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Movie Industry: Enough With The Transmedia Already

It’s weird the way that the movie year breaks down differently from the real world. Instead of Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer, we’ve got the Holiday Season, the Awards Season, the Season Where Movies Are Dumped, and Summer. Or, as I’ve started to refer to it, the Transmedia Season… which may be part of the problem.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “transmedia properties” recently. You all know what those are, even if you’re not familiar with the phrase; a transmedia property is something that belongs in multiple media – A comic, toy and movie, for example, and, for some, the only “true” transmedia property is one with one coherent storyline running throughout all of the various outlets (So, The Dark Knight would be out, because the comics and the movie are different versions of the same story, but Transformers would count, because there are comics that lead into and out of each movie, and toys based upon the movie versions of the characters). It’s not surprising that I’m thinking about transmedia properties right now, because… Well, look at the big movies of the summer: Only one of the massive blockbusters is anything approaching an original idea, and even that is a homage to Steven Spielberg.

Thing is: This isn’t sustainable.

You can see the first signs of what I’m talking about this summer: X-Men: First Class, a reboot of a movie franchise that was last in theaters only a couple of years ago. Next year, we’ll have another, when The Amazing Spider-Man reboots that franchise, which was last around in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. It’s one thing to reboot series and franchises and concepts that people have actually had time to miss – 2009’s Star Trek, for example – but… Four years really isn’t long enough to actually require a reboot as much as just a simple, James Bond-esque recasting, surely?

It’s just simple straightforward common sense to accept that, if all you’re doing is recycling old ideas, you’ll eventually run out of old ideas and have to start repeating yourself. But doing so so quickly, and with so many old ideas still left on the table – Where’s my Centurions movie, with George Clooney as the one with the moustache?!? – just makes me feel as if pop culture is beginning to eat its own transmedia tail far, far sooner than anyone expected.

It’d be nice if Hollywood could, en masse, agree that every, say, third year would be one where the summer blockbusters would be at least 50% original ideas instead of transmedic pilfering: An attempt to reseed the extensively-planted, plucked and overcooked, if you like. It’s unlikely to happen, of course; the audience will have to roundly reject sequels and toy- and comic-tie-ins in order to teach the movie studios that lesson, and… Well, let’s be honest: If we did that, there wouldn’t be that much left for us to go and see in 3D in the short term. Still, it’s nice to dream…


  • Aggamendon

    Except that X-Men: First Class isn’t a transmedia movie, so why is it being used as an example of why transmedia is bad?

  • Poo

    Blah Blah Blah boo hoo. Just enjoy the movie that we get these days. When I was a kid i would have given my left nut to see a Transformers movie or an X-Men, Iron Man Cap movie. Quit thine bitching

  • percane

    X-Men first class is most definitely a transmedia movie. Comic books, toys, cartoons, video games, X-Men are all over the place.

    Having said that though, transmedia is not a new phenomena, and it IS quite sustainable. it’s been going on since george lucas put out star wars action figures in 1977. It’s quite sustainable. It’s also no surprise these movies come out primarily in the summer: when are the kids out of school, eh?

    Transmedia’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just very obvious this summer because there are so many super-hero movies. usually we have 1-2, this year we have 4?

  • Adam Rosenberg

    I’m sorry Graeme, but I have to disagree with you here, both respectfully and vehemently. Your biggest problem here is that you first mis-identify transmedia and then pretty much ignore it to go on a rant about reboots. I’m with you on the reboot fatigue — though let the record show that First Class is most definitely not a reboot, but a prequel to the fiction established in the Singer trilogy — but transmedia is very much sustainable and is, in fact, the direction the future of entertainment has been heading in for quite some time.

    The clearest example of a transmedia success story is Star Wars. No franchise, not even Star Trek, has been as successful across multiple entertainment platforms at weaving an ongoing story. The movies, the books, the comics, the video games, the TV show, anything branded “Star Wars” that tells a story all unfolds in the same universe (yes, I’m aware that some of the earlier books/comics fall outside the canon). I’m not trying to turn this into a Trek vs. Wars debate folks, so apologies if any Trek fans are offended. Roddenberry’s franchise is indeed a very powerful work of transmedia, I just have the opinion that Star Wars has done it more effectively.

