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Fantasy cinema – what is its true value?

Author: Louis Sharman
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Fantasy: a genre of fiction where, in cinematic terms, anything is possible. Directors are rewarded for venturing way beyond conventional plot lines and sets by millions of cinema goers, who flock to the screens to get their two hour's worth of escapism.

But is this all fantasy means to the modern day film buff? A carefree wishspace, filled with childish fairytales, swords and sorcery? Or does it stand for much, more more?

Some critics argue that while the stories, characters and worlds in which they live might suggest otherwise, fantasy is intrinsically linked to reality. One argues that escapism can just as well be regarded an act of resistance by those who explore it. That expert? None other than J.R.R Tolkien, best known as the author of the 'Lord of the Rings' series.

Fairytale or fairly truthful? It's by no means a cut and dry argument.

In its rawest form

Unlike science fiction films which base their content upon a reasonable degree of scientific truth, fantasy films aim to take the audience to the netherworld - the places where events are unlikely to occur in real life. They transcend the boundaries of human possibility and physical laws in order to drag the audience out of their seat in the auditorium and into the director's own world of 'fantasy'. In a mental sense, of course.

Common themes of such films include magic, myth, wonder and the extraordinary, but few adults or children will be able to relate too much into what's being presented. Does that mean to say it is of little value? That fantasy's true qualities are in visual appeal and being far-fetched? Of course not - it causes the audiences to think and gain perspective in their own lives as soon as the credits start to roll.

As an idea

Regardless of what the critics of fantasy cinema think about recent releases, they shouldn't condemn the writers for trying to present a different world. This is a really interesting point and one explained in depth by David Butler in his 2010 text 'Fantasy Cinema: Impossible Worlds on Screen'.

The same people would happily slate Peter Jackson's latest release for its lack of 'real world' content, but they might have more positive things to say about some of the world's great brains. Martin Luther King, for example, had a dream when he called for an end to racism in the United States in 1963. Fast forward 50 years and can we still dismiss his ideas of racial equality and civil rights as escapist delusions?

One might argue that by listening to Luther King on that fateful day at the Washington DC Civil Rights March, the audience developed a clearer view of their situations and what was happening around them. Fantasy films aim to offer the same by hoisting the viewer out of the world they've become so accustomed to and enabling them to examine it from a more objective point of view. Because after all, it's easier to review or critique something if you're not attached to it.

One thought too far

Of course, watching 'Avatar' hundreds of times over may have the opposite effect. Becoming too exposed to fantasy could thrust the viewer into a completely different world, but not the one they've become so enthralled in. From the outsider's point of view, these people zip past Pandora to immerse themselves into fandom - a subculture composed of fans, characterised by a feeling of sympathy for those who share their interest.

So although escapism is a route more than worth pursuing, too much fantasy can be dangerous, kids. You have been warned!


About the Author

Louis Sharman is an avid blogger and writes on a plethora of subjects ranging from book reviews to suggesting the importance of Children's books or thriller and crime books in modern culture. He lives in London, UK and enjoys reviewing the most recent books of sports. He is also an amateur photographer and has a great collection of photography books. You can connect him on Google+.



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  • Some critics argue that while the stories, characters and worlds in which they live might suggest otherwise, fantasy is intrinsically linked to reality.
  • Unlike science fiction films which base their content upon a reasonable degree of scientific truth, fantasy films aim to take the audience to the netherworld - the places where events are unlikely to occur in real life.
  • They transcend the boundaries of human possibility and physical laws in order to drag the audience out of their seat in the auditorium and into the director's own world of 'fantasy'.