Lost in Translation has pointed out that television is the better medium for adapting longer form stories, such as novels. Of late, movies are better with mind blowing, budget breaking action scenes, but are limited when allowing a story to develop. Television doesn’t have the budget, but a good accountant can find ways to spread the costs over the run of a season. The catch with TV, though, is ratings. A series that can’t find an audience fast enough is often cancelled. The days where series like M*A*S*H and Cheers would be allowed time to grow an audience. Today’s television is not only competing among the networks and cable stations but also streaming services.
The key to adapting a novel is knowing just how much time can be filled. The Expanse took seventeen episodes to adapt the first book of the series, Levianthan Wakes, all of season one and the first seven episodes of season two. If the series wasn’t picked up after the first season, The Expanse would have ended at a natural break point, leaving the main plot still unfinished but giving the characters an end of sorts for their arcs.
Season lengths tend to be set for American network productions; thirteen or twenty-two episodes, giving allowing for reruns and holiday breaks. British television, though, is not beholden to the format. Seasons run as long as needed, no more, no less. This gives a bit more freedom when it comes to adaptations. There’s no need for filler episodes as seen in long running anime or even original TV series on American television. Being able to set the length of a series adapting a novel means the showrunner can figure out what can be kept and what can be dropped without losing the core of the original work.
The 2019 adaptation of Good Omens is perhaps the best use of a limited series to adapt a novel. Based on the novel Good Omens: A Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, the series co-produced by the BBC and by Amazon took on the task of adapting the book nicely. The main catch to the novel was the narrative. The narrator provided a lot of extra information and footnotes that would be difficult to replicate. Tone is also crucial; the original novel is a comedy about the End of the World.
Published in 1990, the novel takes the idea of the Antichrist as seen in such movies as The Omen and asks the key question, “What if the Antichrist didn’t have angelic or demonic influences?” The novel also looks at the question of nature versus nurture, ineffability, and the nature of humanity. All while an angel and a demon rebel against their own sides to save the world.
How does the Antichrist get misplaced, though? One would expect that the angelic hosts and demonic hordes would keep a close eye on the bringer of Armageddon. However, while God does not play dice with the universe, God is also not beyond a little Three-Card Monte, by adding a third baby to the mix. Not only is the wife of the American ambassador giving birth at St. Beryl’s Order of Chattering Nuns, but Mrs. Young is as well. The demon Crowley passes the Antichrist off to one of the Satanic nuns who gets confused on who is the American ambassador and switches out the wrong baby. While Heaven, represented by the Principality Aziraphale, and Hell, with Crowley coming in, try to influence young Warlock, the Antichrist, named Adam, is growing up in Tadfield, England.
Add into the confusion Anathema Device, a professional descendant of Agnes Nutter, and the owner of the only copy ever published of Agnes’ book, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch; the Witchfinder Army, consisting of Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell and new recruit Newt Pulsifer, descendant of the man who burned Agnes at the stake; the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse with new recruit Pollution replacing the retired Pestilence; Adam’s gang, Them, with Pepper, Wensleydale, and Brian; and a Bentley where every cassette morphs into The Best of Queen over a fortnight. Gaiman and Pratchett keep the story moving along and a good pace as Adam starts realizing that he is more than what he appears as his eleventh birthday approaches. Ultimately, Adam shows that he is neither good nor evil, just human.
Being adapted can be seen as winning the lottery by some writers. It takes writers with experience and pull to be able to control how their stories are adapted. Neil Gaiman is one such author, with experience working in television and enough best sellers to make studios notice. Gaiman became the showrunner for the 2019 adaptation of Good Omens. His familiarity with the story and his respect for his co-writer Pratchett comes through with the results. Gaiman also wrote the script and, working with the BBC and with Amazon’s streaming service, was able to get the novel out without being rushed, without losing key ideas, and without having to cut corners.
The series starred Michael Sheen as Aziraphale and David Tennant as Crowley, with Adria Arjona as Anathema, Jack Whitehall as Newt, Miranda Richardson as Madame Tracey, Michael McKean as Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, Sam Taylor Buck as Adam, and Ollie as the cutest Hellhound ever, Dog. The six episodes follow the events in the novel closely, losing only a few bits and characters due to limitations. To new viewers, though, these losses don’t leave a visible hole, so the second set of Four Bikers of the Apocalypse aren’t muddling the flow of the plot onscreen. Likewise, the reason Queen is used as the soundtrack is never explained, but it’s a soundtrack featuring Queen. The fate of the third baby isn’t revealed, leaving the question dangling of what just happened after the swapping at St. Beryl’s. At the same time, the series expands on how the Arrangement between Aziraphale and Crowley came about, where they cover for each other when one gets stuck elsewhere.
The narrator is handled by having Frances McDormand be the voice of God, narrating as needed, giving the extra explanations the narrative in the original novel does. The Metatron, the Voice of God, though, is played by Derek Jacobi. By having God narrate, the little asides that come up in the book can carry over to the series, giving the audience the information needed to understand where the story is going and why.
Casting was critical. The chemistry between Aziraphale and Crowley had to work. Fortunately, Sheen and Tennant were more than capable in recreating the forbidden camaraderie of two people who have known each other over 6000 years. Sam Taylor Buck plays Adam as a normal kid who isn’t all that normal, one who just wants to enjoy his time at home, neither good nor evil. The cast, in short, was perfect, even with the minor characters like Jon Hamm’s Gabriel, portrayed as an out of touch middle manager who doesn’t have to deal with the front line.
Having Gaiman as showrunner ensured that the adaptation stayed true. The parts and characters that were removed weren’t needed in the overall plot and would have taken up time needed elsewhere. Good Omens remained faithful to the original novel, keeping the tone and the themes that helped make the story popular.
A new Sonic the Hedgehog trailer was released earlier this month and it corrected the biggest problem that the movie had. Sonic now looks like Sonic.
That may not mean much, but the original trailer had Sonic looking like a normal hedgehog mutated to be blue and big. Which could have been recoverable at the time, except Detective Pikachu had trailers showing various recognizable Pokémon interacting with live action as well with no sign of changes from the original designs.
