Most entertainment reflects the time it was created in, even if the creators were aiming for something timeless. With sitcoms, the series can act as a snapshot of its era, even if the show was set in a different time. Most sitcoms are set in “now“, concurrent with its airing. As a result, some of the humour can start to look dated, especially if it’s topical. A joke about Ronald Reagan’s hair in 1985 may get a different reaction today than it did then. Such is the nature of the passage of time; things change.
Of course, as things change, what was once considered boundary-pushing might look quaint decades later. Society changes. Sometimes television pushes the change; sometimes it follows. Norman Lear made a career out of pushing boundaries, producing a number of series that explored subjects that, while possibly not taboo, weren’t part of day-to-day discussions or lives. All in the Family, running from 1971 to 1979, then continuing until 1983 as Archie Bunker’s Place, humanized a working-class bigot, giving him depth so that his beliefs could be understood without necessarily agreeing with them. The show also touched upon rape and how it affected the victim.
All in the Family had several spin-offs, each of those pushing boundaries as well. The Jeffersons featured the Black version of Archie in George Jefferson, again, showing why George held those beliefs and showing that he could grow from there. Maude featured an ultra-liberal woman and had an episode that dealt with abortion, two months before Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure. Good Times, spun off from Maude, showed the struggles of a working-class Black family.
In the Seventies, divorce wasn’t quite off-limits, but as the rates rose, especially in California, attention wasn’t called to it. Divorce was still seen as a failure in a marriage. Single parenthood was, and in many ways, still is something that society doesn’t want to touch. Single parents in sitcoms tended to be widowers, not divorcées. In 1975, Lear and his studio produced One Day at a Time to bring the tribulations of single motherhood into the limelight.
One Day at a Time starred Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano, a recent divorcée who moves to Indianapolis with her daughters Julie (played by Mackenzie Phillips) and Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) Cooper to an apartment building tended to by handyman Dwayne Schneider (Pat Harrington, Jr.). Over nine seasons, the series showed how Ann and her daughters coped as life happened to them. Schneider was on hand as a male role model for the girls, not quite a father figure but there if they needed him. As the series progressed, the cast grew to include Ann’s mother, Katherine (Nanette Fabray), adding a generational conflict to the series.
The show was a product of its time, dealing with events of the mid-Seventies to mid-Eighties during its run. Schneider was a parody of Seventies masculinity, a over-the-top portrayal, with a sleeve of his white T-shirt rolled up to carry a pack of cigarettes and the omni-present tool belt. Both Julie and Barbara grow up, get married, and become mothers themselves. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show showed that women could have careers, that series was also pushing boundaries.
The nature of television has changed since 1984, when One Day at a Time ended. Divorce became less a shame than it had been and was an acceptable way to end a marriage that wasn’t working, especially with no-fault divorce available. That boundary has been pushed back, with thanks in part to /One Day at a Time/, which led the way for sitcoms like /Golden Girls/ that featured divorced women as leads. The way television is delivered has also changed in the same time, going from over-the-air broadcast to cable delivery to Internet streaming. The former three-channel universe now has so many ways to deliver programming, networks and cable companies need to produce an overall higher quality of TV show just to get an audience.
Enter Netflix. Originally a way to rent movies over the Internet in 1997, Netflix has grown, offering streaming of theatrically released movies, classic TV series, and its own content, including She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Blazing Transfer Students REBORN, and the Oscar-nominated Roma. One of the companies bigger hits is its One Day at a Time remake. Working with Norman Lear’s company, Act III Productions, Netflix updated the TV series for today. If divorce is more-or-less fact of life today, then what boundaries are there to be pushed?
The first update was to change the nature of the family. Instead of Italian-American Ann Romano, the new series stars Justina Machado as Cuban-American Penelope Alvarez, a divorced single mother who is also an Afghanistan veteran with both physical and mental wounds from her time serving as a US Army nurse. Penelope and her two children, Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz), live with her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno) in an apartment maintained by Dwayne Schneider (Todd Grinnell). Like the original series, the show has how Penelope and her family cope with what life throws at them.
The first difference is obvious, the change of the core cast to Latinx, allowing an exploration of life of Hispanic Americans, including racism. With Penelope having PTSD as a result of her time in Afghanistan, the series can explore how veterans and how people with mental illnesses are treated. Since the series isn’t on a network that survives through paid advertisements, it can also delve into areas that would normally create boycotts. Unlike Julie and Barbara, Elena isn’t sure of her sexuality and realizes that she’s a lesbian during the course of the first season. Not all of her family is supportive, either; her father takes the news poorly. The series continues the tradition of Norman Lear shows pushing boundaries. Along with the elements mentioned above – veterans, mental illness, racism, and homophobia – the show examines religion, sexism, and immigration, all while treating the characters as human beings with motives, beliefs, fears, and hopes.
Unlike the original, the remake takes time to show Penelope at work. The only sane woman there, Penelope manages to keep Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky) and his office from floundering. Dr. Berkowitz may also be the only person who knows how much Penelope’s time in Afghanistan is affecting her. The rest of her coworkers, Lori (Fiona Gubelmann) and Scott (Eric Nenninger), are unaware of the effort Penelope puts in.
One other change is how Schneider is portrayed. While still the building superintendent, the new Schneider reflects today’s masculinity. The remake’s Schneider comes from a dysfunctional family, having many stepmothers, and is recovering from substance abuse. He still fills the same role in the show, the male role model that really isn’t needed but is still a friend of the family.
With so much changed, is the new series a remake or its own show reusing a title? Keep in mind that the changes updated the show while keeping the premise, a single mother trying to raise two children. Like other series produced by Lear, the One Day at a Time remake brings to light issues that are lurking beneath society’s surface, issues that families are facing, while treating the characters with respect instead of using them as the jokes. The reactions and the interaction between characters are funny; the characters themselves are human.
One Day at a Time isn’t about the Romano/Cooper family or the Alvarez family, but what they go through. The remake brings the concept to today, with today’s problems, much like the original was about the today of the Seventies. Much of what Ann Romano went through then is out in the open now, but as times change, the problems families face evolve, which is what the One Day at a Time remake did to keep pace.
Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation covered the difference between adaptations and parodies. The short version is that the two have different goals that can be at odds. Naturally, there are exceptions. Young Frankenstein took the 1931 Universal class Frankenstein and, while keeping the beats, turned it into not just a parody of the original, but also a sequel and a correction of the main flaw Victor Frankenstein had, being a deadbeat father. Airplane!, though, is an entirely different kind of parody altogether.
During the Seventies, the disaster movie took off. Spearheaded by Airport in 1970, based on the book by Arthur Hailey, many disaster movies came out during the decade, each with a star-studded cast. Airport itself spawned three sequels, Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concorde – Airport ’79. Other disaster flicks of the decade include 1974’s The Towering Inferno and Earthquake and 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. Audiences were drawn to mass destruction on film.
Naturally, when something gets popular, it gets parodies. David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker decided to take improv act Kentuck Fried Theater and turn it into a movie, The Kentucky Fried Movie, One segment of the film was “That’s Armageddon” which parodied the disaster movie genre, though using a tower on fire instead of an airplane. While ZAZ didn’t direct the film – that was left to John Landis – they wrote the script. With a successful film under their belt, they decided to parody an old film, taking one they had recorded overnight. The lucky film was Zero Hour!.
Adapted from the CBC teleplay Flight Into Danger, Zero Hour!, written by Hailey, told the story of Ted Stryker, played by Dana Andrews, a World War II fighter pilot who lost his squadron on a bombing mission five weeks before the end of the war. The target was shrouded in fog and the strike force came in too low. Stryker survived, but six of his fellow pilots never made it back. Eleven years later, Striker is having problems holding down jobs to the point where his wife, Ellen (Linda Darnell) leaves with their son, Joey (Raymond Ferrell), to fly across Canada to Vancouver. Stryker catches up at the airport, buying a ticket on the cross-Canada flight.
Cut to the cockpit, where the pilot and co-pilot (Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Steve London) are discussing the flight. A fog is covering the Prairies from Regina to Calgary, but since the flight is going to Vancouver, that shouldn’t be a problem. A four-engine DC-4 should be able to get from Ottawa to Vancouver without having to stop to refuel. Once the passengers are settled in, the plane takes off.
Ted tries to talk to his wife, but Ellen’s mind is made up. To help pass the flight, Ted asks the stewardess, Janet Turner (Peggy King in her first movie role), if Joey can visit the cockpit. With the pilots’ permission, Ted and Joey take a look around. While there, Janet gets the pilots dinner orders, both of them going for the grilled halibut. With Joey welcome in the cockpit, Ted goes back to speak to his wife to find out what went wrong between them.
The first hint that something’s wrong comes after the plane has flown into a thunderstorm. A woman starts complaining about severe stomach aches. Janet fetches her some Dramamine to help, then calls the pilot on the intercom. She believes the woman has severe airsickness, but she’s never seen it this bad. The pilot asks Janet to find a doctor on board. After asking a few passengers, Janet finds Dr, Baird (Geoffrey Toone) and asks him to take a look at the sick woman. As Baird examines the woman, Joey gets the same symptoms. The problem is severe; the doctor wants the plane on the ground as soon as possible. The problem is that the fog is thick all the way to the Rockies; there’s nowhere to land except Vancouver. With some questions, the source of the illness is traced to the fish. Everyone who ate fish is going to become violently ill, including the pilots.
The co-pilot is the first of the flight crew to be affected by the illness. The pilot toughs it out with some help from Dr. Baird, but soon is not able to continue flying the plane. He manages to turn on the autopilot to keep the plane on course, but someone needs to land the craft. Janet goes walks along the aisle, looking for someone who can take over. To keep the passengers from panicking, she says that the co-pilot is ill, but the pilot just needs someone to handle the radio. The only passenger on the flight who has any flight experience and hasn’t had the fish is Ted, and he’s hesitant because of what happened in the war.
On the ground, the airline realizes there is a problem in the air. Harry Burdick (Charles Quinvlivan) takes charge and calls in Martin Treleaven (Stewart Hayes) to help talk the replacement pilot down. Problem is, Treleaven flew with Ted during the war and is well aware of Stryker’s record. Both men have to put aside the past to work together to get the plane down. Emergency crews and gear are on standby, in case Stryker misses the runway or even the airport. Ted, though, gets it together, fights through his PTSD, and makes the worst landing Treleaven has ever witnessed. At the end, though, the plane is down with no loss of life.
The plot to Airplane! is the same, beat for beat. ZAZ added to the script, embellishing scenes in the Zero Hour! and adding scenes to parody the Airport series of films. Changes were made, the biggest being moving the setting south to the US with a Los Angeles to Chicago flight. This change meant that the airline had to change from Cross Canada to Trans America. Characters were renamed. Ted Stryker became Ted Striker (Robery Hayes). Ted’s wife Ellen because his ex-girlfriend Elaine (Julie Haggerty), a stewardess on the flight. The stewardess Janet became Randy (Lorna Patterson). Dr. Baird turned into Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen); Burdick, Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges); Treleaven, Rex Kramer (Robert Stack). Airplane! expanded the flight crew to three, due to the needs of the Boeing 707 replacing the DC-4, thus having Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves), Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and Victor Basta (Frank Ashmore). The changes of the crew name allowed for some word play during take-off. One thing that didn’t change with the flight crew was including a sports figure. “Crazy Legs” Hirsch was a receiver with the LA Rams at the time of shooting Zero Hour!. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for the LA Lakers and was dragged out of the cockpit where his uniform.
