Tag: movies


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Welcome to Lost in Translation‘s quick series about the ins and outs of adapting games to television and film.* As seen since the first post, if something is popular, someone else will want to adapt it to a different medium. Today, 2013, the most likely medium to adapt from elsewhere is the Hollywood film.

Part I – Video Games
Part II – Boardgames
Part III – Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Part IV – Adapting Games to Games


Boardgames and card games are the oldest form of gaming, found in all cultures throughout history. From mere diversions to gambling to war preparations, boardgaming has spread far and wide. While there are some games designed for just one person, such as the various solitaire games for cards, the vast majority of games require at least two people. And, yet, there are few projects based on a boardgame. There are many movies that feature a game or are centred on a game, but very few that bring the game to the screen. Part of the reason is that the conflict is between the players. The musical Chess** features the drama between two chess players during the Cold War. Poker is a fixture in many movies, from Maverick to God of Gamblers where, again, the conflict between the poker players is the focus. Battleship became part of the plot in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

As for boardgame movies, there is Clue and there is Battleship. Jumanji, for all its appearances of being based on a boardgame, is based on a short story. The boardgame came out after the movie. Hasbro does have some movies in the works based on their game lines, detailed earlier.

Last week, I listed key elements that needed to be dealt with to adapt well: plot, setting, characters, and gameplay. Unlike video games where the game needs an icon for the player***, boardgames might just have a coloured token that has no backstory at all. Game bits may include money equivalents, miniatures to represent items, tokens for keeping score, and parts to add to the board. In a few games, the players’ pieces are identified by colour, with the shape of the tokens representing in-game elements.

For the vast majority of movies centred around games, the game shows up as itself within the work. The plot comes from the drama and conflict between the players as they play the game. Gambling games tend to be the focus of this type of movie. It isn’t the poker tournament that is the focus, but the players in it. The setting is where the game is played, whether it’s a saloon on the American frontier, a high class casino in Europe, or a back room in a seedy neighbourhood pool hall. The gameplay is on screen, performed by the characters.

Lately, though, as Lost in Translation previewed last year, boardgames are now being adapted as movies. Monopoly, Risk, Candyland, and a remake of Clue have all been announced. Risk and the similar in scope Axis and Allies involve a world at war, the former set in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the latter during World War II. Typically, movies set during wars of those times would focus on a particular historical element or figure and not need the game at all. Boardgames like Monopoly are about trading and getting rich, again, plots that can be handled easily without the baggage that a boardgame would bring. Monopoly, however, does bring with it a setting, Atlantic City.

For traditional boardgames, the plot can be pulled from the game itself, based on what the winning condition is. Some games, such as The Game of Life and Redneck Life, fit the bill poorly, covering the lifespan of the player’s token. Others, like Battleship, handwave away why there is a conflict between the players, assuming that if the players didn’t want to play the game, they wouldn’t. This leads to the writing staff having to create the reason for the conflict.

In terms of characters, again, few boardgames name their tokens, with Clue being the main exception. Some characters may be named, such as Monopoly‘s Rich Uncle Pennybags and Redneck Life‘s Uncle Clem, but they’re not playable. Typically, the players aren’t placed into a role. They just play the game. To adapt a game, characters will have to be created and cast; few people will pay to see a giant dog token hop down the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Boardgames do give the adapters a break on setting. The board itself can be turned into the setting. The movie Clue adapted the game’s board well, including the secret passageways and the relative locations of all the rooms. Battleship was set on the Pacific Ocean, providing the nice rich blue sea the game’s boards represent. The exceptions are games similar to Life and Redneck Life, where the boards represent a metaphorical journey instead of a physical one.

Gameplay is going to be the hardest part to adapt properly. Unlike games, people don’t walk a number of steps based on a die roll and don’t move one at a time in order. Games that have inter-player negotiation, such as Monopoly and Diplomacy**** fare a little better here, as players interact with each other in a dramatic conflict, as dramatic as the players want to get.+ In a work of fiction, the desires of both sides of the negotiations can be played up and the movement on the board can be downplayed.

Boardgames will take a deft hand to adapt properly, to keep the feel of the game while still producing characters and a plot that works within the constraints of the original work. The difficulties explain why few boardgames have been adapted directly. Clue managed to keep the feel of the game and worked with the existing characters to produce an entertaining movie. Battleship tried, hard, but might have been a better movie without the name attached.

