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Feature: Fantasy Film & Television

The State of Fantasy

Fantasy worlds… Is the Fantasy genre riding high or running out of steam? We take a look at the state of the genre on film and TV…

It’s been a good few years for Fantasy, with the genre enjoying a resurgence in the cinemas and on the small screen. But has mainstream interest in the genre resulted in dumbed-down end product? And is the market over-saturated with goblins and wizards?

The question on everyone’s lips is, of course, ‘What’s the next Lord of the Rings?’ For four years, director Peter Jackson has dominated the Christmas market with his adaptations of JRR Tolkien’s trilogy – and, more recently, King Kong. With the extended DVD editions of Lord of the Rings done and dusted, and Jackson taking a break before moving on to more small-scale projects like The Lovely Bones, there’s a clear gap in the market. Disney’s attempt at a Fantasy franchise, The Chronicles of Narnia, is clearly gunning for Jackson’s crown – and the first installment, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, delivered a body-blow to King Kong at the end of 2005, stealing the ape’s box-office crown.

It’s clearly aimed at a younger audience, but that’s by no means a bad thing; the Harry Potter films have grown up with their audience and are now marketed at older teenagers – and Narnia has leapt in to fill the niche previously occupied by Potter, while borrowing the epic visuals and battle sequences of Lord of the Rings. The film’s family-friendly feel was lent extra impetus by a clever marketing campaign that played on the Christian message of CS Lewis’s tale; with The Passion of the Christ having raked in the dollars, there was clearly an audience out there, and Narnia had the added advantage of not being drenched in gore. Playing on the film’s theology backfired a little outside the United States, however; the response of the media and the audience to the film was markedly more hesitant in countries without a strong evangelical tradition.

Nevertheless, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was a bona fide hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and its massive box-office success has seen the first sequel, Prince Caspian, rushed into production, with Lion director Andrew Adamson and the film’s four young leads returning. Caspian won’t be out until 2007, though, and as a franchise, Narnia has some flaws. Unlike Harry Potter, the cast of characters varies from book to book – and at least part of the Potter movies’ success can be attributed to their young audience growing up with the films’ stars. As a film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels a little too much like Rings-lite; a brightly-coloured, sanitized version of Jackson’s epic scrubbed clean of Jackson’s trademark grit and grime. It feels like a bit of a retrograde step, when even Harry Potter’s gone for a grey, grungy look in the last couple of installments.

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Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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