I’ve been thinking lately about the differences between media types. This thinking was inspired by the new movie Disgrace based on J. M. Coetzee’s novel of the same name. I will definitely see this movie (if it is ever released throughout the US) but I’m worried about the choices that the filmmakers have made. I thought Coetzee’s novel was brilliant because it was told from the point of view of a character who is somewhat reprehensible. But, of course, his reprehensibility must only be hinted at since he himself wouldn’t think he was reprehensible. The subtlety of the novel is difficult to convey in a film. And so the filmmakers have made choices that reduce the brilliant ambiguity of the novel. And that makes me wonder whether I’m interested enough in the plot of the novel to enjoy the movie.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica on DVD. The original series aired on television and so the commercial breaks are obvious on the DVD. In the most recent episode that I watched, a character is in a room with a spiritual advisor, discussing a recurring dream. At a dramatic moment in the telling of the dream, the screen goes black, clearly a commercial break. When we return to the story (without having to watch a commercial, which is why we like NetFlix), we enter the story at exactly the same point that we left it. We left the story at a tension point so that we would be sure to come back after the commercial. This technique works well in television.
The same technique does not work well at all in novels. I read and hated Dan Brown’s novel, The DaVinci Code. I really wanted to like this novel. Dan Brown, after all, is from New Hampshire, and the premise of the story is intriguing. But I couldn’t get past the poor craftsmanship of the novel. The characters were two-dimensional and indistinguishable from each other. I figured out the “secret” of the novel (which I won’t spoil here) about half-way through. But my biggest problem was the chapter breaks. Dan Brown writes really short chapters, some of which are a page long. And often it is completely unclear why these chapter breaks occur. Why have a chapter that is one page long and then have the next chapter start right where the action of that really short chapter ended? I felt as though Brown had thought about moving these two chapters around, away from each, in order to build tension, in much the same way that Battlestar Galactica’s breaks for commercials build tension. A good editor could have made sure these two chapters did not appear one right after the other, unlike the two scenes with the commercial break between them. These examples remind me that different media require different production techniques just as they require different analysis techniques.
On a side note, the use of the made-up word “fracking” on Battlestar Galactica is getting on my nerves.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.