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.
Television in the Eighties saw a shift in tone occur in police procedurals and investigation series. While individual series had their darker moments and character focus, the trend wasn’t picked up by competing shows. Two series did lay the groundwork, though. Hawaii Five-O, 1968-1980, showed that a police procedural can get involved in a longer plot, specifically, McGarrett’s quest to bring down Wo Fat. The Rockford Files, 1974-1980, had a balance between Jim Rockford’s work and home life and included the conflicts between the two. From that start, shows like Magnum, P.I., 1980-1988, The A-Team, 1983-1987, and Miami Vice, 1984-1990, expanded what stories could be told. Magnum started as a detective series, but, as the seasons progressed, delved deeper into the title character’s background in Naval Intelligence during the Viet Nam War. The A-Team started as light action-adventure, but had four Viet Nam vets and later got into how that war had changed them. Miami Vice grew beyond the concept of “MTV Cops”* and, again, went into the relationships between the characters. Vice also provided a stylized approach to violence, using music to set the mood of the scene.
In 1985, a new drama debuted on CBS. The Equalizer, starring Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, combined elements from three different genres – espionage, detective, and vigilante. McCall, a former agent with “The Company”**, advertised his services in the classified ads section of the newspaper; “Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer.” Each week, McCall would use his unique skill set to deal with problems that law wouldn’t or couldn’t be involved in. The Equalizer’s background was never stated outright, though as the series progressed, McCall’s past returned to haunt him. The series’ approach to violence also broke new ground. Instead of being stylized, as seen in Miami Vice, or over-the-top, as in The A-Team, The Equalizer saw violence that was intense and personal to a degree that hadn’t been seen on television before.
Part of the change in how violence was portrayed came from a looser hold on what was allowed on television. The Eighties saw cable television expand, with new channels available for a low, low cost. Premium channels cost more, but added to the variety available. With specialty channels catering to specific interests, such as MTV showing music videos and only music videos, viewers weren’t limited to watching what the major networks aired. Prior to cable, ABC, CBS, and NBC all set their programming to maximize audience size. Controversy would drive away part of the potential viewers to the competition, so programming was aimed at the lowest common denominator. The advent of cable meant that the networks had to lure viewers back. Old staples fell away as the Big Three revamped their lineups. Since they couldn’t use some elements that cable channels had available, such as gratuitous nudity, the networks had to get creative in other areas. Thus, Miami Vice‘s marriage of police drama and music video and The Equalizer‘s use of intense, personal, and implied violence. The show may not have shown much, but it allowed the viewers’ imagination to fill in the gaps.
The Equalizer ran until 1989. Edward Woodward suffered a heart attack in 1987, forcing him to reduce his workload as he recovered. The show won an Edgar Award for Best Television Episode Teleplay in 1987 for the “The Cup”, where McCall helps Mickey Kostmeyer, his assistant through the series, protect his brother, a priest who had heard a confession about an assassination by a KGB agent.
In 2014, Denzel Washington starred in a remake movie, also called The Equalizer. Washington plays Robert McCall, who appears to have an unremarkable life, spending time at night at a 24-hour diner and working at a hardware store during the day. A widower, he spends his free time reading the 100 books that everyone should read, since his late wife had been doing the same, passing away before she could finish the last three books on the list. At the diner, he befriends a young Russian woman, Adena, played by Chloë Grace Moritz, who works as a prostitute. She shares her dreams with McCall, who tells her that all she needs to do is change her world. McCall also has friends at work, including Ralphie, played by Johnny Skourtis, a clerk who wants to become a security guard at the store with McCall’s help. Some of his co-workers wonder what he did before, believing he may have worked in finance. McCall says that he was a Pip, as in Gladys Knight and the Pips.
When Adena’s pimps put her in the hospital, McCall discovers where there office is and pays them a visit. He offers $9800 in cash to buy Adena’s freedom. The Russian mobsters just laugh at him. McCall starts to leave, then locks the office’s entrance. The next thirty seconds sees McCall demonstrating why the enforcers should have taken the money. The five mobsters are killed, with the lead enforcer shot in the neck and able to watch the action before he dies.
Viewers who aren’t familiar with the original series may suspect that McCall is far more than he appears. An older gentleman who works at a hardware store, spends his free time reading classic novels, and lives in a small apartment should not have $9800 in cash, nor should he understand Russian, nor should he be able to kill five Russian mobster half his age. Yet, McCall did. Not much later, there’s an armed robbery at the hardware store. McCall approaches the cash where the robbery is happening, aware of what’s going on. He notes a few details of the thief, including the skull head on the robber’s hoodie zipper, similar to the skulls in the mobsters’ office, and the gang tattoos. When the robber demands the cashier’s ring, one that belonged to her late mother, McCall appears ready to take action but is stopped when he sees a family with young children enter. Instead, he has the cashier give over her ring, then follows the thief to get the license plate of his car. The scene ends with McCall picking up a sledgehammer from the racks. The next day, the cashier opens her drawer and sees her mother’s ring. McCall is then seen wiping down a sledgehammer before returning it to the rack.
The Russian mob isn’t happy with the loss of their gangsters. The five men killed weren’t just pimps; they were senior members of the mob’s organization in Boston. Vladimir Pushkin, played by Vladimir Kulich, the head of the gang, sends an investigator, Teddy, played by Marton Csokas, an ex-Spetsnaz soldier who’s capability for violence isn’t tempered by civility. Teddy is a blunt instrument, who doesn’t care about anything except finding the men who killed the senior gangsters. His investigation leads him to McCall, who appears to be a plain American. Teddy’s instincts, though, tell him that everything about McCall is wrong.
Pushkin’s mob has its fingers in many pies, including protection rackets and police corruption. That combination is why Ralphie leaves the hardware store despite his hard work to qualify for the guard exams; his mother’s restaurant was burned down after she was unable to pay a pair of corrupt cops. McCall tracks Ralphie down to find out why he left so suddenly and notices the scorch marks at the restaurant. He finds the corrupt cops, records them on their rounds, and forces them to return the money extorted.
After another confrontation with Teddy, McCall gets photos of the enforcer and takes them to friends who are also former agents. The friends pass along all the information they have on Teddy, including his real name and his background. McCall takes the information and starts a one-man war against the Russian mob. His first stop is with one of the corrupt cops, Frank Masters, played by David Harbour. McCall forces Masters to take him to Pushkin’s money laundering operation, which he then shuts down, paying the Chinese women sorting and bagging the money before they leave then calling in the FBI. Masters gives up his escape plans to McCall, which include a USB memory stick filled with who was being paid off by the mob and for how much. The FBI receives a copy of the data through an anonymous tip. The second stop for McCall is to destroy one of Pushkin’s ships filled with valuable cargo, along with the pumping station used to fill the tanker.
With the hit to the mob’s income, Pushkin gets insistant that the man responsible be found and killed. Teddy brings in his own people, but loses one before they can even get started. McCall meets with Teddy, bringing the broken glasses of the Russian’s own man with him. The point of the conversation is to give Teddy and the mob the choice of shutting down operations and leaving peacefully. Teddy scoffs and refuses. McCall shrugs and walks away.
Teddy has done his homework, finding where McCall works. He has men take the store employees hostage during closing then calls McCall. McCall now has a choice; show up in twenty-nine minutes at Teddy’s location or his friends and co-workers will be killed in thirty. Teddy tracks McCall’s movement by using the GPS on the the American’s phone. The bus the signal is on approaches the Russian’s location. Teddy has a sniper ready to shoot McCall on the bus, except the bus is empty. Teddy was tracking the phone, but the phone rode alone.