What could Paramount Pictures do when faced with this hurdle? Delay the release and call in a fan, Tyson Hesse, who has worked for Archie Comics on their Sonic titles. The result, the new Sonic design which actually looks like Sonic. This is key. Video game adaptations have a poor reputation, thanks to such early releases as Double Dragon and Super Mario Bros. Adapting from games has been discussed here at Lost in Translation, but the biggest hurdle is translating gameplay into a narrative. It should be simple, but what works as a game – running around gathering rings to defeat the villain – doesn’t always translate well.
The studio’s decision to bring in a fan, though, shows that video games are being respected more. People do get annoyed when a favourite book gets mangled for the sake of a movie or TV series, the result being an audience that fails to show up. Video games, much like comic books, are now being given the same treatment; the fans have an expectation that the studio has to fulfill instead of the studio slapping a name on a project.
However, there’s another change in the newest trailer. Tone. The first trailer goes for the action feel, a fight against overwhelming odds. The latest turns the movie into more of a comedy. It could be that the movie is an action-comedy road trip, and that’s not a bad thing with the character. The change is noticeable, though, down to the choice of music. The new trailer introduces a sense of fun to the movie. That may be the film’s salvation. People are willing to forgive a movie for not being great if it’s at least fun to watch. Cleaning up the main problem – Sonic’s appearance – and adjusting audience expectations will go a long way to get an audience interested.
The biggest problem with the new trailer is that it almost tells the entire story on its own. While the goal of a trailer is to entice the audience, it’s possible that the only thing left untold is the ending, and there may be enough hints already to see how the end will happen. This isn’t a problem unique to Sonic. Far too many studios will use the key plot points in advertising to get attention without realizing what is being given away. Paramount may have gone too far in correcting the original trailer here.
Will Sonic the Hedgehog be a great movie? Probably not. But it’s not aiming for that level. It’s trying to be a fun movie, judging from the latest trailer. Audiences will get to decide for themselves in 2020.
A couple months back, Lost in Translation reviewed the first season of The Expanse based on the series by James SA Corey. The first book of the series, Leviathan Wakes, is a mighty tome on its own, resulting in the first season covering only half of it. Instead of trying to push the entire book into the first season and rushing the story line, the studio focused on the pace, allowing the horror lurking beneath the surface to build much like it did in the novel. The end of the first season was a natural break point with a satisfying conclusion with not everything wrapped up.
This review is going to cover just to the end of Levianthan Wakes. The second season of The Expanse wraps up the book by the seventh epsiode, leading into the next book augmented with information from short stories in the setting and dealing with the fallout from the events in the first book. The first seven episodes of the season wrap up the book.
The latter half of Leviathan Wakes switches from hard SF and film noir to horror and first contact. A molecule, called “protomatter”, has been discovered and a corporation is doing everything it can to keep the discovery under wraps until they find a way to monetize it. Earth and Mars are on the brink of a war that will affect the Belt and beyond even if Belters take no part in it. Miller finds Julie Mao, dead. Then things get worse.
The corporation turns Eros into a radioactive experiment with protomatter, dooming anyone who can’t escape. Holden and Miller have to fight their way to the Rocinante and pick up a near-lethal level of radiation that can’t be handwaved away. Ultimately, the decision is made to destroy Eros before it can reach Earth, though even hitting it with a spaceship on a high-G burn doesn’t go easy. It comes down to a disgraced cop on his final case to save Earth.
Season two of The Expanse continues with the increased viewpoints beyond just Miller and Holden. We’re shown what is going on in the halls of power on Earth, the troops on the ground on Mars, the people waiting in the Belt. Everything still hinges on Holden and Miller, though. Decisions get made to set Eros up for destruction. There is a lot of action in the latter half of the book, and describing action takes more time than just showing it on screen. A raid that takes a few chapters can be done in one episode with no loss of story. Each medium has its strengths and drawbacks, and a visual medium can handle a visual element far better than text.
The pacing does pick up, but that follows from the novel. The protomatter’s secret is revealed; it is extraterrestrial and capable of transforming a living organism into a form it needs. And Eros is filled with it and heading to Earth. The pacing of the series accelerates like an object falling due to gravity, and the payoff is the same as in the novel.
The Expanse continues to pull in from other stories in the series to flesh out what’s happening, keeping the storytelling more or less linear, with a few exceptions in shown in flashbacks. The series also works at making it easy to tell who is from where, from distinctive hairstyles to slang and lingo to even tattoos. The series brings the setting alive despite the limitations of being filmed in a gravity well.
Poetry, like songs, aren’t adapted to other media often, not like prose or serial art. The goal of a poem is more about emotion than narrative, though there are poems that are stories. Such poems, though, are limited by length. Like songs, it can be a stretch to expand a poem from what is written to fill a time slot. Some studios have tried, though. What helps is using a well-known poem, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s works.
Poe’s “The Raven” is a staple in high school, serving as an introduction to mood and tone while not being so esoteric to turn students away. The moodiness of “The Raven” allows for dramatic reading, with readers being able to set their own interpretation of the words. The poem is told from the view of a man who is suffering from grief and possibly more and wanting salvation, only to torture himself when a raven enters his home and says just one word, “Nevermore.”
Universal had a number of successes with horror movies, including Dracula with Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, both released in 1931. Lugosi and Karloff became draws for audiences, so Universal teamed them up, first in The Black Cat, based on Poe’s short story of the same name, and then in 1935 with The Raven.
The Raven starred Lugosi as Dr. Richard Vollin, Karloff as Edmond Bateman, Irene Ware as the dancer Jean Thatcher, Samuel S. Hinds as her father Judge Thatcher, and Lester Matthews as her beau Jerry Halden. While Karloff had top billing, the movie is really Lugosi’s. His Vollin provides the plot for the film. The catch of the movie, though, is that it is “suggested by” Poe’s “The Raven”. The film warns audiences that the adaptation might not be faithful.
