For a genre fan like me, modern cinema is a mixed bag. In the last few months, some damn good science fiction has been released. We’ve had Avengers: Age of Ultron. Mad Max: Fury Road. Jurassic World. Terminator and Star Wars have sequels on the way. Ex Machina, though I have yet to see it, I hear from just about everyone is a great sci-fi film based on an original idea. And Chappie–well, at least it looks pretty.
Science Fiction is a genre that remains relevant to modern audiences.
I have my doubts about fantasy.
The other night I was with a bunch of friends. We were watching some fantasy films Netflix has to offer (Stardust–amazing film adaption of an even better Neil Gaiman novel–and Knights of Badassdom–it was fun-stupid) when I pointed out that the next big fantasy film coming our way is Warcraft. Mind you, Warcraft looks great, but it’s one film.
For the longest time, I was wondering why. In fact, I planned on going on and on in this post about how fantasy films should be made more frequently, how fantasy deserves better, but that argument is foolish, and will lead to the outcome that I came as I began writing this post.
Movies are a poor medium for fantasy.
The fantasy novel–successful. Fantasy television–successful. Movies, though, tend to hit a bit of an issue with fantasy. Movies need to be concise and to the point. Science can be rationalized. Whether it’s Blade Runner, Avengers, Terminator, Robocop–robots make sense. Time Travel makes sense. The core ideas are scientifically sound, so long as the rules are established. Their films are grounded to some degree, and exist in a reality that makes sense.
Fantasy has no grounding. Fantasy has its own ground it stands on with its own rules. They may be similar or different from the world as we know it, but the rules are different. Fantasy films can be varied in scope and concept. Science Fiction always roots itself in science. That makes it easier for audiences to understand sci-fi more. It should make sense.
That’s why fantasy works better at the novel level. You can add appendixes if you want to further elaborate on why the elves do cool stuff or what have you. That’s why television works. Don’t say a thing in two hours when you have thirteen episodes a season. That’s why video games work. The lore can be background flavor while the game immerses you in the world. The best of fantasy cinema is either very long (LotR), remains simple (Conan the Barbarian and Princess Bride), or is a very weak adaptation of a far superior book (Harry Potter).
Or is made by Guillermo del Toro.
If this post has a point, it’s this: fantasy is awesome.