This week, as part of a short series hypothetically remaking TV shows from the 80s. The gap between original work and remake appears to be about 30-40 years, so the shows will fall into that gap. Since Lost in Translation took a look at Airwolf a few weeks ago, specifically the fourth season as a reboot, it’s a good place to start.
A quick refresher: Airwolf starred Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, Ernest Borgnine as Dominic Santini, Alex Cord as Archangel, and Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy. The titular helicopter was a one-of-a-kind prototype, capable of punching up to the point of taking on jets. Hawke, in order to put pressure on Archangel and the Firm, a spy agency, takes Airwolf for himself after recovering it for the Firm. The deal is that the Firm find Hawke’s brother St-John and Airwolf gets returned. The fourth season saw serious changes to the show as it switched networks, studios, shooting locations, and even cast. The fourth season did wrap up Hawke’s search for his brother, bringing in Barry Van Dyke as St-John, but the series ended with the last episode of the season.
Airwolf was one of two TV series featuring high-tech gunships, the other being Blue Thunder, based on the movie of the same name. Why Airwolf and not Blue Thunder? The latter might not work well today when the issue of the militarization of police looms large. Remaking the original Blue Thunder film would take a deft hand today and may work better in film to get the point home instead of speading the message over weeks of episodes. Airwolf, however, remained in the realm of the Cold War. Several of the original episodes of Airwolf had Archangel using the helicopter and her crew as a promoted pawn for endgames in the Great Game.
The link to espionage work is the key. While the Cold War may be over, there’s still Cold Border Skirmishes happening. There’s room for writers to work with; there’s always dictatorships threatening liberty. The original series had a melancholy mood to it, which will need to be carried over. The show was dark for its era; turning the remake into a dark and gritty version ignores that Airwolf is already moody. While the Eighties sitcoms were light, the dramas explored aspects that series in previous decades didn’t, the big event being the fallout of the Vietnam War. Sure, M*A*S*H spearheaded the way in the Seventies, but used the Korean War as a proxy. The Eighties were a time of opening wounds to start healing them.
The big stumbling block is establishing proper backgrounds for the characters. String was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam War, meaning a roughly ten year gap between losing his brother and the pilot episode. In the past ten to fifteen years, the main conflicts for the US have been in the Middle East with the invasion of Iran and the invasion of Afghanistan. The latter is much more the quagmire that the Vietnam War was for the US, so we can have String serving there. However, his brother, St-John, is more likely to have run into a improvised explosive device (IED) than being left behind during an air evecuation. The fourth season, though, gives an out.
St-John is military intelligence, working for the Firm or possibly the rival agency, the Company. He’s also active in Afghanistan, where he’s able to meet up with String from time to time. However, when String’s tours are over, St-John remains behind, and eventually contact is lost with him. In the meantime, String is working for his friend/mentor/father figure Dom Santini, who in the origina; was also a veteran. Dom served in WWII and Korea, or thirty to forty years before the start of the series. The Eighties, though, had more covert wars than overt, thanks to the threat of nuclear annihilation. The War on Drugs was going strong, with the CIA working on destabilizing Latin American countries. Here comes the Firm again, and how Archangel works in. Dom was one of the pilots ferrying in agents with Archangel being his contact.
Airwolf itself is still a high-tech stealth helicopter. The capabilities of computers have expanded since the Eighties, so Airwolf could be capable of far more than shown in the original. The pilot could be used with the same beats, with String holding Airwolf as collateral to force the Firm to find St-John. Plots can follow similar found in the original, just updated for today. Adding the Company as a rival allied agency can introduce some added conflict that can emerge from time to time, with hints about St-John woven through.
Casting is important. String needs to be someone capable of being moody yet capable of being a regretful killer. The original series showed that he would give his opponents a chance to surrender before shooting them down, with a few exceptions. Dom needs to be a mentor figure. Archangel is the equivalent of 007‘s M. Can some characters be gender-flipped? It’s harder with Stringfellow and St-John, mainly because the names don’t flip well. Dom and/or Archangel could, though, and having a woman as a mentor figure would be an interesting change.
Airwolf has potential for a remake. For a series that was centered around a high-tech vehicle, the show’s focus was on the characters. The series is ripe for a remake today.
After the look at various fan works, it’s time to get back to the professional works. This time out, Airwolf, specfically, the series’ fourth season.
Airwolf debuted in 1984 on CBS, were it ran until 1986, and starred Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, Ernest Borgnine as Dominic Santini, Alex Cord as Michael “Archangel” Coldsmith-Briggs III, and, starting in the second season, Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy. Airwolf was part of a wave of TV series built around high-tech, almost super, vehicles. The wave had been building easily since 007 drove his heavily Q-modified Aston-Martin DB-V in Goldfinger, climaxing in 1982 with the film adaptation of Craig Thomas’ Firefox and the Glen A. Larson TV series, Knight Rider. In 1983, the film Blue Thunder was released to theatres and was centrered around the police use of a military helicopter. The following year, a TV series spin off of Blue Thunder aired as well as Airwolfe.
