There’s a known issue when making a photocopy of a copy. The resolution drops; the further generations of copying from the original, the worse the resolution gets. A second season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Up the Long Ladder”, uses the term “replicative fading”, applying it to the fading of DNA in clones. While the problem doesn’t appear when copying digital media – ones and zeroes don’t degrade – the idea is still key to examining adaptations. Ideally, an adaptation begins with the original work, not another adaptation. Hollywood is nowhere near ideal. There have been works that have been based on adaptations of adaptations; the Frankenstein movie is a good example, coming from stage adaptations instead of from the original Mary Shelley novel. Another good example is today’s subject, The Green Hornet.
The Green Hornet began as a radio series in 1936. Britt Reid, a millionaire playboy* and newspaper publisher, and his sidekick Kato fought crime. The twist, though, was that the Green Hornet and Kato were seen as villains by criminals and the press alike. Reid, as the Hornet, used a gas gun to subdue his foes while Kato used martial arts. The pair got around the city in Black Beauty, a heavily modified sedan. Helping the duo was Lenore Case, who provided information to Reid to help him fight crime.
The Green Hornet has since been adapted in other forms, including movie serials, comics, and a TV series. The 1966 series introduced Bruce Lee to North American audiences in the role of Kato. Van Williams played Reid. The series lasted one season, but did crossover with the 1966 Adam West Batman series. Al Hirt provided the theme music, a jazz version of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” used by the radio series. The TV series, while considered to be camp, did take itself seriously.
In 2011, Seth Rogan co-wrote and starred in a film adaptation of The Green Hornet, playing millionaire playboy Britt Reid. Jay Chou and Cameron Diaz co-starred as Kato and Lenore, respectively. The movie acts as an origin story for the Green Hornet. Britt Reid begins the film as a layabout, living off his father’s wealth. When his father dies from a bee sting, Britt inherits his publishing empire. He discovers his father’s car collection and the mechanic who maintains it, Kato. Together, they get drunk and go to cut the head of the stature of Britt’s father. During their task, they hear calls for help from a couple being mugged and go to render assistance. The police mistake them for the actual criminals, though, and the pair escape without being seen.
Back at Britt’s manor, he gets the idea to fight crime by posing as criminals, making sure that innocents couldn’t be used against them. Kato modifies one of the cars in the collection, adding weapons and gadgets to it, calling the car the Black Beauty. Britt uses the files his father had on Chudnofsky, a Russian mobster that Britt believes his father was trying to expose. Using his newspaper, the Daily Sentinel, Britt begins to publish articles about the new criminal in town, the Green Hornet. Britt uses the criminology knowledge of his new secretary, Lenore, to plan the Green Hornet’s every move, taking out a number of Chudnovsky’s operations.
Chudnovsky, however, isn’t about to let a new criminal take over any piece of his empire, and has an ace up his sleeve. After a failed attempt on the lives of the Green Hornet and Kato, though, he offers them half the city if the Green Hornet kills Britt Reid. Meanwhile, Britt discovers that his father’s death wasn’t an accident but murder. The DA tried to bribe Britt’s father into downplaying the levels of crime in the city but was refused. He offers Britt the same bribe and, when rebuffed, tries to kill the millionaire playboy using the same bee venom that killed his father. Kato arrives at the restaurant, nominally to kill Britt, but rescues him while disrupting the meet.
Britt thought ahead, though. He had made a recording of the DA’s bribe, saving it to a USB memory stick. He and Kato escape the restaurant and race to the Daily Sentinel to get it on the paper’s website. The DA and Chudnovsky chase the pair, leading to the climactic fight in the paper’s offices.
The movie stays more or less faithful to both the original radio series and the 1966 TV series. However, there is a change in tone. The radio series was a serious crime drama. The TV series, while camp, was also serious and played straight, more melodrama than crime drama, but not intentionally a comedy. The movie, though, was a straight up action-comedy. The action portion would fit in with the TV series. The comedy, though, creates a situation where the uncanny valley effect comes into play. The movie feels off, but not in any way that’s obvious, much like a too human-looking robot or animated character feels off because it doesn’t quite have the proper responses expected. If the movie were less like the TV series while still using comedy, the problem would be obvious. Likewise, if the comedy was toned down, it’d feel closer to the original and the TV adaptation. The movie, though, hits a not-quite-right tone; it gets most of the details near-perfect, but the comedy becomes dissonant**. Thus, the movie isn’t a bad adaptation, in fact, it comes close to being ideal, except for the dissonance.
The movie adaptation of The Green Hornet shows some of the problems of copying a copy. The introduction of the comedy aspects threw off an otherwise near-perfect adaptation. Ignoring the comedy portions, though, the movie does adapt the TV series well.
* It seems that the best superpower to have is incredible wealth. While Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, is the best known millionaire playboy, other mystery men with the same background include Oliver Queen (aka the Green Arrow), Lamont Cranston (the Shadow), and, Tony Stark (Iron Man).
** It took several viewings and chatting with other members of Crossroads Alpha to figure out why the movie didn’t feel right despite hitting all the right notes, thus causing last week’s hiatus.