Learning and having scones

Think of a weekend away to celebrate and examine the works of Joss Whedon, the genius who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and who wrote & directed Marvel’s Avengers (Assemble) and Age of Ultron, and you’d be forgiven for thinking about a convention. That was the reaction I had from several people when telling them I would be attending EuroSlayage, but it instead was something rather different (and I would argue a whole lot more) than this.

13510974_1768787043334961_5148238498987208749_n

Poster courtesy of the WSA, and designed by Michael Starr. T-shirts were also available.

Organised by the Whedon Studies Association, the seventh biennial Slayage was an academic conference; an oppurtunity for teachers, scholars, and researchers to come together to present and discuss ideas from across a wide range of the Whedonverses, or to utilise ideas and characters present in them as an example of wider arguments.

Although primarily a gathering of those active within academia itself, there were also a number of passionate fans of Whedon’s work who had attended essentially for their own enjoyment. Having studied for both a Bachelor and Master of Arts in the realm of Film and Television Studies, although having finished the latter four years ago, I was somewhere between the two.

Regardless of background however, it seems as though talking with friends, family, and colleagues, was met with the same kind of misunderstanding. “You’re studying Buffy?” is a question often posed to academics by those from other disciplines, whereas “you’re studying Buffy?” is one posed by those outside of academia. Thus EuroSlayage was made up of fans and academics (although I argue that both labels would apply to all at the conference, regardless) who not only recognise the value of studying such topics, but who were also delighted to be in the company of those who understand the struggle of dealing with others who consider it ‘just’ a TV show. There was even one presentation which dealt specifically with this issue.

As this was my first Slayage (primarily as it was the first to be held outside of North America, and as such much attention was paid to Whedon’s use of Englishisms), and my first academic conference at all, I was told on several occasions that it was not to be taken as an example of academic conferences in general. My first thought upon hearing this was to feel sorry for the rest of academia…

Having booked my train to the wrong station (I was so excited about securing my place at the event in Kingston that I failed to notice I was actually staying in the neighbouring London borough of Surbiton), my Slayage began by turning up to register at the Knight’s Park Campus, followed by taking my travelling backpack to the Seething Wells halls on what can only be described as an urban hike (it is a rather big backpack), and then the journey back again.

I arrived at the wine reception shindig to see a room full of people all chatting away as if they had known each other for years, and at this point realised that many of them indeed had, and that I had no idea as to how I would join in. Luckily I arrived just before the welcome by WSA President Stacey Abbot, and Associate Professor at Kingston University Simon Brown. As much as I enjoyed their introduction, I have to say nothing was as welcome as the whole sea of hands raised at the question of “who here is attending their first Slayage”. I was far from alone.

And far less alone that I originally thought, as people soon came up to me to introduce themselves, thankfully negating the fact doing this for myself is not one of my strong points. Although I didn’t recognise any faces, I have to admit that there was a great thrill at having Rhonda Wilcox, the author of Why Buffy Matters, a seminal Buffy textbook, say hello and that she recognised my name. Admittedly just from the list of those registered to attend, but still.

This was matched by having a short but sweet conversation with a lovely lady taking photos, about whether she wanted us to pose or if she would prefer us to act natural. She then introduced herself as Mary Alice Money, someone who Wilcox often quotes and defers to in her book, essentially becoming analogous to a grand sire of mine in terms of Buffy studies. Whoever came up with the idea of never meeting your idols because you’ll only be disappointed obviously never attended a Slayage.

SAMSUNG

I’m not saying Kingston is far from the centre of London, but this is the Thames..

This was also another situation in which geeky T-shirts should never be underestimated, as they made a great ice breaker for many more than just myself. After the formal event ended, this lead to going to dinner with two women I had never met before, from entirely different countries to my own, but who I was chatting with as though I had known for years.

The next morning the conference began in earnest, with three full days (9am – 7pm) of talks, presentations, and four flights of stairs to get to them. I personally couldn’t have asked for a better start, with a keynote speech about fan reactions to the endings of TV series, and the ways in which those series continue, something which I find particularly interesting. After this came something completely different, but which I was equally looking forward to.

Although Joss Whedon is undoubtedly the current writer/producer/director whose work has the most analytical scholarship about his works, the first talk of the day (or at least my first, the nature of parallel sessions meaning I couldn’t attend them all) was entitled “Images of Tea in the Whedonverse“, something I had never begun to consider before, and was curious as to what I would learn.

In fact it turns out that tea is a perfect example of how even something that a first seems like the most inconsequential element will have many layers of meaning that you only realise after they have been explained to you, but which you can’t unsee afterwards. As well as conforming to English stereotypes, tea – of the British/European variety – was used to highlight the idea of the friendship group; both Wesley’s tea set and Fred’s mug being the first and most obvious possessions seen to be packed away after their respective leavings of the core group in Angel.

Chinese tea meanwhile, and the rituals surrounding it, is also often used as a representation of invitations, particularly those of an intimate or sexual nature. Upon watching Firefly when I returned home I noticed that the introduction of companion (read: courtesan) Inara saw her entertaining a client – both in the physical and ‘smile and nod’ sense – only to be insulted by an insinuation of cheating him of both time and money. With the mood obviously ruined, her reaction is to discard the tea set she had been carrying for seemingly no other reason that to discard it. As I said, cannot be unseen.

Other talks throughout the conference ranged from such a wide variety of approaches and disciplines that it is impossible to list them all here, although the full schedule can be found on the conference’s website. Whilst some may be fairly obvious in terms of tracing the links to classical literature (comparing Serenity‘s Operative to Les Misérables‘ Javert), or looking at the influences and contrasts of ancient mythology (the reversal of the Greek Orpheus myth, with heroine rescuing the male from hell), others took more outside the box approaches to Whedon’s work. There were also those which looked at Whedon himself, with one such talk examining at how fans (and indeed anti-fans) react to his own politics and charity work.

There was so much on offer to take in, and as much as I can only congratulate the organisers for the entire weekend, I cannot blame those who chose not to attend every session, particularly those directly before or after their own presentations. While it was impossible to attend every single panel due to them running parallel with each other, all those I did attend were fascinating, although perhaps last thing on a second full day wasn’t the best time slot for an examination of Buddhist philosophical concepts about self/no self regardless of any relation to Dollhouse? It’s fair to say that wasn’t when my mind was at its sharpest, but then I highly doubt I would have understood it all anyway. Perhaps at least this way I have a reasonable excuse?

SAMSUNG

Dinner and a show…

Luckily the first day was followed by an evening meal which, presumably like other conferences, allowed the attendees to continue meeting new people and continue many discussions. There was also a raffle in which a number of text books were given away as prizes, of which I myself was a lucky winner, and now that my brain has been given a rest I can actually sit down and read. There was also a handing out of lyric sheets for the Buffy Sing-a-long, although I have been lead to believe this is not a standard occurrence at other conferences. As I mentioned before, the rest of academia has my sympathies.

In fact the only downside to such an evening was following a group who were walking back to what myself and one of many newly made friends originally thought was where we were staying, but who turn into the car park of a B&B and say good night. I can only thank them for not minding us tagging along in the first place, add London to the list of cities in which I’ve gotten lost, and figure that hey, part of the reason I attended Slayage was to learn, right? And what better way to learn than from your mistakes?

But whilst I wholeheartedly endorse this type of behaviour (by which I mean the merriment, although getting lost can have its merits), it is important to note that the conference wasn’t one to shy away from the more serious topics either.

