4 Ways the Internet is About to Improve Entertainment
If you take the cultural temperature of the Internet (rectally, of course), you'll find it pretty cool on modern day media, overall. Movies are stale. TV is predictable. Games are repetitious. Books are, I don't know, inbred or something. The point is, we're very pessimistic about the state of storytelling in modern times. Now, I'm always down for a casual riot or a good old-fashioned effigy burning, but let's try a little optimism for once: If you look in the right places, there are some pretty cool things happening right now ...
New Proprietary Instant Video Series
Amazon has been trying to get their filthy fingers all up in Netflix's peanut butter for a while. But now they're finally done poking at the periphery and are ready to go in full fist. Amazon recently greenlit a series of pilots, and they went straight to the users to see which should get approved for a full series. It seems so stupidly intuitive, you almost don't realize how impossible and brilliant it is. Do you know network TV still relies largely on the antiquated Nielson ratings system? What you watch -- even today, in our world of instant streaming, persistent connections, and fucking robots on Mars -- what you watch is still determined by randomly distributing data boxes to hateful hydrocephalics living in caves in the Ozarks somewhere.
Alphas got cancelled. Grimm is in Season 3. Clearly, there is no justice in this world.
You probably didn't even know this was a thing, but it's friggin' HUGE in the Ozarkian waterhead demographic.
The traditional pilot system is equally antiquated bullshit: The only way a show gets made is to make one episode of said show, preview it to a few coked-up studio heads, and hope that the soundproofing on their new Bentleys hasn't completely severed their last lingering connection to the common man. By showing pilots straight to the viewers and seeing what the overall interest is, we can -- gasp -- actually approve shows viewers want to watch, instead of greenlighting 18 wacky comedies about moving back in with your crotchety in-laws.
I mean, I'm not saying it's time for a celebratory Shotgun and Hooker Party just yet: I watched the Amazon pilots, or at least as much of them as I could before huge chunks of my brain started shutting themselves off to conserve energy. But the idea of distributing pilots online for viewer approval is sound. Why, if we had this system in place earlier, shows like Heat Vision and Jack would have easily made it to air, and we as a society could have all collectively gotten over Jack Black a few years early.
EVE Online, the spaceship-based massively multiplayer Intro to Accounting course, is getting its own show. But it's not adapted from the plot, or even loosely based on the world. The stories are being pulled straight from the anecdotes and experiences of the players themselves. It's a brilliant and novel move that will no doubt falter and explode in its creators' faces. But just because something is guaranteed to fail doesn't mean we shouldn't try it. The EVE show illustrates a relatively new concept: adaptations that are not only cross-media, but stride the line between interactive and passive participation. If you survive an epic enough double-crossing space battle in your game, all the while spewing pithy one-liners and making the hard choices others are scared to, you could theoretically turn around and sell that story to Hollywood. How crazy unlikely was that scenario, even two years ago?
I know the EVE/TV connection isn't unique. There are probably a thousand painfully pretentious pixel-art games that tie into YouTube in novel ways, but the really exciting part for the audience happens when the pure art concepts start leaking into the mainstream. And that's just now kicking into high gear:
If you're into generic space marine action and you're sick of literally every single other game that's been produced in the past 10 years, you can hop into Dust 514 and take your bottled-up aggression out on other virtual warriors across a series of different planets. The difference here being that, floating above that planet you're fighting on, EVE Online players are sitting in their mammoth bankships, strategizing and calling down orbital strikes. They can even hire groups of mercenaries -- the space marines playing Dust -- to carry out their cold and unfeeling whims, seamlessly merging the calculation of interest rates with the act of lobbing grenades into beefy dudes' groins.
Although, to be fair, nearly everything is made better with groin grenades.
I have no idea how well they pulled it off. I know the concept has a long way to go, and it's not fully interactive yet: You can't ditch your EVE ship to get viciously teabagged on Planet Grit below, and you can't teleport up to the EVE ships above to take out a space-loan -- but that's still two vastly different experiences merging two vastly different types of player, and having them interact, play with, and change one another. It's only a start, sure, but even journeys into fiery, raging badass start with baby steps.
Officially Sanctioned Fan Fiction
Amazon recently announced Kindle Worlds, a platform for creating and selling officially sanctioned, self-published fan fiction. Ah, so this is how the downfall of society starts: not with a bang, but with Harry Potter banging Optimus Prime.
I know, licensing fan fiction sounds like a terrible idea at first, but with some modification and careful attention, it could actually be a huge boon to some stale established properties. Right now it's limited to a handful of series -- The Vampire Diaries finally says it's OK to write Vampire Diaries fan fiction, you guys! Surely that's the only reason nobody has been writing Vampire Diaries fan fiction until now! -- but if it proves successful, others will surely sign up. As a writer, I would never, in a thousand terrifying, My Little Pony raping years, sign up to allow official fan fiction of my work to be sold. That blurs a really important line between fun and canon; between what actually happens in a story and what you paid for.
