(Apologies. The Blade Runner review is coming.)
Food poisoning while working on Pirahna II: The Spawning gave James Cameron a nightmare that led to one of movie-dom’s iconic images. The nightmare consisted of a robot assassin sent from the future to kill him. When he recovered, Cameron wrote a screenplay based on the images, The Terminator.
The Terminator was a low budget science-fiction/horror film released in 1984. While Cameron had written scripts before, he also wanted make his feasture film directorial debut with The Terminator. Studios were hesitant to let an inexperienced director make a movie. Pacific Western, started by Gale Anne Hurd who had worked with Cameron when they both worked for Roger Corman, purchased the script with the proviso that Cameron directed. The making of The Terminator is a great example of networking in action; not only did Cameron get a good deal through Hurd, through their work with Roger Corman, Cameron and Hurd knew people at Orion Pictures, who eventually distributed the film. Helmdale Pictures only picked up the script after Lance Henriksen, a friend of Cameron’s, showed up as a Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger got involved because one of Orion’s co-founders had sent him the script; Arnold was being considered as Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor’s protector, but discussion between Arnold and Cameron led to Schwarzenegger being the Terminator. For special effects, Cameron wanted Dick Smith, who had done the effects for Taxi Driver. Smith turned down the offer, but suggested Stan Winston, benefitting all involved.
The plot of The Terminator has a killer robot sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the mother John Connor, who will be* the leader of the resistance against Skynet, an AI that will launch a nuclear in the future to destroy humanity. John, though, sends back Kyle Reese to protect Sarah. The Terminator starts looking for Sarah and takes the direct route, killing every Sarah Connor in LA. By the time the Terminator finds the right Sarah, Reese has, too, and he has a photo of her, one given to him by John. During the chase, Reese reveals that he’s been in love with the woman in the photograph and, during a rest stop, the two have sex. The Terminator catches up during the rest; the chase continues into a factory. Reese is killed, but Sarah gets the killing blow in with a hydraulic press. As the movie ends, we see Sarah, pregnant with John.**
Terminator 2: Judgment Day introduces an teenaged John Connor living with foster parents while Sarah is locked away in a psychiatric hospital. No one believes her when she rambles about preparing for the rise of Skynet. However, Sarah turns out to be like the mythical Cassandra when a new (to audiences, at least) model of Terminator arrives to kill John and Sarah. This time, John sends back a reprogrammed Terminator to help his younger self and his mother. However, Sarah realizes that she has a chance to delay if not outright prevent the creation of Skynet.
In 2009, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles began airing on Fox. The series was a spin-off from the movies, showing more on how Sarah and John prepared for Judgment Day. Skynet didn’t back down, either; the AI network sent a new model of Terminator, a T-888 known as Cromartie. The John Connor in the future also kept an eye on things and his memory, and sent back a reprogrammed Terminator to act as his younger self’s bodyguard. In the TV series, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah was taken over by Lena Headey (currently playing Cersei Lannister), Thomas Dekker replaced Edward Furlong as John Connor, Garret Dillahunt as the Terminator Cromartie, and Summer Glau as Cameron, the reprogrammed Terminator. The series allowed writers to explore the setting in greater detail, including how Skynet formed, what the Resistance is doing, and what Skynet is doing outside of finding John Connor. The series lasted two seasons, including the short first season. It had one problem; it was a science fiction series on Fox***.
As a spin-off, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles took elements from the movies and expanded them, giving viewers a new look at the events both in the movies and leading up to Judgment Day. The characters either continued to develop as last seen in the movies (John, Sarah, Skynet) or took on elements seen previously and built on them (Cameron, Cromartie). Actions in the series didn’t disrupt or nullify what happened in the movies**** unless the writers deliberately set out to do so. Even then, a character would comment on what happened, acknowledging the change. Having writers who understood the feel of the original (science fiction/horror) and second (science fiction/action) movies and able to combine both into an ongoing series. With Headey maintaining the survivalist mom character created by Hamilton, Sarah Connor was as believable as she was in the previous movies, going from carefree waitress to Cassandra to Resistance creator.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles worked well, adapting the elements from previous works and integrating them into a longer narrative. As a spin-off, the series expanded the Terminator universe, giving it more breadth and depth.
