Tie-ins are a hard fit for Lost in Translation. While tie-ins have appeared in the past, notably My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and the Richard Castle Nikki Heat novels, they are usually set aside for various reasons. However, The LEGO Movie created a dilemma. The film fell neatly into the gap between tie-in and adaptation. After seeing the movie, I really wanted to get some LEGO bricks to play with, but still felt like I had watched an awesome film that took into account the nature of the toy. Thus, the need to work out the nature of a tie-in work.
One of the views of tie-in works comes from advertising. A work is created to sell a product. Prior to the 1980s, works of this nature were seen as strictly advertising and were heavily restricted in what could and could not be shown. The regulations were loosened in during the Reagan administration in the US, paving the way for TV shows such as Transformers, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Jem and the Holograms, and MLP:FIM. While they could be aired, the product they were based on could not be advertised during their time slots. In the 80s, with Transformers and G.I. Joe, there was also Lazer Tag Academy and Pac-Man; quality was uneven. The memorable series treated the work as more than just advertising, elevating them above the pack.
The other main view of tie-works is the expanded universe. Star Trek and Star Wars are the exemplars here. Both have had novels, comics, and spin-off animated series. With Star Wars, the universe expanded by the extra material is considered canon, to one degree or another.* Paramount, however, does not consider the Star Trek expanded universe as canon, with a few exceptions. That difference aside, the main thrust with the tie-in works was to fill a demand by fans for more, particularly during the years where no more official work was expected. The Nikki Heat books fall into this category, being a tie-in to the TV series Castle, though in an unexpected manner.
The core element in both of the above is that the original creators, be they toy company or studio, are providing the impetus for the new works to be created in support of the original. Captain Power was meant to be part of an interactive toy, yet the stories delved into the nature of humanity and ended on a powerful note involving the death of one of the main characters.** With adaptations, the original work is moved to a different medium, typically book to movie like the Harry Potter series. Remakes and reboots can be done by the original studio, as what happened with Star Trek: The Next Generation, but are meant to stand on their own, not support the original.
This isn’t to say that tie-ins are inferior works. Captain Power, as mentioned above, became a cult hit as viewers realized the depth of the work. MLP:FIM became an Internet sensation because Lauren Faust wanted to make sure that the family show would be appreciated by the entire family. The Richard Castle novels, while based on the characters in Castle, are filtered through the titular character’s writing, allowing a fictional novelist to publish real books. In each of these cases, and in many more, the tie-in work goes beyond just supporting the original and becomes a work of its own merit. People don’t need the interactive starfighter to enjoy Captain Power, nor a pony for MLP:FIM, nor even watch Castle to enjoy a Nikki Heat book.
Will Lost in Translation look at tie-in works in the future? The answer is a definite “maybe”. The tie-in will have to transcend its nature and demonstrate that it can stand on its own.
Next week, Veronica Mars.
* West End Games’ Star Wars Sourcebook, published in 1987 and updated for the role-playing game’s second edition in 1994, has been used by the creative team of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. West End Games went bankrupt in 1998.
** Captain Power is being remade as Phoenix Rising, an hour-long science fiction drama, thanks to the original becoming a cult hit outside the target demographic.