McCall, instead, is at the hardware store. The Russians have the employees in a back room. Teddy gives the order to kill one, but Gladys Knight and the Pips starts playing over the store’s intercom. One of the mobsters forces Ralphie to take him to the security office. McCall is ready and kills the mobster. In the back room, the radio crackles and a Russian voice asks for assistance. The other mobster is dealt with as quickly as the first. McCall tells Ralphie to get the employees out the back, then gets ready for Teddy’s arrival.
Teddy arrives at the store. The lights all go out as soon as he and his men are inside, the main doors locking. Teddy and his men are armed, but McCall not only has had time to prepare but knows the layout of the store far better. McCall sets out traps, waiting for one of the Russians to come by before triggering them. Soon, it’s just McCall and Teddy, with Ralphie back to assist.
There were a few changes made between the original TV series and the movie. The location moved from New York City to Boston, though that change was to take advantage of not just shooting locations but the difference in organized crime in the cities. New York City is known for the Mafia, the Five Families with ties to Italy. Boston, however, is more diverse, with Italian, Irish, and Russian mobs. As well, Washington’s McCall is far more integrated with his community. Woodward’s McCall was the outsider who lived in New York but wasn’t a part of day-to-day life. This McCall would be called in to solve a problem. Washington’s McCall was a part of the community, helping friends and co-workers with problems, from getting Ralphie ready to qualify as a security guard to retrieving a co-worker’s special ring. This McCall, like Woodward’s, may have been atoning, but the approach was different. The core of the character, though, was there. A former agent with a skill set that could be used to help those who needed it, and a willingness to get involved.
The movie showed more violence than the TV series did, though that is more from movies having far more leeway, depending on rating, to depict violent acts than television. The tone remained, though, and not all violence was shown. Much more was implied. The armed robber never re-appeared after fleeing the crime scene; all the audience sees is McCall picking up a sledgehammer, the ring in the cashier’s register, and McCall wiping the sledgehammer down before returning it to the racks. Credit for maintaining the feel of the TV series goes to Antoine Fuqua, the director. Fuqua, who broke into movies with The Replacement Killers and worked with Denzel Washington on Training Day, maintained the mix of everyday life and McCall’s past, using the contrast to heighten the mood. The theatrical remake of The Equalizer keeps the tone of the original series while taking advantage of being a movie and modern technology. The Robert McCall of both is easily recognizable, though each version is its own take on the character.
Of note, the movie performed well enough at the box office that Sony has announced a sequel, provided that Fuqua and Washington both have the time in their schedules that mesh with each other.
Next week, the April news round-up.
* Brandon Tartikoff, head of NBC Entertainment, had used the term, “MTV Cops”, wanting a show that included the visual style of a music video, but that concept did not turn into /Miami Vice/. [http://spinoff.comicbookresources.com/2014/08/06/tv-legends-revealed-did-miami-vice-really-begin-as-mtv-cops/]
** The series never specified which intelligence agency and just called it “The Company”, though the implications were that it was the CIA.
Welcome back to the Adaptation Fix-it Shop. The goal: rehabilitate remakes and reboots that, for one reason or another, just didn’t work. This time in the shop, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li.
The Legend of Chun Li is the second Street Fighter movie. The first, Street Fighter: The Movie also had issues, but the delicate balance the movie has between brilliance and inanity makes tinkering with it a difficult proposition. The Legend of Chun Li, though, has the issue of not quite feeling like a Street Fighter movie. There are two separate narratives in the film; one following Chun Li and her search for her father, the other following a pair of Interpol investigators trying to bring down M. Bison’s criminal organization. The separate plot lines do eventually merge late in the running time of the movie, but, until then, they’re in competition with each other for screen time.
The obvious fix is to pull the narratives apart, placing them in their own works away from the other. The Legend of Chun Li is an origin story; taking the focus off Chun Li detracts from the purpose of revealing her background. The Interpol investigation could stand alone without the Street Fighter ties; there is no reason for the main villain to be M. Bison. With the idea of pulling apart the narratives in mind, let’s rebuild The Legend of Chun Li.
One issue that needs to be dealt with early, the mix of martial arts and gun play. When a movie emphasizes martial arts, guns stop being effective, at least when used on the heroes. Likewise, the heroes never touch a gun. Why should they when their body is a far more effective weapon? The Legend of Chun Li mixed the two, adding to the narrative split. Chun Li avoided guns, but the Interpol agents were effective with them. The mix added to the issues the movie had. Another problem, this time stemming from the Interpol investigation, is that the narrative requires the villain be stopped, one way or another. Because Bison is a key character from the video game, he has, or, should have, script immunity, as will any character working for him that appeared in the game. Yet, given the events that happen in the movie, allowing Bison to escape will make the investigators look bad, especially given how close they got to him. Time to fix this.
I’ll start with the Street Fighter elements. It’s Chun Li’s origin story; how she became the character in the video game. The video game had her as a martial artist from China working as an Interpol agent avenging the death of her father. The Legend of Chun Li did have that up until the end, where she turned down the Interpol agents. Even having her father working for M. Bison’s organziation can be kept. Bison, though, is a would-be world conqueror with a criminal organization. It seems to be a step down to become just an land developer with no scruples. Bison should be up there in the same ranks as Blofeld, the Red Skull, and Cobra Commander. Why else would he have the spiffy red uniform? Given that several other characters from the video game also have a bone to pick with Bison, if The Legend of Chun Li is the start of a series of origin movies leading to a final showdown against Shadaloo, then Bison needs to survive the movie.
Now that I have the required elements, time to put things together. The goal of the story is to get Chun Li working for Interpol. Defeating Bison once and for all is out; we need him for another movie if this works. Disrupting one of Bison’s plans is possible, though. Chun Li needs a history with him, even if it happened on a Tuesday. The early part of The Legend of Chun Li, showing her time as a young girl, can be used, if only to show her relationship with her father. Even Bison’s organization kidnapping him can be kept, though having him appear to Chun Li should be avoided. Again, the goal is to get her into Interpol to avenge her father’s death. Chun Li needs to track her father and see him die at Bison’s hand, to make sure her quest for vengeance is personal. Bison, for his part, needs an appropriate scheme. The land flipping in the movie is a start, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. The man has eyes on taking over the world. Getting power over elected and unelected officials is just part of the plan. Replacing them, taking over their country, building up a private army, that’s more world conqueror. The land flipping needs to lead into the bigger scheme, something that Chun Li can disrupt while still letting Bison escape.
The tone is going to be difficult. On one hand, the almost cartoon-ish approach of Street Fighter: The Movie is too light. At the same time, the martial arts involved aren’t that realistic, even if they are based on real arts. The video game characters toss fireballs and perform upside-down flying spin kicks. The movie’s tone has to handle the almost-superheroic powers. This is why I compared Bison to the Red Skull and Cobra Commander; his scheme needs to be achievable but matching the over-the-top-ness of the video game’s martial arts. Buying up land on the cheap is too real. Using that land to hide a mind-control laser is too unreal. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.
