Friday, July 28, 2006

Upcoming Fantasy Films

Gone are the days when Fantasy films are low budget affairs with titles like Yor or Beastmaster where the men are topless, as are the women, and the director's idea of special effects is the use of dry ice making water bubble. Recent years have seen Fantasy films make the transition from fringe to mainstream, similar to the transition that Thrillers made decades ago. Fantasy films have yet to have their Hitchcock, who was one of the directors who made the Thriller high art, but they have had some excellent films in the past few years.

What do I mean by no Hitchcock? What about Peter Jackson, M. Night Shyamalan, or (insert favorite director here)? What I mean is that no director has emerged with the large body of work that is consistently of high quality and that consistently features narrative devices unique to that director. I am still waiting for my fantasy auteur. Jackson or Shyamalan, or even Christopher Nolan or Chris Columbus (actually we can't leave out Zemekis, Lucas, or Spielberg either), might end up being that director, but only time and more movies will tell.

When it comes to the release of new Fantasy films, this year looks to be a great one. We have The Prestige, an adaptation of the Christopher Priest novel. I discussed the movie back in December, but as a reminder The Prestige stars Hugh Jackman, David Bowie, Scarlett Johansson (ugh!) and Christian Bale and is a mysterious tale set in Victorian England. I look forward to seeing how the film will translate the novel's story.

In the wake of the very disappointing SciFi Original version of A Wizard of Earthsea, Hiyao Miyazaki's son is directing a film based on the third and fourth novels in the Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin. The film is called Gedo Senki, which can be transliterated (as opposed to translated) as "Ged's History of the War." The film will be showing at the upcoming Venice International Film Festival along with a lot of other exciting films. You can read a translation of the director's development blog here. The SciFi version lacked the "heart" of the books, but one hopes the younger Miyazaki will be able to bring in the sense of wonder that the SciFi Original lacked.

LYT was surprised to learn that there were 6 Earthsea books and admitted to knowing about the trilogy. It is true, there are more than the original three books in the series. But it is also true that one can talk about the "Earthsea Trilogy." The original three books from a complete narrative, though the other books (written long after I read the original three as a child) add depth to the story.

For LYT's sake, and the sake of any other interested parties, here is a list of the Earthsea books.

The Earthsea Trilogy:
A Wizard of Earthsea -- Where a young wizard brings evil into the world and in battling evil becomes a man.
Tombs of Atuan -- Ged, no longer a child, searches for a powerful relic and need the aid of a young priestess in acquiring the great treasure.
The Farthest Shore -- Magic is leaving Earthsea and a great evil is overcoming the archipelego. Ged must once more face the product of his greatest failure.

Books written since 1990:
Tehanu -- Ged is dying, but he must find the strength to help a young girl to bring a brighter age to Earthsea. This book also reexamines the role of gender in the practice of magic.
Tales of Earthsea -- This collection of short stories adds great detail to the world of Earthsea.
The Other Wind -- Ged once more finds himself called to serve Earthsea when a man with the power to "mend" objects seeks to "mend" the death of his beloved wife.

Coming out in a limited release this weekend (at the Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles) is Beowulf and Grendel starring the much overworked Stellan Skarsgard. The movie reviewers on NPR this morning were enchanted by the geography, but horrified by the violence and gave the film a negative review. One wonders how a film about Beowulf could be an accurate translation without a good dose of violence, but that just goes to show the biases of the reviewers (and my own). I look forward to seeing the film and whether or not it succeeds in capturing the manly virtues of the epic hero. I enjoyed The Thirteenth Warrior and its "what if Beowulf happened in the real world and not in the land of myth" approach, but I eagerly await seeing a mythic telling of the epic.

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