The difference between the two super-helicopter series was in their use. Blue Thunder still had the military/militarized chopper in police hands. With Airwolf, the one-of-a-kind helicopter was strictly military, and taken by Hawke as collateral to ensure that Archangel and the secret agency, the Firm, would keep their word in finding Stringfellow’s missing brother, St. John, who was Missing-In-Action in Vietnam. Airwolf also was moody, sombre, and serious.
A typical episode of Airwolf could go one of three directions. The first is Airwolf and its crew being given a mission by Archangel to complete, either flying Airwolf in on stealth or going undercover using Dom’s company, Santini Air. The second is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting involved in local affairs or machinations within the Firm. The third is Hawke following up on news of St. John or of a friend who might know of his brother’s location. No matter the initial direction, the climax would be a helicopter dogfight involving Airwolf and the villain of the episode. Once in a while, Soviet MiGs would be part of the fight, just to demonstrate how much Airwolf could punch up.
The series lasted three seasons on CBS. Ratings had been low despite attempts to bolster them, and the influence of Miami Vice could be seen as part of the changes. With other factors involved, CBS cancelled the series in 1986. However, the cable station USA Network was expanding to a 24 hour format and needed new programming, so it picked up Airwolf for second run syndication and commissioned a fourth season, airing in 1987. With the changes necessitated by the change of both network and production company, the fourth season is more a remake of Airwolf than a continuation.
With one exception, none of the original cast appeared. The exception is Jan-Michael Vincent, who appeared in the first episode of the season, “Blackjack”. The episode gave Stringfellow’s quest to find his brother closure, with St. John working for the Company as an agent. The new cast comprised of Barry Van Dyke as St. John Hawke, Geraint Wyn Davies as Mike Rivers, Michele Scarabelli as Dom’s niece, Jo Santini, and Anthony Sherwood as Jason Locke.
With a reduced budget, other changes occurred. The shooting location is most obvious. There are far more pine trees and much fewer deserts thanks to the move to Vancouver. Airwolf’s hiding spot got more detail as the series relied less on Santini Air exterior shots. Stock footage from the previous three seasons were used of Airwolf in action, though editing allowed for new ways to show the air battles despite the limitation.
The nature of episode plots tended towards missions for the Company, allowing for Locke to join the team in Airwolf. With all four members of the team capable of handling at least one aspect of flying the helicopter, either as pilot or flight engineer, the characters could split off to do more work on the ground, avoiding the lack of new aerial Airwolf scenes. There is still some in-fighting at the Company, in part because Locke is keeping Airwolf away from the agency for his own purposes.
The tone is the biggest change. The first three seasons, even with the influence of Miami Vice forcing its way in, was moody, dark without being grim, reflecting Stringfellow’s emotions. The action is stylized. The fourth season is a straight up action series, losing the mood of the previous seasons.
Why treat the fourth season as a remake? The time between being cancelled on CBS and being aired on the USA Network is under a year and the episode “Blackjack” hands off the series to the new cast. That would imply that the series continued. However, with a drastic change of cast and approach, the fourth season of Airwolf is closer to being Star Trek: The Next Generation than a hypothetical fourth season of the original Star Trek. Wrapping up String’s quest to find his brother was a nod to continuity, providing closure to the first three seasons. Afterwards, the series is more about using Airwolf on missions, a complete change from the original approach. Unlike ST: TNG, there wasn’t the time between the seasons to allow for a gap.
Season four of Airwolf is a unique case. It was meant to be a continuation of the series, but with the drastic change of cast, the fourth season became its own entity in the shadow of the original. It’s not a bad season, but it couldn’t live up to what had passed before it.
/Lost in Translation/ is going to take it easier the next few weeks starting today after submerging into Prohibition and Chicago of the eaerly 30s. Fan adaptations will be on the menu for the next few weeks. This week, a look a Kadir Deniz‘ “KITT vs KARR” series. A quick reminder about the approach Lost in Translation takes with fan works – the quality isn’t as important as the understanding of the source works. Fan works are good for learning storytelling and film techniques without the pressure to produce something for sale.
The series that Deniz is adapting, Knight Rider aired originally from 1982 to 1986, was created by Glen A. Larson, and starred David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight and William Daniels as the voice of KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand. KITT is an artificially intelligent vehicle, aiding Michael as he works for the Foundation for Law and Government, bringing justice to people who are often above the law. KARR, the Knight Automotive Roving Robot, voiced by Peter Cullen, was FLAG’s prototype, an early design put aside in favour of KITT. The difference between the two is that KARR was programmed for self-preservation while KITT’s programming placed the life of his passengers and the people around him above his own. KARR was introduced in the first season episode, “Trust Never Rusts”, and thanks to fan interest, returned in the season three episode, “K.I.T.T. vs K.A.R.R.”.
