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 But what happens when an iconic item becomes outdated?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.
The Eighties were an odd decade. The usual follow-the-leader methods loved by studios went out the window as almost anything went. It was the first decade where popular original works outnumbered popular adaptations. Music videos were an art form and could turn a near miss into a hit. Such was the case in 1984 with the original Ghostbusters. The Ray Parker Jr. video for the movie’s main theme showed more of the movie than traditional trailers, getting people interested in seeing the film.
Ghostbusters went on to be one of the top grossing movies of the Eighties. The movie, an action-comedy, followed a team of scientists who branched out into a business after their funding was cut by the university. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray, saw the potential of the business. However, Venkman’s ethics were at best loose, allowing him to take advantage of any situation. The technical geniuses behind the team were Ray Stantz, played by Dan Aykroyd, and Igon Spengler, played by Harold Ramis. Ray was the wide-eyed enthusiast, eager to explore the possibilities. Igon was the rational scientist, armed with all literature written on the subject of ghosts, including Tobin’s Spirit Guide. As business picked up, the Ghostbusters added two more to the crew, Winston Zeddmore, played by Ernie Hudson, who joined the guys in the field, and Janine Melnitz, played by Annie Potts, the receptionist/secretary/general help.
The pick up in business wasn’t just people finally having someone to call to deal with hauntings. The increase in spectral activity signalled the return of Gozer the Destructor, a dangerous entity that had been banished once before by Tiamat. Gozer’s minions, the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper, are released to find mortal bodies to inhabit. Meanwhile, Dana Barrett is having some spectral problems. Dana is a musician, a cellist with a symphonic orchestra and one of Ghostbusters’ first customer. Venkman, of the loose professional ethics, starts chatting her up, eventually getting a date with her. One of the reasons she had called the team was that there was a complaint about her TV being too loud during a time when she hadn’t been home. Her neighbour, Louis Tully, played by Rick Moranis, vouches for her.
On the night of the date, Louis throws a big party for all his clients in his apartment. He hears Dana in the hall and heads out there to try to get her to pop in for a moment, but she’s non-commital. She ducks into her apartment. Louis tries to get back to his, but the door is locked. Then the Terror Dog appears. Louis runs, but is chased down and caught outside a fancy restaurant. Louis isn’t the only person to encounter a Terror Dog that night. Dana sits down on her chair to rest before getting ready for her date with Venkman, only for the chair to sprout demonic arms to hold her in place. The door to her kitchen opens, revealing a doorway to another plane guarded by a Terror Dog.
When Louis and Dana return, the are inhabited by the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper, respectively. The Keymaster must find the Gatekeeper to open the gate keeping Gozer from returning to Earth. Venkman discovers Dana sleeping above the covers* and gets teh rest of the team to do what they can to find out what happened to her. Igon researches and digs up the details of Gozer and what could become of the Earth if the Gozerian is freed.
Alas, the Keymaster and Gatekeeper meet, releasing Gozer. The power needed to open the gate was provided by the ghosts the team have busted and contained, thanks to human bureaucracy in the form of Walter Peck, played by William Atherton. The released ghosts terrorize Manhattan and the Ghostbusters are given all due authority required to end the emergency. Gozer, feeling benevolent to his would-be defeaters, allows the Ghostbusters to choose how their world dies. While Winston, Venkman, and Igon are able to blank their minds, Ray thought of the most harmless thing he could, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
Ghostbusters was followed up with a sequel in 1989, an animated series, The Real Ghostbusters, from 1985 to 1991, a tabletop RPG in 1986, and a video game in 2009 that featured voices of the four original Ghostbusters. An attempt at a third movie kept running into problems, to the point where co-creator Aykroyd considered the video game to be the third movie. In 2016, the drought ended.
The new Ghostbusters was a reboot of the franchise. Instead of Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddmore, new Ghostbusters were created and introduced. The movie starts with a tour of the old Aldredge manor in New York City, where the family had locked up their daughter, Gertrude, who had dabbled in the black arts. Gertrude was said to be locked in the basement, which hadn;t been opened since. However, when Gertrude starts trying to break free, the curator locates Dr. Erin Golbert, played by Kristen Wiig, at the prestigious university she works at. He found her name on a book she co-wrote with Abby Yates about the paranormal, a book Erin thought had been remaindered and is now trying to disavow in order to get tenure.
Erin tracks down her old friend Abby at a much less prestigious university to try to get the book pulled from sale. Unlike Erin, Abby has continued her research into the paranormal and is now working with Jillian Holtzman, a nuclear engineer and mad scientist, played by Kate McKinnon. The three women go to the Aldredge manor to investigate and do find the ghost of Gertrude. Erin tries to communicate with Gertrude and is slimed for the effort. All three women run out of the manor, fear giving way to elation as they see their paranormal theories validated.
The next day, Erin is let go by her university as the YouTube video Holtzman put up makes the circuit. Erin goes to see Abby to try to get work there, but the dean of Abby’s university, after learning that the department still exists, cuts all funding. Abby and Holztman take the equipment and follow Erin out. They decide to try getting into business; Holtzman has created a few devices that need field testing anyway. Their first stop is a former firestation, the same one from the original movie. On hearing the monthly rent, the next stop is an office over the Chinese restaurant Abby regularly orders from.
Meanwhile, in the New York subway, MTA worker Patty Tolan spies someone disappearing off the platform and into the tunnel. Patty chases him, warning him that the train is coming. She stops when she sees a spectral entity floating above the tracks. She contacts the Ghostbusters and shows them where she saw the ghost. Holtzman gives Erin her new device, a proton pack that should be able to catch the ghost. There are some problems, including range and recoil, and the women have to get out of the tunnel before the next train arrives.
Patty joins the team, providing the Ghostbusters someone who knows the history of New York City and a vehicle on loan from her uncle. Their big break comes when a ghost is reported at a heavy metal concert. The Ghostbusters arrive in their new car, a hearse from Patty’s uncle that has been repainted by Holtzman. They split up inside the concert hall, searching for the ghost. Patty finds a room full of mannequins and, knowing horror movies and possibly Doctor Who, walks away from the room full of potential nightmares. The ghost, inhabiting one of the mannequins, follows her.