Several presenters at Slayage raised many valid points which often came to the same conclusion about how Buffy, and pop-culture in general, help frame society’s values. One talk focused on how ideas of/reactions to abortion and sterility have been represented in the Whedon’s works, and the now infamous attempted rape scene in “Seeing Red” was mentioned several times in relation to notions of ‘masculinity’, as well as actual audience reactions to the very real world concepts of consent and abusive relationships. These also lead to discussions as to why other attempted rapes (as seen in “The Pack”), and telefantastical rape analogies (“Tabula Rasa”) were often overlooked. Ideas which were summed up expertly at one of the last talks of the entire conference, in which “The Wish” in particular was examined in terms of upholding and continuing the trend of victim blaming.

Likewise, two other talks as part of the same panel were the start of an audience debate in terms of attitudes towards of the deaths of women of colour. Although each talk was looking at the death of a particular slayer as examinations of the vampires who kill them rather than the slayers themselves, the point was rightly raised that at the very least in terms of how arguments are phrased, more awareness needs to be highlighted in terms of both gender (slayers are always female), and race (Kendra and Nikki are both black).

Discussions such as these raised the quality of Slayage as not only are they those which have to be had, but despite the obvious passion with which people were making their argument, they were also done so professionally and in a constructive manner. “Xander’s a dick!” is another point which was brought up with regards to a central male character who is often considered to be the heart of Buffy‘s Scooby Gang (see “Primeval”/”Restless” in particular), but whose other actions throughout the series also include slut-shaming the female lead.

That’s not to say that the entire conference was dominated by such seriousness, as analysis of the varying ways post-coital “morning after” scenes depict specific relationships elicited the giggles you can’t help but expect from such a topic. This is to say nothing of the way in which a room of fully grown academics reacted to the image of Anya eating chocolate whilst unashamedly staring at Spike’s masculine (à la Bruce Lee) body. More than this though, the friendly nature of the conference as a whole meant that presentations were given in a relaxed and even jovial atmosphere.

All of which added up to something one of the earliest professors of my BA once said; subjects like Film and TV aren’t easier than any other, we just have more fun while we’re studying them. Something I can attest to personally as I thoroughly enjoyed my own studies, and attended Slayage having still followed the work of the WSA throughout the four years since I was last within academia. Going back to study for a PhD is also something I have always considered as a possibility for the future.

Despite being hectic at times, and with far more to take in (not to mention write down by hand) than anything else I’ve experienced in such a long time, Slayage has left me with that bittersweet feeling of being sad that it is now over and I have to go on living in the real world once more (apparently it’s the hardest thing), but also glad at having experienced something which, either despite or because of current events, chose to “live as though the world is as it should be, to show it what it can be”.

So.

What am I gonna do now?

buffy3

Advertisements

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Three Films

When it was first announced, there was a strong sense that the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic children’s novel into three films rather than two was for the sake of increased ticket sales. However the decision was made though, the decision has long since been made, and third and final chapter of The HobbitThe Battle of the Five Armies has now been released.

Depends on your definition of "defining".

Depends on your definition of “defining”.

And regardless of why it came about, it is not a bad film. It’s well made, the battle itself is often spectacular, and it highlights just how far CGI has come since Gollum ushered in a new era. That said, as the third part of the trilogy, it did seem a bit out-of-place. The main problem being that it just doesn’t feel like the third part in a trilogy.

With the dwarves completing their quest and taking back the Lonely Mountain, The Desolation of Smaug seemed to end mostly on a substantial ending. In addition to this, Gandalf’s cliffhanger and the added on Sauron subplot are resolved far too quickly at the beginning of Five Armies, that they may as well have just been wrapped up by the end of Smaug instead. In fact this cliffhanger seems to only serve the purpose of bringing people back to watch the third film.

As much as the main events of Five Armies are a part of the original novel, the way they have been presented in the film makes it feel as though it is an entirely new entity, and one which has been hijacked to bridge the gap between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There certainly is logic to this, and it does justify the executive decision to produce three films from the single novel source material (even over the increased ticket sales argument), but the trouble is that there just isn’t enough to fill a complete film. Especially one that tries to fit in with, and will inevitably be compared to, its epic predecessors.

Because of this, many of the links between Hobbit and Rings just seem arbitrary. Unlike Dath Vader joining Grand Moff Tarkin’s side at the end of Revenge of the Sith, Thranduil’s parting words to Legolas don’t so much tie the last entry in one trilogy to the first in the next, as potentially change the entire character relationship between the two: is Legolas now Aragorn’s stalker and/or guardian angel rather than brother in arms?

A younger immortal elf. Ten years later.

A younger immortal elf. Ten years later.

That said, some of the links were nicely crafted. It’s fair to say the addition of Legolas is the biggest manufactured link of all, and generally he is well used in both of the Hobbit films in which he appears. His presence has been made to gel nicely with the other elves and their interaction with the dwarves, and his jealousy towards Tauriel and Kili even adds an extra layer to his relationship with Gimli in the later films.

But more than just these connections, the film includes the expansion and addition of new characters, such as Alfrid. Where a single counselor to the Master of Lake-Town was referred to in the book, this subplot was not only taken too far but also given an unsatisfactory conclusion. Again it is easy to see the reason for this being included, at times Five Armies can be both dark and emotional, and comic relief is often needed to alleviate some of the tension; as highly respected storyteller Joss Whedon explains, “make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” This was done well in Rings with the aforementioned rivalry between Legolas and Gimli, but for all his tales of epic heroes and bravery, is the most cowardly person escaping with all the gold he could carry a message Tolkien ever wanted to get across?

And the reason these just feel like padding is that in a similar fashion to war films such as Black Hawk Down, the single battle is pretty much the only narrative of the whole film; something which in this context just doesn’t seem to work. The film may have shown the burning of Lake-Town, but a climactic battle such as the one shown here is an event which needs to be lead up to properly. Despite it being the culmination of two previous films, this anticipation is something that gets lost in the 12 month wait between theatrical releases.

I’m aware this may be painting the film in a negative light, but when watching it I couldn’t help but notice that these things took me out of Middle Earth and back to the cinema I was watching it in. And once this started happening, it didn’t stop.

One of the biggest problems overall was one of those small things which, for me, also caught my attention within the first two films. Whilst I admit it comes from a limited perspective in terms of worldwide distribution, the amount of British television actors used in the cast can at times be distracting. Not that I am begrudging them their talents and achievements, it’s just that it seems as though they have been specifically chosen to stand out in their roles, and therefore somewhat annoyingly, stand out.

Ok, so it is an unusual hat.

Ok, so it is an unusual hat.

Take the dwarves for example: in An Unexpected Journey we are introduced to them as they come knocking on Bilbo’s door in ever-increasing amounts. There’s a dwarf, another dwarf, and then another. Complete with bushy beards, big hair, large frames, and personalities to match, next comes two dwarves, three dwarves, and then there’s James Nesbitt in a hat. It’s almost as if he arrived in the Shire on one of his Thomas Cook package holidays.

Yes, The Lord of the Rings had its share with the likes of Sean Bean and Bernard Hill, but at no point do we expect Boromir to tell the council of Elrond to “be more dog” when dealing with ring of power. Billy Connelly’s voice alone on the other hand, whilst perfect for Pixar’s Brave, coming from the mouth of a rough and ready dwarf is too close to his own flamboyant Glaswegian stand up persona to be taken seriously.

