In entertainment, if something is made, it is inevitably remade in one form or another. However, franchises seem immune. Sure, Batman’s origins will get filmed over and over, but the movies aren’t the source. Even in the comics, there have been retellings of how Bruce Wayne became Batman, but they all follow the same beats and Bruce Wayne always becomes Batman in each version. Can a franchise be rebooted and rebooted successfully?
Definition time – a franchise is a work that spans multiple media, be it literature, film, television, comics/graphic novels, video games, even radio. A series of novels doesn’t count, nor does a TV series. Once licensing gets involved, the franchise is starting to form. The wider the licensing, the bigger the franchise. Star Wars as a franchise is huge, starting with a movie, then expanding into toys, games, comics, tie-in novels, animated series, live action series, spin-off movies, serialization on the radio, and video games, and I’m probably missing other parts of the franchise in that list, with more coming out every year. Even smaller franchises cover a portion of what Star Wars has.
Back to the question, can a franchise be rebooted? If the original, core work of the franchise is a movie, can it be remade and, if so, does it break anything? Likewise with a TV series, can it be remade? Literature creates a new issue; few people are going to buy a rewrite of an original work, especially if the redone work isn’t by the original author. But if the audience’s perception of what the original work is switches to another medium, then can the franchise reboot?
Note that rebooting is not the same as a creating a new series. Star Trek: The Next Generation isn’t a reboot of Star Trek, but a continuation set much later in the settings time line. However, JJ Abrams’ 2009 Trek film is a reboot of the original series. The concept isn’t clear cut.
Some franchises don’t need to reboot, thanks to the setting. Star Wars has an epic scale that allows for exploration of different styles. Space Western with Samurai influences? Done – The Mandalorian. Want to add a mystic element? The Jedi. Heist movie in space? There’s enough of a underworld described in the movies and TV series that someone robbing jewels from Cloud City should be easy to write. Not all franchises have this range of flexibility. However, sometimes, just advancing the timeline is enough to shed some baggage by placing into the past, as Star Trek has done.
Some franchises have tried to reboot. DC Comics tried to reset using Year One to update character origins. Marvel tried something similar with the Ultimates line of comics. Both companies have decades of prior stories that make it difficult for new readers to just jump in. Introducing new characters to take up the mantle of a superheroic ID is hit or miss. Miles Morales as Spider-Man worked, but DC killing Superman to have four characters take over the role didn’t take, with Superman returning.
Let’s break it down by original source. Literary sources aren’t going to reboot right away; writing takes work and authors aren’t going to be willing to go back to rewrite a book that’s been published. All the rewrites were done before the book reached shelves. Film remakes are a known entity, but early franchise entries seem almost immune; the potential to break the audience could doom the remake at the box office and studios are risk adverse. No killing the golden goose for them. Comics could, but as noted above, it’s been tried and the results are hit-or-miss. Video games can; new technology and new releases mean that a larger audience could play the latest version. Most video games are stand-alone, though there are exceptions like Mass Effect. Traditional games, mist likely can’t; if the game is popular, it’s too beloved to change too much. However, tabletop RPGs could; new editions come out to correct mechanical problems and settings will get adjusted for the game.
Could a franchise be rebooted? The answer is a big maybe. There are a number of factors in play, including popularity and the risk of losing an audience if the change is too great.
Next week, a look at some examples.
Ten years. When I started Lost in Translation, I didn’t expect the reviews to last long. I thought I’d run out of material. However, Hollywood insists on adapting everything. Everything. Some adaptations are done well; others, not so much.
The early years, I went after the easier works, the ones that had been around a while. Once I figured out this reviewing thing, I started to get into more complex works and into more complex reviews. There’s very little that is out and out terrible that there isn’t a glimmer of something good inside it. I’m also taking more time when a work needs it. Sometimes, there’s just no getting around dealing with a multi-season storyline and it takes time to watch and to read both original works and adaptations.
The pandemic of 2020-2021 added a new twist. My way of choosing works to review involved going to a music or video store and checking out the offerings. Lockdown prevented that. Online shopping is good when you need something specific but isn’t as good when it comes to browsing. Same goes with streaming services. It made finding works to review a bit more difficult, but I found ways.
Ten years. It doesn’t seem like such a long time, but I can see how I’ve improved since the first review. Time does fly, even 2020 in hindsight. Thank you, everyone, for following, for supporting, and for letting me figure out just how adaptations look. There are some changes coming for Lost in Translation later this year. Details will come out once they’re nailed down.
Lost in Translation is approaching a major anniversary mark, so it’s a good time to look back over the years. Today, let’s start at the beginning, with the first review posted, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the early days of Lost in Translation, I went after the easier, low-hanging fruit, and ST:TNG was well in reach. I had watched both the original and the then new Trek when TNG first aired in 1987.
When TNG’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”, first aired, the original had been in syndication for eighteen years, gaining a fan base that was too young to watch the series when it first aired. In between the last original Trek episode and “Encounter at Farpoint”, there had been an animated series and four films, beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, all with the original cast. TNG, though, guaranteed a weekly hit of Star Trek, thanks to first-run syndication; ratings weren’t going to be an issue, just sales to TV stations.
The first two seasons were rough. TNG re-used some scripts for a proposed but unfulfilled Star Trek II TV series with the original crew of the Enterprise. The Star Trek II series ultimately became ST:TMP, and the mappings of characters can be seen between the movie and TNG. The obvious ones are Kirk and Decker to Riker, Xon, the Vulcan science officer who died in a transporter accident, to Data, Ilya to Troi, and Argyle and MacDougal to Scotty. The mappings aren’t perfect; there was an effort to make the new characters their own selves. With Troi, some of the Deltan culture, such as openness to sex, had to be toned down for television. Data’s quest for humanity mirrors Spock’s quest to balance and integrate his Vulcan and Human halves, but the paths each took are different.
