Last week, Lost in Translation looked at adaptation that weren’t really adaptations. This week, a look at the flip side of that, an non-adaptation that is an adaptation. With works that are trying not to look like an adaptation, the main reason for the changes boils down to one thing – lawyers.
Sometimes, a license just isn’t available for one reason or another, but a studio has an idea that comes from, in one way or another, the unavailable original. To get the work produced, the studio has to scrub the identifying elements out of the final product. Sometimes enough gets removed. Other times, lawyers get rich arguing over how much of the remains is too much. Let’s take a look at a series that had a dispute over how much got filed off, Mutant X.
Marvel Studios in the late Nineties wasn’t in the prime position it is in now. Marvel Comics had licensed out several of their top selling titles for movie rights, including X-Men and Spider-Man, leaving the company with very few A-listers. Previous attempts at using these A-listers had mixed results – The Incredible Hulk ran for several seasons, but the Captain America TV movies had problems. Meanwhile, the X-Men had a good run as an animated series, leading to improved sales of the X-titles. But Fox had the movie rights for the X-Men and related characters, with a movie due for 2000.
Thus, Mutant X, a non-X-Men series. While Fox had the rights to the X-Men name, Marvel’s mutant line included other titles, including Mutant X and The New Mutants. Characters did drift between the titles and guests from one title appeared in the others, mainly to establish that the new titles were in the same continuity. Fox got wind of the attempted end run around the licensing agreement and sued. The result – the logo for the Mutant X TV series had to be changed and the show could not mention the X-Men or related characters nor use costumes or code names. This, though, triggered a second lawsuit, this time between Marvel and Tribune Entertainment, the distributor, over the allegation that the comic company encouraged the distributor to treat Mutant X as an X-Men spin-off. Even Fireworks, the Canadian production company that worked with Marvel Studios to film Mutant X was sued. The real winners in all this were the lawyers.
The tumbleweed of lawsuits aside, the end result is that the /Mutant X/ TV series could not even have a hint of being an X-Men clone in it. The goal for Marvel Studios, Fireworks, and Tribune Entertainment was to not adapt the comic while still drawing in people who read the comic. The licensing agreement and the settlement meant that the name X-Men could not be used, nor could the characters or likenesses. That still gave Marvel wiggle room. The comic titles The New Mutants and Mutant X weren’t mentioned in the agreement or the settlement, and that is a large loophole to push a TV series through. Never mind that both were spin-offs from the X-Men comic; the names were available, and that was enough to try to lure in an audience familiar with the X-titles.
The core cast of the TV series featured five characters. Leading the Mutant X team and movement is Adam Kane, played by John Shea. Adam, who didn’t get a surname until season 2, was a genetic wunderkind, having graduated from university in his teens. He was hired on at Genomex right after graduation, where he worked on trying to correct problems in the DNA of patients. His research led to the creation of “new mutants” – people with superhuman powers and abilities. However, when Genomex became an arm of the GSA, he left, forming Mutant X. One of Adam’s first recruits is Shalimar Fox, played by Victoria Pratt. Shalimar’s genetic code has been spliced with that of a cat, giving her quick reflexes and enhanced senses. Along with Shalimar is Jesse Kilmartin (Forbes March) who can manipulate his body’s density. During the pilot episodes, Adam recruits the telempathic Emma deLauro (Laurent Lee Smith) and the lightning projector Brenna Mulwray (Victor Webster). Heading the opposition, Mason Eckhart (Tom McCamus) ran the secretive GSA, using Adam’s genetic research to both build his own private army of new mutants and to cure his own condition. Eckhart was briefly replaced as the major villain by Gabriel Ashlocke (Michael Easton), who was Adam’s first patient, the first and the most powerful of the new mutants.
With that cast, how does Mutant X differ from X-Men? Let’s start with Adam, who is in the Professor X role. However, Adam differs from Xavier in three critical ways: Adam is not a mutant himself, instead having high intelligence; he does not need a wheelchair; and he is not bald*. Adam does not run a school; he has Sanctuary, a high-tech hideout from where he organizes an underground railroad for new mutants to escape the clutches of the GSA. The powers of the new mutants express in four different general streams. Ferals, like Shalimar, have animal genetics spliced into their own DNA, giving them enhanced reflexes, strength, and senses. Elementals, like Brennan, are capable of producing and projecting various forms of energy, including lightning, fire, and light. Telempaths, including Emma, are psionic, capable of reading and manipulating minds; the name given to this type of new mutant is to avoid problems with telepaths like Jean Gray and Professor X. Moleculars, like Jesse, can change their body at the atomic level. Every new mutant, save one, falls into one of these categories. The exception, Ashlocke, Patient Zero, had all the abilities.
Thus Shalimar wasn’t Wolverine nor Wolvesbane. She healed faster, but no “healing factor” was ever mentioned. She didn’t grow claws nor change form. Shalimar was good at mixing it up hand-to-hand with her wire-fu. Likewise Brennan wasn’t Storm; he didn’t control the weather, just shot lightning. Jesse wasn’t Shadowcat; he could both phase through objects and become so dense bullets bounced off him. Emma, well, she wasn’t Jean Gray, despite the red hair and telempathic abilities; she didn’t have telekinesis, and her mental contact was more based on emotion than thought, at least in the first season. And the Double Helix, Mutant X’s plane, was definitely not the Blackbird.