At this point, I have Bison kidnapping Chun Li’s father to use him as part of a nefarious plot, Chun Li learning martial arts to help her track her father’s kidnapper, and Bison executing the father in front of Chun Li. Her father needs to be integral to the scheme; scientist is usually a good role and the specialization can inform the nature of Bison’s plot. At some point, though, Chun Li’s father becomes superfluous and is either killed to prove to Chun Li that Bison means business or is killed out of hand to eliminate a loose end. Either way, Chun Li witnesses the execution. Through this, Chun Li battles waves of Bison’s troops, starting with mooks both singly and en masse before running into on of Bison’s lieutenants. The Legend of Chun Li used Balrog for this role, though Vega got a brief cameo for the sake of a cameo. In either character’s case, the fight must leave whoever appears alive, though unconscious or thrown off a building into a container of pillows are acceptable end conditions. The final battle should involve Chun Li and Bison, with Bison getting away. The appearance of an Interpol team who needs help from Chun Li should be enough to let Bison get into an escape craft; the idea should be that, if the fight wasn’t interrupted, Chun Li could have won. Interpol recruits her, and the movie ends.
The idea is very loose, and The Legend of Chun Li did incorporate most of the above. The difference is that the above outline keeps the focus on Chun Li. Interpol is there solely because the organization needs to recruit her. The agents appear at the end, though hints throughout the new movie can be inserted. Shadowy people on street corners watching Chun Li can reveal themselves at the end when they need to be rescued, for example. The Interpol angle, though, is a subplot, not the main plot.
With the Street Fighter elements taken out, what can be done with the Interpol half of The Legend of Chun Li? The investigation was a decent enough crime drama. With the requirement to be tied into the Street Fighter setting removed, the criminal land developer becomes a decent mastermind. The land flipping makes sense as a plot, something that local police can’t handle because the upper echelons have been bribed or ordered to ignore what is happening. The over-the-top martial arts are gone, allowing the agents to use guns and normal combat techniques in the final assault. The running time of the movie that dealt with Chun Li can now be dedicated to either the investigation or the machinations of the villain. The Interpol agents can come into their own instead of sharing a plot with a licensed character.
The key issue with Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li was the tone. The movie just did not have the right field. Part of the problem was keeping Bison as a realistic, though exaggerated, crime lord. Separating Chun Li’s origins and the Interpol subplot allows both to thrive.
Next week, a look at adaptations through the history of film.
The atomic bomb has been used just twice in war, both times on Japan. The destruction the bomb wrought led to nuclear escalation between the US and the USSR, and a permanent change in the Japanese psyche. Post-war atomic testing on uninhabited islands still had fallout. Even now, nuclear energy isn’t trusted fully. In science fiction, atomic radiation leads to mutations. Marvel Comics’ X-Men are specifically called the Children of the Atom. Spider-Man gained his powers from a irradiated arachnid. Going back further, though, leads to the grandfather of atomic changes.
Gojira first hit Japanese movie theatres in 1954 and featured a monster that had been reawakened by nuclear weapons testing. The monster symbolized the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, something Japan had experienced first hand. Although not the first kaiju*, Gojira became the example of what giant monsters, daikaiju are. The movie starts with ships being attacked at sea near Odo Island by an unknown vessel, one that disappears as quick as it appears. The investigators discover that the islanders used to sacrifice girls to a monster called Gojira to appease it. During a storm that wracks the island, more destruction occurs, far worse than accountable by the storm. This time, there is a witness who can identify the cause – Gojira!
An archaeologist discovers large radioactive footprints and a trilobite that is normally found in the depths of the sea. An alarm sounds, and the archaeologist, along with the villagers, run to the hills, only to meet Gojira himself, towering over the island. A short, desperate skirmish breaks out long enough for the villagers to get to safety. Gojira returns to the ocean.
In Tokyo, the findings are given over to a commission. Nuclear explosions are responsible for reawakening and freeing the daikaiju. A discussion about whether to reveal the monster’s existance or not later, the public is informed. The Japanese Self-Defense Force sends ships to drop depth charges. Instead of killing Gojira as planned, the charges merely attract his attention to the ships and Japan. Gojira attacks Tokyo, emerging from Tokyo Bay, leaving a trail of destruction not seen since the Allied bombing of the city. Emergency measures are put in place, including a fence of electrical towers that will give off a 50 000 volt shock when walked through and the evacuation of Tokyo. Gojira returns. The electric fence does little to slow the monster down; Gojira destroys the wires with his atomic breath. Tanks fire but can’t penetrate Gojira’s hide. Once again, Tokyo suffers under the rage of the daikaiju until he leaves in the morning.
However, Tokyo may have a chance at surviving. Daisuke Serizawa has developed the Oxygen Destroyer, a side effect of his research into cleaner energy. The Oxygen Destroyer does exactly what it says on the tin – it destroys oxygen atoms. Anything needing to breathe oxygen is left asphyxiating. Serizawa is well aware of the potential misuse of his invention, though, and is hesitant to use it. Once he sees the extent of Gojira’s destruction, he changes his mind. To be safe, he burns his notes on the Oxygen Destroyer so that they can’t be used to create more. Serizawa is taken by ship to the last known location of Gojira. Finding the monster, Serizawa activates the Oxygen Destroyer, then cuts his own oxygen cable. Both he and Gojira perish.
The implications of Gojira, that the monster is more an unstoppable act of nature caused by nuclear radiation, is woven through the movie. The military is helpless as Gojira rampages through Tokyo. The destruction is immense. Nuclear weapons testing led to Gojira’s reawakening, which in turn led to Tokyo’s destruction.
In 1956, the movie was retitled Godzilla: King of Monsters and brought over to North America. New scenes with Canadian actor Raymond Burr were added to reduce the amount of dubbing needed. Burr played an American reporter who was on the scene when Godzilla first attacked Tokyo, telling the story as a flashback. This Godzilla was then released in Japan in 1957 and was popular like the original.
Despite being an actor in a rubber suit, Godzilla moved like the giant monster he was supposed to be. Part of this came from the sheer mass of the original suit. The added verisimulitude helped win popularity, which led to Toho producing /Godzilla/ movies through to 2004. Along the way, other daikaiju either fought or teamed up with Godzilla, inluding King Kong, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Mechagodzilla. Godzilla also served as inspiration for other giant monsters, including Gorgo and Gamera. As mentioned, Godzilla wasn’t the first giant monster, but he was the most influential. Few other daikaiju had songs written about them. Over the years, Godzilla became less a danger and more the protector of Earth, defending the planet against would-be destroyers and conquerors, including humans.
In 1992, Tri-Star picked up the rights to Godzilla with an eye on making a trilogy. The first, Godzilla, was released in 1998. It starts much the same as the original, a fish canning ship is attacked by an unknown creature and is found washed ashore, this time in the Atlantic. The US sends the military to investigate, pulling in experts in biology and paleontology, including Nick Tatopoulos. Nick, played by Matthew Broderick, was pulled from his investigation of the effects of radiation on worms in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Meanwhile, Philippe Roaché, a French insurance investigator, is also looking into the attack on the canning ship, ostensibly for purposes of insurance payout. He tracks down a survivor of the attack, who is only able to say one word, “Gojira.”
Early appearances of Godzilla are brief; the most seen of the monster are the spikes along his back. It’s only when Godzilla arrives in New York City that the audience sees him fully. Instead of being an actor in a rubber suit, the new Godzilla is rendered with CGI. Jurassic Park, originally released in 1993, helped make great strides in rendering dinosaurs with CG, and the new Godzilla benefited. However, the new Godzilla was based on iguanas and lizards, creating a new look for the giant monster. Still, New York suffered the same fate Tokyo did in the original Gojira, with massive damage to streets and buildings. And, just like the original, the military was helpless to stop the monster.
