Adapting video games for other, more narrative-oriented media is a difficult process, one that almost inevitably results in artistic and commercial failure it’s sad to say. What makes this so difficult is that video games are often incredibly thin in the plot department to begin with, and what plot is there is often not enough to carry a film or a television series. This leaves writers with the difficult task of somehow developing the property well beyond the narrative boundaries established by the source material without offending/alienating the property’s core fan base. And this is no easy feat. Just take a look at the train wrecks that are the Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, and Street Fighter movies to see what I mean.
These movies were developed from games that scarcely offered the writers anything to work with, and it’s perhaps no surprise that expanding upon the concepts of these games resulted in less-than-desirable products for both fans of the games and newcomers to the franchises. But what happens if you adapt a video game property with no plot at all into a series? Obviously such a scenario would offer series writers virtually total freedom to explore whatever creative avenues they like, and therefore be potentially far more desirable situation to find oneself in.
Such was the case with Hanna-Barbera’s animated series Pac-Man (ABC 1982-1983), adapted from the video game of the same name in which a yellow pie chart man is alternately chased by and eats ghosts. Here the writers took the freedom that the game’s total lack of narrative afforded them and went absolutely mental with it, throwing every idea they had into it in the hopes that something might stick. I have fond memories of watching the series in syndication as a child, but looking back on the series now, Pac-Man is even more delightfully insane than I had recalled.
Yet, even with the freedom the property afforded them, the series’ writers were obviously still stretching to make their ideas work as they attempted to cobble together this second, and final, season’s worth of Pac-Man adventures. Indeed, it seems they crammed every idea they could come up with into this season, and very little of it worked quite so well as the first season’s material had. This makes the second season of Pac-Man something of a curiosity, especially as the series, on occasion, nears Adult Swim-levels of lunacy. One of the more ludicrous adventures finds Pac-Man and his greaser cousin PJ lost in time when PJ’s failed attempt at fixing Pac’s washing machine results in the creation of a time machine.
That said, the season indeed doesn’t work quite so well as the first, primarily due to the addition of PJ and the tragically incompetent superhero, Super-Pac, to the cast of characters. These characters unfortunately serve only to annoy Pac-Man and, by proxy, the viewer. Although their inclusion results in some of the season’s most off-the-wall episodes, the result is somewhat bittersweet given the incredibly high levels of annoying the characters bring with them.
Warner Archive now offers the second season of Pac-Man as part of their manufactured-on-demand (MOD) DVD component of the Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection line. This set boasts all eight episodes of the series’ second season, each of which relates two of Pac-Man and the gang’s adventures, as well as the half hour-long special, “Christmas Comes to PacLand.” In this holiday installment of Pac-Man, it’s up to Pac and his family to save Christmas after Santa Claus and his reindeer crash in PacLand. The funny thing is, from where I was sitting, the whole Santa crashing his sleigh thing was totally Pac-Man’s fault! Maybe not directly, mind you, but there’s really no denying his involvement in the catastrophe. Of course, this makes Pac-Man’s inevitable success a somewhat mixed blessing.
The quality of the elements from which each episode was sourced varies, but is overall high for an MOD release. However, judging from the quality of the installments that exhibit the most significantly deteriorated visual elements, it’s a damn good thing Warner archived this series when they did. The rampant discoloration and loss of brightness in these episodes evidences the incredible rate at which some of these elements had been decaying. The very first half-episode story in the set, “Here’s Super-Pac!”, is a prime example of this.
More than adequately compensating for any flaw in the visuals of this set, to my mind, is the inclusion of a special feature, something which is incredibly rare to see on an MOD DVD. To this end, Pac-Man: The Complete Second Season includes four minutes worth of Pac-Man bumper skits that would have been seen during breaks in the program or commercials.