Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix is now streaming globally, and we managed to sit down with creator Adi Shankar to discuss the new Netflix sci-fi series and a number of other topics.
Throughout this section of the interview, we’ll hear Shankar’s collaborative process with the French studio Bobby Pills using their unique filmmaking style and how they involve mixed media (something seen throughout Shankar’s career, including Netflix’s The Guardians of Justice) and innovative use of gaming language to enrich the narrative. How he had free reign over the characters, why he reteamed with Oscillian, and talked about some of the major plot spoilers.
For those unfamiliar, Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix employs many characters and references from Ubisoft’s vast collection of prior games that are thrown into a dystopian social satire. The plot revolves around super-soldier Dolph Laserhawk, who has just been betrayed by the love of his life and forced to lead a team of rebel outcasts on risky undercover missions under the order of the prison’s shadowy Warden.
This is part 1 of 3 we intend to produce with collaboration from Shankar. Next up, we’ll publish the portion of the interview where Shankar talks about the rise of video game adaptations in recent years then we’ll get five of his picks of some of the best sci-fi movies currently on Netflix. Stay tuned.
This interview has been edited for length and brevity. Also, a warning that there are spoilers throughout.
I was hoping to start by setting the stage. Let’s talk about what the show is and how it was incepted. Was this your first time working with Bobby Pills? How was that process?
They’re like real filmmakers, you know, and this isn’t a slight against animation studios and animation houses. I’m not disparaging other people, I’m just elevating Bobby Pills because, again, they have a real point of view that they bring to any project they work on, and what you end up getting is an additional layer on the painting. So an additional layer on the painting, which adds an additional element of nuance, an additional element of ideas grafted onto the scripts, right, because it’s so easy in animation to just take the scripts that I give you and then just go, okay, cool, we’ll print this out.
They also got to work on some live-action stuff here too, right?
Yes, there is. You know, this mixed media, mixed medium thing, you know, I’ve been playing with it for a while. My last Netflix show that came out, Guardians of Justice, was also mixed media, mixed medium.
But I feel like with Laserhawk, Bobby Pills really just perfected the, or improved the formula, we can call it perfected the formula. I feel like it perfected the thought formula, and there’s an element of polish here too, that, and they just, yeah, they really just got it and nailed it.
There are also multiple different video game formats throughout. There’s a dating simulator at one point, an overhead stealth section, and an isometric section. Is there any stage where you were pitching this, and they looked at each other and, “God, how are we going to get all this done?” Or was it a real collaborative process?
So, originally, it was baked into the script. And the transitions were probably even more jarring in the script because it’d be like, Dolph goes for a punch, he turns into like N64 [character], he punches you, you fly back through a wall, it’s pixel art, you know. And then Mehdi [Leffad], who directed every single episode here, and Balak, who’s the creative director of Bobby Pills, they both called me up, and they were like, “Hey, talk us through this. Like, what is the deal here?” And I explained the intentionality behind it, which is how film cinema has had over 100 years to develop its language. The idea was to use the language of gaming to innovate and add another layer of texture to the language of cinema.
They got it in literally a split second, and they were like, “OK, got it. Let us just do our thing.”
Oh, brilliant. And how does Ubisoft come into play? Obviously, you’ve got a lot of characters from them. It’s a heck of a lot. Then there’s a ton of Easter eggs here and there where you’re like, oh, wow, that’s this game from the 80s.
So there’s a lot. I was already working with Ubisoft on another project, a very straightforward, very serious, very normal project.
Assassin’s Creed, right?
I can’t confirm or deny, but there may be some information on the internet on that.
I just wrote this up and sent it to them out of the blue. And, you know, if you look back at my fan film work. I made a Punisher fan film starring Thomas Jane, returning as the Punisher in 2012. We did a hard take on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. We did a dark take on James Van Der Beek and Katie Sackhoff. It imagined what the Power Rangers would be like as adults, once they realized that they basically been weaponized by a guy in a tube to fight a war that they had no no no actual like, why the fuck are you giving high school students guns, dude?
So I was always kind of doing this subverting the IP thing. This was part of the thing that gave me a lot of fun and a lot of joy. I just wrote this up and pitched it to Ubisoft. And you expect the answer to be like, no, get out of here. But no, they were like, no, we’re going to do this.
One of my questions was going to be, did they [Ubisoft] give you a list of things that you can and can’t do with the characters? And then I got to episode five, and Rayman was lulled out on the sofa, snorting some powdery stuff, and completely drunk. And I just figured, “yeah, they’ve let you have free creative reign.”
There was no handcuffs. You have like Power Rangers doing with lines of blow in the short films. So there’s some degree of precedent there.
I do want to say that this wasn’t about shock value. It wasn’t like, “ha, ha, look, look at what I can get away with.” I grew up loving and still love dystopian science fiction. Now, not just movies but even the works of Aldous Huxley and Orwell; you can even argue William Gibson is the same. Right. It’s dystopian.
So, I wanted to make an ode to that subgenre and that literary subgenre. When you look at the use of IP, you know, I’m actually using the DNA of the characters, but ultimately, the IP is window dressing.
And then I can move on to the score because that’s probably my favorite part of the entire series. I know you’ve worked with Oscillian on your Guardians of the Justice series. Was that a no-brainer to have him work on this project, too?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
I didn’t want to push him on Bobby Pills. So I said, look, let me put his hat in the ring. So they go through the process. They made their decision and they really want Oscillian.
He’s a renegade artist, right, not like your normal composer that comes through the studio system. The way I found him was I saw a YouTube video of him in a bar. Wearing sunglasses, the bar is empty, and he’s like singing a song, and I’m like, he does not care. This guy is so committed to this genre of music, this synth wave genre of music.
At the end of the day, you want people who are passionate about the genre, the subgenre, and the motif because if they are, then they will have a deep reservoir of what’s come before it and then add to the conversation versus emulating.
The evolution of the Rayman character was brilliant and was one of the best-developed characters in the series. I was going to ask about his motive. Was he only going after revenge because they replaced him with AI, or was he doing it for the goodness of everyone?
I don’t want to spoil that for you. I will say there is more there.
Rayman is one of the contrasts I’m trying to play with. We found out in the show he is actually an alien. Looks like a cartoon character. He was intentionally drawn as a cartoon character. But the trick with him is to actually have psychological realism, have him exist with nuance and emotional nuance to him, and actually have him be on a real arc and a real journey.
And the journey doesn’t end on episode six. There’s more. There’s more nuance there.
Let’s get to the end of the series; Sam Fisher teases the job’s not over yet. What could you say about how that ending came about? Is all hope lost for Sarah? Is there any turning back for her?
All the characters in the show, even though it’s a cartoon and an anime, but, you know, we’re drawing from cartoons, we’re drawing from anime, we’re drawing from video games. And, you know, in we’ve got we’ve basically taken what would be a 60 to 75-minute dystopian sci-fi, really serious HBO drama and [taken it to] 22 minutes, and we’re going to tell it as a cartoon. But part of the DNA of this whole thing was, even though we’re doing that, still have all these characters exist in shades of gray.
So, you know, I personally don’t believe anybodys beyond redemption.
KM: So, to wrap up on Captain Laserhawk, why should someone check this out when it drops on Netflix?
At the end of the day, it’s original.
You know, and it’s using iconography to create something completely original. It’s an original world populated with iconography and it’s original, and I think it’s harder and harder to get original stuff made.