A Dearth of Films
Quick! Choose your favorite fantasy film. Or films.
It was Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, right? Both?
Let’s be honest. There’s not much more than these two franchises that have graced the silver screen when it comes to representing fantasy. At least traditional fantasy.
So let’s define fantasy for this article’s purposes. When I talk about fantasy, I’m not talking about Pixar where toys and cars come alive and rats can control people by pulling on hair. Nor am I talking about fairy tales where true love’s kiss cures all ailments (or doesn’t), although this is closer. I’m not talking about dystopian futures where kids kill each other for entertainment. Nor am I talking about space operas about space knights and space wizards that are supposedly classified as science fiction but have nothing based in science at all. And I’m not talking about people with superpowers who fight crime and other people with superpowers. No, if you count those, then fantasy in films is making more money than all the rest of the genres combined.
Which is why it’s so baffling that Hollywood doesn’t do more of the traditional fantasies, and that when they do, they mess them up. Lord of the Rings was a huge success, both commercially and critically. But while there’s a wealth of book and video game material to choose from, Hollywood has shied away from what you traditionally think of in fantasy, with magic and dragons and swords.
TV has had some moderate success, with Game of Thrones topping it, as well as shows like The Magicians, Supernatural, Once Upon a Time (although this is more fairy tale), and The Shannara Chronicles. If you look into animation, you can find Avatar: The Last Airbender and several anime series. Perhaps the longer format is better for telling the epic stories of fantasy, instead of cramming a large book into one movie (each of the Lord of the Rings) or one small book into several movies (The Hobbit). But putting something on television, unless it’s network television, limits the audience. How many people have HBO? Nickelodeon? SyFy? Yes, you can buy discs on DVD, who buys DVDs nowadays?
There have been attempts at establishing other franchises, but many have fizzled out. Narnia, Percy Jackson, Warcraft (probably), Alice in Wonderland, etc.
So what’s in the making, or what has been done?
Game of Thrones has already surpassed the timeline of the books and is doing quite well. It is the poster child of fantasy fiction on TV. But that means we won’t see any movies.
The Magicians also seems to do pretty well for a SyFy show. But this anti-Narnia/Harry Potter is almost parody, not real fantasy, so I don’t know if it counts.
The Shannara Chronicles is a series on MTV, entering the second season. I actually watched it on Netflix, but like its source material, I found it pretty shallow.
So where are series like The Wheel of Time? Well, that might be coming to TV. Eventually. Maybe? There was an announcement nearly a year ago, but it didn’t give any details. So I’m kind of skeptical on that. And even if it does happen, would it be any good? Would it have the same budget as Game of Thrones, or would it be more like Shannara Chronicles? That is a big issue for TV shows delving into sci fi and fantasy.
What about The Sword of Truth series? Well, that was made into a TV show called Legend of the Seeker. Most accounts say it’s not very good.
What about Brandon Sanderson’s books? Well, there’s hope for this. He recently had his Cosmere Universe movie rights sold to DMG. So all his books in the Cosmere could become films. But there are a few issues that concern me. First, would they fit into two and a half hours? Second, who’s DMG? Would they actually be able to pull it off? We’ll have to see.
Finally, King Aurthur, which tends to be more psuedohistorical and not magical in film, is getting another movie this summer. Will it be fantasy? More importantly, will it be good? Who knows?
Video games are notorious for failing to translate to films. Just watch Super Mario Bros. Fantasy outings share the same fate. Here a a couple of examples:
Final Fantasy created a movie called The Spirits Within, completely CGI. While advanced for its time, the characters entered the uncanny valley and the plot revolved around some mumbo jumbo philosophy, so it bombed. Other films, like FF7 Advent Children and FFXV Kingsglaive were pure fan service.
Warcraft became a movie, but wasn’t very successful here in the USA. We’ll see if there’s a sequel.
So in the end, if you look hard enough, you can find some fantasy fare outside of books and video games, of different levels of quality. And there is hope for the horizon, but they aren’t necessarily good. Still, I believe Hollywood as a whole is missing out on fulfilling audience desires of escapism, and nothing does it better than fantasy. What books or stories would you like to see on film or TV?