As New York is evacuated to New Jersey, Mayor Ebert tries to stay on top of matters, more to help get re-elected than anything else. During the chaos, the military loses sight of Godzilla. As blame gets thrown about, the civilian specialists work out what happened just as an Army recon squad reports that one building they checked had no more floor. Godzilla went underground. Nick comes up with an idea to get the monster back above ground to give the Army another go at him – fish. A large pile of fish is dumped near Times Square and manhole covers removed to let Godzilla smell the bait. The plan works; Godzilla breaks through the street from underneath and goes after the fish, giving time for the squadron of Apache helicopters to move in and attack. The helicopters’ missiles are useless, missing Godzilla and destroying the Chrysler Building instead. The reason – the missiles carried are heat seekers and have nothing to lock on. Being cold-blooded, Godzilla is the same temperature as his surroundings. Switching to miniguns, the Apaches pursue Godzilla through the ruins of mid-town Manhattan. The tall buildings become a maze, and the pilots lose the monster. The monster, however, did not lose the helicopters, and prey becomes predator again. Hemmed in by the towers, the helicopter pilots aren’t able to pull away* from Godzilla and are made a snack. Godzilla disappears again.
Nick makes a few calculations and realizes that the amount of fish from the canning ship, from three fishing ships that disappeared, and from the pile he had the Army make was far more food than needed. He grabs a sample of Godzilla’s blood, then finds an open pharmacy where he buys every pregnancy test available. While in the pharmacy, he runs into an old girlfriend, one who had rejected his marriage proposal. He takes her back to his tent, doubling as a lab, catching up on old times along the way. Nick finds out that his ex works at a TV station, then finds out that Godzilla may very well be pregnant, either about to lay eggs or has just laid them. The biologist runs off to warn the Army of his discovery and to perform proper tests to confirm his results.
With Nick gone, his ex, Audrey, played by Maria Pitillo, takes a tape showing the path Godzilla has taken, including footage of the survivor saying, “Gojira,” to her station. The tape is immediately placed on the air, right as Nick is trying to explain the pregnancy. Nick is kicked off the investigation. As he leaves, he meets Philippe. Nick explains the problem and gets Philippe, played by Jean Reno, on his side. Turns out, Philippe isn’t an insurance investigator; he works for the Direction génèral de la sécurité extérieure, or the French Secret Service. Philippe has been tracking the destruction from French Guyana to New York with an eye on stopping the monster. Nick, Philippe, and Philippe’s small team head into New York to look for the eggs.
Back in New Jersey, the collective armed forces of the US come up with a new plan to kill Godzilla. Once again luring him out, the Air Force directs Godzilla towards the ocean, where two submarines wait. Torpedoes are fired, but Godzilla is not only able to out-swim them, he lures them into one of the subs, destroying it. A second brace of torpedoes is fired and this time, Godzilla is hit. Mayor Ebert hears the news and starts insisting on having the evacuees returned to their homes in Manhattan. Colonel Hicks, played by Kevin Dunn, wants to confirm the death of Godzilla.
Back on the island, Nick and the French spies discover Godzilla’s nest. All of seats in the stands of Madison Square Garden have an egg, each one on the verge of hatching. As the Godzilla-lings emerge, hungry, they go after the fish and anything that smells like fish, including Nick and the French. The group makes the only rational decision possible – to run, blocking the doors to the arena. However, they’re still stuck inside the building. Fortunately, Audrey and her cameraman, Animal, were following him and know where the broadcast room is. Philippe, the sole French survivor of his team, assists in unlocking the door to the broadcast room. Audrey forces a break into the TV station’s live feed, letting the Army know where the offspring are. Nick joins her and explains the problem; Godzilla’s offspring are asexual, born pregnant, and are hungry; basically, they’re less fluffy tribbles.
Colonel Hicks calls for an air strike, giving the survivors inside Madison Square Garden six minutes to escape. It’s close, but they do get out. The baby Godzillas are derstroyed, but Godzilla returns. During the chase, where the heroes have borrowed a taxi to try to outrun a monster that can hit 80mph, Nick gets a message through to Colonel Hicks about Godzilla. A last ditch plan is made; draw out the monster to a bridge so that the Air Force can use missiles without buildings being locked on instead. The first missile strike staggers the monster; the second kills it.
The first half of the movie does a good job recreating the events of the original Gojira. The problem begins when the tone of the movie switches from “giant monster” to “action”. The original Godzilla took extreme efforts to stop; the subsequent films either have Godzilla as an act of nature, impossible to stop, or a protector, one who inflicts a lot of collateral damage. The design of the new Godzilla is closer to Repitilicus and The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms, with a touch of The Giant Gila Monster. Toho, the company that created the Godzilla franchise, has renamed the monster in the movie “Zilla”, but hasn’t completely disavowed the film.
The scene involving Zilla chasing the Apache helicopters had an odd special effects failure. Nothing wrong with Zilla’s CG. New York just looked like it was a model, as did the helicopters. Given the nature of the movie, was it an error or was it deliberate, a callback to the use of a model Tokyo and model military vehicles in Gojira? Given that the rest of the movie didn’t show any problems, the choice seems deliberate.
Godzilla has issues as an adaptation, as pointed out above. The issues, though, do really start after Zilla reaches Manhattan. Until then, it does feel like a proper adaptation of Gojira.
* Apparently, the pilots forgot that they could go in three dimensions, specifically up. The Apache has a service ceiling of about 21 000 feet, much higher than even the tallest building in New York City.
Let’s round up those tidbits and see what’s going on.
NBC drops a house on Emerald City.
NBC’s entry to the 2015-16’s Wizard of Oz lineup has had its plug pulled and water poured on the corpse. Emerald City was going to be The Wizard of Oz as seen through a the lens of A Game of Thrones. Disagreements between NBC and showrunner Josh Friedman launched the suborbital house drop. Friedman will shop Emerald City around.
Chloë Moretz says Kick-Ass 3 dead due to piracy. Screen Rant says, not so fast.
Kick-Ass 2 broke even in the US with overseas markets adding to its total take. Moretz, who played Hit-Girl, believes that piracy was a factor in the low take. Screen Rant counters with a 29% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a factor that the R-rated movie wasn’t that good to start.
Blade Runner 2 has a script.
Sir Ridley Scott has confirmed that the Blade Runner 2 script is done and will have Harrison Ford back. Filming has not been scheduled; Prometheus 2, with its March 2016 release date, may cause a delay in the filming of Blade Runner 2.
Museum of London and the BFI need help finding Sherlock Holmes.
The 1914 film A Study in Scarlet, the earliest known Sherlock Holmes adaptation, is the second oldest on the BFI‘s Most Wanted list. If found, contact sherlockholmes at bfi.org.uk or use the #FindSherlock tag on Twitter.
The Greatest American Hero getting reboot movie.
The creators of The LEGO Movie are adapting the Stephen J. Cannell series as a TV series on Fox. The original series featured an inner-city school teacher who finds a super suit but loses the instruction manual.
Patrick Warburton to return as The Tick.
Amazon will be making new episodes of the series. Fox had aired nine episodes of the live-action adaptation of the Ben Edlund comic in 2001, with an animated series running on the same network earlier from 1994 to 1997. The Tick – comic, animated, and live-action – was a parody of superheroes.
Stan Lee confirms Black Panther movie.
During a panel at Fan Expo Canada, held in Toronto, Stan Lee let slip that the Black Panther will have a movie. Marvel’s plans are to have a movie with all their heroes.
Casting has begun for Ghost in the Shell live action adaptation.
Margot Robbie, seen in The Wolf of Wall Street has been cast in the American live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.
Neil Gaiman’s “Hansel & Gretel” graphic novel to become movie.
Juliet Blake, producer of The Hundred-Foot Journey, has picked up the rights to Gaiman’s as yet unreleased graphic novel retelling “Hansel & Gretel”. The graphic novel should be out in October.