In the first episode of Deniz’ series, KARR is portrayed as he appeared in the latter half of “K.I.T.T. vs K.A.R.R.” The music and dialogue are pulled from existing episodes. Deniz, though, created the storyline for the series of videos. The camera angles used are a mix and include classic angles from the TV series to new angles possible thanks to being CG animated. The only real hints that the series is CG animation are how Michael moves and how the trailer breaks apart. KITT and KARR are spot on, and Michael is wearing his classic ensemble from the series.
There’s a nod to the 2008 Knight Rider series with the black Mustang Shelby, the car that portrayed KITT in the remake series. Again, the episode is all CG animation. The cinematography is based on the original series, but expands, allowing Deniz to make the episode his while still being a fan work. KITT’s abilities are all ones that have appeared in the series, even the skiing.
The latest episode available. KARR’s plot continues and he has help from someone with a grudge against Michael. There’s still classic camera angles as seen in the original series, almost indistinguishable. The problem seen with the tractor-trailer as KITT turbo boosts through in the first episode is more cleaned up this time around. The chase reflects the series; KITT’s shell could withstand bullets, but missiles were to be avoided. The final twist, Airwolf, comes from the Donald Bellisario created series, Airwolf, starring Jan Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke and Earnest Borgnine as Dominic Santini. Hawke had a deal with Archangel, played by Kent McCord; the Firm would get Airwolf back if Archangel could recover String’s brother Saint-John, a POW in Viet Nam. Airwolf, as it appears in the third episode, is a perfect replica of the model used in the TV series. Even how it appears up from behind the cliff rings true; Hawke and Santini often came from below the line of sight in the helicopter. The end theme of the third episode blends the the themes of both Knight Rider and Airwolf, which caps a note perfect episode.
Deniz’ series isn’t complete. He’s working on it as he can, but he has released some test footage for future entries on his YouTube channel. He has captured the feel of the original series and has created a work that fits with the tone of the series while telling his own story.
Last week, I covered how technology and progress affected vehicles in remakes. This week, I look at vehicles that have featured in projects that haven’t been remade yet.
The vehicle: Kaneda’s motorcycle.
Currently in the process of being adapted for a live-action movie, Akira was a milestone in anime released to North American audiences. One of the plot elements is Kaneda’s red motorcycle, something that Tetsuo coveted. The motorcycle is obviously powerful and futuristic, with no make or model given. For a live action version of the movie, the motorcycle needs to match the appearance.* Fortunately, without a specific manufacturer to worry about, the producers can approach a number of motorcycle firms for sponsor ship or try to get one of the fan-made models.
The vehicle: The titular helicopter.
Airwolf came out in 1984 on the heels of The A-Team and Blue Thunder and featured a helicopter with hidden weapons and capabilities. The Airwolf itself was a modified Bell 222 helicopter, used for both utility and executive transport. Remaking the series would require keeping the fictional helicopter’s role the same, an attack vehicle capable of blending into an urban airspace. With the Bell 222 no longer in production, another base model would be needed. Fortunately, a Google quick search brings up several suitable models from Sikorsky and AgustaWestland that have similar appearances to the original Airwolf.
The vehicle: The Bluesmobile, a former Mount Prospect police Dodge Monaco.
As mentioned last year, The Blues Brothers was adapted from a series of musical sketches by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi on Saturday Night Live. Elwood (Aykroyd) had to trade their old Cadillac for a microphone, replacing the caddie with a former Mount Prospect police car dubbed the Bluesmobile. The car, a 1974 Dodge Monaco, was chosen because Dan Aykroyd felt it was the hottest police cruiser in the 1970s. In Blues Brothers 2000, the new Bluesmobile was a 1990 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, an ubiquitous vehicle in law enforcement. A remake of the original movie, a daunting challenge in itself because of the music, would need a make and model of car that has been used as a police car. A used Crown Vic from a more recent year would work, as would a used Dodge Charger.
Back to the Future
The vehicle: A silver DeLorean DMC-12, modified.
In the Back to the Future trilogy, crazy Doc Brown modified a DeLorean DMC-12 to become a time machine, powered by a nuclear reactor. The DeLorean had several things going for it – unique appearance and not well known. The former let the car look cool, a different type of sports car than what was normally seen on screen. The unfamiliarity helped with people not knowing about its performance issues. TVTropes lists the car under the Real Life section of The Alleged Car. Doc Brown was crazier than people suspected. A remake of the movies will have to keep the DeLorean in mind; either to keep the signature car or find a new vehicle that fits the same role. Most car manufacturers prefer not to make bad cars; they cost money, either in lost sales or in lawsuits.** At the same time, a car that’s unique would also fill the role well; for example, a Tesla Motors Model X.
Next week, back to the reviews.
* Something has to remain original.
** The Ford Pinto with its exploding gas tank comes to mind here.