Next week, part III looks at adapting tabletop role-playing games and wargames.

* And theatre, though I’d be surprised if someone made that leap.
** Someone made the leap.
*** Yes, there are exceptions like Duck Hunt, but the player still is represented by the crosshairs.
**** Diplomacy and, to a lesser degree, Risk and Axis & Allies could also be covered next week as wargames.
+ “Hey, want Reading and B&O for Illinois and Oriental?” “Only if you toss in Boardwalk.”


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Welcome to Lost in Translation‘s quick series about the ins and outs of adapting games to television and film.* As seen since the first post, if something is popular, someone else will want to adapt it to a different medium. Today, 2013, the most likely medium to adapt from elsewhere is the Hollywood film.

Part I – Video Games
Part II – Boardgames
Part III – Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Part IV – Adapting Games to Games

Video Games

Video games are a visual medium. With console gaming, adapting a video game to television is just changing where the input comes from. Early video games were fairly linear; computing power and no storage for saved games combined to keep the play simple enough to avoid overloading the console but challenging enough to keep players interested. Over in the microcomputer world, graphics were still primitive, but games could be saved, allowing for longer play.

Console games did allow for recognizable characters. Icons such as Pac-Man, Mario, and Donkey Kong became household words, first through the video arcade, then through home console adaptations.** With the focus of early console gaming on kids, naturally the early adaptations were animated. Pac-Man, Q-Bert, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, and Dragon’s Lair led the way in North America. Accuracy to the games more or less meant taking all the named characters and using them in similar roles as they had originally. Thus, Mario fought Bowser, Pac-Man dealt with Inky, Blinky, Pinky (no, not that Pinkie). The nature of the medium, though, meant that you just couldn’t show the game being played; at the minimum, advertising regulations would have to be ignored. In the case of Mario, the Princess needed to be part of the cast; she couldn’t be “in another castle” off-screen. Plots had to go beyond the game but still keep elements. Mario kept a cheesy Italian accent and had a boing sound effect whenever he jumped. Pac-Man became invulnerable when he ate a power pellet.

As the technology evolved, so did games. Graphics improved mainly because gaming demanded better. Eight bits gave way to sixteen, and sixteen to “holy crap, that’s a lot of pixels!” As storage became less of an issue, going from none for the Atari 2600 to external memory cards for the Playstation to gigabyte rated hard drives common today, more information could be saved. More information could also be stored on the game’s physical media, having gone from cartridges to CD-ROM and, later, DVD and higher density formats. This allowed games to go from basic plots such as, “Defend the Earth from invaders,” “Rescue the Princess from the castle,” and “Eat everything while running from ghosts” to more complex plots. Even 2D fighting games received elaborate backstory and each character had a history. Video games started to mature.

Adaptations of video games? Not so much. The early silver screen adaptations were Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, and Street Fighter/.  Street Fighter is reaching cult classic status, mainly through Raul Julia’s performance. Super Mario Bros. wasted a good cast including Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper with a set that oozed brown. Double Dragon reached the worst rating at Rotten Tomatoes. However, Mortal Kombat reversed the trend, becoming the first Hollywood video game adaptation to keep the spirit of the original game and not drive audiences away. Meanwhile, on television, Pokemon became a juggernaut, expanding the world of the game while keeping to the gameplay.

The problem with adapting a video game is that the player has an active role in the plot of the game. By turning from an active audience (the players) to an passive one (the viewers), the onus is now to draw in and keep the audience. Characters have to be, if not pleasant for the audience, interesting. Few works have a dull protagonist.*** In a video game, though, the less personality a character has, the more the player can infuse, adding an extra level of enjoyment. In Mass Effect, the player has full control over Commander Shepard’s reaction to shipmates and events; the gameplay encourages the player to make these decisions. A Mass Effect movie focusing on Shepard would have to decide on which Shepard, male or female, renegade or paragon, even where the character was born, details that get decided by the player in the video game.