The tone of the movie changed, as would be expected of a parody. Except, ZAZ had cast serious actors for the roles, not comedians. Airplane! was the film that launched comedy careers for Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges; prior to the movie, both were known for serious, dramatic roles. Even the music, composed by Elmer Bernstein, ramped up the seriousness. The sheer dramatic tone provided a contrast to the gags happening. And gags did happen, in the background, in the foreground, off to the side, and in front of the camera. The script was changed, mostly by giving different answers to questions, questions such as, “Can you face some unpleasant facts?”
One role that got expanded was that of Johnny, who was essentially a gofer. ZAZ and Landis handed the role to Stephen Strucker and let him do what he wanted. The result, Johnny went from extra to manic character who was in his own movie, one where there wasn’t an airplane without a flight crew doomed to crash. The new Johnny also provided contrast to the ultra-serious nature of the plot.
Not every scene in Airplane! came from Zero Hour!. Scenes at the airports, both in LA and Chicago, were added. These came from the Airport series, where the scenes set up the in-flight character drama. The young transplant patient, Lisa Davis (Jill Whelan), and the singing nun (Maureen McGovern) came directly from Airport 1975. The additional scenes allowed for more gags, including the argument over what the red and white zones are for and Kramer fighting his way through religious missionaries. In the air, the added characters allowed more parodies, including of coffee ads and of a scene from 1958’s Crash Landing.
Not every scene was a spoof, though. Some were played straight. Near the end, as Ted is bringing the jet in on its final approach, there’s a shot of an older fire truck with firefighters watching the sky with a dalmatian. That had to be tossed in, right? The truck is out of date, and dalmatians aren’t used for firefighting except as mascots these days. That shot, though, came right out of Zero Hour!, the only difference being the breed of dog. The final approach and landing, outside Johnny’s antics and additions to dialogue, were beat-for-beat and almost word-for-word from Zero Hour!, including how the plane crashed on to its belly and skidded.
The popularity of Airplane! and the nature of the jokes wound up killing off the disaster movie for a decade and a half. When the genre began a revival in the Nineties, the focus was more on natural disasters, not airplane crashes. Arthur Hailey, having written Airport, not only created the disaster movie trend in the Seventies, became its end through the spoofing of Zero Hour! The drama of those films could not be taken seriously because of Airplane!
Given the nature of Airplane!, it would be expected that major changes would be done to Zero Hour!. What’s surprising is how intact the original movie is, turning Airplane! from parody to comedic remake. In Airplane!‘s favour, Zero Hour! was a black and white film relegated to late night TV slots, the periods where few people watch or even record. There was room for an update of the original, going from propellor aircraft to jet, though ZAZ still kept the prop sounds. More people are familiar with Airplane! than the movie it remade. Without Zero Hour! to build on, Airplane! wouldn’t be as well known or loved today.
The nature of television has changed greatly over the years. First cable and now online streaming services are forcing traditional broadcast channels to change their approach. Online streaming also allows for binge watching, something only possible previously through recording with either a video tape recorder or a digital video recorder (or DVR) or through boxed sets once a season was released on DVD. Coupled with the advent of the Internet from specialist use only to a near ubiquitous service, reactions to news shows can be seen instantly. When a show becomes a breakout hit, news spreads fast. That’s the case with the Netflix series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a remake of the 1980s series, She-Ra: Princess of Power.
Thanks to the deregulation of children’s cartoons under Ronald Reagan, what was once forbidden by FCC regulations became commonplace in the Eighties. The first of the thirty minute animated ads was Pac-Man in 1983, based on the popular arcade game. Pac-Man was followed shortly by the syndicated series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a Filmation production featuring the Mattel action figures.
He-Man had a definite look to it. The action figures used the same base mold as much as possible, with the differences between figures being mostly how they were painted, the head sculpts, and the accessories. He-Man ran two season for 130 episodes. The popularity of the series and the action figures led to a spin-off, She-Ra: Princess of Power. Again, the action figures tended to have similar appearances, being based off the same mold. The differences, like He-Man, were in the painting, the head sculpts, and, now, the brushable hair.
She-Ra first aired in 1985 and, like He-Man was a Filmation production. Filmation was known at the time for keeping their animation costs down through reuse of cels. With the character designs based on the action figures, where the manufacturing costs were kept down by reusing the same base mold as often as possible, the same body only needed a different set of colours depending on the character.
The series pilot begins on Eternia, with the He-Man character The Sorceress having a dream of when Hordak tried to attack Eternia and only to be forced back. However, Hordak took a baby girl with him. The Sorceress wakes up, only to see the magical sword meant for someone of great destiny floating in the air. The sword opens a door and a magic portal, then drops to the ground. The Sorceress summons Prince Adam and Cringeor to Castle Greyskull to send them through the portal with the sword to find this person of destiny.
Adam and Cringeor walk through, arriving near the village of Thaymor on Etheria and find an inn to get some lunch. Certain elements at the inn distrust him; he is a stranger in town and the Evil Horde is known to send spies. Two in particular, Bow and Cowl, keep an eye on him. When a trio of Horde robot troopers arrive and start bullying the locals, Adam steps in to defend. Seeing a potential ally, Bow steps out to assist and the pair roust the Horde troopers before escaping to Bright Moon.
Adam meets the Great Resistance, which isn’t looking all that great. It’s still a fledgling revolution, but it has made some impact. As Adam meets the the Resistance’s leader, Glimmer, word arrives that the Horde has attacked Thaymor and enslaved the villagers because two of the Resistance attacked troopers there. A plan to rescue the village is made, with Adam joining. As the fighting breaks out, Adam become He-Man.
Leading the Horde army in the attack on the village is Force Captain Adora, with her lieutenants, Mantenna, Catra, and Scorpia. The regulars of the Resistance fall to Mantenna’s stun beams, while Glimmer fights Catra in her panther form. He-Man and Battle-Cat arrive. Battle-Cat deals with Catra and He-Man removes Scorpia from the fight. Adora tries to shoot He-Man, but he destroys her gun by throwing his sword. She runs away, knowing when she’s outmatched. He-Man persues, cornering her. When Adora picks up a nearby sword, He-Man draws the only sword he has left, the one for the person of destiny. The sword singles out Adora. Caught by surprise of the discovery, He-Man is knocked out by Adora, who takes the sword.
Eventually, the truth is revealed to Adora. She is Prince Adam’s twin sister, taken away by Hordak as a baby to Etheria. Adora returns with Adam to Eternia, but Hordak follows, intent on getting her back. With Skeletor teaming up with Hordak, She-Ra fights alongside He-Man, then returns to Etheria to join the Resistance.
The first five episodes, initially made as a movie then broken up for TV, set up the remainder of the series. Few know Adora’s secret identity as She-Ra. The rest of the series is episodic. Being syndicated, pre-emption due to sports or breaking news is always a threat, and an episode may not even air. The episodic nature means a missed episode doesn’t throw the narrative. The status quo remains; the Horde is pushed back but never fully defeated.
Earlier this month, Netflix debuted the remake of the series, She-Ran and the Princesses of Power. Instead of showing one episode a week, Netflix provided the entire season at once, allowing the audience to binge the series in one go. Helmed by Noelle Stevenson, best known for the comics Lumberjanes and Nimona, the new She-Ra is only thirteen episodes long, one fifth the length of the original’s seasons. The new length means that the remake has to get to its key elements. The remake also isn’t based on existing action figures, though Super 7 is producing figures based on the new designs. This change gives the animators room to make the characters more distinctive beyond just outfits and colours.
The first episode, unlike the original, puts the focus on Adora. She’s a newly promoted Force Captain in the Horde, much to the chagrin of her best friend and foster sister Catra. Catra has ambitions to eventually be in charge of the Horde, though, like a cat, she has a bit of a lazy streak. The training the cadets go through prepare them to take on the dangerous Princesses of the Whispering Wood and Bright Moon. To celebrate the promotion and to prepare for the invasion of the Resistance fort at Traymor, Adora and Catra borrow a skiff and head to the Whispering Wood.
Catra isn’t one to let someone else drive, so she fights with Adora to take the rudder of the skiff, resulting in Adora falling off. While Catra gets the skiff back under control, Adora sees a strange sword. She reaches out for it and gets pulled into a landscape both alien and familiar to her while a voice calls to her. Before she can find out more, Catra returns and brings her back to reality. Still, the sword and the landscape nag at her, so Adora sneaks out after lights out.
In Bright Moon, Princess Glimmer and Queen Angella are having a loud disagreement over Glimmer’s actions against the Horde, leading to her being grounded and sent to her room. Her best friend, Bow, wants to show his new gadget, a device that tracks the location of First Ones artifacts. Glimmer sneaks out with Bow to find a blip that appeared.
Turns out, the blip is the sword that Adora is looking for. Being on opposite sides, they get into a fight over the sword, one that is interrupted by a monster. When the creature traps Bow and Glimmer, Adora grabs the sword, plunging her back into the strange landscape. There, she learns about her destiny to save Etheria from danger. When she returns to reality, she has the chance to escape with the sword. Instead, Adora can’t leave Glimmer and Bow even if they are part of the Resistance. Adora says the magic words, “By the honor of Greyskull,” and becomes She-Ra. She drives off the monster, much to the amazement of Bow and Glimmer.
When Adora returns to her normal self, she surrenders to Glimmer. The trio walks through the Whispering Wood back to Bright Moon. Along the way, they find an old First Ones installation, one that explains more about She-Ra, Etheria, and the Horde. However, the installation is old and begins to fall apart, forcing Glimmer to expend her magical energy to get everyone out. Once back at Bright Moon, Glimmer vouches for Adora, though Queen Angella is hesitant to have a Horde Force Captain around. Glimmer, though, convinces her mother to allow Adora to stay. She also has the idea to rebuild the old Princess Alliance, one that fell apart when Angella was younger. The Resistance already has Princess Netossa and Princess Spinnerella.
The next few episodes focus on recruiting more Princesses. WIth the help of She-Ra, the trio convince Princess Perfuma of Plumeria, Princess Mermista of Sea Gate, and Princess Entrapta of Dryl. The attempt to recruit the young Princess Frosta of the Kingdom of Snows fails when Princess Scorpia and her plus one, Catra, arrive. WIth Adora focused on Catra, Scorpia is able to cause havok which leads to the first big defeat Adora faces.
The most obvious change from the original She-Ra is the animation style. The shorter season means that the animators can spend more time on individual episodes, leading to a more fluid animation. The new character designs include a range of body shapes, sizes, and colours, leading a far more diverse cast than the original series. Adora now looks her sixteen years of age. She-Ra has bicycle shorts under her skirt, allowing her to not flash people when she performs athletics. The audience can tell the characters apart at a glance.
The new series also reflects how storytelling on television has changed in the past two decades. While most episodes can stand alone, there is a definite order. With the original series, syndication meant that some episodes could be shown out of order. With a single source, Netflix in this case, there’s no danger of pre-emption or an episode appearing out of order. This also means that any given episode should not be skipped. Each one builds to the climax of the season.
