Fanfiction: Get ready to see more of it. As ideas become more and more rare, the past is going to be ripped a new plot hole. Batman may have already brooded through a hundred lifetimes worth of experiences, but by God, he’s going to do it again – and this time with a monkey.
You’ve paid for fanfiction already, I guarantee it. Actually, what you’ve paid for is much worse. Fanfiction is a work of love/obsession by one fan for no other purpose than to proclaim his or her love/obsession. Corporate fanfic is the Borg of fanfiction, the collective consciousness that knows what we want and isn’t afraid to offend the original creators to give it to us. After all, anyone can be assimilated for the right price.
In essence, corporate fanfic is what happens when a corporation ignores the original creator of a franchise in favor of what it believes will draw a greater audience. Although it doesn’t always spell disaster, it often dilutes the character that made the original work so special. Whenever creative decisions are handled by people who have only a cursory knowledge of the source material, the quality and integrity of the work is bound to suffer.
As with regular fanfiction, the people most bothered by it are the fans themselves. Take the infamous scene in Spider-Man 3 where Mr. Parker suddenly becomes a swing dancing, lady punching emo about town. If that part of the script had been posted on someone’s blog, the average fan would probably cringe uncontrollably upon reading it. But the average audience member watching it in theaters likely got a good chuckle out of it.
The brutal irony of corporate fanfic is that the fans are why these kinds of movies are made. The corporations responsible for the work know that by turning a well-loved property such as Spider-Man into a movie or game they have a built-in marketing team of thousands. When the first Spider-Man movie was announced, fans made sure that everyone on the internet was aware of it, and it only spread from there. Any creation with a significantly large following can be exploited in this way, which is incidentally why Universal Studios is currently in the process of making a movie about Monopoly.
But what happens when even the fans are against bringing their obsession to another medium? It’s a rather rare event, which usually only occurs when the original creator is vehemently against the whole process. That was precisely the case with Watchmen.
Watchmen and its writer, Alan Moore, are a perfect example of the rather one-sided relationship between the comics industry and the people who actually write the comics, a relationship that perpetuates corporate fanfic. Moore constantly asserted that Watchmen was meant to showcase the power of comic books as a respectable medium for telling deep and powerful stories. He also made sure readers knew that “there are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can’t.” Moore was so passionate about his work staying confined to its original medium that fans actually agreed with him. And of course, since fans were bound to trash any sort of adaptation, the 2009 film was bound for failure … right?
When the Watchmen movie was made – much to Moore’s polite chagrin – fans knew it would suck. Moore stated emphatically that he wouldn’t watch it, but critics claimed the director (Zack Snyder of 300 fame) would save the day. In the end, everyone walked away feeling secure in their judgments. Watchmen did well at the box office in the first week, then dropped off badly, becoming another “casualty” of a slowly rising fan/critic counterattack. Yet it was still the 31st highest-grossing film of 2009 – not a bad haul for a movie whose only “superhero” spends the bulk of his screen-time pantsless.
It must be said that the Watchmen movie, for the most part, isn’t corporate fanfic. Snyder followed the original storyline like an edgy tightrope walker, hoping it wouldn’t be the movie that would kill his career. In fact, the only real change he made is the one that really illuminates the subtle danger of corporate fanfic.
In case you don’t know the story of Watchmen, here’s an extremely quick (and spoiler-ific) synopsis: In an alternate version of world history, Nixon never lost the presidency and “caped crusaders” became a cold war craze. At the outset of the story, we learn that someone has begun killing off heroes. A few of the remaining vigilantes band together to investigate. Eventually, they discover the culprit was a former colleague, Ozymandias, who is intent on diffusing tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. by causing a huge catastrophe and blaming it on the most powerful of all the superheroes, Dr. Manhattan.
In the movie, the catastrophe is the detonation of a series of “energy reactors” that Ozymandias created with Manhattan’s help under the pretense of supplying free energy to the entire world. Sound fairly reasonable, right? But in the original graphic novel, New York is destroyed by … a giant, goofy looking, telepathic squid alien made by kidnapped Hollywood movie monster designers.
If you read the book, Moore’s curveball ending actually makes some sense, as it was tied into one of the many parallel plot lines that run through the novel. Snyder could have included them, but they would have made a two-and-a-half-hour movie into a four-hour one. Snyder, an immense Watchmen fan himself, might have been fine with that, but what about the average moviegoer, i.e. the person corporate fanfic is tailored to? Lets go ahead and ask them what their response to a four-hour movie – any four-hour movie – would be:
“It was four hours long.”
This highlights an immutable truth about cross-media works: Even if a director tries his hardest to stay true to the original creator’s vision, there will inevitably be some loss in the transition. You really can’t blame Snyder on this one – in fact, he may have been the victim of some extremely creative sabotage.
It’s possible Moore included the squid alien as a safety measure against turning his work into corporate fanfic – ironic, since it seems at a glance to be the most absurd, half-baked and fanfiction-like part of the entire story. Because Watchmen was released in segments over time, Moore could watch his hardcore fan base form with each volume. But in case his fan base wasn’t enough, he added a countermeasure: At the very climax of the story, he placed the most ridiculous, shocking and out-of-place thing he could think of. He knew the psychic squid would kill any chance of making an entirely accurate graphic-novel-to-movie transition.
The main thing to take out of this is that there is really no way to make an adaptation that isn’t corporate fanfic unless you put the original creator in the director’s seat. Because that isn’t really feasible, and because that is often very undesirable for the company financing the endeavor, it rarely happens.
So is there any way to make good, clean, wholesome corporate fanfic that everyone can enjoy? Actually, yes. Two words: Dead Authors. The only tricky bit about this tactic is knowing how long to let the body cool before playing make believe with the creator’s life’s work. The most recent winner? Dante’s Inferno.
Dante’s Inferno is a rather fun God of War clone gameplay wise, but that’s not the important bit. What’s notable is that it stars a poet, Dante Alighieri, who slaughters hordes of hellspawn with weapons that can only be described as bitchin’. It’s not exactly the most faithful interpretation of Dante’s original poem, but I doubt he would mind. Any author who casts himself as the main character in his own novel would probably love to see himself portrayed as a totally badass demon killer. But then again, he also might have considered the whole Schwarzenegger-ization of his seminal work to be an inexcusable offense.
The point is, you know something is bad if the most profitable and safest way to do it amounts to grave robbing. Yet corporate fanfiction will continue to grow and thrive, from its beginnings in the comic book-turned-movie craze until studios finally run out of anything originally successful to squeeze a quick buck out of.
And we will pay for it. Oh yes, we certainly will.
Dillon Sinnott is watching carefully to make sure this article doesn’t accidentally turn into a movie. Still watching …