Nostalgia can be a factor in what gets chosen for a remake. Now that people who grew up in the Eighties are old enough and high enough up to make decisions for studios, cartoons from the era are fair game. Masters of the Universe is definitely a subject of nostalgia, having had two adaptations this year. The first was Kevin Smith’s Masters of the Universe: Revelations, but Netflix and Mattel were also working on a reboot, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
Lost in Translation has covered the history of Masters of the Universe before when reviewing both Revelations and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The cartoon has turned out to be more popular over time than the original toy line. The series was episodic, with no real conclusion, mainly due to the needs of toy sales. The core heroes with He-Man were Man-at-Arms, his adopted daughter Teela, the Sorceress, Orko, and Ram Man, while Skeletor led a band of villains including Trap-Jaw, Evil-lyn, Beast Man, and Tri-Klops.
The newest new He-Man stars Yuri Lowenthal as Adam/He-Man, David Kaye as Cringer/Battle Cat, Kimberly Brooks as Teela/Sorcerss and Eldress, Judy Alice Lee as Krass/Ram Ma’am, Antony Del Rio as Duncan/Man-at-Arms, Tom Kenny as Ork-0, Fred Tatasciore as King Randor, Roger Craig Smith as Kronis/Trap-Jaw, Grey Griffin as Evelyn/Evil-lyn, Trevor Devall as R’Qazz/Beast Man, and Benjamin Diskin as Keldor/Skeletor. As can be seen already, there have been a few changes to the characters. Ram Man gender-flipped, the villains gained a history beyond just being villainous henchmen, and Ork-0 has an entire episode to detail the changes to his character.
The series starts with Evelyn’s apprentice, Teela, being directed to break into the Royal Palace of Eternos. Her goal, a specific sword. Teela is the lucky volunteer having some skill as a thief. Kronis’ apprentice, Duncan, is more technical, Thanks to the quality of the guards, Teela is able to slip into where the sword is being kept. Getting out is more difficult; the security around the sword is much tighter. Worse, when Teela grabs the sword, a voice speaks to her.
Elsewhere, where the Tiger Tribe dwell, Adam and Krass arrive to help Cringer with his hunt. The wise old tiger lost his claws when he was younger. He can chase with the best of cats, but he’s not able to hold on to his prey. Poacher bots interrupt the hunt, though. Worse, Teela’s escape also crosses the path. With help from Adam and Krass, Cringer escapes the bots, but Kronis takes over the poachers to repurpose them to recover the sword.
Adam catches up to Teela and helps her up from a cliff. What he didn’t know was that the bag she gave him to keep safe was a sword. Adam draws the sword and the magic happens; he transforms into He-Man for the first time. With the Power of Greyskull, he fights off the bots and sends Kronis and Evelyn away.
The core group – Adam, Krass, Teela, Duncan, and Cringer – follow the voice in Teela’s head to Castle Greyskull, where not everything is revealed. At the same time, Kronis and Evelyn have run into an old crony, Keldor. The lack of trust among the villains is palpable. Both groups arrive at Castle Greyskull, with Evelyn using a tracking spell on Teela. During the fight, the heroes discover that they can all transform. However, the villains have experience. Youth and speed can’t really stand up to old age and treachery, but Keldor’s temporary victory is pyrrhic.
The series is set up as episodic, but each episode feeds into the next, leading to a build up to the two-part season finale, “Cry Havoc Parts 1 and 2”. Orko, or Ork-0, gets introduced in “Orko the Great”, earning a place on the team over the next few episodes. This is the first of many changes from the original, which was mostly episodic with no seasonal arcs. The new new He-Man cannot be watched out of order, not without losing character development.
Every character gets character development. Adam’s is accepting who he is, both as He-Man and has Randor’s son and heir. Keldor’s is his descent into pure evil and his quest to replace Randor as king. But even supporting characters, like Ork-0 have a character arc; his is accepting what he is. The characters grow through the series, hero and villain alike, contrasting each other.
The writing is tight. There is a sense that there is a direction and an end even while watching the first episode. Granted, some of that comes from knowing who Adam and Keldor will become. It’s not the knowing that matters here but the journey. The heroes and villains show their counterparts the other side of what they are. Adam and Keldon, nephew and uncle, have different views of what family is and the nature and use of power. The dialogue is snappy. Keldor spends a lot of time eating scenery, with Evelyn and Kronis finishing the scraps leftover. Even the heroes get in on the good lines, with Adam remarking about Keldor, “He just dumped rocks on a bunch of kids. I don’t think he’ll be a good king.”
Being a reboot, characters can change from the original. Adam is still King Randor’s son and the heir, but he’s questioning his father’s rule as an outsider. Krass is not just a gender-flipped Ram Man; as Ram Ma’am, she is one of Adam’s closest friends, even when they disagree. Teela went from being second best warrior on Eternia to being an apprentice witch, giving her a niche of her own. In the reboot, she becomes the Sorceress, but is the second to carry the name. Duncan is not Randor’s Man-at-Arms, but the former apprentice trying to figure out his place in the world away from his evil mentor. Cringer is not the cowardly tiger from the original but a wise mentor who gets noticed wherever he goes because he can talk. Even Keldor, in the middle of gloating, is amazed by the idea. Adam is still Adam, but is also his own character, not a copy of the original. The villains are closer to their original counterparts than the heroes, but there’s more history to them that gets revealed over the course of the season. They work together by necessity at first, without the trust that the group of heroes build amongst themselves.
One thing to note – twenty-five years of magical girls like Sailor Moon and sentai like Power Rangers has led to an improvement on He-Man’s transformation sequence. The original worked thanks to the era and being a relatively new idea, one that would also be used by Jem of Jem and the Holograms. The Kevin Smith sequel’s sequence built up from there with a more fluid animation. The reboot series takes the transformation to new heights. He-Man isn’t the only character to get a transformation sequence; all of the heroes and villains have one, sometimes in combination with other characters.
