The past three weeks, Lost in Translation has looked at a number of TV series from the Eighties that could be ripe for remakes. One series, though does stand out from the era that has been remade several times. Let’s take a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of the Knight Rider.
First airing with a two hour pilot in 1982, Knight Rider starred David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, a man who does not exist. The Foundation for Law and Government, or FLAG, was founded by Wilton Knight (Richard Basehart), who takes a young detective, Michael Long, who had been shot near fatally in the face and gives him a new name and face to become Michael Knight, the prime agent for the organization. However, Michael won’t be working alone. He’ll have with him a prototype, the Knight Industries Two Thousand, an artificially intelligent autonomous car, voiced by William Daniels. To maintain KITT and be available to assist Michael, FLAG has a semi-trailer with high tech lab, where Dr. Bonnie Barstow, played by Patricia McPherson, serves as head technician and Devon Miles, played by Edward Mulhare, provides mission details to Michael and KITT.
The series was episodic, but there were a few recurring villains. The most notable was the Knight Automotive Roving Robot, or KARR, first voiced by Peter Cullen, an evil version of KITT. KARR’s programming focused on self-preservation, leading to the vehicle being mothballed. Learning from the failure of KARR, KITT’s core programming focused on the preservation of human life. KITT cannot allow a human life to be lost, through action or inaction, similar to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.
Knight Rider ran for four seasons, with a few changes each year to the concept. Season four saw KITT upgraded with a “Super Pursuit” mode, which modified the car for faster speeds. KITT, though, had a number of standard functions, triggered by button or verbal command from Michael or by KITT when programming allowed, including Turbo Boost and Skiing.
The series had a spin-off series, Code of Vengeance based on a two-part episode that was a backdoor pilot, and a follow-up TV movie in 1991, Knight Rider 2000, which wrapped up what happened to Knight Industries, FLAG, Michael, and KITT, though leaving room for a sequel. Code of Vengeance ran as a mid-season replacement in the 1985-86 TV season, with a pilot movie and four episodes; the series was similar to Knight Rider in that a lone man travelled around to right wrongs.
Moving away from the series, the 1994 TV movie Knight Rider 2010 took its queues from Mad Max. Jake McQueen, played by Richard Joseph Paul, was a smuggler who was tagged to retrieve Hannah Tyree, played by Hudson Lieck, who worked for the Chrysalis Corporation as a programmer. Hannah, to save herself, downloads her consciousness into a crystalline memory core. Jake installs her into a modified Ford Mustang, and the pair go out into the desert to fight for justice.
In the 1997-98 TV series, when syndication was still going on, yet another attempt to reboot Knight Rider came about. Team Knight Rider didn’t buy into the “one man can make a difference”. Instead, TKR was a team of five drivers and their AI cars. Ford had replaced Pontiac as the supplier, so the vehicles represented what could be found at Ford dealerships, with the exception of Kat and Plato, the motorcycles that combined to make the High Speed Pursuit Vehicle. The concept is sound; after all, Michael wasn’t really working alone. He had KITT, Devon, and Bonnie working with him, even if they weren’t always out on the pointy end. A team can do more than a single person. TKR also had a subplot running through the episodes which led to a cliffhanger at the end involving the theft of KITT and the return of Michael Knight. However, early quality issues led to low ratings that even the cliffhanger couldn’t overcome, so TKR ran one season.
In 2008, NBC remade Knight Rider yet again, with Justin Bruening as Michael Knight and Val Kilmer as the voice of the Knight Industries Three Thousand, a modified Ford Mustang. Bruening’s Michael had a link to Hasselhoff’s; he was the estranged son of the original Michael Knight. The new KITT had abilities similar to the original, plus the ability to transform into a Ford F-150, a Ford E-150, a Ford Flex, a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, and a 1969 Mach 1 Ford Mustang. Three guesses who was a sponsor for the new series. The single sensor bar the original KITT had became two bar above the grill, like a Cylon Centurion being upgraded to an IL-series. Again, the series ran for one season before being cancelled.
Why is Knight Rider the go-to when remaking a series from the Eighties? Granted, it had some longevity in a decade where tastes changed a lot year to year. Hasselhoff’s charisma certainly has a role here, and the apparent chemistry between him and William Daniels despite not meeting until a cast party long after shooting had started. Knight Rider, though, resonates a little deeper with audiences. At its core, the series is about a lone man travelling from town to town and righting wrongs. Several TV series have been built around this concept; from TV westerns like Have Gun, Will Travel and Maverick to science fiction like the Incredible Hulk and even Quantum Leap, which did the same thing with time travel.
