- More Than Meets the Eye: Special Effects and the Fantastic Transmedia Franchise by Bob Rehak
In More Than Meets the Eye, Bob Rehak argues for a transmedial approach to special effects. In a discussion of special effects created for TV and cinema, Rehak opens up avenues for thinking about special effects and their place beyond the images that might thrill us on the screen. The key intervention of More Than Meets the Eye is its articulation of an engagement with special effects situated within a interplay of influences, where industry practices and effects-making technology are sited in the context of a negotiated dialogue with fan culture.
Structured around four main chapters, plus introduction and conclusion, Rehak's primary case studies are Star Trek (CBS, 1966–1969), Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Hironobu Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara, 2001), and "bullet time" in The Matrix (Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 1999) and its sequels. These are emblematic of "fantastic transmedia," a grouping of works described by Rehak to be broadly made up of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.1 Although Rehak does not address horror or fantasy films, like science fiction these latter genres share a dependence on special effects. Christian Metz's essay "Trucage and the Film" acts as a cornerstone for Rehak, one he returns to across More Than Meets the Eye.2 Rehak cites Metz's well-known assertion that "all of cinema is, in some sense, a special effect," and in elaborating his argument mostly draws [End Page 192] out two other points in Metz's essay.3 The first is that audiences neither believe nor disbelieve special effects but "respond to them with a fascinated hesitation."4 The second is that special effects are discursive as well as industrial constructs, so how we choose to describe them shapes what we understand them to be. He interweaves these ideas with the recent scholarship on special effects history and technologies, such as that of Angela Ndalianis, Dan North, Lisa Purse, and Julie Turnock.5
Rehak productively builds from Metz and Ndalianis, exploring special effects and their surrounding discourses. Taking the planning and creation of special effects as a starting point, he reconfigures the familiar term "previsualization" by using it to draw out the historical precedents of special effects, their deployment in a specific body of films, and their reception by audiences who borrow, remix, and modify according to their needs. Bringing substance to his central tenet that special effects are transmedial, where their movements through media networks shape the behavior of texts, genres, and also producers and audiences, Rehak engagingly works with a diverse and impressive range of material, including production culture and popular and industrial documents as well as fan commentaries.
The various films, television shows, licensed ephemera, fan conventions, and materials that comprise Star Trek also comprise Rehak's first case study and offer a particularly rich archive for him to show how special effects inform design and production as well as debates and practices within fan cultures. The case study strikingly illustrates the central approach of More Than Meets the Eye, which is that starting out from industry-based previsualization practices illuminates the ways special effects subsequently migrate and become transmedial. Delving into the visual trademarks of Star Trek, especially that of the iconic starship Enterprise and its original design for the TV series, Rehak makes effective use of fan, production, and industry material and crafts a narrative through which he introduces the idea of a design network. By design network Rehak means an emergent network of visual information that informed production decisions for the first TV show, which then migrated to inform later TV spin-offs and films as well as the ongoing borrowings and remixes by fans. In this tracing of a migratory pattern, when seen through the visual trademark of the starship and its continuous shaping of television and film design and fan engagement, the transmedia world of Star Trek comes more...