Last week saw the debut of a rather unusual military thriller series THE LAST RESORT on ABC. It was unusual for reasons that weren't immediately clear until I stopped and thought about it.
When I first read the pitch for THE LAST RESORT months ago, about a nuclear submarine that goes rogue and declares itself an independent nuclear power, I thought, "Hang on, isn't that the exact same plot as THE SILENT SERVICE?"
THE LAST RESORT is about the crew of a US nuclear submarine that goes rogue and declares itself an independent nuclear power, setting off an international crisis with the US and the world after them.
THE SILENT SERVICE is about the Japanese crew of a nuclear submarine built by the US and Japanese Navy that goes rogue and declares itself an independent nuclear power, setting off an international crisis with the US and the world after them.
In case you were wondering, THE SILENT SERVICE is a manga series that ran in Japan from 1986 to 1996, first in weekly installments in Weekly Morning comics anthology and then collected into 32 volumes of tankubon trade paperbacks. Granted, it was never published in English in the West, though the series was adapted into a six-episode anime series, an edited-down version of which was released on DVD in the US back in 1996. I'd read some of the Chinese editions of the manga back in the 90s but have never been able to find the rest of the series, including the final. Chinatown comic shops are notoriously neglectful about their titles – I'd have better luck finding lost Jack Kirby art pages than the Chinese editions of THE SILENT SERVICE at this point.
Now, it wasn't the possible "borrowing" that's unusual about THE LAST RESORT – Hollywood has a history of lifting from successful foreign source material and acting like it came up with an entirely new and original idea on its own, such as the suspiciously-long list of similarities between THE LION KING and ASTRO BOY creator Osamu Tezuka's classic manga and anime series KIMBA THE WHITE LION. It's one thing for a new project to be influenced by tone or certain ideas while being its own thing like the claims that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA might have been influenced by the anime series SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (called STARBLAZERS in the West) but has an entirely different plot. It's quite another thing when the whole plot and premise of a new movie or show is the same as another work despite differences in certain details and nuances. The studio and writers of THE LAST RESORT can claim the show's premise was entirely their own rather than ripped off or informed by THE SILENT SERVICE, and the question lingers because the manga series ran for nearly 10 years, totaling over 6,000 pages of comics, and was translated all over Asia and parts of Europe, sold millions of copies, is still in print in Japan in a more prestigious format, considered a classic of political military fiction in Japan, and the anime version has been available in the US for over 15 years – you can still find it on Amazon. I leave it to the lawyers to sort out whether or not plagiarism actually took place.
On paper, THE LAST RESORT comes with a high pedigree: apart from a respected theatrically-trained actor like Andre Braugher as the captain and a solid cast, the co-creator is Shawn Ryan, best known for creating THE SHIELD and the director of the pilot is Martin Campbell, who not only directed the BBC classic EDGE OF DARKNESS and its recent pointless US remake starring Mel Gibson, but also rebooted James Bond twice with GOLDENEYE and CASINO ROYALE, rebooted Zorro with THE MASK OF ZORRO and, somewhat less successfully, the recent GREEN LANTERN movie. What a lot of people said was the show looked like CRIMSON TIDE on a tinier TV budget, which is the closest comparison they could come up with.
What interests me about political fictions like THE SILENT SERVICE and THE LAST RESORT is what they say. THE SILENT SERVICE was about the Cold War, the nightmare of Nuclear Proliferation and Mutually-Assured Destruction. The captain and crew of the nuclear sub in the manga decide to secede from Japan and declare themselves independent from Japanese or US orders. The sub and its crew then becomes a nationalist allegory for Japan itself, with the desire to be an independent military power free from dictates of America. THE LAST RESORT takes on symbolic and allegorical post-911 layers as well: the crew of the sub becomes the representation of a conflicted and divided America, misunderstood and declared outlaws for questioning orders they found dubious and suspecting they're being used as pawns in a neocon conspiracy to start another World War. It even ends its first episode with the subversive declaration by the captain that they might need to leave America because it has become too corrupt to live in. There is no way this show or its sentiments could have been greenlit between 2001 and 2010. That was the pro-War era of W and 24. Some critics even read the captain as an Obama manqué. I don't say any of this is good or bad, just reading what's been embedded in the stories.
It's obvious the US Navy did not cooperate or provide technical advice on the show, since the internet is now full of blog posts and tweets from people with military knowledge knocking the show for how inaccurately it portrays the workings of a submarine and military protocol and procedures. That's the least of the show's problems, though. Its biggest enemy is the ratings. The pilot premiered to figures that are considered "okay" at best and "so-so" at worst. As more than one friend of mine who works in the TV industry in Los Angeles said, liberals and lefties will hate the show on principle because they assume it's military pr0n, and conservatives and right-wingers will hate the show because it shows US military questioning and disobeying orders, the entire premise of the show. While some reviews have declared THE LAST RESORT the best new show of the season, but if the ratings don't hold up, the best reviews won't save it from cancellation. There's also the question of just how long the plot can sustain the show through one season, let alone five years.
One thing I'm pretty sure of: THE LAST RESORT isn't going to last as long as THE SILENT SERVICE did.
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