I’ve got a song in my heart. Or something.

On Friday night, I watched the movie adaptation of the musical Cats. A great deal of the Internet has already made fun of this psychedelic oddity of a film adaptation, but I actually kind of loved it.  I think it was a pretty decent stage adaptation, despite Taylor Swift adding a new song to it for some reason.  It definitely had some oddities, like some of the cats having sneakers or tap shoes or even fur coats, which is a weird thing for a cat to wear.   Here are a couple of choice Twitter post observations, before we move on:

Getting back to my original point- I was always going to love the Cats movie, because I’m an unapologetic musical theater geek. Always have been, and always will be. I’ve been listening to (and occasionally seeing) musicals for as long as I’ve been aware of them. I saw A Chorus Line at the end of its decade-busting run at the Schubert in New York City back in the 80s. I’ve seen Wicked enough times and in so many different cities that I’ve actually lost count. I’ve been a season subscriber to local theaters a few times now, and it’s a wonder that I didn’t major in musical theatre.

There are a LOT of stage musicals that have been made into movies. Don’t believe me? Go look up “movies of musicals” on Google. I’m not going to cover even a fraction of them here, just a few that have my attention right now. I’m also leaving out musical movies that were not originally stage shows at all, such as The Greatest Showman – that’s an entirely different post.

I’m sure that everyone who leaves a comment on this post will have some thoughts about musicals I’ve missed. Here are my thoughts on a few of them.

Little Shop Of Horrors
I love Little Shop. This has long been one of my all-time favorite musicals. So much so that I own three different variants of the soundtrack- the movie, the original broadway, and the recent revival. I even saw this in German while I was in Germany- hearing the same songs with lyrics auf Deutsch was fascinating.

The movie adaptation of Little Shop committed two sins, though. The first sin: It added a song to the movie that wasn’t in the stage show. This wasn’t too bad though, because the song was “Mean Green Mother,” which is hilarious and fun. The other sin, the more egregious mortal sin, is that the movie was unnecessarily given a happy ending when the stage show (and the original Jack Nicholson black and white movie, for that matter) don’t have happy endings. Still, this is a great movie adaptation. Plus, it has a bonus fun bit with Bill Murray that is entirely pointless, but still great fun.

West Side Story and Guys and Dolls
I can’t ignore the older musical movies – I love many of the “classic” movie musicals, and there are a great many: Kismet, Bells Are Ringing, My Fair Lady, and two of my long-time favorites, West Side Story and Guys and Dolls.

West Side Story is such a delight that I can’t even relate the sheer number of times that it’s filtered into other pop culture or been an integral part of a joke. Plus this musical is why all the gangstas in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video were such accomplished dancers.

As for Guys and Dolls, the movie is 65 years old but it still holds up, with Brando, Sinatra, and a fantastic supporting cast. Stubby Kaye sings one of my favorite songs from the entire musical:

A Chorus Line: The Movie
A Chorus Line is so very, very, very dated. The original stage show holds up much better because it gets occasionally updated. The movie version, on the other hand, is pure 1985 cheese with regard to instrumentation, arrangement, and dancing styles. Add to that the venial sin of adding a song that isn’t in the original stage show, and you have a movie that is absolutely terrible.   The added song is so ear-wormy that it quickly became my favorite song in the movie, despite my previous complaints about movie-musicals that add a song just for the movie. I’m fickle and complicated; sue me.

Phantom Of The Opera
I wanted to love this because the stage show is amazing.  The movie got the look spot on- the staging, the costumes, the orchestration- everything was perfect. Except for Gerard Butler. Why did they have to cast someone as the Phantom who makes me want to stick needles in my ears every time he opens his mouth? This musical movie adaptation would have been perfect if Butler had never opened his trap.

Rent
My only complaint about the movie adaptation of Rent is that the stage show has some grit to it, and the movie is so polished that it felt like an MTV video of the stage show. They get bonus points for pulling in many of the original Broadway cast actors for this one, and when they did bring in new talent, it was a good fit. Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms both did really excellent jobs with their songs, and I have no complaints.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
When I saw that they were making a movie of this, I was ecstatic. Then I saw they were casting Johnny Depp as Sweeney and I was distraught. I love Avenue Q. I adore Wicked. But Sweeney Todd may be my all-time favorite musical. Especially the original Len Cariou/Angela Lansbury version.  (Bonus geek trivia: Len Cariou, the original Sweeney, played Janeway’s father in one episode of Star Trek: Voyager. True story.) I love Sweeney Todd so much that I was horrified at what might happen with Depp in the lead. I wasn’t sure if he could sing, and it reeked of stunt casting.

