s an element of luxury, even for those travelling second class, that doesn’t exist on Amtrak or Via. When air travel was still in its early days, the Simplon Orient Express gave passengers a comfortable way across Europe into Turkey. The trains also segregated passengers by cost of fares, with first class being the most luxurious. Today, if Poirot was needed urgently in England as he was in Murder, the British government would have just flown him. In 1934, the Orient Express was the fastest way to travel.
The original novel spends time setting up the characters. The murder doesn’t happen right away. Instead, Christie showed the passengers interacting with each other and with Poirot. Clues were placed, though not necessarily called out. Branagh did the same thing; anyone unaware of who the victim is would be wondering which passenger is going to be killed. With a strong line up of actors, it’s impossible to tell who the murderer and who the victim is. Normally, at least on television, the presence of a major guest star means that the guest will either be the victim or the murderer. With a large, all-star cast, that sort of guesswork can’t be used. Disaster movies from the 70s, such as The Towering Inferno used the same approach.
One thing the novel had that the movie couldn’t include was the passenger list with the assigned cabins. With a novel, a reader can bookmark the page to refer back to. A movie can’t really do that, even on DVD. Film is a visual medium, so instead of a passenger list, the characters had to be memorable, either because of the actor’s portrayal or because of details called out.
Barring the opening scene, the movie plays out faithfully to the book. Minor changes come up, more because of the nature of the medium than a deliberate choice to veer away from the written word. Branagh has an eye for details; if he is taking pains to have a believable Belgian accent, he’s not going to make a change to the story without a good reason. The ending felt different, but that could be a matter of interpretation. The murder happened as it did in the novel. The aftermath, though, was added to provide closure to the film. There was also a sequel hook, with a murder in Egypt. Branagh will release Death on the Nile in 2020.
With a celebrated character like Poirot, getting that role portrayed well is key to get buy-in from existing fans. Branagh didn’t disappoint. Along with getting the accent correct, he managed to portray Poirot as the egotist he is, with humanity. The genius of Sherlock Holmes with the humanity of John Watson. The opening scene establishes Poirot’s perfectionism, tempered by humour. Branagh was ideal in the role. The rest of the cast, though, wasn’t slacking, either. The sheer amount of talent in the movie turned in a performance that should have been noticed by the Academy.
Branagh’s version of Murder on the Orient Express remained faithful to Christie’s original novel, not just with plot, but the era. Changes from the book occurred because of the change in medium, all without affecting the story. The result is a lush movie with an eye to detail that carries through to the adaptation.
Adaptations can pop up anywhere. They’re popular. Studios love them because of the low risk involved. Audiences love them from familiarity. For all the complaints that there’s too many adaptations, the problem isn’t quantity but quality. No one complains about well done adaptations, just the sheer volume, yet adaptations have been ruling the box office since the box office began.
Adaptations can occur in two ways. First, there is the planned adaptation. Movies, TV series, and even Broadway musicals take time to create and produce, giving lead time for advertising the works. The other way is the surprise adaptation – a TV series with a seasonal take on A Christmas Carol, allusions to Shakespeare, recreating The Maltese Falcon, or even destroying Earth for a hyperspace bypass lane. These are seldom announced more than a week in advance in a TV series, and comes as a surprise for the audience. The surprise is greater when the adapting work is a car ad.
Let’s jump back a bit. Some time back, Lost in Translation analyzed the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the 80s. Six youngsters – Hank, Sheila and her younger brother Bobby, Diana, Eric, and Albert aka Presto – go on a D&D-theme roller coaster ride at a fair and wide up transported into a magical realm where they must battle against Venger, the Force of Evil, and Tiamat, Queen of the Evil Chromatic Dragons. Over three seasons and twenty-seven episodes, the heroes battled evil while trying to find a way home. The series ended without resolution, the kids still trapped in the magical realm.
Recently, Renault Brazil released an ad that resolved that cliffhanger after 34 years. Have a look.
The car ad is a live action adaptation of the /D&D/ cartoon. The characters are recognizable, not just from magical items and costumes, but their look. The ad has all the main characters, the kids, Uni, Venger, Tiamat, and Dungeon Master. Even the setting reflects the look of the realm in the cartoon.
