Well, folks, the Hollywood adaptation train keeps rolling. The latest addition to the ranks is a possible feature production of the short-lived series Manimal, about a doctor who moonlights as a crime fighter and can morph into different animals. They’ve yet to take my advice and greenlight a movie adaptation of Gargoyles, The Pirates of Dark Water or Jonny Quest, but we’ll press on in the hopes that studios come to their senses. Today we’ll reach back into the bag of obscurity and pull out a mid-80s cartoon series from production company Ruby-Spears and Japanese animation studio, Sunrise. A series that could easily (and most entertainingly) be adapted by director Michael Bay, as I teased last week. Hit the jump for man and machine, power extreme. Hollywood! Adapt this: Centurions!
While Centurions is an obscure reference even in my circle of friends (save one, who has a Doc Terror action figure), the series actually ran from 1985-1987 and comprised 65 episodes. Comic book legends Jack Kirby and Gil Kane had creative input on the design and development on the show. Let’s get into what exactly Centurions was about.
What It’s About:
Centurions centered on three macho military men: Ace McCloud, “daring air operations expert,” Jake Rockwell, “rugged land operations specialist,” and Max Ray, “brilliant sea operations commander.” Each of them were fitted with special exo-frames, battle suits that, on their own, were basically useless other than being tres chic. But once they shouted “Power extreme!” one of an array of battlesuits were beamed onto them, making them part man, part machine, all badass. The token woman on the show, Crystal Kane, works on the orbiting space station, Sky Vault, and beams the trio around the world to combat the nefarious Doc Terror and his cyborg assistant, Hacker. The dastardly duo seeks to conquer the world (what else?) with his army of very expendable drones and occasional extortion plots.
There’s an interesting contrast between the heroes and villains of Centurions as both sides are a blend of man and machine. While the villains are physically bound to their cybernetic halves (which were actually named Syntax and Legion and had quite a cool episode where they detached from their human counterparts to form Uniborg…but I digress), the heroes are just your everyday, ordinary Joes until they suit up and call down the thunder! The coolest part of watching the show was seeing which set of increasingly powerful weapons systems they would do battle in. Ace (my personal favorite Centurion) had Sky Knight, Sky Bolt and the Orbital Interceptor. Jake, who had the best names, had Fireforce, Detonator and Wild Weasel, among others. When the writers shoe-horned a water-based plot point into the series, Max would call down Cruiser, Tidal Blast or Depth Charger.
The series was your general adventure show with plenty of lasers, explosions, macho dialogue and terrible one-liners. Auxiliary characters included Jake’s dog Shadow and Lucy the orangutan (for some reason); both of the animals had their own weapons systems which seems incredibly safe. When the core cast grew a bit stale, the writers introduced Rex Charger, “expert energy programmer (what?)” and, for racial diversity, John Thunder, “specialist infiltration commander,” which wasn’t racist in the slightest. The Native American Centurion might as well have shouted “Inukchuk!” to call down his weapons. Moving on…
How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?
Like I mentioned, Michael Bay would have a field day with this property. It has nowhere near the following of Transformers so I doubt there’d be any sort of backlash over mishandling an adaptation. To be honest, the series was a bit thin on character development and existential themes, but there are definitely areas to mine. But Bay can bring spectacle to Centurions in a way that few other directors can. Lasers, explosions, multiple mobile weapons systems and a hot chick at the controls? (I’ll also say here that Crystal wasn’t 100% token, as she did suggest tactics from Sky Vault and without her the guys would be useless.) Who else but Bay? But let’s talk story for a minute.
Our origin film would show audiences how the Centurions came about. Named after Roman generals, this could easily be a code name for a new elite force that unites the best of the best from each of the current military branches. You’ve got three core characters who each have their own military specialty: let’s say a Navy SEAL, an Army Ranger/Green Beret and an Air Force Combat Controller. You can almost feel the machismo oozing out of this picture already, can’t you? Each of the elite soldiers trying to outdo the others, each of them vying for some unknown prize they’re calling “power extreme (or not).” At the end of the day, only three are standing and they become the Centurions, getting over their differences to work together much like a less-superpowered Avengers.
The heroes are easy, almost stock at this point. The villains will be a bit tougher. I don’t think audiences are quite ready for a live-action interpretation of Doc Terror and Hacker. But perhaps a human scientist and his dedicated assistant who are obsessed with integrating cybernetic systems into the body. There’s a lot of current science (exo-skeletons, enhanced optics, even drugs that boost various attributes) that could be worked into their character development to make a scary villain that’s not too far out of the realm of possibility. Hell, drones already exist so they’ve got that going for them. And, let’s remember, it’s a Bay film, so taking over the world is perfectly acceptable for these guys. But why should Centurions be adapted? For that, let’s go to…
The Final Word:
Does Centurions need to be adapted? No. (I know, I know. I spent all this time talking about it just to say, “No.” The hell?) There are other adaptations I’d like to see done first and done well. But keep in mind that writer Steve Perry (not that Steve Perry; the one who also wrote for Gargoyles, Batman and The Real Ghost Busters) contributed to a number of Centurions episodes so there is something here to be explored. First and foremost, the theme of man becoming ever-more dependent on technology. We’re connected to it during most of our waking moments. As of this writing, I’m plugged in, wired up and have a number of media formats going at the same time (no not that kind, perv). But how connected is too connected? Is there a point where detaching from tech is literally like quitting a drug? Will we suffer withdrawal? Centurions could show the extremes of this addiction via Doc Terror and Hacker, while the benefits of tech could be shown by our heroes. Hell, emphasize the human condition by stripping the soldiers of their suits at some point to let them save the day the old fashioned way.
I won’t hold my breath for this one, but it sure would be a helluva lotta fun. I’d actually be thrilled if Bay took this property on. It’s silly, it’s explosive, it’s hokey (hell, the guys even took on Dracula once), ie it’s Bay. Check out the original series intro below:
If you’re interested in picking up the first five episodes on The Centurions: The Original Mini-Series, check out the DVD below:
Keep up the comments and suggestions! I read each and every one and I add the new suggestions to the list, so I promise we’ll cover yours at some point in the future. As for next week, we’re going to change it up and get away from the animated series. Be sure to check out the next installment of “Hollywood! Adapt This” when we return to summer camp and cook up some awful waffles. (Oh, and if anyone wants to make plans to go as the Centurions for Comic-Con 2013, I’m in. And I call Ace McCloud. You can be the orangutan.)