AMC orders companion series to The Walking Dead.
The so far untitled new series will take a look at what’s happening elsewhere during the zombie apocalypse. AMC has released few details beyond that. The Walking Dead also returns for a fifth season this fall.
Warner Bros. has Legion of Superheroes movie in pre-pre-production.
So far, just rumours that a Legion of Superheroes movie is coming, but Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy may have put some fear into Warner. Legion began in 1958 centred on Super-Boy but evolved to stand on its own. The team has appeared in live-action before, being featured in the Smallville episode “Legion”.
Fox to air series based on Neil Gaiman’s take on Lucifer.
Countering NBC’s Constantine, Lucifer will follow the titular devil, based on Gaiman’s work in Sandman and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The fallout from the show should be impressive, especially over at FOX News.
CBS picks up Supergirl series.
The Warner produced Supergirl TV series has been picked up by CBS, allowing the The Eye to join the other broadcast networks in superhero shows. Fox has Gotham, the Batman prequel. NBC has Constantine. CW has the ongoing Arrow and the new kid Flash. ABC is reaping fortune by having the same owner as Marvel – Disney – and both Agents of SHIELD and new series Agent Carter.
Deadpool movie confirmed.
The Merc with the Mouth will finally get the movie people have been wanting. Fox announced that the movie will be released February of 2016. Ryan Reynolds will return to play the character. Filming has not yet started, and the announcement of the Deadpool movie has bumped the Assassin’s Creed movie off Fox’s release schedule completely.
Real Genius being turned into a TV series.
The 80s movie, Real Genius, which starred Val Kilmer, is getting remade as a sitcom. Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions is one of the studios on board with the reboot.
The heist is a popular plot, from the lone hobbit sneaking into a dragon’s lair to a well-planned robbery with military precision. The core requirements for a heist are the thieves, the target, and the victim. To play up the thieves, either the victim is engaged in a a shady business or the target is a supposedly impossible to break into location. With the original Ocean’s 11, it was a mix of the two.
Released in 1960, Ocean’s 11 featured Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, who essentially decided to make a movie together for the fun of working together. The work they chose was Ocean’s 11, based on the story by George Clayton Johnson, who also wrote Logan’s Run. The story was published the same year as the movie’s release, and appears that film and book were meant to compliment each other. This creates an interesting situation.
I haven’t read the book.
Normally, I would, but it was while watching Ocean’s 11 that I discovered it, too, was an adaptation. That said, for the purposes of the review, I’ll just focus on the movie. If I can find the book, I’ll take another look at Ocean’s 11 with an eye on the movie being the adaptation.
Back to the movie, Ocean’s 11 starred Frank Sinatra, as mention, as Danny Ocean, a former sergeant in the 82nd Airborne. He is offered a job by Mr. Acebos to perform the heist of a lifetime, the robbing of five Las Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve. Ocean pulls together his former squadmates in a manner similar to Seven Samurai, giving the audience time to meet each characters, including his former lieutenant, played by Peter Lawford, squadmate turned entertainer, played by Dean Martin, squad’s driver Josh Howard, played by Sammy Davis, Jr, and electrician Tony Bergdorf, played by Richard Conte. Bergdorf initially refuses the job; he’s just fresh out of San Quentin and wants to spend time with his son. However, a visit to the doctor reveals that he has cancer, so Bergdorf agrees so he can get money to help his son’s future. Bergdorf does warn that his luck is sour and could cause problems for the rest of the team.
At the time of filming, January 11, 1960, Las Vegas wasn’t the neon-lit monument to gambling that it is today. The Strip, where the five casinos Ocean was going to hit, was only on one side of the road; the other side was desert. Hotel rooms were separate from the casinos, and the entertainment areas were more intimate. The five casinos, the Sahara, the Riviera, the Desert Inn, the Sands, and the Flamingo were the main casinos in town. None had the surveillance then that they have today; electronic cameras watching everywhere, electric access control, and fail safes that locked down the cash are innovations that came after Ocean’s 11.
Ocean introduces the plan to hit the five casinos. Howard gets a city sanitation garbage truck and is the one who will pick up the loot. The remainder of the 11 split into teams of two; each team infiltrates, in one form or another, one of the five casinos. Harmon performs at one while others, like Borgdorf and Peter Rheimer, played by Norman Fell, dress the part of employees. The insiders spray paint that can only be seen under black light with special glasses, marking the areas that they’ll need to go to get the cash. Explosives are set at an electrical tower and in each of the casinos’ backup generators, ensuring the lights will be out long enough. At the stroke of midnight, as “Auld Lang Syne” plays, the lights do go out and the casinos robbed. The loot is placed into bags that are then dropped in the garbage where Howard picks them up.
Borgdorf’s luck sours as he tries to get to the rendez-vous with Ocean and Harmon. His health takes a turn for the worse and he drops dead in the confusion. Police have been called by the casinos, stretching out the officers to the point where roadblocks are set up to search cars that are leaving. Howard gets stuck in one, but is told to keep going. The stolen cash rides off in the garbage truck under the noses of the police.
The next day, Mr. Acebos reads the paper and has a good laught; millions have been stolen from the casinos and cannot be found. In Vegas, Ocean’s crew tries to figure out their next move. When Borgdorf’s wife is seen, they get the idea to have the money leave with him in his coffin. A late night break-in at the mortuary later, the loot is placed in with Borgdorf, with $10 000 ($79 268.36 today) kept aside for his son. Borgdorf’s wife, though, decides that she doesn’t want to transport the body for burial and has the funeral in Vegas, followed by a cremation. The commentary for the film, provided by Frank Sinatra, Jr, indicated that the ending had been changed from the original in the story. While the money did get burned in the original story, the ending featured a plane crash instead. Jack Warner, CEO of Warner Bros, didn’t like the end implying that Ocean and his crew died and ordered a new one written.
In the time between the release of Ocean’s 11 in 1960 and Ocean’s Eleven in 2001, both security and Las Vegas itself had changed greatly. Vegas, while still in the middle of the desert, grew. Casinos and hotels merged into one building, the space for shows increased, the sheer amount of square footage dedicated to gambling expanded, and the nighttime was lit as bright as day from the lights along the Strip and other gambling locations. Security embraced the silicon chip, allowing for computer controlled access, cameras in every possible location, background checks on employees becoming the norm, and laser grids. The heist pulled off in 11 would not be possible in Eleven.
The remake, Ocean’s Eleven brought together several of Hollywood’s biggest stars together. This time around, George Clooney played Danny Ocean. Instead of being a veteran of World War II, Clooney’s Ocean is a con man getting out of prison after a job ended badly for him. First thing he does is build a small bankroll through gambling, then he recruits Rusty Ryan, played by Brad Pitt. Just as 11 and Seven Samurai, Eleven shows the recruiting of the team. Instead of fellow veterans, the new Danny rounds up nine more criminals, from grifters to contortionists to even a demolitions expert to rob the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand, three of the most profitable casinos in Vegas at the time. The three are also run by Terry Benedict, played by Andy Garcia, a vindictive man who doesn’t settle for just re-arranging kneecaps when he can destroy a life instead.
The group studies the floorplan of the casinos and the central vault, planning on completing the heist during a championship boxing match. The expected take is over $150 million. Eleven shows the work the team does to set up the theft, from determining the timetables of guards and cash pick up to Benedict’s personal routine. The latter is assigned to Linus, played by Matt Damon, who finds out Benedict has a girlfriend whose name Lunus can’t discover. Rusty, however, does know her name – Tess Ocean, Danny’s ex-wife.