Next week, Blade Runner. I hope.
* Time travel weirds verb tenses. Very few languages have the past-future tense where something will have happened tomorrow.
** Time travel also weirds family trees. Skynet is also the instrument that creates the resistence. Computers are just as bad at working out time travel as humans.
*** Fox has a reputation for not supporting its science fiction series.
**** Given that the series is trying to disrupt a segment of time that did exist but is in flux because, as a wise Muppet said, “always in motion the future is”, continuity could become wibbly-wobbly. Time travel weirds continuity, too.
(Apologies. The Blade Runner review is coming.)
One item I haven’t touched in Lost in Translation is the nature of spin-off series and movies. The only media tie-in I’ve reviewed was a Nikki Heat novel by Richard Castle, and that was only because the idea of a physical novel by a television character in a series where the character is researching a novel* was a Moebius strip of meta-layers. At the beginning of the review, I mentioned that I treated tie-in novels as merchandising instead of adaptations. That still left spin-offs, projects that take a character from one work and build a new work around that character. Spin-offs are seen mainly with television; a popular character on one series is given a chance to carry his or her own. Successful spin-offs include Frasier (based on the character in Cheers), Rhoda (based on a character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and Torchwood (from Doctor Who). Not all spin-offs work, though; sometimes, the Powers That Be overestimate how popular a character is without understanding why he or she is popular. Examples include Enos (from The Dukes of Hazzard), The Tortellis (from Cheers), and Galactica 1980 (from the original Battlestar Galactica).
What makes a spin-off different from a remake, a reboot, or an adaptation? Scope; spin-offs expand the original work, showing more of the setting or allowing a character to develop in a different way. Remakes keep the same scope as the original work; reboots reset the original; adaptations transfer the original to a new medium. Spin-offs keep the original work intact, using it as a base to build from. The definitions get complicated, though. Stargate SG-1 had spin-offs – Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe. At the same time, SG-1 was based on the movie Stargate. Does that make SG-1 a spin-off, a reboot, a continuation, an adaptation, or a combination of all four?
The spin-off is another derived form in entertainment. Many popular series began as a spin-off of another, often without people realizing. The BBC series Comedy Playhouse has had a number of spin-offs, some of which were adapted as other series that then spun off other series. Just a sample of the series below:
– Are You Being Served?
– Steptoe and Son, which was later adapted as
– Sanford and Son in the US
– Till Death Us Do Part, which was later adapted as
– All in the Family, which spun off
– The Jeffersons, and
– Maude, which in turn spun off
– Good Times.
This is ignoring spin-offs that didn’t last or make as large an impact as the above did. If I were to review, say, Maude, what would I compare it to, All in the Family, Till Death Us Do Part, or Comedy Playhouse?
Ultimately, that is the question. What do I consider the original work for a spin-off, especially in cases like Comedy Playhouse? With shows that have an easy to follow lineage, like The Super Dave Osbourne Show (spun off from the Super Dave sketches on Bizarre), it’s easy; there’s just one source to consider. Now consider Caprica, spun off from the rebooted Battlestar Galactica as a prequel showing just when the Colonies were doomed.** Should I compare Caprica with the original Galactica or the reboot? And, given the Comedy Playhouse geneology above, if I review Good Times, where do I start?
Obviously, I can’t ignore spin-offs. The Stargate franchise deserves a look at some point, and I do have plans to review Ma & Pa Kettle, a spin-off of an adaptation. Spin-offs are as much a factor as adaptations. I just need to figure out how to properly review them.
Next week, hopefully, Blade Runner.
* With the fictional character writing himself into the novel under a different name.
** Pro tip: Never base an artificial intelligence for a war machine on your deceased teenaged daughter when your family makes the Lannisters stop and say, “Dude, that’s messed up.”