The new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a reboot of the classic Eighties cartoon. It takes the ideas from the original but puts a new spin on it. Coupled with strong writing and excellent casting, the new series is forging its own way and is well worth watching.
Mystery novels can be enjoyed by all ages. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have demonstrated that for over a ninety years. Frank and Joe Hardy made their debut in the 1927 novel, The Tower Treasure. Created by the Edward Stratemeyer for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a company that put together books for publishers, The Hardy Boys series was written by ghostwriters all working under the name Franklin W. Dixon and was first published by Grosset & Dunlap from 1927 to 1979. Simon & Shuster picked up the series in 1979, publishing the new novels in the series until 1985. Mega-Books, another book-packager used by Simon & Shuster, took over in 1987 until 2001. In 2002, Simon & Shuster subdivision Aladdin took over until 2005. In 2005, the publisher switched to The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers, switching to more realistic crimes, running until 2012. Simon & Shuster then rebooted the series with The Hardy Boys Adventures in 2013, with the series still ongoing. Several spin-off series came about as well, aiming for a younger audience.
The titular Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe, solved mysteries mostly in their hometown of Bayport. Their father, Fenton, was a former New York PD detective before retiring to become a private investigator. The boys’ mother, Laura, and aunt, Gertrude, round out the Hardy household and the ones who care about the trouble the boys get into. The Hardys aren’t alone in their investigations. They are often joined by their best friend Chet, his sister and Joe’s girlfriend Iola, Frank’s girlfriend Callie, and friends Phil, Biff, Tony, and Jerry. Chet and Iola live on a farm, where Chet keeps his yellow jalopy. Frank and Joe, though, were smart, clever, and capable of solving any mystery they ran into.
The Hardy Boys was the most popular creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, outliving the company. The longevity means that multiple generations have read the books since 1927. Some of those readers found their way into the entertainment industry and remembered how popular the books were in their youth. Popularity leads to adaptation, and The Hardy Boys have been adapted over the past century, the latest in 2020.
The new series, The Hardy Boys, first aired in December 2020 on Hulu in the US and YTV in Canada. The show stars Rohan Campbell as Frank, Alexander Elliot as Joe, Adam Swain as Chet, Keana Lyn Bastidas as Callie, Bea Santos as Aunt Trudy, Riley O’Donnell as Biff, James Tupper as Fenton, and Atticus Mitchell as new character JB Cox. The first season is its own self-contained original mystery.
The series starts with the Hardys living in Dixon City, with Fenton still a detective on the Dixon City Police Department. Laura is a freelance journalist, giving her time to raise the two boys, sixteen year old Frank and twelve year old Joe. However, tragedy strikes while Laura is driving out to see Frank pitch in a crucial baseball game for his team. After Laura’s funeral, Fenton takes his sons to Bridgeport to visit his sister Trudy and Laura’s mother Gloria (Linda Thorson). While Fenton has retired, he still keeps in touch with his old partner, and information comes up on a case. He leaves the boys in his sister’s care.
Frank and Joe go through a period of adjustment, not only learning how to deal with the death of their mother but also figuring out how things work in a small town. They meet a few new friends at Wilt’s (Philip Williams) store/malt shop. While exploring Bridgeport, they run across a few clues that indicate that their mother’s death might not have been an accident. Meanwhile, a generations old conspiracy is threatened when a key piece of an artifact is stolen. Worse, the artifact is stolen multiple times as different parties try to recover it, with Joe landing in the middle of it with one of the thieves.
It’s not all mysteries and grief, though. Frank meets Callie Shaw. While there is chemistry, Frank hesitates until his girlfriend back in Dixon City breaks up with him. Joe runs across Biff Hooper, daughter of Deputy Jesse Hooper (Jennifer Hsuing). Biff is as eager to find trouble as Joe is, setting up their friendship. With the help of their new friends, Frank and Joe uncover and decipher clues, leading to the revealing of the conspiracy and of who killed Laura.
The first season acts an origins story for the Hardys and their friends, showing how they came together and how the boys got into solving their own mysteries. The burgeoning romance between Frank and Callie is allowed to grow over the course of thirteen episodes. The Bridgeport teens take time to warm up to the big city boys, but invite them into their circle. Relationships are established, ones that were a given even in The Tower Treasure.
Some changes were made from the source material. The obvious change is the diversity of the cast. This is not a bad thing; times have changed greatly since 1927 and even since 1959 when Grosset & Dunlap made revisions to the existing titles to reflect a change in attitudes. Chet, however, still has his yellow jalopy, an older pickup truck that suits someone who lives on the family farm. Frank and Joe’s ages changed from seventeen and sixteen to sixteen and twelve. This change let Joe naturally separate from his brother to have his own adventures. The series’ Biff combines Biff and Iola from the books, a case of the difference when it comes to salaries for cast versus introducing a character whenever in a novel.
Other changes are names. Not of characters, but of places. Bayport becomes Bridgeport. Fenton is transferred from New York City to Dixon City. That isn’t the only nod to the books. Callie has a cousin in Franklin, and there’s a location near Bridgeport called Devil’s Paw, after the book The Mystery at Devil’s Paw. During a locked room escape, it would be obvious to longtime fans that there is nothing behind the clock; The Secret of the Old Clock is a Nancy Drew mystery.
Helping the series is the chemistry the actors have with each other. Frank and Joe, Frank and Callie, Joe and Biff, Trudy with the boys, and even Joe and JB Cox, they all work well with each other. The writing helps; no one is passed the idiot ball. The boys get along like siblings, not always in agreement but there for each other when things get tough. The characters make the series; the actors bring the roles to life.
