Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Is Fantasy That Hard ?

A strange question, maybe, but bear with me. It just popped inside my baked brain while I was watching an episode of Stargate Atlantis.

There are quite a few science-fiction shows out there, ranging from awful to good, very good and even fantastic and enthralling. The various incarnations of Star Trek are of course the most famous of the lot, but there are other, very, very good TV series doing justice to the genre. Farscape, Taken, Odyssey 5, The 4400, and Babylon 5—the greatest title of SF and fiction I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch on TV.

When you think about it, there has always been a wealth of SF shows out there, and for a very long time. Dating back to the Star Trek, The Original Series and Battle Ship Galactica or even Lost in Space (although I wouldn’t call that good…but then you need also titles to fill the “awful” category ^^;;; ), you’ll find them if you just look around the corner. They’re all there, some have lulled or rocked our teenage years or our childhood. Some have entranced our hours of leisure on evenings after hard days of work. In a way, they’re part of the landscape, and you really can find the very best pieces of writing, of acting and directing in there.

Inspired scenarios, fantastic characters, detailed universes, coherent stories that span five seasons (this is a shameless B5 plug), SF TV series have it all—well, not all of them, but you can find it.

Now, when I turn my attention on fantasy shows—heroic fantasy TV series, I come out empty-handed. Well, you have shows like Buffy or Angel, but to me they belong to the urban fantasy genre, trendy modern vampire thingies. Oh, don’t mistake me, I love those two shows, I’ve enjoyed them to death and I believe they’re superb bits of story-telling and character-building, but I don’t think they’re true fantasy. Even a small jewel like Carnivale isn’t what I call Fantasy.

So, what’s out there that could qualify? Well, I guess you could consider shows like Hercules, Dar or Xena, although to me they’re more like the twisting and (ab)using of Greek mythology. That’s not to say dialogues in there aren’t witty, or funny, or that characters are uninteresting or uninspiring, not at all. Those shows can be very much enjoyable, be relaxing, but they’re not fantasy to me, not really. Or rather, it’s second degree parodic fantasy, not serious, honest-to-god fantasy.

With that in mind, I still can’t put my finger on any real TV series that’s truly rooted in the fantasy genre. And I can’t help wondering why. Is it the settings? The costumes? I’d think not. The themes? No way, SF has enough disturbing themes to play with, I don’t see why fantasy couldn’t dabble with its darker aspects as well. What, then? Coherent universes? Strong stories? The fantasy genre does have that aplenty. But what have TV producers done with it? They have mangled and completely botched a mini on Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. Completely betrayed the author’s work. I have yet to understand why.

Why don’t TV producers use the fantastic resources at hand? Why not turn to the stories of Robin Hobb, Tad Williams or even, for the lighter aspects, David Eddings? Do the authors refuse to sell the rights to adapt their works in TV series? Are those universes too coherent, to solid and well built for the producers? Can’t they make the bet that they can gather a crowd of intelligent viewers able and willing to follow a plot-driven show during multiple seasons? It would seem to me that Babylon 5 has proved that there is an audience for such shows.

And just for your information, dear Hollywood producers, check out the fantastic profits Japanese animes make, whose main characteristics for highly popular shows like Bleach are to be both plot and character-driven and to last for quite a few seasons with an ever growing fandom.

No matter how I try, I don’t understand the producers’ timidity in the area of fantasy. Could it be that some people have decided that it wasn’t mainstream enough? Please, check the ratings of The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies if that’s what’s stopping you. Truly, I’d like to know why nobody in Hollywood is seriously going for the fantasy genre—except to tackle parodic fantasy.

Dear producers, dear publishers, please don’t forget: the public’s tastes aren’t always restricted to what you dictate it is or should be. Trust me, people can be full of surprises. People can like deep, intricate and plot-driven shows whose stories span several seasons. Oh yes, they can.

Babylon 5 has proved that, more than once.

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