In the original 11, the heist was a challenge, rob five casinos at once during their busiest time. In Eleven, the stakes are more personal, at least for Ocean. Rusty tries to have Danny sit the heist out, but Ocean has other ideas. The plan continues, despite small problems that get in the way, including Benedict having security follow Danny. Ocean’s team take advantage of the confusion, helped by Basher, played by Don Cheedle, and his EMP bomb taking out the power during the boxing match.
Ocean’s Eleven is a great example of how the progress of time affects a remake. In 1960, most Americans would either be a veteran or know of one, from either World War II or the Korean War. In 2001, without compulsory enlistment, there weren’t as many veterans of the Gulf War and the Vietnam War was almost thirty years in the past. A squad of veterans breaking into an installation better guarded than Fort Knox would take a direct approach. A team of grifters and con men, on the other hand, uses a more delicate touch. With the leaps in security technology, the heist had to become more sophisticated; the weak spot is always the human element.
The march of history may change the details from 11 to Eleven, but the core element remains; the heist by a team dedicated to pulling off the impossible. The gathering of the team, the showing of the preparation, and the actual theft were in both films. The biggest change comes from what happened to the money. In /11/, Ocean’s squad ran the heist as a challenge, with Duke Santos coming in late as the opposition. As a result, cinematic karma required that the money be lost; Ocean’s squad had dirty hands. Only Bergdorf’s son, the innocent, got to keep any of the stolen cash. Meanwhile, in /Eleven/, while several of Ocean’s recruits were along because of the challenge, Danny’s goal was to cause financial harm to Terry Benedict, the greater evil. Thus, the money got split amongst the Eleven and Tess found out exactly what type of person Benedict was.
Next week, the September news round up.
There are movies that become the go-to source for adaptations. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is one such film. In Seven Samurai, a village gets overrun by an army of bandits, intent on abusing the farmers and taking their crops for their own purposes. The farmers send three men to find ronin, masterless samurai to help defend the village. The men find seven: the experienced Kambei, his young disciple Katsushiro, his friend Shichiroji, the strategic Gorobei, good-willed Heihachi, the taciturn master swordsman Kyuzo, and the poser Kikuchiyo. Kikuchiyo follows, despite attempts to drive him away. As the samurai train the farmers and prepare fortifications, Katsushiro meets Shino, the daughter of one of the men sent to find the ronin, and begins a relationship with her.
Shortly before the bandits are due to return, two of their scouts are found and killed and a third captured. After questioning, the location of the bandits’ camp is revealed. A pre-emptive strike on the camp sees it burned down, but at the cost of Heihachi’s life. The bandits attack the village and run into the new fortifications and farmers trained to fight back. After a battle inside the village, the bandit chief is defeated, though several of the samurai died in the fighting, and the famers are able to plant a new crop.
Seven Samurai was one of the first movies to show the recruiting and gathering of the heroes into a team, a trope that’s commonplace today, appearing in The Guns of Navarone, Marvel’s The Avengers, and the pilot of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Seven Samurai became Japan’s highest grossing movie after its release. Naturally, it was ripe for being brought across the Pacific Ocean to be remade in Hollywood. John Sturges took the story and placed it in the Old West with the 1960 film, The Magnificent Seven. The samurai became gunslingers who get hired by a farming village in Mexico to protect it from marauding bandits.
The plot of The Magnificent Seven parallels Seven Samurai. The gunslingers, veteran Chris, hotheaded Chico, Chris’s friend Harry, drifter Vin, hard luck Bernardo, cowboy Britt, and outlaw Lee, train the farmers in using guns and defending themselves. Chico falls for Petra, one of the villagers, while Bernardo gets to know three children. The bandits attack and take heavy losses, forcing them to retreat. However, Chico learns that the bandits will return; they have no food and need the village’s supply. The gunslingers move out to surprise the bandits, but are surprised themselves to find the bandit camp empty. Calvera, the bandit leader, returned to the village and, with the gunslingers gone, the villagers put him in charge out of fear. The gunslingers are chased off. After a debate, the group, with the exception of Harry, decide to return to the village to fight Calvera and his bandits. When the gunfight erupts, the villagers join the gunslingers. Harry returns in time to prevent Chris from being shot, but is shot fatally himself. Calvera is shot, the bandits are defeated, and the surviving gunmen go on with their lives.
The Magnificent Seven performed well in Europe but not well in the US. The European success allowed for three sequels and several similar films, including the Italian sword-and-sandals film The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (I sette magnific gladiatori) in 1983 and the 1980 space opera, Battle Beyond the Stars.
By 1980, science fiction on the silver screen had transformed. Gone were the B-movies with cheap effects like Them. Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, both released in 1977, raised audience expectations of special effects, as did 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1978’s Battlestar Galactica, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 1980’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. A green-screened ant made to look the size of an office tower would not do. At the time, CGI wasn’t even a pipe dream; TRON wouldn’t be out until 1982 and The Last Starfighter wasn’t released until 1984. All the effects had to be practical, which could get expensive. Roger Corman, producer of Battle Beyond the Stars, never started a movie that he knew wouldn’t make money.
The king of exploitive B-movies, Corman has a reputation of being cheap. While George Lucas was able to make Star Wars with a budget of $11 million, Corman’s was just $2 million, or twice that of Sharknado. With that princely sum, the crew of Battle Beyond the Stars had to make all the sets, costumes, starship interiors, and starship exteriors, and make sure all that met expectations. The art director, Jim Cameron, had a task in front of him. That very same Jim Cameron would go on to create movies such as The Terminator, Titanic, and Avatar.
The plot of Battle Beyond the Stars should be familiar by now. Akira, a pacifist planet, is visited by Sador, played by John Saxon. A warlord with an army of mutants called the Malmori, Sador threatens the world into submission with the threat of his flagship’s main gun, the Stellar Converter. The Stellar Converter does exactly what it says on the tin; it converts planets into stars. Sador gives Akira a few days to decide its fate, then leaves, leaving behind a two-man starfighter to watch the world. Realizing that there’s little the inhabitants of Akira can do, the council sends young Shad off to recruit mercenaries and purchase guns to teach the Akirans how to fight. Shad heads off in a former corsair ship, the property of the last warrior of Akira, and the ship’s computer, Nell. Shad’s education is too much to overcome when the Malmori ship fires on him; he cannot shoot back. However, the ship also has speed and can outrun the Malmori fighter.
Young Shad’s first stop is at Dr. Hephaestus’ station, where he hopes he can purchase weapons. The station appears deserted when he arrives, though. Shad lands his ship and enters. He is brought to Nanelia, Hepaestus’ daughter and only other living being on the station. She takes Shad to Hepaestus, whe the good doctor explains that Shad will be remaining to become Nanelia’s companion and lover. Shad turns down the offer and breaks out of the station. Nanelia, taken with the young man, assists in the breakout and follows a short while later. The two split up, Shad to look for mercenaries and Nanelia to wait in the Lambda Zone for him.
While trying to figure out where to go next, Shad is alerted to a long-haul starship being attacked by jackers who are trying to hijack the cargo. The pilot of the ship, Space Cowboy, sends off a distress call. Shad moves in, finding a loophole in his code of conduct, but still cannot bring himself to shoot someone in the back. Despite being on manual, Nell destroys one of the jackers, getting the attention of the other three. With the jackers now facing him, Shad shoots them all down, getting the thanks of Cowboy as he escorts the transport to the next port of call. Sador, however, got there first and uses the Stellar Converter on the world, destroying it. The cargo of weapons, fully paid for, needs to go somewhere, and Akira is much closer than Earth. After a bit of persuasion, Cowboy agrees to help teach the Akirans how to use the guns.