The four Ghostbusters make short work of the mannequin, but the ghsot flees upwards, through the ceiling and into the concert. While at first the audience and the act on stage think its all part of the performance, things change when the ghost tosses the lead singer into the stack of amps. The Ghostbusters arrive and spread out, with Patty moshing over the audience to get into position and Abby not having the same luck. The first shots miss, and the ghost lands on Patty. With careful aim, Holtzman hits the ghost and pulls it off Patty, allowing the others to trap it with their pack. Holtzman sends out her latest investion, the ghost trap, and seals the ghost away.
The success at the concert leads to more calls. Erin hires a new secretary, Kevin Beckman, played by Chris Hemsworth. Unlike Janine in the original movie, where she was the best receptionist the Ghostbusters could afford on the cheap, Kevin was hired by Erin solely to be eye candy. Kevin has trouble with answering phones. Business picks up, but the Ghostbusters realize there’s a pattern to where the ghosts are appearing and track it on a map. Each sighting occurred on a ley line, and the intersection of two ley lines is where the most powerful one will appear. They also recognize the one constant in each sighting, a bellhop named Rowan, played by Neil Casey.
Rowan sees himself as an underappreciated genius and will show the world otherwise. The Ghostbusters close in on him and find his lair in the basement of the hotel, the Mercado. Rowan tries to tell the Ghostbusters about how difficult it is for him to get anywhere in the world**, and apparently commits suicide over being brought in by the police. While searching his equipment, Erin finds a copy of the book she and Abby wrote and takes it along with her.
That night, Erin reads through the book she found and sees the annotations Rowan has made, which includes him killing himself then returning. She runs out to warn the mayor to evacuate the city. At the Ghostbusters’ office, Abby, working late, has her own encounter with a ghost. She manages to elude it, but it flies away. The ghost, Rowan, instead takes over Kevin’s body. Abby brings in Holtzman and Patty. Unable to reach Erin, the three women head down to the Mercado in Times Square.
Along the way, the three women in the new Ecto-1 stop to bust a ghost at a hotdog stand. Slimer, however, turns the tables and steals Ecto-1, going off on a joy ride. The three Ghostbusters run the rest of the way to Times Square to face off against the denizens of Times Square of yore, including a ghostly version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of the Twenties.** The Ghostbusters destroy most of the balloons but one, good old Stay-Puft himself, lands on them. Balloons being balloons, though, are not match to Swiss Army knives, as Erin demonstrates.
Reunited, the four women turn to get through the mass of ghosts under Rowan’s command. Holtzman’s inventions all come out, from the ghost shredder used by Patty to proton grenades thrown by Abby to twin pistol-sized proton packs that Holtzman kept for herself. They fight through the ghosts to face off against Rowan. Being magnanimous in apparent victory, Rowan gives the Ghostbusters the choice of his final form. Patty chooses the cute little harmless ghost in their logo. Rowan agrees, and turns into a cartoon version of the logo before growing into a far more sinister version.
As can be seen above, the plots of both movies are similar. Both have a being manipulating spectral energy to gain power and destroy the world. In the original, the being was the extraplanar Gozer the Gozerian. In the reboot, the being was more mundane but also more typical of the problems women in the real world face. The devices are the same, given updates and more flashing lights in the new movie but still recognizable as what they are. The reboot also pulls ideas from the existing franchise, including the cartoon. Rowan’s rampage at the end of the movie is similar to the opening credits of the cartoon. The cartoon also gave direction to Slimer’s appearance in the reboot and may have been the source for the idea of the strong recoil the proton accelerators have.
The gender flip of the main characters also means that what the guys could get away with in the first movie couldn’t be done so much in the reboot. At the same time, Kevin was eye candy, hired by Erin because of his looks, something Venkman didn’t do in the original. The characters don’t match up on a one-to-one basis. Elements of the original characters, however, do appear in the reboot; there is some Igon in Holtzman, but Holtzman is definitely not Igon in drag. Abby may be the one character that has the strongest resemblance to another, in Ray, but Abby is still her own character, with her own traits and flaws.
The use of CGI should get mentioned. The original Ghostbusters didn’t have the luxury of affordable CGI. The Last Starfighter, one of the first movies to use extensive CGI for special effects, came out in the same year as Ghostbusters. The original Ghostbusters used extensive practical effects with cel animation. The reboot could make use of CGI in place of the cel animation, but even then, practical effects were also used. Drones were used as stand-ins for the ghosts to give the actors something to look and aim at. Lighted extensions on the proton accelerators allowed the actors to react without having to keep the ends still to aid the animation process. Special effects caught up to the needs of the movie, allowing for trickier shots, such as Holtzman going to town with two proton accelerators.
Is the reboot the same movie as the original? No, and it couldn’t be. A shot-for-shot remake would be a waste of talent. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon are far too talented and had such great chemistry working together that a mere gender-flip wasn’t enough. Director Paul Feig allowed his actors room to improv, much like Ivan Reitman did in the original movie, allowing the chemistry to appear on screen. The reboot, though, takes in the full franchise and presents it on screen. The new Ghostbusters has fun with the material, which is what is expected with an action-comedy.
Lost in Translation now has a Facebook page!
* “Three feet above the covers.”
** Special features on the DVD reveal that the balloons in the scene were based on actual balloons used in the parade of the era. There really isn’t much difference between the ghostly balloons and the real ones.
Remakes of popular films have it rough; the production staff needs to balance the expectations of existing fans while still working to get new viewers in. With cult films, the balancing act needs to account for what made the original enduring. Remaking The Rocky Horror Picture Show is daunting enough; the movie was one of the 70s top grossing movies and still plays to packed theatres, especially around Hallowe’en, and has audience participation. To say there are built-in expectations is to scratch the surface. Fox, however, added another level of difficulty – The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again was made for TV.
Broadcast* television is heavily regulated as a public resource. In the US, the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission – has issued community standards of broadcast setting down what is and what is not allowed. Since the “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004, the FCC’s enforcement has become more strict, at least before the watershed hour of 10pm. The Rocky Horror Picture Show covers themes that dance over the line of what is allowed. However, since Rocky Horror‘s release in 1975, attitudes have changed. What could only be hinted at forty years ago, such as homosexuality, can be stated outright today, though having gay characters kiss, even chastely, will still generate complaints.