The poem guides the movie, though. The film begins with Jean driving and failing to make a turn to a detour, leaving her injured. Only one doctor has the knowledge and skill to help her, Dr. Vollin, but he’s left his career. Judge Thatcher manages to convince him to go to the hospital, where Vollin begins his obsession over Jean.
The surgery is a success and Jean is able to get to her next performance, an interpretation of “The Raven” with her as the bird. Vollin’s obsession grows, though, and he hatches a plot when Bateman arrives at his doorstep wanting surgery to change his appearance. What no one suspects is that Vollin has a second obsession, torture. To escape his torture, he needs to torture someone else. Batemen is his first victim, becoming disfigured after surgery. Vollin makes an offer to Bateman – become his hands in what he has planned, and he will remove the disfigurement. Batement agrees.
Vollin invites Jean, her father, her beau, and their friends for an evening’s soiree. During this time, Vollin puts his plot to action. Bateman grabs the Judge, taking him down to a deathtrap straight from Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”. It’s only when Jean and Jerry are trapped in a sliding room trap that Bateman acts, releasing the trapped couple and throwing Vollin in.
The Raven uses the poem for mood, the idea of obsession and of self-torture. Vollin is a tragic character, but by his own hand. He sets up his own demise, a very Poe-like approach. But the closest the film gets to adapting the poem is the interpretive dance sequence. Vollin does recite a few lines of the poem, and he uses a raven as his symbol. A doctor using a symbol of death isn’t reassuring, and it does foreshadow what will happen.
With the film being “suggested by”, there is no Lenore. However, if the poem is included in the movie, can there be a Lenore? There’s no one by that name, but Jean fills the role for Vollin. Even going metaphorically get be a stretch, though. The Raven is more inspired by “The Raven” and other works of Edgar Allen Poe than a proper adaptation. In that light, the film works. There is the horror and dangers of obsession, a theme Poe touches on in several works. As an adaptation, however, The Raven misses the mark.
The World Wide Web is an equalizer when it comes to entertainment. While major studios have money to throw into marketing, word of mouth can be more effecting online. It shouldn’t be surprising that web series have become popular the way TV series and films have. Rooster Teeth began as a machinima producer with Red vs Blue, using Halo: Combat Evolved to tell the story of the forces defending a strategic box canyon. Rooster Teeth’s latest hit is RWBY, with season seven coming this November.
RWBY, pronounced “Ruby”, follows four students at the Beacon Academy on the world of Remnant – Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang. Team RWBY learns how to work as a team and with their classmates, including Team JNPR (“Juniper”), with the goal of becoming Huntresses to fight off the Grimm, monsters out of fairy tales that roam the lands of Remnant endangering the inhabitants. Created by Monty Oum, the series has action, comedy, and drama in equal portions, sometimes intermingling. The series uses fairy tales, myths, and legends for inspiration, tweaking them for the story and setting.
Season one sees Team RWBY as fresh students at the Beacon Academy. As the series progresses, they discover the larger world around them, including criminal organizations, the White Fang (a Faunus terrorist group), and different types of Grimm. The Grimm, though, do attack Beacon, causing it to fall and leaving Team RWBY working to clean up.
The Fall of Beacon is where the novel, RWBY After the Fall, by EC Myers, picks up. Instead of following Team RWBY, as the series does, After the Fall chronicles a different team, Team CFVY (“Coffee”), composed of leader and fashion plate Coco Adel, rabbit Faunus Velvet Scarletina, blind but crafty Fox Alistair, and burly yet gentle Yatsuhaishi Daishi. It’s not just Beacon having problems with the Grimm after the Fall of Beacon. All of Remnant is being overrun and Huntresses and Huntsmen are needed, even if they haven’t completed their education.
While the focus is on Team CFVY, Team RWBY shows up in flashbacks that show CFVY trying to come together. Coco, Fox, Velvet, and Yatsu are distinct characters, with their own motives and personalities. They are sent to the continent of Vacua, a land of desert and Fox’s home, where the inhabitants keep on the move. With the Grimm around, life gets difficult. Worse, a group of refugees being protected by CFVY are inflicted by mood bombs, pushing negative emotions to the point of in-fighting and drawing the Grimm to them. Adding to the problem are Bertilak and Carmine, experienced Huntsmen protecting Edward and Gus who have their own mission.
Team CFVY is pushed to their limits as they try to deal with everything, the refugees, the Huntsmen and their charges, and the Grimm. The only haven may lie on the coast, but getting there is one challenge after another. The team has to dig deep into their personal reserves to be the heroes they were training to be.
After the Fall may be the first tie-in novel based on a web series, an indication of the evolution of where audiences find their entertainment. The novel also branches off from the main series, showing what is happening beyond the exploits of Team RWBY. The world of Remnant gets a little bigger with After the Fall. By moving to another continent, there’s no chance of derailing the main plot, a risk if the original series is still ongoing. An episodic series, like Star Trek: The Next Generation, doesn’t run that risk. RWBY, though, isn’t episodic. Each episode builds off the previous and towards the next. The separation is needed.
At the same time, the draw is Team RWBY. They’re the stars. The series is named after them. The need to appear. The cameos may or may not be enough, depending on the reader. However, by putting the focus on Team CFVY, the novel presents several new lenses to view Team RWBY. The setting allows for and has even presented other teams, such as Team JNPR. There is room for more teams. Team CFVY is believable as attendees at Beacon.
The writing is solid. EC Meyers presents the story with a light touch, making for a quick but deep read. He has the mix of action, drama, and comedy that RWBY has. Coco, Fox, Velvet, and Yastu may be a year older than Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang, but they still have a lot to learn, especially from each other. There’s hints of what lies in the future for Team CFVY, but only if they can survive their challenges.
Taking an animated series and translating it to a text-based medium takes a deft touch. EC Meyers pulled off the trick by remembering the source and making sure that the characters fit in the setting. RWBY‘s first tie-in novel brings the setting to life, expanding it through the eyes of a new team.
