The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘remakes’

The “Buck Rogers” Quandry – In Which I Contradict Previous Views

Posted by BigWords on February 20, 2010

If you have been reading through the posts here for any length of time you will probably be aware of my opinion on the accuracy with which a character’s continuing adventures should be to its’ originating material. The whole debate about screwing with a character’s personality, the setting within which they operate, the surrounding characters, the tech level (and a hundred other details) is open to discussion once more, as I find the constant chatter concerning the proposed Buck Rogers film has managed to overlook a simple fact – the original incarnation of the character is a racist thug. That comment is probably going to upset a few people, but is the nicest thing I have to say about Anthony Rogers.

The views of the character were seen as acceptable back when Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella Armageddon 2419 was released, and contemporary authors (Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft to name two) pushed similarly bigoted ideals onto the stories they churned out, so it isn’t as is the story stands alone as an Aryan call to arms. Armageddon 2419 is, in many ways, a poorly written story (not as bad as Airlords Of Han, but still…), featuring unsympathetic characters and illogical plot devices throughout. Ah, and I mentioned the sequel, which deserves a word or two of its’ own.

Airlords Of Han is shit. This may come as a shock to anyone who believes that Buck Rogers stands alongside Flash Gordon, The Rocketmen and Lensman as a paragon of the Golden Age of SF characters, but it is undeniable that an entire chapter devoted to the explanation of the fictional technologies of the future is a waste of paper and time. When it does manage to stay on track, the even crueler depiction of the Hans (a race who do not believe in either respect or the soul) reinforces the surplus of negativity with which I have always associated the character. So… Ignoring my previous entreaties to stick to the original depiction of a character, adapting the books is out of the question.

What of the comic strip? When the comic strip started, a few years later, the more obvious elements were removed at the expense of even more logic., and… Well, aside from the fact that Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Lensman, the original Battlestar Galactica and a thousand lesser films and television shows have already churned over the same ground – and sometimes to much better effect – I believe a loose adaptation of those stories may prove more fruitful. And the SF element is greater in the strip than the two novellas, wherein the level of technology has been stunted due to a prolonged war (entirely situated on planet Earth) with the Han. I never liked the television series, so I don’t know why anyone would consider it to be worth updating – at least in a straight retelling. In the mode of a parody (deep into Spaceballs territory) it would be fine, but really… Do we need that?

In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory.

Alfred North Whitehead

And so I will contradict myself.

All we need (that is, all we really need) is for a character named ‘Rogers’ to find himself at some point in the twenty-fifth century – not necessarily in 2419, but that would be a nice touch – and to get into a few scrapes. Wilma (who does appear in the novellas) should really be present, though Twiki can be safely ignored. That’s pretty much all we need in a film script bearing the title “Buck Rogers” – though there will always be the nagging doubt that another property would be deserving of a remake more than a soggy old, used and abused, hokier-than-hokey SF anomaly. Okay, so that’s maybe a tad too critical of a deliberately camp old television show, but I stand by my assertion that there are many (more deserving) properties which deserve better treatment.

You might agree, you can certainly disagree, and even if you can’t raise the energy to care, a film will probably arrive at some point.

Armageddon 2419 is available online at Project Gutenberg Australia
The Airlords Of Han is available online at Project Gutenberg Australia

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Posted in comics, Over The Line | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Mining The Public Domain

Posted by BigWords on January 6, 2010

As I try to keep myself occupied with adequate levels of strangeness, it occurs to me that there seems to have been a shift in public opinion regarding public domain characters while I wasn’t paying attention. There used to be a sniggering, sneering attitude taken whenever people brought up the outmoded (and often laughable) characters and situations which had been abandoned by their creators, but these days it is hard to turn around without catching a glimpse of a famous character free from troublesome copyright problems. I guess it saves people the trouble of having to do the hard work. Or something.