With older works, especially ones originally aimed at children, there’s the temptation to use the “wink-and-a-nod” approach, treating the original as a source or even the butt of jokes. Land of the Lost, the 2009 movie starring Will Farrell, is a prime example. The ad makers, though, treated the source seriously. The ad comes across as the climax of the two-part series finale, complete with sequel hook for the inevitable movie. All of the kids get a chance to show their abilities. Better, they got home. A car ad provides closure for a thirty-four year old story.
What did the ad’s makers get right? The cast is recognizable. The first shot is of Hank, which may trigger a sense of recognition of the older fans of the original series. When he pulls back on his magical bow and takes aime at Tiamat, there’s no mistaking what’s going on. Next, production values. CGI has come a long way since the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons movie. Tiamat has a presence on screen, and her five heads are accurate to the chromatic dragons of D&D. Uni has a cartoon quality, but does look like she did in the series. The costumes, combined with casting, mean that everyone is recognizable. The characters are live action version of their animated originals.
The only real problem the ad has is brevity. Its length works in its favour; the cost of a 1:45 ad, even with the special effects needed, isn’t going to empty a bank account. At the same time, though, it does leave fans wanting more. The ad is just a snippet of the long-awaited series finale, with a sequel hook. Some advertising campaigns have led to a series of ads, though very few have had an ongoing storyline. The best known series of ads with a story was for Taster’s Choice coffee, featuring Anthony Stewart Head and Sharon Maughan as their characters’ romance bloomed over twelve installments. So a revival of the D&D cartoon as live action car ads is a very slim possibility. As it stands, though, the ad is enough to reignite the fandom.
Last week, Lost in Translation did a quick overview of sports movies. It’s time to look at a specific example, a movie about a quintessentially Canadian sport, Men With Brooms.
While curling originated in Scotland, it spread quickly with the settlers in the New World, especially where there was winter three to ten months of the year. Most Canadian small towns have a curling rink. But what is curling? It’s a sport where two teams of four compete over ten ends to get the highest score. To score, a team must have at least one rock or stone nearest to the button, the middle of the target. For each rock nearer to the button than the opponent’s closest, the team scores a point.
Curling gets its name from what each team member must do to get a stone as close to the button as possible. By giving the stone a bit of spin, the curler gets it to arc around the opponents’ rocks, taking some out by hitting them. The curler’s teammates can straighten the path of the stone by sweeping a path using a broom, letting the rock travel farther.
Curling competitions are called bonspiels, where a number of teams compete over the course of a weekend, with the top teams meeting in a playoff to determine the overall winner. There are typically no referees or officials, with the players respecting the Spirit of Curling to maintain sportsmanship. One of the biggest fouls in the game is burning a rock, or touching one while it’s in motion. The expectation is that the team that burned the rock will own up to it.
It may be easier to watch a few ends to understand the game, but the above should act as a primer. Curling is a team sport, and teams are made of people with their own goals and motivations, some of which may cause conflict with teammates. There is story-telling potential in the sport. Which brings us to Men With Brooms.
Released in 2002, Men With Brooms was written by, directed by, and starred Paul Gross, best known as Constable Benton Fraser on the TV series Due South. Billed as a romantic comedy, it was originally intended to be about the other Canadian sport, hockey, but worries about politics surrounding the sport and the size of a hockey team led to changing the focus to curling. From there, the script fell into place.
Men With Brooms opens with the death of Don Foley, played by James B. Douglas, as he and his younger daughter Amy (Molly Parket) retrieve a curling rock from the river near Long Bay, Ontario. The heart attack, though, plays into Don’s goals of getting the curling team he coached back together to win the Golden Broom. The team came close ten years before, but the skip, Chris Cutter (Gross), walked off the ice in the finals, never to return, after being so caught up in wanting to win he failed to call a burned rock. Don wants the team to reform and put his ashes, now in the recovered curling stone, on the button to win the Golden Broom.
The rest of the team – Neil Bucyk (James Allodi), James Lennox (Peter Outerbridge), and Eddie Strombeck (Jed Rees) – are convinced. They all have some problems in their lives, though. Neil is in a loveless marriage to Linda (Kari Matchette). James owes money to people who can afford to send a hardy knee-breaker to recover the cash. Eddie and his wife, Lilly (Jane Spidell), are desperate to have a baby. And Chris has an ex-girlfriend, Don’s eldest daughter Julie (Michelle Nolden), who still hasn’t worked out her anger from when he disappeared. Eva is also now an astronaut; she pushed herself after Chris left. Chris’ old drinking buddy, Amy, is a single parent and attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. Life in Long Bay has not been kind.
