After a few weeks of heavy works, it’s time to take a small breather. To celebrate the recently passed Ides of March, it’s a good time to look at the classic Wayne & Shuster sketch, “Rinse the Blood Off My Toga“.
The death of Julius Caesar at the hands of Roman senators led by Brutus became fodder for William Shakespeare, who turned the assassination into a tragedy. The play, Julius Caesar, was first performed in 1599 and has been a regular in the repertoire of many a Shakespearean company. Julius Caesar is also a common play taught in high school English classes, thus continuing the legacy of those fateful Ides of March.
Meanwhile, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster* created their duo, Wayne & Shuster, after working together since high school. They went professional in 1941 on radio with CFRB in Toronto. “Rinse the Blood Off My Toga” was released on LP in 1954, and was then used for their big break with American audiences on The Ed Sullivan Show. After the show, New York City bars were offering “martinus specials” after a line from the act**. Sullivan had the duo back a record sixty-six more times over eleven years.
“Rinse the Blood Off My Toga” is a hard-boiled detective story using Julius Caesar as the starting point. The obvious place to start is after the big murder, the assassination of Caesar. Wayne’s character, Flavius Maximus, is a private Roman eye, hired by Shuster’s Brutus to find who killed Caesar. As Brutus, Shuster is giving a wink and a nod to the role the character had in the play. The sketch plays out as advertised, a hard-boiled detective story, with the various suspects coming up and being interrogated, including Calpurnia, Julius’ wife. The play’s characters are treated as if they had Mob connections as Flavius looks for Mr. Big.
As a comedy sketch, “Rinse the Blood Off My Toga” toys with the source material, going for laughs instead of accuracy. Yet, the sketch does show another way to adapt a work, by taking a different angle, either through the eyes of a minor character on the edge of the events or by bringing in a new character as an observer. Flavius Maximus wasn’t in the original Julius Caesar, but the mixing of genres allows him to insert himself into the aftermath of the assassination and bring Brutus to justice.
* Frank Shuster’s cousin Joe also became famous, through Superman. His son-in-law, Lorne Michaels, also is famous, having created Saturday Night Live.
** Flavius: “I’d like a martinus.”
Cicero: “Don’t you mean a martini?”
Flavius: “If I want two, I’ll ask for them.”
The plays of William Shakespeare have long been the go-to source for adaptations. Some plays, like Julius Caesar, can be treated as historical drama. Others can transcend their original setting and be placed in almost any setting, with Romeo and Juliet as the exemplar. Romeo and Juliet has been adapted as written, transplanted in time as in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, as an action movie with Romeo Must Die, as science fiction with Romie-0 and Julie-8, as a ballet, as a musical with West Side Story, and even animated, as in the aforementioned Romie-0 and Julie-8. This one play could sustain several months’ worth of columns here at /Lost in Translation/ on its own. If you go back to The Nature of Remakes, I brought up the idea that remakes and adaptations should bring something new to the work. Gnomeo & Juliet is not the first animated version of the play, nor is it the first musical.
What it does bring is garden gnomes.
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies and is typically the first that high school students run into in English classes. The play tells the story of the star-cross’d lovers whose love runs into the feud between their families. Shakespearean tragedies tend to have a body count, and Romeo and Juliet is no exception, albeit having a small number of deaths. Two notable deaths, though, are the title lovers, thus turning the play into a tragedy.
Gnomeo & Juliet, though, is a animated film meant for family viewing. Family fare of late, though, avoid death, especially of the lead characters*. Characters are allowed to be in danger, even in mortal peril, but a “happily ever after” ending is the rule, not the exception. However, older family members may be familiar with Romeo and Juliet as they watch. There are expectations. How does Gnomeo & Juliet fare?
The movie starts with one of the gnome chorus introducing the film, saying that the story has been, “one that has been told. A lot.” Right away, the movie itself is aware that /Romeo and Juliet/ is the most adapted of Shakespeare’s plays. But, the gnome continues, “We’re going to tell it again, but in a different way.” Fair notice that the movie isn’t going to be faithful. However, the gnome then starts with the prologue from the play, ending only when the stage’s trap door opens underneath. The line that got interrupted? “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”
The story takes place in the gardens of Ms Montague, who lives at 2B Verona Drive, and Mr. Capulet, of Not 2B Verona Drive. The Blues, ruled by Gnomeo’s mother Lady Bluebury, maintain Ms Montague’s garden. The Reds, bitter rivals to the Blues, are led by Lord Redbrick, Juliet’s father, and keep Mr. Capulet’s garden in top shape. Gnomeo, who is a combination of Mercutio and Romeo from the play, first appears in a lawnmower race against Tybalt. The race goes to Tybalt, who wins through a low blow. Meanwhile, Juliet is being kept safe by her father and is chafing to get off the pedestal, metaphorically and literally. With help from her confidante, a ceramic frog named Nanette, taking the role of the nurse from the play, Juliet sneaks out to recover a flower in an abandoned yard. Romeo, too, sneaks out, meaning to exact revenge on Tybalt but is distracted by a figure in the moonlight.