The Battle of the Five Armies is in a many ways a fine example of film making, but for all of its accomplishments it falls at the first hurdle. What use are great acting, meticulous production design, and state of the art special effects if the story they are serving isn’t up to scratch.

J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t just write novels, he crafted an entire world and populated it with different races, histories, mythologies, and even complete languages. I can’t say how much of it was by design and how much was interference from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros., but in their attempts to do Tolkien’s novel and his world justice, Peter Jackson and co. just didn’t have enough focus on crafting the story.

And isn’t that the whole point of a film in the first place?

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing epitomises the Indie film.

Before I start discussing this film, I feel I should reiterate something that is perhaps often overlooked; Much Ado About Nothing is a black and white adaptation of a William Shakespeare play, directed by Joss Whedon.

As much as these two names are often revered and celebrated for their timeless stories and witty dialogue, and for many they will be the sole reasons for wanting to see this film, when it comes down to it, it is fair to say that the audiences for their specific texts (like those of other black and white films) can be made up more of cult followers than mainstream viewers. As such, Much Ado About Nothing won’t be of interest to everyone, and it is highly understandable why it initially went for the festival circuit rather than riding the tail of Avengers popularity with a wide release.

That said however, for those who are interested in either Wheden or Shakespeare, Much Ado is the perfect combination, and is a great place to start for anyone who wants to give more niche films at try. Those with haunting memories of studying Shakespeare at school should remember that he wrote plays to be performed by actors and not novels to be read out monotone in the classroom, which is generally where most people’s dislike comes from. On the screen these characters are more than understandable, they truly come to life, and in a way which successfully manages to merge the traditional text with a contemporary setting.

Although it can take a few minutes to acclimatise to the 400 year old dialogue, the characterisation of each performance allows the message and feeling to come across, even if individual words can get lost in translation.

Despite not having written the original script himself (although he did adapt it to the film’s abridged version), Whedon has no difficulty in directing his actors reciting the Shakespearean dialogue due to the simple fact that the two wordsmiths are so compatible. Throughout their careers both have been noted for creating characters who are witty, sarcastic, eloquent, and above all, perfectly rounded. Ye olde language aside, I don’t think there could ever be another writer more suited to being adapted and directed by Joss Whedon.

Unlike other Shakespere adaptations which clash the historical text with contemporary Hawaiian shirts, Whedon has instead opted to dress his characters in more timeless attire; the men soon forget about the wars they have just been fighting and wear classic suits for example, and the women don simple but elegant dresses. In fact almost all the visual clues, from the monochrome finish to the architecture and decoration of Whedon’s own home in which it was filmed, lend a timeless appearance to the film in which the the text itself seems perfectly placed, but which renders the sight of modern technological gadgets far from intrusive.

Beatrice is played by Angel and Dollhouse's Amy Acker.

Beatrice is played by Angel and Dollhouse’s Amy Acker.

Obviously fans of Whedon’s previous work will smile at the appearance of familiar faces, but it is clear that each has been chosen specifically for their individual roles. None of the leads are so familiar they cause a distraction, and the unique style of the film allows even Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker’s portrayals of Benedick and Beatrice to be so far removed from their previous pairing of Angel‘s Wesley and Fred, that you never make such a comparison whilst captivated in their world. Likewise his performance as Claudio proves that Fran Kranz is more than just the comedy of Topher and Marty he excels at in Dollhouse and The Cabin In The Woods respectively, and the lesser seen Reed Diamond does indeed shine when given the spotlight as Don Pedro. Whilst the bulk of the cast may be certified Whedon alumni however, there is still adequate room for newer faces such as Spencer Treat Clark (Gladiator, Unbreakable) who fit right in and gel with the rest of them.

Perhaps the only recognisable performances come in the guise of Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk, who here have both been in cast in roles they have played before. While Fillion manages to even out-hammer Captain Hammer as the obtrusive Dogsberry, cast opposite the quiet and unassuming Lenk’s Verges, the pairing of the two as the traditional Shakespeare comedy duo is a welcome treat which make us laugh, but have cleverly been given just enough screen time to make sure they don’t outstay their welcome and become too much of a destraction.

Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk will be familiar to anyone who has seen their other Whedon appearances.

Fillion and Lenk will be familiar to anyone who has seen their other Whedon appearances.

Despite this lovable double act, and spot on slapstick that is occasionally seen throughout, the film’s label of “comedy” sticks mainly to it’s Shakespearean polar definition of ‘has a happy ending’ (in contrast to his tragedies which ‘have an unhappy ending’) and again may not live up to mainstream expectations of ‘makes you laugh the whole way through’. But where the film may not get you roaring with laughter however, it will undoubtedly have you ensnared in it’s charm.

As it’s setting no doubt indicates, Much Ado is an intimate film giving us an important snapshot of the lives of a select few. Whole characters have been left out during Whedon’s abridging of the script, and as such the limited screen time is concentrated more on those that remain, allowing the two couplings of Beatrice & Benedick, and Claudio & Hero to both have their moments, although the reasoning behind Sean Maher’s Don John getting between them is perhaps somewhat unclear. Either that or I was just too distracted when he was possibly explaining his motive (let’s just say he had his hands full at the time).

All in all Much Ado About Nothing is a refreshing welcome not just from CGI laden Hollywood blockbusters, but also from Whedon’s own sci-fi/fantasy back catalogue. Whilst metaphor is something he obviously does well, stripping away that extra layer leaves these characters bare for all to see as we are shown their love, heart break, and inner most thoughts. Perhaps the only negative to this film is that it has raised the bar too high, and introduced a new audience to Shakespeare who will not be able to find another adaptation to match, as the result of Whedon’s work is a subtle film which makes sure that anyone who finds the idea of it appealing, won’t be disappointed.

The Incredible Hulk Assembled

Since his first comic was released in May 1962, The Incredible Hulk is one of the most iconic characters to have come from the imagination of veteran comic writer Stan Lee. From his initial comic fame came a successful TV series throughout the 70s and 80s, and he has appeared in three of Marvel’s recent wave of films, the first of which came out ten years ago in 2003.

Of these three, two are stand alone films for the character, and only two officially take place in the canon of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Each of the three films has different stars, directors, and styles, but they also relate to each other in the form of a varied beginning, middle, and end of the same story. Much like Bruce Banner himself, the films are each different, but inseparable from their alter egos, as a detailed look will reveal.

hulk-poster

‘Hulk’ was the beginning of Marvel Studio’s fifth comic book adaptation franchise, after Blade, X-Men, Spider-Man and Daredevil.

First up was the film simply titled Hulk. No ‘Incredible’, and not even a ‘The’, Hulk was directed by Ang Lee, someone noted for character driven films which explore certain themes and ideas, The Ice Storm being a prime example, and so bringing a big green monster to the screen was something of a surprise add to his resume. The result however was a film which combines the nods to classical literature of the likes of not just Dr. Jekyll but also Beauty and the Beast, with comic book action that could only have come from the director of both Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Whilst keeping the themes and inspirations intact, the film does play with the original comic’s story somewhat, particularly in terms of Bruce Banner’s transformation.

Although still getting his gamma infusion by sacrificing himself in front of an invention of his own making, this time his dose of gamma radiation comes from a medical experiment designed to heal wounded tissue. Something which is also combined with genetic mutations passed on from experiments that his father David (a nod to the TV series), tried on himself. The film does include a desert explosion with tenuous links however, again caused by his father, and which occurs as a young Bruce witnesses his mothers accidental death by his father’s hands, when she falls in front of the knife aimed at her son. Thus the psychological trauma of Bruce Banner is born.

