Mediums at Large

I've watched good movies, and I've watched bad movies. I've read good books, and I've read bad books. I've seen good TV, and I've seen bad TV. I've heard good music and I've heard bad music. I've bought good comic books, and I've bought bad comic books. I've played good video games, and I've played bad video games. I don't have a large enough sample size concerning stage productions to make a statement.

There are stories, ideas, characters, themes, motifs, ideas, and settings stretching far and wide across boundless boundaries and back again. They are all unique. Different subjects work differently in different mediums because different subjects require different mediums. Something like Half-Life could only work through the interactive, first-person narrative format a video game can provide. Likewise, the abstract horror and tortures of Guernica can only exist as oil on canvas.

And yet there's this false hierarchy that's always preached and always accepted: Books are always better. Read a book, support your local library, turn off the TV and read, enjoy silent reading time, etc. etc. etc. Literature and prose are the kings of all communications, and all others are garbage. Every kids' TV show has an episode where the characters learn books exist, and embark on a 22 minute adventure where reading is fun. Likewise, those same shows have episodes where somebody becomes obsessed with TV or video games, then needs to be weened off. An addiction to reading? That's good! An addiction to TV? That's bad! Let's not forget, these lessons are being dispensed on television. Is this irony or flagellation?

Understand me, I'm not being anti-literate. Books are one of the oldest and most versatile forms of entertainment and art. There's an infinite realm of possibilities and opportunities in the written word. Books are good, but books are only one of many different viable options. If books were the best option, there would be no alternatives because we found the perfect medium. But other options do exist because books are not perfect.

The problem with books is simple: They're not a visual medium. Whatever the author wants to convey, they convey. If the author says the hero is tall, the hero is tall. If he says the room was silent, the room was silent. If the author says everybody ran, screaming for their lives, everybody runs screaming for their lives. There's no ambiguity in words, right? Wrong! Words are nothing but ambiguity.

The author conveys what he chooses to convey, but the reader has the task of interpreting those words. When the author said the hero was tall, you could imagine him being six foot two, or you could imagine him being eighteen foot nine. When the author says the room is silent, you could imagine a surreal vacuum where no sound escapes, or simply an awkward pause in conversation while the radio drones on in the background. When the author says everybody ran screaming for their lives, you could imagine a hectic group funneling out the fire escape, or a frenzied mob crawling and clawing each other, stampeding and trampling others before dying in an explosive blast. Literature is a tabula rasa. A blank slate for the reader to interpret the author's words and meanings. They will vary from person to person. This is what visual mediums fix.

Visual mediums replace the open world of the author with a set and established image concocted in joint effort between the screenwriter and director. Peter Benchley told us Jaws was terrifying, Steven Spielberg showed us.

As I said earlier, there is no one medium better than another. There are only mediums more suited for the task at hand. Truly successful and inspiring (and profitable) works are frequently tested in different realms. MASH became a TV show. Legos became a video game franchise. The Addams Family became a cartoon. Spider-Man became a stage musical. Some work, and some send Broadway hopefuls to the hospital.

Which brings me to another complaint: Movies are not the end-all, be-all of media evolution.

Bitch and moan as much as you want concerning adaptations and remakes saturating the film market. Research and returns prove scientifically audiences prefer an established franchise. So movie studios dredge the world of art and entertainment for all viable properties, even if they seem like bad ideas at the time. I've either accepted this or I've become numb, because this truth doesn't bother me anymore.

What does bother me is the one-way expectation expected by others. Any noteworthy piece of art, be it a book, TV show, toy line, musical or video game is practically expected to be adapted into a feature length film. It's not an issue of "if" it's a matter of "when."

I first noticed the taste of this bitter pill while reading an internet discussion board concerning the recently released and forgotten Need For Speed adaptation. Somebody couldn't believe they were making a blatant Fast and Furious knockoff, meanwhile in their own words, "Where is our Bioshock movie, already?"

Not "I would have preferred a Bioshock movie," not "Bioshock would have made for a better movie," not "Is there any news on a Bioshock movie?" Just entitled expectations and disdain that his whims weren't met. I can't blame him. Everything has to be a movie, nowadays. That's the goal. If your work becomes a movie, you've succeeded. Abed never hoped for six seasons. He hoped for six seasons AND a movie.

If we can suddenly realize this faulty logic, maybe we can stop the stigma against adaptations by only making adaptations that work. The prime example of which being movies based on video games. There have been nearly three dozen feature-length movies based on video games, and they are all terrible. Video games don't fit amongst the restrictions of the motion picture medium. Gone is the interactivity, gone is the pacing, gone is the controllable camera, gone is the first-person experience. It becomes a third-person story on rails. It's as immersive as an animatronic ride.

Plain and simple, not everything needs to be a movie. Some stories don't work as movies. Franchises can always expand outwards, but it doesn't have to be in one inevitable direction.

Feel free to leave comments about how the first Resident Evil movie wasn't completely terrible, because I never get tired of hearing those flimsy excuses.