Fantasy Fatigue

In Features by Nadia Attia

Stephanie Meyer is ‘so over Twilight’ (Main Picture). She’s bored of her sexually repressed, sulky teen creations and wants to now concentrate on “spending time in other worlds, like Middle-earth.” Which is slightly worrying. But are we, the audience, bored of them too? Has the fantasy inferno that found its spark in the 80’s fizzled out into a three-bar electric heater of melodramatic brats, alongside cardboard cameos from actors who simply want the pay packet? There’s already been talk of re-booting the Twilight franchise.

The word ‘fantasy’ comes from the Greek word ‘phantasi’, meaning ‘appearance’, ‘imagination’, or ‘phantos’ meaning ‘visible’. No wonder when you use the word in relation to films it becomes such a loose term, and many sub-genres have emerged over the years.

You might be watching a fairytale, science fantasy, contemporary fantasy, high fantasy, low fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, Bangsian fantasy, or the latest one – superhero fantasy … However critics choose to define the sprawling ‘genre’ most of the movies that we recognise as fantasy have some key, identifiable elements: alternate worlds, supernatural, magical creatures and the hero’s quest.

When a writer or director conjures up a fantasy they are creating a whole new world, employing super-nature, asking us to accept that, really, anything goes. When you sink into your polyester-clad cinema seat as the lights go down for a fantasy film, your eyeballs are primed to have all kinds of magical images thrown at them. Surely this is the most exciting genre of all?

With so much material to choose from, limited only by the creator’s imagination, it seems surprising that fantasy films could fall flat, and yet recent box office figures have shown that the genre is more forgetful than fantastic (Beautiful Creatures, Byzantium, Jack The Giant Slayer, R.I.P.D, The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones…). Perhaps the Hollywood writers (yes, a huge generalisation here) thought they had the fantasy formula cracked and based their new projects on the success of Twilight, Harry Potter and the Lord Of The Rings franchises. Their 2013 alchemy consisted of gothic romance, vampires, re-imaginings of fairytales and a dash of the spirit world but the results were far from golden.

If studios are naïve enough to think that audiences would fall for yet another pretty young ‘chosen one’ who has to face the darkness/evil/their destiny armed with nothing but a badly written script, an emo soundtrack and the hope of a fan-base, then they need to wake up and smell the elixir. Fans are touchy enough when you mess with their favourite books, so you either throw your all into it a-la-Peter Jackson or you may as well make another straight-up, generic Romance minus the ‘spooky’ element. Churning out mediocre scripts and green performances won’t cut it, and poor Jennifer Lawrence can only be in one film at a time.

There is still hope, however, and the fantasy genre will never die as long as there are minds to imagine with. You need only park yourself in front of a smaller screen for some inspiration on how to avoid the saccharine, the predictable and the badly acted. Look instead to True Blood, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Who knows, you might even learn something from a bit of historical fantasy, judging by the success of the History channel’s series Vikings, or be motivated to look up the author that inspired the film or TV series (J.R.R Tolkien, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker…).

There are also no rules to say that in the fantasy genre you can’t invert or mutate well-known mythologies or creations and boundaries are expected to be pushed. The forthcoming I, Frankenstein (2014) puts the monster in the shoes of the questing hero and throws in a bit of demonology for good measure. Oz The Great And Powerful (2013) successfully played out the well-known story from the humble magician’s point of view. And Martin Freeman has shown that you don’t need to strip to the waist, look askance at the camera with a furrowed brow and break some hearts in order to be a true fantasy hero.

It’s true that the genre might have the ‘Marmite’ effect for some people who imagine yawn-some dragons, sandals, fairy wings and unicorns. Alternatively, if these images do sound appealing to you then might we suggest you check out Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985). Yet even if you’re averse to fantasy films it’s important to remember that the source material is usually based in historical legends, folklore and childhood fairytale – much of which infiltrate our modern pop-culture and help us form an understanding of what makes a good story.

There is still a big, hungry audience out there for fantasy but they won’t accept any old tosh. So come on Hollywood – pull your stockings up, sharpen those quills and stoke that fire, we are ready and waiting.