Mr. Bill George Presents

The Case Against Fantasies

In Film on July 18, 2009 at 8:53 AM

In my previous post I fully admitted I have a bias against the fantasy genre, which I would explain later. Well, here we are and I believe I owe you all an explanation. (Keep in mind that I in no way am arrogant enough to pretend I know every single fantasy text in existence or have seen every movie in history. I’m basing my knowledge purely on what I’ve seen and what most frequently appears in popular culture.)

At the very root of my prejudice is a major, internal factor: I don’t find fantasies interesting. Keep in mind this is not something I have control over. For the same reason I don’t like the taste of tomatoes or cringe when I hear certain sounds, whenever I see a movie involving wizards or talking animals or magical potions my brain sends me a signal asking, “is there anything else on?”

However, this hasn’t been the case is every instance and some films have been compelling enough to break through this barrier. Namely, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I still consider that film, the first in the trilogy, to be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the second film is a bore and the third falls victim to my biggest criticism of the genre: anything goes.

Put simply, a fantasy author has too much power. They can write any absurdity they want and if, God forbid, I try to raise a logistical concern or address a plothole, I am immediately lambasted with, “it’s fantasy Bill. Relax!” Which is tantamount to the old saying, “it’s just a movie!”

But that doesn’t cut it for me. A writer should create the characters and set up the story but once it is underway it should feel as though it resolves itself naturally. The better the writer, the more it seems to flow. The worse the writer, the more you can feel their hand involved, manually arranging and forcing plot developments. And no where is this more apparent than the fantasy genre.

I have two perfect examples that put me in a rage every time I consider them (warning, these do include LOTR and HP spoilers):

First, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It’s the second to last (if I remember correctly) battle. The evil army is destroying the good guys. I mean really beating the hell out of them. They are outnumbered to the point of lunacy as the camera flies over the CGI battlefield, showing there is no possible way our heroes can win this battle.

Which is now a problem for our screenwriters. They have written themselves into a corner. The bad guys are about to win, but the good guys have to pull out a victory for the story’s sake. Luckily, this is fantasy, so anything goes.

Out of nowhere (fine, out of one brief scene penciled in earlier to cover themselves) comes an invincible army of ghost pirates! Convenient! Do these extra hands on deck help turn the momentum of the battle? No, they simply win the battle… immediately.

Because they are ghosts, of course, these pirates cannot be struck down by conventional weapons, but luckily for our heroes, they can still strike their enemies. Allowing them to flow over the battlefield like a giant, ectoplasmic tidal wave and single handedly win the battle instantaneously.

It was the single cheapest moment I’ve ever witnessed in the history of film. It forever tainted the series for me. My blood boils when I think of the audacity of the screenwriter playing God like that. But I can’t argue because, “it’s fantasy Bill. Relax!”

(Whether it is explained in more depth in the novel is beside the point because the film needs to be able to stand alone as a product for all those like me who simply watched the LOTR series.)

Another prime example of an author making his or her presence all too clear comes courtesy of the final novel in the Harry Potter series: The Deathly Hallows. This complaint is not specific to fantasies, it is more regarding bad writing in general, but this type of bad writing seems to crop up more in fantasies than anywhere else.

Much like the above example, it has to do with the author creating his or her own plot turning event out of convenience rather than natural story progression.

It occurs in the middle of The Deathly Hallows. Our leads are on the run, apparating every day to random sections of different woods all over the world. To reiterate, every day they are in a new part of a new forest that could be anywhere in the world and is totally at random in order to hide.

… And the story ends.

The book is essentially over. There is no where else to go. Nothing else to do. The characters have no leads, no direction, no forward momentum.

Obviously Rowling has made a mistake and now has to write herself out of it. But, hey, it’s fantasy so anything goes. One night the characters happen to appear in a particular part of a particular forest where a group of people happen to be. And these people happen to have information regarding what’s going on at Hogwarts and they happen to say it out loud and happen to give our heroes something to go off of for the rest of the novel.

That one scene, made purely of forced coincidence, is the fulcrum point of the entire novel and essentially the entire series. I’m sorry, but I refuse to accept that. I cannot let that pass by saying, “oh ok, that works.” My anger towards this event knows no bound. This appearance of the author as the hand of God is far too blatant to be ignored.

Another factor that doesn’t help fantasies in general is the fact that the main ambassadors for the genre, the most visible moneymakers, are some of the worst movies in recorded history. I cannot summarize just how much I hated The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass and Eragon.

To sum it up, on one level, my dislike for the genre stems purely from the subject matter. On another it is based on the actions of the writer and could actually occur in any book or film. It just happens to occur more often in fantasies and because it uses that moniker, ‘fantasy,’ people give it a pass. But not me.

And you may note that I love superhero movies and science fiction and ask, “are those not fantasy?” No, they are not. There is a distinction. That distinction being that they still occur within the real world and that world has rules (as Morpheus says).