Shot-for-shot remakes just lead to viewers wondering why they just didn’t watch the original. Deviating too far from the original, especially one where there’s audience participation, will leave viewers also wanting the original. There’s a fine line to tread, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again makes the effort to find it. Let’s Do the Time Warp Again frames the movie as a movie, with audiences, both television viewer and in-film, being brought into the Castle Theatre during the opening number, “Science Fiction/Double Feature” sung by Ivy Levan. The in-film audience brings in the audience participation that movie-goers would get and is one of the draws of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The plot of the movie follows the original script created by Richard O’Brien for the stage play, The Rocky Horror Show. Between the movie and the various performances of the stage musical, there’s no getting away from it; audiences are expecting that story. However, it’s not the plot that is key; it’s the performances. Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter is iconic; Frank-N-Furter is a sexual omnivore casually seducing everyone around, including the theatre audience. Curry is a tough act to follow, and his presence in Let’s Do the Time Warp Again as the Criminologist** serves as a reminder of his previous role. Laverne Cox is up to the challenge as the new Frank-N-Furter. While Cox doesn’t quite channel Curry, she does exude raw sexuality, predatory and assertive, in the role. Meanwhile, Victoria Justice as Janet Weiss and Ryan McCartan as Brad Majors protray the young highschool sweethearts going through sexual liberation, Janet willingly and Brad reluctantly. Rounding out the cast, Reeve Carney does channel Richard O’Brien as Riff-Raff, sounding much like the original. Frank-N-Furter’s castle is played by Toronto’s Casa Loma, and looms menacingly in the stormy night.
The remake includes a few shout outs to the original movie, including Columbia saying, “I hope it’s not Meatloaf again,” during the dinner scene. Considering all the challenges faced, the remake stepped up and delivered. Even the cheesy CGI near the end can be forgiven; no one in Toronto would appreciate the destruction of Casa Loma after all the time and money put into renovating the building. The biggest drawback Let’s Do the Time Warp Again had was the commercial breaks, disrupting the flow at times. The drawback will be corrected with the DVD release, allowing viewers to watch the movie through without interruption.
Let’s Do the Time Warp Again won’t replace The Rocky Horror Picture Show, nor does it try to. The framing of the remake goes a long way to set up how to view the movie and brings in the audience participation, the biggest draw of the original movie. The forty years between the original release and the remake’s airing gives Let’s Do the Time Warp Again the room needed to address the theme of sexual liberation, with the Unconventional Conventionlists and the Transsexual Transylvanians being a goal, not an oddity. Given enough time, Let’s Do the Time Warp Again should reach cult status, much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and join the original movie on the repertory circuit.
* Over-the-air, though even that description is getting less and less accurate as online streaming becomes more and more popular.
** Portrayed in the original movie by Charles Gray, who also played Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever.
Movies aren’t the only medium that adapts. Television will adapt, remake, and reboot, too, to varying degrees of success. Genres abound on TV, from soap operas – daytime and nighttime – to police procedurals, from sitcoms to action-adventure, adding to the feeling of familiarity. The nature of television has changed over the past few decades. Where once viewers had a choice of three or four stations, there are several hundred options, with channels for every niche. This change means that programming for the lowest common denominator means that’s the only denomination that is watching. Still, with the sheer amount of competition for eyes, not helped by the infinite channels available on the Internet, studios and networks are looking for anything that will let them sell ad time. Remakes of memorable shows is one way to get viewers, at least for the first episode.
This season, the 2016-2017 season, is seeing a number of adaptions, including at least two shows based on movies – Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon. Also premiering is a remake of the Richard Dean Anderson series, MacGuyver. The original series ran for seven seasons, featuring Anderson as the title character, capable of creating solutions out of anything on hand, to the point where creative solutions are known as MacGuyvering. Anderson’s MacGuyver prefered the more peaceful solution over easy violence. MacGuyver used guns a total of two times over the seven season run; once was a rifle set to shoot into the ground, with each bounce due to recoil resulting in another trigger pull, and once to use a heavy revolver as a wrench.
Mac worked for the Phoenix Foundation, run by Pete Thornton, played by Dana Elcar. Pete was nominally Mac’s boss, but the relationship was more friendship than anything else. Mac’s pilot friend Jack Dalton, played by Bruce McGill, wasn’t part of the Foundation, but appeared often. Jack was more likely to get Mac involved in existing trouble, often triggering Mac’s acrophobia. Other recurring characters include budding actress Penny Parker, played by Teri Hatcher, and Mac’s nemesis Murdoc, played by Michael Des Barres. A typical epsiode of MacGuyver dropped Mac into a situation, usually an investigation, with several opportunities to jury-rig a solution with whatever is on hand. The show was light entertainment, with the added draw of viewers trying to figure out what Mac would do with the materials on hand, with Anderson narrating the action. In the first season, the pre-credits teaser, called the opening gambit, was often written by Dalek creator Terry Nation.
The new MacGuyver debuted September 23 and is a remake of the original instead of a continuation. However, Lee David Zlotoff, creator of the original MacGuyver, is on board as an executive producer, with Henry Winkler returning as another. The new Mac, played by Lucas Till, still works for Thornton, Patricia Thornton, played by Sandrine Holt. The pilot begins with Thornton as the head of the Department of External Services, one of the myriad intelligence agencies in the US. Mac is part of a team with Jack Dalton, now played by George Eads, and Nikki Carpenter, played by Tracy Spiridakos. Over the course of the episode, Nikki is replaced by the new character, hacker Riley Davis, played by Tristin Mays, and the DXS becomes the Phoenix Foundation.
With just one episode, it’s too soon to do a proper analysis of the series. It takes time for a show to find its legs as actors figure out their roles. However, first impressions do happen. Casting is tough; Richard Dean Anderson’s Mac is iconic; Lucas Till has big shoes to fill. Helping, though, is that he can pass as a young MacGuyver, even taking into account the difference in hairstyles between 1985 and 2016. The new Mac still prefers a peaceful solution, eschewing guns, and still creates jury-rigged solutions on the fly. With the advances in electronics and computers over the past thirty years, there are new ways to MacGuyver a solution to a tough problem. The big change is in the approach. Mac now has a team instead of working solo, and Jack is now part of that team. Jack is also is the heavy on the team, as likely to pull out a gun and shoot as the opposition is, in contrast to Mac. Patricia Thornton is less buddy-buddy with Mac than Pete Thornton was but is still sympathetic.
The new MacGuyver still needs a few episodes to get comfortable in its own skin. There is a lot of baggage from the original that just can’t be hidden, such as Mac’s first name. Once a secret kept until near the end of the series, the name is known well enough by the potential audience that keeping it hidden would just be awkward. However, the show has potential once it settles in. Lucas Till isn’t Richard Dean Anderson, nor should he try to be him. The new Mac needs to be his own person, informed by the original but not a carbon copy, especially given the thirty year difference between the two series. The pilot of the new MacGuyver did feel like a first season episode of the original, and has potential. The new show needs to balance the legacy of the original while still being its own series.