Spreading the mystery over the season let the characters develop naturally, without forcing an artificial speed on proceedings. Twists occur, but are set up several episodes in advance. The reveal at the end isn’t a surprise but the culmination of the investigation that occurred over the season.
The 2020 series makes an effort to update The Hardy Boys while still keeping to the core. The result is a dark, twisted mystery that pays off at the end while bringing the characters to the 21st century. Sure, there are changes, but for characters who have been around for almost one hundred years, change is good.
Last week, Lost in Translation asked the question, “Can a franchise be rebooted?” and came up with a rousing, “Maybe.” “It depends,” also came up. This week, a few thought experiments to see what can be done using a few well-known franchises.
Let’s start with the big one, Star Wars. The franchise has grown greatly, despite a period where it lay fallow for about eight years with little done. The release of Timothy Zahn’s began the renewed interest in licensing Star Wars outside toys, followed by the Expanded Universe of novels and comics leading up to the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. Even with Disney hitting the reset button on the Expanded Universe, the licensing of other media hasn’t slowed down. There is a hierarchy of canon, though; the films are on top, followed by TV series, then tie-ins like novels and video games.
There might be execs at Disney looking at remaking the original Star Wars movie, but the audience backlash would be at superweapon levels. The risk is not worth the reward. However, creating more stories set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away has been a winner for Disney so far, with The Mandalorian being the reason for many fans to subscribe to Disney+. The Galaxy Far Far Away is big enough to have a number of stories, epic and personal. Remaking the original is out of the question. Exploring other parts of the setting, especially if the quality can be maintained, works better and has been successful for the franchise.
Star Trek provides a contrast. Between the end of the original series in 1969 to the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, there wasn’t much beyond the animated series, a few novels from Bantam, and some licensed games. Compared to after TMP, where the novel tie-ins had a more regular release date, and films every few years. In 1987, Star Trek essentially rebooted with Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original series and movies with the original cast were historical, but the new series forged its own characters and continuity. However, there were and are still fans of the original series who get more adventures via the tie-in novels.
The original series had a second reboot with the JJ Abrams Star Trek film in 2009. The Abrams film, though, split into a new continuity, separate from the establish canon. This could allow for a new exploration of the setting, but Into Darkness, released 2013, went over old ground with Khan Noonian Singh. For the most part, the Abrams continuity films have been popular.
Both of the above examples are based on properties that began in a visual medium, film and television respectively. Time for a more literary example – Bond. James Bond. The 007 franchise began with Casino Royale in 1953 and has been active since then, first with Ian Fleming’s novels, then film adaptations, most notably the Eon Productions series, but expanding out to comics, first in 1962, video games, and a spin-off series of novels for a younger audience. The novels were continued after Fleming’s death, first with Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis under the pen name Robert Markham, then by John Gardner from 1981-1906, Raymond Benson from 1996-2002, and a number of authors since then.
Bond represents a problem Star Wars and Star Trek didn’t have – he is a contemporary character. However, things have changed since 1953 in terms of politics, culture, and technology. Bond is a product of the Cold War, where the US and NATO had a covert battle with the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. Nations were starting to settled into a post-World War II status quo. As the Eon films progressed, Bond became more and more, “a relic of the Cold War,” to quote Judi Dench’s M from Goldeneye. The progression of time can be seen in The Living Daylights, where 007 worked in Afghanistan with the Mujaheddin against the a rogue Soviet general; some of the Mujaheddin became the Taliban, who wouldn’t be considered an ally for heroes in movies made today.
There was a chance to reboot the movie franchise with 2006’s Casino Royale, starting from the beginning of the novels. However, Eon placed the film into its existing continuity. Eon also used the Daniel Craig Bond to re-introduce some elements lost from the films, such as SMERSH. Some legal issues ended, allowing SPECTRE to return in 2015. The 007 films have pulled back from some of the excess during the late Sean Connery and late Roger Moore era, getting back to basics without the gadgets. One possibility for Eon is to do a separate film continuity, keeping Bond in the Cold War era. It’s been sixty-eight years since Casino Royale was first published; placing Bond into his historical element may bring new insight to the character.
To wrap things up, let’s see if it’s possible to reboot a video game franchise, using Nintendo’s Mario. Technically, every Mario release can be seen as a reboot. The goal of the Mario franchise isn’t to provide a single storyline, but a separate game each time. The characters are treated as actors taking on roles in every game. Need Mario to become a detective or a racer? Not a problem. Likewise, Pokémon has been releasing new games based on the same idea – hunting Pokémon to use to fight others who would become a Pokémon Master. Sure, there are other games in the franchise, like Detective Pikachu, but the core of Pokémon is the collecting of Pokémon. The popularity of Pokémon GO is built on letting the players become Pokémon Masters without needing a game avatar on screen.
With other video games, though, a franchise reboot won’t be so easy. The medium is still relatively young, especially when it comes to games with a storyline. Rebooting Pac-Man just relies on updating game play for modern technology. Rebooting Mass Effect, for example, may need to wait a generation, much like film remakes do. Commander Shepard is popular enough for a remaster of the original trilogy, but a remaster isn’t a reboot. Will we see a remake of Mass Effect in 2037? Time will tell.
So, that definitely “maybe”? There’s just too many factors to give a definitive answer. Some franchises have tried a reboot. The main problem is that the original work will still be available, and comparisons will happen. For larger franchises, the risk is not worth the potential reward. But when done, fans appear to be accepting of the product, even if they will also stay with the original.
In entertainment, if something is made, it is inevitably remade in one form or another. However, franchises seem immune. Sure, Batman’s origins will get filmed over and over, but the movies aren’t the source. Even in the comics, there have been retellings of how Bruce Wayne became Batman, but they all follow the same beats and Bruce Wayne always becomes Batman in each version. Can a franchise be rebooted and rebooted successfully?