It does take time for a TV series to get settled in, for character to develop to what fans will remember. TNG was no different. Season three was when the characters sorted themselves out. Still, the worst episode of TNG, the second season flashback episode “Shades of Gray”, is still better than TOS‘ worst, the third season’s “Spock’s Brain”. Meanwhile, the best of TNG pushed the envelope of Trek storytelling. “Darmok” explored the language gap in first contact while bypassing the universal translator.
In the time since the last TNG episode, the two-parter “All Good Things…”, in 1994, more Trek has been made. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which began during TNG‘s run and Star Trek:Voyager began the year after TNG‘s end. Star Trek: Enterprise began after Voyager‘s run ended. Today, there are three concurrent Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks. Picard is a direct sequel to TNG while Lower Decks follows the crew of another starship in the same era. At this point, TNG is the more familiar Trek series, thanks to having a longer run and and the subsequent series set in the same era.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is a good example of a successful reboot, matching the original series in quality, both highs and lows, and becoming its own entity.
Remakes and reboots tend to come after about a generation after the original, typically about 30 years. Prior to the invention of affordable home entertainment, such as televisions, VCRs, and DVDs, the time allowed for a new generation to grow up and the previous generation to forget details about the original. With VCRs, DVDs, and streaming, the only limitation in getting an original work is availability. Studios may remove a work from being available, but while that may affect streaming services, physical media can still be played.
The remake is still a viable approach today, though. Breakthroughs in technology all for a new look at a work that is generally available in one for or another. Actors aging up or getting popular and thus more expensive does happen. No studio is going to get Tom Hanks for what he was paid when he starred in Bosom Buddies.
In 2002, Jason Statham starred in the French-produced film, The Transporter; his Frank Martin, the title character, was a breakout role for him. The movie was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and was directed by Corey Yeun and Louis Leterrier. Frank, in the movie, is a getaway driver for hire who calculates his role precisely. He has three rules; 1) once a deal is made, it is final; 2) no names; and 3) never open the package. The opening scene, where Frank is the getaway driver demonstrates the professionalism and preciseness he has. Three bank robbers need him after a robbery, but they break the deal by bringing a fourth. Frank refuses to leave until the fourth is dealt with. Once the fourth is gone, by being shot by his comrades, Frank begins his getaway.
Of course, a movie where nothing goes wrong will get dull. Frank breaks one of his rules during a job and opens the package. Turns out, he was transporting a young woman, Lai Kwai, played by Shu Qi. Frank still makes the delivery, but the guy who hired him, Darren Bettancourt (Matt Shulze), tries to eliminate loose ends. The explosion destroys Frank’s car, but not Frank, who was out of it at the time.
Since Bettancourt broke Frank’s first rule, never change a deal, by trying to kill him, Frank heads back to get vengeance. Bettancourt is out but his henchmen aren’t. When Frank is done Bettancourt’s villa, he has left behind broken and dead henchmen and taken Bettancourt’s car, where Shu Qi just happens to be. The action escalates as Bettancourt tries to kill Frank and Frank tries to get away. Car chases, martial arts sequences, including a fight on an oil-filled concrete floor where Frank is using bicycle pedals as skates, and gun fights lead to the breathless climax.
The plot of The Transporter is thin, but serves to deliver on the action. Audiences who saw the trailer came in with the expectation of an action flick, and that’s exactly what they got. An action flick with the stakes at the personal level. No threat to destroy the world, no corporation trying to upset democracy, just one man versus another and his henchmen. The movie would go on to have two sequels.
As mentioned above, remakes take about a generation. A remake of The Transporter would be expected anywhere between 2022 and 2042, but in 2015, Luc Besson, along with Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, penned The Transporter Refueled. Released by the same studio, the new film introduced a new Frank Martin, this time played by Ed Skrein. Joining Frank is his ex-spy father, Frank Sr, played by Ray Stevenson. The Refueled Frank has the same rules as the original. It’s when the rules are broken when things get interesting for Frank.
Frank’s latest job involves three women all dressed the same, all wearing the same wig. They need him to drive them away from a bank robbery, leading to a car chase that leaves several French police cars broken on the streets of Nice. The client, though, changes the deal by getting Frank’s father involved. Frank Sr is interested beyond just the need to get an antidote to a poison he was given. Frank Jr isn’t, sticking to his professional rules. Eventually, Frank Jr does involve himself, first for his father’s life and, when the poison turned out to be a hoax, to be able to live with himself.
Much like the original’s plot, the plot of Refueled is thin, an excuse for the action. The client is responsible for most of the motive behind the action, with Frank along for the ride, though once he decides to get involved, he has his own agency. Frank is given more background, from having a family member with him to hints of being a mercenary before becoming a getaway driver for hire. The antagonist has ties to Frank, having a shared past.
Skrein bring to the role of Frank the same energy Statham did in the original. Bioth portray Frank as professional in his dealings as a contract getaway driver. Skrein’s Frank also does not pick up a gun during the film, becoming a problem in a climactic fight. Frank, though, has no problems with picking up pipes, hoses, ropes, or axes when his opponents are armed. Frank is unique in the film in not using firearms; he’s the driver, not the muscle, though he can defend himself when needed.
Adding Frank Sr allowed the film to include a chemistry that was sparse in the original. While Statham’s Frank could sit down with Inspector Tarconi to talk, Skrein’s had a good relationship with his father, humanizing Frank and giving a contrast to his professional persona. The chemistry between Skrein and Stevenson works on screen to emphasize the relationship between the characters. Indeed, a film about Frank Sr would be interesting to see, either before his retirement as a spy or what he does after Refueled.
With Besson on board, Refueled has an anchor to the original. The plot would fit with Statham, even if some details would have to be changed. Skrein’s portrayal of Frank fits in with the previous films. Refueled isn’t deep, but it does deliver on the promise of action. As a reboot, The Transporter Refueled adds to the character without skimping on what audiences are expecting. Despite being an early reboot, the movie succeeds at being one.
