Marvel stretching boundaries of TV, movie interaction

Published on Thursday, 17 April 2014 22:45 - Written by Michael Hale Guest Columnist

Once separate, “worlds” of entertainment are colliding and connecting in ways we’ve never before experienced.

In the past, when people tuned in to their favorite TV shows or sat down in theaters for their favorite films, the “entertainment experience” was kept to those two spheres of influence — theater and living room.

Seldom did they ever co-exist, outside of adapting or re-creating the same source material, i.e.: books, comics, etc. You could watch a film version of “Treasure Island” with certain actors in the theater and another version made by bigger-budget Hollywood companies with different actors.

Now, with Marvel Studios dipping its toes into the cross-media entertainment pool that is TV, Netflix, film, comics, and the Web, the experiences in the theater and the living room (and even your PC) are all starting to merge. What does this mean for the very idea of what ‘TV’ even is?

If Marvel Studio’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show and their films, “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” are any indicators, things could possibly become very interesting indeed.

But this isn’t the first time a crossover between films and television has been considered. Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series was one of the first major projects to consider that route. Many people have played around with the idea of adapting “The Dark Tower” but, to date, none have actually gotten anything off the ground. Ron Howard then stepped in and proposed a series of films that would show in theaters and that, between the films, a TV series would “plug in the gaps” so-to-speak. It was (and still is) an ambitious plan, but to date no other series of works have really proposed that the Film-to-TV-back-to-Film model can work. That is, nothing proved the idea could work until “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

The idea that Marvel began is simple: Build a series of films that set up the Marvel Cinematic Universe and then cap everything off with “The Avengers,” now one of the highest grossing films of all time. Marvel and Disney then brought the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series to ABC. The series co-exists within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and members of its cast frequently interact with elements from the film.

However, at first this was very superficial. Outside of the events of “The Avengers,” Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spent many episodes playing in the sandbox but not actually visiting any castles that the bigger films were making.

Then they decided to invite Jaimie Alexander (who plays Sif in “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World”) to have a cameo on the show. It was a huge success for the TV series and for Alexander herself, who is a huge comics fan. This tie-in with the actors of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were hinted at when Samuel L. Jackson had a cameo on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot, but Alexander joining the cast, even for a single episode, was the shot in the arm that the TV show needed.

Then, not long after, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” premiered. Instead of simply referencing the plot, the producers and writers of the series decided to work in their entire season finale to play alongside the events of the “Winter Soldier” film itself. Not coincidentally, this has resulted in two of the best episodes of the freshman show’s inaugural season.

But what else is Marvel doing that can stretch the boundaries of how film and TV interact? Well, obviously, they join in with the potential for Netflix and airing original content unique to the Web.

Disney and Marvel decided to join on the same idea wagon that created the hit series “House of Cards,” that being to use Netflix as an outlet for unique dramas and TV shows not normally viable for TV alone. The main show idea focuses on The Defenders, a street level group of heroes who work out of New York City and include Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. The work being done on the web content front is huge because it shows that a single company is willing to gamble so much on the idea of intermixing content from comics to a film universe that informs a TV universe that in turn also informs a web-series universe. The possibilities being constructed by the “House of Ideas” (aka Marvel) and the “House of Mouse” (aka Disney) together are mind-blowing because, if something such as content derived from comic books can be adapted for such a wide audience, what else can be? “The Dark Tower?” Can authors be allowed to create content for both the big screen, the TV screen and the laptop screen and have multi-layered stories?

Only time will tell, but for now the possibilities of cross-platform entertainment is expanding exponentially.

Michael Hale is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas at Tyler and a general aficionado of comic books, films, video games and all things geek-related.