With our world becoming more and more digital there is a continuous overlap of narratives and the means through which they are expressed. This inseparable blend between a narrative and the medium through which it is expressed has changed considerably over time, partly due to the technological advances in our world. Various media are now being used to translate or re-present various narratives, and the fine line that defines each narrative as its own entity has blurred and in some cases has been totally erased. This crisscross of narratives from one medium to another has changed what narrative was- is and will become, while we, the audiences, are left to decide the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of these modifications.
A narrative for this essay will be defined as a fictional or factual account of an event or events spatially or chronologically presented by a narrator through a medium. Simply put a narrative is an expression. The art of narrative has been in existence since the beginning of man, it is the most basic link between thought and expression. The beauty of a narrative lies in its efficient articulation of an event or events conveyed by its author to the audience with the utmost clarity. This statement isn’t meant to trivialize the complexity intended in this work of art, but the ability of the audience to decipher it creates a better sense of appreciation. The principal purpose of narrative is its ability to carry the intended message through a medium effectively.
Media as stated above is the axis on which the world of narrative turns. A medium can be defined as a material or technique through which a form of art (narrative) is produced. It is the channel that conveys the thoughts of a narrator (author) to an audience. The medium which an author decides to use in channeling this work of art is crucial to the delivery of the intended message. There are various types of media, each with an exceptional ability not only in targeting an audience but also the delivery of the message. For the purpose of this essay three basic forms of media will be discussed: text, visual, and interactive (games) media.
A vast deal of interdependence exists between narrative and media. From the above definitions it is plausible to state that the fundamental expression of a narrative lies in a medium. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that narratives can be transcribed from one medium to another without losing their identity. This suggestion naively ignores the core of a narrative which is that it is dependent on the media through which it is expressed. It has also been suggested that changes within a narrative are quite essential to enhance the effectiveness of in a different media. Conversely, it is debatable that there this is a betrayal of the original medium if the medium into which it is transcribed fails to capture the intended message.“To maintain the possibility of studying narrative across media it is essential to find a compromise between the interpretation and the unconditional rejection of the conduit metaphor… it is not always possible to distinguish an encoded object from the act of encoding.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative
How do these changes affect narrative? What, if anything, is lost in the transcription of narratives into other forms of media? It is important to note that this isn’t an argument for or against the use of new media in narrative rather, it is an analysis of the significance of these alterations to the value of the narrative as these transitions occur.
Literature also known as Text is debatably the oldest medium (next to speech, if it would be viewed as a form of narrative) through which narratives are presented. It is a written account presented by the author to the reading audience.
Most if not all movies are based on text. This is the fundamental avenue through which plots are drawn. Philip. K Dicks book Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (DADOES) as discussed in this course seems like a good point to begin the comparisons since the book gave birth to the movie Blade Runner. Philip Dicks’ narrative was carefully expressed in an attempt to preserve the central message of the fundamental difference between humans and androids, however the movie re-masters some of the characters’, hence, changing the narrative. The opinion of whether this pays due justice to the writer has been left to the viewers and readers to decide. The changes though subtle, are still significant to this message, although necessary to the media used.
The translation of the book into motion picture lacks the personality the book offers. Although most of these changes were made to create a better sense of “fictional realism” it could be argued that it alters the intended message considerably. An example of this is the empathy shown by the Androids in their fight to live, this suggestion of empathy is a central contrast between humans and androids in the text- a line that was crossed in the movie. "This desire[to live] does not seem to be based in pure selfishness and lack of empathy as suggested by the book, but in a belief that his[Roy] human experience has been worth no less than Deckard’s in the movie.” phildick.com. This begs the question; can androids be considered humans? This expressed longing to live blurs the lines of contrast, It even subjects the movie audience to identify with the androids as you unavoidable question if they really ought to die? A question undoubtedly answered in the text. The aspect which is often lost in translation from text to motion picture is the inner narrative. In books, it is easy for the author to plainly tell the reader what the characters thoughts are, however in a movie the audience often has to draw their conclusions.
Some other notable differences are the time frame in which the book was written (1992) and the movie (2019), the change in the company that made the androids, and the often portrayal of Deckard as possibly an android in the movie which wasn't suggested in the text.