There are cars that can catch the eyes of people who see them. Some, such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis, use sleek lines and raw power to gain attention. Others, though, use are nowhere near that league. The Volkswagen Beetle is the classic go-to here, but there is another, the Austin Mini Cooper.
First released in 1959, the Mini Cooper and the Mini Cooper S were a new approach to vehicle design after the boats of the Forties and Fifties, a compact car before the concept was known, using front wheel drive to save interior space for passengers and cargo. The car became an icon in Britain. While the engine didn’t produce much horsepower compared to larger vehicles, the Mini was also lighter. Tuning the engine and removing weight improved the power-to-weight ration even more, leading to the Mini winning the Monte Carlo Rally three times in the Sixties.
Naturally, when something becomes an icon, studios will want to use it as a draw. The Italian Job, released in 1969, featured three Minis in the climactic scene, leading a merry chase from the Italian police. The film starred Michael Caine as Charlie Crocker and co-starred Noël Coward as Mr. Bridger, a crime lord running his criminal empire while in prison, Benny Hill as computer expert Prof. Peach, Raf Vallone as Italian mob boss Altabani, and Maggy Blye as Charlie’s girlfriend Lorna, and featured music by Quincy Jones. The film begins with a leisurely drive through the Italian Alps as the credits appear, with Roger Beckermann (Rossano Brazzi) on his way home to Britain from Turin. However, Altabani and the Italian Mob has other ideas and place an much heavier bulldozer at the exit of a tunnel. Beckermann has no way to avoid the bulldozer and is killed in the resulting explosion.
Beckermann, though, had sent the key part of his reason to be in Turin ahead of him. He has a plan to steal $4 million in gold from the Italians, and Charlie Crocker is the lucky guy chosen. Charlie, though, has just left one of Her Majesty’s penetentiaries and is being watched, not so much by a parole officer but by Bridger’s people on the outside. When Charlie reads over the plans, he first approaches Bridger looking for a crew. Bridger isn’t as impressed, mainly because Charlie broke back into prison to talk to him. However, Bridger is convinced to help out when he realizes that there is pride involved; Fiat will be using the gold to pay China to open a factory.
There are several elements to the plan. One is getting a new program into the traffic control centre in Turin. Since it’s 1969, breaking through ICE with a Chinese virus isn’t in the realm of possibility. Instead, Charlie recruits Prof. Peach to go in and set the tape up. With traffic tied up to the point where the armoured car carrying the gold can be stopped where the crew wants, a means of getting in is needed. Fortunately, explosives do exist, though overkill is a risk. Finally, with traffic tied up, especially when there’s a football game happening, the escape route needs to be done in a way that can carry $4 million in gold bars is needed. Thus, the Minis, three of them, with drivers, going where no car has gone before.
Charlie has his crew run through the plans, making sure that any errors can be corrected before going live. The plan is intricate, but doable, and the crew sets off to Turin. However, the Italian Mob has caught wind and has arranged a greeting at the tunnel where Beckermann was killed. Charlie was going to have three fast cars, his Aston-Martin DB-4 and two Jaguar E-types. Altabani makes his point by crushing the Jaguars and having a bulldozer push the DB-4 down the cliff, then tells the Brits to leave.
Setbacks are setbacks, not a reason to abort the plan. The fast cars were a backup plan. The primary plan still involves the Minis, and now the heist is personal. Altabani only stopped four of the crew, including Charlie. The rest arrived in Turin and began their prep work. Charlie arrives after sending Lorna home to be safe, then gets the plan into gear. Prof. Peach gets the program going at the traffic control centre. Everyone is in place. The gold begins its trip.
When the time comes, the program causes mass traffic chaos. The police escort, including an armoured fighting vehicle with water cannon, gets cut off from the gold, and the crew strikes. The truck carrying the gold is hijacked, the gold transferred to the Minis, and the escape is on. With the traffic chaos, the larger vehicles can’t give chase. The police Fiats, though, can try. The escape route involves getting through the city through back alleys, shopping arcades, the Fiat factory’s rooftop test track, and Turin’s landmarks before heading into a sewer pipe before escaping the police.
The crew meets up again, with a modified bus waiting to pick up the Minis while on the move. The gold is removed from the cars which are then tossed out the bus one at a time down the mountainside in the Alps. However, the bus driver is taking the corners too fast, and the film ends on a literal cliffhanger, with the bus delicately balanced, the front end over the road with the crew providing counterweight to the gold at the rear over the drop down.
The Italian Job was a comedy heist movie. The focus is on the job, but Jones’ music provides a light tone to the film. Sure, things get dark a few times, but the goal was a light comedy. Little details stand out. The protagonists all use British vehicles; the opposition uses Italian cars. The one exception, Beckermann, was driving a Lamborghini Miura when he was killed by Altabani. Michael Caine is the star of the film and the centre of attention. The crew is there to fill roles but there’s not depth given to any of them other than Prof. Peach.
The typical time between an original film and its remake is about one generation, about 20 to 30 years. The popularity of the original movie and changes in the technologies used in film making tends to lead to a remake. It’s not a hard and fast rule, though. The remake of The Italian Job came 34 years later, a little on the outside of a generation. The impetus, though, wasn’t a change in movie technology but in the design of the Mini. In 2001, BMW acquired the Rover Motor Group, the British company that was producing the Mini Cooper lines. BMW’s goal was to get lines of SUVs and compact and sub-compact cars. The Mini was kept in its own subdivision, separate from BMW’s main automotive production, but the vehicle was given a revamp, updating its style to reflect modern sensibilities. The result was a compact car that could still perform. The update, though, did make the new Mini a little larger than the older models.