While it may have changed the story of the comics a little too much (although you can see why they didn’t risk a hero who builds nuclear bombs just two years after 9/11) this first big screen adaptation unfortunately goes the other way in terms of the medium itself. Lee’s choice of split screen editing is an interesting addition which certainly has its moments that shine, but like the use of slow motion in The Matrix sequels, becomes overused far too quickly. In addition, the fight between Hulk and a mutated poodle, as well as with his father’s own rather curious transformation are perhaps something that should have been left between the pages of an actual comic book.

Over the top they may be, but it has to be said that for a ten-year old film, the CGI is still able to stand on its own feet, and in fact the only thing that risks dating it is the youthful Eric Bana in his first starring Hollywood role.

This is not the only instance of an actor standing out however, as they, along with their characters, are its success. Bana brings out both the vulnerable and enraged sides of Bruce Banner with ease, and Jennifer Connelly unsurprisingly brings a great performance to the role of Betty Ross, having come straight from her applauded roles in Requiem for a Dream and her Oscar-winning performance from A Beautiful Mind. Receiving mixed reviews from critics, it is a film in which its failures come only from trying to hard.

'The Incredible Hulk' bridged the gap between 'Hulk' and 'Avengers'

‘The Incredible Hulk’ bridged the gap between ‘Hulk’ and ‘Avengers’

Hulk’s pseudo-follow up on the other hand, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, is something of an anomaly. Looking back on it now, it seems to try to do a little bit of everything, and doesn’t really achieve as much as it could. Much like Marvel’s Punisher: War Zone released in the same year, it retcons the origin story of its predecessor whilst simultaneously continuing its story; Banner has escaped the US military and is on the run in South America. Still on the hunt is General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, who the film tells us has been chasing Banner for five years, the same time frame between Hulk and Incredible‘s cinematic release. Even Lou Ferrigno cameos once again as a security guard, and also gets to deliver Hulk’s only line, the cheer worthy  “Hulk Smash!”

On the reverse of this however, the film also strives to make new ground, Betty’s scream of calling General Ross “Dad” being a prime example as it seems almost as though it’s meant to be a revelation, but no new ground is really ever made. In addition to this, Banner’s background as a brilliant scientist is hardly mentioned, and where the audience doesn’t have prior knowledge for the film to fall back on, it would seem he is merely a military pawn that just happens to be good with machinery. 

In terms of the retcon, Banner’s transformations now come courtesy of a decades old super soldier serum, a nod to Captain America for those in the know, but for those who aren’t it may seem a possibly unneeded change that still keeps the lab experiment at the expense of the characters established origins. In addition, the fact that the military never told Banner what it was exactly just adds even more to his scapegoat like status. 

While Tim Roth may be a great choice to play the newly introduced Emil Blonsky, his desire for, and transformation caused by the Hulk’s power is merely a better realised version of Banner Snr’s story. The fact that he is a power hungry soldier also only adds to the Hollywood cliche, and is a perfect example of the film as a whole, there just doesn’t seem to be enough originality on offer. 

Unfortunately, the films pitfalls don’t end here either.The attempted humour just feels too forced throughout (“You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry”?), and the cast don’t really live up to their predecessors, although it has to be said that they did leave the bar rather high. The core trio of Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt are all fine actors in their own right, but the script (which Norton also had a hand in) just doesn’t seem to let them flex enough of their acting muscles. Unlike Sam Elliot’s, Hurt’s General Ross in particular hardly seems like the type to earn the nickname ‘Thunderbolt’. 

That said, The Increible Hulk is not a bad film altogether, it just doesn’t have much to work with. What it does have however, it uses to it’s best, and the Hulk Vs Abomination showdown is something to behold. It may not have the joy of destroying US military hardware via a gold medal hammer throw, but with the flailingly gruesome deaths handed out to soldiers and civilians alike, it’s fair to say that The Incredible Hulk was aiming at a tone more dark than entertaining. Something which it also makes the most of; the first ‘appearance’ of Hulk amongst the industrial bottle plant’s shadows does bring out the the best of an Alien influenced ‘less is more’ atmosphere.

All in all it seems that the films main function is merely to act as a bridge, essentially nothing more than preparing Hulk‘s audience for the eventual release of (The) Avengers (Assemble) some four years later; it is the simple narrative purpose of Banner getting on the right side of the military (alongside an obligatory Downey jr cameo), in the guise of a cinematic blockbuster. 

(The) Avengers (Assemble) sees Banner matched intellectually with Tony Stark

By being teamed up with Stark, Banner’s intellect is given a lot more precedence in (The) Avengers (Assemble).

As a film that combines elements of four other Marvel movies, it’s unsurprising that Avengers combines elements of both previous Hulk films. As a character with a more rocky filmic history though, it is not unsurprising that only elements important to Banner’s own story are incorporated. While Iron Man, Captain America and Thor may have brought the plethora of supporting cast with them, and even the tessaract central to villain Loki’s plan, not even Betty Ross gets the courtesy mention afforded to Thor‘s Jane Foster, complete with Natalie Portman screenshot.

As such it has to be said that even having been written and directed by Joss Whedon, whose previous film Serenity is a masterclass in exposition designed for both new and old audiences alike, any Hulk fan who hasn’t seen the others won’t exactly be confused throughout preceedings, but may be a little behind those who have.

The first of the main four superheroes to be introduced, Banner’s story picks up where Hulk left off, rather than Incredible, which I’m afraid to say does make it perhaps a little superfluous. Again a brilliant scientist, who this time round is even comparable to Steven Hawking, he is acting as Doctor to those in need when hiding (as Bana is seen doing at the end of Hulk), rather than bottling plant handy man who can build himself a chemistry set. As mentioned previously however, Avengers does continue the super serum origin story, and acknowledges the events of Incredible when Banner states that he “broke Harlem.”

This time he is played by Mark Ruffalo, who was not only the original choice for Incredible, but who is also the first actor to portray the Hulk as well as his alter ego. Alongside a different actor, we also see a different side of the character; this time a Banner who is more paranoid, pointlessly turning away from a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo whilst in the middle of a command centre, and also has a more unique relationship with the Hulk, referring to him throughout as “the other guy”,  even to the point of correcting himself when mentioning him by name. Added to this is his secret at controlling his changes. An idea that Whedon has since hinted at coming from his own experiences in Hollywood, Banner here is “always angry”, in comparison to Norton’s calming breathing techniques.

As an ensemble piece we also get to see a variety of different reactions from the various characters. In the absence of Betty Ross, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is at first wary of contacting “the big guy”, but brings a sense of pity as well as fear when trying to calm him. Perhaps the best though, outspoken as ever, is Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. Not only is he a great match for Banner intellectually, but openly admits being a fan of both his “work on anti-electron collisions” as well as his ability to “turn into an enormous green rage monster”, which he considers to be Banner’s suiting up. Something Banner refutes however, clarifying that rather than having a suit, as the Hulk he is instead completely exposed.

'The Incredible Hulk' also set up another possible sequel with the origin of comic villain The Leader.

‘The Incredible Hulk’ also set up another possible sequel with the origin of comic villain The Leader.