I had nothing to fear though- I was in the audience opening weekend, and my row-mates actually caught me squeeing a number of times- Depp and Helena Bonham Carter both did an amazing job. And I found, to my delight, that this was the single best movie adaptation of a musical I had yet seen. It was faithful enough to the stage show that I didn’t feel like it was needlessly truncated, and the entirety of it was pitch-perfect in every way.  Pun only mildly intended.

It’s also the only time I’ve seen Sacha Baron Cohen in any role without getting irrationally snarky and irritated. Make of that what you will.

This one made me very, very happy.

Into The Woods
The wonderful job they did setting this one to film made me very happy, and it gave me optimism that they will eventually do a good film adaptation of Wicked, since both have a similarly fantastical world to set up. Into The Woods had an all-star cast, and I’ll even forgive them for letting Meryl Streep get away with talk-singing her way through most of her bits instead of really singing. Honestly, I still think they should have just gotten Bernadette Peters to reprise her stage role for the film. I know she was 65 when they made this movie, but she looks younger than me. She would have been perfect. Even with that newbie Meryl in the role of the Witch, the movie version of this show was incredibly well done.

Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to mention a bit about the reverse- movies that have become stage shows, against all odds and better judgement. Especially since many of these were not musicals to begin with. Turning non-musical movies into musicals has been a big trend lately, with Mean Girls and Legally Blonde both becoming really popular as stage musicals.

I’m completely ignoring all the Disney broadway adaptations. They’re usually pretty good, and they find little ways to improve on the original cartoon versions, but I still feel like a Disney Broadway show based on a cartoon musical is a bit of a cheat.
I’m also disregarding Spamalot, because although it’s mostly Holy Grail, it goes way off track in bizarre ways. I’m just going to talk about four here:

Xanadu
This had great potential to be wonderful.  I love the original film it was based on. Regrettably, they really changed the tone and style of the music to make it a stage show, and they camped it up even more than the original movie. I wanted to love this, but I find myself only mildly digging it. Alas.

Heathers: The Musical
I absolutely love this one.   I appreciate how much of the original score was incorporated into the original music for this one. The original cast recording’s Barrett Wilbert Weed does a great job of sounding like Winona Ryder while still also making the role entirely her own. (She went on to grab a part in the Mean Girls musical after this.). Ultimately, Heathers: The Musical does the thing that every musical WANTS to do: it gets stuck in your head and has you humming the songs after you’ve left the theater.

Evil Dead: The Musical
Evil Dead: The Musical is really brilliant. I still haven’t ever managed to see a live show of it, but I very much want to. With song titles like “Do The Necronomicon,” “What the Fuck Was That,” “Boomstick,” and “Blew That Bitch Away,” how could you not love this?

Silence! (The Silence Of The Lambs Musical)
Yes. They really made a musical out of this. Last time I looked into it, Silence! was just a concept album really, but since then it’s been performed numerous times in different cities. It’s kind of amazing and kind of hilarious… The music is a lot of fun.

…and last, but not least…

The Last Starfighter
I wish I’d been able to fly to New York to see this when it was open. It’s only been done in short bursts, but that’s probably a good thing. I love the original movie- it’s a huge part of my childhood. This musical…. well, it disappoints in almost every conceivable way. I actually bought the soundtrack to the musical with high hopes, and they were shattered on the very first listen. They didn’t even try to work in Craig Safan’s amazing score.  This is honestly completely terrible, but I still really want to see it someday.

As you can imagine, I could have written pages and pages more about musicals in film or films that have become musicals, but I had to stop somewhere.

What are some of your favorite musicals, whether they be on stage or on the silver screen?

2/52

What I learned from the Labyrinth

Labyrinth-poster2Labyrinth, the musical fantasy epic from Jim Henson and Brian Froud, has long been one of my favorite movies.  I loved it the first time I saw it in 1986, and I love it now.  A few months ago, Fathom Events brought Labyrinth back to movie theaters for a few days.  While I was enjoying a new viewing on the big screen, I started thinking about the life lessons encoded in Henson’s Bowie-filled masterpiece.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the basic premise for the start of the movie-  Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenage girl who clings to the fantasy life and toys of her childhood.  As the film opens, she is late to babysit her brother Toby, and she’s a whiny brat about it.  She complains about having to babysit to her Stepmother and father, “It’s not fair!”  Once they go out, she is frustrated by Toby’s constant crying, and she super dramatically wishes for the Goblin King to take the baby away from her.   Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) appears, and takes the baby as she requested.