The 2003 remake starred Mark Wahlberg as Charlie Crocker, Donald Sutherland as John Bridger, Charlize Theron as John’s daughter Stella, Jason Statham as “Handsome Rob”, Mos Def as “Left Ear”, Seth Green as “Napster”, and Edward Norton as Steve Frazelli. The movie begins in Venice, as the crew – Charlie, Bridger, Rob, Left Ear, Napster, and Steve – begin a heist. The goal, $34 million in gold stolen by Italian gangsters. The heist is precisely planned, down to where the safe is, thanks to Napster creating a 3-D model on his laptop. Explosives are set and blown, and the safe holding the gold falls several stories down to where the crew is waiting.
Handsome Rob leads the mobsters on a chase through the Venetian canals, with a safe in plain sight on the boat. The safe, though, is underwater beneath the mobster’s hideout. Bridger, the safecracker of the crew, opens the safe and the gold bars are transferred to underwater sleds. Rob evades the mobsters and the police, and Charlie, Bridger, and the gold slip out underneath the investigating police boats. The crew gathers back up at the Austrian border in the Alps and celebrate.
The celebration is cut short when Steve turns on the crew and kills Bridger. Rob drives the getaway van off the bridge into the freezing water. Steve’s men open fire. Seeing no one coming up for air, Steve and his men leave with the gold. He forgot one detail – there’s still SCUBA gear in the van. The crew shares the air tank and wait for the bullets to stop, then a bit longer.
A year later, Charlie learns that Steve has changed his name and has started selling off the gold. Steve has a home in the LA hills, lavishly appointed. Charlie calls the crew back together. The only problem, the crew is lacking a safecracker. Bridger had been the only member of the crew with the skills. Enter Stella. Stella is working in LA as a professional locksmith specializing in cracking modern safes, the ones using electronics. Her rep is such that the police will call her in to open the toughest safes. Charlie, unaware of who Stella is, recruits her. She accepts, seeing the job as a way to avenge her father.
With the full crew, Charlie begins gathering the information needed to pull off the theft. Stella, being the only person that Steve won’t recognize, is the lucky one to go into the mansion.. To get her in, Handsome Rob charms a cable company tech out of her van and shirt for Stella to use. Left Ear cases the outer security and finds the security booth and the dogs. He also finds the weak point in Steve’s Internet connection, the junction box for all cable services for the subscribers in the neighbourhood. Left Ear opens the lock and unhooks the cable. Steve discovers the outage quickly; even his TV screens are the colour of the port over Chiba City. Stella goes in with a body cam hidden in a pin, checking out the problem like a tech would. Steve hits on her and, despite her revulsion, accepts a date. The idea is that with him out being stood up, the crew can break in and liberate the gold.
No plan survives contact with the enemy. What Charlie is unaware of is Steve is trying to liquidate more of the gold. Steve’s middleman makes too many connections and realizes where the gold is from, but as he’s denying, gets shot for his effort. The middleman is the brother of the head of a Ukrainian mob in LA. The night of the heist, one of Steve’s neighbours is holding a party. The crew aborts the heist; the explosives they were going to use would be heard and get attention.
It’s not long before a new opportunity appears. Steve needs to skip town, fast, and he needs the gold with him. The only way to do so is to truck the gold out in an armoured car. The crew is ready to adjust their plans. Napster already has access to the LA traffic control. Left Ear has the explosives he was going to use in Plan A. Even the Minis are ready to go. All they need to do is wait for Steve’s gold to leave his mansion.
Steve, though, knows how the crew works. He’s ready for what thay could throw at him and counters by having three armoured cars, each with an escort. All three leave following the same route into LA from the hills. What Steve didn’t count on was Napster’s control over the traffic cameras. Napster determines which truck has the gold before they split up and starts changing traffic patterns in LA to direct the one with the gold to where the crew’s trap is. In the stalled traffic, with the escort separated from the truck, and Steve unable to see through a building, explosives go off, much like the Italian job at the beginning. The armoured car falls through to the subway where Stella breaks into the safe, an older one with a tumbler. The gold is stolen and the Minis go off.
The chase is on as Steve gets the other escort riders to chase the crew’s Minis through the subway, then out through a sewer drain into the Los Angeles River. While even the new Minis can go where most cars can’t, motorcycles can do the same thing. Charlie, though, was prepared and the Minis give the escort riders the slip. Eluding a helicopter is another problem; Steve gets his pilot to follow from above. Charlie realizes that he’s pursuing still and breaks off from the others. Steve chases Charlie, blocking him in a garage before Crocker finds an escape route to the rendezvous.
At the train yards, the rest of the crew have driven into a the getaway rail car. Charlie joins soon after, with Steve not too far behind in a stolen pickup truck, the helicopter having been damaged during Charlie’s escape. Steve finds the rail car and, with some of his armed men, confront the crew. Charlie has one last twist, though, and the crew is able to escape with enough money to retire on in the manner they want.
The remake of The Italian Job could have gone the grrity reboot direction. To the credit of the writers and the director, it didn’t. The tone is not as light as the original, but there is humour, American instead of British. Charlie’s crew isn’t as big in the remake, but there’s more depth to them. The reason for the heist went from national pride to revenge. The titular Italian job was at the beginning instead of being the big scene at the end. There are differences, but the differences aren’t that important. A lot can be chalked up to the difference in storytelling in the 34 years between original and remake.
The remake did get the key scene right. The chase with the Minis followed the same beats as the original, with the Minis going through a shopping concourse, down into the subway, out through a sewer drain, and even across a field. The sewer drain sequence was almost identical to the original’s, with the main difference being the model of Mini used. There was even a nice touch with Stella driving a classic Mini in the red and white of the one used in the original. The main heist even kept the same beats. Hacking into traffic control, separating the truck with the gold from the escort, rival criminal mob, all are present in both films. The difference is technology, something that the remake used without having the new tech be the solution.
Casting was strong for the remake. While Mark Wahlberg is no Michael Caine, who really is? Giving depth to the rest of the crew allowed for byplay between the characters. The motives for the entire crew is laid out. The cast played to their strengths and looked like they were having fun on the set. The remake is very much character driven, even if it’s heading to the Mini chase.