So, if Mutant X is not X-Men, what is it? At its core, the show is a syndicated action series featuring superpowers and wire-fu fight scenes. As the seasons progressed, the show explored each character’s past and the nature of being a new mutant. Several episodes showed the Mutant X team working to protect new mutants from the GSA while others showed the team protecting the general populace from new mutants. There were even episodes where the main characters’ own powers threatened to hurt or even kill them. Sure. some of these themes appeared in X-Men, but themes are universal. X-Men used them but didn’t corner the market on them. It’s how Mutant X explored the themes that matters.
Mutant X did deliver on being an action series. Budget and effects limitations restricted how often powers could be used. Flashier powers, including Brennan’s lightning and Jesse’s body manipulation, required more work and money than the more physical wire work that Shalimar needed. Part of the problem is that Fireworks, the production company, is based in Toronto. As mentioned last week, Toronto is better known for being a double for American cities for police procedurals and mysteries, not for science fiction. Things had improved since Captain Power, though, in part because the city was in competition with Vancouver for film and television projects. Mutant X had the advantage of being set in the near future, so no major effects were needed.
Despite being a syndicated series filmed in Canada, the show did pick up a following. In Canada, Mutant X aired on Global, owned by CanWest, the same company that owned Fireworks’. In the US, the show was syndicated in an era predating the cable and Internet streaming onslaught. People tuned in, at first because of the potential of being related to the recently released X-Men movie, then because of the characters and situations of the show itself. The following may not have been able to sustain a traditional network show, but fans were shocked when the show did not continue after the third season. Fireworks and its library of TV series was sold to new owners who weren’t as interested as making shows as they were in getting the series already made. Marvel, though, hasn’t disowned the series; Mutant X is now an alternate universe from the main continuity.
Mutant X was not X-Men. Similar themes appeared, but shadowy government departments hunting underdog protagonists and protagonists rail against bigotry against minorities are universal. The shows writers worked to give Mutant X its own mythology, one that wasn’t based on anything seen in Marvel’s main continuity. The result is a TV series that can stand on its own and compete with other shows. Mutant X reached beyond its limitations, both budgetary and legal.
* For added fun here, John Shea played Lex Luthor on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, starting with a head of hair and becoming bald during the series run.
A few tidbits for the month. The big news involves the Doctor Strange movie.
Jem and the Holograms comic due in March.
The new design for the characters has been released. The art is updated while still keeping to the original looks of the dolls and TV series. The hair is outrageous, as to be expected, but either hair spray or holographic display can explain it.
Benedict Cumberbatch to start as Doctor Strange.
Marvel has confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch will play the title role in Doctor Strange, the first of the Phase 3 movies. All Marvel needs to do now is get Loki in the movie.
JK Rowling releasing new Harry Potter.
The releases started on December 12. Among the works are stories about the Malfoy family, Prof. McGonigle before Hogwarts, and how Floo Powder is made.
TOHO announces first Godzilla movie since hiatus.
TOHO will be ending the fallowing of Godzilla movies in 2016. The success of the 2014 American Godzilla has encouraged TOHO in bringing back the iconic kaiju.
Archie Comics restarting at #1.
Mark Waid and Fiona Stevens will helm the title after the reboot. Archie Comics, the publisher, has been on a rejuvenation spree of late, adding darker elements while still being family friendly.
SyFy picks up Krypton.
Air date is still unknown, but SyFy will air the Superman prequel series, Krypton, which will follow Jor-El, father of Kal-El, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman. As with the other DC properties airing on television, there is no connection to the cinematic releases.
Titans pilot to shoot in 2015.
Geoff Johns confirmed that Titans, the live-action version of the follow-up to /Teen Titans/, will have a pilot filmed in 2015. Nightwing, aka Dick Greyson, has been confirmed as one of the characters and rumours have added Starfire and Raven. The show will draw influence from Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s New Teen Titans.
Lost in Translation has taken a look at different movies based on Marvel characters, from the Avengers Initiative to the licensed characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil. The recent movies have all been well received for the most part. However, Marvel’s fortunes weren’t always so lofty. The first theatrical release featuring a Marvel character* laid an egg.
The character, Howard the Duck, was created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik for Adventure into Fear #19 in 1973. Howard was a duck who found himself stuck on Earth, pulled away from his life on his home planet of Duckworld, plucked from his life by Thog the Nether-Spawn. Thog wanted to collapse all realities into one under his control. Howard teamed up with several other heroes to stop Thog, but a misstep sent him to Cleveland. After a few problems with law enforcement and being mistaken for a mutant, he happened across the lair of the villainous Pro-Rata and rescued Beverly Switzer, a life model, with the help of Spider-Man**. Howard and Beverly would come to love each other across species differences.
The movie Howard the Duck, released in 1986, focuses on Howard and his arrival on Earth. Without access to other characters in the Marvel-verse, the movie shows Howard in his everyday life, establishing him as an everyduck, before hurling him through a wormhole to land in Cleveland, Ohio, outside a dive bar with live band Cherry Bomb. Howard bounces from trouble to trouble before finding a place to hide and gather his wits. Meanwhile, the lead singer of Cherry Bomb, Beverly Switzer, has wrapped up for the night and left the bar. Two “fans” intercept her and refuse to let her leave. She fights them off the best she can while calling for help. Help does arrive, all three-foot-two of him. Howard leaps in with his Quak-Fu and helps Beverly chase away her assailants. Not having anywhere else to go, Howard takes up Beverly’s offer to go home with her.