Two adaptations announced this week are raising eyebrows and possibly blood pressures among potential audiences.
First, the BBC announced that it has teamed up with Netflix to produce a four-part Watership Down mini-series. The goal is to introduce the story to a new audience while toning back the “brutal images”. While the movie did have some shots that featured blood, most of the violence was done with discretion shots. However, the mini-series will be using CGI to make the rabbits more life-like, which may make any violence shown more hard-hitting. The animation of the 1978 movie allowed for a separation of reality and fiction, something the new computer animation may blur. With the four one-hour parts, the new mini-series may be able to delve further into the original novel than the ninety minute adaptation did.
The second adaptation is a sequel to Disney’s Mary Poppins. The 1964 movie, which was itself based on a story by PL Travers, was one of the most popular films of its year. While Travers did write eight books featuring Mary Poppins, she wasn’t enamoured with Walt Disney’s adaptation, as seen in the fictionalized account, Saving Mr. Banks. Disney’s sequel, titled Mary Poppins Returns, will follow up with the Banks children as grown ups,
There is a difference between the Watership Down remake and the Mary Poppins sequel. The BBC is expanding the run time available, allowing them to take in more of the original novel. The Watership Down mini-series is also using modern techniques to add realism, while the 1978 movie was done in a rush by an inexperienced writer, director, and producer*. The Mary Poppins sequel feels more like an attempt to cash in on a known name. Granted, the working relationship between Disney and Travers was poor, which may prevent the studio from using an of her other books, but Mary Poppins won five Academy Awards and is still popular. Disney is also working to ensure the movie is a success, including casting Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton. Time will tell if the sequel is accepted by audiences.
* To be fair to Martin Rosen, he learned quickly and was able to produce a quality work limited by its length.
Technology is constantly changing, updating and upgrading as new techniques are discovered. As has been mentioned before, new technology has been the motivation behind remakes and adaptations. The advent of computer animation has made some expensive or time-consuming effects of the past easier to do today. Stop-motion animation has given way to CG animation. Practical effects, though, still exist. It can be easier to film a practical effect and enhance it with CG than to start from scratch with computer animation. That said, the use of CG animation can sometimes lose the charm of a work. The temptation to tinker can be great, but too much tinkering can lose the audience. It’s a fine line.
In 1964, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the minds behind Supermarionation, created Thunderbirds. The series featured the Tracy family and International Rescue, an organization dedicated to helping people in danger. Jeff Tracy, the family patriarch, funded the organization and its vehicles, piloted by his five sons. Aiding the Tracies were Kyrano, his daughter Tin-Tin, the engineer, Brains, and International Rescue’s London Agent, Lady Penelope and her butler, Parker. Together, International Rescue performed daring rescues and battled the nefarious Hood.
The Thunderbirds themselves were the stars. Each vehicle had a dedicated purpose. Thunderbird 1, piloted by Scott Tracy, was a hypersonic rocket plane, capable of reaching any place on Earth quickly. Thunderbird 2, piloted by Virgil, was the heavy lifter, ferrying rescue equipment and modular pods where needed. Thunderbird 3, piloted by Alan, was a re-usable rocket used for space rescue. Thunderbird 4, piloted by Gordon, was a submarine, typically carried by Thunderbird 2 to where it’s needed. Thunderbird 5, manned by John, was a space station used for monitoring communications for calls for help. Lady Penelope had FAB-1, a pink six-wheeled Rolls-Royce as kitted out as anything 007 would drive.
The series was filmed using Supermarionation, using marionettes as the cast, with the sets built to scale. For close-ups of hands, real hands were used, allowing characters to manipulate objects as needed. The special effects were scaled down for the miniatures in use, looking very much like effects used in films. Thunderbirds ran for thirty-two episodes, each running, with ads, for an hour, and has been referenced by other works, including Reboot. Thunderbirds has been remade a few times, including the anime Thunderbirds 2086 and the 2004 live action movie. A new CG series, Thunderbirds Are Go is the latest adaptation.
Thunderbirds Are Go first aired in ITV in April 2015. The series brings back International Rescue, updating the show’s concept to reflect the changes in technology since Thunderbirds first aired. The two-part pilot episode, “Ring of Fire”, introduces the characters to a new audience while showing what each Thunderbird can do. There have been some changes; Jeff Tracy has gone missing, leaving Grandma Tracy as the head of the household. Brains is now Indian, and his stutter is less pronounced. Tin-Tin is now Kayo and the head of security for International Rescue, but her family secret is still kept. The vehicles have been updated as well, though still recognizable. FAB-1 reflects today’s car stylings, but still has the gadgets to keep Lady Penelope safe. Thunderbird 5 shows the greatest change in design, reflecting developments in space stations and featuring a rotating ring to simulate gravity and a stationary control area that lets John float around while monitoring communications. The Thunderbirds, though, aren’t CG; instead, they are miniatures, as are the sets. The mix isn’t jarring; the use of both CG and miniatures harkens back to the use of marionettes and models in the original.
“Ring of Fire” starts with a runaway hot air balloon caught in a storm, its passengers, a father and his son, calling for help. Out of the storm clouds, Thunderbird 2 appears, matching course with balloon. Virgin comes up topside and helps the son into Thunderbird 2. Before he can get the father, though, a gust of wind up ends the balloon. Virgil calls John up in Thunderbird 5 to get the father’s vector, and has Thunderbird 2 dive to get beneath. He’s able to grab the father and bring him inside before reaching the ground. Meanwhile, Thunderbird 3, with Alan and Kayo, are working on correcting the orbit of a satellite, allowing John to relax while watching his favourite TV series*.
After a breather, International Rescue gets a call from an undersea lab that has suffered damage after a seaquake. Virgil and Gordon respond with Thunderbirds 2 and 4. While approaching the lab, Gordon discovers the source of the quakes, a device that creates the seismic disruption. Worse, several more quakes occur, caused by similar devices. Lady Penelope and Parker investigate and find a warehouse with a note and a button. On pushing the button, a mysterious figure hijacks the airwaves and makes his demands; the Hood will end the quakes upon being given the Thunderbirds. International Rescue ignores the demands. With the sealab’s scientists rescued, IR work on finding the Hood. Alan and Kayo head to the satellite to try to track the Hood’s location. On the ground, Scott and Virgil rush to Taiwan to prevent a solar reflector, misaligned because of the quakes, from frying Taipei when the sun rises. Alan and Kayo discover the frequency the Hood is using, allowing Brains to trace the villain’s signal. Kayo performs a high-altitude, low-opening, or HALO, jump from Thunderbird 3 to land at the Hood’s hideout. The Hood summons his men to deal with Kayo, but she also has backup, having alerted the Global Defense Force to the Hood’s location.
