It's only recently hit me how popular the fantasy genre has become in the last ten years. Setting aside the Vampire sub-genre, which itself has ballooned largely due to the success of the much loved and much reviled Twilight series, Fantasy has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last decade largely thanks to the success of the Lord of the Rings films and Harry Potter series.
Thinking back I realized how great we had it in the early 2000s. In 2001 for example, we saw the release of both the Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone within a few months of each other. Also released that year was Shrek, a somewhat unconventional Fantasy film, yet a fantasy all the same. The following year had another the second installment of both the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchise, the last hurrah for how truly great the latter might have been. In 2003 we saw the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings films and a new franchise burst onto the scene, Pirates of the Caribbean. Curse of the Black Pearl was an amazing film that little hinted at a couple of bad sequels that were waiting in the wings.
Then in 2004 we begin to see a drop in quality. No, I'm not speaking of Shrek 2, a faithful and well made sequel, or even the awful fairytale film Ella Enchanted, but rather of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. HP3 wasn't nearly as bad as some of the films that would come after it, but it heralded in a new era for the series. Columbus left the director's chair and in his place came men who cared less for the story and more for the glamor. Important and fun scenes were cut from the film, a necessity when dealing with very long books I know, but if you have no time for them why waste valuable time with worthless special effects that add nothing to the story? The reason of course is a shift in priorities, substance was no longer the order of the day, style was. That is what HP3 represents, the pursuit of style over substance. It's really too bad Columbus didn't stick around for one more film because PoA is page for page the best book in the Harry Potter series.
Moving onto 2005 we have a disaster of a Harry Potter movie (Goblet of Fire), but are given a brief reprieve with the release of a new movie franchise, The Chronicles of Narnia. The first installment of this movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, was faithfully adapted to screen and though it didn't perform nearly as well it the newer and more popular Harry Potter, it was much better than the tripe the makers of the HP films were spewing out for the general public. The following year we saw the first of the bad Pirates of the Caribbean squeals, Dead Man's Chest, as well as a number of other fantasy films including 300, Pan's Labyrinth and The Prestige. 300 was good, though slightly over-hyped in my opinion. Not that I can blame anyone, give the amount of other crap being released people had the right to enjoy a good film when they finally got one. Pan's Labyrinth and The Prestige were not traditional fantasy films. I enjoyed the latter and found the former to have been way over-hyped. The true horror of 2006 though was the film Eragon. Truthfully, this movie is so bad that I don't trust myself to discuss it here without going into an angry tirade, so it's best to just move on.
In 2007 bad fantasy films hit a crescendo and we were forced to suffer through what seemed to be bad film after bad film. Specifically, and in nor particular order they were: Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Shrek the Third, Enchanted, Beowulf, and The Golden Compass. These movies range from bad to God Awful, and suffice to say I wouldn't recommend them to a friend. However, 2007 did have a single ray of sunshine in it for Fantasy fans, the somewhat under the radar film, Stardust. It was a quality film that really hearkened back to the immortal classic, The Princess Bride. Stardust, unlike the other 2007 films all of which had a higher budget, is a movie I would have no trouble recommending to a friend.
Well we're onto 2008 so you know what that means... Twilight. Look I'm not going to waste space here bashing Twilight into the ground, it is a series that is very popular with its target audience, the "tweens," but for the rest of us it just isn't worth the time. The other major fantasy film of 08 was the second installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian. While some changes were made were made for the worse (Prince Caspian himself is older and FAR more annoying than in the book), this was still a quality film that I enjoyed. The following year (09) we saw the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (another stinker), the new Twilight film New Moon (another waste of time for non-Tweens), and Avatar (a waste of time for everyone).
That brings us to 2010 and the slew of bad fantasy film on display at present. I was going to include Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief in my clever tittle, but to be honest it wasn't worth the effort. I fell asleep during that movie, but stayed awake just long enough to lament that it might have actually been good in more competent hands. More recently the wife and I have watched 3 fantasy films in the last couple of weeks: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1), The Last Airbender, and The Sorcerer's apprentice. I'm going to start with the Sorcerer's apprentice because that is the movie that I watched last.
The Sorcerer's apprentice is bad. The script sucks, the acting is terrible, the characters are unlikeable, and I spent the whole movie rooting for Morgana to just end the world and put me out of my misery. Truth be told this isn't even a Fantasy Film. That's right, folks! The makers of the Sorcerer's apprentice decided to go all "Midichlorians" on us and explain that a Sorcerers powers are actually just science. Nick Cage explains to his apprentice in one seen (that made me want to gouge my eyeballs out with a spork) that though most people can only use 10% of their brains, Sorcerers can use 100% and manipulate the natural world around them. Yep, it's that old myth, used as a crutch once again for bad storytelling. I guess they never read our article on keeping magic magical. Sadly as bad as this film is, it isn't even the worst of the three.
The worst movie of the three (dare I say by far?) is by far The Last Airbender (I do!). I almost can't put into words just how bad this movie is. The acting is absolutely atrocious, seriously it is one of the worst acted films I have ever seen. I don't know who cast this movie, but they should be put out to pasture. The villain is the pizza guy from Spiderman 2! I shit you not. The fact is, that everything about this movie is bad save for the special effects. Once again, we see style trump substance and this time it leads to an unmitigated disaster. I think the wife and I would have shut the movie off but we were both like a deer in headlights the entire time. Fortunately, it was all downhill from there.
|"Fear my flame bending powers, for I shall burn your crust!"|
The Deathly Hallows (Part 1) was the best of the three. It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, though given that I thought it would be terrible this isn't saying much. This one is still pretty new so I'll leave it at that for now.
So now that we've gone though the recent past and present of Fantasy Films what do I see in the future? Well given that I've been pretty doom and gloom for this entire article you probably think all I see is darkness and despair, but actually that isn't the case. Fantasy will see an inevitable dip in popularity next year when the Harry Potter films end, but there is actually a lot coming up to brighten the horizon and it isn't all coming on the big screen.
For starters you have the new Chronicles of Narnia movie (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) which looks promising. The biggest and best hope is Peter Jackson's return to middle earth for a two part version of The Hobbit. With Jackson on board, and with the quality cast he has assembled, I am so sure of this films quality that I would bet my house that it will be great.
Despite some great movies on tap at the movie theater I actually think the future of great fantasy could come on the small screen. HBO's A Game of Thrones is bound to be some of the best fantasy we have seen in a while, if not ever. It has that type of potential, given the impeccable source material combined with a commitment and integrity that just isn't seen much on blockbuster films anymore. Also busting onto the small screen in 2011 is a new Starz series, Camelot. Camelot tells the story of King Arthur and his Knight of the Round table right from the beginning. Like HBO, Starz seems to be aiming for a grittier and more realistic fantasy, cut with a healthy dose of political intrigue.