The next problem to deal with is the plot. Most video games have a plot of their own, one that the player either completes or abandons. Adapting the plot essentially spoils the ending of the game for the audience. Some games, such as the Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia series, are based around an activity that is repeatable, such as exploration. Franchise games can lend open up options; Mario may be a plumber, but Nintendo has managed to have him rescue princesses, race cars, and prescribe pills. Not all franchises can do this. The appeal of The Sims series is the open sandbox the games provide.****

I’ve touched on a few key elements – plot, setting, characters, and gameplay. A successful adaptation of a video game needs to at least acknowledge these elements. Missing on one might not hurt the adaptation. Missing on all and the movie is an adaptation in name only; a good example is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. These days, the audience expects more from adaptations. Mediocre films don’t last in the theatres. Big budget busts such as Battleship, which recovered its budget plus some, are seen as exploitative of the fanbase. The fans already exist; that’s the main reason for doing an adaptation. Studios need to respect the fans.

Next week, part II looks at adapting boardgames.

* And theatre, though I’d be surprised if someone made that leap.
** At some point, there will be an ourobouros of adaptations when a video game is made of a TV show based on a movie inspired by a video game that was ported from an video arcade game.
*** Insert Twilight joke here.
**** And yet, a Hollywood studio has optioned the game.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The Avangers Adaptation continues!  Previous entries are:
Iron Man
Captain America

This week, everyone’s favourite hero with anger management issues, the Incredible Hulk.

The Hulk first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #1 back in 1962. As with many of Marvel’s early original heroes*, the Hulk was created by Stan Lee, with Jack Kirby. The origin had Dr. Bruce Banner, physicist, being at ground zero of a gamma bomb. Instead of dying, Banner absorbed the gamma rays, turning him into the Hulk. From that point on, whenever Banner was upset or angry, the Hulk would be released. Stan Lee has said that he invoked Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde along with Frankenstein with the character, noting that the Hulk, despite being the monster, was the hero. Although not an immediate hit**, the character guest starred in other Marvel titles and became a founding member of the Avengers, staying in The Avengers for the first two issues before leaving.

In 1978, CBS aired a television series, also called The Incredible Hulk based on the comic. Changes were made; Bill Bixby played Dr. David Bruce Banner, a name change required by executives. The gamma bomb accident because a lab accident that infused Banner with gamma radiation. The Hulk, played by Lou Ferrigno, had reporter Jack McGee chasing him, trying to find out the truth about the accident. The series ran five seasons, with three made-for-TV movies following.

Wait, you may be thinking, why mention the TV series when I haven’t done anything like this before? Isn’t this about the 2008 movie, The Incredible Hulk? Indeed it is, I say as I somehow read your mind. However, I continue, the TV series is important to keep in mind for the rest of the review.

The 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk was filmed by Marvel Studios as part of its Avengers Initiative, a series of movies leading up to the release of The Avengers. The Hulk, as mentioned above, was a founding member of the team, despite leaving after the second issue. Might be easy enough to gloss over; Avengers #1 is older than the target audience. Except, as seen with the other entries, the filmmakers are well aware of the history of the comics. The Hulk is, now, one of Marvel’s iconic characters, inspiring phrases such as “hulking out” and the source of, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”***

The movie quickly shows the Hulk’s origin during the opening credtis, combining the one comic and the one from the TV series to have a super solider serum test go wrong. Banner was led to believe the serum was to help resist gamma radiation. General Ross, an old foe of the Hulk from the comic, had other ideas. The movie opens in Brazil, with Banner working at a factory while trying to research a cure. An industrial accident that leads to a Stan Lee cameo lets Ross know where Banner is hiding. Ross sends a special forces team, led Emil Blonski, to retrieve the hiding scientist. Suffice to say, they got Banner upset, and that never ends well for anyone.

While Banner returns to the US to get the original data from the project that turned him into the Hulk, Blonsky and Ross work together to create a weapon capable of going toe-to-toe with the green monster. Blonski volunteers to under go the super soldier treatment, foreshadowing the events of Captain America. The first fight between Blonski and the Hulk, at a college campus, leads to Blonski recuperating in the hospital with every bone broken, but healing fast. The fight was also recorded by a jounalism student with the last name McGee.

The movie continues, using Blonski as a mirror to Banner. As Banner works to get rid of the Hulk, Blonski works to embrace the monster within, eventually becoming the Abomination. The difference between the two gamma radiated monsters is that Blonski kept his intelligence. Where the Hulk is raw, brute strength and fury, Blonski keeps his skills, losing a little in raw power.