The 2003 version of The Italian Job manges to be its own film while still being a remake. Charlie Crocker is recognizable in both and the key element, the escape in the Minis, is preserved. Even with the change of location, the new version keeps to the tone and fun of the original.
As a year, 2020 managed to be a dumpster fire on top of a flaming pile of crap. However, a few things worth looking at did come out of it. Some were even remakes. One of the remakes, Spitting Image may have been needed, a shot in the arm to handle current affairs.
Spitting Image first aired in 1984, debuting on the British network ITV. The series was a satire of current affairs featuring puppets in the image of the movers and shakers of the day, hence the name. Creators Peter Fluck, Roger Law, and Martin Lambie-Nairn pulled no punches during the run of the show, which, at its height, was one of Britain’s highest rated series. However, the high numbers couldn’t last as politics changed and Spitting Image was cancelled in 1996 due to low viewership.
The politics of the 80s took a shift to the right. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK; Ronald Reagan was President of the US. Terrorism was a threat, with the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization being notable for the era. Dark times, but there were distractions. The Royal Family was always good for a scandal, and Princess Diana provided a human side of the family. In entertainment, Michael Jackson was carrying the fame from 1982’s Thriller and was only beginning to show signs of eccentricity. Andrew Lloyd Webber had a smash hit with Cats, opening 1981 and still on Broadway during the run of Spitting Image, and would have another smash with The Phantom of the Opera in 1986. In the 80s, if you had a niche musical taste, there was a band filling it.
And Spitting Image satired all of it. The Royal Family, with Her Majesty being the only sane woman while the Queen Mother gets into the gin and the Princes getting into all sorts of trouble. Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, ruling Britain and her own cabinet with an iron fist, not caring about who gets hurt. Neil Kinnock, head of the Labour Party and the Opposition, who is not quite there. Ronald Reagan, who was portrayed as being senile. Spitting Image didn’t take sides; all was fair game. Even international politics were skewered, with Prime Minister PW Botha of Apartheid-era South Africa making appearances. Leaders of the USSR got puppets, from Chernenko, who may or may not be dead, and Mikhail Gorbachev, who pioneered Glasnost and Perestroika, opening up the Soviet Union.
Satire holds up the elevated for examination, flaws and all. Satire can be funny, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, the hardest impact is to slip a satirical, serious moment in between the moments of ridicule. Music can drive the point home faster and harder. In the series’ popularity, Spitting Image had Sting and Genesis perform for the show.
Not all songs were hard hitting. Sometimes, the song parodied the music industry. Take “The Chicken Song”.
Originally written to skewer pop novelty songs that hit top ten in the summer, “The Chicken Song” became a pop novelty song that hit number one for three weeks. Sometimes, satire becomes what it satirizes, and there’s no predicting how that will happen.
Politics, though, changes. It’s the one constant of the field. Thatcher stepped down, Reagan finished his second term, leading to George W. Bush’s single term, Apartheid ended, the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union disbanded, sort of. The 90s brought a softer touch and a leftward swing in global politics, and the quality of politician changed. There was no cruelty for the sake of cruelty, no senility, just normal scandals like sexual favours in the Oval Office. Nothing earthshaking.
As mentioned, 2020 may be one of the worst years on record, up there with 1348 when the Black Death[https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/black-death] killed a third of the population of Europe alone, and similar numbers in Asia and the Middle East. Fascists marched in American cities. Britain left the European Union without a plan. In a bleak year, something was needed to give hope, or at least laughs. Spitting Image returned.
This time, Britbox became the series’ home, with a parallel YouTube channel. While a new cast of characters were needed, there are some returning characters. Her Majesty will be celebrating the 69th year of her reign on February 6, 2021; her children have gotten older and have had their own kids. For the new characters, Boris Johnson is no Margaret Thatcher, and Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan.
The new series, much like the original, doesn’t pull punches. Even Greta Thunberg appears, though the new series is exaggerating her more than anything else. Boris Johnson is portrayed as a mindless lout, not able to make a decision, with his cabinet more out of control and looking to replace him, ideally with themselves. Trump is venal, stupid, and incapable of learning. His marriage to Melania is loveless. Ivanka is vapid, and Jared Kushner is a mannequin.
Both series require a good knowledge of current affairs from a British point of view. There’s no getting around that. With the new series, the case in point is Jürgen Klopp, who manages the Liverpool football club and has a generally cheery outlook on life that the series exaggerates. The series can take a light look at things as well.
Political satire requires politicians who aren’t staid and competent. Unfortunately, 2020 didn’t have staid and competent politicians. The Spitting Image remake returned when it was needed. The 80s hid the darkness of the Thatcher regime and the Reagan White House with glitzy entertainment, something that 2020 did not have. The remake keeps the irreverence of the original and provides a beam of, if not hope, laughter, in a hell of a year.
After the look at various fan works, it’s time to get back to the professional works. This time out, Airwolf, specfically, the series’ fourth season.
Airwolf debuted in 1984 on CBS, were it ran until 1986, and starred Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke, Ernest Borgnine as Dominic Santini, Alex Cord as Michael “Archangel” Coldsmith-Briggs III, and, starting in the second season, Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy. Airwolf was part of a wave of TV series built around high-tech, almost super, vehicles. The wave had been building easily since 007 drove his heavily Q-modified Aston-Martin DB-V in Goldfinger, climaxing in 1982 with the film adaptation of Craig Thomas’ Firefox and the Glen A. Larson TV series, Knight Rider. In 1983, the film Blue Thunder was released to theatres and was centrered around the police use of a military helicopter. The following year, a TV series spin off of Blue Thunder aired as well as Airwolfe.
The difference between the two super-helicopter series was in their use. Blue Thunder still had the military/militarized chopper in police hands. With Airwolf, the one-of-a-kind helicopter was strictly military, and taken by Hawke as collateral to ensure that Archangel and the secret agency, the Firm, would keep their word in finding Stringfellow’s missing brother, St. John, who was Missing-In-Action in Vietnam. Airwolf also was moody, sombre, and serious.
