Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Fantasy Lover's Plight

I have loved fantasy ever since I first read Edith Hamilton's Mythology. The tales of the Greeks inspired in me a love of magic, mystery, and metaphor. I have read many great, and many horrible, fantasy novels and short stories. I have also watched my share of movies/television show which run the gamut (it is gamut and not gambit for you vocabulary nerds) from great to horrible to entertainingly awful.

Those of you who have visited Cinerati before know that I enjoy both Hawk the Slayer and Krull (sorry David) as entertainingly bad fantasy films. Jack Palance makes the first one entertaining, and the silly magic boomerang is what gets my fantasy juices flowing in Krull. Though not even I was entertained by the Sword and the Sorcerer. What allows me to even consider watching these, let alone make arguments for their entertainment value, is the absolute dearth of fantasy entertainment in the media. I mean straight forward fantasy, not hybrid fantasy like Supernatural or American Gothic. Even our most recent retelling of the Iliad was devoid of the gods and magic took a backseat. I liked Troy, but if the gods had been active I would have loved it.

It wasn't always so. The 60s were filled with the marvelous fantasy of Harryhausen films. Who doesn't love Jason and the Argonauts or one of the many Sinbad movies. But the 70s were the era of bad fantasy and the 80s the era of cheap fantasy, so the genre has had its struggles. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Narnia are a sea change in Hollywood, prior to their release the best fantasy film in recent times was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which could lead into a whole discussion of the vibrance of fantasy in Asian cinema. For some reason they can make both slocky and/or classy fantasy without diluting the market. Sure I am overstating things about the dearth of fantasy in American visual media, but it provides a good background for me to defend my latest viewing marathon.

You see...I recently watched 3 DVDs of Darkest Knight. Like the SciFi Original Dark Kingdom, Darkest Knight is based on a literary classic. Unlike Dark Kingdom, Darkest Knight pretty much throws the source material out the window. Dark Kingdom was a clumsy, but very entertaining, adaptation of the Saga of the Volsungs and the Nibelungenlied. Diane Duane, a very proficient author of youth fiction, adapted the tale to have slightly less magic and without the involvement of the Huns. All in all, with the exception of the guy who played Siegfried, I liked the SciFi Original quite a bit.

But that brings us back to Darkest Knight, my most recent three DVD marathon. The show has the following points against it: a) the acting is awful, b) the special effects are awful, even by BBC/New Zealand standards, c) the music sounds like it is played on an old 80s Casio, d) the costuming is...well you get the points. On the other hand: a) whoever wrote the score does know what a leit motif is, even if he/she writes bad ones, b) it has one of the actors from Hawk the Slayer (the dwarf), c) New Zealand is pretty, even if it looks nothing like England (where did those glacier carved granite mountain ranges go?), d) it is an attempt to Raimi-efy Ivanhoe. It is the last point that wins me over. Sure, Darkest Knight threw most of the Ivanhoe narrative into the dustbin, but this is an attempt to create a Raimi-esque series about the ransoming of King Richard. A nice attempt at genre hybrid (thanks Bill Cunningham) if you ask me. It doesn't really work, the ITV Robin of Sherwood (a bargain at ~$150.00 US in NTSC) was much better at fuzing magic and Prince John. Still, I enjoyed the series and am adapting some of the ideas for adventure ideas for Savage Worlds.
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