Shad heads back out, still looking for mercenaries. He runs into a white, glowing UFO, and is brought on board. The crew of the ship is Nestor, a being and race that has multiple facets but one mind. Nestor is bored and, on hearing of the plight of Akira, agrees to help for no payment at all. The experience would be payment enough. Shad then find Gelt, an assassin who is so well known in the galaxy that there is no place for him left to live. Gelt has immense wealth, more than anything Akira could offer, but Gelt only has two desires; a meal and a home. After leaving Gelt, Shad is challenged by a small ship, one faster and more maneuverable than his own. After a brief mock battle, the pilot, St-Exmin, a space valkyrie, tags along, hoping to find a battle worthy of her. Meanwhile, in the Lambda Zone, Nanelia is taken prisoner by Cayman, a reptilian being who is intent on selling her to the highest bidder. Nanelia explains why she was there and, hoping that Cayman would be more interested in being paid as a mercenary, mentions Sador. Cayman agrees to join her, the only payment being Sador’s head.
Seven ships return to Akira, where plans are drawn and fortifications created to defeat Sador and his mutants. There would be only one chance to destroy Sador and his Stellar Converter; the ship has to drop its force field long enough to let the weapon fire. In that moment, one of the mercenaries could open fire in that precise shot to destroy the weapon and possibly Sador’s flagship. Sador returns, launching starfighters to deal with the ragtag fleet, but the recruited mercenaries are too much for the mutants to handle. On the surface of Akira, Cowboy leads the defense, holding off Sador’s ground troops.
After the first wave of fighting, Gelt has been mortally wounded, forced down after a collision with a Malmori fighter. Shad orders his people to bury Gelt with a meal, fulfilling his end of the deal. One of the Nestors allows himself to be captured. Sador’s top interrogator, known for keeping a victim alive through the incredible agony, starts torturing the Nestor. Having no pain resistance, Nestor quickly succumbs to the torture and dies, becoming Dako’s first premature death. Sador orders Nestor’s arm grafted on to him, replacing his damaged one. The remaining Nestors manipulate the arm, trying to slit Sador’s throat. Dako manages to take away the knife and remove the arm.
In retaliation, Sador resumes the attack, this time to get in position to use the Stellar Converter. The mercenaries meet him head on, but the force field on the flagship is too much. Ship after ship is destroyed, but St-Exmin manages to fly her tiny ship into the Stellar Converter’s bay, damaging it before going out in a blaze of glory herself. With the Stellar Converter out of action, Sador wants to personally deal with the last of the mercenary ships and its pilot. The last ship, Nell, has Shad and Nanelia on it. A nuclear blast wipes Nell’s memory, resetting it to when the last Akiran warrior was young. When Nell gets caught in a magnetic net to be drawn within Sador’s flagship, Shad uses the net to help accelerate, landing within the vessel while setting Nell to self destruct. Nell, still not all there, has Shad and Nanelia get into a lifepod for launch. The countdown is awkward, but Nell hits zero. The explosion starts a chain reaction through Sador’s ship, destroying it. Akira is saved.
As mentioned, Battle Beyond the Stars was a low budget movie. Despite that, the effects, while showing their age, don’t look as old as they should be. While Corman kept costs down by using interns and film school students, those very same people were able to come up with solutions and sets on the fly, staying up late and overnight as needed. Corman had bought a lumber yard to use as a stage, but kept the old sign up. There were people who came in to purchase lumber who were hired to build sets. Meanwhile, the big-name stars, George Peppard and Robert Vaughn, were placed in memorable scenes but weren’t used throughout the movie, allowing Corman to only pay for the days they were on set. Richard Thomas, being in the midst of wrapping up his role of John-Boy on The Waltons, was looking for a different type of movie from what he had done in the past. He still had money coming in from The Waltons, so could take a cut in pay, allowing him to be in most scenes. Editing pulled together the various shots, especially during the climactic battle, creating a movie that leaves viewers on the edge of their seat, helped by a soundtrack by James Horner. Elements of the music would appear later in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan*.
Battle Beyond the Stars is not a simple remake of The Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai. Just as The Magnificent Seven brings the samurai drama into the Old West, Battle Beyond the Stars brings both the Western and the samurai drama into space. Yet, the core, the threatened people needing outside help to fend off a villain, remains in each instance. The gathering of the warriors, whether ronin, gunslinger, or mercenary pilot, remains intact. While there are some minor changes, the warriors are recognizable no matter the version. Battle Beyond the Stars‘ Shad, The Magnificent Seven‘s Chico, and Seven Samurai‘s Katsushiro are the same character, just transposed to a new setting. Helping with this is Robert Vaughn’s characters in both The Magnificent Seven and Battle Beyond the Stars; Lee and Gelt are both wanted and too recognizable to appear in public. St-Exmin and Kikuchyo fill the same role. For a B-movie exploiting the popularity of Star Wars, Battle Beyond the Stars took efforts to be recognizable as Seven Samurai as a space opera and succeeded.
Next week, Ocean’s Eleven.
* While The Wrath of Khan‘s soundtrack is distinct from Battle Beyond the Stars, Horner’s style can be heard in both, particularly in the use of the call of the hunting horns.
Welcome to Lost in Translation’s news round-up, looking at information about upcoming adaptations, remakes, and reboots.
Warner reschedules Batman v Superman – Dawn of Justice
Warner Bros blinked and moved their movie to March 25, 2016, so that it wouldn’t be in direct competition with Marvel’s Captain America 3. That moves the film to outside the summer blockbuster months, but may gain a bit with March Breaks in high schools.
Babylon 5 getting a feature film reboot.
J. Michael Stracysnki has announced that he will be writing the script for the reboot film. JMS was the creator of the TV series, and is hoping to get Warner Bros. to fund the film. If not, then Studio JMS will provide the funding. No other details are known.
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War becoming TV series Ghost Brigades.
The pilot script is still being developed, but SyFy will be airing the series. Scalzi has a FAQ and an interview with one of the scriptwriters, himself. This is in addition to the Redshirts TV series on FX.
Shazam movie confirmed; Dwayne Johnson has undisclosed role.
Dwayne Johnson may play either Captain Marvel (get it right, CBC!) or Black Adam, but he didn’t say which. However, one of his favourite characters is Black Adam.
Casting announced for Andy Serkis’ Jungle Book.
Benedict Cumberbatch has been named as the voice of Shere Khan in the Warner Bros.’ version of The Jungle Book. This should not be confused with Disney’s remake, which will have Idris Elba as the tiger.
Phineas and Ferb to have Hallowe’en special.
Sure, most of Disney’s properties have Hallowe’en specials. None had Simon Pegg or Nick Frost recreating their roles from Shaun of the Dead until now. The pair will join the rest of the cast from Phineas and Ferb in a so-far undisclosed story. The writing for the cartoon targets the entire family and has been known to throw in references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the past.
Power Rangers movie has release date set.
Lionsgate has set June 22, 2016, as the release date for Power Rangers. Now all they need to do is film it. Cast and director have not yet been named.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life to be adapted for TV.
Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield, who commanded the International Space Station during Expedition 35, will have his book adapted for television. ABC has picked up the rights and will have Col. Hadfield as a consulting producer on the pilot.
Minority Report in development for TV series.
Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television may be adapting his movie Minority Report, based on the Philip K. Dick short story “The Minority Report”. The series is expected to focus on the PreCrime unit from the movie.
