Hot Shots, Part Dream

I’ve a long history of blogging about dreams I’ve had, and though I’ve not done so recently I don’t want you to think it’s because my dreams have gotten any less trippy-as-fuck. Take last night for example…

I plough every penny and spare minute I can into a side-project that in my head at least qualifies as “art”. The result will be fake opening credits animation for the (non-existent) pilot episode of an imagined 80s-style children’s television show. But it gets weirder.

Do you remember Hot Shots!? There’s this scene near the end where Topper Harley, played by Charlie Sheen, returns to the Native American tribe he’s been living with since before the film (in sort of a clash between the “proud warrior race” trope and a parody of Dances With Wolves, which came out the previous year). Returning to his teepee, Topper meets tribal elder Owatonna (Rino Thunder), who asks him about the battle Topper had gone to fight in and, in a callback to an earlier joke, receives the four AA-cell batteries he’d asked Topper to pick up for him “while he was out”.

Still from Hot Shots!. Owatonna, an older Native American man, sits surrounded by animal skins. An English subtitle reads "So, who won?" A Japanese subtitle reads "誰が戦争に勝ったのですか?", which translates as "Who won the war?"
There are very few occasions where a parody film is objectively better than it’s source material, but I maintain that Hot Shots! beats Top Gun hands-down.

I take the dialogue from this scene (which in reality is nonsense, only the subtitles give it any meaning), mangle it slightly, and translate it into Japanese using an automated translation service. I find some Japanese-speaking colleagues to help verify that each line broadly makes sense, at least in isolation.

I commission the soundtrack for my credits sequence. A bit of synth-pop about a minute long. I recruit some voice actors to read each of my Japanese lines, as if they’re characters in an animated kids TV show. I mix it together, putting bits of Japanese dialogue in the right places so that if anybody were to sync-up my soundtrack with the correct scene in Hot Shots!, the Japanese dialogue would closely mirror the conversation that the characters in that film were having. The scene, though, is slow-paced enough that, re-recorded, the voices in my new soundtrack don’t sound like they’re part of the same conversation as one another. This is deliberate.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some artists put together some concept character art for me, based on some descriptions. There’s the usual eclectic mix of characters that you’d expect from 80s cartoons: one character’s a friendly bear-like thing, another’s a cowardly robot, there’s a talking flying unicorn… you know the kind of shit. I give them descriptions, they give me art.

Next, I send the concept art and the soundtrack to an animation team and ask them to produce a credits sequence for it, and I indicate which of the characters depicted should be saying which lines.

Framegrabs from four 80s childrens television programmes showing: marching robots, a cat scratching its ear, a unicorn with a knight's shield behind it, and a pastel-coloured creature using its huge ears to fly.
Identifying the shows I lifted images from to make this sample is left as an exercise for the reader.

Finally, I dump the credits sequence around the Internet, wait a bit, and then start asking on forums “hey, what show is this?” to see what kind of response it gets.

The thing goes viral. It scratches the itch of people who love to try to find the provenance of old TV clips, but of course there’s no payoff because the show doesn’t exist. It doesn’t take too long before somebody translates the dialogue and notices some of the unusual phasing and suggests a connection to Hot Shots! That seems to help date the show as post-1991, but it’s still a mystery. By the time somebody get around to posting a video where the soundtrack overlays the scene from Hot Shots!, conspiracy theories are already all over: the dominant hypothesis is that the clips are from a series of different shows (still to be identified) but only the soundtrack is new… but that still doesn’t answer what the different shows are!

As the phenomenon begins to expand into mainstream media I become aware that even the most meme-averse folks I know are going to hear about it, at some point. And as I ‘m likely to be “found out” as the creator of this weird thing, sooner or later, I decide to come clean about it to people I know sooner, rather than later. I’m hanging out with Ruth and her brothers Robin and Owen and I bring it up:

“Do you remember Hot Shots!? There’s this scene near the end where Topper Harley, played by Charlie Sheen…”, I begin, hoping that the explanation of my process might somehow justify the weird shit I’ve brought to the world. Or at least, that one of this group has already come across this latest Internet trend and will interject and give me an “in”.

Ruth interrupts: “I don’t think I’ve seen Hot Shots!”

“Really?” Realising that this’ll take some background explanation, I begin by referring to Top Gun and the tropes Hot Shots! plays into and work from there.

Some time later, I’m involved with a team who are making a documentary about the whole phenomenon and my part in it. They’re proposing to release a special edition disc with a chapter that uses DVD video’s “multi angle” and “audio format switch” features to allow you to watch your choice of either the scene from Hot Shots! or from my trailer with your choice of either the original audio, my soundtrack, or a commentary by me, but they’re having difficulty negotiating the relevant rights.

After I woke, I tried to tell Ruth about this most-bizarre dream, but soon got stuck in an “am I still dreaming” moment after the following exchange:

“Do you remember Hot Shots!?” I asked.

“I haven’t seen Hot Shots!” she replied.

Maybe I’m still dreaming now.

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