Take a few moments to think of the number of revivals kicking around at the moment. The new Sherlock Holmes film, the Project Superpowers comics, the Robin Hood and Merlin series from the BBC… There are many, many examples kicking around now, which take the elements of the original characters and spin them off in new ways, and I’m wondering if this current fascination may have something of worth. Maybe there is redemption for the neglected characters nobody seems to want to take the blame credit for. Lets pick a good example from the Golden Age of comics… Hmmm. Captain Commando seems particularly pathetic.

Now, my first problem is the name. There’s no way anyone can write a character called Captain Commando with a straight face. I’ll simply use Commando from now on, if only to save myself from getting a migraine trying to take him seriously. And then I come to the costume. Were S. M. Iger and Alex Blum being incredibly lazy when they came up with this particular patriotic character, or did they know he was fated for the trash heap when they first cobbled together the (sparse) elements? There is nothing particularly memorable about him save for that awful, awful name – nothing to be proud of here, guys.

Do I have to point out the V on his costume? Considering that neither his real name nor his nomme de guerre (or even an affiliate organization to which he is attached à la Legion of Super-Heroes) contains the letter, it’s merely a visual distraction. That isn’t even the most obvious problem with the costume, because, given his military rank, he displays a lack of any insignia or other company identifiers. I’ve always liked the fetishism of uniforms (look at the Germans in the second world war for the prime example of military style), so there has to be something which looks like it is straight out of a war film.

That’ll do for now.

Next on the agenda is that belt. I like simplicity combined with automatically recognizable elements, though there is no way that damn V is staying. He’s the poster boy for the US war effort (in his mind, at least), so he ought to have something a little more patriotic than a letter – even that lame-ass Aquaman has a letter on his buckle, and look how his career turned out. Maybe a simple American flag would suffice. It’s clear from a distance, and the soldiers who watch him from a distance will know whose side Commando is on.

John Grayson (Commando’s real name) doesn’t really have an origin, which also points to the lack of care in crafting the character. There’s already way too many characters whose origins are clouded in Super Soldier serum / radiation / mutant DNA bullshit, so there really should be a more realistic take on the origin if he has any hope of being of use. Considering how many of the Stars And Stripes characters have been deconstructed and psychoanalyzed over the years, for the worse in many cases, I don’t want to use too much of the sub-Freudean hackery that passes for ‘depth’ in comics.

The first point which I have to make regarding superheroes is simple – you can’t have a character say the Nazi’s are doubling their garrisons all along the coast if the character isn’t at least Superman-level. It doesn’t work with Batman, so it sure as hell doesn’t work with the lame sonufabitch pictured above. The Nazi’s are – in all likelihood – wetting themselves with laughter at him prancing around in his red underwear. I’ll let that sink in a moment before hashing out a half-decent origin for you… A guy wearing spandex is not threatening. It’s one of the unfortunate hold-overs from the early comics, and it has to stop being portrayed as anything but camp.

My point made, I promised you an origin. Here goes:

The US military forces, sensing that their troops are being demoralized by the superior fashion sense, the awesome-cool supernatural trinkets, and the sexy baroness’s in tight-fitting leather which Hitler has been parading in front of their GIs, decide they need a show of force that will raise the spirits of the troops. The best way to get the blood up is, apparently, by having a focal figure which they can look up to and attempt to emulate. Nobody bothered to check the ways that this could mess up their fighting force, with mere mortals trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal. Great way to encourage troops to run into a hail of gunfire…

So, barring any of their men tripping and falling into a vat of radioactive-super-soldier-making-macguffin, they need to manufacture their hero. There aren’t any easy ways to get a regular guy to the state of battle-readiness that Commando displays, so slight of hand is needed. I suggest this could be done simply and without recourse to any of the tired and predictable superhero staples which make me despair for the state of writing in comics. First of all, a small unit (twenty men) armed with enough firepower to take out any number of enemies they encounter are deployed as quietly as possible. No witnesses – this is a really important bit.