Fast food is highly competitive. So many options for the person who just wants to have a quick, inexpensive meal. Each fast food chain has its own way of getting attention, from mascots to sponsorships to tie-ins to other mainstream media. Burger King had three XBox/XBox 360 video games. Arby’s has its anime-aware Twitter account. KFC produced a dating sim featuring the Colonel. McDonald’s has its ubiquitous nature. So what is a chain like Wendy’s supposed to do?
Would you believe a tabletop role-playing game?
Wendy’s made available a free RPG called Feast of Legends, where players are called by Queen Wendy, first of her name, breaker of fast food chains, defender of all things fresh, never frozen, ruler of the realm of Freshtovia since 1969, to defend the realm against the evils of the dark art of frozen beef and their practitioners. The land of Beef’s Keep have fractured over how to treat beef, with some siding with Creepingvale and the United Clown Nations and going with freezing.
Yes, the goal is to sell Wendy’s hamburgers and other foods with subtle and, at times, not so subtle jabs at the competition. Lurking beneath the marketing is a solid game mechanic that takes inspiration and cues from the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons since the turn of the millennium. The question becomes, can a fast food restaurant be adapted as a tabletop RPG?
Back a bit, I went through what is key for adapting a work to a tabletop RPG. The five points to watch for are:
1. Is there something for the players to do?
2. Can the players have the same impact on the setting as the main characters?
3. Does the plot of the original work allow for expansion?
4. Will the adapted game bring in something that a more generic game can’t?
5. Is the license available?
The last one is easy to answer. Wendy’s is the publisher, bypassing the need to get a license. Skips the middleman and gets the game out. The third question is the big one, though. The original has no plot. The original is a fast food restaurant. There is no plot, just a daily war between the folks behind the counter and the ravening mass of humanity determined to leave nothing in its wake but destruction, or, as they mass calls itself, customers. While the idea of playing the last stand of the unfortunates standing against the horde may be appealing, that’s not what Feast of Legends is about. It’s an epic fantasy based on the menu at Wendy’s. There’s going to be a lot of stretching of points here.
The RPG does give something for the players to do and not only are their characters having the same impact as the main ones, they are the leads. Queen Wendy needs brave souls to fight for Freshtovia, and given the number of competitors for the fast food dollar, there is room for expansion.
Mechanically, Feast of Legends is what is called a “fantasy heartbreaker“, a fantasy RPG that tries to be different from D&D but still relies heavily on the older game. What would be a liability, though, works in the favour of Feast. Leaning on what D&D has done makes it easier to get buy-in from players and an easier learning curve, even for rookies. This leaves room for developing the world itself, which is where Feast starts to shine.
Feast is a marketing tool. The game doesn’t shy away from that fact. Instead, it revels in it. Not only are the players working on Queen Wendy’s behalf, their opponents are from the competing fast food restaurants. The classes are reskinned as Orders, each one named after different parts of the menu, such as Order of the Beef, Order of the Chicken, and Order of the Sides. Each Order has its own sub-Order, named after specific items on the menu. There are special abilities that each Order gets, but, broadly speaking, the Order of the Chicken is the magical class, Order of the Beef the fighter class, and Order of the Sides the roguish class with a touch of magic.
The mechanics take advantage of being menu items. To encourage the players to eat off the Wendy’s menu, there are mechanical advantages depending on what’s being consumed. An added benefit is if the item being eaten matches the name of the character’s order, the player gets advantage on every roll made that night, rolling two twenty-sided dice and taking the better result. If a player decides to eat from a competitor, then woe be on the character as penalties apply. The worst may be from eating gas station food, a -2 to Intelligence all night.
The world of Beef’s Keep includes a map. Keeping with the hamburger theme, there are two mountain ranges, Top Bun Mountains and Bottom Bun Mountains. Freshtovia, Creepingvale, and the United Clown Nations aren’t the only realms; there’s also The Box, the Twin Cities of Carl, and the Temple of Panda. Other named features include Lake John Silver and Roast Beach. The greatest threat comes from the Deep Freeze, home of the Ice Jester and his United Clown Nations. The adventure that comes with the game has the players take on the Jester and his minions, Grumble, the Beef Burgler, and the Fry Fiends, to protect Freshtovia from being flash frozen.
The setting is very tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at Wendy’s competition. The game is not meant to be taken seriously, though the work that went into it was serious. The goal of the game is fun. There’s room to explore beyond the adventure. After all, Creepingvale is nearby with its creepy king with the paper crown, waiting to sneak his minions up to the border of Freshtovia when no one is looking.
Feast of Legends is a very loose adaptation of the Wendy’s menu and chain. As a tabletop RPG, there’s a few gaps, but not many. The artwork is on par with the larger RPG publishers. As an adaptation, well, it exists for marketing purposes, but there is a sense of fun that went into the game. Mechanically, the game is sound, and emphasizes the message the publisher wants to get across, “Eat at Wendy’s”. For its price, the game is far better than it has a right to be, but Wendy’s wanted something memorable for its audacity, not its drawbacks. The creators hit the right balance between game and marketing, making something that can be played and that people will want to try out.
While music covers are the main way to remake a song, the translation from song to film or TV is rare. Songs are typically short, covering a brief moment in time. However, some songs have been adapted. These songs usually have a narrative that can be expanded on to fill the time of a film.
This time out, though, Lost in Translation will look at the movie Convoy, adapted from the song written by Bill Fries and Chip Davis and performed by Fries as CW McCall. When “Convoy” hit the airwaves in 1975, citizen’s band, or CB, radio was becoming popular. Long-distance truckers adopted the technology, giving them the ability to talk to someone while on the road, giving each other tips and warnings along the way. For someone driving across country alone, CB radio provided a connection to others, much like social media today does. Also like today’s social media, CB radio had its own jargon and codes. The song “Convoy” uses the lingo, giving a trucking feel.
The song itself is about a convoy of long-haul trucks led by the narrator, Rubber Duck, crossing the country, LA to New York, while police try to stop them. The reasons aren’t given, but more trucks join up as the convoy crosses the US. There’s some ribbing, mostly to Pig-Pen and his cargo of hogs, and one driver carrying dynamite. The police escalate, bringing in the Illinois National Guard’s tanks. There’s a conflict, not explained, but something to build on. “Convoy” peaked on Billboard’s Hot Country charts, so, naturally, someone saw a way to build off it.