Although not strictly an end to the Hulk story with The Avengers 2 is already in development and another stand alone film not completely out of the question, this appearance does bring a sense of conclusion to the character. Having fought the Hulk for so long, Banner is now more at peace with his alter-ego (even if he does have to always be angry to achieve it), and by fighting alongside the Avengers to save the earth, he has gained a sense of acceptance that was previously missing.

So what are the connotations of three different actors? For a start, it is not as though Marvel films, even those considered canon to the Cinematic Universe, don’t have a perfect continuity record, with both Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle appearing as Captain Rhodes in the Iron Man films. With recent discussions about the logic behind how (un)generous the wages can be, it’s also entirely possible more changes may also take place in the future.

As I’ve mentioned, we also witness three different sides to the character of Bruce Banner. Whilst film making is obviously a collaborative effort, especially when different films come from different writers and directors, throughout all the Hulk has been through I feel that I have to make a mention to Zak Penn, perhaps the only person to have been involved in the writing of all three films.

While it would be unfair to blame him personally for the differences of the three films, his screenwriting history, especially with Marvel, is an interesting one. Credited as writing the story for both X2 and Avengers, arguably two of Marvels best efforts, he is also credited as writing (presumably the screenplay as well) Elektra and X-Men: The Last Stand, arguably not Marvel’s best efforts by any means.

Actors, directors, and writers may change, and details may not be consistent throughout the three appearances of Bruce Banner and the Hulk, but we do get an over arching, if fractured, story which serves a great modern character. Overall, a great example of the many Marvel films that have been released recently, and why they are so popular.

Whether they be a stand alone, sequel, or part of a franchise, Marvel Studios utilise well respected actors and terrific special effects, but these alone do not make successful films. Marvel films shine in exactly the same way its comics do, by telling enthralling stories about daring characters that have been thrilling audiences for generations.

State of the Geek?

For the past several years, Felicia Day is someone who has become almost synonymous with the term “Geek”. As an actress in LA she has made guest appearances in TV shows from Lie To Me, to House, and is a certified Joss Whedon alumnus having appeared in three of his various series. During this time she has also written, produced, and acted in her own web-series The Guild, and last year founded the internet channel, Geek & Sundry.

Earlier this week she released a youtube video announcing that this would be returning for a second year, and also talks about a subject that is important to her, her audience, and myself.

What is it to be a “Geek”?

If for any reason you can’t/won’t watch the video, I’ve transcribed the important bits for you here:

In the six years I have been doing this, that word has become something else. We’ve been using it so much that it’s kind of lost meaning. Geek has become a cliche. It’s become a label. It’s become something to monetize, to market to, to pigeonhole, to brand, to exploit. It’s become something that describes a person who is defined solely by liking comics, or games, or movies, or TV, and it’s like we’ve become these consumer badgers that will eat anything you can put a zombie or a superhero on, and just like STOP! Just stop. That is not what Geek means to me.

We are more than the hobbies that we do, or the things that we like. We are not mash up t-shirts, don’t get me wrong I love a good mash up t-shirt, but that is just like the superficial stuff. To me, Geek means an outsider, a rebel, a dreamer, a creator, whether it’s our own world or someone else’s. It’s a fighter. It’s a person who dares to love something that isn’t conventional.

The mantra of Geek to me, is “your judgement is not my problem”. You think comics are dumb? Fine. You think I may not be a real gamer? Whatever, that’s your problem.

I think we need to re-own Geek.

In the ten years since her recurring role as a potential in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicia Day has gone on to slay numerous outmoded stereotypes and gender roles. In a world where female gamers (especially attractive ones) are thought to be either non-existent or should be looked down upon, she has been a role model of campaigning for Geek acceptance just by getting out there and doing her own thing.

Although I discussed their/our representation in films from Scream to Fanboys for my MA dissertation (albeit using the more academic term of “fans”), like too many others, Geek is a word that I take for granted in order to describe myself, my friends, and the things we enjoy. 

The origins of the word itself, stem from 18th century circuses, referring to the freaks in a sideshow. Whilst it’s safe to say that this is no longer strictly true, its connotations have remained for a long time, and it seems like only recently that its use is becoming less disparaging.

Also throughout these past ten years, more and more aspects of what would previously have been labelled as Geek culture have made it to the mainstream. Perhaps it was my growing up in rural Britain, but back when Felicia was known as Vi, names like Joss Whedon and The Avengers would have had most people I know either scratching their heads, or thinking of 60’s spies. This last summer however, Marvel’s heroes’ and their writer/director’s were the most talked about throughout the entertainment world.

Not that I am begrudging them their popularity, Whedon is an accomplished film-maker who deserves to have his work seen by a wider audience (allowing me to boast that I was a fan before it was cool), it seems to me there is a difference between Geek becoming accepted, and appropriated.

In fact it seems that like Che Guevara before it, Geek culture is now seen by many to be less rebellious and more fashion statement, often referred to as “Geek chic”.

Richard "Ringo" Langly shows his support of The Ramones.

Once the image of an ostracised Geek, “thick lenses in black framed eyeglasses – he wears a Ramones T-shirt” is now seen as fashionable.

More than just an overall fashion it seems that specific icons of Geek fandom, even the punk band The Ramones have also suffered this fate. Likely due to their retro punk image, but also perhaps in part due to their endorsement by conspiracy theorist Richard “Ringo” Langley on the sci-fi/horror series The X Files

Comparable to Day’s Geek mantra, Langly admired lead singer Joey for sticking to his punk principles and the fact that “He never gave in, he never gave up, and he never sold out, right up to his last breath.” (It is also worth noting he voiced his praise in an episode called Jump The Shark.)

In recent years however, and after the death of not just Joey but also two other original band members, Dee Dee and Johnny, t-shirts and bags embellishing their logo have become an increasingly common sight. 

Combining mainstream appeal with a cult fanbase, it is not surprising that crossover TV shows such as The X Files may have been the first port of call for those first wishing to adopt aspects of what used to be a niche appeal.

And this is something that annoys me. On the other side to Felicia’s argument, the main problem I see isn’t what being a Geek is, it’s what being a Geek isn’t.

Although I don’t solely define myself through them, I enjoy films and TV shows, and that’s why I studied them at university, it’s why I collect VHS tapes, and it’s why I edit wikias. Admittedly I don’t shout about those last two from the rooftops, and maybe sometimes I haven’t always stood up for them as much as I should (sorry Felicia), but those are just some of the reasons I use the word Geek to describe myself.

Perhaps almost conversely, I chose the name i, Coomber as a reference to Asimov’s i, Robot, and if you think the shortened use of iCoomber is because I’m an apple fanboy rather than the internet not liking commas and spaces, then, like Day says “that’s your problem”.

But when I see “fashionable” girls walking through the high street with a jumper saying “Geek”, I want to ask them how they feel about the differences between old school and new Battlestar Galactica, before berating them for not even knowing what I’m talking about, let alone not having an answer. Again, as Day says, knowledge of cylons and vipers isn’t a prerequisite to use this term, and I admit there is a certain amount of irony that they will likely consider my prejudice to not be their problem, but do these factors still make them a Geek as well?

I agree with Felicia that it is something we need to re-own, but knowing how to go about it may take more thought than a single youtube message. How do we rebel considering that many of the symbols of our rebelling against the conventional, have themselves become usurped as an adopted convention?

For those of us with genuine interests, not caring about people’s prejudices and not subscribing to corporate labels is one thing, but I believe that these are not the people we need to re-own Geek from. 