    Let’s get the correct definition of “transmedia storytelling” in here though. While the practice predates the academic concept, the actual term was coined by Henry Jenkins in a 2003 article for Technology Review ( I encourage you all to read it (Jenkins is very readable for an academic), but I’ll pull a relevant quote out here:

    “In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best-so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics, and its world might be explored and experienced through game play. Each franchise entry needs to be self-contained enough to enable autonomous consumption. That is, you don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the game and vice-versa.”

    Complaining about the lack of original ideas in entertainment is another matter entirely. It’s like complaining about the fact that water gets you wet. Here’s a news flash for one and all: there are very few truly original ideas left, at least in a narrative sense. Every story has been told before. The originality comes in the telling, the unique ingredients that the author pulls together to tell his or her own version of any number of templates. There is an endless array of possibilities within that, which is where we see originality in today’s storytelling. But whether you’re talking about a sequel, a prequel, a reboot or simply something that stands alone as a self-contained tale, it’s the author behind it that shapes the feeling of originality (or, more often with a summer blockbuster, derivation) that we get. Abrams’ movie isn’t original at all. It’s a Steven Spielberg cover, and it’s always been intended to be that. That doesn’t mean it’s not great (as you’ll all soon learn in my review), but it’s not like there’s some precious, original idea. It’s just a well-told story with a magical feel.

    Please PLEASE educate yourself on what transmedia is before you commit opinions to an Internet post that other people might read and be influenced by. It’s a word we’re all going to be hearing a lot more of in the coming years, especially us geeks, and it’ll be easier to accept the benefits if people aren’t given the wrong idea. Because make no mistake: transmedia is a good thing. The quality of the finished products may fluctuate, but we all, as comic book fans, franchise nuts and the like, love a good, ongoing story. That’s exactly what transmedia provides, it just jumps between multiple platforms to do so.


  • comicfan

    This is just another article about the need to “tear down pop culture”, If you don’t something don’t see it and don’t support things like it. I understand why films like transformers and spiderman can make people mad as they abuse peoples emotional investment to toys and stories and they feel like they need to see the movies but you don’t. If you want culture to focus on more original ideas then you need to show people what they should seeing instead of just complaining.

    There will always be remakes and reboots. When they filmed Ben Hur in the 20s the people working on it were making jokes about how great the film will look when someone else remakes it using more money. This isn’t a new issue, its just part of entertainment.

  • Drhiphop85

    Actually, going off the definition set off by OP First Class doesn’t fit. The continuity for the movie doesn’t in any way synch up with any comic that is out now. Or any cartoon that is out now (which is none…except the Anime)…so yeah…

  • C3

    sorry adam.
    star wars HAD no action figures ready for christmas 1977. Nor did Boba Fett “really” get created for the Cartoon Special Introduction. Star Wars was a lucky movie event- no trilogy story, no expanded uinverse in 1977…just a hope to recoup and release. But the creation of the 3 prequels.thats another “transmedia” story.;)

  • Aggamendon

    Thank you for clarifying for me. I did indeed mean that X-Men: First Class is not a transmedia film according to the definition put forth by the article. 

  • Jacob

    This should be posted as an article.

  • Omegasaga

    I am astonished at the pointless nonsense in this article. Its almost like you just want to hear yourself talk.
    What is your point?  seriously?

    There is ZERO difference between a movie like DARK KNIGHT and TRANSFORMERS in terms of multi media.    They are both high profile big budget FRANCHISE movies that have spawned from decades of mulitmedia and continue to do so.  Um this kinda stuff has been going on EVER SUMMER since 1977.    so who are you preaching to?

    As far as what is an original idea VS franchise movies…well thats also a stupid comment too. Because at one point every block buster or franchise was an original idea or brand new. It just so happens that this summer alot of stuff has roots in other media.

    If you wantan ORIGINAL mega blockbuster big budget summer movies that have very little traditional multi media spawns.. than last summers INCEPTION would be one of the few good movies that fit that bill.   

    But …. so what.  who cares if it came from a comic or a previous series/movie/toy?
    Really what the heck is the point of your article?

  • Omegasaga

    FACT: transmedia has been around in its popular Summer season since A NEW HOPE in 1977.
    Transmedia has ALWAYS existed in movies and TV though.  Going back to the 1930s with Radio serials and toys. ( flash gordon, Lone Ranger)

    FACT: reboots have been around for decades too ( Batman tv show in the 1960s was a updated version of the 1940s serial)
    Every NEW James bond is a REBOOT of the series.  from GOLDEN EYE-CASINO ROYAL.

    with Superhero films its gotten out of hand lately but .. so what? 