A typical episode of Airwolf could go one of three directions. The first is Airwolf and its crew being given a mission by Archangel to complete, either flying Airwolf in on stealth or going undercover using Dom’s company, Santini Air. The second is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting involved in local affairs or machinations within the Firm. The third is Hawke following up on news of St. John or of a friend who might know of his brother’s location. No matter the initial direction, the climax would be a helicopter dogfight involving Airwolf and the villain of the episode. Once in a while, Soviet MiGs would be part of the fight, just to demonstrate how much Airwolf could punch up.
The series lasted three seasons on CBS. Ratings had been low despite attempts to bolster them, and the influence of Miami Vice could be seen as part of the changes. With other factors involved, CBS cancelled the series in 1986. However, the cable station USA Network was expanding to a 24 hour format and needed new programming, so it picked up Airwolf for second run syndication and commissioned a fourth season, airing in 1987. With the changes necessitated by the change of both network and production company, the fourth season is more a remake of Airwolf than a continuation.
With one exception, none of the original cast appeared. The exception is Jan-Michael Vincent, who appeared in the first episode of the season, “Blackjack”. The episode gave Stringfellow’s quest to find his brother closure, with St. John working for the Company as an agent. The new cast comprised of Barry Van Dyke as St. John Hawke, Geraint Wyn Davies as Mike Rivers, Michele Scarabelli as Dom’s niece, Jo Santini, and Anthony Sherwood as Jason Locke.
With a reduced budget, other changes occurred. The shooting location is most obvious. There are far more pine trees and much fewer deserts thanks to the move to Vancouver. Airwolf’s hiding spot got more detail as the series relied less on Santini Air exterior shots. Stock footage from the previous three seasons were used of Airwolf in action, though editing allowed for new ways to show the air battles despite the limitation.
The nature of episode plots tended towards missions for the Company, allowing for Locke to join the team in Airwolf. With all four members of the team capable of handling at least one aspect of flying the helicopter, either as pilot or flight engineer, the characters could split off to do more work on the ground, avoiding the lack of new aerial Airwolf scenes. There is still some in-fighting at the Company, in part because Locke is keeping Airwolf away from the agency for his own purposes.
The tone is the biggest change. The first three seasons, even with the influence of Miami Vice forcing its way in, was moody, dark without being grim, reflecting Stringfellow’s emotions. The action is stylized. The fourth season is a straight up action series, losing the mood of the previous seasons.
Why treat the fourth season as a remake? The time between being cancelled on CBS and being aired on the USA Network is under a year and the episode “Blackjack” hands off the series to the new cast. That would imply that the series continued. However, with a drastic change of cast and approach, the fourth season of Airwolf is closer to being Star Trek: The Next Generation than a hypothetical fourth season of the original Star Trek. Wrapping up String’s quest to find his brother was a nod to continuity, providing closure to the first three seasons. Afterwards, the series is more about using Airwolf on missions, a complete change from the original approach. Unlike ST: TNG, there wasn’t the time between the seasons to allow for a gap.
Season four of Airwolf is a unique case. It was meant to be a continuation of the series, but with the drastic change of cast, the fourth season became its own entity in the shadow of the original. It’s not a bad season, but it couldn’t live up to what had passed before it.
Some interesting announcements came up the past few days that involve remakes/reboots/adaptations. Let’s take a look.
First up, Comedy Central is working with Mike Judge for a new Beavis and Butt-Head series, with two seasons confirmed. Judge will also return as the voice of the titular characters. The deal between Judge and Comedy Central includes possible spin-offs.
Next, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Bill Lawrence are working with MTV to make new episodes of Clone High. The original series ran one season, thirteen episodes, but became a cult hit.
Finally, a potential Groundhog Day TV series is in the works. The series will be based on the movie starring Bill Murray, who played a reporter who was stuck in the same Groundhog Day repeatedly. The movie is now shorthand for any similar plot where a character or group of characters have to relive the same day over and over.
The question, really, is why? Why bring these three works back? Beavis and Butt-Head ran from 1993 to 1997, with a 2011 revival. Clone High ran one season in 1993. Groundhog Day was also released in 1993. That’s roughly 20 years, or one generation. Memories will have faded somewhat, especially with the animated series. Beavis and Butt-Head did have a reputation in its time for being a little much for parents’ groups. Memories fade over time, and 20 years is a lot of time in human years. Two are reboots, bringing back series. Both being animated helps; voice actors may have aged but the characters haven’t. With Groundhog Day, it’s a change of format, though how that will work remains to be seen. Will it be a season of the same episode each week with minor changes? Or will it be more like 24, where audiences will go through the life of a reporter on one day, the same day, season after season? Time will tell.
Unrelated to the above, Derek Kolstad and David Leitch are teaming up to bring the video game My Friend Pedro to TV. Kolstad was the writer for John Wick; Leitch was a co-director of the film. The game itself follows a man’s battle through the underworld at the behest of a sentient banana named Pedro. The game’s launch trailer may give a better idea. Or not.
Two animated series being brought back, a classic movie turned into a TV series, and a live-action TV series of a video game. Sounds about right.
Last week, Lost in Translation pointed out that what may be remembered as an original movie can sometimes be an adaptation. Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson and released in 1974, was based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Since it’ll take time to obtain the novel right now, I’ll postpone the analysis of the Bronson movie with the book. Instead, I’ll compare the Bronson movie with the 2018 remake starring Bruce Willis.
To set things into perspective, let’s take a quick look at crime rates. When Garfield’s novel was released in 1972, New York City had a historic high in the number of murders committed. The rates were starting to come down in 1974 when the Bronson movie was released, but still high. To contrast, in 2014, New York City hit a record low number of murders, and had a 24-hour period of no reported violent crime in November of 2012.. The reduction in crime rates can be attributed to crackdowns by police and environmental changes, including the change to unleaded gas.