The production team is making an effort to be faithful to the original’s feel while still updating the series for modern sensibilities. There are nods to the original Thunderbirds, including the episode “Fireflash”, a remake of the first original episode, “Trapped in the Sky”. Both episodes feature a supersonic jet that is in trouble and needs the assistance of International Rescue to land safely. The sealab from “Ring of Fire” resembles a damaged Eagle from Anderon’s live action series, Space: 1999. The series even has David Graham returning in the role of Parker. Thunderbirds Are Go runs thirty minutes, including ads, or half as long as the original, but the writing is kept tight, not letting up on the tension until the rescue is complete.
Thunderbirds Are Go makes use of new technology, but doesn’t let it take over the core of the series. There are changes, mostly to reflect the realities of today, but the heart of Thunderbirds has been kept.
* The show John watches is Stingray, another Supermarionation series, with a clip of the opening credits being shown. In a clever touch, the slip is shown in reverse to the audience, meaning that John is watching it the correct way.
Last week, Lost in Translation looked at the problems Jem and the Holograms live action adaptation had at the box office. The same week that Jem was pulled from theatres, Mark Wahlberg announced that he would be involved with a remake of The Six Million Dollar Man, Today, a look at what such an adaptation needs to beware of.
The remake, The Six Billion Dollar Man, appears to be working from the TV series. However, The Six Million Dollar Man was an adaptation itself, based on book Cyborg by Martin Caidan. Will the remake acknowledge the original work is still a question. Another catch is the forty years since the original TV series aired. Time is seldom gentle as it progresses. Can The Six Billion Dollar Man update the series without losing what made the original popular?
Technology may not be a problem. Computers are far smaller and far more powerful now than in the mid-Seventies. Thanks to the silicon chip and advances in miniaturization, computers no longer need to take up an entire floor and can fit inside an artificial limb with space leftover. Steve Austin’s bionic arm, legs, and eye are still beyond current commercial technology, but advances available today in artificial limbs now allow for fine motor control. Small cameras are available to all, with infrared available at low extra cost. Web cameras are built into many computing devices, like laptops, tablets, and cameras. Putting a military version of commercially available camera types into an artificial eye isn’t far-fetched.
The real problem, seen with every adaptation, is getting the feel right. Jem and the Holograms failed there by going for a generic plot with no connection to the characters. The Six Billion Dollar Man needs to acknowledge the feel of the original, even as it tries to be its own work. The problem there is the Seventies. Steve Austin didn’t just deal with rogue agents. He went up against robots with his capabilities, against terrorism in ersatz versions of Northern Ireland, South America, and the Middle East, against psychics and mind readers, and against aliens. The Seventies explored ideas that never panned out and are seen as bizarre today.
Compounding the issue of the Seventies is the change in how stories are told. This was also seen in the remake of The Mechanic, which went from a character study with a deliberate pace to an action movie without changing the plot. The Seventies saw longer shots, almost foreign to today’s near-constant cuts through editing. Yet, for some effects, the camera may have to linger.
Another issue that could cause problems is the change of tone seen in adapted works, eschewing the tone of the original in favour of a darker, grittier story that sometimes misses the point. The Caidin novels had Austin as a super secret agent, sent in where regular agents wouldn’t succeed. The TV series followed that idea, but with a lighter touch. The Six Billion Dollar Man could fall back to the Caidin novels or even just the first pilot movie. The Six Million Dollar Man saw a shift in tone between the first of the TV movies and the actual series. Colonel Austin stopped using weapons during the series, but does use grenades in the pilot.
The passage of time may be of help to The Six Billion Dollar Man. The series ended almost forty years ago and is no longer in syndication. While the TV series has been released on DVD, not everyone in the audience will have a copy. This will allow the remake movie to recreate the general feel of the series – a bionic man working as a top agent for an agency – without necessarily getting all the details correct. The main elements, the bionic sound effects, can be used to create a genuine feel, even if some details get changed.
The goal of Wahlberg’s remake should be to blend the sensitivies of both today and the Seventies without either treating the source material as a source of jokes or to go down the dark and gritty road without having some of the TV series’ levity. Both have a place in The Six Billion Dollar Man.
Short round up this month. Just a few of note.
Absolutely Fabulous movie coming.
AbFab is returning. Jennifer Saunders, creator and star of the original show, has confirmed that a movie will be filmed this summer, once a budget has been set. Saunders has said that the movie will bring back the main characters, including Joanna Lumley’s Patsy.
Steven Spielberg and SyFy Channel to bring Brave New World to the small screen.
Aldous Huxley’s dystopia Brave New World is being adapted by Spielberg for SyFy as a miniseries. Huxley’s novel looked at a future Earth where consumerism won the day, leading to a sterile world except for areas that refused to conform.
The Rock to play Jack Burton.
John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China will be remade with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the Kurt Russell role. Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz, who wrote X-Men: First Class, will write the script. Johnson wants to bring in John Carpenter, the director of the original, on the film.
Alphanumeric! ReBoot reboot confirmed.
Corus Entertainment is set to reboot the 90s CG-animated cartoon, ReBoot, with a full twenty-six episodes. The original series, the first one to use CG, lasted four seasons, with the last being comprised of two made-for-TV movies. The series ended on a cliffhanger, with the virus Megabyte having taken over Mainframe. The new series, ReBoot: The Guardian Core, is set to pick up with four sprites defending their system with the help of the VERA, the last of the original Guardians.
Speaking of the 90s, The Powerpuff Girls are returning, too.
Once again, the day will be saved! The Powerpuff Girls are returning to Cartoon Network, with new voices and new producers. The reboot will be prodiuced by Nick Jennings, of Adventure Time, and Bob Boyle, of Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! Tom Kenny will return as the Narrator and the Mayor.
The Adaptation Fix-It Shop is open again. The Shop looks at adaptations that have major problems and tries to rebuild the concept. Previously, the Fix-It Shop rejiggered the 1998 Godzilla as a action/comedy monster hunting flick and separated the two movies trying to get out from Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li.