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I need a portable fan for dramatic entrances.

When she says that she wants him back, he gives her thirteen hours to get through the Labyrinth to the castle beyond the Goblin City.    This is where the story really kicks in- and the lessons.

Pretty isn’t always good, and monstrous isn’t always bad.

When Sarah first meets Hoggle outside the Labyrinth, he’s cheerfully killing faeries with a pump-spray filled with of some sort of pesticide. She picks one up, thinking it’s a poor abused thing, and it promptly bites her.  Later, she first encounters Ludo suspended upside-down and being tormented by goblins with biting-sticks. Ludo looks and sounds like a ferocious beast at first, but it’s an illusion.  Once he’s right side up, his fierce expression turns out to be sweet and friendly.

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The idea that pretty things can be dangerous and that helpful or good-natured things might be hiding behind ferocity is repeated throughout the Labyrinth, and that leads us to…

Take nothing for granted.

Early in the film, Sarah is following an outer track of the maze but she struggles to find an entrance to the Labyrinth.  When she slumps against the wall in frustration, she meets an adorable worm who invites her in for a cup of tea, and to meet the missus.

labyrinth-worm
How does he tie that tiny scarf?  He’s a worm, he’s got no hands!

Sarah is too preoccupied with getting through the maze to stop, and she says as much to the worm.  He tells her not to take anything for granted, and points her to a place that looks like solid wall.   She realizes after a moment that it’s an illusion, and that there are openings all over, and rushes off.

Don’t be in such a rush that you miss the important things.

The worm isn’t done with the lessons there, either.  At the end of their exchange, the worm tells her not to go in the first direction she chose.   She doesn’t question it, thanks him, and races off in the other direction.  Once she’s out of earshot, the worm says, “If she’d have kept on goin’ down that way she’d have gone straight to that castle.”

If she hadn’t been in such a rush, she would have gotten to the castle much faster. and the movie would have been considerably shorter.

Life isn’t always fair.

Throughout the movie, Jareth sends obstacles to keep Sarah from reaching the castle to reclaim her brother.  When he speeds up the clock and changes the conditions of her challenge, she impetuously complains that  it isn’t fair.  Jareth’s dry retort is one of my favorite lines in any movie: “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

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Goblin King Sass!

It’s important to have perspective about the problems in your life-  fairness rarely enters into it.  Whining about how things haven’t been fair to you will accomplish nothing at all.

You can get used to any bullshit if you spend too much time around it.

When our intrepid heroes reach the Bog of Eternal Stench, they meet Sir Didymus, the stalwart defender of… a tiny rickety bridge across the bog.  While we never find out why Sir Didymus has pledged himself to defend this bridge, we do realize that he must have been in the Bog for quite some time.  Everyone else in the group is recoiling with disgust at the stench, but Sir Didymus doesn’t notice at all.  Think of it as the olfactory equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.

labyrinth-sweet-and-fragrant

This is also true in real life- if you have a terrible job or a bad relationship or a friendship that is withering on the vine, it’s easy to get used to it.  Inertia is sometimes difficult to break through and we often let a less-than-ideal situation go on for far longer than we should because it’s what we’re used to.

Sometimes you just need a new quest to get out of the Bog.

Your stuff is just stuff.

During the requisite drugged-peach hallucinatory trip segment of the movie,  Sarah finds herself in a junkyard with no memory of what she was doing.  She encounters a Junk Lady with all of her possessions on her back.  There’s a moment where Sarah returns to what she thinks is her room, surrounded by all the things she loves – her old games and books and toys and stuffed animals.

labyrinth-junklady

The Junk Lady starts to hand her the things she loves, and begins stacking them up on her back-  after a moment, Sarah starts to have an improbable stack of her things resting above her shoulders, just like the Junk Lady.   She realizes after a few minutes that her things are all just junk- the belongings aren’t that important, and she quickly resumes her quest to reach Toby before the clock runs out.

This is a recurring theme in many of my favorite movies- the things you own often wind up owning you.  They can pull you down, and weigh heavily on you.  And at the end of the journey, it’s really all just junk-  the important thing is the people you meet along the way.

Love can be a subtle control.