The high crime rates in New York City inspired not just the 1974 release of Death Wish, but also characters like Marvel’s Punisher, who first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man number 129 in February 1974. The idea of someone fighting back against crime was appealing. While superheroes fought crime, they did so because they had powers, though with a Bat-exception. The Punisher represented the average person, being pushed past the breaking point into going after criminals after losing family.
The 1974 Death Wish tapped into that same fantasy. Bronson’s character, Paul Kersey, loses his wife and daughter during a brutal break in lead by a punk played by Jeff Goldblum in his first role. Kersey’s wife Joanna (Hope Lange) is killed during the robbery; his daughter Carol (Kathleen Toby) is brutalized to the point where she dissociates to the point of catatonia and needs to be hospitalized. Kersey feels helpless, but also feels the police aren’t giving their full attention to the case. He starts walking around after dark with a sock filled with rolls of quarters. The first time he is mugged, he fights back, cracking the mugger on the jaw. Both Kersey and the mugger run off. Kersey is shaken by what he’s done, bit the first is always the hardest.
On a work trip to Tempe, Arizona, his client, Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin), shows him the sights, including a Wild West show that emphasized how the citizens of a town would stand up when the sheriff can’t. The show and a trip to a gun club to shoot plants a seed in Kersey’s mind. When he leaves, Ames gives him a farewell gift, a revolver.
Once home, Kersey begins his work as a vigilante. On his first outing, he shoots a mugger, leaving him to die of a gut wound in the park. The mugger’s body is found and the police have a new case. Emboldened by his success, Kersey continues his vigilante patrols, leaving a trail of bodies and becoming the talk of New York City and making headlines in news magazines.
The police can’t let a vigilante run amok, so Inspector Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) begins his investigation. His approach is methodical, though starting at a seemingly random point – a list of men who lost family to crime and are war vets. As Ochoa narrows his list down to Kersey, the police commissioner and the mayor lay down the law for him. Crime rates are down thanks to the vigilante. People are fighting back, so criminals are thinking twice before doing anything. Arresting the vigilante removes the one thing criminals are afraid of, so Ochoa is told to encourage the vigilante to leave town, not arrest him.
Kersey’s luck doesn’t hold out long. Three muggers find him; one manages to outdraw and shoots Kersey in the leg. Kersey, though gets two of them and chases the third. Blood loss works against Kersey and he passes out before he tries to recreate a Western shootout. The mugger escapes and the police close in.
When Kersey recovers at the hospital, Ochoa visits. Kersey isn’t able to talk, but Ochoa isn’t in the mood to listen. Instead, he makes it clear to Kersey that the vigilante needs to be out of town as soon as possible and not return. Kersey’s revolver is disappeared and Kersey gets his company to transfer him to Chicago.
The pacing of Bronson’s Death Wish is similar to The Mechanic, also starring him. The film lays out how Kersey’s life changes, how he makes his decisions Death Wish is a violent character portrait of a man who has gotten angry with society, with reason, but doesn’t pull back from the precipice.
The 2018 remake with Willis has to take into account the reduction of the murder rates in New York City. The film does this by moving the setting to Chicago. Unlike New York City, which saw reductions in the rate of violent crimes since 1972, Chicago’s murder rates are cyclical; hitting a peak where residents say enough, falling, then rising up again to repeat the cycle. However, crime rates aren’t at the same level that they were in the Seventies. News, thanks to the 24 hour media, focuses on violent crimes, because they fill air time, so there is a feeling that crime is worse than it is.
Willis’ Paul Kersey has a different job than Bronson’s. The 2018 Kersey is a surgeon, not an architect. Kersey gets to see the aftermath of shootings, as victims, law enforcement, and criminals alike come into his emergency room. The results aren’t always fair; a police officer dies while the shooter survives.
The beats are similar at the beginning of the film. Kersey’s wife, Lucy (Elizabeth Shue), is killed and his daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone), is injured and comatose after three crooks break in and rob the Kersey home. Kersey himself is on duty at the hospital that his wife and daughter are brought to, and is called to the ER to two new cases, only to be stopped by security and a colleague who has to break the bad news.
Two detectives, Kevin Raines (Dean Norris) and Leonore Jackson (Kimberly Elise) are put on the case, but they have a large caseload already. Getting pushed past his breaking point, Kersey tries to stop two men from harassing a woman, only to be beaten up by them. His first attempt at being a vigilante thwarted, he gets a second chance when a shot up gang member loses a Glock in the ER, noticed only by Kersey. He hides the pistol and retrieves it when the ganger is wheeled out after surgery.
Now armed, Kersey makes a second foray as a vigilante. He catches two men carjacking a SUV and starts shooting. He wounds them both, but gets his hand cut by the gun’s slider. To finish his second outing, he shoots one carjacker in the head to make sure he stays done. The other carjacker, behind the wheel of the SUV, dies of blood loss. Unlike 1972, social media is a thing in 2018, and almost everyone has a camera that connects to the Internet. Kersey did have a hoodie with the hood up, but it’s sheer luck that the only people who saw his face are the now dead carjackers.
Raines and Jackson arrive on the scene of Chicago’s latest shooting to interview eyewitnesses. One shows the video she took and uploaded, giving Kersey the nickname “The Grim Reaper” because of how he executed one carjacker. Raines does notice that the Grim Reaper isn’t used to shooting in combat because the slider caught on his hand. Such an injury would be obvious if the Reaper went to a hospital to get taken care of.
Kersey continues his vigilante work. His brother, Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio), notices that things are different with him and finds the basement room where Kersey plans his outings. Kersey, however, has begun to track down the men who killed his wife and hurt his daughter. One by one, he finds them. Two are killed. The last, though, spills the beans to the police about who the Grim Reaper is after Kersey failed to kill him at a nightclub. This last criminal finds out that Jordan is being released and plans his return.