Definition time – a franchise is a work that spans multiple media, be it literature, film, television, comics/graphic novels, video games, even radio. A series of novels doesn’t count, nor does a TV series. Once licensing gets involved, the franchise is starting to form. The wider the licensing, the bigger the franchise. Star Wars as a franchise is huge, starting with a movie, then expanding into toys, games, comics, tie-in novels, animated series, live action series, spin-off movies, serialization on the radio, and video games, and I’m probably missing other parts of the franchise in that list, with more coming out every year. Even smaller franchises cover a portion of what Star Wars has.
Back to the question, can a franchise be rebooted? If the original, core work of the franchise is a movie, can it be remade and, if so, does it break anything? Likewise with a TV series, can it be remade? Literature creates a new issue; few people are going to buy a rewrite of an original work, especially if the redone work isn’t by the original author. But if the audience’s perception of what the original work is switches to another medium, then can the franchise reboot?
Note that rebooting is not the same as a creating a new series. Star Trek: The Next Generation isn’t a reboot of Star Trek, but a continuation set much later in the settings time line. However, JJ Abrams’ 2009 Trek film is a reboot of the original series. The concept isn’t clear cut.
Some franchises don’t need to reboot, thanks to the setting. Star Wars has an epic scale that allows for exploration of different styles. Space Western with Samurai influences? Done – The Mandalorian. Want to add a mystic element? The Jedi. Heist movie in space? There’s enough of a underworld described in the movies and TV series that someone robbing jewels from Cloud City should be easy to write. Not all franchises have this range of flexibility. However, sometimes, just advancing the timeline is enough to shed some baggage by placing into the past, as Star Trek has done.
Some franchises have tried to reboot. DC Comics tried to reset using Year One to update character origins. Marvel tried something similar with the Ultimates line of comics. Both companies have decades of prior stories that make it difficult for new readers to just jump in. Introducing new characters to take up the mantle of a superheroic ID is hit or miss. Miles Morales as Spider-Man worked, but DC killing Superman to have four characters take over the role didn’t take, with Superman returning.
Let’s break it down by original source. Literary sources aren’t going to reboot right away; writing takes work and authors aren’t going to be willing to go back to rewrite a book that’s been published. All the rewrites were done before the book reached shelves. Film remakes are a known entity, but early franchise entries seem almost immune; the potential to break the audience could doom the remake at the box office and studios are risk adverse. No killing the golden goose for them. Comics could, but as noted above, it’s been tried and the results are hit-or-miss. Video games can; new technology and new releases mean that a larger audience could play the latest version. Most video games are stand-alone, though there are exceptions like Mass Effect. Traditional games, mist likely can’t; if the game is popular, it’s too beloved to change too much. However, tabletop RPGs could; new editions come out to correct mechanical problems and settings will get adjusted for the game.
Could a franchise be rebooted? The answer is a big maybe. There are a number of factors in play, including popularity and the risk of losing an audience if the change is too great.
Next week, a look at some examples.
Kevin Smith’s Masters of the Universe: Revelations released on Netflix this past week. The stills looked promising. Now is a good time to see if the series lives up to the promise.
The review of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power delved into the history of the origins of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, focusing on the spin-off, She-Ra: Princess of Power. Both series were based on Mattel’s line of action figures, where the real differences were in the colours and head mold. Filmation picked up the license for both animated series.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe first aired in 1983, two years after the first figure in Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line was released. The series ran for two 65-episode, allowing for twenty-six weeks of second-run syndication without repeat an episode. The characters included Prince Adam, who turned into He-Man; Adam’s pet Cringer, who transforms into Battle Cat; Man-At-Arms, the commander of Eternia’s army; Teela, Captain of the Royal Guard; Orko, bumbling mage and He-Man’s sidekick; and the Sorceress, the guardian of Castle Greyskull. Opposing the heroes are Skeletor, who wants to discover the secrets of Castle Greyskull in order to rule the universe; Evil-Lyn, an evil sorceress; Beast Man; and a number of minor villains, including the three-eyed Tri-Klops. Each character, good or evil, had a schtick of their own.
The series was episodic, with Skeletor enacting a new evil plot forcing the heroes to thwart the villains. Prince Adam would keep his dual life a secret, disappearing when trouble starts to transform into He-Man. Brains and brawn tended to be needed to stop Skeletor. By the end of the episode, the day is saved, Skeletor and his henchmen are on the run, and the status remains quo. That was the nature of television at the time. A permanent end wasn’t possible; that would end the series. Villains couldn’t triumph, especially in children’s programming, so they had to lose every episode. A major victory by a villain would mean a change in the tone of the series.
When the series came to an end, the fate of Eternia was still undecided. He-Man would keep battling Skeletor in second-run syndication. A reboot of the series was made in 2002, but still left things unresolved. Enter Kevin Smith, creator of films such as Clerks and Dogma. Smith is of the age to have watched the original cartoon first run. With Netflix, he produced the sequel series, Masters of the Universe: Revelations to wrap up the war for Eternia. The cast of the new series includes Chris Wood as Prince Adam and He-Man, Sarah Michelle Geller as Teela, Lena Headey as Evil-Lyn, Griffin Newman as Orko, Kevin Michael Richardson as Beast-Man, and Mark Hamill as Skeletor.