The next day, Beverly introduces Howard to Phil, a scientist and intern at a lab. Phil is ecstatic at meeting an living, breathing, talking example of parallel evolution. Howard gets overwhelmed and leaves. As he tries to adjust to Cleveland, he looks for a job. The best he gets a position as a janitor at a romance spa. The job and the boss soon get to him and Howard quits. He wanders around Cleveland, eventually returning to the dive where he first landed and met Beverly. Cherry Bomb is on stage inside. Howard goes inside, where he overhears Cherry Bomb’s manager talk about his plan to withhold the band’s money to get Beverly to go home with him. A barroom brawl breaks out with Howard outnumbered three to one by the manager and his friends, but the alien duck wins. Howard takes the money and forces the manager to stop managing Cherry Bomb. Later backstage, Howard reveals the cash to Cherry Bomb.
Meanwhile, Phil has been busy. He has spoken to Dr. Jennings, the lead researcher at the lab, and arrives at the bar. Phil wasn’t expecting Howard to be there, but takes advantage of the situation to take one of Howard’s tail feathers. The DNA in that feather matches the DNA on a feather that appeared after a laser-retrieval experiment. Dr. Jennings was responsible for pulling Howard across the galaxy to Cleveland. Howard reasons that if the laser could pull him to Cleveland, it could send him back to Duckworld.
An accident at the lab interferes with Howard’s plan. Dr. Jennings has been changed. The police arrive as a result of the alarm going off and wind up arresting Howard for being an illegal alien. Howard manages to escape from the police and meet up with Beverly and Dr. Jenning. In Dr. Jenning’s car, the researcher starts undergoing a transformation. The last experiment had pulled one of the Dark Overlords, one who is now occupying Dr. Jennings’ body. The Dark Overlord wants to free his comrades and plans to use the laser to bring them to Earth. His comrades need a body, and the Dark Overlord plans on giving them Beverly’s. Howard, with the help of Phil, rescue Beverly, defeat the Dark Overlord, and sends the other Overlords back.
As mentioned at the beginning, the movie bombed. However, as an adaptation, it works. There’s a change from the existentialism that Gerber had in the comic to a science fiction comedy, but the idea of a person ripped out of his home, his life, to an alien landscape is still there. The love between Howard and Beverly is still there, and builds subtly where even they aren’t aware of it even if the audience is. When two people can finish each other’s sentences without effort, there’s a true connection between them. The main issue is the design of Howard. The movie was made before CGI was commonplace. The Last Starfighter had been released two years earlier in 1984, but the techniques were still in their infancy. Thus, Howard was a man in a duck suit. Howard’s look in the comics was still very duck-like, and his stance would be murder on most people’s backs if attempted in real life. Industrial Lights & Magic did manage to create believable animatronics for Howard’s facial expressions.
As for tanking at the box office, Howard the Duck was an odd choice to adapt. George Lucas had found the comic, read it, then passed it on to Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck to write. The project sat for a few years before Universal needed a film to add to its line up. The original idea was to create an animated feature, but Universal needed one sooner than animating would take. This need led to Howard being live action. The other issue was that Howard, both comic and movie, wasn’t a children’s title. Howard smokes cigars and has sex. At the time of release, though, the movie received a PG rating, which allowed for saltier scenes and topless nudity without necessarily allowing much in language or violence. As a comparison, Airplane also received a PG rating with a topless woman shimmying with the plane.
In favour, the writers, producers, directors, even actors had read the comic. Lea Thompson, who played Beverly, was given copies of the comic after she was hired. The original idea of an animated film would have avoided some of the problems they had. With John Barry, of 007 fame, composing the soundtrack and Thomas Dolby writing songs for Cherry Bomb, the music fit. The original Howard the Duck was respected, even with the problems of doing Howard live. With Howard making a cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy, it could be time for his triumphant return.
Next week, The Wolverine.
* The 1944 Captain America Republic film serial was under the Timely banner.
** To establish a character within the Marvel Universe and to pull in readers, editorial frequently used Spider-Man as a guest star. In later years, the Punisher and the Wolverine would also guest in titles for the same reason.
Let’s round up those tidbits and see what’s going on.
NBC drops a house on Emerald City.
NBC’s entry to the 2015-16’s Wizard of Oz lineup has had its plug pulled and water poured on the corpse. Emerald City was going to be The Wizard of Oz as seen through a the lens of A Game of Thrones. Disagreements between NBC and showrunner Josh Friedman launched the suborbital house drop. Friedman will shop Emerald City around.
Chloë Moretz says Kick-Ass 3 dead due to piracy. Screen Rant says, not so fast.
Kick-Ass 2 broke even in the US with overseas markets adding to its total take. Moretz, who played Hit-Girl, believes that piracy was a factor in the low take. Screen Rant counters with a 29% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a factor that the R-rated movie wasn’t that good to start.
Blade Runner 2 has a script.
Sir Ridley Scott has confirmed that the Blade Runner 2 script is done and will have Harrison Ford back. Filming has not been scheduled; Prometheus 2, with its March 2016 release date, may cause a delay in the filming of Blade Runner 2.