These guys, hand-picked for their abilities, do all the dirty work and make damn sure everyone within the target zone is eliminated. With the area cleared, Commando is safely dropped into the middle of the battle to be picked up by a unit which has been ordered to go pick him up. As he is being transported back to a very visible base to be flown back to HQ, he busies himself bullshitting the troops about how he managed to single-handedly take out the enemy forces in the area. Suitably buoyed by his tales of heroism, the soldiers have their spirits raised and hope renewed.

Shower, rinse, repeat.

There ya go – one origin story just as I promised.

Posted in comics, Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Do Remakes Have To Kill Franchises?

Posted by BigWords on September 16, 2009

Having just sat through Death Race I have to ask this question. It should have ended with the chick standing on the roof of the car in the Frankenstein mask, the cutaway signifying the possible escape of the drivers. It ran on a few minutes longer, with an ending which was completely unnecessary and destroyed my interest in seeing a sequel. I have to make it clear, straight off the bat, that I’m a big fan of the original, and the thought that this would be similarly laced with barbed commentary appealed to me.

Wow, was I wrong about that or what?

It could have set up a great B-Movie franchise of explosions, gratuitous violence and general mayhem, but after the add-on scenes set in Mexico I’m not sure a sequel would even be possible. It isn’t as if creating a kick-ass franchise is difficult, as even the abysmal Butterfly Effect has managed to drag on to three equally yawn-inducing installments. As for the craptastic remake of The Omen, the least said the better…

Why are remakes so hard to get right? I’m not going to include the constantly revised stuff here, because anything with Sherlock Holmes or Batman is going to be revamped in a few years anyway (and Batman currently has a few versions available), so this is centered solely on fresh remakes on dead properties. Such as Planet Of The Apes.

Rule One (which must be obeyed at all costs) is that a remake must engage the fans of the original. Halloween (which was too slow and too retro) missed a few vital pointers from the original and demystified Michael Myers to a degree that it wasn’t really a horror film. It wanted to be taken seriously, but when there is an audience waiting on a certain type of film, they’re going to react badly when they see something that doesn’t push their buttons.

Rule Two is don’t fuck up the ending. This is where I ought to launch into a “What the Hell is the point of Tim Burton?” rant, but I really don’t care to expend energy attacking someone who doesn’t even have the courtesy to learn about the subject of his films before he starts directing.

Anyone who makes a comic-book movie having never looked at the comics is a fucking hack.

And a pretty useless one at that. There are at least a dozen major problems with the first Batman film, and even an awesome Batmobile can’t save the film from the dumbest ending ever. Who in their right mind kills off the Joker? Then he compounds his errors with the Planet Of The Apes, where he kills the potential series with a completely uncalled for coda in which… Sorry, I can’t even bring myself to relay the end of the story.

Anyways…

Rule Three. Don’t betray the fans of the original. As if having to watch Tom (not gay) Cruise running around in Mission: Impossible, we find out that the heroic Jim Phelps betrayed the IMF. Really? The same Jim Phelps who put his ass on the line every week to save the world? The man who put more villainous dictators in their place than Dubya could ever wet dream of? It was a slap in the face to the fans of the original series, and an insult to intelligent viewers.

Rule Four. Don’t remake Casablanca.

Rule Five. Big robots fighting each other over a Rubix cube isn’t big and isn’t clever.

Rule Six. Never let Pitof direct.

Addendum to rule six: Never let Uwe Boll direct. Anything.

Rule Seven. Just because everyone else is doing a _____ film, doesn’t mean you have to resurrect a crap franchise to cash in. I’m half dreading the announcement that some half-assed reimagining of an old cartoon will be appearing in cinemas soon, because it nearly always turns out to be a bad idea. If you need proof that it’s not a way to appease fans, then just look at the mess which Transformers made of its source material.

Rule Eight. Always keep the villain alive for the sequel.

I’ll add to this when I pluck up enough courage to watch what Uwe Boll did to Far Cry, and I suppose that I’ll have rules for making films based on computer games as well. I may even have to watch Super Mario Bros for that, so I might have to sober up before posting my thoughts. If I watch Tomb Raider I’ll need to be really drunk…

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