The movie itself draws from the Hulk’s forty year comic history and the television series, blending the two. Edward Norton, who played Banner, looked a lot like the late Bill Bixby, even down to mannerisms as Bruce. Lou Ferrigno not only has a cameo as a security guard, but is also the voice of the Hulk. The journalism student mentioned is a shout out to Jack McGee of the TV series. Audience members who know the hulk solely through the TV series would not be lost. The influence of the TV series brought me to a question that I hadn’t considered before; that is, “Is there such a thing as an adaptation that is more influential than the original work?”

The Incredible Hulk also had to deal with history progressing since 1962. Originally, Blonski was a KGB agent. With the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the de-Sovietization of Russia, having a KGB agent would stick out. Turning Blonski into the English-born son of Russian immigrants on loan from the UK to the US brings the character into the 21st century. Likewise, the gamma bomb became a lab accident; the push to out-arm the Soviets also disappeared with the end of the Cold War. While the US does maintain a stockpile, the need to increase the number of warheads has dropped greatly. The movie updates the Hulk mythos nicely, telling an archetypical Hulk story with a current setting.

Next week, expanding a setting through an adaptation.

* As in, not the ones originally created my Marvel’s predecessor, Timely
** The Incredible Hulk, volume 1 lasted six issues.
*** Originally from the TV series, in the opening credits.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

As seen many times here at Lost in Translation, classic works of fantasy, including myths and fairy tales, are modern fodder for the Hollywood adaptation engine. Fantasy, whether classic or urban is everywhere – television, silver screen, books, video games. The major influence for many of these is JRR Tolkien. The influence may not be direct; many fantasy video games can trace their roots back to Dungeons & Dragons; but, D&D‘s creators looked at, among other writers, Tolkien for world creating and game design.

The above-mentioned influence came mainly from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but before the epic was a children’s story about a hobbit who reluctantly went on an adventure. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again followed Bilbo Baggins as he gets manipulated into joining thirteen dwarves in a quest to recover their homeland. Along the way, Bilbo discovers that he is more than what he appears to be, outwits trolls, and wins a game of riddles, and finds a magical ring. Middle Earth is presented as both being wondrous and dangerous.

After the success of his Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson was signed on to produce an adaptation of The Hobbit. Originally to be done as one movie, the script grew to the point where two, then three movies would have to be made. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was filmed in 3D at 48 frames per second, double the usual frame rate, though standard viewing was also released.

The new Hobbit does its best to stay close to the original story. Some characters from Lord of the Rings make cameos, particularly during the framing sequence.* CGI is evident, but not blatant. Care was taken to make sure each dwarf had an unique appearance. Magic is treated as wondrous and dangerous. The whimsy from The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is kept and is welcome at a time where most fantasies have gone dark and gritty. The story is treated as a personal one for Bilbo instead of the epic that the Lord of the Rings movies were.

However, some characters and scenes were added. A meeting between Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel that helps relate where The Hobbit stands relative to Lord of the Rings was never in the novel, with both Saruman and Galadriel being imports to the movie. Similarly, the framing device at the start of the film is set at the beginning of Fellowship of the Rings. The additions are understandable; tying the movie into the previous LotR trilogy enhances continuity, and having a movie without a woman in it is unthinkable to studios today.

Fans were already muttering about the novel being turned into a trilogy. Breaking the story into three parts, however, is one of the best ways to ensure that very little gets cut; the only other option is to turn the novel into a television mini-series. Television, though, doesn’t get the budget needed to do all the special effects or get the cast.

Ultimately, this is the best live-action adaptation possible with current technologies and will be enough for the casual fan and the fan drawn in by the Lord of the Rings movies, but will still leave hardcore fans of the original story cold.

Next time, continuing the Avengers Adaptation.

* It appears that Jackson is assuming that people have seen /Lord of the Rings/ but haven’t read The Hobbit.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

In 1981, Ray Harryhausen worked on and produced the last of his stop-motion features, Clash of the Titans. Stop-motion animation required building a model and painstakingly taking shot after shot with only small differences in the model’s position; Harryhausen is considered to be the premier filmmaker of the style. However, new methods of special effects were being introduced even in 1981, especially Industrial Lights & Magic’s go-motion, which added a blur effect to stop-motion for added realism.. Go-motion can be seen in the opening sequence of The Empire Strikes Back as the Imperial Walkers advance from the north ridge. Stop-motion is still in use today, though, as seen in The Corpse Bride and the Wallace & Grommit series. However, stop-motion is seldom seen outside cartoon-like films.