Museum of London and the BFI need help finding Sherlock Holmes.
The 1914 film A Study in Scarlet, the earliest known Sherlock Holmes adaptation, is the second oldest on the BFI‘s Most Wanted list. If found, contact sherlockholmes at bfi.org.uk or use the #FindSherlock tag on Twitter.
The Greatest American Hero getting reboot movie.
The creators of The LEGO Movie are adapting the Stephen J. Cannell series as a TV series on Fox. The original series featured an inner-city school teacher who finds a super suit but loses the instruction manual.
Patrick Warburton to return as The Tick.
Amazon will be making new episodes of the series. Fox had aired nine episodes of the live-action adaptation of the Ben Edlund comic in 2001, with an animated series running on the same network earlier from 1994 to 1997. The Tick – comic, animated, and live-action – was a parody of superheroes.
Stan Lee confirms Black Panther movie.
During a panel at Fan Expo Canada, held in Toronto, Stan Lee let slip that the Black Panther will have a movie. Marvel’s plans are to have a movie with all their heroes.
Casting has begun for Ghost in the Shell live action adaptation.
Margot Robbie, seen in The Wolf of Wall Street has been cast in the American live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.
Neil Gaiman’s “Hansel & Gretel” graphic novel to become movie.
Juliet Blake, producer of The Hundred-Foot Journey, has picked up the rights to Gaiman’s as yet unreleased graphic novel retelling “Hansel & Gretel”. The graphic novel should be out in October.
AMC orders companion series to The Walking Dead.
The so far untitled new series will take a look at what’s happening elsewhere during the zombie apocalypse. AMC has released few details beyond that. The Walking Dead also returns for a fifth season this fall.
Warner Bros. has Legion of Superheroes movie in pre-pre-production.
So far, just rumours that a Legion of Superheroes movie is coming, but Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy may have put some fear into Warner. Legion began in 1958 centred on Super-Boy but evolved to stand on its own. The team has appeared in live-action before, being featured in the Smallville episode “Legion”.
Fox to air series based on Neil Gaiman’s take on Lucifer.
Countering NBC’s Constantine, Lucifer will follow the titular devil, based on Gaiman’s work in Sandman and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The fallout from the show should be impressive, especially over at FOX News.
CBS picks up Supergirl series.
The Warner produced Supergirl TV series has been picked up by CBS, allowing the The Eye to join the other broadcast networks in superhero shows. Fox has Gotham, the Batman prequel. NBC has Constantine. CW has the ongoing Arrow and the new kid Flash. ABC is reaping fortune by having the same owner as Marvel – Disney – and both Agents of SHIELD and new series Agent Carter.
Deadpool movie confirmed.
The Merc with the Mouth will finally get the movie people have been wanting. Fox announced that the movie will be released February of 2016. Ryan Reynolds will return to play the character. Filming has not yet started, and the announcement of the Deadpool movie has bumped the Assassin’s Creed movie off Fox’s release schedule completely.
Real Genius being turned into a TV series.
The 80s movie, Real Genius, which starred Val Kilmer, is getting remade as a sitcom. Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions is one of the studios on board with the reboot.
May had a lot of news about upcoming adaptations and remakes.
Farscape movie in the works.
Rockne O’Bannon, creator of Farscape, has confirmed the rumours that a Farscape movie was in production, at least as far as the script. The confirmation was announced at WonderCon.
Prequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in pre-production.
The movie brings back Michelle Yeoh and fight coordinator Yuen Woo-ping to present what Yu Shu Lien did before the events of the original movie. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out in 2000; the delay was caused by a rights conflict between the studio and the estate of Wang Du Lu, whose novels were the base of the movie.
Six issue Avengers mini-series coming from Boom!
John Steed and Emma Peel will be back in a comics mini-series called Steed and Mrs. Peel. The cover art in the article really does suit the show.
Casting started for the Jem movie.
After seeing how crowdfunding worked with Veronica Mars, the director of the live-action Jem and the Holograms turned to YouTube and asked for fans to sumbit video auditions for online casting.
Twin Peaks returns in fan-made web sequel.
Fans of David Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks have begun the 25th anniversary celebrations by having a third season done on Twitter. The central repository for the fan series is Enter the Lodge, where the tweets are collected.
Hector and the search for a distributor.
Hector and the Search for Happiness, based on the book of the same name by Francois Lelord, has been picked up by Relativity. The movie, starring Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike, tells the story of a psychiatrist travelling the world in search of happiness.
JK Rowling novel to become TV series.
The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling’s first novel after finishing the Harry Potter series, has been picked up as a BBC and HBO co-production. The book will be turned into a mini-series, following the town of Pagford, England, after the local councilor dies.
More Jem casting news.
All the actresses have experience to some degree but aren’t major names. Hayley Kiyoko, playing Aja, has an EP, “A Belle to Remember“, on her resume. Aubrey Peeples, playing Jem, has performed as a singer, including on the TV series Nashville, but doesn’t have a release. The live action adaptation still has some hurdles, especially with the original creator Christy Marx not involved, but the casting of the core allows the movie to be about Jem and the Holograms and not furthering the singing careers of the leads.
SyFy getting in on the adaptation train.
Four new series on SyFy, all of them are adaptations. Letter 44, Pax Romana, and Ronin are all based on comics. The fourth, The Magicians, is based on the novels by Lev Grossman.