The hijinks of the proverbial fish out of water has been the source for many works in entertainment. The idea of taking someone from his or her element and then dropping them in an entirely new setting has great comic potential. Even Shakespeare has used the device, in such works as A Midsummer’s Night Dream and As You Like It. The latter even had the dichotomy of country and city life, one of the first being The Beverly Hillbillies.
The Beverly Hillbillies had a simple premise, as explained in its theme song – Jed Clampett, played by Buddy Ebsen, finds oil on his land, gets rich, and buys a home in Beverly Hills. Being a dirt poor farmer, Jed never saw modern conveniences. His family, Ellie Mae, Jethro, and Granny, played by Donna Douglas, Max Baer, Jr, and Irene Ryan, weren’t much better; Granny didn’t take to the advances like Jed had, like motor cars. Having a big cement pond, known to most people as a pool, was a source of amazement. Fortunately, Jed had the help of his financial advisor and next door neighbour Milburn Drysdale, played by Raymond Bailey, and his secretary, Jane Hathaway, played by Nancy Kulp. Episodes revolved around the cultural conflict between the Clampetts and the Drysdales, ascerbated by schemes by either Jethro or Drysdale. Jethro’s scheming was more to get the pretty girls of Beverly Hills; Drysdale’s scams involved using Jed’s money to get richer. Not everyone had a conflict. Jane Hathaway was friendly with the Clampetts, even with Granny, and Ellie Mae soothed some rough patches by being her charming self.
The series ran for nine years, from 1962 until 1971, switching from black and white to colour in its fourth season. Despite negative reviews from critics, The Beverly Hillbillies was a ratings hit, being the number one show in its early years. Even when it was cancelled, it was in the top third of TV series on the air. CBS, however, bowed to pressure from advertisers who wanted a younger audience and cancelled many of its shows with a heartland theme in what became known as the Rural Purge. Along with The Beverly Hillbillies, other long runners cancelled included Green Acres, Mayberry RFD, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Hee Haw, making way for new series All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and M*A*S*H, shows that reflected the social mood of the early 70s. Rural series would return, such as The Dukes of Hazzard in 1979, but they wouldn’t dominate the airwaves as before. The Beverly Hillbillies had a reunion movie in 1981, catching up on where the characters went over the decade since cancellation.
The Beverly Hillbillies did make an impact on the mind space of audiences. Even if someone hadn’t seen the show, difficult in the age of syndication, the theme song could easily become an earworm. Even “Weird Al” Yankovic would make reference to the show, releasing the song “The Beverly Hillbillies/Money for Nothing” as part of the soundtrack for 1989’s UHF. Jed Clampett represented the rags-to-riches dream, something that appeals to a wide audience. Naturally, a TV series that had such a wide audience was ripe for being adapted as a feature film.
In 1993, that’s exactly what happened. The Beverly Hillbillies was released by Twentieth Century Fox, introducing the Clampetts to the big screen. Casting was a strong point for the adaptation, with a number of comedians and comic actors playing the major characters. Taking over the role of Jed was Jim Varney, best known for playing the character Earnest in the various ads and movies. Meanwhile, Cloris Leachman played Granny, Lily Tomlin portrayed Jane Hathaway, and Dabney Coleman was Mr. Drysdale. Rounding out the cast were Diedrich Bader as Jethro and Erika Eleniak as Ellie Mae.
The movie starts in the Tennesee Smoky Mountains, showing the Clampetts at home. Ellie Mae fends off a bear to get wild honey for dinner while Ol’ Jed’s out hunting for food. The hunt is straight from the TV series’ title credits, with crude oil bubbling out where Jed’s missed shot discovers the patch. The first ten minutes of the movie is spent recreating the events of the opening credits, including the theme song, which has one small change. In the original series, Jed’s farm was worth $96 million, in 1962 dollars. The oil crises of the 70s, in 1973 and in 1979, occurred after The Beverly Hillbillies had been cancelled. A barrel of oil, worth $2.85 in 1962, was worth $16.75 in 1993. The movie Jed didn’t become a millionaire; he became a billionaire, and the theme song was modified to reflect the change.
While the hills of the Smoky Mountains might not have changed for Jed between 1962 and 1993, Los Angeles had. Culture shock occurred using the modern LA. The iconic image of the Clampetts in their old truck on the LA freeways remained, but the reaction to it by drivers changed. Jethro’s truck caused a traffic jam, and while drivers may have fumed in 1962, things got ugly in the early 90s. Shooting incidents between drivers on the freeways hit the news. The movie picked up on it, and one irate passenger in a car that Jethro had cut off was quite willing to express his anger with the aid of a pistol until Jed trumped him with his own shotgun.
Meanwhile, Mr. Drysdale is trying to make things welcoming for Jed’s money and for Jed. His assistant, Woodrow Tyler, played by Rob Schneider, also has plans for Jed’s money, plans require Jed to not have it. Tyler and his partner in embezzlement, Laura Jackson, played by Lea Thompson, hatch a scheme when they find out that Jed is looking for a wife to help refine tomboy Ellie Mae. Laura becomes French etiquette teacher Laurette Voleur, despite not speaking French, to infiltrate the Clampett estate and woo Jed. Granny discovers the plot while making a batch of her special brand of medicine, known to Revenue Agents as “moonshine”, but Laura and Woodrow kidnap her to have her committed to a retirement home. Miss Hathaway suspects something is up, but is unable to get Jed, who has seen Granny disappear before a wedding before, or the police involved. Jane turns to one of LA’s top private detectives, Barnaby Jones, played by Buddy Ebsen himself, to locate Granny and get her back to the estate before Jed commits to a terrible mistake.
While Jed’s the subject of several matchmakers, other subplots are also playing out. Ellie Mae heads off to high school, with Morgan Drysdale, played by Kevin Connolly, showing her around. The high school allowed the film to contrast the Clampetts with the residents of Beverly Hills. The bullies took travellers’ cheques and wire transfers, there was a cappucino vendor in the hallway before class, the girls all had cell phones*. One girl even had a FAX machine in her Porsche. In a movie that could have relied on, “Hey, look at them yokels,” humour, Ellie Mae’s subplot turns the culture shock around, adding the audience’s own shock and expectations to the mix.
One of the movie’s main strengths is that it respects the characters from the TV series. While there is some fun poked at Jethro’s lack of smarts, that element existed in the original. Jed is still the calm, wise centre of the family, doing what he can for his loved ones despite his lack of education. And, even with the lack of education, Jed is portrayed as a smart man. The contrast comes from Woodrow Tyler, an educated man without wisdom.
The cast was well chosen. Talented comedic actors who understood the role plus promising young actors presented the script well. The actors suited the roles. Dabney Coleman was ideal as Mr. Drysdale. Cloris Leachman channelled Irene Ryan as Granny. Diedrich Bader turned in a dual role, as Jethro and as his sister, Jethrine, just as Max Baer did in the original series, without turning Jethrine into a charicature. The script captured the feel of an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, right down to using the closing theme at the end. Tropes that haven’t been used in some time, like the speeding of the film during especially frenetic scenes, were in use as they would have been in the TV series.
The cast and crew showed great respect to the original material and actors. The film played out like an episode of the TV series, taking advantage of the 92 minute running time to add scenes of culture shock on the part of the Beverly Hills locals. In short, The Beverly Hillbillies movie was an almost perfect adaptation of the original show.
Next week, Ocean’s 11
* Today, that’s a given. In 1993, cell phones were mostly used for business purposes, and usually by the higher executives instead of the rank and file. The critical people usually had pagers when they had to be on call.