The Seventies saw a move away from the traditional Western and even the spaghetti Western. Audiences were ready for something different yet the same. The “outlaw trucker” genre, best exemplified by 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit, slipped into the role of the Western, though briefly, riding on country music about long-haul drivers like “Convoy”. Using the song as the basis for a movie made sense at the time.
In 1978, Convoy appeared on the silver screen, directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Kris Kristofferson as the Rubber Duck, Ali MacGraw as Melissa, Franklyn Ajaye as Spider Mike, Burt Young as Love Machine/Pig-Pen, Madge Sinclair as Widow Woman, and Earnest Borgnine as “Dirty” Lyle Wallace. The film was the second-to-last one that Peckinpah would direct.
The movie opens in the Arizona desert with the Rubber Duck in his Mack hauling a tank trailer being baited by Melissa in a Jaguar. The fun ends when a deputy sheriff pulls them both over after being run off the road by them. Melissa races off, leaving the Duck back on the road on his own. He’s soon joined by Love Machine and Spider Mike, who gives the former the new handle Pig Pen because of the load of hogs he’s hauling. Spider Mike is trying to earn money to help pay for the baby his wife about to give birth to. While they’re rolling down the highway, they hear over the CB that the road is clear of smokeys. Turns out, the news is coming from Sheriff “Dirty” Lyle Wallace, a corrupt cop who doesn’t like truckers. He manages to get $70 from each of the drivers before they move on. Turns out, there’s a history between Wallace and the Duck, one that the movie doesn’t expand on. Neither care much for the other, though the Duck is more willing to stay out of Wallace’s hair if given a chance.
At a truck stop, while the Duck is getting a birthday present from one of the waitresses (Cassie Yates), Wallace shows up to check license plates to see if any are expired or about to expire. Pig Pen and Spider Mike use the stop’s CB radio to taunt Wallace, leading to the Sheriff coming into the stop. He easily finds Spider Mike and provokes the black man into attacking. A full-on brawl breaks out as all the truckers in the stop take advantage to get some payback against the Sheriff and his deputies. One of the waitresses calls the Duck back over the radio, in time to join the fray. The result – all the truckers plus Melissa on the run, trying to make their way to the Arizona-New Mexico state line, Dirty Lyle in pursuit but delayed, and a huge mess for the truck stop owner to deal with.
As the chase continues through New Mexico, more truckers join the convoy. Melissa asks why the Duck is leading the trucks. Duck replies that he’s not leading, they’re just following. The reasons for why the other truckers are in the convoy vary. Some, like Spider Mike, are tired of the corruption and racism of the police. Others are in it because they disagree with the then-new national speed limit of 55 mph, imposed in 1974 in response to the oil embargo by OPEC nations. And some were there for the thrills and the chance to kick some ass. The only thing all the drivers in the convoy had was they wanted to keep moving, the one thing a convoy does.
The news of the convoy spreads throughout the state. The public’s reaction supports the drivers and their “cause”. The Governor, spurred by aides who see a political opportunity, provides the truckers a place to stop for the night so he can talk with the Duck. Spider Mike, though, has to leave the convoy; news arrives that his wife is about to give birth. His route, though, takes him into Texas, where black men, let alone black truckers, are not safe.
Once the convoy stops for the night, the truckers and followers take the time to shower and rest. The Governor (Seymour Cassel) finally tracks down Rubber Duck to try to make a deal. The Duck, though, is independant. He’s not the leader; his goal is to just get away from Wallace. The Governor tries to work out a deal, but news comes over the radio that Spider Mike has been arrested in Alvarez, Texas and beaten. The Duck puts Pig-Pen in charge of the negotiations, then leaves.
The next morning, the Duck is outside Alvarez, watching the town to see what the town’s Sheriff (Jorge Russek) and Wallace have planned. Pig-Pen, though, figured out what the Duck was going to do, so brought along the original truckers running from the brawl at the trick stop with him. Instead of being outnumbered, the Duck has reinforcements, and the local Sheriff bails on seeing the trucks coming into his town.
The Duck breaks Spider Mike out of jail. Wallace was expecting the Duck to come alone, as did the Duck. The final confrontation the two had been building up to had been postponed. The truckers leave Lyle in Spider Mike’s jail cell, then make the decision to run for the Mexican border. After what they did in Alvarez, there’s no way they’d be allowed to walk away. With the Duck at the front door, they put the pedal to the metal.
However, a school bus stop separates the Duck from the rest of the convoy, a stop that may have been worked out by Wallace and the local police. The Duck is alone, with only Melissa in his truck. Wallace, however, has the Texas National Guard with him, complete with anti-riot tank. He gives the order – shoot to kill. The Duck throws Melissa out of his truck and makes his last run to the bridge and into the line of fire as Wallace opens up with a heavy machine gun. Stray shots hit the Duck’s tank trailer, causing it to explode.
The movie took what could be called a novelty song and turned it serious. It was an action movie, not a comedy, and stripped away some of the romance of the long-haul trucker. There wasn’t anyone on the side of the angels, with the truckers playing fast and loose with legalities and the police just armed thugs with authority. What does happen, though, is the conflict builds to the explosive climax. The Duck and Dirty Lyle are two sides of the same coin, independant, stubborn, and neither a leader nor a follower.
The film takes liberties with the song, but with Fries and Davis on board for the music, the lyrics could be changed for the purposes of the movie. The original song had an unexplained conflict; Convoy takes the cops versus truckers theme and gives the conflict a flashpoint and a resolution. While the movie may appear to have the Duck die at the bears’ hands, he does have one last trick to pull to come out ahead.
Convoy could have gone the novelty route; with a lighter hand it would have been a comedy. Peckinpah manages to work in some social commentary and provides a harder look at the life of long-haul truckers, removing the romance much like later Westerns did for that genre. It’s an odd combination, but the movie does build on the song. The truckers are flouting the law, the cops are overreacting, and a tank does show up.