Dad’s Army to hit the silver screen.
The BBC sitcom Dad’s Army is being adapted as a film. Toby Jones will play Captain Mainwaring, portrayed by Arthur Lowe in the original. Bill Nighy will be Sergeant Wilson. The original TV series focused on a British Home Guard unit in World War II. The writer of the original show, Jimmy Perry, added a provision when he signed over the rights that he wouldn’t have to write anything in the adaptation.
Sailor Moon cast announced.
More on the Sailor Moon news from last month. The Sailor Senshi have been cast, with Kotono Mitsuishi is back as Usagi. The character designs for the new series are based on their appearances in the manga.
Toy and snack movies ahead!
First, Barbie. A live action Barbie comedy is in the works from Sony. It’s not too surprising a move; the animated /Barbie/ features have done well and the online series /Life in the Dreamhouse/ has gone four seasons. Mattel, like all toy companies except Hasbro, is also trying to recover from a drop in sales in the past year.
Next, Peeps. The pink and yellow marshmallow candies are following in the footsteps of The LEGO Movie. Adam Rifkin will helm the movie, basing it on the Peeps dioramas his niece and nephew made.
Another Disney ride gets tapped for a movie.
In celebration of the attraction’s 50th anniversary, It’s a Small World will be turned into a family movie. The earworm generating song will be part of the movie. Disney is batting .500 with rides turned into movies lately; while The Haunted Mansion stumbled a bit, Pirates of the Caribbean became a huge hit. It’s a matter of finding the right team. Or inserting a subliminal message into the song.
Minecraft, the movie.
The producers of The LEGO Movie will bring the digital version of playing with blocks to the big screen. Warner Bros, the studio involved, will also work on a live-action tie-in for the movie.
Scarface to be remade, too.
The remake will bring the story into the today’s world. The immigrant’s story will see Tony’s background change to Mexican from the original Italian as seen in the 1932 and 1983 versions. The filmmakers are looking to cast a Latino in the role.
Marvel’s Peggy Carter to get her own series.
Peggy Carter, who first appeared in Captain America, is getting her own spin-off series on ABC in the fall. The series will be set in 1946 following the events at the end of the movie. This comes in the wake of the renewal of Agents of SHIELD. Meanwhile, over at Warner, no news of a Wonder Woman movie.
Private Benjamin to be remade.
The Goldie Hawn movie about a spoiled rich girl who joins the Army is being remade, with Rebel Wilson in the title role. The update will see a redneck join with the rich girl.
Animated Flintstones movie to be produced by Will Farrell and Adam McKay.
The Stone Age family will return to the big screen animated instead of live-action. The movie will be the first animated film of the characters since the 1966 The Man Called Flintstone.
Go, go Power Rangers!
Lionsgate has licensed Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers from Saban for a reboot movie.
Didn’t see the Rosemary’s Baby remake? You’re not alone.
Maybe Mother’s Day wasn’t the best day for the airing. The remake was up against A Game of Thrones, the season finale of Once Upon a Time, and Cosmos.
Corner Gas movie being Kickstartered.
The Canadian sitcom about life in Dog River, Saskatchewan is being turned into a movie if the Kickstarter campaign is successful.
Blade Runner sequel may see Harrison Ford return as Deckard.
Ridley Scott may provide the answer to, “Is Deckard a replicant?” in the Blade Runner sequel. Ford himself showed interest during an AMA on Reddit.
Infamous Chick tract being adapted as movie.
Dark Dungeons, Jack Chick’s infamous anti-Dungeons & Dragons comic tract, is getting the movie treatment. Zombie Orpheus Entertainment will be treating the tract with the respect the company, staffed by gamers, think is due and will play it straight and accurate.
A change of plans this week. I’ve been holding on to some items too long and I realized that I hadn’t had a round up last month. On with the show!
A Game of Thrones, the Movie
With the TV series catching up to George R.R. Martin’s writing, something needs to be done. One potential fix, feature-length movies. The movies would be prequels, set 90 years prior to the start of the books. This should give Martin the time to finish or at least pad out the series long enough to prevent the TV series from overtaking.
Jem and the Holograms to get film treatment.
Truly outrageous! The movie has a webpage set up where fans can make suggestions on plot and casting and submit audition video. However, Christy Marx, the creator of the original series, is not involved. How this will affect the movie remains to be seen.
No more Inspector Morse adaptations?
Creator Colin Dexter has added a clause in his will that will prevent other actors from playing Inspector Morse. He feels that the performances of both John Thaw and Shaun Evans cannot be surpassed. The clause can be challenged, but it is likely that Dexter’s estate will agree with him.
Left Behind movie series to be rebooted.
Nicholas Cage will star in the remake of the adaptation of the first of the Left Behind books. Release date has been announced for October 3. The first adaptation was by Kirk Cameron in 2000, with the sequels released direct-to-video.
Fox to spin-off a Mystique movie while Sony does the same with the Sinister Six.
While Marvel Studios is busy with the Avengers, the licensees aren’t content to be left in the dust. Fox has plans for a Mystique movie to go along with the Wolverine series. Over at Sony, the Sinister Six, Spider-foes each and every one of them, has signed on director Drew Goddard. The movies mean that Marvel will have more characters on screen than rival DC Comics, despite the latter’s owner, Warner, having not licensed any character to another studio.