Michael Knight is essentially a man on a mechanical horse, whose job is to fight for justice. The series hearkens back to Westerns, but also to Arthurian legends, where a lone knight stood against the barbaric Saxons threatening to ravage the countryside. It’s build into the series name, Knight Rider. KITT isn’t just a mechanical horse; he’s the hero’s sidekick. KITT exists to show how heroic Michael is. KITT, too, is another draw, being a talking car that can drive itself. Today, engineers are working on the nuts and bolts of autonomous cars, running into issues that KITT had no problems with. Horses are better at avoiding pedestrians than self-driving vehicles today. KITT is still just out of reach, but represents a future where driving is made far easier and safer.
The remakes seem to have forgotten the core of the series. TKR had a team, not a lone man fighting for justice. Knight Rider 2010 figured out the concept, but drifted away from the trappings of the original series by going post-apocalyptic. The 2008 remake series picked up from the original series, but reliance on CGI for special effects and KITT being more aggressive left viewers cold. And yet, there are two more potential remakes in the works. The first is a Machinima series helmed by Justin Lin via NBCUniversal. The other is a potential feature film from Spyglass. No other series from the Eighties have had this much attention.
Knight Rider may be the most remade series from the Eighties. Replicating the original success has been difficult because the follow-up series haven’t figured out why the original resonated with audiences. Yet, studios will try to recreate 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.
As a semi-recurring feature of Lost in Translation, I take time to discuss how adapting, rebooting, and remaking affects the choices made for elements in the project. This week, what happens to a key vehicle when progress makes it out of date? What can be done? Normally, a car is a car, a truck is a truck. However, several works have memorable models that feature prominently, either because the show was based around the car or because the vehicle was chosen specifically for its appearance. Here’s how some remakes handled it.
The vehicle: A black 1983 GMC Vandura van with red stripe and spoiler.
The remake: Reused, then crushed.
In both the original series and the remake movie, the van belonged to B.A. Baracus. The van makes an appearance early in the film as the characters are being introduced and is destroyed when Murdoch accidentally drops a roof ventilation system on it. The appearance of the van helped assure viewers that the original series would be respected. It was replaced by a HMMWV* later in the film.
The vehicle: A black 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am, modified with front scanner.
The reboots: In both the 1991 Knight Rider 2000 movie and the 1997 Team Knight Rider series, KITT was transplanted and the original Trans-Am was not seen. For Knight Rider 2000, the replacement was a modified Dodge Stealth camouflaged as a Pontiac Banshee. TKR, however, had KITT in a non-mobile installation. The 2008 Knight Rider updated KITT, giving him a black Ford Shelby GT500KR Mustang.
Knight Rider provides an interesting challenge for updating. KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand, was an integral character to the show. Removing KITT removes a large element of the show’s appeal. The original KITT was, as mentioned, a black Pontiac Trans-Am with extra bells and whistles to show the high tech nature of the base car. The 1991 Knight Rider 2000 starts with KITT disassembled, then later placed into a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air. Not quite the technological marvel, and KITT did remark on the downgrade. Later, KITT received the “Banshee”. With the TKR series, the concept of “one man can make a difference” changed into a team making a difference. The show also had a sponsor in the form of Ford, so all the vehicles were either came from Ford or a Ford subsidiary, which Pontiac was not**. Ford was also the sponsor for the 2008 Knight Rider series, thus the Mustang with two sensor lights instead of one***. However, the Mustang was the Knight Industries Three Thousand, a descendant of the original KITT.
The Dukes of Hazzard
The vehicle: An orange 1969 Dodge Charger with the Confederate battle flag on the roof and the number 01 on the door.
The remake: The same make and model.
The Dukes of Hazzard featured many car chases. The titular characters’ car, the General Lee, appeared in all but one episode, either chasing or being chased. Fortunately, the Charger was already a decade old when the show first aired. The 2005 movie could easily reuse the same model**** as a result. Any differences would be under the hood, usually out of sight of the audience.
The vehicle: A Type 40 TARDIS with a broken chameleon circuit
The reboot: The same TARDIS
When /Doctor Who/ first aired, the Doctor’s “spaceship” was hidden in a junk yard and disguised as a British police call box. As the show continued, call boxes were phased out of use by British police in favour of radios. However, the Doctor’s TARDIS remained in its form. This was later explained by a broken chameleon circuit, which would allow a properly functioning TARDIS to blend into its surroundings. The Master’s TARDIS had a working circuit and could hide in most terrain. The Doctor did try to fix the circuit, but wardrobes were just as obvious as the call box in the middle of a wilderness. The reboot brought back the TARDIS in its much-loved form, with only the inside changed, reflecting the organic look from the 1996 Fox TV movie. Over the run of the series, the exterior received minor, cosmetic changes, but the essence remained.
Next week, how technological updates will affect more classic movie vehicles.
* aka, the Hum-Vee.
** Pontiac was a brand of General Motors until discontinued in 2009.
*** Like an original Battlestar Galactica Cylon being upgraded.
**** Many 1968 Chargers were totaled in the original Dukes.