But nobody's asking me.
Authors and Luddites are freaking out about this concept like it's going to affect them. This isn't about people polluting the purity of literary classics by having Holden Caulfield bone Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, because A) the owners of those IPs would never allow it, B) nobody would actually buy it, and C) the Internet is totally already doing that somewhere, for free, I promise. This is about vast, impersonal properties that already have a thousand hands down their creative panties allowing a few more in because there's still some room in the back. These properties, without some weird experimentation and new blood, are going to go stale and possibly die anyway.
Look no further than Star Wars for proof:
The expanded universe Star Wars books, by all accounts, were infinitely better and more promising than the recent Star Wars movies. Which is a little like saying that dying of painful diarrhea is better than dying in painful diarrhea. But I digress: The Star Wars books were nothing so vulgar as fan fiction, but they thrived for precisely the same reason. Because they were taken out of the hands of the original creators -- in this case, snatched from the expired-deal-with-the-devil-making George Lucas' pork-greased digits -- and given to new talent, somewhat untested but eager young folks who were both familiar with the source material and willing to be exploited in exchange for a little attention.
Sounds like fanboys to me.
Adapting the Unadaptable
Full disclosure: The idea for this entry spawned from a piece I wrote on my own site about Arrested Development's new season on Netflix. If you've read that already, feel free to skip the following; this will mostly be a summation/expansion of some of those points.
Hey, have you guys heard about the new season of Arrested Development? No? Then you're either a liar or a pod person, and we all know those pod people are a bunch of dirty liars.
In short, the new season of Arrested Development was released on Netflix all at once, with no wait between episodes, and no set run time for said episodes. Some could be 20 minutes, some could be 40, and you could watch the whole thing back to back. It's a much longer, more cohesive work with breaks only where they make sense in the story. That's right: The new season of Arrested Development is a video book.
Up until now, adaptations, by their very nature, had to cut huge chunks of their source material to make sense in other formats. Movies had it especially tough: How do you take a work that is limited only by the author's imagination and the paltry confines of human language and represent that boundless reality on film? How do you take a work that may dance around between viewpoints, jump generations, or span eons, and do it any kind of justice? How do you take 400 pages of text and faithfully transform it into a two- to three-hour movie? Short answer: You don't.
Don't get me wrong, there have been a lot of great adaptations from books. But that word is the problem: adaptation. Directors aren't filming a book scene by scene to present the same story in a different medium; they're changing it to make it fit their needs. Sometimes it results in greatness, like Blade Runner. Sometimes it results in milky loogies spat right into art's eyeball, like The Great Gatsby.
Zack Snyder's Watchmen is a good example of the middle ground:
Middle ground: The nicest thing anybody has ever said about Zack Snyder's Watchmen.
It was based on a work that was long considered unfilmable, for its grandiose scope and scale as well as its minutiae. The set pieces ranged across the entire friggin' solar system, and it was all packed with vital little nuances that just couldn't make it into a single measly movie. The original graphic novel, for example, was intercut with another story -- a comic within the comic, regarding pirates, insanity, and a big sweaty dude-boat. It wasn't necessary for the plot, but it was needed for the story. And it was cut from the movie completely. I think it was ultimately included as bonus content on the DVD, but most moviegoers had no idea.
But if Watchmen had debuted like a Netflix original -- a whole series available at once, no waiting and no fixed length for episodes -- it could have been structured more closely to the original, as something between a TV show, a miniseries, and a film. A 15-hour faithful retelling of the original story, just in a different medium. It wouldn't have left you feeling like you missed something; it wouldn't have been as spiritually empty as the Snyder version. I love the Akira anime, but that movie barely glanced off the content available in the comic. A Netflix-style adaptation would be amazing, and break new ground even for old fans. They've been trying to film Neuromancer for like 30 years, but it just doesn't fit: You'd have to cut whole acts for it to make sense as a movie. A 15-hour online miniseries, however, wouldn't have any problems. What about stuff like House of Leaves? You could have the entire documentary section filmed as presented, intercut with a more cinematic approach for the narrative sections, all the while bringing up online references and compendiums for the footnotes that you can peruse as you see fit. We may have just done away with the entire concept of "unadaptability."
And now that I've planted those tantalizing seeds in your head, I shall leave you to wail in impotent fury that they will never be a reality. Haha, this is still Hollywood, folks! None of this shit will ever happen. Scream as loud as you want; they'll never hear you. Those new Bentleys are like a rolling library.