New Sailor Moon series to debut July, broadcast includes Internet streaming.
The Pretty Soldier-Sailor is returning and can be seen through Niconico Douga, a video streaming site similar to YouTube. An account will be needed to watch but the new Sailor Moon will be available internationally. The build up has been kept low, with very little hype to create expectations.
Cracked.com lists the five adaptations that are overdone.
Beyond just naming, Cracked looks at why the movies don’t work well. The key appears to be the creativity ends with the original idea and doesn’t continue through the actual production.
Mrs. Doubtfire sequel being written.
Chris Columbus, the director of the original, has been signed, as has Mrs. Doubtfire himself, Robin Williams. The original movie hit theatres in 1993, and a sequel was attempted in 2001 but never got past pre-production. Given the age of the original movie, it may be Williams’ name that proves to be the draw.
Princess Jellyfish to get live-action adaptation.
The manga Princess Jellyfish, aka Kuragame Hime, will be getting the live-action treatement. The official site is now up. Release date is December, 2014.
The Empire Strikes Back getting the Shakespeare treatment.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars did well enough to get the next movie adapted the same way. An educator’s guide is also available.
Neil Gaiman updates on American Gods TV series.
HBO is out. Freemantle Media is in. No network has been announced. From the same journal post, Anansi Boys will be made into a TV miniseries for the BBC.
Help put clues together with Sherlock LEGO.
LEGO is still reviewing the idea, but a set of Sherlock minifigs are making their way through the review process. Other sets being considered are the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie and a Back to the Future DeLorean.
Barbarella TV series sets up at Amazon Studios.
A pilot script has been written and is now waiting for a showrunner. Amazon Studios is run by the online bookseller. Gaumont International Television, the producing company, is also involved with NBC’s Hannibal and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.
Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in three films.
Besides appearing in Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman will appear in two other movies, so far unnamed. Ideally, one of the other two movies will be a Wonder Woman movie, but this is Warner, who can shoot their own foot at a hundred paces.
Transporter: The Series to air in US in fall.
This slipped right by me. Season two of the series, based on the Transporter movies, begins filming in February.
The Astronaut Wives Club gets ten episode summer run.
Based on the book of the same name by Lily Koppel, ABC will be airing the drama over the summer. Both the book and the series follows the lives of the women who were suddenly elevated after their astronaut husbands on Project Mercury made history as the first Americans in space.
Redshirts to become a limited TV series.
John Scalzi’s Redshirts is being adapted by FX as a limited series. Casting has not started yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel is adapted.
Black Widow solo movie in the works.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps going. The Black Widow will be played, again, by Scarlett Johansson. The movie will delve into the background of the character.
Speaking of Marvel… Which studio can use which Marvel character? An infographic.
The surprising one was Namor over at Universal. He started as a Fantastic Four villain, has fought the Avengers, has been an Avenger, and has had his own series. The overlap is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are tied heavily to both Avengers and X-Men continuity. Fox could easily commit to a Cable & Deadpool movie, while Power Pack falls under Marvel Studios.
Raving Rabbids to invade silver screen.
Ubisoft has been busy, getting deals to have Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon adapted to film. The latest of the efforts is Raving Rabbids, who already have a TV series.
And an update! A month ago, I reviewed the Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated movie and the problems it had at adapting the original novel. Over at io9 this past week, Lauren Davis posted an argument on why Dragonlance should be the next fantasy franchise to be filmed. She has strong arguments. The only thing that could hold back a new adaptation is the failure of the animated movie. However, if ninety minutes was only enough for a shallow adaptation, two hours isn’t going to be enough time, either. Will people go for a six-movie fantasy series based on three books? Going back, I argued that TV may be better for some works than movies; Dragonlance is definitely one of those works. The television format allows for the development of longer arcs, such as Laurana’s growth from elf lass to military leader.
Back in November, one of the news round-ups mentioned that there Hummingbird working on a sequel to It’s A Wonderful Life. With Paramount contesting the sequel, I want to take a look at the mess and how to avoid it.
With It’s a Wonderful Life, the problem stems from a clerical error; the movie’s copyright wasn’t renewed properly, sending the movie to the public domain. The owners, Republic Studios, managed to regain most of the rights through backdoor methods that allowed them to control who could show it and at what price. The short version, the film itself is in the public domain, but the story and the music are not. The question that a court may have to decide is how much It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story depends on the copyrighted story.
Before I continue, I want it made known that I am not a lawyer, not do I play one on TV. This article is all from a layman’s point of view and isn’t legal advice, even if it sounds like it.
The first thing when adapting a work is to find out who has the rights to it. If the work is old enough, it’s in the public domain where anyone can take it. As a rule of thumb, if a work is older than Disney’s “Steamboat Willie”, it is very likely in the public domain. Works by Shakespeare are definitely in the public domain, as are myths, legends, and fairy tales. To verify, sites like Project Gutenberg can be helpful. That Romeo & Juliet alternative universe rom-com* where he’s the son of a necromancer and she’s the daughter of vampires can be made with no rights issues at all.