Superman is a fantastical character but he exists in the real world. He is the one anomaly in his otherwise normal surroundings. Science fiction is similar. The idea of bringing dinosaurs back to life is fantasy but it’s based on very real science. As opposed to fantasies where the entire world is created and controlled by the author.

Anybody out there agree? I know plenty of people probably disagree. Sound off in the comments section below!

  1. What is your take on Pans Labrynth?

    • What she wrote is obscene and it is a penal ocneffe under I.P.C. Those who don’t like it can go and file complaint in Police station and let the court decide it .

    • Since there is so many fields of specialties that I have a choice of, I still really can’t choose one. So I am going base on my personal experiences. My original goal back in high school and maybe even before that, was to work in a Neonatal ICU! I had a brother that passed before he had his first birthday from heart complications, and that year I spent a lot of time at hospitals with my parents. My goal the first couple of years was to work with babies just like him. That was until I had my own children, I would of still loved to have worked in that career field but the heart ache I would most likely endure when one of those babies did not make it home. I could not have handled!On to more positive experiences, I have worked with the elderly and Geriatrics interests me very much. Being surrounded with people that have lived a fulfilled life is so much more rewarding. Even though at times it is the ending stages of their lives, and it is sad when someone does pass. It’s less of a heartache to know that most of the time they are ready to move on. They are still very dependent on you and when you are able to help them with their needs that’s the most rewarding of all, plus you form a special relationship with the patients and their families.

  2. Its Hollows. 🙂

  3. I loved the Harry Potter books. But I completely agree with your take on the ending – it was INCREDIBLY anti-climactic.

    Essentially, Potter defeated an evil overlord by telling him things he should have already known: that he has no friends and he’s a power-hungry wraith. Then everyone starts cheering and dancing on top of their friends’ corpses. I don’t care WHO you just defeated, who decides to have a party right on top of a fresh battlefield?

    But I disagree with your take on LOTR. I thought the films got progressively better (although I had read the books as well, so I may have had a better grasp on some of the lore behind the more fantastical moments). In fact, one of the reasons I’m such a Tolkein fan is because I never got the feeling he had an “anything goes” attitude when approaching his fantasy world. He created the rules for his world, and he stuck to them. He spent the better part of his life developing languages and background for his tales. But this is probably more apparent in the novels.

    This is coming from a person who never hesitates to shout “well isn’t THAT convenient!” in the middle of a movie (well, maybe not out loud, that would be rude).

    P.S. PeteyV, it is not Hollows. It is Hallows. He had it right in his article. If you don’t know what the word means, look it up 😉

  4. I still have only seen Pan’s Labyrinth once, when it was in theaters. So it has been a while. But I did like it. Part of the reason is because it was made entirely for the screen (as far as I can tell). So the story is succinct and comprehensible and is not reliant on non-film material. But yea, I enjoyed it and will probably now watch it again soon.

  5. well the movie for the golden compass is god fucking awful, but the books are pretty damned good. I can agree with some of your points, though fantasy is still my favorite genre.

    I recommend you read, or at the very least, leaf through (via amazon) the beginning of “A Game of Thrones” by George R.R Martin. It is fantasy, though it is fantasy that blew my expectations of what fantasy is out of the water and the series “A Song of Ice and Fire” remains my favorite series ever. Its actually being made into an hbo series which starts filming this fall but I cant imagine a show capturing the scope illustrated by the text.

    here ill even give you the amazon link to sample

  6. How excited are you for Watchmen to come out today? I can’t remember if you liked it, but I’m going straight from work to the nearest Redbox today and renting it.

  7. I did like it actually. Because I read it and loved it. So I enjoyed seeing it come to life. I will more than likely pick it up on Blu-Ray at some point. 3 hour and 6 minute director’s cut here I come!

    P.S. Never heard back from you on Twitter. If you give me your primary email address I’ll shoot you an invite to be a contributor. Email me at if interested. No biggie if not.

  8. I’m pretty sure you would also exempt and love Raymond Feist’s Riftwar Saga too because of it’s setting and connection to the real world…it’s brilliant! The perfect touch of Fantasy -Adventure.

    Read in this order:

    The Riftwar Saga

    1. Magician (1982)

    Republished in two parts in the United States:
    – Magician: Apprentice (1986)
    – Magician: Master (1986)

    2. Silverthorn (1985)
    3. A Darkness at Sethanon (1986)

    The Empire Trilogy

    1. Daughter of the Empire (1987) with Janny Wurts
    2. Servant of the Empire (1990) with Janny Wurts
    3. Mistress of the Empire (1992) with Janny Wurts

  9. Ahhh I’m sorry Ange! It was a case of mistaken identity but I can perfectly explain how it occurred:

    1. I always refer to you as Ang. With no E. And I’m self-centric so I figured that’s just how it is.

    2. Another Angela tweeted at me how she was a fan and read all the time and asked to contribute.

    So I put those two together and thought it was another Ange.

    My apologies Ms. Reid. I will now re-read all your thoughtful comments in a new light. Thanks for the clarification.

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