For a movie promising to tell the tale differently, it does follows the play. The balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet appears and, while not in the same language, it does carry the same sentiment, the pull between duty to family and desire for the young gnome. The feud escalates, leading to the smashing of Tybalt during a fight with Gnomeo and Gnomeo’s exile. It’s only when Gnomeo runs into a statue of William Shakespeare is the audience told the movie isn’t beholden to the play. Even then, the destruction of Juliet’s pedestal by the Terrafirminator while Gnomeo trying to free her was big enough for good old Bill to shout, “I told you so!”
Gnomeo & Juliet is an odd movie. It bounced from Disney to Miramax to finally Starz Entertainment before getting the green light. With music by executive producer Elton John, expectations were mixed. At the same time, the casting was both inspired and ecletic. The title characters were played by James McAvoy, a Shakespearean actor, and Emily Blunt. Maggie Smith, another Shakespearean actor, voiced Lady Bluebury, and Michael Caine provided his talents as Lord Redbrick. Patrick Stewart, also Shakespearean, played the statue of William Shakespeare. Adding to the cast, we have Jason Statham as Tybalt, Ashley Jensen as Nanette, Matt Lucas as Benny**, the counterpart to Benvolio from the play, Jim Cummings as Featherstone, a plastic flamingo, Ozzy Osbourne as Fawn, taking the role of Peter in the play, Dolly Parton as Dolly Gnome, who started the first lawnmower race, and Hulk Hogan as the Terrafirminator Announcer. Add in the gnome chorus working for Lord Redbrick and the ceramic bunnies*** helping Lady Bluebury, and the casting is impressive.
As an adaptation, Gnomeo & Juliet is a little loose with the original, though it does hit the major points of the play up to when the movie says it’s deviating. The biggest change is in tone; the original tragedy is turned into a musical comedy. Yet, there are moments when the original play shines through to add drama. The beats of Romeo and Juliet are still in the movie, and the survival of the leads does become doubtful.
Gnomeo & Juliet did well enough at the theatres that a sequel has been announced. Gnomeo & Juliet: Sherlock Gnomes will introduce the world’s greatest detecting ceramic gnome consultant to solve a mystery haunting the families.
Next week, Super Mario Bros.
* There are exceptions, but they are rare.
** Benny did indeed have a scene where “Benny and the Jets” played. The scene was related to the plot.
*** When the feud breaks out into open warfare, the bunnies paint themselves blue like the extras in Braveheart.
The Empire Strikes Back getting the Shakespeare treatment.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars did well enough to get the next movie adapted the same way. An educator’s guide is also available.
Neil Gaiman updates on American Gods TV series.
HBO is out. Freemantle Media is in. No network has been announced. From the same journal post, Anansi Boys will be made into a TV miniseries for the BBC.
Help put clues together with Sherlock LEGO.
LEGO is still reviewing the idea, but a set of Sherlock minifigs are making their way through the review process. Other sets being considered are the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie and a Back to the Future DeLorean.
Barbarella TV series sets up at Amazon Studios.
A pilot script has been written and is now waiting for a showrunner. Amazon Studios is run by the online bookseller. Gaumont International Television, the producing company, is also involved with NBC’s Hannibal and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.
Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in three films.
Besides appearing in Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman will appear in two other movies, so far unnamed. Ideally, one of the other two movies will be a Wonder Woman movie, but this is Warner, who can shoot their own foot at a hundred paces.
Transporter: The Series to air in US in fall.
This slipped right by me. Season two of the series, based on the Transporter movies, begins filming in February.
The Astronaut Wives Club gets ten episode summer run.
Based on the book of the same name by Lily Koppel, ABC will be airing the drama over the summer. Both the book and the series follows the lives of the women who were suddenly elevated after their astronaut husbands on Project Mercury made history as the first Americans in space.