In one of the most subtly nasty moments in the entire film, Jareth says a thing which summarizes the tricky control of many a psychologically abusive relationship.  Gaslighting, in a nutshell:   “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

In a way, this is the same lesson as most of the others-  you can get used to any situation, no matter how bad.  The things you love can control you.  Pretty things are often bad for you.

The way out is to remember your own strength, as Sarah did when she stopped playing  Jareth’s Goblin games at the end of the movie:  “You have no power over me.”

What lessons did you learn from Labyrinth?

The 2015 Television Upfronts

Every May, the five main American broadcast television networks get together at a big party called the Upfronts to show their new fall shows to advertisers.  This is when we, the viewers, get our first taste of the new fall schedule.

Over the past several years, I’ve always talked about the Upfronts elsewhere on the Web.  In years past, I would write one post for each of the five networks.  In each post, I would list the network’s announced fall schedule and detail the new shows.  I would always come up with a big summary post at the end with a grid showing what programs I would watch in the fall.

Over the last few years, things have changed.  While I was in Germany, I couldn’t watch American television in real time.  My TiVo was back in Florida, and I had to rely on a variety of Internet technologies to keep up with my TV watching.

Another big change over the last few years is the television landscape itself-  I loved Community when it started, but now it’s not even playing on a normal network- it’s showing on Yahoo Screen.  The idea of an Internet company making television programming blows my mind entirely.

Add to that the fact that most of the new programming that shows up on television is total crap, and you wind up with a very dull screen.  Here’s a perfect example:  This fall, the networks are producing at least three shows that are either based on or continuing the story from a previous movie:  Rush Hour, Limitless, and Minority Report.  All three could be good, but I really kinda doubt it.

The days of the program grid and the scheduled television are over.  I’m not going to cover every announced new show, I’m only going to talk about the five new shows that I’m really excited about.  Only three of them are based on comic books, so that’s something.  Oh, and it worked out to one per network.

Going alphabetically, I guess I’m starting with ABC.

THE MUPPETS - "The Muppets" return to prime time with a contemporary, documentary-style show that, for the first time ever, will explore the Muppets’ personal lives and relationships, both at home and at work, as well as romances, break-ups, achievements, disappointments, wants and desires; a more adult Muppet show, for kids of all ages.  (ABC/Eric McCandless) KERMIT THE FROG, GONZO THE GREATThe Muppets – Bill Prady is one of the names behind this new television incarnation of the muppets.  It’s being set up as a “documentary-style show that, for the first time ever, will explore the Muppets’ personal lives and relationships, both at home and at work, as well as romances, break-ups, achievements, disappointments, wants and desires; a more adult Muppet show, for kids of all ages.”

I was skeptical about the format until I watched the trailer.  This looks like it will be a hoot, even though some of the new muppet voices totally take me out of the moment.

Next up is CBS.

new-tv-shows-supergirlSupergirl –  “Kara Zor-El escaped her home planet of Krypton amid its destruction years ago. Since arriving on Earth, she has concealed the powers she shares with her (ahem) “famous cousin.” But now, at age 24, she decides to embrace her superhuman abilities and be the hero she was always meant to be.”

The trailer for this appeared online a few days ago, and I think this is going to be a lot of fun.  It looks closer in tone to Lois & Clark than it does to Smallville, and that’s a very good thing.    Unfortunately, we have to wait until after football ends in November to see this one.

Next up, FOX.

Lucifer – “Bored as the Lord of Hell, Lucifer resigns his throne and abandons his kingdom for the gorgeous, shimmering insanity of Los Angeles, where he gets his kicks helping the LAPD punish criminals. Based on characters from DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint.”

Slated for midseason, this is another show that I was very skeptical about until I saw the trailer.  Lucifer is a brilliant character, but I thought at first they were going to turn this into just another police procedural.  CSI: Hell, in other words.  This has potential, but only if FOX executives can keep their mitts off the production process as they move along.

NBC’s best new show is going to be:

new-tv-shows-best-time-ever-with-neil-patrick-harrisBest Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris –  This show has a 10 pm air time, and I saw it referenced once as a variety show.  I don’t really know what that means, but I’m assuming there will be singing and dancing because it’s Neil Patrick Harris.  I keep hoping he’ll be able to get some How I Met Your Mother gags in, but we’ll see.

I love pretty much everything that NPH does, and I have very high hopes for this one.

Last but not least, The CW has decided to spin a show off of their shared Arrow/Flash world.