The first season starts with a new Man-at-Arms being announced; Teela is stepping up as her adopted father, Man-At-Arms, retires. The celebration is cut short, though. Skeletor has tried another gambit to get inside Castle Greyskull, one that works. The heroes head off to battle. The fight, though, ends in an unusual way – both He-Man and Skeletor disappear and the magic protecting Castle Greyskull is all but destroyed. In the aftermath, Prince Adam’s secret is revealed, the Sword of Power is split in twains, and trusts are broken. Teela leaves the Royal Guard and becomes a mercenary, travelling with Andra (Tiffany Smith). A few unusual jobs for an elderly woman, though, brings the past back into her life. The job leads to working with Evil-Lyn, pulling some of the heroes back, and discovering what happened to both He-Man and Skeletor.
The focus of the series is on Teela. She is the one driving the plot as she tries to recover the magic of Eternia before the world and the universe are doomed. Teela is the one to keep the unlikely band of adventurers on the right track. However, the truce rests uneasy. After all, the word “evil” is baked into Evil-Lyn’s name. He-Man appears in flashbacks, being his charming, goofy self. However, the story does revolve around He-Man.
The cast of the new series is top notch. Mark Hamill is more than happy to chew the scenery as Skeletor, and when he’s not there, Lena Headey matches him. The characters reflect who they were in the original cartoon, but are given depth that wasn’t possible in the 80s. Much like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the new Masters is able to take the comic relief and give them more depth, making them sympathetic. The writing is tight; there is nothing wasted in the five episodes of the first season. Smith is aiming for fans like himself, people who grew up with the series when it first aired. While Eternia is bleaker, Smith doesn’t wallow in grimdark. There is still hope thanks to the heroes.
The production value of the new series shines. While the characters are based on their original appearances, the animation is far smoother and not recycled. Prince Adam’s transformation to He-Man is far more involved, with influences from magical girls series like Sailor Moon. This isn’t a bad thing, though. It’s been forty years; time for He-Man to have a proper transformation. The new Masters shows what having a larger per-episode budget can do.
Masters of the Universe: Revelations achieves what it set out to do, to provide an ending to the original series. The characters are recognizable from what they were and are given arcs for growth. The series takes chances, and they pay off. The new Masters isn’t a reboot, it’s a sequel, and after forty years, manages to update the franchise while still managing to keep to its roots.
Some series can be influential on the generations of creators who grew up with them. Anime, which while known prior to 1995, exploded in popularity in the late 90s and continues to have a large audience. Western animation is now taking at least cues from anime, if not fully emulating it the way Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel, The Legend of Korra did. In the realms of fully CG animation, ReBoot is the forerunner.
Released by Mainframe Entertainment in 1994, ReBoot was the first fully CG animated TV series. The series covered the adventures of Bob, Dot, Enzo, Frisket, AndrAIa, and the citizens of Mainframe against the machinations of viruses Megabyte and Hexadecimal and against games sent by the User. The first season and most of the second was mostly episodic. The change to a continuing series had the seeds laid out during the second season and started with the episode “Nullzilla”, where a web creature invades Mainframe. The fight against the web creatures forces Bob and Megabyte to work together. The second season ends Megabyte turning on Mainframe’s defenders and sending Bob into the Web.
Season three breaks down into four four-part arcs. The first arc has Enzo taking over the role of Guardian, fighting off incoming games and Megabyte’s propaganda, both with the help of Dot, AndAIa, and Frisket. The arc ends with Enzo losing a Mortal Kombat-style game. The second arc starts with Enzo, AndrAIa, and Frisket already in a Mars Attacks-style game. When the game ends, the Enzo and AndrAIa having compiled up and him going as Matrix. The arc covers the trio’s search for a way back to Mainframe and Matrix’s growing doubts about his abilities, and ends with the return of a character. The third arc begins with re-introducing the Crimson Binome and the crew of the Saucy Mare, first seen in the first season episode, “The Crimson Binome”. The arc then shows Matrix, AndrAIa, Frisket, and the Saucy Mare reaching Mainframe and seeing the devastation Megabyte made in creating Megaframe. The final arc is the final showdown, as Guardian Bob, Renegade Matrix, and the survivors in Mainframe once and for all put an end to Megabyte’s reign as the virus tries to find a way out to go infect a new system.
The fourth season was done as two movies, each broken into four parts for rebroadcast. The first, Daemon Rising, introduces a new threat, Daemon, while Mainframe tries to get on with normal life. Daemon, as the characters learn, is a cron virus that will destroy the entire Net if not stopped, and ends with a second Bob appearing. The second movie, My Two Bobs is a bit lighter, with Dot trying to figure out which Bob is the real one, a wedding, and ends with the return of Megabyte and him taking over the Principle Office in a still unresolved cliffhanger.
Throughout its four seasons, ReBoot through in what fans call DYNs, for “Did You Notice?” Popular culture references can be found in almost every episode, with several eps based on something specific. Season two’s “Bad Bob” took the premise of Mad Max 2, aka The Road Warrior, and added a plot that was relevant to ReBoot. Season three upped the ante, making a number of direct comparisons to other works, including the *007* franchise in “Firewall” and The Prisoner in “Number 7”. The games themselves often referred to actual video games or films, including Pokémon in My Two Bobs, The Evil Dead in “To Mend and Defend*, and games like Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog with Rocky the Rabid Raccoon in “Between a Rock & a Hard Place” and My Two Bobs.
Of particular note is the use of Star Trek in several episodes. There are binomes based on Captain Picard, Captain Kirk, and Commander Riker that reappear throughout the series. Lines from Trek have come ffrom several characters, including the Crimson Binome and Megabyte. The third season episode, “Where No Sprite Has Gone Before” written by fan and later Trek scriptwriter and script consultant DC Fontana, is a parody of both Star Trek and silver age comics. The destruction of the Saucy Mare in “Showdown” is straight out of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, including the Crimson Binome’s lamentation, “What have I done?” and AndrAIa’s response, “What you had to do. What you have always done.”