The movie Clash of the Titans was loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus, one of Zeus’ many, many bastard children, and Andromeda. Perseus wishes to marry the fair Andromeda and must undergo many tests before winning her hand. The monsters, including the serpentine Medusa, the Pegasus, and the Kraken, are all stop-motion and interact with the cast during the action scenes. The cast was composed of a mix of relatively unknown (at the time) actors like Harry Hamelin as Perseus and veterans of stage and film such as Maggie Smith as Thetis and Laurence Olivier as Zeus. Clash of the Titans had a good return, tripling its budget of $15 million. Audiences got what was advertised, though the stop-motion animation was starting to look limited even in 1981.

A new look at an old gimmick came around in 2009. James Cameron’s Avatar took CGI and blended it with 3D technology to create an immersive world. Instead of using 3D for such old tricks as a monster lunging at the audience, Cameron created a world and placed the viewer inside it, surrounding. Insects were annoyingly realistic and close enough to be swatted. The sheer success Avatar had led to other studios quickly adapting movies already in the works to 3D; among the films was the remake of Clash of the Titans.

The remake was set to be released in March, 2010, but was delayed a month to be made into 3D release. The new Clash was also based on the Greek myth of Perseus. Greek myths vary greatly, though, even in the original, so a change there isn’t major. The plot follows Perseus as he battles monsters similar to the ones in the original movie. The main differences are the use of location shots instead of sound stages and CGI monsters instead of stop-motion. Casting-wise, instead of hiring a relative unknown for the lead*, veteran actors were used. Sam Worthington starred as Perseus**, Ralph Fiennes played Hades, Gemma Arterton was Io, and Liam Neeson played Zeus.

The remake did well financially, not so well critically. The main draw of the original was the stop-motion animation, seeing the craftwork on screen done by the master himself, Ray Harryhausen. The remade Clash of the Titans used CGI, common to many movies of all genres. As a further detraction, the last minute change to 3D made the film appear more gimmicky. However, the remake didn’t become a “gritty” version of the original, though. The producers and the director were aiming for the same audience that the original had, with the actors well aware and agreeing.

So, did the remade Clash lose anything? Perhaps a bit of the charm and whimsy that the original had. Both movies had a thin plot held up by the special effects. Both had elements of cheese. But, both are very much watchable and enjoyable for what they are.

Next time, another review. Also, a reminder that Lost in Translation is on a bi-weekly schedule until December. Keep an eye out for guest spots in the meantime!

* Harry Hamelin was in only one movie prior to the 1981 Clash of the Titans, though would go on to star in LA Law.
** Worthington was busy in 2009 and 2010, staring in Avatar, Terminator Salvation, and Clash of the Titans.


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

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.

Blues Brothers

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.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The Cold War between the USSR and the US allowed spy novels to flourish after the end of the Second World War. During the 50s and 60s, British authors dominated the genre. However, the 70s saw American titles side by side with their British counterparts. One of the earlier successes in spy thrillers was Robert Ludlum. Among Ludlum’s many best sellers was The Bourne Identity, published in 1980. Considered to be one of the best spy novels written, Identity was turned into a movie twice; the first time in 1988 as television mini-series, the second time as a theatrical feature with Matt Damon in the title role in 2002. A review of the adaptation of the novel to the big screen will come in a later column. This one takes a look at the latest in the Bourne series of movies, The Bourne Legacy.

The original Bourne trilogy followed the story of a man with amnesia, several bullet wounds, and a surgically-implanted message found floating in the Mediterranean Sea. The man follows the message to a Swiss bank where he finds cash and documents with his photo and the name “Jason Bourne”. The story continues as Bourne is pursued by several people, all leading back to Operation Treadstone. Through Identity and the follow up movies, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne works to find out who he is, what Treadstone and its successor, Blackbriar, is, and how to get his life back. The end of Ultimatum worked as the end of Jason Bourne’s story. (more…)

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Finally, the one I’ve been hinting at for far too long.

