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Considering Fantasy's Special Effects

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Autor:   •  December 19, 2010  •  1,472 Words (6 Pages)  •  729 Views

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* Technology, idea deficit spawns renaissance; Genre depicts current anxieties, authors' worldview

"There may be heaven; there must be hell."--Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Hollywood films of pure fantasy have been very rare. Horror, sci-fi, films based on the fantastic adventure tale such as the upcoming remake of King Kong, superhero films, space operas such as the Star Wars series--these related genres have all flourished on celluloid. But not traditional fantasy, the kind featuring other worlds populated by dwarves and witches.

Typically, in a traditional fantasy film, the young protagonist gets hit in the head during a Kansas tornado, or is introduced to a hidden train platform at King's Cross Station, or blunders through the back of a wardrobe and suddenly enters a different world. It's not an easy formula to pull off, which explains why there have been very few great Hollywood fantasy films through the entire 20th century. The Wizard of Oz is perhaps the only indisputable one.

So why is Hollywood, in the opening years of the 21st century, suddenly so interested in classic fantasy? Since 2001 we have had The Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the four Harry Potter movies, based on the novels of J.K. Rowling, and now The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis, the great English literary critic, essayist and Christian apologist, who died in 1963.

This last movie opens next Friday. Almost certainly there will be more Narnia movies to come--The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was only one of seven novels comprising The Chronicles of Narnia.

This unprecedented interest is all the more surprising given how many people fiercely dislike the whole genre. Toronto sci-fi writer Robert J. Sawyer, for example, has been outspoken in his criticism of traditional fantasy. He maintains that the wonders of modern science are far more interesting than elves and wizards. At times he seems to suggest that fantasy creators are a little wrong in the head.

"Sci-fi writers talk about how they have built a character to serve some dramatic or narrative purpose in the story," he once told the Star. "The fantasy writers talk as if their characters have spoken to them and told them how to write the story, as if the writers have been channelling them."

Nonetheless, the human appetite for the otherworldly is far from limited to fantasy fans. The late scientist Carl Sagan loathed any hint of the supernatural and yet he, in his novel Contact and in the 1997 movie based on that book, went tripping through a wardrobe he entitled "radio astronomy." Granted, there were no elves or wizards with pointed hats among his intelligent aliens, but the otherworld that he suggested was just around the corner was as unreal and as fantastic and as much of a wish fulfilment as anything conjured up by Tolkien or Rowling.

The Star Trek series--to cite another example--is pseudo-scientific, otherworldly fantasy for the pocket protector set.

"Do you really mean, sir, that there could be other worlds--all over the place, just round the corner--like that?" a boy asks a man called the Professor in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

"Nothing is more probable," replies the Professor. In those words, the Professor speaks for skeptics and mystics alike.

Fantasy and sci-fi have something else in common. No matter how far in the future the world of a sci-fi novel or movie is set, the novel or movie is really about the present, and reflects the anxieties of the present.

This is true for fantasy, as well. World War II, for example, influenced the Lord of the Rings trilogy--an epic Tolkien started to write in the 1930s and completed in the early 1950s. Tolkien denied the trilogy was about the war, but he clearly saw the atom bomb as another form of the ring of power.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published in 1950, at the height of the Cold War, and the book literally depicts a cold war between freedom-loving Allies and a witch and her satellites, who have imposed endless winter on the land of Narnia.

The Harry Potter series is a story about education, and reflects our anxieties about preparing the young for the new "knowledge industries" and training them to be workers who "manipulate symbols" instead of tightening bolts on the assembly line. In the novels, Potter's training in logic to perfect an Accio spell becomes the imaginative equivalent of a Muggle training in the logic of computer programming. In both cases, it's forms of survival at stake.

If fantasy reflects present anxieties, it also reflects the author's general outlook on life--another point of contact between fantasy and sci-fi. The issue is most apparent in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where the sacrificial death and resurrection of the lion Aslan is an explicit reference to the passion of Christ.


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