DC's Legends of TomorrowDC’s Legends Of Tomorrow – “When heroes alone are not enough… the world needs legends. Having seen the future, one he will desperately try to prevent from happening, time-traveling rogue Rip Hunter is tasked with assembling a disparate group of both heroes and villains to confront an unstoppable threat – one in which not only is the planet at stake, but all of time itself. Can this ragtag team defeat an immortal threat unlike anything they have ever known? The cast includes Victor Garber (The Flash); Brandon Routh (Arrow); Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who); Caity Lotz (Arrow); Dominic Purcell (The Flash) and Wentworth Miller (The Flash).”

There is so much awesome in this trailer that I’m kind of amazed that it got pushed to television so fast- it’s a Justice-League-esque show without most of the actual comics Justice League.    Add to that a live-action Hawk Girl, live-action Firestorm, an Atom who actually shrinks, and a live-action Vandal Savage… I’m damned impressed.  I kind of wonder who they’ll get to play Savage, though.

What do you think about these new shows?  Are you getting burnt out on all the comics on television?

 

Further Drachenstich

Each year, the town of Furth im Wald holds a festival called Drachenstich, or Spearing the Dragon.    Part of the main street is fenced off to become an arena, and the town performs one of the oldest folk plays in Germany.  The original version goes back to 1590, but the play has been revised along the way- once in 1951, and again around 2007.  The festival is so ingrained into the city’s identity that the signs leading into town focus on the Drachenstich.

drachenstich-1

The story in the play focuses on the evils of war-  the dragon is good and kind in the beginning of the story, but gets a taste for blood after the humans start to kill one another, until eventually there’s a traditional hero type (Udo, in this story) saving his love from becoming a Dragon-snack.  It’s a pretty big spectacle.

Before I get further into the pictures, let’s talk about the dragon-  after all, this is the real reason that I wanted to see Drachenstich in the first place.  The dragon is quite new, and holds the world’s record for largest four-legged walking robot.  It’s 15.5 meters long, 4.5 meters tall, and it has a 12 meter wingspan.  It walks, blinks, breathes fire, roars, spreads its wings, waves its tail, and even bleeds at the appropriate point in the story.  It was manufactured by Zollner, which also makes some of the buses that I ride to work every day.

We arrived to Furth and parked the car just in time to catch the Dragon-wranglers bringing the dragon up the street toward the Drachenstich arena.  For up-the-street transport, the dragon was on a custom wheeled base-  the walking speed is less than two kilometers per hour, which would have been interminably slow up that hill.

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The two guys in the brown shirts in this picture are the controllers-  I counted three different controllers with very large control boxes strapped to their chests.

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At the top of the hill, they ran some pre-show tests, including a little bit of flame.

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You can see the dude in the bottom right of this picture controlling the dragon’s head.

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The dragon’s face is really expressive.

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This is from the earlier part of the play, when the dragon is good and kind.

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The lady in the red head-dress would be the woman that Udo is rescuing by killing the dragon.  To be honest, I didn’t get a lot of the non-dragon parts of the story.  There was a lot of yelling and a repeating creepy feral girl from the first scene.  There were lots of horses, too.

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During the climactic final scene in the play, the dragon walks all the way into the arena, spreads its wings, and does battle with Udo.

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Flame on!

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The Drachenstich festival runs until 17 August, so there’s still time to see it this year.

Who’s your favorite dragon?

Grokking Expatriates In Sci-Fi*

I was having a conversation with Spring about Doctor Who, as we often do, and it occurred to me that The Doctor is actually an expatriate.

That’s really what this blog is about-  I started to write here originally just to tell my family and close friends what I was up to during my time in Germany.  Over time, however, my blog evolved into more than that-  I talk about life as an expat, and I talk about things that are different from life back in the US, different from the life I knew before last year.

Every third or fourth time I use the word expatriate, or expat for short, someone asks me what it means.  An expatriate is just somebody who lives outside of their native country, whether that be temporary or permanent.  The original meaning of the word referred to people who were permanently exiled or who had renounced their homes, but the word is used much  more generically now to describe anyone living outside their home country.

Doctor WhoIf you broaden the definition slightly of expatriate from country to planet, you can posit that the Doctor is actually an expat.   His homeworld is Gallifrey, a planet that is lost forever in time, but he spends an awful lot of time on Earth, hanging out with humans and generally getting involved with the culture.  That, my friends, is what an expatriate does.  Most of us don’t spend quite as much time running as the Doctor,  though, with the possible exception of Mandi.