Redshirts to become a limited TV series.
John Scalzi’s Redshirts is being adapted by FX as a limited series. Casting has not started yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel is adapted.
Black Widow solo movie in the works.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps going. The Black Widow will be played, again, by Scarlett Johansson. The movie will delve into the background of the character.
Speaking of Marvel… Which studio can use which Marvel character? An infographic.
The surprising one was Namor over at Universal. He started as a Fantastic Four villain, has fought the Avengers, has been an Avenger, and has had his own series. The overlap is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are tied heavily to both Avengers and X-Men continuity. Fox could easily commit to a Cable & Deadpool movie, while Power Pack falls under Marvel Studios.
Raving Rabbids to invade silver screen.
Ubisoft has been busy, getting deals to have Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon adapted to film. The latest of the efforts is Raving Rabbids, who already have a TV series.
And an update! A month ago, I reviewed the Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated movie and the problems it had at adapting the original novel. Over at io9 this past week, Lauren Davis posted an argument on why Dragonlance should be the next fantasy franchise to be filmed. She has strong arguments. The only thing that could hold back a new adaptation is the failure of the animated movie. However, if ninety minutes was only enough for a shallow adaptation, two hours isn’t going to be enough time, either. Will people go for a six-movie fantasy series based on three books? Going back, I argued that TV may be better for some works than movies; Dragonlance is definitely one of those works. The television format allows for the development of longer arcs, such as Laurana’s growth from elf lass to military leader.
AMC working on Walking Dead spin-off.
The spin-off of the TV series adapted from the comic is slated for a 2015 debut. Robert Kirkman, who created the original comic series, will use the spin-off to expand the world of /The Walking Dead/.
The Final Girls to star Jamie Lee Curtis.
The series will be a drama featuring a group of girls who survived horror stories as the sole survivor. The name comes from the trope where the last character to reach the end credtis of a horror movie is usually the well-behaved girl. Curtis herself played one in Halloween.
Stephen King nervous about reaction to The Shining sequel.
Doctor Sleep follows Danny Torrence after he has grown up. King hopes that people think that the book will be better than The Shining, reflecting the experience he has gained since the original book was published.
A Wrinkle in Time adapted as a graphic novel.
Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s novel has been adapted by Hope Larson as a graphic novel.
Star Wars adapted to, wait, Shakespeare? Really?
Verily. In an effort to help students grasp Shakespearean plays, Ian Doescher wrote William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. After Doescher sent in the first act, Lucas Films encouraged him to continue. “True it is, that these are not the droids for which thou search’st.”
Commissioner Gordon to get prequel series.
The announcement came on the same day that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered. Fox managed to outbid Warner Bros. TV on the series, which will focus on the time Gordon spent as a detective on the Gotham City Police Department. Bruno Heller, creator of The Mentalist, will helm the show.
Dark Horse announces Firefly/Serenity continuation comic.
Firefly is seeing a resurgence lately, with tabletop RPG, boardgame, and now a new comic. A release date and a writer have both not been set.
Constantine may be developed for NBC.
NBC has ordered a script based on the DC Comics character John Constantine. A pilot has still has yet to be greenlit.
Lost Three Stooges film found!
A copy of the seventeen minute short “Hello, Pop!” has been discovered in a shed in Austrailia. The short was thought to be lost in 1967 in a fire.
Voice work begins on Thunderbirds Are Go!
A remake of the Supermarionation TV series will be a mix of puppetry and CGI. David Graham will reprise the role of Parker, Lady Penelope’s driver. Lady Penelope will be played by Rosamund Pike.
Live action Cruella de Vil movie in works.
Glenn Close, who played the puppy-fur-loving villain in the live action 101 Dalmations and 102 Dalmations is the executive producer of the movie. Disney also has a live action Cinderella in the works.
CBS to adapt The Songs of the Seraphim novels.
Angel Time is in development with author Anne Rice signed on as executive producer. Vampires are not involved.
Rainmaker Entertainment, who bought Mainframe Entertainment, has announced a reboot of the CGI animated series ReBoot. Rainmaker renamed its TV division to Mainframe Entertainment in conjunction with the news on the 20th anniversary of the creation of ReBoot.
There was much rejoicing.
Walter White’s obituary runs in Albuquerque newspaper.
Fans of Breaking Bad paid for an obituary for lead character Walter White after the series finale.