"The Franchise Who Lived" By Sam Beeler


"The Franchise Who Lived" By Sam Beeler

 

Sam Beeler Book-to-Film Franchise Project

 

 

Essay

 

Sam Beeler

English 149

Professor Liu

December 15, 2014

The Franchise Who Lived

 

      Among many other mediums film and books find their places near the center of the most popular forms of entertainment. They allow for people to be transported into different places, time periods, and even other worlds.  They are an escape that lets us forget about our troubles or our worries and simply allows us to become immersed in a story other than our own.  However, in some cases there are certain stories that stand apart from others.  They have a certain relevance and relatability to them while able to maintain the viewer’s or reader’s attention enjoyably.

     Books and films have always been two mediums that collaborate frequently.  Meaning, filmmakers have often looked to translate literary works and create films that are based upon them.  Films as old as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939) were book based adaptations and this type of filmmaking continues to this day.   More frequently in the past decade and a half, has been the rise of adapting a book series into a film franchise.

     A group of film students at UCSB, myself included, decided to delve into this topic of book-to-film franchises and research what exactly makes a franchise like this successful.  Our research group decided to look at two franchises; Harry Potter (2001-2011) and The Chronicles of Narnia (2005-2010). The Harry Potter series set a very high standard in terms of successful franchises.  The Chronicles of Narnia on the other hand did not measure up to that standard.  Our group was looking for an answer as to why this was, which lead us to our team hypothesis: The Chronicles of Narnia film franchise was less successful than the Harry Potter film franchise because The Chronicles of Narnia was less relatable to a broad audience and did not adapt to audience desires.

     The first step that we had to take prior to beginning our research was to define our term of success.  In other words, we had to decide what characteristics of these films we were going to observe in order to have a definition of success.  The items we decided to research were box office sales, critic and audience reviews, and finally social impact.  With all of these categories in mind it was our belief that the Narnia films tried to recreate the success of the Potter films but failed due to an unrecognizable franchise face and the hindering ability to pull in a dedicated fan base.

     In order to measure all of these factors we found aid in a list of digital tools that would potentially help us determine the answer to our question.  These digital tools included Netlytic, Sentiment Analysis, and Umigon.  These tools would help us gauge primarily social commentary on the two franchises.  Netlytic is used to analyze YouTube comments. Sentiment Analysis is used to measure positive, negative, or neutral sentiment within text.  Umigon does the same as Sentiment Analysis, only it is specified to the social network site known as Twitter.  These tools along with the help of the website “Rotten Tomatoes”, in which critic and audience reviews can be found as well as box office numbers, were what we used to try and research our topic of book-to-film franchises.

Research and Results

     Equipped with a question and tools to help us answer that question we were now ready to begin our research.  The following is the results of our research.  

     Taking the Netlytic tool we applied it to the movie trailers of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Goblet, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Our goal was to see what words or phrases were the most common and to see the number of posts over time.  For Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone the most common words were “Harry Potter” and conversations that took place were geared toward Harry Potter.  For The Goblet of Fire the conversation remained mostly Harry Potter related sometimes tapering off to comments on actor Robert Pattinson and his work in the Twilight series.  The Narnia films however had very little conversation directly related to the work.  For Prince Caspian the Harry Potter films were often mentioned as well as talks about Christianity.  Finally for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the names “Peter Miller” and “Harry Styles” showed up the most throughout the comment boards.  Overall our results from Netlytics indicated that the Narnia films were far more focused on Christian imagery and the replication of Harry Potter.  It seemed too, that the excitement and anticipation was far greater for the Potter films than the Narnia films.  We also concluded that the posts over time were more consistent with the Potter films than the Narnia films.

     The next tool we used was Sentiment Analysis.  We took book reviews as well as the plots and synopses of each respective series and input them onto the Sentiment Analysis tool.  The book reviews resulted in positive sentiment for both series.  Yet for the Narnia books we did spot a weakness stemming from the reviews and that was a lack of characterization in the protagonists.  This tool was the first tool we ran into problems with.  The tool does not differentiate the use of negative words when pertaining to a description of a character and the literal content of the assessment of the novel.  Therefore it made it more difficult to determine the actual sentiment of each review because we had to go back over and realize when the tool did not properly analyze a part of the review.

      The final tool we used was Umigon.  Our proposed use of the tool was to see how people reacted to these films through the use of social networking.  Similar to the problems with the Sentiment Analysis tool, Umigon had trouble differentiating sarcasm and humor when analyzing tweets.  The other problem we ran into with Umigon was locating tweets that had to do with the films.  Often the tweets were directed towards the books instead of the films.  When a tweet was located that did pertain to one of the films it more often than not had a neutral sentiment analysis which did not help our research all that much.  What we did find that was interesting though was that the Potter franchise had a verified twitter account whereas the Narnia franchise did not.  Potter’s twitter page had 1.5 million followers and Narnia’s had a meager 1,300.  The biggest difference between the two accounts, other than the follower ratio, was that Potter’s tweets remain up to date with merchandise sales, movie trivia, and quotes from the film.  Narnia’s tweets were not updated and they only tweeted about DVD availability.  It was obvious from this that Potter was capitalizing on the face of its franchise and remaining relevant even though the series has been over for 3 years now.  Through using these tools we found that Potter’s social impact was more apparent than Narnia’s which we were not all that surprised with.