I now wear my Soylent Green t-shirt as much for its warning about industrialised processes creating products not for, but from people, as much as because I enjoy the 70’s classic. I do so because I walk past too many others wearing a Ramones t-shirt that have never heard their music, let alone embody a spirit of being a rebel, an outsider, or a fighter, and so I have to ask.

Is that “not my problem” too?

Why ‘Firefly’ shouldn’t be given a kickstarter back onto our screens.

One of the most talked about things that happened in Geek/Film/Internet news this past week, is that a Veronica Mars spin-off film has been greenlit, based on fan reactions (and donations) to a crowd-sourcing project started by the TV show’s creator Rob Thomas.

Although hardly the first film to get started this way, it is by far the most well known, which is probably the most important factor for it breaking the record to be the fastest $1m dollar earner, which it achieved in less than five hours. Because of this, it is not unexpected that people have started to look at it with some suspicion, if not doubt. Will the fans get anything extra in return for their investment, or is their devotion just being exploited?

The feature film 'Serenity' was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.

The feature film ‘Serenity’ was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.

It is also hardly surprising that fans of other cancelled TV series and movie franchises are also wondering what it could mean for the objects of their own affection, none more so than the so called ‘Browncoats’: Fans of the TV series Firefly, who have taken their name from the Independents of the series, a passionate army fighting against the all powerful Alliance.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Firefly was an extremely short series which, thanks to the tenacity of creator Joss Whedon and the devotion of fans, was picked up by Universal Studios, and the feature film Serenity was born.

Somehow Firefly had done the impossible. There are whole numbers of long lived series that can only dream of making it to the big screen, and Firefly had done it after just fourteen episodes? Fourteen episodes that FOX hadn’t even broadcast in the right order, three not even at all during its initial run. Serenity was a massive success in just getting made, but was only less than mildly successful at the box office.

Whilst fans went to see it in their droves, the general audience went there only generally. Despite the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) being just one of the many awards it received, not to mention reaching the #2 spot at its opening weekend at the box office, the film wasn’t all that Universal had been hoping for.

Like the series that preceded it, it was DVD sales that would be its economic lifeline, but they were still not enough to greenlight even a TV movie, let alone the two cinematic sequels to complete the “Big Damn Trilogy” fans were hoping for. Serenity was made back in 2005, Firefly was first (partially) broadcast and cancelled in December ’02, and only the small number of comic book mini-series and one-shots that have been published is all that the Browncoats have heard from the Firefly ‘verse in all this time.

Needless to say, Veronica Mars‘ latest news has reignited the spark of hope in fans’ hearts (if it ever went out to begin with), and Whedon has already been interviewed for his take on what it means for the future of the ‘verse:

“I’ve said repeatedly that I would love to make another movie with these guys, and that remains the case. It also remains the case that I’m booked up by Marvel for the next three years, and that I haven’t even been able to get Dr. Horrible 2 off the ground because of that. So I don’t even entertain the notion of entertaining the notion of doing this, and won’t. Couple years from now, when Nathan [Fillion]’s no longer [on] Castle and I’m no longer the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe and making a giant movie, we might look and see where the market is then.”

As one fan put it, “Drat. More “maybe eventually”s.”

Needless to say, fans’ hopes and expectations are a constant up and down, hanging on to anything Whedon and the rest of the cast and crew have to say on the matter. Speaking as a fan myself, I have to say that, in my opinion at least, Firefly is dead. And it should stay that way.

For those of you who haven’t left in disgust, I’ll explain why.

As I mentioned, the series was cancelled ten years ago. I don’t know if anyone else has ever seen a film based on a series that’s been gone for ten years, but I have, and I didn’t find Star Trek: The Motion Picture that interesting.

[Dammit, Twitter has just directed me to Jane Nelson’s blog on SFX.co.uk, where she’s saying exactly the same thing. Whilst she’s talking about a variety of shows though, allow me to carry on with Firefly in more detail].

Looking at this properly (and in more detail than Nelson), Whedon is busy for at least the next three years, and even then it seems as though Dr. Horrible 2 gets first dibs on his constantly busy schedule. In her blog Nelson says many fans think Whedon should hand over the reigns to someone else, but a Whedon-less project also has the potential to anger as many fans as the initial cancellation. Assuming fans would compromise with someone else producing and directing a Whedon written script, he still wouldn’t have time to do even that.

Also, there was speculation of the sequel to Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Whedon’s online project during the Film & TV writers’ strike, being a feature film even before Whedon was attached to the Avengers. There were also reports of the story outline and even songs, had already been written. If we were to assume the already in the works Avengers 2 makes it to screens in the Summer of 2015 (which is pushing it), and the Doctor Horrible 2 script already to go, the very earliest it could be released is Christmas ’15.

Bear in mind this is taking Whedon’s ability to juggle projects to max, and assuming there are no other problems in Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, (and Felicia Day?) finding room in their busy schedules. Very (very very) vaguely possible, but still highly unlikely. If (again, very big if) this happened, the earliest we could expect Serenity 2 is Christmas 2016. With his own passion for the project it is not something that Whedon would allow to be rushed, just the knowledge of knowing it was being made would placate fans enough for it to be given the time it would need, and I doubt Universal would give it priority in their summer blockbuster schedule anyway.

So, Christmas 2016 it is. (Very big if.)

Remember how I said Firefly was cancelled in December ’02? That’s fourteen years difference. As Nelson (damn you and your being paid to write!) points out, that’s a big difference. Too much of a difference to pick up where they last left off, and no-one wants to see them still in the same place. When you consider the character of River Tam was 17 years old, she’d now be 31. Hardly the crazy and mischievous teenager she once was, the fact that actress Jewel Staite was even younger only complicates things further.

'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' was released ten years after 'Star Trek' was cancelled.

‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ was released ten years after ‘Star Trek’ was cancelled.

But rather than carrying on the hypothetical situations, lets go back to that comparable TV/Film series, Star Trek. Like Firefly, Star Trek was unappreciated in it’s own time, and much like Serenity, a fan campaign was needed for season 3 to be commissioned, when NBC cancelled it after only two. It was during syndication that it achieved the major popularity it is recognised for today, but with people finding it only after it had been cancelled, again the only ‘official’ stories were hand drawn, with Star Trek: The Animated Series producing 22 episodes in 1973-74. The Motion Picture was finally released in ’79, ten years after season 3 originally aired. What started as the pilot episode to what would have been Star Trek: Phase II, it was a massive hit with fans, but only mildly popular with the critics.

Looking back it isn’t exactly seen as one of the best Trek films, and it’s sequel The Wrath of Khan performed so well thanks in part to the replacement of Gene Roddenberry with a newer, and more objective creative team. Headed by producer Harvey Bennett, together they had the insight to acknowledge the character’s age, putting fearless Captain (now Admiral) Kirk in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Whilst fans would find this a not only plausible but also hilarious situation for Captain Malcolm Reynolds, by now he would surely have been pushed beyond the raggedy edge, and his crew scattered to all corners of the ‘verse. And it’s not as though it could have an emotional/unexpected Spock style death to end on a (dramatic) high with either, thanks to both Book and Wash having already suffered that fate. Yet another obstacle for new Firefly projects to overcome.

