Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fantasy Movies are Supposed to be Bad.

Scott Malthouse, usually a keen observer of the universe of the fantastic, has it wrong this week over at the Trollish Delver, where he states, to paraphrase, the first D&D movie is the best ever. Where he is wrong, besides just being ironic for satire's sake, is that the movie Dungeons and Dragons is the last of good old fashioned bad fantasy flix on the silver screen. The following year, big budget block-busters would pull the rug out on decades worth of low budget productions by Italian producers combing gyms and researching issues of Penthouse for their short list of stars.

It might've been the same year as the 2000 release of D&D, but when Russel Crow co-opted the sword and sandals drama, he and his gang destroyed decades of hard work by producers of some of the weirdest movies of all time, swords and sandal dramas (sometimes confused with the Toga and Torches sub-genre). Directors such as Umberto Scarpelli and even Cecil B DeMill took the success of the Biblical dramas and turned them on their heads to produce tales with scores of lush olive skinned women and an over oiled body-building man, with a few guys running around in Centurion armor. While Gladiator was about as coherently written as classics like say Goliath versus the Vampires, Ridley Scott just turned the whole thing into schmoltzey face time for a few actors, ignoring the basics.

And then the next year came my now most hated fantasy movie series ever, the Lord of the Rings series, that rejected every precedent of sword and sorcery films, by not having the characters wander over a 300 meter block of woods with a scrap wood city built in a nearby streambed, but instead making action packed video game trailer, with silly romantic interludes for the bored wife dragged into the theater and finally plenty of Man-Boy Love Association promos for the pudding eating critics. And what one got was Peter Jackson's wife's take on what would Liv Tyler, Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom do if they ever got Viggo Morgensen alone, with snowboarding. Gone, from then on, are the days of Deathstalker and Hawk the Slayer, for long lasting scenes of Gandalf and Frodo staring at each while, while Bilbo glowers. Samwise and Gollum are in a flat out cat fight throughout the last flik of this overdone soap opera.

And from there it has only gotten worse. The Christians and the established anti-Christians began their fantasy movie wars against each other with Hollywood video-game trailers of their takes on The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials, respectively. Definitely no adult movie entertainers or former Playboy models in either of those two franchises. A bit more amusing has been the Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling and Terry Prachet adaptations here and there. Each showing that others can stand on the shoulders of both Clive Barker and the master JRR Tolkien to craft "new angles" in writing essentially teen fiction for the new millennium film media and have tens of million of fans without having ten fans that ever read a book. These efforts would give the Vampire subgenre a true and authentic message when crass and badly produced CGI masterpieces would soon be bombarded on the mass viewing audiences throughout the world.

Now I am not saying that any of these new takes on fantasy should be any different than they are. Believe me in ten years time, they will appear to a new crop of viewers as bad as Krull, The Odyssey with Armand Assante or Legend. What I am saying is that fantasy fliks need to stop trying to appeal to everyone at every age group all at once, well more accurately in the same flik.

As an example of a producer/director getting this axiom, I have, with much chagrin, George Lucas. This lover of midgets, seems to have understood this in his prequels of Star Wars. The first was a cartoon, with a couple adult scenes designed for the parents who could not talk about sex around their 10 year-old. Second is for 14 year-olds, the parents are still there but having a beer at Chilis at the other end of the mall. The third is flat out a 15-19 year old melodrama, who can himself to and from home-- or in Kevin Smith's case, a 40 year-old who's mother is still willing to come pick him up. But in making fantasy movies, it shouldn't be an over-funded "art school" project, released a decade after graduation, that shows an understanding the basics of photography with film production and a knowledge of Stanly Kubric films and the Flash Gordon serials. And this project should not turn into a psycho-social experiment in how much money one can squeeze out various markets over three decades... But I am diverging here.

A fantasy flik on the silver screen these days could attempt to be not "family-friendly" by not not saying the word "fuck, while providing graphic images of blood and gore for a PG-13 crowd, and it would find fans. Even if the project would not get mega-market release in all the affluent suburbs of the USA, Canada, the UK, France and the Ukraine all at midnight of the same day, and Alan Dean Foster or Michael Stackpole writing the novel-- mostly because the novel was already written!

Luckily there is the Scy-Fy channel which keeps the flix about the character types and finding the actors that can quirkily fit them. I speak of my favorite fantasy flix of late The Knights of Blood Steel and Dark Kingdoms. This leaves the family-friendly stuff for network TV, like the upcoming Once Upon a Time (how clever) and Grimm.

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