With the success of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Joss Whedon proposed to Fox a space western. Whedon had been inspired by The Killer Angels, a book chronicling the Battle of Gettysburg, and wanted to the series to follow a group of people trying to continue their lives after being on the losing side of a civil war. Firefly featured a Stagecoach-esque ensemble cast of characters. However, problems with the network started early, with Fox wanting a second pilot, citing the original as being too dour and not having enough action. Worse, Fox would air episodes out of order, and Firefly didn’t have the magic reset button installed to make episodes interchangeable. The show, ultimately, was cancelled after one season with several filmed episodes not aired. However, fans picked up on the show’s potential despite the network meddling. When the DVD boxed set was released, several episodes were corrected back to the original concept, with additional parts removed because the show could be watched in a proper order.

The cancellation and the lack of interest by other networks in the series led Whedon to try selling Firefly as a movie. Universal Pictures signed on after the President of Production watched the series on DVD. After a few rewrites, the script for what would become Serenity was finished and filming started. The movie, Serenity, would wrap up several dangling plot threads from the series, including the Hands of Blue and what happened to River before Firefly began.

The movie was released in 2005, remaining in theatres for five weeks. During that time, Serenity fell short of recouping its budget. Despite the lack of financial success, critics were positive about the movie. Part of the failure at the box office might be from the idea of /Firefly/ being a “failed” TV series, despite the failure being caused by network interference. The original show also didn’t have a large fanbase, though said fans were enthusiastic about getting people out to the movie. Yet, DVD sales, especially the HD DVD*, were high.

So, successful? Financially, Serenity failed in theatres, but DVD sales will have helped make up the small shortfall between box office and budget. Yet, the movie continued the series and used the big screen to tell the tale. Serenity wasn’t just a double-length episode of Firefly. The film used the larger format and the budget to tell a tale that both fit within the setting but felt more epic. With the original cast and Whedon still there, respect** for the original work was more than present. Universal was willing to support the effort. What might have helped Serenity was having Firefly treated properly by Fox; but, if that happened, there might not have been the need for the movie.

Next week, super adaptation!

* Yes, HD DVD lost in the DVD wars, but the victor wouldn’t be decided for several years. /Serenity/ was one of the first movies released in the format.
** Yep, there’s that word again.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Over the past three decades, comic books have been mined for movies and TV series. The past few years have seen comic book movies bringing droves of people into the theatres.  What makes for a successful comic to other media adaptation?

As mentioned many times in Lost in Translation, the bulk of the work is done. The characters are created, their looks are easily found, the setting has already been fleshed out. Many superheroes are well known to the general public, guaranteeing interest in the adaptation. A first draft of the storyboards already exists. There is a built-in crowd already in the readers of the comics. The balancing act lies in maintaining faithfulness to the original work while still making the adaptation palpable to the general audience.  There are several ways to go about the process.

Creating an animated adaptation is a natural step. Most comic book adaptations have gone this way; comic to cartoon and manga to anime. The advantages of animating include being able to portray the characters as they appear in the comic, easy to predict costs as compared to live-action adaptations*, and ease of special effects. The drawback is falling into the animation ghetto, where people assume that, since the show or movie is animated, it is automatically for kids. The drawback could limit the size of the audience and how faithful the adaptation is.

Live-Action Movie
With the proper backing and budgeting, a live-action feature film of a comic can be done.  The mere fact of a cinematic adaptation can get the fans a-stir and, with a well-known character, might even get non-readers interested enough to see the movie. The catch, though, is that the budget needs to be large enough to cover the necessary special effects for the characters’ powers and to get a name involved to draw in non-fans. As well, fans will become more vocal about the portrayal of the adapted title. Costuming may become difficult or impossible**. Movies that are being touted for a major action blockbuster may also be limited to just the A-listers*** of the publisher to ensure that a return on investment is seen. B-list heroes have been used to various degrees of success, though.

Live-Action Television Series
Sometimes, the best format for a comic is a regular TV series, either on one of the traditional broadcasters or on a specialty channel. Viewers are more likely to give a show an episode or two to find its feet. While having an A-lister as the focus character will get people to watch, a B-lister or even a C-lister could pick up an audience. The drawback returns to budgeting for special effects, though a careful choice of heroes can mitigate the problem.

