Part 2 (of 3) of 'Crossovers, Crossovers Everywhere, And Not A New Idea' a look into the explosion in media crossovers, the reasoning behind them, and what makes some better than others.
First published in The Illuminata in January of 2003.
Crossovers, Crossovers Everywhere, and Not A New Idea
Part 2 (of 3) Why All The Crossovers?
By Bret Funk
Crossovers are everywhere. Comic book superheroes have television series (live action and animated), movies, books, songs, and breakfast cereals. A few even broke into radio, before television (kryptonite to audio-only shows) came along. Television series are made into movies, movies are made into TV shows, and those TV shows will probably be made into new movies in the near future. Novelizations of hit movies are a big money maker, but not as big as adapting hit novels into blockbuster movies.
Even video games are not spared the crossover: more than a few games have become movies, and I’ve lost count of all the movies that have made the transition to the gaming world. Book-to-game is not as common (unless the book has become a movie first) but it happens; in fact, I expect that I’ll be playing Gone With the Wind any year now.
But why all the crossovers? As I’ve mentioned before, crossovers aren’t often very good. Most of the people I know, at least those devoted – or obsessed by – a certain book, show or game, dread movie crossovers. They talk for months about their fears: that the movie will ruin the book, that it won’t stay true to the author’s vision, that it will eliminate key characters or plot points. They scream and rage that another fine novel will be ruined by Hollywood, that an entire generation or two will be poisoned to an epic work of classic speculative fiction. They grumble and mutter while they order their tickets, while they stand in line, while they watch the movie, and for days afterward. Unless the movie turns out to be good, in which case they proceed to talk endlessly about the film’s merits (and how the sequel will probably stink).
The point is, despite all the grumbling, they go. Each and every time.
This is a phenomenon that fascinates me, even when I pony up my own ticket money or stand in line at the bookstore for the newest Star Wars book, and I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to understand the motivations behind our obsession with the crossover.
Part of me, the sentimental part, cries out ‘Nostalgia!’ It’s impossible for a series to last forever, but movies allow the cast of Star Trek, Babylon 5, and other hit shows to reunite periodically. Crossovers also allow people to relive their youth without embarrassment. Many people (not me!) might feel self-conscious if caught watching an episode of Scooby-Doo on the Cartoon Network, but if they go to the movie, they have a legitimate excuse: “I wanted to see how badly they screwed it up!” Safely ensconced within the armor of the critic, they can watch silly movies, read terrible books, and laugh at television adaptations. At the same time, they can free their inner child and revel in the memories of yesteryear.
While nostalgia may be the driving factor behind TV-to-film adaptations, it alone is not enough to explain the popularity of media crossovers, especially within the realm of book-to-film. One does not often find oneself nostalgic for a book, and if it does happen, the book is usually still available.
Another part of me, a very cynical part, believes that lack of imagination is to blame. America’s (and the world’s) growing need for instant gratification has poisoned our minds. As television, videos, and the internet gained in popularity, our need to think for ourselves, to visualize what we read (or to read, for that matter) diminished. With lack of use comes atrophy, and that, coupled to even newer technologies, will further decay the imagination, creating a vicious cycle that will eventually force mankind into the role of mindless automatons.
But lack of imagination cannot be the explanation, either; at least, not solely. Crossovers of classic novels and popular literature were one of the first applications of moving pictures. The Superman shorts first appeared in 1941, not too long after the man of steel appeared, and Batman quickly followed with a live action serial in 1943. Granted, at this point, the public had no previous crossovers to complain about, but if these early efforts had met with resistance, I wouldn’t be dreading the eventual release of Thundercats: Live! and Digital Diet: The Oracle’s Guide to Cooking in the Matrix.
So the answer must lie in another direction. In fact, I believe it lies in the opposite direction. The public loves media crossovers not because they remove the need for imagination, but because they provide a platform for the confirmation of imagination. When we watch movies and TV shows, the characters are there in all aspects. In living color. What you see is what you get. But when we read a book (or comic) or play a video game, there are things left to the imagination. Each person adds their own details, develops their own interpretation of the characters based on the descriptions and dialogue of the author or programmer.
When a story crosses over into a visual format, it gives the fan something with which to compare and contrast his vision. An adaptation should be a baseline, a standard, but to work correctly, it must remain true to the original. When it does not, when characters, plot and themes are modified to make the work ‘more suitable to film,’ it ruins not only the story but the fan’s ability to see his imagination realized.
This explains the love/hate relationship with the media crossover. Fans yearn for, and will continue to yearn for, movie adaptations so they can see their own imaginations made real. At the same time, they fear for the integrity of unreleased movies, and scorn those adaptations that have been tainted by disinterested directors, marketing considerations, and the almighty dollar.
Next, I will delve deeper into the realm of media crossovers, and examine the reasons behind a fairly recent, and even more inexplicable phenomenon: an epidemic of well done, true -to-the-original adaptations.