Talking about the Doctor as an expatriate got me thinking about all the other expats scattered throughout geeky pop culture, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of them.  Since I’m a huge list-making nerd, this naturally led to me making a list of some of my favorite sci-fi and fantasy expats from movies, television, comics, and books.  There are far too many to include in one sitting, but these are some of my favorites.  I separate most of them into one of four basic categories: Last Of My Kind, Stranded, Out Of Time, and Expat By Choice.

The Doctor falls into the Last Of My Kind grouping.

jonnjonnzAnother memorable example of the last of his kind is J’onn J’onnz, the Martian Manhunter.  J’onn has taken on the human secret identity of John Jones, and he works as a police detective.  Here we encounter a major genre caveat:  Almost all comic book characters have had their story told and retold so many times that there are numerous versions, numerous origins, and numerous backstories.  J’onn was not always the last of his kind, and certain versions of him have other martians around.  In current continuity, there are green martians and white martians- J’onn is a green.  In most of the versions though, J’onn spends much of his non-crimefighting time observing and trying to understand humanity.

bigblueContinuing on in comics, we have perhaps one of the most famous expatriates of all time:  Kal-El of Krypton. Sent to earth by his father to escape a dying planet, baby Kal is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, and is raised as their son, Clark Kent.  The story of Superman is so well known in our shared popular culture that even people who don’t read comics tend to have at least some knowledge of the story.  One interesting question where Superman is concerned, however:  In most versions of his story, Kal-El really knows very little of the cultural heritage of Krypton.  He was raised on Earth, as an Earth child.  Does this mean he’s not really an expatriate?

I could go on and on about expats in comics, since many of the comic book heroes are living outside their home countries.   As my friend Frank Fradella put it when I bounced the idea for this post off of him, “…and geez… the entire “new” X-Men were expats. Storm, Colossus, Banshee, Sunfire, Nightcrawler.”  Frank is right-  if I keep listing comic book expats, we’ll never get around to other fun characters.  Let’s move on to the Stranded expats.

While most expat stories in the sci-fi/fantasy genre tend to be fish out of water stories, it’s a pretty common trope to have people stuck somewhere, trying to get home.  Heck, that’s the entire premise of Star Trek: Voyager.  I don’t count them as expatriates, though, because they’re living in a community of their own kind (i.e. on board Voyager) and they’re not really integrating into the society around them as much as they’re just passing  through.  Star Trek: Voyager is the sci-fi equivalent of an American Army base in Germany- just passing through, folks.

farscapeOften, however, the characters who fit this category are stuck.  They want to go home, but don’t know a way.  Like John Crichton in Farscape.  John is an astronaut and test pilot.  In the first episode of the series, he’s flying his module, Farscape One, and he is pulled into a suddenly appearing wormhole.  When he exits the other side, he’s in the middle of a battle between the Peacekeepers, a human-looking species called the Sebacean, and a group of escaped prisoners of various alien species aboard Moya, a living ship.  He’s pulled onboard Moya, and the rest of the series is a combination of his adventures with that group and his attempts to get home.

flashgordonFlash Gordon‘s story is not all that different than John Crichton, although in the wonderfully campy 1980 movie version, he’s not an astronaut, he’s a professional football player. (The original 1930s version had him as a polo player.)   During a series of pretty ludicrous events, he gets launched into space, and crash-lands on Mongo, before getting into a series of adventures with the various peoples of that world.  Flash adapts amazingly well, and ultimately winds up saving the various different nations of Mongo from their evil overlord, Ming The Merciless.  There have been other versions of Flash’s story, but the 1980 version is my favorite, partially because of the amazing Queen rock-score for the film, but mostly for the amazing cast, including Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, Max von Sydow as Ming, and the amazing Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan:

Gordon's alive?

Moving on, then.  The television series Land Of The Lost counts as a Stranded expat story, because the Marshall family (father Rick, children Will and Holly) accidentally moves through a dimensional portal and spends the rest of their time dodging dinosaurs and Sleestaks (humanoid reptilian bad guys) and trying to get back home.  I have no particular fondness for this series, but I like saying “Sleestak.”