In 2018, Mainframe in conjunction with Corus Entertainment1 produced a live-action ReBoot reboot, called ReBoot: The Guardian Code. The series starred Ty Wood as Austin/Vector, Ajay Friese as Parker/Googz, Sydney Scotia as Tamra/Enigma, Gabriel Darku as Trey/Frag, Hannah Vandenbygaart as the Virtual Evolutionary Recombinant Avatar or Vera, Bob Frazier as the Sourcerer, and Timothy E. Brummund as Megabyte, taking over the role from the late Tony Jay. The series is et twenty years after the events of the original ReBoot, with the Net and cyberspace far more developed, like today’s Internet is compared to when the original first aired.
The series begins with Austin, Parker, Tamra, and Trey arriving at the Alan Turing High School, a magnet school for computer science. Tamra is a social media guru. Trey is a basketball star. Parker is a natural at coding. Austin is the son of Adam Carter, who developed new technology that was never released, especially to the Department of Internet Security. The four students get a late notice that their homeroom as been moved to room zero, in the school’s basement. Room zero is hidden behind a hologram of a wall. Inside is Adam Carter’s technology.
Turns out, the four students already knew each other by code names in a video game, which was used to find candidates to become a new type of Guardian. Carter’s technology would let users transport themselves into cyberspace, with Guardian code to keep them safe from the dangers of the Net. Their first mission is to stop the Sourcerer and his dark code locusts, who have caused a power outage.
The Sourcerer realizes the new Guardians are a threat and brings back a virus with experience fighting them, Megabyte. Megabyte is given an upgrade reflecting the twenty years that have gone past since he was last active in Mainframe. However, the Sourcerer has also done his research and adds extra code to the virus, a delete routine. Failure to obey orders and the Sourcerer can delete Megabyte with a press of a key.
Megabyte’s first act of his own volition is to set up his own base of operations, replacing Silicon Tor with a new castle. He sees cyberspace as a realm to be corrupted and brought under his silicon fist. There is a war of wills between the main villains, with the Sourcerer having the upper hand thanks to the delete routine. However, Megabyte does find a way to equal the odds, possibly even give himself the upper hand.
In a brazen act, Megabyte breaks through the outer walls of Mainframe and finds his sister, Hexadecimal, voiced again by Shirley Millner. While tracking Megabyte, Vera and Parker realize that the system he’s infecting is close, as in practically inside room zero. Parker finds an old computer and flips the switch marked “Reboot Mainframe”. The new Guardians go into the old system, only to be stopped by Bob, voiced by the original Bob. Dot and Enzo join the group, explaining what is happening and what, exactly, Lost Angles is and who Hex is. However, the User notices that Mainframe is back online and downloads Starship Alcatraz, last seen in the original season one episode, “The Tiff”. Bob, Austin, and Parker are trapped inside the game and must stop the User from winning. This time around, Austin and Parker use their knowledge of the game as users to squeak out a win.
The Sourcerer, though, has other plans. Ultimately, he wants the destruction of cyberspace. He eventually makes a deal with Megabyte to gain information, removing the delete code from the virus. the Department of Internet Security gets more involved as they recognize both the Sourcerer’s dark code, the Guardian code, Megabyte’s viral code, and how often they appear near each other. And the Guardians have lives outside the Net, including teaching Vera, who transitioned from cyberspace to the real world, how to act human, crushes, academics, and other foibles of existence.
Back in 2018, I did a preview of the series. The trailer then wasn’t promising. Turns out, trailers lie. The series is worth a watch. The question, though, is, “Is it ReBoot?”
The elements from the original that do make it in are done well. Unlike the first glance, Megabyte isn’t an attack dog. He has his own goals, restricted by the Sourcerer’s foresight. Hexadecimal is very much recognizable, helped greatly by having Millner and her cackle return for the role. While Megabyte doesn’t have his heavies Hack and Slash, he does have his army leader, the Alpha Sentinel. He has a series of them; being promoted to Alpha Sentinel usually means being destroyed, most likely by Megabyte.
However, the rest of the series might be better off without the ReBoot label. The idea of users in a computer system isn’t new; Disney did it with Tron in 1982. The Sourcerer’s plot and the fight to stop him doesn’t really touch on Mainframe, though someone had to program the viruses, the sprites, the binomes, everything in the original.
At the same time, the series leans heavily on the ReBoot mythology, using terms like Guardians and using the original series’ iconography. The Sourcerer could have coded his own virus, but instead upgraded an existing one. Sure, a new virus character out to corrupt and dominate cyberspace, but that is Megabyte’s wheelhouse. Why create a pale copy when the original is around. That goes double with Hexadecimal; the Queen of Chaos is one of a kind, and having the pair brings the spectre of Gigabyte, their combined, upgraded form, into the audience’s mind. The reboot brings back two of the greatest viral villains in entertainment.
The cast of the series is strong. The Guardians and Vera have feel like a natural group, despite being thrown together, sort of, at first. The late Tony Jay is a hard act to follow, but Timothy E. Brummund is up to the task. Bob Frazier is creepy as the Sourcerer and puts in a credible work playing two different characters in one body late in the second season. Bringing back Shirley Millner as Hex is the icing on top of the cake.
Still, is it ReBoot? Yes and no. The series does work as a sequel after a gap of twenty years, and if the original split prior to the second season episode, “Nullzilla”, when a web creature infects Hexadecimal. The reboot doesn’t answer the cliffhanger at the end of My Two Bobs. Some fan favourite characters don’t appear at all, but some, like Mike the TV wouldn’t fit the new tone. The action moves from systems into cyberspace, but the Internet has evolved greatly since 1995, and even since 2001. The series also shows what a battle between Guardian and virus in a game looks like from the user’s perspective. It may be up to the individual to decide if ReBoot: The Guardian Code is a proper adaptation.