The Origin
One thing that will come up in a superhero adaptation is the origin story, how the hero came to be. While some heroes have a well-know background – Superman’s flight from his doomed homeworld Krypton and being raised by the Kents; the death of Batman’s parents and his quest to keep the city of Gotham safe – others are only aware to comic book fans. Time will be spent on the origin. Ideally, the hero is an active participant in the origin; early conflict and drama will keep viewers hooked before the main plot starts.  Spider-Man’s origin is a good example of the hero being involved; Peter Parker may have been bit by a radioactive spider, but his reaction after discovering his powers and the fateful choice to not get involved leading to the death of his uncle is all under his control. Superman’s origin, however, is more passive; he was rescued and sent off in a rocket as a baby while his world exploded and was raised right by a couple who couldn’t have children of their own. The conflict and drama are lacking in Superman’s case.

The Villain
In most successful superhero movies, the villain either has a personal link to the hero (for example, Norman Osbourne in Spider-Man and Obadiah Stane in Iron Man), represents the diametric opposite of the hero (the Joker in Batman), or cannot be defeated using the hero’s main abilities (Lex Luthor in Superman). Sometimes, a theme starts appearing in a hero’s rogue’s gallery that emphasizes the hero’s abilities. Spider-Man’s gallery has a scientific bent with Doctor Octopus and the Lizard. Batman’s rogues run the gamut of mental health disorders. The catch, though, is that the villain shouldn’t be killed off by the end the episode or the movie. Very few villains die in the comics, and fewer still stay dead.

The Setting
Historically, most comics are set in New York City. This came about because the publishers, writers, and artists were in New York City. DC writers tended to rename the city while Marvel kept their characters in a facsimile of the real world. The city becomes another character, lending its air to the work. The dark, foreboding atmosphere of Gotham City adds to the Batman stories while the brightness of Metropolis**** reflect Superman’s fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Even the real New York City can present different atmospheres. The busy Midtown Manhattan, where Spider-Man fights crime and villainy, allows the Webhead to make snappy comments as he batters his opponents with verbal quips. Meanwhile, the rundown area of Hell’s Kitchen provides a backdrop for both Daredevil and Cloak & Dagger‘s fight for the disadvantages against the those who would steamroller them.

Bringing Things Together
To show how the adaptations could work, I’ll use several examples in parallel. First, an A-list example for a hypothetical live action movie – DC’s Wonder Woman. Next, for a live-action TV series, Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger. Finally, to go through the thought process that I hope gets used, one of my own works, Subject 13.

Starting off, I already know how I’m adapting both Wonder Woman and Cloak & Dagger.  However, Subject 13‘s format is in the air. Given the strong language used by the main character, an animated adaptation is out of the question unless aired late at night on a specialty channel. A live-action movie won’t work as well as I’d hope because the character is practically unknown. That leaves the live-action TV series on a specialty channel, unless there’s a way to reduce the language without losing characterization.

The setting is the next. Wonder Woman is based out of two locations, New York City and Themyscira. Given those locations, she’s set for a story that combines modern sensibilities with Greek myths and the conflict between the two. Cloak & Dagger are based out of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, suitable to tell stories about fighting for the underdog and of survival. /Subject 13/ is, at least at the beginning, also set in New Yotk City, a mix of working class apartment neighbourhood and a private school, allowing for a fish out of water backdrop to the main character’s discovery of her abilities and figuring out what she’s doing.

The origin of each will be dealt with. Wonder Woman’s is fairly quick – she was made from clay then given life after her mother prayed to the Greek goddesses. Cloak & Dagger’s origin can easily fill an episode as two teens from opposite sides of society are kidnapped and given an experimental drug that triggered their mutant abilities. Their origin can return as they deal with elements from the gang that was looking for a new street drug. Subject 13‘s origin is important to the storyline, as she escapes from an evil consortium, but the actual moment where she becomes a hero could be done during the opening credits of the pilot.

Depiction of powers needs to be looked at, mainly for budget issues. Since my hypothetical Wonder Woman adaptation is meant to be a summer blockbuster, her powers won’t have limits. However, since her powers include super-strength, the Lasso of Truth, and invulnerability, portraying them won’t be difficult, just using camera tricks and props.  Cloak & Dagger might get expensive for television; Cloak is a gateway into a dimension of darkness while Dagger generates living light. Fortunately, decades of science fiction has made laser blasts easy to do and Cloak’s power can be simulated with lighting when needed.  As for Subject 13, she has a powered punch that flares when she hits. The power isn’t used often as it tends to end fights when she connects; the budget for the power should be easy to control.