Another good example of text to movie is the book Jurassic Park written by Michael Crichton. it was a tale of a paleontologist Dr Alan Grant who is persuaded to check out a park in the coast of Costa Rica where mistakenly dinosaurs have been cloned. The author offered a graphic detail of the events that ensued while Dr. Grant was in the park as the reader is strung along enticed with continuous creativity with the turn of every page.
Steven Spielberg the producer of the movie was tasked with the effective replication of this text to motion picture without losing the captivating draw the book offered. He attempted to recreate this fictional text into film with the aid of special effects, as closely to the text as possible. Although both the text and movies have transcended beyond all expectations in the media they were individually expressed, it is important to note that the text had to sacrifice some of its originality.
"The book includes several scenes with the Procompsognathus dinosaur. All these sequences and any reference to the dinosaur was dropped from the film adaptation resulting in significant plot differences. They were later used as material for the second film in the series. In the book John Hammond is killed by a pack "Compys" (this scene forms the basis of a similar scene with a Swedish mercenary that appears in the second film), but in the film he survives. The Book's opening chapter shows a young English family on a cruise in South America getting attacked by small compy dinosaurs (this was recycled as the opening of the second film). Instead the film's opening showed the events that are alluded to by the bedridden patient in the book's prologue. Also, the identities of Lex and Tim are swapped in the film; in the books Tim is the eldest, although still into Dinosaurs and Lex is a young frightened tomboy. The entire sequence involving the Pterodactyl enclosure is dropped from the film. Like the Procompsognathus' scenes this was recycled for usage later in the film series" (Wikipedia)
It may be stated that the main theme and message of the movie stays true to the text, one must however admit that subtracting characters takes away from the fullness of the plot. Though this changes might have been made for the sake of time or money, this changes is much to the betrayal and disappointment of the both the audience and the author.
The emergence of motion pictures has had a great impact on our world today, from big budget Hollywood movies to short TV sitcoms. It has created a new way for us to get a dose of narratives from a cinematic point of view. Also the advent of motion picture allows for a message to be quickly spread and broadly distributed.
The substantial loss of the effectiveness of a narrative work from one medium to another can be examined in Charlie Chaplin’s movie Modern times. Chaplin expertly uses the descriptive power of human expressions and the sounds of silence to convey his thoughts. His ability to create this vocal yet voiceless narrative in motion picture is exceptional. This narrative captures the hardships during the depression and also the failed expectations of the industrial era.
Throughout the movie Chaplin’s character, the Tramp, lacked a defined individuality, letting the audience puzzle what the Tramp represents. "Chaplin, a superstar, still managed to avoid giving the Tramp any real psychology, privileging instead the character’s total flexibility and almost insane elasticity under all kinds of pressures and in the face of all kinds of madness. He endeared the figure to audiences without providing much hint of personality, just the sheer vitality of clowning, racing, hopping, wooing, flattering, buffooning, and walking that uproariously ducky walk. In … the Tramp is something unique: complex without being remotely “three-dimensional,” a person who is essentially the sum of his odd tics, cheeky mannerisms, felt hat, and funny mustache. This persona is a retro creation, the sympathetic clown…” (nicksflickpicks)
During the movie when faced with the puzzle of vocalizing his character by singing, he carefully protects his character by forgetting the words and he improvises a senseless French song. Looking beyond the simplicity of the clip, it is imaginable that this change in his medium of expression was a failure to his narrative, considering the effort Chaplin put in his works which to him were art.
Chaplin’s message of the hardships of this time wouldn’t be pragmatic if told in another medium, For instance, what would happen if it were to be put in text? Translating Chaplin’s idea into words would deflate the volume it speaks through the movie. It would then become just another narrative account of the hardships of the time. It is inconceivable that this unique work of art could be translated into any other form of media. An attempt at such will result in a fatal loss of its value. It can be argued that the strength of a media lies in its appeal to the masses. In effect, Modern Times expressed an idea to many more people through its humor of this grave situation more than a book would have
With the craze that came with the sic-fi Star Wars movies also cam the game. This game gives the ultimate Star War fan a way to become a part of the movie by assuming the roles of most of the characters. “The gameplay is simple and fairly easy, but there is something about Lego Star Wars that keeps you coming back. In each level you have at least one and sometimes more AI buddies. You can switch back and forth between the characters in order to take advantage of each ones special abilities. For example: Jedi have lightsabers and can double jump. Blaster characters can’t jump as high but have grappling hooks. Some characters (such as Jar Jar …) can jump extra high and reach things other characters can’t. And there are droids that you have to use to open up certain doors. This two character (or more) system makes the game very interesting to play through because you are always switching back and forth and getting a lot of different styles of play.” (about.com). Its induction into the gaming world changed from the film perspective considerably.