Netflix, working with Kevin Smith and Powerhouse Animation, have been working on Masters of the Universe: Revelation since 2019, continuing the classic series from the 80s. Stills have been released and a cast has been announced. Playing Prince Adam/He-Man is Chris Wood, with Sarah Michelle Gellar as Teela and Mark Hamill as Skeletor. The series premiers July 23 on Netflix.
The released stills reflect Filmation’s original, but with more detailing. Filmation’s Masters of the Universe tended to re-use models and animation to save on costs. Characters tended to be a bit stiff as a result. Granted, the stills are stills and not animated, but the characters look more fluid, more dynamic. Combined with a strong cast, the Netflix series should gain an audience.
The only caveat is that the new series may not interface well with Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power series. The new She-Ra created a new cosmology for the show, shunting the characters beyond the universe, though they did return to one in the final season. Audiences should not expect a crossover right away. The new Masters of the Universe should be judged on its own merits, not in comparison.
Remakes and reboots tend to come after about a generation after the original, typically about 30 years. Prior to the invention of affordable home entertainment, such as televisions, VCRs, and DVDs, the time allowed for a new generation to grow up and the previous generation to forget details about the original. With VCRs, DVDs, and streaming, the only limitation in getting an original work is availability. Studios may remove a work from being available, but while that may affect streaming services, physical media can still be played.
The remake is still a viable approach today, though. Breakthroughs in technology all for a new look at a work that is generally available in one for or another. Actors aging up or getting popular and thus more expensive does happen. No studio is going to get Tom Hanks for what he was paid when he starred in Bosom Buddies.
In 2002, Jason Statham starred in the French-produced film, The Transporter; his Frank Martin, the title character, was a breakout role for him. The movie was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and was directed by Corey Yeun and Louis Leterrier. Frank, in the movie, is a getaway driver for hire who calculates his role precisely. He has three rules; 1) once a deal is made, it is final; 2) no names; and 3) never open the package. The opening scene, where Frank is the getaway driver demonstrates the professionalism and preciseness he has. Three bank robbers need him after a robbery, but they break the deal by bringing a fourth. Frank refuses to leave until the fourth is dealt with. Once the fourth is gone, by being shot by his comrades, Frank begins his getaway.
Of course, a movie where nothing goes wrong will get dull. Frank breaks one of his rules during a job and opens the package. Turns out, he was transporting a young woman, Lai Kwai, played by Shu Qi. Frank still makes the delivery, but the guy who hired him, Darren Bettancourt (Matt Shulze), tries to eliminate loose ends. The explosion destroys Frank’s car, but not Frank, who was out of it at the time.
Since Bettancourt broke Frank’s first rule, never change a deal, by trying to kill him, Frank heads back to get vengeance. Bettancourt is out but his henchmen aren’t. When Frank is done Bettancourt’s villa, he has left behind broken and dead henchmen and taken Bettancourt’s car, where Shu Qi just happens to be. The action escalates as Bettancourt tries to kill Frank and Frank tries to get away. Car chases, martial arts sequences, including a fight on an oil-filled concrete floor where Frank is using bicycle pedals as skates, and gun fights lead to the breathless climax.
The plot of The Transporter is thin, but serves to deliver on the action. Audiences who saw the trailer came in with the expectation of an action flick, and that’s exactly what they got. An action flick with the stakes at the personal level. No threat to destroy the world, no corporation trying to upset democracy, just one man versus another and his henchmen. The movie would go on to have two sequels.
As mentioned above, remakes take about a generation. A remake of The Transporter would be expected anywhere between 2022 and 2042, but in 2015, Luc Besson, along with Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, penned The Transporter Refueled. Released by the same studio, the new film introduced a new Frank Martin, this time played by Ed Skrein. Joining Frank is his ex-spy father, Frank Sr, played by Ray Stevenson. The Refueled Frank has the same rules as the original. It’s when the rules are broken when things get interesting for Frank.
Frank’s latest job involves three women all dressed the same, all wearing the same wig. They need him to drive them away from a bank robbery, leading to a car chase that leaves several French police cars broken on the streets of Nice. The client, though, changes the deal by getting Frank’s father involved. Frank Sr is interested beyond just the need to get an antidote to a poison he was given. Frank Jr isn’t, sticking to his professional rules. Eventually, Frank Jr does involve himself, first for his father’s life and, when the poison turned out to be a hoax, to be able to live with himself.
Much like the original’s plot, the plot of Refueled is thin, an excuse for the action. The client is responsible for most of the motive behind the action, with Frank along for the ride, though once he decides to get involved, he has his own agency. Frank is given more background, from having a family member with him to hints of being a mercenary before becoming a getaway driver for hire. The antagonist has ties to Frank, having a shared past.
Skrein bring to the role of Frank the same energy Statham did in the original. Bioth portray Frank as professional in his dealings as a contract getaway driver. Skrein’s Frank also does not pick up a gun during the film, becoming a problem in a climactic fight. Frank, though, has no problems with picking up pipes, hoses, ropes, or axes when his opponents are armed. Frank is unique in the film in not using firearms; he’s the driver, not the muscle, though he can defend himself when needed.
Adding Frank Sr allowed the film to include a chemistry that was sparse in the original. While Statham’s Frank could sit down with Inspector Tarconi to talk, Skrein’s had a good relationship with his father, humanizing Frank and giving a contrast to his professional persona. The chemistry between Skrein and Stevenson works on screen to emphasize the relationship between the characters. Indeed, a film about Frank Sr would be interesting to see, either before his retirement as a spy or what he does after Refueled.
