Photo: ‘The House of the Dragon’
The Fantasy Genre
You’ve probably seen or heard something about the fantasy genre in the last few years. Whether you saw a new trailer or you have a friend who’s constantly recommending you new shows, fantasy has gone from a respite for nerd culture to the most mainstream entertainment available. The GOT prequel ‘House of the Dragon’ is the most discussed show on television, coming directly on the heels of an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s long-running comic ‘The Sandman’. Before that, in the last year alone, was ‘Good Omens’ (another Gaiman series), ‘Wheel of Time’, ‘Rings of Power’, and ‘Dune’. Within the last 2 or 3, you have to include ‘His Dark Materials’, ‘The Witcher’, and even adaptations of fantasy video games like League of Legends ‘Arcane’. These haven’t been shoestring budgets either. Nearly every one of these stories is a big-budget endeavor backed by huge studio money, with ‘Rings of Power’ being the most notable for its nearly billion-dollar production cost.
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7 Fantasy Adaptations
Why is fantasy so popular now? Why would Amazon risk spending a billion dollars on a show? While the reasons for the consumer side of the genre’s popularity are too many and varied to get into, the supplier’s reasons are straightforward. One reason is that the market for it has been proven. With the enormous success of ‘Game of Thrones’, executives clearly caught onto the fact that audiences didn’t have a problem getting into the lore and complicated world-building of a show, previously thought to be niche, so long as the storylines were compelling. Of course, executives first caught wind of the genre’s potential with ‘Harry Potter’ and since then, it’s been a race to find the best source material to adapt to screen. The number of fantasy adaptations since ‘Harry Potter’ has been increasing steadily for years, becoming exponential upon the serendipity of ‘Game of Thrones’ and the number of streaming platforms willing to fund them. With high budgets and high expectations, here are 7 fantasy adaptations that have tried the genre — since the ‘Game of Thrones’ era first began — with varying degrees of success.
These dismal film adaptations only make the list out of disappointment, and to look forward to the Disney+ series in the works. The wildly popular book series got only two movies (of five books) before the trainwreck came to a halt. Author Rick Riordan was notoriously dissatisfied with his adaptations, given Disney’s overall neglect of his input, and rightly so. Instead of a straightforward adaptation, Director Chris Columbus made his cast — Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario — much older and changed the story from a coming-of-age to a muddled teen-wolf-type drama. Luckily, it looks like the new series has made a number of good casting decisions and are involving Riordan heavily, so the hit fantasy series may be getting its justice. Here’s to hoping that happens.
Evidenced by Amazon disabling comments on their billion-dollar attraction, reviews for ‘Rings of Power’ are not what they hoped. The series, while the narrative is not adapted from any specific Tolkien narrative, is adapted from source material from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ lore, an age before Frodo and Aragorn. As many predicted when it was first announced, it would be impossible to live up to its predecessor, and no doubt that’s been the case. Despite sophisticated CGI and some impressive visuals, the series ultimately lacks the Tolkien morals that made the series so good, to begin with. The writing is fine, and good at times, but the most expensive show ever made can’t help but feel like a knockoff.
‘The Sandman’ was a long-gestating project and one of Gaiman’s crown jewels of his many works. Thankfully, the long development time was not in vain, as the strange, dreamy series following Morpheus, the lord of dreams, reflects the signature Gaiman combination of creepy and surreal. The cast includes big names like Charles Dance, Gwendoline Christie, and Patton Oswalt, while Tom Sturridge does a wonderfully idiosyncratic rendition of Morfeo. This adaptation is worth watching for its atmosphere alone, and the writing coasts largely off of Gaiman’s involvement in the project, so it’s as honest to the source as it gets.
Leigh Bardugo’s underrated Grishaverse is given a much-desired amplification in this Netflix series. Mixing elements from Shadow and Bone series and her Six of Crows duology, the series follows Alina Starkov who is heralded as the “Sun Summoner” as she battles against the darkness. In a world divided by a tall shadowy wall known as the Fold, Alina and her friends are forced to enter the Fold, and the first season follows Alina’s navigation of the friends and enemies that she encounters there, as she learns to control her powers. It’s well cast, starring Ben Barnes, Jessi Mae Li, and Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, and as fantastical as it sounds. The world-building is well done and meticulous, doing the books their service. Watch out for season 2.
The HBO adaptation doesn’t stray far from Phillip Pullman’s original trilogy, and it enjoys the upsides of his insightful and compelling story. The series follows Lyra on her quest to liberate her friend and expose the dark truth of the Magisterium, the shadowy organization that runs the world. Filled with contemporary political critiques as well as magical elements, ‘His Dark Materials’ is the kind of adaptation that manages to match the ethos of the original source text. Smart, exciting, mystical, and entertaining this adaptation will keep you engaged.
One of the more buzzed-about fantasy adaptations in the last several years, ‘The Witcher’ starring Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, is based on the Polish book series by Andrzej Sapkowski. An outcast, Geralt makes a living slaying monsters of all sorts around the kingdom. Soon though, he discovers his fate is intertwined with a young princess and Yennefer of Vengerberg. An offbeat fantasy story, the hero is witty and curmudgeonly and hardly likes people. As much as it’s a story about a guy killing monsters, it’s a story about a pariah’s journey to accepting himself and the world he lives in. That being said, the monster killing makes for some classic fantasy action that never gets old.
If you’re looking for another season of ‘Game of Thrones’ don’t watch ‘House of the Dragon’. Based on the account of the Targaryen family civil war, from George RR Martin’s “historical nonfiction” book Fire and Blood, the show does not rely on novels like its predecessor. So don’t expect that singular dialogue, character development, and political insight that ‘Thrones’ had. It’s forced TV writers to do all that work. That being said, ‘HOTD’ has carved out its own voice that is not quite the caliber of ‘Thrones’ but is compelling nonetheless. Despite a questionable decision to switch actors mid-season, the show has benefited from good acting from the likes of Paddy Considine and others, as well as, you know, dragons. This adaptation is more like historical fiction, yet manages to satisfy its fantasy elements all the same.
By Patrick Lynott
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Patrick Lynott is a writer and screenwriter. He cares about Cinema. He cares about meaningful stories. And he cares about preserving and elevating things that people work long and hard on.Despite the incessant barrage of “content” vying for his (and everyone’s) attention, he believes it’s never been more important to pedestalize labors of real art across from a spectrum of voices. The Hollywood Insider is one of the few networks committed to doing this through substantive coverage of quality entertainment. The future of good Cinema and healthy culture relies on outlets and people willing to champion those values. Here’s to that future.