Today, I delve back into Dungeons & Dragons.
The first inclination is to drop a meteor swarm* on it and call it a day.
The first inclination, while satisfying, is wrong. While Dungeons & Dragons had many problems. Its 2005 direct-to-video sequel, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God, was a far better movie and a far better adaptation, just lacking the effects budget the first movie had. The sequel works as a template on how to fix the the original. There’s also the issue of the original movie having decent set pieces that just didn’t work with all the others.
Let’s get some of the problems out of the way. Role-playing games add an extra twist to adapting that most media doesn’t, as mentioned before. While most novels, comics, TV series, and even video games have a plot, RPGs leave that up to the players. Characters are the same; in an RPG, the players create them. Settings may or may not be included, depending on the game. Dungeons & Dragons, in most editions, has The World of Greyhawk as a default setting, but with little information beyond names like Drawmij, Mordenkainen, and Zagyg. Other settings were produced and sold, and Dungeon Masters (DMs) were given world-building tips, much like Way with Worlds, to help create their own. That leaves game mechanics, which did appear in the movie.
Wrath of the Dragon God showed that it is possible to do a D&D movie. Wrath had a lower budget, but made up for it with more attention to game elements and easing those elements into the narrative. The sequel created its own setting and characters, using ideas presented in the Third Edition core rulebooks, and building on them for the plot. Wrath is proof of concept; a D&D movie can be made that isn’t bad.
With the above in mind, what can be done to repair the Dungeons & Dragons movie? The core plot is about five adventurers who band together to stop an evil wizard from overthrowing the queen. It’s a good plot, one not used too much lately in movies. The devil’s in the details, though. In a D&D game, evil wizards capable of succeeding in overthrowing a monarch tend to be capable of tossing fireballs without breaking a sweat. While a group of adventurers can defeat a much higher level opponent if they team up and work together, an evil wizard should be portrayed as smart enough to have lieutenants, henchmen, and minions in between him and any resistance. In the movie, the villain was powerful enough to command dragons and beholders, one of either can be a difficult foe for a group of adventurers.
It could be that the plot needs far more time to resolve properly than a movie can provide. Stopping anyone from taking over a kingdom can be a full campaign spread over several months of play. The same thing happened with the Dragonlance animated film; a ninety minute animated movie wasn’t enough to cover a novel. Even with the expanded DVDs of the Lord of the Rings movies, a lot had to be left out just to get the story told. Epic fantasy just doesn’t fit in a tidy 90-120 minute time slot. Three ways around the problem; the first, look at going to television. TV allows for 13-20 45-minute chunks of time, providing far more time to properly tell a story. The anime Record of Lodoss War lasted thirteen episodes, each one being 25 minutes long, and it was based on an RPG campaign.
Second method involves multiple movies. There’s a risk inherent to the approach; if the first movie isn’t a draw, the story ends incomplete. This seems to be the fate** of The Mortal Instruments. The City of Bones underperformed at the box office. leading to the sequel to be first pushed back and then cancelled, leaving the story unfinished. The goal for the repaired Dungeons & Dragons, under this workaround, is to keep the production costs down without looking cheap to maximize the box office returns. It will be a balancing act to keep the effects looking good while still not breaking the budget.
The third approach is to cut through the backstory and start in media res. The evil wizard is making his move and the adventurers have to act and act now! Details can be filled in as flashbacks and the Seven Samurai-like gathering of the heroes avoided or truncated. The key events are the discovery of the plot, the investigation into how the plot will be enacted, and the stopping of the plot and the wizard. The heroes have a time limit.
While a TV series may be the best approach, to properly fix the movie would be to keep the format***. Multiple movies aren’t a guarantee; unlike Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, Dungeons & Dragons isn’t based on a series of bestselling books. Even Star Wars was filmed to be a stand-alone work if it didn’t do well. That leaves option three, cutting out or cutting down unnecessary events and trimming the gathering of the heroes. The goal, now, is to get something that feels both epic in nature and still personal. To elevated, and the audience doesn’t have a character to follow. Too close, and the saving of the kingdom becomes overwhelming.
The wizard’s plot to take over the kingdom needs a bit of work. Summoning a flight of evil dragons is epic, but one dragon could turn the heroes into cinders without effort. Controlling one is enough and keeps the menace of both the dragon and the wizard intact. A quest to retrieve a means to call a good dragon to counter the wizard’s will allow the dungeon half of the title to appear. The wizard’s motive is power and riches, something the kingdom has in plenty.
Now that the villain’s plot is more or less set, a way to stop or at least neutralize him is in place, it’s time to get the heroes going. Two rogues, a mage apprentice, a dwarf fighter, and an elf ranger discover the scheme and work together to recover the MacGuffin of Good Dragon Summoning before the evil wizard can overthrow the queen. Let’s use a plot point from the original movie, the apprentice discovers that her mentor is part of the evil scheme. Instead of discovering this after stopping two half-competent thieves, she does this and then discovers them looting the lab. This gives her leverage; help her stop the evil wizard or be turned over to her mentor. The rogues, being greedy but decent people, help because while the kingdom, a magocracy, benefits only wizards with non-magical types on the edge of society, having an evil wizard in charge is a change for the worse.
A mage and two rogues aren’t an effective combat force. Earlier editions of D&D saw magic-users who could die if their cat familiar played too rough. Rogues do their best fighting when their opponents can’t see them. The group takes stock and heads to the best place to find someone who is good in a fight, a seedy tavern. “You all meet in a tavern” is a cliché, but works to get players together fast. By choosing a dive where brawls are known to occur nightly, the group can invoke the cliché without engaging it. They’re looking for the last man standing, who turns out to be the dwarf fighter. They explain what’s happening, tell the dwarf there will be lots of fighting, and work out the next step, which is to somehow summon a good dragon. The dwarf knows someone, a ranger, and leads the group to the elf. At this point, the group is as connected as it can get, and time’s wasting.
The dungeon is the location where each character can show off their abilities, though this needs to be subtle. It’s also a chance to bring in some classic monsters that wouldn’t necessarily fit into the plot, though the choices need to be careful. As tempting as it is to toss in a rust monster to scare the dwarf fighter, the creature can look a little silly. The rust monster was based off a toy that Gary Gygax used as a miniature. But, if the rust monster can be brought in and made fearsome, it is iconic to the game and easier to avoid or defeat than a beholder.