Games for the sake of this essay will be defined as an interactive based narrative. it usual involves a simulated series of events that the gamer may or may not have some control over how it plays out
Another example of games shifting into cinematic media is the movie DOOM. Beginning it existence as an interactive game, Doom crossed out of the gaming world into mainstream pop culture when it was adapted into film, and the cinematic version struggled to retained most of the gaming narrative, it was a sci-fi action movies based on a scientific experiment gone wrong, unleashing evil upon the world through a vaccine that triggers psychotic tendencies in humans. The movie continued in this fashion until the main character is wounded and receives this vaccine, then the film switched to a first person gamer mode. Here the perspective changes as the audience watches the movie through the hero’s eyes, by so doing Doom attempts to give the audience a feeling of being in the movie as would in the game. This was an attempt to retain the originality of the game even though it lacked the same level of interactivity.
These two forms of media are just as similar as they are different. The presentation of contemporary games is more or less like a movie, but the level of interactivity involved with games is very often absent in movies. Transitions across these spectrums can also be explored in Jurassic Park- Operation Genesis. This is a game entirely based the Jurassic Park trilogy. Other than the obvious changes due to the interactivity of the game compared to the text, the game captures a different perspective of what the text was initially about. “The main mode in the game is the Operation Genesis mode, but there are also mission and exercise modes that teach you how to play the game as well as give you specific objectives to achieve. In Operation Genesis mode you choose the shape, size, and geography of your island and then jump right into park building. You have to build fences to keep your visitors safe from the dinosaurs as well as paths around all of the enclosures so that people can actually walk around and see your critters. You also have to build attractions such as raised viewing platforms, safari rides so people can get into a land cruiser and see the dinosaurs up close and personal, and hot air balloon rides so guests can get an aerial view. Keeping your park clean is also important, so you have to hire cleaners. Taking care of the dinosaurs and making sure they don't get sick requires a ranger station so you have to have one or two of those as well. On top of all of this, you also have to build bathrooms, rest areas, benches and garbage cans, and souvenir stands and restaurants. Finally, you have to set the prices for your park admission, food, souvenirs, and rides” (about.com).
Although the same message is in the text is being passed on though the game there is a complete transformation to what becomes of the narrative.
This interactivity can be examined in choose your own adventure (CYOA) books. These are compact interactive texts that takes through a chain of possible scenarios with the reader in most cases indentified as or with the character through their power to choose their fate. An example of this is the book a night of a thousand boyfriends, which explores the journey of ‘a woman’ over the course of a night as she makes good and bad choices along the way. This fusion is more of an incorporation of games into text which hardly losses any substance. Interactivity in these texts based games gives the reader a multiple ways of reading the text while obtaining varied endings.
However examining the case of Zork, there is a significant transition from interactive games to the text which in this context is very dependent on the use of the appropriate language. Playing Zork is a transition from creating a conventional textual narrative to creating one within boundaries as allowed by the game. As the game is played a character starts to evolve, as the gamer starts to craft a series of events that leads to the next; you read mail, you go N/W/S/E, use tools, find treasures and so on. Zork was one of the first textual computerized interactive games, a classic in its own merits.
As media continues to change, we as an audience will always get a different perspective of narratives, this has become an inescapable part of the transition.
“…narrative media theory should therefore recognize various degrees of narrative power. The top of the scale is occupied by those media that include a natural language component, because natural language is arguably the only medium capable of making distinct propositions, besides the formal languages of logic and mathematics. Language is also unique in its ability to state, rather than merely suggest, the existence of causal relations between events -- an essential part of narrative principle. The highest narrative potential undoubtedly belongs to those media that are able to articulate a fully new and determinate story, combining any forms of narrative.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative
The justifications of these changes will always be debated. There are and will always be overlaps in how narratives will be presented. Since every narrative needs a medium, it is left to us as an audience to accept or dismiss coupled narratives and media, each form of narratives coupled with a medium determines it own presentation to the audience and presentation is very dependent on the chosen medium however effective of the lack thereof
Entry for the forthcoming. Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative www.nicksflickpicks.com/modtimes.html www.phildick.com/Blade_Runner/Blade_Runner_vs_DADOES_page