More recent works, though, have owners who expect payment when someone else plays in their sandbox. Research skills pay off here. First thing is to find out who holds the rights. Sometimes it’s easy; a Star Trek adaptation has to go through Paramount to be made. Sometimes, it’s not. It is the rare company that survives a hundred years. Studios like RKO, Orion, and United Artists have gone under, leaving entire libraries to be picked over. With UA, MGM bought most if not all of its assets, including the 007 franchise. It is a matter of research to find out where the movies have gone. This is where It’s a Wonderful Sequel is running into problems. Both studios can rightfully argue their sides; the film itself is public domain, provided that it is not shown in its original order. The sequel, and any other movie, could very well use images and scenes out of context as flashbacks and not run afoul of the copyright.
Once the rights owner has been found, it’s time to convince them that the adaptation should happen. The easiest way is sums of cash, or, as it is better known, a licensing fee. The owner sets the fee, but could be negotiated down. If there’s no agreement, no adaptation. A possible alternative is to convince the owner that they want to produce the adaptation themselves, with the adapter at the helm of the work. This method works best when remaking a movie, but can also work in the comics industry. This is what I expect the outcome of the dispute between Hummingbird and Paramount to be, an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed sum that allows It’s a Wonderful Sequel to go ahead.
If the rights owner says no, that’s not the end of the adaptation. Unless the new work relies heavily on established canon, changing details such as character names, setting, and even genre may be enough to make the former adaptation look original. This process is, essentially, “filing off the serial numbers”. Done well, no one notices. Done poorly, and the work gets called a rip-off of the original work.
Let’s take a hypothetical** example. I want to create a dark and gritty remake of BJ and the Bear, setting it in a post-apocalyptic America where BJ and his mutant chimpanzee deliver needed supplies through blighted wastelands to the last remnants of humanity living in fortified towns and cities, getting past corrupt warlords who want the goods for themselves***. The original owners of BJ and the Bear are easy to find – Glen A. Larson and Universal. The two still have a working relationship as of the Battlestar Galactica remake. All I need to do is convince both parties that I can make it worth their while to license the rights to me. Simple, no?
Not so fast. BJ’s main adversary in the remake, Warlord Lobo, is based on a character that got his own spin-off. If I want to use Lobo, I need to make sure that his character isn’t stuck in some sort of rights limbo. The problem has cropped up; The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man were both set, at least partially, in New York City. However, Marvel licensed Spider-Man and his supporting cast to Sony Pictures, who isn’t about to give up the wall-crawler anytime soon. Both Marvel and Sony negotiated to get the Daily Planet into The Avengers, but, ultimately, the building wasn’t there. Marvel is running into a similar situation with the next Avengers movies with Quicksilver and the Scarlett Witch. Fox has the rights to all characters related to the X-Men, including mutants. Quicksilver and the Scarlett Witch not only are mutants but have worked alongside Magneto in their villain days. Marvel is skirting the problem by not mentioning the m-word (“mutant”) in the movie. However, there has been a massive crossover of rosters between the two teams; other X-Men who have been Avengers include the Beast and Wolverine.
The issue of rights doesn’t affect just movies. The Battletech game has what players have come to call The Unseen, thirteen BattleMechs that could no longer made as miniatures or be used in artwork as a result of a rights dispute between FASA and Harmony Gold. Both companies had licensed the mecha designs; Harmony Gold through the respective studios of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Fang of the Sun Dougram, and Crusher Joe as part of Robotech, FASA through the design studio, Victor Musical Industries, for BattleTech. The case was settled out of court; FASA might have been able to win except the cost of fighting the case became too high for the company to justify. The loss of the Unseen meant redoing several books and creating new minis for the core game and led to the Clan Invasion.
In my hypothetical example, the competing rights issue doesn’t come up. Glen A. Larsons Productions and Universal are still the people to talk to about Lobo. However, if the word is no, I can make changes to remove the BJ and the Bear markers from the project. Keeping the post apocalyptic setting, I can change Bear into a horse that CJ rides. Instead of delivering supplies, CJ delivers news through the wastelands to the fortified towns. Or, since the new project is a little too close to The Postman for comfort, I change the setting to space, where CJ and his sidekick alien buddy try to make ends meet in their dilapidated space freighter while Space Admiral Lupine hunts them down for crimes they may or may not have committed.
In short, check the rights situation. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s not. When in doubt, rework to avoid legal entanglements.
Next week, 2013 in review.
* Yes, Romeo & Juliet is a tragedy. That didn’t stop Gnomeo & Juliet.
** At least, I hope it’s hypothetical.
*** If someone reading does do this remake, I would like on-screen credit, please.
Some time back, I reviewed Spider-Man, the Sam Raimi helmed adaptations of the comics. Since then, the movie series has been rebooted, turning the new movie, The Amazing Spider-Man into an adaptation and a reboot at the same time.
The history of Spider-Man was covered in the previous review, but a brief recap of Amazing Fantasy #15 wouldn’t hurt. Nebbish, nerdy Peter Parker, a high school student, was bitten by a radioactive spider during a field trip. The venom interacted with Peter’s blood, giving him the proportional strength and agility of a spider and a preternatural sense for pending danger. As he learns how to handle his powers, he uses his knowledge and skills to create web-shooters; wrist-mounted devices that shoot out artificial webs. Peter then patrols the streets of New York as the Amazing Spider-Man.