The MacGuffin of Good Dragon Summoning now in their hands, the heroes rush back to the capital, but dark clouds loom overhead. The wizard finishes controlling his dragon and sends it out to wreak havoc on the city. The heroes must now use the MacGuffin to call a good dragon while fighting off the wizard’s lieutenants and minions. It’s close, but the good dragon arrives and attacks the evil one. The heroes slip into the city as the wizard closes in on the queen, leading to the final fight. Pyrotechnics go off as the heroes battle the villain while the dragons fight in the background, reflecting the fortune of the heroes. Ultimately, the heroes win, the kingdom is saved, and triumphant music plays.
Plot aside, that leaves the effects, another point of failure. By reducing the number of dragons, that should give the effects team both the time and money to focus on just two instead of two flocks. The dungeon can be built on a set instead of on location, unless a decent catacomb can be found for less. Some set pieces from the original are lost, including the Thieves’ Guild maze, which was a high point of the film. That maze, though, just duplicates the dungeon, and can be let go. The final battle needs to reflect spells that are in the game, and the mage apprentice should run out of spells or be down to utility types like light or mage hand.
Will the above work? It depends on the cast, crew, and budget. Wrath of the Dragon God did show that a D&D movie is possible, provided that the plot can handle the effects budget available. A less ambitious plot could help, as could reducing the time spent on subplots that lead nowhere.
Next week, the June news round up.
* Ninth level magic-user spell that summons a meteor shower on an area that used to have opponents in it.
** A TV series, Shadowhunters, is in the works, however.
*** Besides, D&D has already had a TV series, albeit animated.
Five friends take a vacation in an abandoned, isolated cabin in the woods, only to find themselves at the mercy of the supernatural. A simple premise, but loaded with potential. Sam Raimi’s 1981 film, The Evil Dead, began there, then grew with two sequels, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, plus comics and video games, and kicked off careers for not just him but Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert.
The Evil Dead has five Michigan State students, Ash Williams, his girlfriend Linda, his sister Cheryl, their friend Scotty, and Scotty’s girlfriend Shelly, on spring break. They decide on an isolated cabin in the hills of Tennessee*, but the journey there isn’t uneventful. After a near-collision with another motorist in the downpour, the group barely gets across a bridge before it collapses.
At the cabin, things keep getting odd. Cheryl, while trying to draw a clock, draws a demonic face, her hand and arm possessed at the time. She dismisses what she did as just her imagination playing tricks after the long drive and near death encounters on the road. In the main room, though, a trapdoor flies open. Ash and Scotty go down to investigate and find a book, the Book of the Dead, with unusual bindings and a tape recording. The recording is gibberish to them, but is an incantation to summon evil spirits. Upstairs, a tree crashes through a window, causing Cheryl to become hysterical and leave to her room.
Cheryl, though, hears voices from outside. She goes out to look, only to be attacked, held, and assaulted by trees. Cheryl escapes, but no one believes her story. Trees don’t move like that. Ash, though, does agree to take her back to town. The only bridge connecting the cabin to the rest of the world is gone, trapping everyone.
The demons go to work. They first possess Cheryl, making her warn the others that they’re doomed, then having her stab Linda with a pencil. Cheryl gets locked up, but Shelly is the next to be possessed. Shelly attacks Scotty, who defends himself with an axe. He buries Shelly’s dismembered body, then, still shaken, goes out to find another way to escape the cabin.
When Scotty returns, Linda has been possessed, though she never tried to attack Ash. Scotty has found another way out, but falls unconscious before he could say what it is. Linda and Cheryl convince Ash they’re not posessed, but he doesn’t fall for the trick. Cheryl remains locked up in the cellar and Ash locks Linda out of the cabin. As he tends to Scotty’s injuries, Linda gets back in the cabin and attacks with a ceremonial dagger. Ash turns the tables and stabs Linda. He buries Linda, but isn’t able to dismember her as Scotty did to Shelly. The demon possessing Linda takes advantage and bursts out of the grave. Ash decapitates the possessed Linda with a shovel.
Back at the cabin, Cheryl has escaped the cellar and Scotty is now possessed. Ash finds a shotgun and wounds Cheryl, but needs to reload afterwards. He locks himself in the cellar to look for more shotgun shells. The walls seep blood and voices call to Ash. Cheryl and Scotty break through the door. Ash spies the Book of the Dead and throws it into the flames. Cheryl and Scotty fall apart. Ash returns upstairs as dawn breaks. The final shot is a from the view of an unseen evil being rushing through the woods and leaping at Ash.
The Evil Dead was a low budget horror movie by a first-time feature film director. Raimi kept the production at the isolated cabin, adding more problems as shooting went on. All the effects are practical, with workarounds made to make up for the lack of expensive equipment. Dolly zooms**, the shots where the focus pulls in on an actor while pulling the camera away, were done using a long piece of wood covered with Vaseline because proper dolly cameras weren’t available. The movie became a cult hit despite getting an initial X rating from the amount of violence and gore and, as mentioned above, spawned sequels and a musical.
Raimi and Campbell had wanted to remake the movie over the years, but the idea was on hold in 2009. In 2011, though, Campbell revealed during a Reddit AskMeAnything that there was a script for a remake, one that blew him away. While not directed by Raimi, he chose Fede Alvarez to direct the 2013 Evil Dead, making the movie his feature film debut. Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues co-wrote the script, which was then cleaned up by Diablo Cody to fix the dialogue.
Evil Dead starts with a young woman being kidnapped by two men in the woods and taken to a cabin. She recovers to find herself chained to a post and held in place by barbed wire. Along with the men who kidnapped her is her father, who is trying to tell her its for her own good, and an old witch who is ordering the father to pour gasoline on the woman. The woman pleads to be let go, but as her begging falls on deaf ears, the demon possessing her starts berating her father. He sets his daughter on fire, then shoots her.
Years later, five college-aged friends arrive at the cabin. David and his girlfriend Natalie, along with their friends Eric and Olivia, who is a nurse, have gathered to make sure that David’s sister Mia kicks her heroin habit cold turkey. The isolated nature of the cabin should ensure that Mia isn’t able to obtain more drugs or run off. As the group settles in, Mia smells something off, like something died. Olivia dismisses it as withdrawal symptoms, but Grandpa, David and Mia’s dog, also smells something coming from under a throw rug. The group removes the rug to find a trapdoor and bloodstains leading to it.