Despite the lower number of episodes, the remake goes into more depth with the characters that do appear. With no requirement to sell the latest toy release, the new She-Ra can keep the cast smaller, allowing the show to go deeper with the characters. One big change is that She-Ra isn’t just an alternate identity and form for Adora; instead, she is there for Etheria and has appeared in the past. The remake does more with Bow than the original series did, turning him from the token male to a rounded character with interests beyond the Resistance, such as belonging to the Etheria maker community. Madame Razz isn’t the bumbling comic relief who can’t cast the correct spell; now, she is more like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back if he’d been on Dagobah for a couple of centuries. Netossa and Spinnerella are more than close friends; with Adora, Bow, and Glimmer showing how magical friendship is, Netossa and Spinnerella can be a couple.
Catra deserves a special mention here. She may not have her original counterpart’s ability to turn into panther, but the new Catra doesn’t need the ability. She also has a complex personality. Shadow Weaver raised both her and Adora and while what Adora went through was child abuse, Catra was the scapegoat of the two. Yet Catra didn’t blame Adora for it. The two were best friends as cadets. When Adora left, Catra felt betrayed, even though Adora pleaded for her to join her. Catra has ambition, and doesn’t understand why Adora left.
The relationships between characters is complex. The one between Adora and Catra above means that they’re not rivals or enemies, nor fighting because one is good and one is evil. They’re people first, not icons. All of the cadets, including Lonnie and Kyle, grew up with propaganda painting the Princesses as the enemy, as “dangerous instigators,” more concerned with their own kingdoms than protecting Etheria. The Horde is doing Etheria a favour defeating the Princesses. And there’s a nugget of truth in the propaganda; the Princesses are more concerned about their kingdoms and their subjects after the Princess Alliance broke apart.
At the same time, the Horde is very much evil. It’s located in the Fright Zone. It poisons the land. It attacks and destroys villages while labelling the locations forts. The people living under the control of the Horde aren’t told this, though. Outside the Fright Zone, it’s known as the “Evil Horde”, something Adora is surprised to find out. In the original, Hordak had no problem calling his army “the Evil Horde” in his henchmen’s presence. He revelled in being evil. The new Hordak is well aware of the power of public relations.
The characters are more relatable; each one has a personality that the intended audience can identify with or knows someone like that. Adora is the new girl at school and a tomboy. Glimmer is the older sibling who is always arguing with Mom and Dad. Entrapta is the easily distracted friend who may be on the autistic spectrum. Bow is the one boy who doesn’t mind playing with girls and has geeky knowledge. Mermista is the sober second thought, willing to go along with her friends even while pointing out what they’re doing can get them into trouble. Catra is the former best friend that they grew up; the split comes from growing up and getting new interests. The characters are more than just a one-note being.
Gone are the comic relief characters like Cowl and the Twiggits, As mentioned above, Madame Razz wasn’t portrayed as bumbling and forgetful, but as a trickster mentor whose memory problems may or may not be real. But comedy still exists in the series. This time, though, it comes from the main characters. Adora learning about what’s in the Whispering Wood and her discovery of Horsey, or Swift Wind as he prefers. There’s still action and drama, too, again, all coming from the characters instead of being a side show.
There’s also more to Etheria than what appears on the surface. The remake has its own written language, one that has plot relevance. Madame Razz may herself be a First One. Not all kingdoms are fighting against the Horde; one joined right away thanks to poor relations with the others. There’s more to Etheria than what’s seen on the surface.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power takes the original series and gives it more depth. The world building gives Etheria and its inhabitants a history while the characters are more than just powers and a simple description. The remake is one of the rare ones that improve on the original while still building on it.
Universal Studios had a success with their 1999 remake of The Mummy. The movie had two sequels, an animated spin-off series, and a prequel series. There was interest in the classic monster. Why not go back to that well?
In 2017, Universal released a new remake of The Mummy, this time with Tom Cruise. The remake brought the setting from the 1930s to today. Things have changed greatly over time, especially in the Middle East. Will the change affect the movie?
The film begins in England of 1127 as Crusaders bury one of their own with a red gem. Jump to now, and an excavation for a subway tunnel breaks into the tomb, showing yet again that England buries important people in odd spots. The construction team is told to go elsewhere as Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, and his team take over the site. Jekyll begins a narration, flashing back to Ancient Egypt and Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), heir to the Pharoah’s throne, learns that she’s been bumped when her baby brother is born. Scorned, she performs a rite in the name of Set and is reborn a monster, killing her father and brother. All she needs is a mortal man to become the living vessel of Set, but before she can complete the ritual, she’s discovered, mummified alive, and taken to be buried as far away from Egypt as possible, in Mesopotamia.
Modern day Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq, is not the best place to be. Thanks to the American invasion in 2003, insurgents abound. Two American soldiers allegedly on long-range recon but, really, searching for antiquities, i.e., looting, observe a village. Sergeant Nick Morton (Cruise) and Corporal Chris Vail sneak in to see if there are any antiquities. However, they’re spotted and get pinned down. Vail calls in an airstrike; the appearance of an armed drone firing missiles scatters the insurgents. The missile strike also collapses the building Morton and Vail are trapped on and opens a long-lost tomb, one Morton expected to find.
The owner of the map Morton stole, er, hunted as an antiquity, arrives with the rest of Morton’s unit. Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance) orders Morton and Vail to accompany Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) down into the tomb. She makes not of the burial arrangements, how they differ from what has been found in Egypt. Morton and Vail are looking more at the antiquities. During the investigation of the tomb, mercury drips on to Morton. In Ahmanet’s time, mercury was used in a ritual to reduce the will of men.
Word filters down of the return of the insurgents. Halsey wants to bring up the tomb, despite it being deep underwater. Greenway wants everyone to leave ASAP. Morton shoots the Gordian knot and the chain keeping the tomb in place. It comes up, as do thousands of spiders. They shouldn’t be aggressive, but Vail is bitten. Ahmanet worms her way into Morton’s mind, cursing him to be the new vessel of Set.
With the tomb hauled up and flown out by helicopter under the eyes of a murder of crows that just arrived, the next obstacle is a massive sandstorm. The tomb is loaded in to the airplane fast, and the craft takes off as the sandstorm hits. The flight gives Halsey time to read the inscription on the tomb, showing that she has never watched a horror movie in her life. Morton gets drawn back into the dreamscape with Ahmanet; when he returns, Vail, who has been showing signs of illness during the flight, is at the tomb, trying to open it. Greenway tries to stop him only to be stabbed for the effort. Morton winds up shooting Vail. Which is when the bird strike happens.
Over England, the aircraft is hammered by a murder of crows, killing the flight crew, damaging the plane’s engines and weakening the structure. Morton helps Helsey into a parachute and gets her away safely. She is the only survivor. As such, Halsey is called in to identify the remains found in the wreckage. Ahmanet’s tomb is missing, though the crash happened near a bog. In the morgue, Morton wakes up in a body bag. Vail appears and gives a spectral, cryptic warning before disappearing as Halsey enters.
At the crash, Ahmanet’s tomb is found. The crash site investigators open it up and become her forst victims in millennia. She drains their life force, gaining strength from them, then animates their remains to begin her undead army.of minions, the first of many. Ahmanet knows what she wants, and what she wants is to make Set a living god.
Morton understandably tries to get drunk after all the weirdness that has happened. Helse finds him and brings him up to speed on what’s going on, with Ahmanet and with him. Vail reappears, only to Morton, and tries to get him to follow. In the women’s washroom, Vail provides more details, how Ahmanet is the source of the curse. While Morton is missing, Helsey calls in Dr. Jekyll.
Morton manages to get out of the bar and into a back alley. Rats under Ahmanet’s control swarm him but somehow escapes and gets to the main road with Halsey. Ahmanet uses her influence to summon Morton to the bog, where she attacks him. She raises her dagger to plunge it into his chest and sees that the gem stone is missing. Halsey catches up and tries to get Ahmanet off Morton. He grabs the dagger and stabs her. Helsey grabs the dagger out of Ahmanet and runs off with Morton. They try to escape in an ambulance, but with Morton driving and Ahmanet in his head, he drives in a circle. Her minions try to break into the ambulance, and don’t stop moving when they lose limbs.
Dr. Jekyll has a sense of timing. As things look dim for Morton and Halsey, he and a team arrive to stop Ahmanet. He takes everyone back to to his headquarters, where it is shown that Dr. Henry Jekyll is, indeed, that Dr. Jekyll. He his the head of the Prodigium, from the Latin phrase, monstrum vel prodigium, or “a warning of monsters” (maybe; a check with an instructor at the University of Alberta, Dr. Kelly A. MacFarlane, shows a something along the lines of “monster or ports”, which could be massaged into what the movie uses). The organization exists to contain evil, something the good doctor is all too personally familiar with. The Prodigium is keeping Ahmanet neutralized by injecting her with mercury and freezing it so she can be dissected for examination. Ahmanet isn’t dissuaded. She continues to seduce Morton, promising him an eternal reward, one he doesn’t understand.
At the Crusaders’ tomb, a Prodigium technician finds the missing gem stone. Ahmanet feels it and sends a spider to take over one of the techs to break her free. Loose, she wreaks havoc. During the chaos, Dr. Jekyll needs to take his injection, but Morton interrupts that in a bid to negotiate. Jekyll becomes Hyde and throws Morton around. Morton manages to inject Hyde with his serum, but it’s too late.
There’s now a race to get the gem stone. Dr. Jekyll wants the stone to stop Ahmanet and study her. Morton wants the stone to try to break his curse. Ahmanet wants the stone to bring Set to Earth. The princess has an advantage; she can call upon the dead to do her bidding, including the Crusaders. She gets the gem first and puts it back on the dagger. Finding Morton, she tries to complete the ritual again. Morton steals the dagger and stabs himself, opening him up to being possessed by Set but not under Ahmanet’s control. Using Set’s power, Morton fights Ahmanet, then disappears. He’s last seen in the movie in the desert, a restored Vail by his side, searching for a cure for his curse.
The orignal 1932 film was gothic horror with a doomed romance. Boris Karloff had top billing as The Mummy. The 1999 remake was a pulp action/horror starring Brandon Fraser as Rick O’Connell and Arnold Vosloo as the title monster. The movie focused more on O’Connell, but Imhotep had a presence through out the film. The 2017 version was action-adventure. Tom Cruise got top billing as Nick Morton. The title monster was the threat but didn’t maintain a presence throughout the film. And that may be the movie`s biggest issue.
The tone of monster movies have changed over the history of cinema. Once just creatures in a horror film, over time, monsters became less creatures of the night to fear and more something that could be defeated. The Fifties and the advent of nuclear power and weapons meant that humanity could be far more destructive than just one monster. Radiation because both the cause and the cure. Slasher movies replaced the monster with a monstrous human. Films like The Terminator and Tremors hearkened back to classic monsters, unrelentless and alien, and the sequels to both started to go back to action over horror. With the 2017 The Mummy, the tone fit in with those sequels.