The villains for the adaptations now comes into play. Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery tends to come from Greek myth. Tie in the locations, and Ares trying to start World War III through manipulating the United Nations makes for a good baseline for a plot. For Cloak & Dagger, the general theme for the first season is survival and adapting to being on the outside of society. Villains can include various gangs and, if we look at later works featuring the characters, toss in D’Spayre, a demon who can resist both characters’ powers, at the end of the season. In /Subject 13/, the origin ties directly to the villains, an evil consortium who was responsible for her getting her powers.

To sum up, Wonder Woman, if done well, should get a good audience. The adapters will have to make sure that the costume reminds the casual fan of her classic one. Cloak & Dagger, being a lesser known title, could work on TV if the drama is played up. Meanwhile, Subject 13, even with the language issue, could work as a live-action series with its on going plot, though her complete lack of fame in the general population without any ties to an existing property could work against the show’s survival

Next time, more stuff!

* Crew, cast, computer equipment (having replaced cels, paint, and ink) vs costs of different special effects based on the needs of the episode/movie.
** Particularly for the women in the film. Some comic costumes defy the laws of physics while revealing more skin than most bikinis.
*** The characters that are known far and wide. DC’s A-listers include Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Marvel’s are Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America and, as groups, the X-Men and the Avenger. A-listers get on the list by wide exposure through comics, animated adaptations, movie adaptations, and cultural drift.
**** Technically, originally modelled on Toronto.


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Um, surprise?

This summer is starting to shape up to be the Summer of Adaptations*. Several movies based on old TV shows and even board games are heading to theatres already, plus sequels and even adaptation of novels.

A quick preview
First, Battleship, based on Hasbro’s game of fleet destruction. One of the trailers even points the connection out in the first words used. Aliens arrive on Earth to turn two fleets into personal weapons of war. Either the scriptwriter got meta or desperate. Sadly, the trailer didn’t include the classic line, “You sank my battleship!” The movie could be a fun popcorn outing held back by the connection to the existing property.

Next, John Carter, which is already out. Disney’s adaptation of Edgar R. Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars was released at a bizarre time for what would normally be and should have been a summer release. A shake up at Disney may have doomed John Carter, with a new exec doing everything possible to tank an out-going exec’s project. The movie deserves better, though a full review and analysis is forthcoming.

The 21 Jump Street movie continues a disturbing trend of taking a popular-in-its-day TV series and turning it into a comedy. The original 21 Jump Street starred Johnny Depp as a cop going undercover at a high school. The movie adaptation has Tatum Channing and Jonah Hill going undercover, with the movie aiming for laughs. That worked oh so well for Starsky & Hutch and Land of the Lost.

Season two of A Song of Ice and Fire is due out in April. HBO signed for a second season after one episode. The first season showed the strength of the team adapting A Game of Thrones and the difficulties that traditional broadcasters face when competing with cable stations.

The Dark Shadows adaptation by Tim Burton is being filmed. The original series was a supernatural soap opera, featuring the trials and tribulations of vampire Barnabas Collins. Tim Burton’s version, though, will turn it into a comedy. Given Burton’s past work, most likely a dark comedy. I expect the movie to be successful at the box office, even if it isn’t faithful to the original.

Wrath of the Titans is the sequel to 2010’s remake of Clash of the Titans. Both movies can be thought of remakes of Ray Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans, which was a showcase for the best stop-motion animation. The 2010 version** turned the stop-motion into CGI, then had 3-D technology retrofitted, and was a decent action movie. Wrath will follow the heroics of Perseus and is being filmed for a 3-D presentation. I expect the movie to have a decent success, though not record setting at the box office.

The Three Stooges is probably the oddest adaptation to hit the screens this year. The original Stooges made their name through a series of shorts before getting full-length films. The adaptation will have Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, and Chris Diamantopoulos as Larry, Moe, and Curly with the setting moved to the current year. This… yeah, hard to tell how the movie will do. It will have to walk a fine line; it has to keep fans of the Three Stooges happy with the portrayal while still bringing in a modern audience. It’s a movie to keep an eye on.***

Again, I’ll toss it out to you. What adaptations are you looking forward to seeing? What ones are making you cringe?

Next week, something will be here.

* Add reverberation as needed.
** A full analysis is planned.
*** Before it starts poking.

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