Songs may not always provide much to build on, but with “Convoy”, there’s enough story to expand into a feature film. Convoy takes the song and gives it life and background.
Today, superheroes are huge. Blockbuster movies breaking records, TV series, video games, toys, the works. However, there was a time when superheroes were oddities, not mainstream, at least outside comic books, when the idea of a superhero having a TV series was unusual. In 1990, The Flash debuted on CBS, an attempt to bring one of the leading DC characters to a larger audience.
Let’s start, though, with a look at the character. The original Flash debuted in Flash Comics #1, published January 1940. Created by Gardiner Fox and Harry Lampert, the original Flash was Jay Garrick, college athlete. During comics’ Silver Age, Barry Allen took up the mantle, meeting Jay Garrick and creating the idea of multiverses in DC’s continuity. Wally West, Barry’s nephew, took over as the Flash in 1986 and Barry’s grandson Bart picked up the family tradition in 2006.
Along the way, no matter the incarnation, the Flash picked up a Rogues Gallery that, unlike those of fellow DC heroes Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, worked together and had a code of conduct that included no killing. The Rogues include Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, and the Trickster. Gorilla Grodd first appeared in the pages of The Flash #106, April/May 1959.
The Flash wound up being the cheerful one compared to his contemporaries, easy enough to do when one of them is Batman. His power is superspeed, capable of running at close to the speed of light. As a result, he has time to perform superspeed tricks to nab criminals and fight his Rogues. The Flash is “the fastest man alive“.
Barry Allen gained his powers after being struck by lightning and thrown into chemicals in his crime lab. His day job is a crime lab analyst for the Central City Police Department, giving him a way to get involved in any number of unusual crimes. Such a setup makes for an easy way to adapt a superhero into a pokice procedural.
The 1990 TV series works as one, though with the twist that the investigator is a superhero. Starring John Wesley Shipp as the Flash, the series lasted one season, running twenty-two episodes. The series was ambitious, bringing a comic book aesthetic to living rooms. The series debuted a year after Tim Burton’s Batman was in theatres. Danny Elfman, formerly of Oingo Boingo and responsible for the theme music for Batman also wrote the theme for The Flash.
The pilot episode introduces Barry, the lab accident, and the loss of his brother, Jay (Tim Thomerson) to Nicholas Pike (Michael Nader), the leader of a biker gang trying to take over Central City. Thanks to Barry’s new powers and the help of Dr. Tina McGee (Amanda Pays), Pike is arrested. As the series continues, Barry figures out how to be creative with his superspeed as he takes on criminals, powered and unpowered. Some of his oppenants were created for the series, others, like the Trickster (Mark Hamill channeling Frank Gorshin’s Riddler from the 1996 Batman) and Captain Cold (Michael Champion). The villains, though, do keep up as they learn more about the Flash, finding ways to nullify or avoid his power.
Shipp has the charm to pull off being Barry. The Flash was never the dark defender of justice. Instead, he’s there with a quip, and Shipp carries this role off believably. The costume is padded, given the Flash a muscular look that can inhibit Shipp’s movements at times. The special effects are noticeable almost thirty years later, but do convey the Flash’s superspeed. When he’s running, he is a red blur.
As with other superhero adaptations, changes happened. Iris West (Paula Marshall) appeared only in the pilot and was written as travelling for her career in subsequent episodes. The series plays with a “will they or won’t they” with Barry and Tina, though later lets them be just friends without getting into the drama of the relationship. The Trickster gained a murderous streak, something that his comic counterpart didn’t have, at least for those outside the super-biz.
The look may be the most notable part of the series. It has an aesthetic similar to Batman: The Animated Series, which debuted two years later. The Flash has a mix of modern and classic, covering the years that Barry was the Flash in the comics. The cars are a mix of then-available models mixed with vehicles from the 50s and 60s. Adding to the comic book feel is the murals on walls all over Central City. Central City is a colourful city even before the Flash arrives. The series doesn’t go for shades of muted grey.
Helping with the comic feel is the use of recurring and returning characters. Officers Murphy (Biff Manard) and Bellows (Vito D’Ambrosio) appear at crime scenes that the Flash zips through. The Nightshade (Jason Bernard), Central City’s protector in the 50s, makes two appearances, as does Pike and the Trickster. Private investigator Megan Lockheart (Joyce Hyser) gets involved in a couple of the Flash’s adventures as both help and hindrance. There’s a feel that there’s a bigger world beyond just Barry.
The series also makes nods to what has come before. Streets and places are named after influences, including Carmine Infantino, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. One street is named after Jay Garrick. The Flash is open about its origins and nature and doesn’t pretend to be anything else but a superhero police procedural.
The Flash may have been ahead of its time. The superhero boom is a product of the New Teens as special effects and CGI became more commonplace. Being the front runner means that building an audience is more difficult, especially when the show is placed up against two powerhourses, The Cosby Show and The Simpsons. The competition may have limited the audience for The Flash at a time when no one was looking at time-shifted viewing through videotape. As an adaptation, the series was ambitious, trying to bring a comic book look without going full camp, something some later series have been trying to duplicate. The Flash may not be accurate, but it does capture the tone of the character and his comic.
A while back, Lost in Translation looked at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux’ Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. Webber had gone back to the original novel while composing the Broadway hit, but this wasn’t the first adaptation. The Phantom of the Opera had been adapted twice before in film, and combined with Faust in a third. Today, a look at the second adaptation, 1943’s Phantom of the Opera with Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, and Claude Rains as the Phantom.
The Leroux novel featured a man torn apart by obsessive love, a woman torn between her passion for singing and her love for fiancé, and a young man devoted to his fiancée’s well being. Erik, the Phantom, sees Christine Daaé as a brilliant diva and stops at nothing to put her up on centre stage. Christine sees the Phantom as her Angel of Music, the one mentoring her and giving her the ability to become a lead singer. Raoul is worried about Christine’s health, as she pours all of herself into becoming the best diva in Paris. The end is tragic, with Erik dead and Raoul and Christine lost after a flood in the Parisien sewers.