The remake also tended to bounce around, unsure of what it wanted to be. There was action, but not enough to be a true action-adventure. It flirted with horror, but shied away before getting too serious, leaving jump scares behind. It hinted at a gothic romance, but the heavy-handed narration hammed home that Ahmanet didn’t want a lover, she wanted a vessel for Set. Cruise’s character had no agency; Morton was dragged from plot point to plot point. In the 1999 remake, Rick O’Connell made decisions, sometimes bad ones, and chose to fight to stop Imhotep. Morton was cursed and couldn’t escape it. He was a damsel in distress. Ahmanet was the mover and shaker of the film, but she was relegated to the background.
Nick Morton was not the character to focus the film on. Several characters could have carried the remake far better, including Ahmanet, with her quest to bring Set in to walk the Earth, and Dr. Jekyll and the Prodigium, including Halsey. Yet both were pushed to the side. The studio was counting on the star power of Tom Cruise, which meant putting Nick Morton front and centre instead of someone who moved the plot instead of being dragged along by it.
Setting the film in the now may have also hurt it. The original was made just ten years after the discovery of Tutenkhamun and could take advantage of the alleged curse opening Tut’s tomb placed the on archaeologists. The 1999 remake went with the same era, allowing for an easier suspension of disbelief. Films like Raiders of the Lost Ark were in the public’s consciousness, so similar films could lean a bit on what it had done for modern pulp. Placing the film into the now meant touching on urban fantasy, but there’s no evidence of the tropes in that genre. Tropes are not bad; they act as shorthand for the genre. Blindly using them causes problems. Ignoring them outright also causes problems. Urban fantasy deals with what lurks behind the shadows of cities. Ahmanet, though, didn’t lurk.
Ultimately, the 2017 remake took its cues from the action parts of the 1999 remake. Like a photocopy of a photocopy, the fine details of the original version of The Mummy got blurred and lost.
Universal Studios has a gold mine when it comes to adaptations. The studio released three of the best known horror films, each featuring a now classic monster – 1931’s Dracula and Frankenstein, and 1932’s The Mummy, the latter two starring Boris Karloff in the title roles. Each of these films presented the villain as something other to be just feared. Two, Dracula and Frankenstein, were adapted from literature written by Bram Stoker and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, respectively. The Mummy, though, was an original film and the second to star Boris Karloff.
The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 kept Egyptology in the minds of audiences for a decade. Even after the opening of the tomb, the careful examination of recovered artifacts, including Tutankhamun himself, took years. Adding to the mystique was the alleged curse dooming anyone who had opened to tomb. Fertile ground for writers, indeed.
The script went through several drafts and changes before reaching what is seen on screen. The original story, Cagliosto by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer, went through rewrites to move the film from San Francisco to Cairo, using the interest in Egyptology to tell a story of forbidden love enduring across time.
The film begins at a British Museum archaeological dig in Egypt of 1921. Sir Joseph Whemple, played by Arthur Byron, and his assistant, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) are busy cataloguing the finds, including the mummified remains of Imhotep (Karloff the Uncanny, as he was billed for the movie) and gold box holding casket with a scroll. Whemple’s friend, Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan), arrives at Sir Joseph’s request to examine the items. Muller examines Imhotep and his tomb and determines that the mummy was buried alive with all invocations to protect the soul removed, chiseled away. Dr. Muller also confirms that the Scroll of Thoth, which returns life to the dead when read, is in the casket, though there is also a curse that will kill whosoever removes the scroll.
Muller and Whemple go outside to talk about the findings. Whemple wants to continue his investigations, but Muller insists that everything should be buried and forgotten. Norton, though, lets his curiosity get the better of him and reads the scroll. Behind him, Imhotep opens his eyes and begins to move. Norton, though, remains unaware and continues to read the scroll until Imhotep puts a hand down on the table. Looking up, Norton sees the mummy and laughs like a madman as Imhotep takes the scroll and walks out.
Ten years later, Whemple’s son Frank (David Manners) is working with Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie) to help the British Museum and the Cairo Museum with another dig. Imhotep arrives, now fleshed out and calling himself Ardath Bey, with information on the resting place of Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, a priestess of Isis and his illicit lover. Pearson and Frank take a team to recover Ankh-es-en-amon and bring her and her treasures to the Cairo Museum, where she is put on display.
Imhotep uses a ritual to call for his lover. Elsewhere in Cairo, Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a woman studying in Cairo, hears the call. She leaves the nightclub she’s in to go to the Cairo Museum, where she collapses in front of Frank. Frank helps her inside and a spark of love ignites in him and in Helen. She recovers, but later runs across Imhotep. He hypnotizes her, reawakening her past life as Ankh-es-en-amon. In the past, when she died, Imhotep stole the Scroll of Thoth in a bid to revive her, much as Isis did with Osiris, but was found and stopped. For his transgressions, he was wrapped and buried alive.
To ensure that Ankh-es-en-amon won’t die again, Imhotep must go through a ritual where he turns her into a mummy herself, then read from the Scroll of Thoth to bring her back to immortal life, allowing them to live together for all eternity. The exhibit at the Cairo Museum has everything Imhotep needs. As the ritual begins, Frank realizes what is about to happen to Helen and races to the museum with Pearson. They arrive in time, but are unable to stop Imhotep. Instead, the mummy incapacitates them with his ring. Helen recovers just enough to realize what is happening and calls on her memories to plead to Isis. Before Imhotep can kill Helen, Isis raises her ankh and creates a beam of light that burns the Scroll of Thoth, breaking the spell keeping Imhotep in a state between life and death, destroying him.
Karloff made a name for himself with his portrayal of Frankenstein, giving the Creature a child-like sensibility. As Imhotep, he uses his physicality to convey both strength and weakness. He moves stiffly, like his body is still not what it was. Lighting casts dramatic shadows across his face. The moment when Norton finishes reading the Scroll of Thoth, the merest opening of his eye carried more weight for the scene than anything else there. Karloff played a man who would do anything for his love, no matter the cost, ensuring that The Mummy would be a classic Universal monster.
Studios know when they have a marketable character. While Imhotep wasn’t in further films, the mummy as a monster reappeared in several work, including The Mummy’s Hand, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy – both from Universal – and a series from Hammer Films. In 1999, Universal returned to the 1932 version, remaking it as The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep.
The remake begins in Ancient Egypt, showing the illicit affair between Imhotep (Vosloo) and Anck-su-numan (Patricia Velasquez), the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I. Caught in the act, Imhotep raises a sword to the Pharaoh, but it is Ankh-su-numan who kills the ruler. She implores Imhotep to escape as only he can resurrect her, then kills herself. Imhotep doesn’t get far and is caught. His punishment is to be mummified and eaten alive by scarab beetles.
In 1923, a unit of the French Foreign Legion is caught in Hamunaptra hidden in the caldera of a volcano. The leader of the unit gets his men ready to repulse an attack by mounted riders, then runs away, leaving Rick O’Connell (Fraser) to take over. He keeps them from breaking, with the exception of Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor), who is the first to run. The riders attack, overwhelming the defenders. Beni takes refuge within the ruin, closing the doors to everyone, friend and foe alike. Soon, it’s just Rick alone, but one of the Magi who watch over the hidden city, Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), invokes magic to scare off the invaders.
Elsewhere, in Cairo, Evelyn “Evy” Carnahan, librarian and Egyptologist, is busy reshelving books in the museum’s library when she has some problems while standing on a ladder. The resulting disaster sees the shelves fall like dominoes. She’s told to get the mess cleaned up. As she does so, her brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), arrives with a map to the lost city of Hamunaptra. Evy discovers that the man her brother stole it from is being held prisoner, scheduled for execution, and rushes to the prison. She makes a deal with the warden (Omid Djalili) for Rick’s release. The warden, though, not only wants a piece of the action, he wants to join the expedition.
The race is on. A group of American treasure hunters are also on the trail to the lost city, and they have their own guide, Beni. On the paddleboat leaving Cairo, though, the Magi attack, trying to get both the map and the key to Hamunaptra. They aren’t successful; the map gets destroyed but Jonathan manages to grab the key before escaping the boat, now aflame thanks to the fighting.
Both groups arrive at Hamunaptra. Evy directs Rick and Jonathan, while the Americans dig elsewhere. Evy’s location is correct, though she’s quick to allow the Americans to take over the dig site. She finds a way down below the statue of Anubis where Rick can start his own digging. The warden finds another route, leading him to a tomb adorned with what look like gemstones. As he pries the stones off, he discovers too late that they are scarab beetles as they burrow within him. He runs off. Evy, Rick, and Jonathan discover a tomb marked “He Who Shall Not be Named” and as they investigate, the warden runs by screaming. They witness him hit a wall and stop, dead.
The Magi attack again overnight. The fight is to a standstill as Rick threatens Bay with a stick of dynamite, but the Magi warn both sets of seekers to leave, giving just one day to leave Hamunaptra. Of course, no one listens. The Americans find the Book of the Dead, though they can’t get it open; it needs a key. At night, Evy manages to liberate the Book and opens it. She reads from it, reawakening Imhotep. However, the mummy does not have eyes nor a tongue.
What Imhotep has is locusts. Everyone scatters, seeking shelter. Inside the lost city, Rick, Evy, and Jonathan are safe until the scarabs pour out. They run, seeking higher ground. Once out of the beetles’ way, they watch the swarm continue their path of destruction. Evy stumbles on a trap door and falls inside, finding one of the Americans. Unfortunately, Imhotep had found him first, taking the American’s eyes and tongue. As he approaches Evy, Imhotep recognizes her as Anck-su-numan. Rick and Jonathan find her and get her out. Imhotep gives chase, but runs into Beni. Beni tries to hold the mummy off with a crucifix and, when that doesn’t work, tries a couple more holy symbols before bringing out the Star of David. Imhotep recognizes the symbol, that of the slaves of Egypt from his time, and offers Beni a choice to follow, with riches his reward.
The survivors return to Cairo. Rick wants to leave the country knowing what’s coming. Evy, though, wants to put the mummy back where he belongs, having read the book that brought him back to life. It’s too late, though. Imhotep is finishing his work, finding and killing the Americans who opened the box holding the Book of the Dead, with Beni’s help. The ten plagues of Egyst also begin, with locasts descending and water turning into blood.
Evy works out what is needed to stop Imhotep, the golden Book of Amun-Ra to counter the black Book of the Dead. The Book of Amun-Ra is hidden at Hamunaptra in the stature of Horus. Ardeth Bay arrives, not to hinder the heroes but to help now that Imhotep is back, and throws in with Rick, Evy, and Jonathan. Before they can leave, Imhotep catches up and takes Evy away with him.
To get back to the lost city, Rick engages the last member of the Royal Air Force in the country, Winston (Bernard Fox). Imhotep tries to stop them, and is partially successful in getting Winston’s biplane to crash, but Rick, Jonathan, and Bay continue on foot. They push is to get the Book of Amun-Ra before Imhotep can resurrect Anck-su-numan at Evy’s expense.
There are major changes between the original and the remake. The 1932 version was close to a gothic romance, with Helen being the focus of Imhotep’s affections and desires. That romance carried through to the 1999 remake, but as the motive for the mummy. There was no seduction of Evy, no attempt to reconnect over time past. Instead, the remake’s Imhotep worked to resurrect his lover using Evy. The remake was more action-horror, with comedy added here and there. The heroes are far more involved in stopping Imhotep than in the original.
