Last week, Lost in Translation looked at the problems Jem and the Holograms live action adaptation had at the box office. The same week that Jem was pulled from theatres, Mark Wahlberg announced that he would be involved with a remake of The Six Million Dollar Man, Today, a look at what such an adaptation needs to beware of.
The remake, The Six Billion Dollar Man, appears to be working from the TV series. However, The Six Million Dollar Man was an adaptation itself, based on book Cyborg by Martin Caidan. Will the remake acknowledge the original work is still a question. Another catch is the forty years since the original TV series aired. Time is seldom gentle as it progresses. Can The Six Billion Dollar Man update the series without losing what made the original popular?
Technology may not be a problem. Computers are far smaller and far more powerful now than in the mid-Seventies. Thanks to the silicon chip and advances in miniaturization, computers no longer need to take up an entire floor and can fit inside an artificial limb with space leftover. Steve Austin’s bionic arm, legs, and eye are still beyond current commercial technology, but advances available today in artificial limbs now allow for fine motor control. Small cameras are available to all, with infrared available at low extra cost. Web cameras are built into many computing devices, like laptops, tablets, and cameras. Putting a military version of commercially available camera types into an artificial eye isn’t far-fetched.
The real problem, seen with every adaptation, is getting the feel right. Jem and the Holograms failed there by going for a generic plot with no connection to the characters. The Six Billion Dollar Man needs to acknowledge the feel of the original, even as it tries to be its own work. The problem there is the Seventies. Steve Austin didn’t just deal with rogue agents. He went up against robots with his capabilities, against terrorism in ersatz versions of Northern Ireland, South America, and the Middle East, against psychics and mind readers, and against aliens. The Seventies explored ideas that never panned out and are seen as bizarre today.
Compounding the issue of the Seventies is the change in how stories are told. This was also seen in the remake of The Mechanic, which went from a character study with a deliberate pace to an action movie without changing the plot. The Seventies saw longer shots, almost foreign to today’s near-constant cuts through editing. Yet, for some effects, the camera may have to linger.
Another issue that could cause problems is the change of tone seen in adapted works, eschewing the tone of the original in favour of a darker, grittier story that sometimes misses the point. The Caidin novels had Austin as a super secret agent, sent in where regular agents wouldn’t succeed. The TV series followed that idea, but with a lighter touch. The Six Billion Dollar Man could fall back to the Caidin novels or even just the first pilot movie. The Six Million Dollar Man saw a shift in tone between the first of the TV movies and the actual series. Colonel Austin stopped using weapons during the series, but does use grenades in the pilot.
The passage of time may be of help to The Six Billion Dollar Man. The series ended almost forty years ago and is no longer in syndication. While the TV series has been released on DVD, not everyone in the audience will have a copy. This will allow the remake movie to recreate the general feel of the series – a bionic man working as a top agent for an agency – without necessarily getting all the details correct. The main elements, the bionic sound effects, can be used to create a genuine feel, even if some details get changed.
The goal of Wahlberg’s remake should be to blend the sensitivies of both today and the Seventies without either treating the source material as a source of jokes or to go down the dark and gritty road without having some of the TV series’ levity. Both have a place in The Six Billion Dollar Man.