This ousting of Roddenberry to the role of “consultant” in the first place wouldn’t have been sacrilegious to the fans, even if it was disappointing. Despite being the shows creator, Roddenberry himself jumped ship during the show’s third season and remained executive producer in name only. As a TV show its three seasons were crafted by a range of extra writers brought in, Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel also worked this way like nearly all US shows, but Firefly was never given the chance. The creative team was kept to a core of only a few members, and as mentioned before, any Whedonless project could split fandom wide open in a manner not seen since The Phantom Menace. A film which itself is a warning to leave the long gone, well alone.

Actors and characters aside, it’s also the audience who have grown. Whilst I was aware of it when it was released, I didn’t see Serenity until a screening at my University’s Students Union. This would have been around the time of the DVD’s European release, and I got into Firefly from that. I’ll admit I was late to the party (sorry!), but there is now a whole generation younger than me who are even later. Despite DVD and now Blu-ray keeping the series alive for new audiences to find all the time, it’s fair to say that the majority of people younger than me are too young to remember it first time round, even if it isn’t their fault.

Even as a film student, Serenity is the best example that I can think of, of exposition aimed at audience members that are both new, through to those with encyclopedic levels of knowledgeable, simultaneously. In today’s climate of ever increasing, and attention seeking, media, relying only on word of mouth (and blogs) will never be enough to keep up, and many of today’s teenagers simply won’t be interested in something that’s ten years old. I can’t even imagine 2016’s teenagers being even remotely interested in something that would be older than they are. Between many older fans’ incessant expectations, and newer audiences’ ambivalence, the stakes just seem to high to live up to.

So what about Serenity: The Next Generation? Despite featuring only one solar system compared to Star Trek‘s entire galaxy, there is still a whole host of other ships and crews out there, many in similar situations. What about a fresh start for the ‘verse  featuring one of those?

For a start, the actual Next Generation is more than just what Phase II would have been, and Decker/Riker & Ilia/Troi aside, the differences outweigh the similarities. Not only is the whole show is set in the next century, there’s even a Klingon on the starboard bridge console! While retaining the same exploratory spirit of the original, it’s more than just another crew on another ship, because it needed to be something different. Although Data is not so far removed from Spock (the two of whom finally meet in Unification part II, a conversation which doesn’t disappoint), there is a difference between the same roles and same characters. Picard may hold the same rank as Kirk, but has a far more diplomatic way of going about it.

The fan-film 'Browncoats: Redemption' "Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available."

The fan-film ‘Browncoats: Redemption’ “Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available.”

This different crew approach was when the 2010 crowd sourced fan-film Browncoats: Redemption was released, which featured a cameo from Adam Baldwin and reportedly received a “blessing” from Whedon himself. Although the project has raised money for many different charities and is given respect for the undertaking involved, it hardly filled the gap many fans still felt was missing in their lives.

Unlike in any Star Trek, the mercenary crew of Serenity are so much more than a militaristic unit, and it is the characters and relationships that made Firefly what it is. Just as any ‘reunion’ movie wouldn’t likely work for the reasons outlined above, Redemption was criticised by some fans for trying too hard and following the original too closely. This is an obstacle that even a new Whedon created crew would also have to tackle, and anything too different seems almost beyond waiting for.

By 2016 I’m sure Whedon’s clout in Hollywood would be enough for those writing the cheques to greenlight anything he wants. As much as passion is needed to create a film that works, rather than creating a film because “If I don’t, it’s the only thing I’m ever going to be asked ever by anyone“, I believe fans should instead be asking for original stories in new universes. Whilst I’m sure the above quote was said with the zany sarcasm present in most of Joss Whedon’s interviews, he has a very real point.

Yes I would have loved Firefly to have continued rather than be cancelled, and by all means please do give us more comics. But by now the on-screen adventures of Serenity and her crew are long gone, and any continued efforts to bring them back just seem like flogging a horse that is dead as Browncoats’ hope should be. Like so many others, as a huge fan of Whedon’s, I continually can’t wait for his next projects. The general release of Much Ado About Nothing can’t come soon enough, I’m sure The Avengers 2 will be just as breathtaking as the first, and I can’t wait to see Doctor Horrible again, but original or not, these are all projects that Whedon and co. have already started working on.

While too many Browncoats are waiting impatiently for the box office success of Veronica Mars: The Movie to bring their dream that one step closer, my time will be better spent specualting on something else.

Whedon is not just a writer, he is a creator. Thanks to the fruits of his creative genius, a teenage girl not only saved the world several times over, but reshaped the landscape of American TV while she was doing it. A crew of mercenaries instilled so much passion in fans that they actually achieved their goal of getting a feature film produced from a TV series cancelled during its first season.

 These are feats that are unprecedented, and cannot be overstated enough. And I for one am eager to know what game changing universe Joss Whedon will create next.

Transmedia storytelling: Where do we tie-in from here?

Having been around almost as long as cult film and television itself, tie-in media is now serious business. Star Wars alone includes over 20,000 years of “Expanded Universe” history to support only six (so far) canonical feature films. But how do you go about creating such a detailed background, and what exactly is this background in the first place?

Firstly, you don’t have to. Tie-in media is generally anything that takes an already established story, usually a TV show, and tells another story using those characters, settings, etc, and it doesn’t have to be part of an epic sci-fi saga. Something as simple as the novelisation of Snakes on a Plane, or even the Dad’s Army stage adaptations could also fall under this category.

Starting at the beginning, perhaps one of the earliest pieces of original tie-in fiction was 1968’s Mission to Horatius, a young adult Star Trek novel by Mack Reynolds. Like the episodes of the series itself, the novel told the story of the Enterprise crew on an outer space adventure, thrills and danger were experienced, before everything is heroically, and not to forget neatly, concluded. Returning everything to the status quo meant that viewers and readers could dip in and out of adventures and not get lost. Everyone knew the central relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, knew that Uhura would be there to take the messages, and the Klingons were the badguys. As time went on however, things changed.

The 34th Rule, by Armin Shimerman and David R George, filled in many gaps the on-screen 'Star Trek' to regarding humanities future 'Utopia'.

‘The 34th Rule’, by Armin Shimerman and David R George, filled many of  ‘Star Trek’s Utopia’s gaps.

Klingon peace treaties and the civil rights movement aside, Star Trek evolved, and its tie-in fiction along with it. The episodic TV series’ led to feature films with an ongoing story arc. The Voyage Home remains one of the most popular Trek films to date, but without a recap of The Search For Spock, those who haven’t seen it may be a little confused as to why there’s no Enterprise. Likewise novels were joined by comics that contained stories that could often have cliffhanger endings, leaving readers waiting with baited breath for next month’s issue.

Ten years after it’s initial cancellation, the other long running science-fiction series Doctor Who regenerated into audio adventures, reuniting cast members to portray their charcters, even if by only voicing them. With the series once again gracing TV screens, these classic Doctor tales are still going strong.

Following this, the new millennium began with The Matrix gifting the world with a new breed of tie-in, containing almost as much new storytelling as slow motion CGI. More than just new adventures however, The “Wachowski Warship” as the Wachowski ‘Brothers’ are now known, utilised comics, short animation films, and even a computer game, in order to tell the same narrative story, only from different perspectives; While the audience watching The Matrix Reloaded would witness Niobe imparting news of how a ship called The Osiris discovered a Sentinel threat, those who have seen the aptly named Final Flight of the Osiris would witness that discovery first hand, but only Enter The Matrix players would know how the story, and indeed the intel would be picked up and delivered by Niobe after Osiris’ drop off.