For the movie, The Amazing Spider-Man, the writers returned to the classic stories instead of using Marvel’s Ultimate universe. The difference, beyond the source of Spider-Man’s powers*, is the love interest. The Raimi film used Mary Jane Watson, who, prior to One More Day, was Peter’s wife in the main line comic. However, early Spider-Man stories had Peter paired with Gwen Stacy, a fellow geek. The new movie explores their relationship, especially in light of the job Gwen’s father has, a police captain looking for the new spider-themed vigilante terrorizing New York. And, as in the comics, Spider-Man’s foe is someone that Peter has gotten close to; this time, the classic villain, The Lizard who is Gwen and Peter’s mentor, Dr. Curt Connors.
As mentioned previously in Lost in Translation, superhero comics tend to intertwine, making it hard to adapt everything the character has been involved in. Thus, the concept of various related-but-separate universes, such as the DC Animated Dini-verse and the Marvel Cinematic Universe of The Avengers. While Marvel Studios was busy with The Avengers Initiative, it had to work with Sony, owner of Columbia Pictures, to get the Daily Bugle into a shot in The Avengers**. Right now, Sony has the rights to Spider-Man and related characters, so cameos by other characters other than Ghost Rider is unlikely.***
The Amazing Spider-Man/ holds up on its own as a movie, without needing prior knowledge. All the characters are introduced, Spidey’s origin is shown again. This time around, the writers remembered that Spider-Man doesn’t just fight; he talks at his opponents. The comic version of Spider-Man always maintained snappy patter, in part to psych himself up and in part to keep his opponents off-balance. The rebooted version also had the patter, the insults, the taunts. The nature of the threat kept with the theme of runaway science that appeared in the comic; the Lizard looked to change the residents of the city into his subjects.
The movie does represent the core of Spider-Man well; the responsibility, the dangers of misusing science and radiation, and the heart of the character. Allowing the movie to create a new cinematic Spider-verse, separate from the prior Raimi films and from the Avengers-verse, allowed the filmmakers to explore what placing the duties of a superhero does to a teen.
Next week, the October adaptational news round out.
* Genetically altered spider versus radioactive spider. Both reflect the fears of the era the comics were created in.
** Ultimately, the shot wasn’t used.
*** Ironically, Spider-Man made guest appearances in every new Marvel title to establish that the book belonged to the overall universe and to bring attention to the title.
After wrapping up the Avengers Adaptation series last week, I started wondering what was in store for adaptations of comic books. If you’ve followed along here at MuseHack, you’ll have noted the posts about the movie meltdown coming. From Spielberg to Cracked.com, the current bubble is predicted to pop, possibly as early as 2015. Meanwhile, Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers have a number of big screen adaptations in planning. Add in companies like Dark Horse Comics, and the comic book movie looks to be a mainstay until the pop.
First, Marvel Studios has a number of sequels related to The Avengers, including Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Outside the Avenger titles, Marvel’s taking a risk with Guardians of the Galaxy, based on an older title of space-faring heroes. Another risk, though linking back to The Avengers, is the Ant-Man movie. Marvel did succeed with the movies leading to The Avengers despite the characters being lesser known. What may help is Marvel Studios using existing storylines from the comics. That still leaves the question on whether audiences are willing to give the non-sequel movies a shot. Summer of 2013 has audiences not turning out for the big-budget blockbusters as they had in the past.
Marvel Studios isn’t the only studio adapting Marvel titles. Fox has the rights to the X-Men and related titles and characters and have released The Wolverine and is working on X-Men: Days of Future Past combining the original X-trilogy with X-Men: First Class. Sony has the rights to Spider-Man and has rebooted the series.
Over at Warner, owner of Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, the success rate of movies depends on whether it centres around Batman. Man of Steel underperformed at the box office. The Green Lantern fizzled. Catwoman bombed. The Dark Knight trilogy did do well, though. The advantage Warner has is that it holds all the rights to the DC characters. If they need a character, they have the access. However, the lesson that Warner learned is that dark, grey, and gritty is the way to go, leading to Man of Steel. Warner’s next adaptation is based on World’s Finest, a Batman-Superman movie. Meanwhile, a Justice League movie may be on its way, thanks to the success of The Avengers, but this would put Warner into the position of catching up with Marvel. With The Green Lantern‘s middling success and the studio having no idea what to do with Wonder Woman, that leaves the rest of the classic team in limbo. Aquaman would need a Dini-verse makeover. The Flash would mean trying to pick which Flash* to use. There is a Flash movie in the works for 2016, though. The character does not work in a grim and gritty story. Other than Batman, the Green Arrow has had some success through the TV series Arrow
Adding to the movie implosion of 2013 is R.I.P.D., an adaptation of a Dark Horse comic of the same name. The comic doesn’t have the same name space in pop consciousness, so the failure of the movie shouldn’t impact the title. However, by being off the pop culture radar, the movie had to rely solely on marketing, a problem plaguing several releases over the past few years, including John Carter. While Marvel Studios, Fox, Sony, and Warner have the money to get word of a movie out to everyone if they wish**, a lesser movie won’t get the money behind it. R.I.P.D. did have marketing, but audiences stayed away.
Marvel managed to capture attention using the Avengers Initiative and high quality movies. Warner needs to play catch up without looking like a Marvel imitator, making the success of a Justice League movie difficult.
Next week, Blade Runner
* Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West have all taken up the mantle of the Flash in DC Comics.
** For a counter-example, see John Carter. Please.