However, Kersey is prepared. He gets a pistol legally. When the last criminal breaks in with two accomplices, Kersey has his daughter hide and call 911 while he plays cat-and-mouse with the raiders. One by one, he takes them out, with the last criminal the last to be shot. The police arrive in force. Kersey’s weapons are all legally purchased and licensed. Raines asks if Kersey ever owned a Glock. Kersey answers he did, once, but got rid of it.
The 2018 remake has more action and shooting than the 1974 but is still a violent character study. The pacing winds up being tighter than 1974 version while still laying out why Kersey breaks. The remake takes into account the changes that have happened in the 44 years between films. The Internet, while existing, didn’t exist in the form it has today. The number of people who could access the Internet was small – academics, researchers, military, and some businesses, not the general public. Today, the Internet has become a needed service, not a luxury extra, and access is common. Instead of news magazines, viral video spreads the word of the Grim Reaper.
The 1974 version implies that while Kersey stopped being a vigilante, he still leans in that direction. Willis’ Kersey, though, took a step back when his daughter came out of her coma. He took more hits than Bronson’s, too. Bronson’s Kersey is treated as more sympathetic and more reasonable as he becomes a vigilante. Willis’ version, though, is shown to be broken and takes the step back from active vigilantism to protecting his family.
The 2018 version also has Kersey hunting down the men who destroyed his family. In the 1974 version, Kersey loses his focus, going after criminals no matter what. The 2018 Kersey finds out about the men who robbed his home and killed his wife and focuses on hunting them. The nature of storytelling may have required that Kersey get closure from his trip to the Dark Side, but it’s another step away from unfocused anger that the 1974 version never got past.
Overall, the remake is more nuanced. The film calls into question the nature of vigilantism, using social media and morning radio to discuss the issue. It shows the risks and the reasons while letting the fantasy play out. The 1974 version treats Kersey as a hero, fighting back, but the times were different, as mentioned above. The 1974 Death Wish is a power fantasy, much like Marvel’s Punisher, coming from the same origins. In 2018, the danger isn’t getting shot during another crime; the danger is mass shootings; a vigilante won’t make a difference there, and the movie reflects that by not mentioning crime rates dropping or the mayor and police commissioner interfering because fear of the vigilante.
That’s not to say that the remake is flawless. There are flaws and it still holds up a vigilante as the hero. The remake, though, shows the problems of vigilantism far better than the 1974 version, and has nuance that tighter pacing helps bring out. This may be a case where a remake is better than an “original” work.
Now that the Teens are done, it’s time to look at the breakdown of popular movies by originals and adaptations. In 2015, Lost in Translation looked at the decade up to that year to wrap up the History of Adaptations series at the time. With five more years gone by, things have changed. Once again, I’m using the compiled list at Filmsite.org.
Toy Story 3 – sequel. Pixar’s most popular series of films.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 – sequel and adaptation. The last of the Harry Potter movies based on the first seven books.
Marvel’s The Avengers – adaptation.
The Dark Knight Rises – sequel of adaptation, The Dark Knight.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – sequel and adaptation. Covers the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy.
American Sniper – adaptation of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Pyle.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – sequel. The first Star Wars movie released after Disney bought Lucasfilm.
Jurassic World – adaptation. It’s a tough call, as it was marketed as a sequel but doesn’t share much between the original Jurassic Park movies or the book. It’s more, “What if Jurassic Park didn’t have the dinosaur break-out shown in the book and movies?”
Avengers: Age of Ultron – sequel of adaptation. The Marvel movies that led up to this release didn’t make the list.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – spin off. The first of several films meant to look at other parts of the Galaxy Far Far Away that aren’t part of the main Skywalker saga.
Finding Dory – sequel of original. The second Pixar film on the list for the Teens.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi – sequel.
Beauty and the Beast – remake of adaptation. Part of Disney’s series of live action remakes of their animated classics.
Wonder Woman – adaptation. The second DC property to make the list.
Black Panther – adaptation. Diversity matters.
Avengers: Infinity War – sequel of adaptation.
Incredibles 2 – sequel. Another Pixar film, this time fourteen years after the original.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – sequel of adaptation.
Avengers: Endgame – sequel of adaptation
The Lion King – remake. Computer animated remake with photo-realistic characters.
Toy Story 4 – sequel of original and fourth of the series to be mentioned in the History series.
Captain Marvel – adaptation.
Disney is a big winner, with fifteen films listed above. The list breaks down to six adaptations, six sequels of original movies, five sequels of adaptations, two movies that are both sequels and adaptations, and one spin-off. There are no original movies on the above list, the worst showing for any decade. Since popular movies tend to stay in the pop subconscious, the backlash against adaptations has a point. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been popular original movies. Us was knocked out of the top ten of 2019 by The Rise of Skywalker in the final weeks. If anything, the Teens was the decade of the blockbuster, big budget films.
Superhero films were popular, with nine total in the list, including the one not based on any comic book character. Superhero films are filling the niche that Westerns once had, becoming almost ubiquitous. The trend of adapting Young Adult novels that heralded the start of the decade faded; few YA novels ever had the buzz that Harry Potter and The Hunger Games had.
Gone from 2015’s list are Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Hunger Games, Iron Man 3, Frozen, Despicable Me 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inside Out, and Furious 7. The Teens’ top grossing movies come mainly from the latter half of the decade. Part of the losses were to be expected; as the decade continued, more movies had opportunity to outperform what had already come. But the latter half of the Teens had more blockbusters, more record breaking grosses than the first half. Some of it can be chalked up to Disney’s marketing department. The rest of the explanation needs some further study.
As the new Twenties dawn, adaptations hold ground. At this point, it’ll take a sleeper hit to get studios to put the money they do for adaptations behind an original, untested work. Risk avoidance means original works won’t have the spectacle of an adaptation. It may take a well-known name to get an original work done to the same level at this point. For the next few years, expect adaptations to get the lion share of budgets and marketing.