Another great expatriate character who is stuck away from his home is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, known to most as the Wizard of Oz.  As with comics, there are many different versions of this character.  In some versions, he’s fairly benificent.  In the original book version, he really just wanted to go home.  In the musical Wicked, (my favorite version, incidentally,) he’s actually kind of a dick.

kevinflynnIn another of my all time favorites, the TRON series, Kevin Flynn has a rather interesting version of being stuck in another place. Since 1989, Flynn has been living in the Grid, a fictional virtual reality world.  We don’t really see much of Flynn’s life on the Grid, because the movie follows his son, Sam Flynn.  Still, it’s evident from what you do see that he has established a remarkable life for himself there.

fordprefectUp until this point, all of my Stranded examples have been humans.  However, one of my favorite expatriate characters isn’t human at all.  He is, in fact, from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.   Ford Prefect, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series, has been in many formats-  books, television shows, radio shows, a movie, comic books, trading cards-  the version pictured to the right is the movie Ford, played by Mos Def.  I prefer the book and radio show versions of Ford, but it was much easier to find a picture of the movie version.   Ford is a roving researcher for the titular Hitchhiker’s Guide.  He came to Earth to research it for the book, and got stuck for fifteen years.

We can go in with the Stranded examples for pages and pages, but I think it’s Time to move onto the Out Of Time category.  (See what I did there?)  These are characters who wind up stuck outside of their own time, like Booster Gold.  I said I wouldn’t do any more comic book heroes in this list, though.

fryI didn’t say anything about cartoons, though.  Take Philip J. Fry, in Futurama for example.  In the pilot episode of the series, Fry is a pizza delivery man who gets accidentally (ish) frozen in a cryogenic tube for one thousand years.  He wakes up in the future, and starts working as a delivery boy (naturally) at Planet Express, a delivery company owned as a side-business by Fry’s distant, distant, very distant nephew, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth.  A quick side-note about Futurama-  this show is insanely smart at times.  From the earliest episodes, the creators plotted out certain things that get threaded throughout the series.  For example, in the future world of Futurama, owls have become vermin and pests, not unlike city rats of the present day.  Don’t believe me?  Watch the show again from the beginning, and watch for owls.

Bidi-bidi-bidi.Getting back to our expats in time, we have Buck Rogers.  Buck is another old character who has been in movies, television shows, comics, and even video games.  The version most people know about is the 1979-1981 television show Buck Rogers, in which he’s a shuttle pilot who accidentally gets frozen for roughly 500 years. Once revived, he joins the Earth Defense Directorate, finds love, and gains a pet ambuquad named Twiki, a little robot who seems to have been designed to cash in on the popularity of C3PO and R2-D2 from the newly released film Star Wars.

I can’t believe it never occurred to me before right now as I write this sentence that Buck Rogers + Flash Gordon = Farscape.  Hmm.

Enhance your calm, John Spartan!As with all my other examples of expats stuck out of time, John Spartan of Demolition Man was crygenically frozen.  Whatever happened to a good old time machine?  John Spartan is a cop, sent to CryoPrison in 1996.  They wake him up about forty years later to stop another escaped cryoprisoner, the dastardly Simon Phoenix.  You can tell that Simon is the bad guy because his hair is an unnatural yellow-white color.

Let’s move on to the Expat By Choice category.  I could reference Wonder Woman’s decision to leave Themyscira, but dang it, I said no more comic book heroes.

chewbaccaIn the Star Wars universe, Chewbacca could loosely be considered an expat.  He isn’t hanging out on Kashyyyk with the other Wookiees.  However, expanded universe canon states that he fled his home-world when the Empire enslaved the rest of the Wookiees to get construction of the Death Star back on schedule.  This means that technically, Chewie is more of a refugee than an expatriate.  Additionally, since he travels with his friend and business partner Han Solo to fulfill his life-debt (long story), Chewbacca isn’t really embracing the culture of any specific new place.

While I would love to say that Babylon 5 is full of expatriate characters, it really only has two:  Sinclair and Sheridan.  Both of them go to live on Minbar at different points in the series.   The rest don’t quite match the definition of expatriate because the different species on board Babylon 5 all have their own groupings.  You rarely see a Pak’mara hanging out with the Gaim, for example, and you would never see a Drazi living on the Vorlon homeworld.  It just isn’t done.   Babylon 5 is a merchant outpost and a travel hub, and although it’s referred to as a city in space in the opening credits, it really isn’t.  B5 is run primarily by EarthForce, and it has no predominant single culture.