The story in general didn’t change that much, though placement of the fate of Imhotep in Ancient Egypt and how he was defeated did. Director Stephen Sommers had seen the original and based his movie on it. With the added budget and runtime his film had, he could work in more ideas. The focus shifted from Imhotep to Rick, Evy, and Jonathan, thus requiring that they be the ones who defeated the mummy, not a plea to an Egyptian goddess. However, it was Evy’s knowledge that saved the day, much like it was Helen using her no longer regressed memories of the past in the original.
The remake also showed Imhotep changing as he grew in power. Because of how long it took to get Karloff into the full mummy makeup and costume, eight hours just to put on and two hours to remove, that look for the mummy was for just one scene, shot over seven hours. The remainder of the film, Karloff is in robes showing only his head and hands, with him showing both the strength and weakness of the mummy through body language. The remake had Industrial Light and Magic doing the special effects – physical, matte paintings, and CGI. Computer graphics allowed the filmmakers to show Imhotep regaining his body as the movie progressed, adding details that just weren’t possibly in 1932, like a scarab running out a hole in Imhotep’s chest and up into another hole in his cheek. ILM, already used to CG effects, pushed their knowledge with the movie, building Imhotep from the skeletal structure up while using motion capture of Vosloo as a base.
The CGI allowed the film to show the threat that Imhotep posed. While turning water into blood was more a reaction shot of actors drinking and spitting out the foul tasting liquid, the locusts and the scarabs turned into credible threats. One insect might be creepy. Thousands to the point of blotting out the sun is a danger. What would be difficult or impossible to do in 1932 is some work at a computer in 1999 and today. The danger is the overuse, something ILM was aware of.
Comparing Imhoteps, Karloff brough a quiet menace to the role. Every movement was measured. His mummy was a deliberate, thinking monster with one goal, reunite with Ankh-es-en-amon and rule with her at his side for eternity. Vosloo’s Imhotep had barely controlled rage in every step. His mummy still carried anger over what was done to him, yet, he, too, worked towards reuniting with his love. Both saw their lover in another woman.
The 1999 remake of The Mummy changed the tone of the story, going from the original’s gothic romance to a action-horror. Both films resonated with audiences, but the remake changed the focus away from Imhotep to the heroes, Rick, Evy, and Jonathan. The change, though, comes after decades of the mummy being portrayed as a monster, not a tragic lover. Audience expectations mean adapting the story to both fit and challenge was is expected on screen. The 1999 version did use ideas in the original and expanded and explored them in the new genre.
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.
The origin of the police procedural can be traced to one series, Dragnet. While detective stories had been around for a while, series that showed the nuts and bolts of how the police perform an investigation were non-existent until 1949 when the first Dragnet episode aired on NBC radio. Since then, the distinctive theme tune and the matter-of-fact narration became hallmarks, recognizable in other works.
Dragnet was not just the prototypical police procedural. The series used files from the Los Angeles Police Department; the stories were true, with the name changed to protect the innocent. With the advent of television, Dragnet made the jump, with a TV series running concurrent with the radio show from 1951 to 1957, when the radio series ended. The TV series continued for two more years, ending in 1959. During the run, creator and star Jack Webb worked to ensure a high degree of accuracy to policies and procedures used by the LAPD. The jargon, the room numbers, the call signs, even the number of footsteps between offices were researched and represented accurately. Even Friday’s badge was authentic; the LAPD issued Badge 714 to Webb for the duration of the series and has retired the number in his honour.
Webb played Detective Sergeant Joe Friday of the LAPD. When the radio series started, his partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, played by Barton Yarbourough. The partnership did cross to the TV series, but when Yarborough passed away in 1951, so did Romero, as detailed in the episode “The Big Sorrow” on both the radio and TV. Afterwards, Friday had several partners, including Sergeant Ed Jacobs (played by Barney Phillips), Officer Bill Lockwood (Martin Milner), and, finally, Detective Frank Smith (originally played by Herb Ellis, then by Ben Alexander for the rest of the run on TV and radio).
Dragnet didn’t just focus on murders. While LAPD detectives wouldn’t normally handle a wide range of crimes, Friday and his partners investigated everything from homicide and armed robbery to missing persons and shoplifting. The idea was to show the police in action, no matter the crime. The amount of time each episode covered depended on the case. Some took months in reality. At least one episode, “City Hall Bombing”, took place in real time, as a bomber gave the LAPD thirty minutes to give in to his demands.
In 1967, Webb revived Dragnet. Ben Alexander wasn’t available to reprise his role as Detective Smith. As a result, Webb called in Harry Morgan to play Office Bill Gannon. The revival took advantage of colour technology and ran four seasons, when Webb decided to focus on his production company, Mark VII Limited, and its series, the Dragnet spin-off Adam-12, another police procedural focused on patrol officers Jim Reed and Pete Malloy. Adam-12 had its own spin-off, Emergency!, a paramedic procedural.
The lasting influence of Dragnet still can be seen in the police procedurals of today. While no show duplicates Dragnet exactly, the roots can be seen in shows like the Law & Order franchise*, which added the prosecution to the procedure, NCIS and spin-offs, showing procedures used by military police, and even Police Squad. However, audience expectations have changed. Audiences want to know more about the characters they return to week after week, so the police procedural has become the police drama.
In 1989, Dan Aykroyd co-wrote and starred in a theatrical release based on the series. Aykroyd played Detective Sergeant Joe Friday, the nephew of Webb’s character. With his partner retired from the LAPD, Friday gets a new one, this time from Vice, Pep Streebek, played by Tom Hanks. Harry Morgan returned as Bill Gannon, promoted to Captain and in charge of Robbery-Homicide. Unlike the original, the Dragnet movie was a comedy, not based on an existing case file, with Friday and Streebek becoming an odd couple. Aykroyd’s Friday delivered his lines in the same manner as Webb’s, deadpan.
A crime wave has hit Los Angeles. A new cult, PAGAN, People Against Goodness And Normalcy, is trying to take over the LA gang scene. It has made a few hits, including the entire run of Bait, a porn magazine run by Jerry Caesar (Dabney Coleman), police and other emergency vehicles, the mane of a lion, a wedding dress, and an anaconda. Caesar is also seeing pressure from MAMA – Moral Advanced Movement of America – a civics group run by the Reverend Jonathan Whirley (Christopher Plummer) and is worried about about being shut down. Friday isn’t happy to investigate, unlike Streebek, but will do so because that’s his job.
Friday and Streebek trace PAGAN and discover that a secret ceremony is about to be held. The detectives go undercover as members of the cult, where they find the stolen goods. The wedding dress is on a woman, Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul), who PAGAN will use as a virgin sacrifice. Friday rescues Connie briefly, only for he and Sweebek to be tossed into the snake pit with her. They save themselves and Connie and disperse the crowd. When they return later with Captain Gannon, the area is immaculate; no sign of the ceremony or any of the PAGANs can be seen. Connie did recognize the leader, though – Whirley.
Whirley has pull in the police department through Commissioner Jane Kilpatrick (Elizabeth Ashley) to have Friday not just pulled from the case but have his badge suspended. Streebek takes over the case and finds himself falling into Friday’s mannerisms. Friday, though, is still a cop and doesn’t leave the case alone. Whirley, though, has Friday and Connie taken again. Streebek manages to track the pair down in time. Once the full story is out, Gannon returns Friday’s badge and gun, allowing him to go after Whirley with the force of the law behind him. The Reverend manages to slip away, but Friday has one last method to catch up and make the arrest.
Aykroyd did his research. Any regulation cited is an existing one on the LAPD’s books. He has Jack Webb’s style of speech down pat to the point where, if the movie wasn’t a comedy, it’d be pitch perfect. The rest of the cast is solid, with Hanks and Aykroyd switching around the duties of the straight man. Even the main theme by Art of Noise fits. The main catch is that the movie was a comedy, a parody of the original.
In 1987, the nature of police dramas had changed since Dragnet was last on the air. Miami Vice showed the effects of working undercover. Hill Street Blues showed life at a precinct. Audiences wanted to know more about the characters they watched solve the crimes instead of just the procedures. A straight Dragnet movie wouldn’t have had the attention. At the same time, the movie could have passed as an episode if the more fanciful elements, like PAGAN, were removed. The result is a film that just misses being a superb adaptation, but all the elements to be one are there. Dragnet comes close, missing mainly on tone. Even taking into account the comedy, Aykroyd did well as Detective Sergeant Joe Friday, a role that Jack Webb made his own.
* Dick Wolf, the producer of Law & Order, even had a short run remake of Dragnet first airing in 2003 called L.A. Dragnet, with Ed O’Neill as Friday.
Some time back, Lost in Translation reviewed the A-Team movie. However, the years since then has broadened the definition of adaptations and what it means for one to be successful, so it’s time to take a second look.
In 1982, television was going through a renaissance. Many of the staples of the Seventies were on their last legs and ending, either through decisions by showrunners to end the run or through low ratings. One victim of the latter was Happy Days, which had begun its dominance in ratings in 1974. By 1983, it was a shell of what it was, having replaced most of its core cast, ultimately bringing in Ted McGinley. The show was ripe for counter-programming, something that wouldn’t have been thought of in its heyday, when it was just too popular to risk an unknown show against.
NBC had a new series it had piloted with a two-hour movie. The A-Team wasn’t a sitcom; instead, it was a light action-comedy featuring four Vietnam veterans. The general mood in the US about the Vietnam War was beginning be open to the idea of characters having served during the conflict. When The A-Team debuted as a regular series, it pulled in over a quarter of the viewing audience. The show was a change of pace from a tired sitcom.
The narration during the opening credits provided the show’s backstory. A US Army Special Forces unit, the A-Team was ordered to hit the Bank of Hanoi. They returned several days after the armistice and were arrested. The man who gave them the orders, General Morrison, had been killed in the final days of the war, so it became the Army’s word against the A-Team’s. The team broke out of the stockade before their trial and disappeared into the Los Angeles underground, where they became soldiers of fortune.
The pilot picks up with a reporter being held by bandits in Mexico near San Rio Blanco. His protege in LA, Amy Allen, played by Melinda Culea, needs help getting him freed and searches for the mythical A-Team. She’s sent to several locations and meets several odd characters, including Mr. Lee, before meeting the team. The wild goose chase has a purpose. The leader of the A-Team, Colonel John “Hannabal” Smith (George Peppard), wants to make sure she’s not working for the Military Police. However, he’s convinced that Amy is who she says she is and takes the job. However, Amy wants to go along, in part to cover the story of the rescue.
The team gathers. Getting Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Tim Dunigan) and Sergeant Bosco “B.A.” Baracus (Mr. T) is easy enough. Code phrases used on a radio call-in show gets the meeting place and mission needs sent out to them. Getting the last member of the team, though, is a problem. H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz) is in a VA mental institution and may very well be insane*. Face is the one chosen to break Murdock out.
Getting to Mexico is an issue. B.A. hates flying, especially if Murdock is the pilot. Driving will take time, though, which the team doesn’t really have to pull off the plan Hannibal has in mind. Hannibal tries to distract B.A. long enough so he doesn’t realize that they’re going to the airport. It almost works, though B.A. does get a punch in before the sedative takes effect. He’s out for the duration of the trip, giving the team time enough to reset his watch to reflect the how long a road trip would have been.
