Poetic Transmedia

Although I haven’t been able to track some of the more innovative uses of transmedia storytelling over the last year or so–too many other obligations–I have to admit that I find myself transfixed by the powerful use of web video to introduce viewers to Terrence Malick’s latest film, Tree of Life. Although the website offers little conventional material–unless I’m missing something, there is no mention of the cast or a plot summary–it has succeeded brilliantly in increasing my anticipation for the film and for seeing it on the big screen.

As you enter the website, it invites you to follow one of two forking paths, the father’s way or the mother’s way, while a haunting, almost mournful score plays in the background. Once you choose, you encounter a split screen with half the screen filled by a semi-circle of video clips and the other a white space with some cryptic text that evokes a moral parable. Below that are some of the social media responses to the website, and although many of them are direct expressions of fandom, others emphasize the aesthetics of the website, Malick’s characteristic use of slow pans and subtle camera movements. None of the video clips offer any dialogue (unless I missed something), meaning that the images and score tell us the entire story. Contemplation prevails over plot summary. Included in the white space is a small flash video player that shows the clip the user has selected. Choosing the opposite path–going from the father’s to the mother’s path–offers a mirror image: the semi-circle of video clips is now on the opposite side, suggesting that the two halves complete each other.

As a result, the website seems, at once, to offer a compelling depiction of the film that Malick has created and to critique the typical film website that places emphasis on narration and character. As one of the social media comments cited on the website suggests, “so glad that someone has really gone for it and made a movie trailer that evokes the atmosphere of a film rather than a head ache inducing compression of the entire plot.” And, yet, I am also aware that, like the media franchises that are implicitly criticized in this comment, the Tree of Life website is also involved in producing its own culture of anticipation, its own community of fans.

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