  • Toneloak

    The thing about these McMillian on Spinoff Online articles seems to be that he is like a our weed-head buddy. He feels he knows all the answers through that lucid mind of his. We still love em though maybe because its fun to correct him.

    He’s not dumb…; he just takes dips and dives in logic to develop answer for those emotions.

  • Brian

    This article sets itself up to talk about transmedia, then switches topics entirely to reboots. I think someone needs to look over their work before publishing.

  • Jmcreer

    X-Men: First Class isn’t a reboot.  It’s a prequel.  I saw it last night and there are two cameos that clearly place it in the continuity of the previous three films.

    Hard to take an OP seriously when he hasn’t got simple facts straight.

  • Evil_s2003

    I would love it if they stopped making crappy live action movies out of great cartoons, like Transformers and I would REALLY love it if they stopped making movies laughingly based on comics.
    What I would like is something fresh. Not what I mentioned and no more remakes.

  • Adam Rosenberg

    Star Wars went transmedia before the prequels arrived, but you’re right that it wasn’t a planned-for thing back in 1977. That’s not really my point here, but I do appreciate the clarification. Transmedia was around pre-Star Wars anyway, I just think it’s the most successful example of transmedia being done (mostly) right.

  • C3

    matrix, mickey mouse club, the monkees,  more… ive got a blog..;)- but transmedia types dont like what i say at it;)

  • C3

    also BTW- without the intent from the creative get go… TRANSMEDIA as a definition of a process of product making really, isnt one. And all one is doing is calling something Transmedia after the fact you recognize it…. Trees are trees in the forest before they fall and are heard… yes?  IMO btw- “transmedia” as used modern and in jenkins based research..was based on the addition of networked digital media in about 1990.– when i started cube3 ccc- and moved alot of my transmedia ways taught in advertising and tv to online cross technology/ cross medium ip creation.:)

  • Atomic Kommie Comics

    “X-Men: First Class, a reboot of a movie franchise that was last
    in theaters only a couple of years ago.”

    Not a reboot like “Star Trek” (2009)
    A prequel, like “Phantom Menace”, “Attack of the Clones”, and “Revenge of the Sith”. (But better!)
    Ties into the “later” (in chronology) X-Men movies, foreshadowing character and plot developments.
    Features appearance by cast member of “later” films as same character.

    “Transmedia” had been going on since the 1960s, with the James Bond and “camp” Batman multi-mediafests.

  • pDUB

     if only for the fact that there was some research involved. not to
    mentione that it was an educated, well-reasoned viewpoint with little
    in the way of histrionics.

  • MadMikeyD

    It was going on way before that.  The Lone Ranger debuted on radio in 1933 and has since had comic books, comic strips, serials, feature films, toys, live action and animated TV series and countless other merchandise.  Zorro debuted in 1919.

  • MadMikeyD

    It was going on way before that.  The Lone Ranger debuted on radio in 1933 and has since had comic books, comic strips, serials, feature films, toys, live action and animated TV series and countless other merchandise.  Zorro debuted in 1919.

  • Comment

    you really don’t know what transmedia means do you

  • Rubberbandits

    Hell, even Star Trek 2009 isn’t a prequel, as it’s a time-travel story that ties directly into the continuity of the franchise’s earlier days. The writer of this article got so much wrong.

  • Matt Spatola

    I am always amazed by how insane these’articles’ Graeme posts are. Really, transmedia? And then you get it all wrong, even when using your own little definition. It’s like another poster said on here, you post these as if you just like hearing yourself talk. They make no sense, are almost always filled with no factual information and are a waste of time to read. Doesn’t Spinoff have anyone else to write there articles?

  • Skullcapcomix

    Your example of Transformers being a transmedia property is also wrong by your own definition… as it fits the exact description you gave Dark Knight… the details you gave on why Transformers IS one of these are not accurate by ANY means. 

  • Pitandthependulum

    Seems to me there’s some confusion here between cross-platform properties and a transmedia approach. 
    In broad strokes, cross-platform adheres to the same story (or stories) retold over various delivery platforms/ media/ devices, etc, not particularly pushing the character’s and their associated ‘story world’, via expansion of background, character development, introduction of new characters, a past -present-future, etc. Just sayin’.