Film, Format, Fiascos, and the Future

People hated "The Last Airbender" for many reasons.  I'm not going to argue any of them, as I've seen it (with Rifftrax) and it was mind-numbingly bad in a way that actually beat my incredibly low expectations.  But among the things people say about the film adaption of the beloved franchise – the hate of the actors, the plot, the acting, the direction, the story, the intermittent attacks of slow-mo -  there's one thing I rarely hear brought up.

Why a film anyway?  I mean let's assume that you have some driving reason to turn "Avatar: The Last Airbender" into some other media form, why a film?

The answer of course is probably money or because doing it as a TV miniseries would have been less profitable or something like that.  Either way, the Last Airbender, clocking in at 3 seasons of Television with complex soap-opera dynamics is really not the kind of thing to boil down to 3 90 minute films, or even 3 two hour films.  One could note Lord of the Rings did pretty good as films (and I'd agree to an extent), but Avatar itself was often about small character moments and those easily get crushed out of condensing it into a film.

Or in the case of The Last Airbender, apparently it crushed everything out of the film as well, leaving us with a few randomly connected scenes.

So this has made me wonder two things about the future of media, and I want to share them for you, our apiring and current media professionals.

First I've come to wonder if there's an odd case of media ideas just getting shoehorned into certain properties automatically.  This should stay a novel, this should be a movie, this could translate to a game but not to a TV show, and so on.  Having witnessed several unwise adaptions in media over the years, I've come to feel that there's a bunch of automatic habits in the media industries that try and shoehorn properties into certain media regardless of sense.

If this is the case then:

  1. As we get an increasingly globalized economy with more media properties flying around, we can expect continuing Unwise Adaptions or manifestations in media.  We're probably seeing this already with animated/game adaptions – The Last Airbender, Dragonball Z, etc. . . .
  2. If this is a deeply ingrained habit in culture, media companies, etc. shifting it is going to take an effort.  If you're involved in media production you may well be up against a lot of close-mindedness.  Well, more than you expect.
  3. I get the impression media companies don't exactly learn well from past failures.  Keep that in mind next great job offer or project you get that sounds like an awesome adaption, because five minutes of thought could reveal that you've just had career-destroying stinkbomb dropped in your lap.

Second, when we discuss adaptions or creating a media, are people limiting themselves to what they're used to seeing – movies, books, films, comics.  Where's the innovative new way to tell stories?  Where's the new media or the fusions of old media that will give us brand new ways to tell things?

I don't even know what it is.  Why?  Because someone has yet to invent it.

There have been some good moves in this direction:
*  The idea of Dark Tower, combining movies and a TV series is just one example of the things that could be done with basic media synergy.  That's a gutsy move that i think could really help people think.
*  Over the years some media properties experiment with various tie-ins.  These are often your usual basic prequel, supplemental novel, etc.  These are the usual, but also give room to experiment.  Dead Space's mix of games and other media I think is promising, and is based on a well-documented setting.

However as long as we keep shoehorning media into the same old way of doing things, the new innovative possibilities have less chance to manifest.

For you media pros out there?  If you're the one to come up with the new synergy or new way of telling the story?  Sky's the limit for you.  Who knows what you can do?

I know I'll be thrilled to see you do it.

Steven Savage