While The Matrix fleshed out a story that fans already knew, the TV series Lost would take this one step forwards (or possibly backwards?) throughout the show’s six season run. Although maybe not producing as many tie-ins as other series, what was produced put a twist on traditional elements, such the ‘in-universe’ tie-in novel Bad Twin (whose ‘author’ was also on flight 815, and the manuscript to which was read on-screen by Sawyer), and merged storytelling with mere merchandising, thanks to a collection of four “Mystery of the Island” Jigsaw Puzzles that advertised “exclusive new insight into TV’s most puzzling drama series.”

Jigsaw Puzzles were an original but laboured piece of 'Lost' transmedia story-telling.

Jigsaw Puzzles were a unique, but laboured piece of ‘Lost’ transmedia story-telling.

But despite such originality in their storytelling, they gave at best only the merest hints towards any further information regarding the show’s many unanswered questions. Meta-fiction aside, the puzzles themselves were just collages of screenshots and images from the show itself, each one only showing a quarter of the completed “insights” which were not only hidden on the back of the completed puzzles, but were written in both code, and glow in the dark ink (the cypher for which was only found on the fourth puzzle). As if this weren’t confusing enough, those that solved everything would only be asked further questions by script co-ordinator Gregg Nations; “I’d have to say yes, they can be considered canon. But keep in mind who wrote those coded messages to begin with — Radzinsky and then Kelvin. What were their states of mind when creating it? And can they really be trusted?

Even worse than Bad Twin‘s duplicity however, semi-canonical storylines set on the island itself, Lost: The Video Game for example, only served to complicate ideas even further by leaving players wondering what should be separated as Lost ‘fact’ from Lost ‘fiction’. Frustrations aside however, you can’t help but admire the planning that went into such a tie-in effort, orchestrated by writers and producers of the show itself.

With the advent of serial-arc based TV drama however, a concept that even Star Trek adopted, tie-in media encountered new problems, but which were relatively easy to overcome. With such a vast universe to explore, Star Trek: New Frontier was created to boldly go where no tie-in had gone before, featuring a completely new ship and crew. A short lived series of novels also looked at how the exploration that epitomised Star Trek was conducted by Starfleet’s Klingon counterparts. Needless to say, conquering was involved.

But the main problem came when the series ended. Often tie-in media was the place to go for fans who were hungry for more, but with the number of television programs adopting story arc’s now being the vast majority, there are more than one in which the final episode concludes its story through what would be a major game change in the characters lives. With tie-in authors unable to make any significant contributions to the development of character’s audiences loved, this was often the last they ever heard from them.

Whether boosted by the example set by Lost, or by their own enthusiasm as fans, producers of cult shows have begun to take transmedia storytelling more and more seriously, and continue to tell their stories themselves, after the shows have been cancelled. Something which comic publishers have been keen to capitalise on, releasing stories that not just continue a TV show’s narrative, but do so to the point where they are considered canonical, and even released in mini-series corresponding to the original show’s seasons. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight is an early example of this, and it has just been announced that The X Files will be the latest, with “Season 10” due to be published over a decade since “Season 9” was broadcast. Obviously great news for fans of cult franchises whose cast and crew could not be reunited, but more importantly, those that studio executives are no longer willing to risk money on.

But in the current climate of “Brand Recognition” (the idea that particularly in a recession, audiences are less likely to take risks with unknowns, and spend their money more on franchises they already know), this also comes at a price. As Buffy was a popular money maker throughout it’s seven season run, I’m sure Fox have no problem in allowing Dark Horse to license it’s intellectual property for as long as the royalties will keep on coming in.

Firefly on the other hand, also written and produced by Whedon, is a series that Fox doesn’t generally like or understand, and so was cancelled during it’s first and only season. Unable to establish the widespread fanbase it deserves, what the show lacks in quantity of fans it more than makes up for in quality, and with only fourteen episodes and one feature film produced, they are always eager for more. Joss Whedon’s time management aside, surely I’m not the only one who considers Fox’s dismissal and consequentially the the series’ lack of money making ability to be an important factor in it’s lack of comic production, a mere fraction of the titles set in the already heavily established ‘Buffyverse’.

The slayers' Scythe appeared in 'Fray' before 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'

The slayers’ Scythe appeared in the comic ‘Fray’ before ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’.

Although transmedia has gained popularity and acclaim throughout it’s lifetime, I can think of only one instance in which a piece of tie-in fiction has influenced the TV show which had born it. When writing a comicbook mini-series, Whedon (I know I keep mentioning him, but do so not through choice, but simply due to the prolific and various natures of his work) assumed people would only want more slayers from him, and so obliged accordingly.

Even when considering this is just a very brief overview of its history, it is no wonder that tie-in media is increasingly now referred to as ‘transmedia’ storytelling. These new stories are no longer being written to tie-in with bigger storylines, they now often are the bigger storylines.

Before commenting on the current emerging trends of where it is taking us next, it is important to remember that new developments of transmedia do not always mean the end of the traditional, which are still important in their own right. Whilst Star Trek‘s on-screen adventures may have returned to an alternative view of Kirk & co, with the films writers and producers involved with the parallel and prequel comic series, brand new adventures of Picard, Sisko, and Archer (not so much Janeway) are still recalled through a plethora of novels. Novels which do not just keep characters alive, but which allow newer and previously unpublished writers to be read.

Una McCormack for example, has gone from writing internet fan-fiction, to pretty much holding the fate of Cardassia itself in her hands. More than just Hollow Men and The Never-Ending Sacrifice being two of the best Star Trek novels I have read (and I’ve read more than a few) writing tie-in fiction has given a writer the opportunity to not only contribute to series she loves (she has also written books for Doctor Who), but this has also lead to her own original fiction being publisd as well.

But just as with all evolutions, it seems the tree of transmedia is again spliting into two separate branches. Whereas previous divergences occured from prose to comic to audio however, this one is at the heart of on-screen media itself.

One thing it seems, is that with a rise of adaptations and series such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, transmedia has come full circle. Whereas tie-in material published through books were previously used to supplement on-screen adventures, now it seems that what we see on screens, is more and more filing in the gaps and producing it’s own additional narratives to supplement books and comics. Somehow creating three longer than average movies from a single children’s paperback, The Hobbit immediately springs to mind.

The Avengers Assembled. Six movies that form only "Phase One" of the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe'.

The Avengers Assembled. Six movies that form only “Phase One” of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’.

More than this however, is the new tradition that has developed in which feature films now seem to be produced at a rate to rival TV episodes, something seen particularly with the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is well worth noting here, as what is being described as “Phase Two”, the continuation of films that culminated in Joss Whedon’s (told you, prolific) recent blockbuster The Avengers (Assemble), will constitute not just Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World et al, but also a S.H.I.E.L.D. Television series.

While it remains to be seen exactly how much this new series will link in with the films, with the inclusion of Agent Coulson who was seen dying in The Avengers (Assemble), filling in the backstory of how the S.H.I.E.L.D. organistation was created cannot be ruled out.

But regardless of the stories the TV series will tell, it seems that where TV has traditionally been the primary narrative with tie-in stories from ‘lesser’ media supplementing them, the twentyteens have not just followed Star Wars’ lead and promoted the primary narrative to cinematic heights, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. alongside The Clone Wars, promoted the supplementary stories to the ‘lesser’ medium of Television.

Although these phases of transmedia are still emerging, it is interesting to speculate who will take them up, and where they might go with them. Not forgetting of course, in the years to come, what other changes might come next…