Not easy to film fantasy
The difficulty of making fantasy shows is well-acknowledged but there’s hope yet.
IT is a costly, risky affair to bring fantasy to the screen.
For one, it requires special effects – magic and mythical creatures are characteristic of the genre – and that usually translates into high production costs.
It doesn’t help that fantasy shows are often not well-received. Viewers used to more general fare often think that the genre is too “out there” for their tastes. And fewer viewers mean lower ratings and ticket sales, and consequently, a less attractive bottom line.
To compound matters, those who dared to take the risk often ended up producing cheesy films that further alienated viewers from the genre. Movies like Legend (1985), Dungeons And Dragons (2000) and Eragon (2006) as well as the Earthsea miniseries (2004) are some of the duds.
But Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy, released between 2001 and 2003, changed things. The Kiwi director proved to all that fantasy can be profitable, attract a wide audience, and better still, be respectable.
In the wake of LOTR, several fantasy movies and dramas were made with varying degrees of success: the Narnia series (it was a financial battle to get each film of the trilogy made), The Golden Compass (alas, stalled) and TV series Legend Of The Seeker (critically panned), to name a few.
It seems that Hollywood is still cautious, even if it is taking a chance on fantasy once more. This year, two big-budget fantasy TV series will air in the United States.
There’s the Irish-Canadian production Camelot, a retelling of the Arthurian tale (currently airing on AXN Beyond on Astro Channel 720), which has a budget of over 20mil Euros (about RM86mil). Then there’s HBO’s Game Of Thrones, based on author George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series. Fans have been salivating over its high-powered cast headed by Sean Bean (aka Boromir from LOTR). Recently released pictures and trailers indicate a lavish production.
The reason why LOTR did well was because it respected the source material – the brainchild of English writer J.R.R. Tolkien – and the genre.
By emphasising the story’s complicated human relationships, LOTR became a tale everyone could relate to. The magic, monsters and mayhem is just the icing on the cake. And judging from trailers and previews, Camelot and Game Of Thrones have these favourable traits.
But why stop there? Here’s my dream list of fantasy novels that should be transferred onto the big or small screen:
Earthsea fantasy novels by Ursula K. Le Guin
The TV miniseries based on Le Guin’s classic and much-beloved fantasy novels about a boy’s journey to becoming one of the greatest wizards ever lived was such a travesty of an adaptation that even Le Guin spoke up against it in an article on Slate.com: “All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.”
These novels deserve another go at celluloid, if only to erase the mistake that was Earthsea.
The Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb
FitzChivalry is the bastard son of royalty, but he is made into a trained assassin so that he could execute the King’s will in the shadows. There are no elves or trolls in this series, although there is a kind of magic here. Instead, the focus is on the political manoeuvrings in the Six Duchies, mostly executed by the characters in this novel. Think of this as The Bourne Identity with magic.
Pern novels by Anne McCaffrey
I will take my hat off to anyone who dares to adapt McCaffrey’s novels, as they would probably blow the budget on the number of dragons they’d have to create via CGI. Here, human beings have created a symbiotic relationship with dragon-like creatures, native to a planet called Pern. These dragons form a telepathic bond with their human riders, and are a main line of defence against the deadly meteor showers that plague Pern. However, due to their scarcity and importance, wars and alliances have been forged, rendering McCaffrey’s novels a rich source material for a multi-season television series.
Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Darkover novels are not fantasy per se, but science fiction with elements of fantasy. Darkover is a planet populated by the descendants of a space vessel from Earth. After some genetic tinkering, a subspecies of people with amazing psychic powers are created. They – the red-haired Comyn – are the aristocrats of Darkover, and because of their much-needed abilities, Darkover society has a complicated pecking order and social mores. When their cousins from Earth finally find them, the Darkover natives form an uneasy alliance with the Terrans, who are hungry to discover more about the secretive Comyn.
Bradley is a genius when it comes to creating fascinating characters, none of whom are entirely on the side of good or evil, and some have to do very bad things for the greater good. The political shenanigans that go on in the Darkover novels (which number over a few dozen) are just dying to be played out on screen.
Elizabeth Tai wishes to live in a world where there are more fantasy dramas than cop shows.