The World Wide Web is an equalizer when it comes to entertainment. While major studios have money to throw into marketing, word of mouth can be more effecting online. It shouldn’t be surprising that web series have become popular the way TV series and films have. Rooster Teeth began as a machinima producer with Red vs Blue, using Halo: Combat Evolved to tell the story of the forces defending a strategic box canyon. Rooster Teeth’s latest hit is RWBY, with season seven coming this November.
RWBY, pronounced “Ruby”, follows four students at the Beacon Academy on the world of Remnant – Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang. Team RWBY learns how to work as a team and with their classmates, including Team JNPR (“Juniper”), with the goal of becoming Huntresses to fight off the Grimm, monsters out of fairy tales that roam the lands of Remnant endangering the inhabitants. Created by Monty Oum, the series has action, comedy, and drama in equal portions, sometimes intermingling. The series uses fairy tales, myths, and legends for inspiration, tweaking them for the story and setting.
Season one sees Team RWBY as fresh students at the Beacon Academy. As the series progresses, they discover the larger world around them, including criminal organizations, the White Fang (a Faunus terrorist group), and different types of Grimm. The Grimm, though, do attack Beacon, causing it to fall and leaving Team RWBY working to clean up.
The Fall of Beacon is where the novel, RWBY After the Fall, by EC Myers, picks up. Instead of following Team RWBY, as the series does, After the Fall chronicles a different team, Team CFVY (“Coffee”), composed of leader and fashion plate Coco Adel, rabbit Faunus Velvet Scarletina, blind but crafty Fox Alistair, and burly yet gentle Yatsuhaishi Daishi. It’s not just Beacon having problems with the Grimm after the Fall of Beacon. All of Remnant is being overrun and Huntresses and Huntsmen are needed, even if they haven’t completed their education.
While the focus is on Team CFVY, Team RWBY shows up in flashbacks that show CFVY trying to come together. Coco, Fox, Velvet, and Yatsu are distinct characters, with their own motives and personalities. They are sent to the continent of Vacua, a land of desert and Fox’s home, where the inhabitants keep on the move. With the Grimm around, life gets difficult. Worse, a group of refugees being protected by CFVY are inflicted by mood bombs, pushing negative emotions to the point of in-fighting and drawing the Grimm to them. Adding to the problem are Bertilak and Carmine, experienced Huntsmen protecting Edward and Gus who have their own mission.
Team CFVY is pushed to their limits as they try to deal with everything, the refugees, the Huntsmen and their charges, and the Grimm. The only haven may lie on the coast, but getting there is one challenge after another. The team has to dig deep into their personal reserves to be the heroes they were training to be.
After the Fall may be the first tie-in novel based on a web series, an indication of the evolution of where audiences find their entertainment. The novel also branches off from the main series, showing what is happening beyond the exploits of Team RWBY. The world of Remnant gets a little bigger with After the Fall. By moving to another continent, there’s no chance of derailing the main plot, a risk if the original series is still ongoing. An episodic series, like Star Trek: The Next Generation, doesn’t run that risk. RWBY, though, isn’t episodic. Each episode builds off the previous and towards the next. The separation is needed.
At the same time, the draw is Team RWBY. They’re the stars. The series is named after them. The need to appear. The cameos may or may not be enough, depending on the reader. However, by putting the focus on Team CFVY, the novel presents several new lenses to view Team RWBY. The setting allows for and has even presented other teams, such as Team JNPR. There is room for more teams. Team CFVY is believable as attendees at Beacon.
The writing is solid. EC Meyers presents the story with a light touch, making for a quick but deep read. He has the mix of action, drama, and comedy that RWBY has. Coco, Fox, Velvet, and Yastu may be a year older than Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang, but they still have a lot to learn, especially from each other. There’s hints of what lies in the future for Team CFVY, but only if they can survive their challenges.
Taking an animated series and translating it to a text-based medium takes a deft touch. EC Meyers pulled off the trick by remembering the source and making sure that the characters fit in the setting. RWBY‘s first tie-in novel brings the setting to life, expanding it through the eyes of a new team.
Adapting popular books isn’t new in Hollywood. Some of the best known movies are based on written works, be they books, short stories, or plays. Historically, the accuracy of adaptation has fluctuated, though some works included a change of name to reflect the differences. It is possible that, right now, we are in the middle of a Golden Age of adaptations, where authors have just enough clout to ensure that their works are adapted faithfully instead of being mined for ideas and left an empty corpse in Hollywood Hills.
Outside Hollywood, studios and directors tend to be more aware of the original work and its audience when it comes to adapting. The approach is to keep the original work in tact where possible, and can be seen in The Guns of Navarone. The original novel, released in 1957 by Alistair MacLean, featured a hand-picked team of specialists being sent to destroy the anti-ship artillery guns on the titular Greek island after previous attempts, including a bombing run, failed to destroy them. At stake, the lives 1200 British soldiers and the British ships being sent to retrieve them before the German offensive starts. Without the guns destroyed, the flotilla would be under a heavy barrage from the guns, out of range of the ships’ own weapons.
The movie follows the plot of the book reasonably closely. Events from the book do show up in the movie. The changes between the two occur in the characters. Captain Keith Mallory, Corporal Dusty Miller, and Andrea, a former Greek colonel all appear and serve in the same roles in both movie and book, with some minor alterations. Supporting characters, though, did see changes, some minor, some massive. Mallory, a New Zealander in the novel, picked up Gregory Peck’s American accent in the movie. Andrea, played by Anthony Quinn, originally was Mallory’s confidante, and didn’t harbour the grudge he had in the movie. Miller was cynical in the book, but David Niven gave him a touch of resigned whimsy. The Greek resistance members Louki and Panayis became Maria and Anna, played by Irene Papas and Gia Scala, respectively. The gender flip allowed the producer to add a romance that didn’t exist in the original novel.
As I mentioned above, the plot remained unchanged. The change from novel to movie meant that different means of keeping up tension had to be used. The destruction of the guns occurred “off-screen” in the novel, leaving the tension to the reaction of the characters as they waited for their explosives to detonate. The movie, though, turned the focus of the tension to the search for the planted explosives and the raising and lowering of the cargo lift, where if the lift dropped down far enough, the circuit needed to detonate the charges would be complete. Camera angles, the tempo of the music, the cuts from the cargo lift to the flotilla to the main characters waiting heightened the tension.
Is the movie version of The Guns of Navarone a perfect adaptation? No; many changes, some for the sake of expanding the demographic to have something for everyone, were made. However, the plot remained unchanged, as did the general feel of the novel. The core ideas – the guns being a danger, the stakes, the race against time – remained. Helping was the quality of the cast*; the odd actor out was James Darren, whose movie works prior to being cast as Spyros Pappadimos included two Gidget movies. However, Darren turned out to be up for the challenge and held his own among the rest of the cast.
The Guns of Navarone has been adapted in other ways, beyond just the movie. A radio play was produced in 1997 for the BBC. The original Battlestar Galactica had an episode, “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero”, that combined The Guns of Navarone with another of MacLeans’s novels, Ice Station Zebra. The core story – the race against time by a small team to protect thousands – reaches out and grabs the audience, no matter the format.
Next week, The Man of Steel.
* Today’s cast equivalent would be Daniel Craig, Johnny Depp, and Patrick Stewart, in terms of talent and draw. James Darren would essentially be Rihanna in Battleship except with a better role to work with.