The group investigates, finding corpses of animals, a shotgun, and a book wrapped in plastic and bound with barbed wire. They take the book and shotgun back upstairs. Eric, either through curiosity or because the book called to him, removes the barbed wire to start reading. The book, Naturom Demonto or Book of the Dead, is filled with writing and illustrations, along with warnings to not read further. The illustrations are of either demons or their human victims. One page has been heavily scribbled out, but Eric makes an impression to get the original words, which he reads aloud.
Mia senses the awakening of an ancient evil. She tries to get the group to leave, but, again, Olivia dismisses it all as withdrawal symptoms. Mia grabs her car keys and leaves anyway. On the road, she sees a girl in ragged clothes too late to brake. Mia swerves instead, sending her car off the road and into the swamp. The girl reappears, following Mia. Mia runs off into the woods, but is caught on a thorn bush. While it first appears that Mia was just unlucky, the vines grab on to her, holding her in place for the girl. The girl shoots black ooze from her mouth. The ooze writhes along the ground and up Mia’s legs.
David and Olivia have followed Mia, finding her car off the road. They search for her and do find her in shock with a number scratches and thorns. Back at the cabin, Mia tries to warn the group, who, once again, passes off her babblings as withdrawal symptoms. Mia withdraws. David, working outside, finds a trail of blood that leads to his now mortally wounded dog. He storms back in, looking for his sister, who is off taking a shower. In the shower, Mia is fully clothed and turns up the heat. David breaks through the door as second degree burns appear on Mia. Eric recognizes the scene from the Book and finally speaks up about it. David takes Mia with him in his Jeep to get his sister medical attention, but the only way in and out has been washed away, forcing him to return to the cabin.
Back with the others, Mia’s possession goes full-demon as she picks up the shotgun and shoots her brother. David dodges enough so that only his arm is hit. Mia then tells the group, in a voice that isn’t hers, that all five will die, then passes out. Olivia tries to retrieve the shotgun, but Mia recovers and overpowers the nurse, covering her in a vomit of blood. The group manages to push Mia into the cellar and lock her away. Olivia heads to the bathroom to clean up. She sees a distorted view of herself in the mirror just before it explodes. Outside the bathroom, Eric hears an unsettling sound. He heads into the room to see Olivia, now also possessed, cutting her cheek with one of the mirror shards. She sees him and attacks with everything she has, mirror shard and hypodermic needle. Eric fends her off long enough to pick up a heavy piece of porcelain to bludgeon her.
As David tends to Eric’s wounds, Eric explains that everything that has happened is in the Book. The extra notes tell of how to cleanse the evil from the possessed, including dismemberment, live burial, or burning. The Book also tells of how the Taker of Souls needs five souls in order to release the Abomination. Mia and Olivia were just the first two.
The possessed Mia is working on the third. Natalie hears Mia crying in the cellar, confused about what happened to her. She opens the cellar to talk, and discovers that Mia is still possessed. Mia bites Natalie’s hand, but Natalie escapes. In the kitchen, Natalie discovers that her hand is moving of its own accord. Scared that she’s getting possessed and hearing Mia’s maniacal laughter, Natalie does the one thing she can think of to stop the infection – she severs her arm with an electric knife.
David and Eric arrive as Natalie’s arm falls to the floor. They wrap up the stump, then try to work out how to stop Mia. David is unwilling to just kill his sister. During the debate, Natalie picks up the nail gun and attacks the two men. Eric takes most of the nails, and distracts Natalie long enough for David to get the shotgun. David shoots his girlfriend’s remaining arm off.
David pulls Eric outside, along with the gasoline can. The plan is to burn the cabin with Mia inside, but she begins singing a lullaby that their mother sang to them. David’s Plan B is to bury his sister alive. He returns inside and into the cellar, but is surprised by Mia. Mia is surprised by Eric, who knocks her out but is fatally wounded by her box cutter. David carries Mia out to the shallow grave. He gives her a sedative, then buries her. Mia wakes up and taunts him with every shovelful of dirt he adds. With Mia completely buried, he waits several moments, then digs her back up. Mia is dead, but David has built a makeshift defibrillator using items in the cabin. It works, and Mia is herself again.
David returns to the cabin to get the keys for his Jeep. He’s attacked by Eric, who is possessed. David realizes that he can’t survive his neck wound, so gives Mia the keys and pushes her out of the cabin. With just him and Eric inside, David grabs the shotgun and takes aim at the gas can. The fireball kills both him and and the re-animated Eric.
Outside, Mia stares in horror at what happened. As she stands watching the flames, a rain of blood starts. Five have died, and Mia’s clinical death counts. The Abomination awakens. Mia tries to run, but the Abomination keeps up, calling her name in a harsh whisper. Mia realizes she can’t keep running and looks for a way to fight back. Her eyes fall on the chainsaw. It takes a number of attempts to get it started, all while keeping away from the Abomination. It is only while hiding under the Jeep that Mia gets the chainsaw started. She cuts the Abomination’s legs out from under it. Mia can’t get away from the Jeep fast enough, though. The Abomination topples the vehicle on its side, trapping one of Mia’s arms under it.
Horror movies are difficult to remake. Fans of the original have certain expectations, but a shot-for-shot remake means all the twists and scares are known. With an cult classic like The Evil Dead, there are elements that are needed in a remake to keep the feel. Evil Dead managed to keep those elements while still being fresh. The original used camera tricks like dolly zooms and long, low, fast shots through the woods while still being in a cramped environment. Those same tricks return, adding to the oddness of the cabin. Changing the names of the victims also helps. Ash Williams would be expected to survive in a remake. No Ash, no foreknowledge of who, if anyone, survives.
Some things, though, shouldn’t be changed. The trap door, the Book, the chainsaw, the rape-trees, all were key in the original and all return in some form. For an added bonus, Sam Raimi’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88*** returns, as an abandoned car at the cabin. Everything that made The Evil Dead the horror classic it is returns in Evil Dead. Helping to keep that feel are the producers, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert, all resposible for the original. Raimi may not be at the helm, but he chose Fede Alvarez. Alvarez delivered a movie that uses the techniques of the original to deliver the chills of the original while still being its own film.
The end result is that Evil Dead is The Evil Dead with a better budget but a tighter film.
* Production filmed in an isolated cabin near Morrison, Tennesee, adding a touch of cinéma verité to the movie. Raimi was known to be happy when his actors bled.
** Also known as Vertigo shots, after the Alfred Hitchcock movie.
*** The Delta 88 has appeared in every movie and series that Sam Raimi has worked on, including Spider-Man as the car Peter’s uncle drove and even in an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.