spockSimilarly, Star Trek is full of characters who seem to fit the role of expat at first, but perhaps aren’t textbook examples.  We have characters like Quark on Deep Space Nine, and Worf on board the Enterprise (and later, Deep Space Nine.)  Quark is a merchant, and since the station is a trading post, he’s not really adopting the culture of a new home-world.  As for Worf, he has Kal-El’s problem.  Worf may have been born a Klingon, but he was adopted by and raised by humans.  His primary culture is the one that he’s most commonly in touch with.  Worf isn’t an expatriate at all.  He falls into a slightly different category though, and I’ll touch on that a little bit later on.  Lastly, from my Star Trek examples, there’s Spock.  Spock was raised on Vulcan, but one of his parents was human.  He chooses to live in Starfleet, which is mostly populated by humans.  Even later in his timeline, when he becomes an Ambassador, he mostly sticks around Earth until his eventual trip to Romulus for reunification efforts between the Vulcans and Romulans.

teal'cNow that we’ve covered Star Wars and Star Trek, I would be remiss to leave out the third Star* franchise, Stargate.  Teal’c is another character that looks human, but isn’t quite human.  He is a Jaffa, which is a genetically modified human with an abdominal pouch so that he can serve as an incubator for a larval Goa’uld symbiote.  It’s not as icky as it sounds, because the symbiote grants its host Jaffa enhanced strength, health, and longevity as well as rapid healing.  The Jaffa are also an enslaved race at the beginning of the series, serving as military forces to the System Lords, who are the initial run of bad guys in the show.  I’m vastly oversimplifying the sequence of events here, but Teal’c defects to the SG1 team and goes back to Earth in the pilot episode of the series.    He becomes a valuable member of the team, and he even tries to live outside of Stargate Command in a regular apartment at one point in the series.  Naturally, he wears a hat to cover up the gold embossed tattoo on his forehead whenever he’s out in public.

spikegilesMeanwhile, back in Sunnydale, we have a couple of Brits living in America.  One of them is Giles, a Watcher, and the other is Spike, a vampire.  (I won’t get into Liam… sorry, Angelus here, because his Irish accent was just too horrific for words.)  The expats in Buffy The Vampire Slayer tend to be much more like the textbook definition of expatriate.  Giles is sent to Sunnydale by the Watcher’s Council, and that’s not all that different than me being sent to Germany for my job.  As for Spike, I suppose when you’ve lived for a hundred years or more, it makes sense to try to live somewhere different.

travelinmattAlso in the Expat By Choice category is Uncle Traveling Matt, a Fraggle who spends most of his time exploring “Outer Space,” his term for the normal human world the rest of us inhabit.  Matthew is the quintessential exploring expatriate, constantly evaluating the culture and norms around him, even if his observations are more Jane Goodall than Terry Gilliam.  (For those of you that know me well, you know I couldn’t do a list like this without including at least one Muppet.)

A few paragraphs back, I mentioned that Worf isn’t an expatriate, and that he falls into a different category than the rest of this list.  That category is Third-Culture Kids. A third-culture kid, or trans-culture kid, in the real world is usually the child of an expatriate.  For example, an American couple has a child while living in Germany.  The child is American-born, but German by culture.  When the family relocates back to the country of their passports, the child has to deal with this cultural divide.  Third-Culture Kids are often multilingual, and are very often accomplished.  However, adjusting to their passport country after years of living in other cultures can be incredibly difficult and can take a great deal of time.  This is Worf in a nutshell, although he didn’t reintegrate with Klingon culture until very late in his life.

valentinemichaelsmithMy favorite literary Third-Culture Kid would have to be Valentine Michael Smith, the man from Mars, in Heinlein’s amazing novel, Stranger In A Strange Land.  Mike to his friends, Smith is the biological child of Mary Jane Lyle Smith and Captain Michael Brant of the Envoythe first ship to travel to Mars.  The fate of the Envoy crew is unknown for twenty years, and when another ship finally arrives to investigate, they find that Mike is the Envoy’s only survivorSince Mike was raised by Martians, he went the first twenty years of his life never seeing any other human, and he spoke and thought in Martian at the beginning of the story.  Michael Smith is an incredibly intelligent character, and it didn’t take him long to pick up most of the language, but the first two thirds of the novel deal with his adaptation to a completely alien culture- that of Earth- in a very detailed and fascinating way.

These are some of my favorite expatriates from Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Comic Book culture. What are some of your favorites?

*Don’t know what Grokking means?  I guess you should read Stranger In A Strange Land, then.  I’m off to MegaCon in Orlando this weekend, so you can tell me what you thought of it after I get back.