With the World War II still going on and the US now joining in on two fronts, the War in Europe and the War in the Pacific, audiences States-side were looking for entertainment to distract themselves from what was happening overseas. Film had become the special event out, replacing theatre. Radio gave people something to listen to nightly, but the movies didn’t have real life interrupting with breaking news. Movie stars were larger than life, with gossip pages tracking their comings and goings. Spectacles became popular, a way to see something beyond the mundane.
Phantom of the Opera strove to do that. The movie opens with an opera, with barotone Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) as the leading man and Biancarolli (Jane Farrar) as the leading woman. Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster) is part of the chorus, though she dreams of being more. Off in the wings, Inspector Raoul Dubert (Edgar Barrier), keeps watch, mostly on Christine. In the orchestra pit, violinist Erique Claudin (Claude Rains), is having problems as decades of playing the violin have resulted in a carpal tunnel injury. Erique, though, has his own dreams. He has a concerto that he wants published, and he sees Christine as the leading lady in it.
Erique’s personal life is in a similar shape as his hand. He has no money for rent, having used it to anonymously pay for singing lessons for Christine. The conductor has noticed that Erique can’t play as well as he used to and releases him from the orchestra with a small pension. And the concerto he wrote and submitted for publication has gone missing at the publisher’s office.
Seeing his life and dreams sinking, he starts tearing apart the publisher’s office to try to find his presumably rejected concerto. As he does so, Erique hears Franz Liszt (Fritz Lieber, not the science fiction writer but his father) playing the concerto. Without the context – that Liszt believes that the concerto is worth publishing – Erique snaps. He attacks the publisher, choking him to death. The publisher’s assistant has no choice but to toss a pan of acid at Erique, burning his face. Erique flees into the sewers.
Meanwhile, Christine has to deal with two would-be suitors, Anatole and Raoul. The two are both smitten with her and try to compete for her attention. Christine, though, is more interested in her singing career. Duty calls Raoul away; the opera house has noticed that some items have been stolen, including a cloak and some prop masks. The mask lets Erique hide his disfigurement away as he skulks through the opera house, taking advantage of superstition. Anything that goes wrong is blamed on the Phantom.
The next show, Biancarolli is again the leading lady, but the wine she drinks on stage has been drugged. She falls unconscious backstage, giving Christine her big break. Taking over Biancarolli’s role, Christine wows the audience. Biancarolli recovers near the end and hears Christine. Afterwards, she accuses Christine and Anatole of drugging her and demands Raoul arrest them both. Raoul refuses due to lack of evidence. Biancarolli insists then that the critics not mention Christine in their reivews. That earns her a visit from the Phantom the next night, leaving her and her maid dead.
The opera house shuts down as the police investigate. After the owners of the opera receive a note demanding Christine replace Biancarolli, Raoul comes up with an idea to trap the Phantom. An opera will be performed, but not with Christine in the lead. As well, since the opera requires the performers to wear masks until the end, Raoul will have his men, also masked, among the singers. Once the opera is done, Liszt will play Erique’s concerto to draw the man out.
Erique, though, is a few steps ahead. He kills one of police officers, taking his mask and robe. Erique then heads up to the dome and, under the cover of the opera, cuts through the chains holding the chandelier up. Once the chandelier crashes down, the Phantom joins the throng and pulls Christine away. He leads her through the sewers, past a lake, to a chamber under the opera house. It’s dark, but he can hear the music coming from above, away from everyone else.
On the surface, Raoul and Anatole realize that Christine has disappeared. As they race off to find her, Liszt continues with the plan to play the concerto. Erique hears it and starts to play along on his piano. He encourages Christine to sing, as he based the music off a folk song she loves. The music from the sewers helps Raoul and Anatole find Christine. They arrive to find that she has unmasked the Phantom. A stray shot brings down the sewers on top of Erique. Raoul, Anatole, and Christine escape with their lives.
There were many changes to Leroux’s novel in the film. The addition of Anatole, the changing of some names, such as Christine’s last name and Carlotta to Biancarolli, and Raoul’s profession and demeanor. However, the biggest change was in the focus. While /Phantom of the Opera/ is considered to be one of Universal’s horror films, the movie is more focused on Christine, not the Phantom.
The movie is definitely a spectacle, with lavish costumes, especially for the operas performed. Having Nelson Eddy as a lead means giving him time to sing, so some focus is spent on that. Where the novel has the focus on the Phantom to the point where even if he’s not in a scene, his shadow hangs over it, the movie separates the Phantom from the rest of the cast. He’s not so much a figure of horror as a mystery to be solved. There is as much time spent on Christine and her love triangle as there is on Erique. The operas also take up time from the film, turning it into a musical. Unlike Webber’s musical, the operas aren’t necessarily plot-related. They’d be background if less time was spent on them.
The movie still pulls beats from the novel. The Phantom does take refuge in the Parisien sewers, there is a chandelier that drops, there is a lake that the Phantom takes Christine near. The diva is still jealous and protective of her position. But the feel is off. While Erique does kill several people, there is no feeling of horror. While Erique has slipped past the threshold of madness, with the focus off him, he’s just a danger to Christine, not a figure to pity.
Phantom of the Opera is almost an in-name-only adaptation. It takes the plot and the trappings, but changes the focus away from the title character. The movie spends far more time on the opera and on Christine without showing that Erique’s love for her is obsessive and possessive. The story gets watered down and Claude Rains is wasted in the role of the Phantom.
Superman is the first and best known superhero, creating the genre in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Since then, there have been many stories written about the Last Son of Krypton, leading to the character being adapted to radio, television, film, and books. Today, a look at the first Superman feature film, 1951’s Superman and the Mole Men.