In Mexico, Face convinces the local film liaison that the movie allegedly being made needs some equipment, including armour plating and a heavy vehicle. The script isn’t the greatest, and Face complains about the quality of both the story and the director, but what can he do? The liaison gets the gear requested. In San Rio Blanco, Hannibal engages the townsfolk in getting their help to drive out the bandits. The initial plan succeeds, but runs into an unexpected hitch – the bandits are associated with a guerilla band who are better armed than the A-Team. What the guerillas aren’t, though, is a highly trained team with a knack for defying the odds led by a man who can come up with contingencies as the battlefield changes. The A-Team gets the reporter home and the town freed of bandit and guerilla influence.
Back in L.A., Amy convinces Hannibal that she is useful to the team, being the legitimate contact with access to news records. As such, she’s not wanted by the Military Police and isn’t on Colonel Lynch’s (William Lucking) radar as part of the team. The series is thus set up.
When The A-Team gets greenlit, some cast changes are made. Dunigan is replaced by Dirk Benedtic, who was the actor creators Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell had in mind for the role. NBC, though, wanted Dunigan, even though he looked too young for the part. The series followed a similar format as the pilot – the A-Team would be hired to help people who were desperate and outmatched, typically against criminal elements. There would be a montage of the team preparing for the climactic fight, putting together makeshift armoured vehicles and booby traps. Because of its time slot, there were very few deaths. Most of the damage went to vehicles, which crashed in spectacular ways.
Each member of the team has a specialty. Hannibal is the leader and a master of disguise. When he wasn’t leading a mission for the A-Team, he earned a pay cheque as an actor, usually as the monster in a Hollywood B-movie. B.A. is not just the muscle but also the team’s mechanical and electronics expert. Face is the con man, the grifter, the one who interacts with officials to smooth the way for the rest of the team. He’s also the accountant, keeping track of expenditures. Murdock is the team’s pilot and the foil to B.A. Amy is their contact to the legitimate world, allowing for more extensive intelligence on targets.
Over the five season run of the show, there were more cast changes. Colonel Lynch was replaced by Colonel Decker (Lance LeGault), who was more relentless in pursuing the team. Amy was replaced by Tawnia (Marla Heasley), a fellow reporter, who was then replaced by Frankie “Dishpan Man” Santana (Eddie Velez). In the final season, Robert Vaughn joined the cast as General Hunt Stockwell.
The series started having problems near the end. The episodic nature of the show meant that it began to feel stale later in the run. An attempt to shake things up by having General Stockwell fake the A-Team’s death and become their commander didn’t help ratings; the change was too jarring for the remaining viewers. Massive shake ups tend not to work and are seen as a desparation move by audiences, usually coming too late to be of help. The fifth season change also took the show away from the original concept of a Special Forces unit accused and on the run for a crime they didn’t commit.
However, with three strong seasons and a decent fourth, the series still has fans and name recognition. Hollywood, not one to ignore the lure of an easy draw, spent time trying to build a remake, with the earliest work done in the mid-90s. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that the movie was released. The new cast included Liam Neeson as Hannibal, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B.A., Bradley Cooper as Face, and Sharlto Copley as Murdock. With the time difference, the conflict that the A-Team was in changed from the Vietnam War to the second Gulf War.
However, the movie begins eight years before the end of Gulf War II, with a scene similar to the pilot movie. Renegade General Tuco (Yul Vasquez) is interrogating a man hidden by shadows. Since the man won’t talk, Tuco orders the man’s death, using his own pistol. However, said pistol doesn’t work, not having a firing pin. Tuco decides to let his dogs have him instead. The seated man uses the firing pin to unlock his handcuffs just as the dogs arrive. When he steps into the light, we see Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith.
Elsewhere, B.A. Baracus has returned to his former gang to recover his beloved. The gang isn’t willing to just let him leave, which they soon regret. With the gang down, B.A. gets into his beloved GMC Vandura, painted in the classic colours from the original series, and leaves. However, as he heads to a new life, he gets stopped at gunpoint by Hannibal, who notices the Ranger tattoo on B.A.’s arm. With some convincing, B.A. agrees to help Hannibal rescue his teammate.
Face is in deep trouble. He was caught with Tuco’s wife and the General is not happy about it. Tuco wants to set fire to the tires Face is trapped in, but the Lieutenant is buying time, mostly by aggravating the General. Face does get enough time for Hannibal and B.A. to arrive, but they leave with Tuco in hot pursuit. They need a way out and Hannibal has a man in mind. However, this man is in a hospital, but B.A.’s arm needs patching up. At the hospital, Hannibal looks for his man while a doctor sews up B.A.’s wound. Turns out, the “doctor” was Hannibal’s pilot, H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, who is in the hospital as a psychiatric patient.
The four take the hospital’s helicopter. Tuco follows in one that is more heavily armed. Murdock takes his chopper through moves that no one sane would try, resulting in B.A. gaining a phobia about flying. Hannibal goads Tuco while keeping an eye on an electronic readout. His plan succeeds; Tuco is lured across the border while engaging in an act of hostility against US military personnel, and a fighter jet is just waiting for the battle to cross the border.
Hannibal pulls the team together as a unit, bringing B.A. back into the Rangers and getting Murdock out of the psych ward, to the point where they are a crack unit in Iraq. Near the end of the conflict, Hannibal is brought into General Morrison’s (Gerald McRainey) for one last mission. Iraqi insurgents have a set of US Treasury plates that would allow for perfect forgeries of American currency, and CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) wants them back. Meanwhile, DCIS investigator Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel) approaches her ex, Face, to warn him against going after the plates.
Since Hannibal outranks Face, the team takes the mission. Hannibal’s plan goes off without a hitch, every contingency taken into account, even B.A.’s fear of flying. Preparation involves scrounging a number of parts, mostly from the private military contractor Black Forest without their knowledge. The team steals the stolen plates and delivers both them and the money already printed to the base. However, at the base, General Morrison’s HMMVV explodes, followed by a strike by Black Forest personnel led by Brock Pike (Brian Bloom). The shipping container holding the printed money and the plates explode and the plates disappear.
Hannibal and his team are arrested and tried for the theft of the plates and the money and are sentenced to dishonourable discharges and prison time in separate facilities. Sosa is also court-martialed, leading to her demotion. After six months, Lynch approaches Hannibal with an offer – accept the agent’s help in escaping in return for finding the missing plates. Lynch provides photos of Pike and an unknown Arab in Frankfurt at the Konigsbank. Hannibal already has plans to escape and just needed a reason. He fakes his own death to escape his prison, kidnaps Face, who has managed to turn his sentence into a spa retreat, then the two free B.A. during a prisoner transfer. Murdock turns out to be the more difficult break out; Sosa, who is still searching for the plates and now Hannibal, has tracked down Murdock to a VA hospital in Germany. With the help of a 3-D film, the team break out Murdock and go on to steal a C-130 Hercules.
The escape isn’t smooth. Stealing any American military aircraft gets immediate attention and two drones are dispatched to shoot down the Hercules. Sosa tries to countermand the orders to shoot down the plane, but the drones destroy the C-130. One of the drones picks up parachutes from an air-droppable tank. The team managed to get inside the tank before the plane exploded. The drones continue their attack. Face shoots one down, but the wreckage takes out two of the three parachutes used by the tank to slow its fall. Hannibal manages to control the plummet using the main gun’s recoil to redirect the tank to land in a lake and then to slow the fall.
In Frankfurt, Hannibal has a plan to get the Arab man, involving pinpoint timing. The plan almost gets derailed, though. Pike recovers quickly from the assault and tries to catch up with the plates. B.A. has him, but during his time in prison, he decided to take a path of non-violence; killing Pike is out of the question. But the team does escape with the Arab and the plates. Sosa catches up to Pike and takes him into custody.
Lynch, though, is still working on getting the plates for himself. Hannibal deduces the Arab’s identity and, before he can make his next move, a gunship obliterates the hideout, killing the Arab. Lynch then takes custody of Pike, working to close off loose ends. Hannibal calls Sosa, wanting to make a deal, the plates for full clemency. Lynch has Sosa’s phones tapped and hears the conversation. What he doesn’t have tapped is the burner phone Face slipped to her earlier, where he explains the plan to her.
The plan to deal with Lynch is a shell game – distract, disrupt, and reveal. Lynch falls for the game, but has Pike standing by as a wild card. But the plan, Face’s, not Hannibal’s, is flexible enough to handle the unexpected addition. Lynch is exposed. But the director of DCIS, Sosa’s boss, has the team arrested for unlawful escape. He wants that case off his books, even if the team did the heavy lifting in stopping Lynch and recovering the Treasury plates. The team, though, promptly escape and disappear into the Los Angeles underground.
The first thing of note for the movie is that it is an origins story. These men aren’t yet the A-Team of the TV series, but end the movie becoming them. As such, the movie expands on the original opening narration, using it to end the film. However, the elements of the original are there. The characters are recognizable. Casting helped here. Neeson channels George Peppard as Hannibal, using similar body language and vocal tones. Cooper has the charm of Face. Jackson brings a new interpretation to B.A. that still fits with what’s seen in the original series. Copley’s Murdock might be crazier than the original.
The tone of the movie varies, from drama to action to comedy, at points causing a mood whiplash. That’s more a factor of what’s expected in today’s entertainment, which does include deeper looks into motives than action-comedies in the Eighties. The movie does delve into the backstory presented in the TV series, pulling names from the team’s past and giving faces to names. The plot is more involved, with two agencies and a mercenary corporation all after the same MacGuffin. The world isn’t as black and white as in the TV series, but the core, that the A-Team are the heroes, remains.
The movie adds a few extras for the long-time fan. First is a post-credits sequence that features Benedict as Face’s fellow prisoner and Schultz as a doctor called in to consult on Murdock. A more subtle Easter egg comes up when the team breaks Murdock out of the German psychiatric facility. The movie sent, The Greater Escape uses the classic theme tune as the credits roll. Among the stars of the movie are Reginald Barclay, Schultz’s character on Star Trek: The Next Generation and G.F. Starbuck, a reference to Benedict’s character on the original Battlestar Galactica. Several scenes would fit without a problem in the original series, as well.
With a PG-13 rating, the movie avoids some of the problems of the original series. Since the show aired at 8:00pm for most of its run, very few people died on screen and none to the full auto fire that the A-Team used. In the movie, there is a body count, though the A-Team is far more judicious on where they shoot, unlike, say, Pike. The language is a little more salty, what one would expect for soldiers on deployment. Again, it’s the difference between prime time television and the PG-13 rating.
There were some problems with the film. The take on The A-Team went darker than the series did through most of its run, barring the final season. With the CIA and DCIS working against each other putting the A-Team in the middle of the fight and betrayals by trusted sources, the stakes were higher than helping someone deal with a criminal element. There was no Amy Allen; Sosa took on the Colonel Lynch role from the TV series, leaving the team on their own. If there was a sequel, an Amy could be introduced, but the movie didn’t make enough at the box office to justify a follow-up. The big problem was the focus. The movie covered the A-Team’s backstory instead of their exploits as soldiers of fortune in the Los Angeles underground. As such, the movie set up a series that never happened.