With Besson on board, Refueled has an anchor to the original. The plot would fit with Statham, even if some details would have to be changed. Skrein’s portrayal of Frank fits in with the previous films. Refueled isn’t deep, but it does deliver on the promise of action. As a reboot, The Transporter Refueled adds to the character without skimping on what audiences are expecting. Despite being an early reboot, the movie succeeds at being one.
Some interesting announcements came up the past few days that involve remakes/reboots/adaptations. Let’s take a look.
First up, Comedy Central is working with Mike Judge for a new Beavis and Butt-Head series, with two seasons confirmed. Judge will also return as the voice of the titular characters. The deal between Judge and Comedy Central includes possible spin-offs.
Next, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Bill Lawrence are working with MTV to make new episodes of Clone High. The original series ran one season, thirteen episodes, but became a cult hit.
Finally, a potential Groundhog Day TV series is in the works. The series will be based on the movie starring Bill Murray, who played a reporter who was stuck in the same Groundhog Day repeatedly. The movie is now shorthand for any similar plot where a character or group of characters have to relive the same day over and over.
The question, really, is why? Why bring these three works back? Beavis and Butt-Head ran from 1993 to 1997, with a 2011 revival. Clone High ran one season in 1993. Groundhog Day was also released in 1993. That’s roughly 20 years, or one generation. Memories will have faded somewhat, especially with the animated series. Beavis and Butt-Head did have a reputation in its time for being a little much for parents’ groups. Memories fade over time, and 20 years is a lot of time in human years. Two are reboots, bringing back series. Both being animated helps; voice actors may have aged but the characters haven’t. With Groundhog Day, it’s a change of format, though how that will work remains to be seen. Will it be a season of the same episode each week with minor changes? Or will it be more like 24, where audiences will go through the life of a reporter on one day, the same day, season after season? Time will tell.
Unrelated to the above, Derek Kolstad and David Leitch are teaming up to bring the video game My Friend Pedro to TV. Kolstad was the writer for John Wick; Leitch was a co-director of the film. The game itself follows a man’s battle through the underworld at the behest of a sentient banana named Pedro. The game’s launch trailer may give a better idea. Or not.
Two animated series being brought back, a classic movie turned into a TV series, and a live-action TV series of a video game. Sounds about right.
The latest buzz about Reboot comes from the trailer for the new Netflix series, Reboot: The Guardian Code. It’s the first major work in the franchise since the cliffhanger end of the fourth season. Let me paraphrase Luke Skywalker from Star Wars: The Last Jedi here.
“Everything in that trailer you just watched is wrong.”
Let’s back up a bit. Reboot was the first fully computer animated series, produced by Mainframe Entertainment in Vancouver, British Columbia. The series aired on ABC in the US for almost two full seasons beginning in 1994 and YTV in Canada for its full run, including the fourth season comprising of two TV movies. The opening credits set up the entire premise of the show – Bob, a Guardian, is in Mainframe to protect the city from viral threats, including Megabyte and Hexadecimal, and from incoming games. Helping him are Dot and Enzo Matrix, Phong, Frisket, and the entire population of Mainframe.
The first two seasons were episodic, thanks to ABC’s requirements. Each episode featured Bob dealing with plots by the series villains. Megabyte’s machinations were of a system conqueror, looking to expand his base using his neo-Viral armies. The would-be viral overlord maintained a veneer of civility over his brutality, much like a mob boss. Hex, though, was random, pure chaos. Of the two, she had the greater power, but because she is random, she doesn’t have the focus to be the threat Megabyte is.
Once ABC was out of the picture, Reboot went to an ongoing story arc*. Beginning with “AndrAIa”, which introduced the young game sprite of the same name, the threat of a Web invasion became the ongoing plot through to the end of the second season, ending with Bob being tossed into the Web and Megabyte trying to turn Mainframe into Megaframe. Season three broke down into four arcs, Enzo becoming a Guardian, Enzo and AndrAIa travelling through the Net by game hopping, Enzo searching for Bob, and Enzo returning to a badly damaged home. The first of the season four TV movies introduced a new villain, Daemon, who was first mentioned in season three’s “The Episode With No Name”. The second of the TV movies had a second Bob appear and ended with Megabyte in control of the Principle Office.
Through the four seasons, several characters outside the leads were introduced – the hacker Mouse, Megabyte’s heavies Hack and Slash, software pirate The Crimson Binome, and perpetual annoyance Mike the TV – all of whom had their own development. Reboot expanded beyond Mainframe and sister city Lost Angles to include the Net, the World Wide Web, and other systems with their own unique looks.
What’s wrong with Reboot: The Guardian Code? There is almost nothing of the original series in it. The Guardians aren’t programs; they’re users sent into the computer. The villain is a hacker, not a virus. Megabyte, the only character from the the original to appear in the trailer, is the hacker’s heavy, not the dangerous system conqueror who took over Mainframe twice. The computer characters don’t look like the sprites or binomes. This isn’t what fans of the original series were waiting for.
The other problem is that the show might be worth watching for its own merits. But being tied to Reboot, fans are already turning away. If The Guardian Code was its own thing, not attached to an existing series, it may have had a chance at a fan following. The potential is there; young adults defending cyberspace from within and without against a deranged hacker, may not be the most original concept but there is a foundation to build on. Characters could develop without expectation. As it stands now, Tamara will now be compared to Dot, Mouse, and AndrAIa, and that is tough competition. With three changes, though, The Guardian Code could be an original work.
Reboot: The Guardian Code as it appears in the trailer is what /Lost In Translation/ is trying to highlight as something to avoid. There is only superficial connections to the original series, and that will drive fans of the original away.
* It’s said that Reboot went darker once ABC was out of the picture, but the first season episode “The Medusa Bug”, where Hexadecimal introduces a bug that turns all of Mainframe to stone, would fit in with the post-ABC episodes.