The Many Faces of Fantasy Cinema

The Many Faces of Fantasy Cinema
The term, “fantasy” is often used in a narrow and rather derogatory sense. People sometimes say it with a scowl or a mocking half-smile, as if to convey that they would never dream of having the bad taste to spend time watching wizards cavort with dragons, or some such nonsense. The truth is that fantasy is a much broader and subtler genre than people give it credit. Often, someone will love a film without even realising it is part of a fantasy tradition. Here is a round up of a few examples…

Star Wars.

This really has to go right here, at the top of the list. “But it’s in space!” people protest. “Where’s the wizards? Where’s the magic? Where’s the dark lord that needs defeating?” Of course, when you think about it, these have absurdly simple answers: The Jedi, The Force, and Darth Vader (or the Emperor) respectively. There’s even a Princess in distress and a load of friendly dwarves (or at least, Ewoks). The presence of a ray gun or a starship does not make a film science fiction. If anyone doubts this, it is worth seeing what acclaimed science fiction author Arthur C Clarke has to say about the difference (and similarity) between magic and technology.

It’s A Wonderful Life.

A film that, apparently, broadcasters are contractually obliged to transmit at least twenty-five times every Christmas, this incredibly moving and beautiful film is deceptively dark. It is also a fine example of how fantasy does not have to be set in a secondary world (such as Middle Earth or Narnia) to qualify. It shows how we don’t have to live lives that are full of extravagant, extroverted achievements to make a huge difference to those around us. This work is as uplifting at some moments as it is overwhelmingly dark in others - and not a shred less so than the dizzying highs and terrifying lows of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ , or any of the Harry Potter movies. And from the appearance of angels to the transportation into parallel worlds, it is fantasy through and through.

Midnight In Paris.

Fantasy does not have to be po-faced and deadly serious, any more than it needs to be set in a mythical land ruled by orklings or oompa-loompas. A Paris that comes alight at night with the great and the good of a past age is just as fair a setting. In this case, the film can be considered fantasy because of the magical and playful way it explores nostalgia.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Inception
These two, perhaps, earn themselves a joint mention. They are both films that masquerade, on one level, as science fiction. They both involve a new technology which is central to the plot, and they both take place in essentially contemporary (or, at a push, near-future) societies. Tellingly, they both deal with dreams, perception, identity, memory - all keystones of fantasy. Dig beyond the surface, and both films are more interested in these elements than they are in the actual technology. They are both explorations of the internal dreamscape of what it is like to be human - both excellent explorations, as it happens, though in very different ways - and this emphasis on the human, the emotive, the visceral over the intellectual, the considered, the calculated, paints them with all the hallmarks of fantasy.

Of course, this is an area where everyone has their own perception and opinions. What are yours? Why not head over to the forums for this topic and share them? We would be keen to know if you agree or disagree with the examples above…and why!

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