The movie did get some elements right. The cast, as mentioned above, had the chemistry and were recognizable as their characters, not just in looks but also in personalities. It’s not just a matter of using catch phrases, but knowing when to use them and why. Several scenes would have fit in with the TV series, just through the banter and camaraderie. The film definitely lived up to the action standard set by the TV series.
The movie remake of The A-Team is a hit-and-miss affair. Some problems could have been shored up, but there was an effort to have the team feel like the original, a difficult task.
* Through the series, Murdock displays different neuroses, so it could be an act. However, some of the act continues even when no one is around. He may have an untreated condition that he hides by acting crazier.
Budget can be a reason why a remake is made. A low budget movie that picks up a cult following will be noticed by studios, and cult classics grow audiences over time. Studios, being risk adverse, prefer to make movies with a guarenteed audience. What happens when a film made on the cheap gets a budget? Let’s look at the Roger Corman classic, Death Race 2000.
As a producer, Roger Corman is known for being tight with money. He also seldom loses money on a movie. With Battle Beyond the Stars, he kept costs down by using film students for crew and an out-of-business hardware store for a studio. With Death Race 2000, the budget was a modest $300 000. Yet, the film endures.
Based on the short story, “The Racer”, by Ib Melchior, Death Race 2000 is set in the 1975 future of 2000, where the US economy has collapsed after defeating the Soviet Union and China in the Cold War. Mr. President, the head of the Bipartisan States of America, has ruled the country from afar for 25 years, using bread and circuses to keep the masses happy. The biggest circus is the Transcontinental Road Race, where drivers compete from New York to Los Angeles to score the most points and the fastest time. Scoring comes from killing pedestrians, with women worth ten points more in all categories, children under 12 worth seventy points, and seniors worth one hundred.
Not everyone in the Bipartisan States are happy with the status quo. The Resistance, led by Thomasina Paine, played by Harriet Medin, wants to end the race, and plans on kidnapping the top racer, two-time Transcontinental winner, Frankenstein, played by David Carradine. Frankenstein earned the name after being rebuilt race after race, having parts destroyed or removed through accidents and deliberate actions by other racers.
Four other racers join Frankenstein in the starting line up. Machine Gun Joe Viturbo, played by Sylvester Stallone, is Frankenstein’s main rival and is determined to show who is the better driver in the race. Matilda the Hun, played by Roberta Collins, is a neo-Nazi who has named her car “The Buzzbomb”. Calamity Jane, played by Mary Woronov, takes the Western motif to the hilt, decking her car out with bull horns, perfect for ensuring a kill. Rounding out the line up is Nero the Hero, played by Martin Kove, decked out as a Roman gladiator. Each driver also has a navigator; Frankenstein has Annie, played by Simone Griffeth, and Machine Gun Joe’s moll is Myra, played by Louisa Moritz.
The race starts well, at least for the drivers. The Resistance would prefer to keep things bloodless, but even they start taking matters further. Nero the Hero is taken out in the first stage by the old “Bomb in a Fake Baby” trick, robbing him of not only his car, his navigator, and his life, but also of the seventy points the baby would have been worth. The Resistance tries to take credit for the kill, using a pirate broadcast, but the BSA claims that the French sabotaged the race instead. The Resistance also takes out Matilda the Hun and Calamity Jane. Matilda falls for a Wile E. Coyote-style detour. Calamity is forced off the road by the Resistance and hits a land mine.
During the second stage, the Resistance uses its mole to lure Frankenstein astray so that he could be replaced. Thomasina’s great-granddaughter, Annie, tells Frank about a retreat for old senators that is ripe for points. Frank breaks through the ambush, though. Knowing that Annie is part of the Resistance lets him trust her enough about the trick he has up his sleeve. Frankenstein’s plan is to win the race so that he can meet Mr. President and set off his hand grenade. Frank shares a goal with Annie, the ending of the Transcontinental Road Race; he is the latest Frankenstein, with the others having died instead of being put back together.
The movie is presented as a major sports event, a violent version of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The result is a darkly satirical comedy about the nature of sports and entertainment, where sex and violence are draws. The goal wasn’t to shame the audience, but heighten awareness while still reveling in what the movie rails against. Everything is over the top, taking Ib Melchior’s deadly serious short story and turning it into a satire. The script is kept tight, and what appears to be a continuity error near the end is really a clue that scene is not what it appears.
The 2008 remake, Death Race, approaches the events in a different manner. The movie opens with the background. The US economy has crashed, hard, with jobs scarce and crime levels growing higher and higher. To combat the crime problem, all prisons in the US are now privately owned and may well be the most stable companies around. One prison, Terminal Island Penitentiary, capitalizes on their inmates by broadcasting the “Death Race”, a three-day, three-stage event forcing prisoners to race against each other in cars armed and armoured to the teeth. The race consists of three laps, the first where the weapons are unarmed, the second where pressure plates can be driven over to activate weapons and defenses, and the third for the carnage.
Two racers at the prison have a deadly rivalry. Machine Gun Joe Mason, played by Tyrese Gibson, is set to kill Frankenstein, voiced by David Carradine. The race is close, with Frankenstein in the lead but getting chewed up by Machine Gun Joe’s truck with Frank’s defensive systems not working. Frankenstein wins, more from the force of the explosion his car makes as it crosses the finish line than anything else. Ratings and, more importantly, profits go up. However, the warder, Claire Hennessey, played by Joan Allen, needs a new Frankenstein.
Elsewhere, former NASCAR driver Jensen Ames finishes his last day at a steel mill as it shuts down due to the economy tanking. Jensen gets his meager last pay just before the SWAT team appear to quell a riot that didn’t happen until the SWAT team arrived. The problem with private prisons is that they need a constant influx of prisoners; the SWAT team may have been trying to drum up potenital inmates. Jensen, though, makes it home to his wife Suzy and newborn daughter Piper. However, a masked intruder breaks in, knocks Jensen out, and kills Suzy, framing Ames for the murder. Jensen is sentenced to life imprisonment at Terminal Island.
After a run-in with Aryan Brotherhood member Pachenko, played by Max Ryan, Jensen is called to the Warden’s office. Warden Hennessey has a deal for Jensen – race as Frankenstein and win one more race, and he can go free. Jensen agrees, and is introduced to Frankenstein’s pit crew. The head of the crew, Coach, played by Ian McShane, shows Frankenstein’s car to Jensen, going over the weapons and defenses available.
The day of the first stage arrives. The navigators arrive by prison bus from Terminal Island’s women’s penitentiary. Other than Machine Gun Joe, each driver has a woman as navigator, for the ratings. Machine Gun Joe, though, has a man; speculation is that’s because either he goes through so many navigators that viewers were turned off by the deaths or he’s gay. Once inside his car, Jensen takes off teh Frankenstein mask, revealing himself to Case, played by Natalie Martinez. Case isn’t surprised; Jensen is her third Frankenstein. During the race, three drivers and navigators are killed. Hector “The Grim Reaper” Grimm, played by Robert LaSardo survives a wreck, but while ranting after escaping his vehicle, is run down by Machine Gun Joe. Travis Colt is taken out by Jensen. Frankenstein’s defensive systems once again failed, but Jensen gets creative. He has Case put the napalm on the ejector seat, then fires it out so that the bottle breaks and the liquid inside cover Colt’s car. Case then tosses the cigarette lighter at Colt’s car. Jensen is well ahead and is set to win until Pachenko catches up to him. Jensen recognizes the gesture Pachenko makes as the same one his wife’s killer had made. Distracted, he doesn’t see Machine Gun Joe until too late. Frankenstein finishes sixth, last among the surviving drivers.
Warden Hennessey isn’t impressed by Jensen’s finish. She calls him in and ups the stakes. Hennessey promises that if Jensen loses, his daughter will be adopted out and he will never see her again. Jensen promises that things will get more vicious in the next stage. In the garage, Frankenstein’s put crew checks the oil sprayer and finds that it is working properly. Jensen starts putting the puzzle together and confronts Case. For her part, Case admits she sabotaged the defenses; she was promised her own release papers for preventing Frankenstein from leaving the Death Race.
When the second stage starts, Jensen has his own plans. First, he gets Pachenko to crash, then breaks the Aryan’s neck. He then gets back into his car, determined to win. Hennessey, though, wants a ratings boost. She’s already seeing record numbers of viewers tuning in, but wants to wring the Death Race for every dollar she can. A new vehicle enters the race – the Dreadnought, built on a semi-rig tanker and better armed and armoured than any of the other cars. The Dreadnought scores three kills of its own before Jensen convinces Machine Gun Joe to work with him to stop the truck.
Hennessey, not so happy with the destruction of her truck but pleased with the new paid subscriptions to the Death Race, makes Jensen a new offer – stay as Frankenstein and live a life of comfort. Jensen wants his daughter back, so no deal. When the third stage begins, Jensen and Joe have an escape plan, using a weakened part of the prison’s outer walls. However, Hennessey won’t let Jensen go easily and has a bomb planted under his car. The race goes as Jensen planned. He, Case, and Joe destroy the wall and escape across the only bridge in. Hennessey sends the signal for the bomb to explode, which it then fails to do. Coach had found the explosive, removing and disarming it.
Outside the prison, police try to chase the escapees, but find themselves outgunned and outmatched. Hennessey orders helicopters to pursue Jensen. When his car is finally stopped, it’s Case in the Frankenstein costume. She’s taken back to prison. Hennessey can at least announe that Frankenstein has returned, and opens a celebratory gift sent to her. Coach detonates the bomb, killing Hennessey.
There are some key differences between Death Race 2000 and Death Race. While each film take a look at the nature of sports and television, the changes to both elements necessitate a different approach. In 1975, the concept of pay-per-view didn’t yet exist. Most people watched television via broadcast, not cable. The three-channel universe in the US meant that the choice in what to watch was limited. In 2008, cable reigns, especially for sports. While some major events, like the NFL’s Super Bowl and Major League Baseball’s World Series, are available over national networks free of charge, others, especially for sports with smaller followings, can only be seen on specialized cable stations and even pay-per-view. The more violent sports, like wrestling and mixed martial arts, are pay-per-view only. Violence is movies is far more visceral. Death Race 2000 was almost cartoon-like in its violence while Death Race went for being grittier.
Also gone from the remake was the satirical humour. Much like the Robocop remake, Death Race plays the situation seriously. The remake, though, has several new targets for satire. First is the use of privately owned prisons. A government-run prison doesn’t have to worry about a profit/loss statement at the end of the day; a privately run one has to make a profit, and there’s only so much that a prison can charge to hold a prisoner. Death Race takes the concept of prisoner labour to an extreme, but one that must be on the minds of some CEOs. Would the general public pay to watch prisoners fight in a gladiatorial arena?
The other new target for satire is the new nature of television. Pay-per-view means that after a certain number of subscribers, any more is pure profit. Cut the costs in producing an event, and that minimum needed subscribers drops. Too many cuts, and the audience will be turned off. But if labour costs can be reduced or even removed? Sponsors will be happy to provide equipment at a discount if the producer can show good numbers. Thus, the MOPAR billboard and the Ford vehicles in Death Race.