The reformed team is enthusiastic, but rusty. For their first match as a team, they take on a team of retirees, one of whom needs a walker. Team Cutter loses the match and they realize that they need help. There’s only one man in town who knows how to coach a winning team. Unfortunately, Chris is estranged from his father, Gordon (Leslie Nielsen). Chris does approach his father, all he wants is a coach, not reconciliation. Gordon agrees, and starts a training regimen for the men.
The team enters the Golden Broom bonspiel. Teams from such metropolises as Kingston, ON, Moose Jaw, SK, and Come by Chance, NF have all arrived in Long Bay to compete for the Golden Broom. Among the teams, though, is the one skipped by Alexander “The Juggernaut” Yount (Greg Bryk), who once represented Canada in the Olympics. The luck of the draw puts Cutter and Yount in the first match. The score is close, but in a later end, a rock is burned by Cutter’s rink with only three men noticing – Chris, Gordon, and Yount. Gordon gives Chris the chance to call it, but Chris refuses. Yount’s rink goes on to win the match. Chris leaves the rink to go to the bar.
Some of Chris’ problems get worked out. Amy and Julie have come to an understanding and Amy has realized that she is in love with Chris. Julie finds out that the unusual happened and both the designated astronaut and his backup have been scrubbed, letting her join the mission. Chris heads to his mother’s grave, where he finds his father, and the two reconcile.
Chris returns to the bonspiel, but Neil has been dragged away by his wife to the country club. Gordon steps in. The Cutter rink stages a comeback, but in the penultimate game, Gordon throws out his back and is unable to continue. The team is down one man and may have to play the final game as a three-man team. However, James’ girlfriend of the moment, Joanne (Polly Shannon), who has gotten to know Neil, retrieves him to finish the bonspiel.
The final game pits the Cutter rink against the Yount Rink one more time. It’s a tough match for the Cutter rink as the Juggernaut lives up to his name. In the final end, though, the score is close and comes down to the final rock, thrown by the skip, Chris. It’s an impossible shot, having to curl around then rebound to land on the button, but Chris gets the rock, the one with Don’s ashes, to go where he wants. Problem is, the rock gets burned by Eddie and only Chris sees it. Chris calls the official over and explains what happened. Yount, impressed that Chris called the burned rock when he could have won, allows the stones to be reset to give Chris a second throw. However, the first throw was impossible. To do it again is unthinkable. And Chris decides that there is another way. A brute force throw sends the final stone with Don’s ashes down the ice, smashing through any other rock in the way, shattering the thrown stone so that pieces of it land with the ashes on the button.
The film plays with curling and bonspiels. The match with the retirees allows the film to explain curling to anyone in the audience who doesn’t know the game, using Joanne as the audience stand-in to ask questions. That match is played mostly straight, using the game to show the relationships within the Cutter rink and how rusty they are. The Golden Broom bonspiel, though, is treated as a major event, along the lines of an NBA final and the Olympics, despite the largest town represented, Kingston, having a population of about 137 thousand. Come by Chance has a population of 228. The Juggernaut’s entrance would fit more at a WWE event than curling. Despite that, the gameplay is what one would expect from curling. Even when the Cutter rink starts using straw brooms instead of the more modern carbon fibre, it’s an odd choice but represents the type of broom Gordon used when he was younger.
Outside the gameplay, the sport is used to bring the characters together, first to reunite them after ten years, then to fulfill Don’s dying wish. The conflicts between characters come out on the ice, adding to the drama. Curling isn’t just the sport being played, but a metaphor for what the characters are going through. After the win, each member of Cutter’s rink has an improvement in their lives, even the divorce.
The ads around the rink are typical for the sport, especially in smaller towns. Instead of the big name advertisers that would buy ads at, say, the Super Bowl, like Apple, there are local shops and smaller grocery chains. This level of realism grounds the movie, allowing the more comedic aspects to shine through.
Curling is an odd sport of choice to adapt to film. While the game has about the same pace as baseball, it’s not as widely known. /Men With Brooms/ took some time to show the audience the ins and outs of the game so viewers could follow the action on the ice. However, the small team size makes for a more intimate drama, even in a romantic comedy. Men With Brooms uses the sport to build from, using curling’s more laid back approach as a springboard for comedic elements while still portraying the game as it is played.