Prior to 1951, there had been theatrical Superman releases, but they were serials run before the main feature, much like the 1943 Batman series. /Superman and the Mole Men/ was a low budget film, not quite running an hour. The movie starred George Reeves as Clark Kent and Superman, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, Walter Reed as Bill Corrigan, Ray Walker as John Craig, and Jeff Dorey as Luke Benson. Reeves and Coates would go on to reprise their roles in Adventures of Superman, Reeves for the entire run and Coates for just the first season. The popularity of the series made getting other roles difficult for them both, being typecast as Clark and Lois.
The movie begins with Clark and Lois arriving in the town of Silsby, population 1430 and home to the the world’s deepest oil well. The well is the draw for the Daily Planet’s top reporters, but they discover that the well is being shut down. Corrigan, the foreman, isn’t forthcoming on why, not to Lois and Clark, not to company PR rep John Craig, and not to his workers, who are wondering why the expensive tools are being buried. Lois feels like the trip is a waste. Clark feels there’s another story brewing. Corrigan isn’t forthcoming, though.
That night, while the visitors from Metropolis are at the Silsby Hotel, a second set of visitors arrives, coming up from the sealed well. Short, mishapen, they skulk around, eventually finding their way to the seventy-year-old security guard. The guard is found the next morning, dead. A doctor called in rules that he died of a heart attack. Given his age, it’s a reasonable call, except Clark notices that the guard’s tangerines are glowing, and the bag they came in is halfway across the room.
Clark pushes Corrigan on why the well is being closed. Corrigan comes clean; the well is deep, about six miles deep. The company kept going after finding a pocket of natural gas, hoping to find an oil gusher. Instead, the drill brought up goo that glows in the dark. Without a Geiger counter, it’s hard to tell if the goo is radioactive radium or just naturally phosphorescent. Corrigan also tells Clark that the drill suddenly hit a hollow pocket at about six miles down.
Alone, Lois starts to place a phone call. She’s interrupted by the visitors from below. The scream alerts Clark and Corrigan, who rush over to see what happened. They find Lois alone, but she describes what she saw. The group returns to Silsby, where news of the Mole Men is travelling like gossip.
Luke Benson isn’t one to let anything terrorize his hometown and will do what it takes to stop the Mole Men, including inciting a near-riot. The Mole Men, though, are peaceful. A young girl sees them and invites them into her room, where they play. It’s only when the girl’s mother comes into the room and sees the Mole Men that the situation turns worse.
The mother’s screams alert the town, and the mob rushes off to go after the creatures. Clark disappears, to Lois’ dismay, but she follows the story and the mob down the street. When she arrives, Superman is already there. The townsfolk, apparently not getting the Daily Planet, reacts badly, and they try to shoot Superman. Benson tries to punch Supes, earning a sore hand in the process. Superman disarms the mob, bending one rifle in half.
The Mole Men flee. Benson and his henchmen take a pack of hounds to try to find them, resulting in a chase across the desert to a reservoir. Superman catches up and warns Benson of what could happen. The Mole Men may be radioactive and if they fall into the reservoir, they will pollute the town’s drinking water. Benson and his cronies ignore the warning. One shoots a Mole Man. In a flash, Superman is off to catch him before he falls into the reservoir. The other Mole Man escapes, for now.
As Superman takes the wounded Mole Man to the hospital, Benson resumes his pursuit of the remaining one. The chase ends at an abandoned shed. The Mole Man is trapped inside as Benson and his cronies set fire to it. The Mole Man escapes and finds his way back to the oil well. He returns the next day with two more Mole Men and a weapon.
At the hospital, a surgeon manages to save the life of the wounded Mole Man, Lois, Corrigan, and Craig catch up to Clark, already at the hospital, though Superman has left again. Corrigan and Craig warn that Benson and the mob are on their way to kill the Mole Man there. Clark dashes out to check on the Mole Man while Lois, Corrigan, and Craig wait up front for the mob. Superman lands in front and stops the mob from entering. Benson slips away and spots the three returning Mole Men, who get the first shot on him. Superman realizes that they are looking for their friend, so brings the wounded one out, then steps in front of the laser to protect Benson.
Given the low budget, the special effects can be expected to be weak. The crew, though, worked around the limitation. Most of Superman’s powers come from superstrength and invulnerability. Superman doesn’t flinch from gunshots. Rubber can be used for the rifle that is meant to be twisted into a pretzel. Superspeed is shown in his reactions, pulling Lois out of the way of a gunshot. Flight gets trickier, but the movie shows Superman running towards the camera and leaping up, then changes to show the view of the ground from his view. The big effect was the moment where Superman swoops in to catch the falling Mole Man; it’s a quick enough scene that it’s over before the wires can be seen.
Effects, though, aren’t the best criteria to judge an adaptation. Comics have a huge advantage; effects are limited to the artist’s imagination and the cost of ink and paint. Reproducing Jack Kirby‘s art in film or television would push computer graphics to the limit even today. Simpler artwork, such as Superman picking up a car, as seen on the cover of Action Comics #1, still requires extra work as a practical effect. The goal is to represent the character to the medium’s best effort.
George Reeves managed to look like both Clark and Superman. While Christopher Reeve showed the transition from mild-mannered Clark to self-confident Superman through a change of posture and voice, Reeves used wardrobe. His Clark wears oversized suits; Superman is thinner but fit. Clark isn’t as mild-mannered in the movie; he takes the lead on the investigation of the well’s closure where Lois is willing to write off the trip as a lost cause.
Personality-wise, Superman is still Superman. In the movie, he made sure that no one was hurt if he could help it. He never threw the first punch. Superman made the discovery that the Mole Men weren’t dangerous except through passive touch. Benson may have been the villain, but Superman wasn’t going to let the Mole Men take their revenge on him. Reeves’ Superman came from the comics of the time and would still be recognizable compared to today’s version.
B-movies don’t get a large budget, so corners have to be cut. Comparing Superman and the Mole Men to today’s big budget movies isn’t fair. However, the B-movie got to the heart of who Superman was, even with the limited time it had. Superman’s origins were skipped over with an narration during the opening credits. The film jumped to its story early and kept the focus on the plot and on Clark/Superman. Superman and the Mole Man was very much a Superman story.