Budget is another huge difference between the films. Each car in Death Race 2000 was a shell built on top of the chassis of a Volkswagen Beetle. Beetles had the two requirements Corman was looking for – they had the engine in the back and could be found cheaply. The Beetle was not an expensive car even when new, and was the most popular import in the US. The latter made finding used ones easy. With Death Race, the two main cars – Frankenstein’s and Joe’s – were current Ford models. Even in a movie decrying bloodsport, manufacturers are willing to take the risk of a bad association if it means free advertising.
Another difference comes from the nature of storytelling on film. In the 70s, slow reveals of the main character’s real purpose isn’t unknown. The audience is assumed to be capable of thinking while watching. Death Race, though, provides all the needed information up front about the main characters. The audience knows right away why Jensen is racing. The audience can sit back and enjoy the spectacle, something that Death Race 2000 satirized.
Death Race also removed the points system. It worked for a cross-country race that encouraged drivers to hit-and-run pedestrians. The remake, though, kept the race in a contained area. Finishing first was the only way to win. Since the hit-and-run was removed, weapons could be mounted on the cars. It wouldn’t be sporting to just shoot an unarmed pedestrian, even one taunting a driver like a bullfighter taunts a bull. But if everyone is armed, then it’s fair game. The defensive systems – oil sprayer, smokescreen generator, and napalm – help cars in front from being sitting ducks. Video game elements like the pressure plates to activate weapon systems fit in with the audience, both the one in-universe and the one watching the movie.
Both movies reflect their time period. In 1975, the US had just gone through Watergate and the Nixon impeachment, showing the cracks in the American system of government. In 2008, the housing bubble had just popped, creating Crash 2.0, leaving people trying to pay for a house that was no longer worth what they had paid for it while struggling to keep a job as corporations cut labour costs to stem the hemorrhaging of money. Each movie’s satire reflects the era, which makes a direct comparison difficult.
That said, Death Race 2000, much like Deadpool, has no problems being silly when it needs to be. Sometimes, a point can be made better when the viewer is laughing. Death Race made the decision to keep things serious, possibly as a nod to the original short story by Melchior. The difference in tone means that people are swearing instead of yelling, “Chrysler!” Staying serious also indicates that the film sees the elements being satirized as grave problem, underlining the nature of the issues.
The two movies take different approaches over most of the same topics. Death Race 2000 is over the top, making it an easier watch even with the nudity and violence. Death Race keeps the violence and uses up-to-date film making techniques to get the audience into the middle of the action. Death Race almost pulls it off, and may have been better off without the original lurking in the audience’s mind.
Technological progress has a way of making older works show their age. In many adaptations, updating the technology to modern ideas of the near future doesn’t harm the work. But what happens when an iconic item becomes outdated?
Case in point, the 1965-70 TV series, Get Smart. Created by Mel Brooks with Buck Henry, Get Smart was a parody of the spy thrillers of the time, including 007 and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, and featured outlandish gadgets that never quite worked properly. The series starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Secret Agent 86, and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99, two agents of CONTROL who fought against the machinations of KAOS, run by Siegfried, played by Bernie Kopell, and his right-hand man, Shtarker, played by King Moody. Max’s boss, the Chief of CONTROL, played by Edward Platt, suffered as Max investigated nefarious schemes, but admitted that CONTROL wouldn’t be half as effective without 86. The opening of the first episode provides a perfect example of how technology changes the intent of a scene. As a stage production is about to start, a phone begins to ring, and Max excuses himself to go to the lobby to answer his shoe. In 1965, this is an unusual situation, something that is absurd. Today, even with warnings and request to turn off all phones, someone in the audience will still take a call.
Get Smart, though, was more than the gadgets. Like many good parodies, like Airplane!, the characters took the situations seriously. That’s part of the humour, the dichotomy between the absurdity of the situation and the seriousness of the characters. With a TV series, the characters also have to be engaging enough for people to keep watching week after week. Max knew his spycraft, even if there were times he stumbled into saving the world or times that 99 came through in the clutch.
As the series progressed, the relationship between Max and 99 grew closer, resulting in a wedding and adding a domestic side to the series. Still, even with the domestic episodes, the series was still a spy spoof, with all the comedic aspects of the core coming through. The in-laws are in town? Great time for KAOS to wreak havoc, just to see how Max and 99 handle both.
There were several attempts at revivals. The first was the theatrical release, The Nude Bomb, with Don Adams returning as Max and 99. Edward Platt’s death in 1974 meant that a new actor, Dana Elcar, had to be brought in as the Chief. The movie took advantage of not being on television and went risque. A second made-for-TV movie, Get Smart, Again reunited Adams and Feldon. A short-lived revival TV series in 1995, also called Get Smart, brought back Adams and Feldon, with Max now the Chief of CONTROL and his son Zack, played by Andy Dick, a field agent. Even Inspector Gadget could be seen as Get Smart aimed at children, with Adams voicing the eponymous character, who was a walking gadget malfunction, who bumbled around while his niece Penny did the hard work.
In 2008, Warner Bros. released Get Smart, a remake/reboot starring Steve Carell as Max, Anne Hathaway as 99, and Alan Arkin as the Chief of CONTROL. Instead of being a period piece, the movie was set in the current era. The movie changed things up, with Max being a very thorough analyst who wants to be a field agent. His briefings run 600+ pages and gets down into what the subjects of investigation like to eat. In a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, his notes on one potential threat is shown on screen; “The Claw” was another villain from the TV series.
Max’s arrival at work takes him through a museum dedicated to espionage, with one section set aside for CONTROL. In the section, several of the old gadgets from the TV series are on display, including the old cone of silence, Max’s car, and the shoe phone. The entrance to CONTROL itself is through a set of doors, much like the opening credits to the TV series, complete with the classic theme song playing. The gags through the doors change, as should be expected, but the sequence does hammer home the idea of being in CONTROL’s headquarters. Max’s briefing is dry but thorough, but that thoroughness prevents him from becoming a field agent; the Chief needs him as an analyst.
KAOS escalates its total war against CONTROL, first bombing CONTROL’s HQ then going after field agents. Max and 99 are the first to respond after the bombing, investigating the ruins of the headquarters to find the perpetrators. Max’s quick thinking and knowledge of the fire suppression systems lets 99 go deeper into the headquarters, but that same quick thinking and knowledge leaves the Chief with a dent in his forehead. Because of the shortage of field agents, Max’s request to become one is approved, with the idea that KAOS won’t know who he is.
The Chief pairs rookie 86 with experience field agent 99 and sends them to Russia to investigate Ladislas Krstic (David S. Lee), the munitions supplier for KAOS. The flight to Russia, though, has Siegfried’s heavy, Dalip, played by Dalip Singh aka the Great Khali. Max and 99 use a hidden escape from the plane, though Max wasn’t able to get his chute on in time. Dalip follows, taking the now spare chute. Agent 99 does what she can to get rid of Dalip and prevent Max from plummeting to his death.
At Krstic’s manor, the pair discover the location of stolen nuclear material and bomb-making facility, a bakery in Moscow. Max and 99 head directly there, sneaking in and looking for the yellow cake uranium. Max finds it plus actual yellow cake at a birthday celebration, and plants explosives. During this, though, Siegfried, played by Terrance Stamp, finds him and takes him prisoner. The two men try to get the details of what each other know, with Max getting details about Siegfried’s plans to bomb the president. Siegfried leaves Shtarker, played by Ken Davitan, in charge to finalized preparations, which gives Max a chance to escape.
The bakery explodes. During the chaos, Max and 99 run into Dalip again. Fighting the KAOS heavy gets nowhere, so Max uses his knowledge from analysing tape after tape to convince Dalip to stop fighting and help them escape. He’s mostly successful, but he and 99 do get away from the exploding bomb factory/bakery and return to Washington to report in. The Chief sends Agent 23, Max’s idol played by Dwayne Johnson, to make sure that the facility is gone. Problem is, Agent 23 reports that there’s no sign of the uranium. All evidence that there’s a cover up points to Max, who is taken into custody. While in his cell, he hears a coded message for him relayed through Ryan Seacrest; the bomb is in Los Angeles.
Max executes an escape from CONTROL’s prison cells. The escape leads through the espionage museum. Max takes the suit, the gun, the shoe phone, and the car. The roaring escape ends not far from the museum as the car runs out of gas. He tries to commandeer a car, driven by Bernie Kopell in a cameo, but that car is rear-ended. Max does find a car and heads to L.A, where he finds the Chief, 99, and 23. Agent 86 works out who the double agent is and reveals his identity. In the process, he prevents the bomb from exploding and ends the KAOS plot to kill the president.
In a Get Smart adaptation, several elements are expected. The gadgets, as mentioned above, are important, not only in being used but not working correctly. The cone of silence received an upgrade but still didn’t work properly. The shoe phone, though, is outdated thanks to cell phones. Yet, the movie managed to work it in, thanks to call forwarding. Even the new gadgets, like Max’s Swiss Army knife, don’t work right.
Casting was also key. Steve Carell played Max much as Don Adams had, straight, allowing the absurdity of what was happening carry the comedy. Anne Hathaway has a more-than-passing resemblance to Barbara Feldon, and there are several scenes where Hathaway is a dead ringer for Feldon. Terrance Stamp took a darker tone to Siegfried, but Ken Davitan’s Shtarker blunted the darkness by being a comedic sidekick and punch-clock villain. Even Fang, Agent K-13, had a counterpart in the remake – a puppy that Max wanted to adopt but only if he became a field agent.
The writers were able to work with the original material well. The original series had a number of catch phrases that would recur, most of them Max’s but some from 99 and even Siegfried. It’d be easy to just have Max spout them; instead, the script worked the catch phrases in organically. Siegfried did get his, “This is KAOS. We don’t ‘ka-fricking-boom’ here,” thanks to Shtarker. Max had, “Missed it by that much,” “Would you believe?” and “Sorry about that Chief,” in situations where it made sense. The last phrase came up after Max hit the Chief with a fire extinguisher. Even 99 got in a, “Oh, Max.” Anyone not familiar with the lines wouldn’t have seen these shoehorned in while fans of the original series could laugh.
Even some of the TV series’ gags were reused. Along with the malfunctioning gadgets, other staples that appeared included Agent 13. In the TV series, the agent, played by Dave Ketchum, would appear in the oddest, tightest locations. Bill Murray played 13 in the film, appearing inside a tree near CONTROL’s safe house near the Washington Memorial, his complaints about his assignment and the problems of being stuck in the tree echoing Ketchum’s 13 and his issues. The movie is also book-ended by scenes of Max arriving and leaving CONTROL, much like the opening and closing credits.
Updating Get Smart meant having to change update the sensibilities of the times. The nature of spy thrillers has changed since 1965, with the tone turning darker as the nature of the business and the tools of the trade became more known to the general audience. Adding to the difficulty, Get Smart was a comedy set at work, where work was a top secret organization dedicated to the security of the US. Overlooking that aspect would have lost part of the nature of the series. The movie, though, kept both the spy spoof and the work-com aspects, with enough scenes showing how dysfunctional CONTROL’s office is and still making fun of bureaucracy at all levels. Inter-agency rivalries were added, with the Chief butting heads with the directors of the other agencies, including the CIA and the Secret Service.
The movie remake of Get Smart had a difficult task in front of it; paying homage to a series and a character that is iconic. The result, though, shows that the challenge was met. Get Smart was a well done adaptation that managed to update the setting without losing the core of the original TV series.