     The next step in this project was to see how the two franchises compared in box office numbers and critic/audience reviews.  To look at both of these things we used the website known as “Rotten Tomatoes”.  According to this website the box office numbers for each of the franchises’ first films compared as follows.  Domestically, Harry Potter brought in $317,575,550 and Narnia brought in $219,710,957.  Worldwide, Harry Potter brought in $974,755,371 and Narnia brought in $745,013,115.  Needless to say Harry Potter was more successful in the box office.  It was also more successful in terms of critic and audience reviews. 

     Rotten Tomatoes’ rating system is based on a percentage scale, 100% being the highest rating a film can receive.  If a critic rates the film at 70% or above the film is “certifiably fresh”.  On the contrary, if a critic rates the film at 50% or below the film is deemed rotten.  The website also allows for fans and audience members to chime in and give their own input on the film.  Their rating however does not factor in to the rotten/fresh scale.  For our research we looked at the reviews for all the films in each franchise.  All of the Harry Potter films received a certifiably fresh rating the highest critic review clocking in at 96% for The Deathly Hallows Part 2.  The highest audience review was an 89% for the same film.  The lowest rating Harry Potter received from critics was 78% for The Deathly Hallows Part 1 and a 74% from audience members for The Goblet of Fire.  Narnia’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe received a certifiably fresh review from critics with a 76% rating where as Prince Caspian seemed to be the fan favorite at 73%.  The lows come from Narnia’s third installment The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where critics deemed it rotten at 49% and fans agreed giving it a 58% rating.  These ratings and reviews show that the Narnia franchise has not measured up to Harry Potter in the eyes of critics and fans alike. 

     In order to further our research we decided to watch and analyze The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and compare it to the Potter films.  What we found was that the Narnia film very much tried to replicate certain aspects of the Potter films visually.  For example, there were shots of a train moving through the countryside, carrying the 4 protagonists of the Narnia film, which mimicked the shots in the Harry Potter franchise of the beloved Hogwarts Express transporting young wizards and witches to school.  The color scheme of the ‘good guys’ armor, shields, and campsite in Narnia had an uncanny resemblance to the red and gold colors of Gryffindor house in Harry Potter.  After discovering those similarities and many others we were able to come to our final analysis of each of the franchises.  We determined that Harry Potter was a more successful series because of its relatability.  Through this franchise audience members are able to follow Harry through a world starting from his childhood and as he progresses through school.  Viewers are able to experience the magical things he encounters and just like him it is the audience’s first time experiencing these moments too so they are just as scared, confused, or enthralled as he is.  Due to its relatability audience members ranged from kids of all ages to adults.  This was because the events that occurred had adult related themes but were also presented in a way that was enjoyable for kids.  The Narnia franchise on the other hand was a hard series to relate too.  Whereas the journey with Harry Potter was sequential, the Narnia films were more episodic making the story line hard to follow.  It also did not help that audience members were following, frankly, unlikeable protagonists.  Not only were the protagonists unlikeable but they were far too okay with the events that were occurring.  This made it hard for audience members to relate to because it was their first time in a new land with these protagonists, who did not question and instead accepted what was going on rather than being surprised or scared about it.  It was also hard for adults to relate to the films because the kids in the films were overly childish and not facing adult related issues.

Project Improvements

     A major part of this project was being able to analyze film.  The tools that we selected to help us with our research did not adequately help us analyze film but they did, to an extent, help us with analyzing social commentary but not actual film itself.  In our proposed project, our research group was going to use a tool called Cinemetrics which is a program that can use the colors in a film in order to characterize it.  It would have been an interesting addition to our project, unfortunately it was not a user friendly program in that it was not easy to use and due to time constraints could not be used.  What would have been really useful to our needs is a tool that could analyze all aspects of a film.  That would be a very extensive list however it would allow us to compare these two franchises in much detail.

     Another helpful aid would be if we had more man power on our side.  If we had more people working on this project in our research group we could have analyzed every single film in each series.  Had we been able to do that we could have broken down each film and dissected what made a good film or what made a bad film.  We also could have had the time to read the books and comment on comparisons between the books and the films and how well we thought the transition from book to big screen was made.

     In addition to looking at these two franchises, it also would be very interesting to see how other book-to-film franchises would fare in comparison to the Harry Potter.  Seeing as Harry Potter set the bar very high for franchise films, especially for the fantasy genre, it would be very beneficial to see how the academy award winning Lord of the Rings series compared.  We are finding as well, a lot other franchises that are being released into theaters now are becoming less and less fantasy related and are beginning to focus on dystopian future settings.  Film series such as The Hunger Games and Divergent are becoming very popular amongst movie goers and critics alike.  It will be interesting to see if these types of book-to-film franchises will ultimately dethrone the Potter franchise or if franchises will continue to try and replicate what Potter did.

     This research project will remain something that can always be explored.  As long as film remains a popular form of media it will continue to be analyzed.  This project offers ways that film can be analyzed using tools that are available to us now.  There is no telling what the future holds in terms of analytical tools that support film but surely there will be more advances in the way that we are able to look at film and truly understand it.  Film is, after all, a creative outlet and an art form.  Art will always be critiqued. The question that remains and may never clearly be answered is, “what makes good art?”  One thing that is for certain is that there are many elements which make up good art and for that reason art is able to be universally loved.