Anne Rice, the lovely authoress of Interview with the Vampire, often states that we are now living in the “Golden Age of Fantasy”, speaking of the wealth of TV shows, movies, and books that now embrace the other-worldly in their themes. There truly are too many to count, from the epic sexually charged Spartacus and True Blood to the kind of whiny Vampire Diaries and procedural Warehouse 13. Fantasy is all over the place these days in so many forms it’s almost become hard to tell one thing from the other. A few years ago it was, “hey, have you seen that procedural drama with the hot blond?” “Oh, Saving Grace?” “No, the other one.” “One of the Law and Orders?” “No, the other one.” “In Plain Sight? The Closer?” “No, no…”
Now, it’s “Hey have you seen that new epic Fantasy thing with all of the awesome landscape shots and hot chicks?” “Oh, Snow White and the Huntsman?” “No, the other one…”
The problem is that Hollywood has this way of destroying the essence and potential of things. Producers who are paid to make movies and shows that can preview well enough to raise bank without any real, you know, thought or emotion or substance will inevitably just produce really attractive looking crapwads that don’t really have any spirit. I love fantasy and science fiction. Not, “ooh, it’s so cool”. I love it. In the sort of creepy fanatical way that makes a grown woman have more capes and gowns in her closet than proper grown up clothes. I have over 500 books in my permanent collection, after having gotten rid of 3/4 of the books I own for this move. I adore the genre. I adore it because through the lens of the unreal you can struggle with issues that are too unpleasant to face bare-faced. Anne Rice’s Lestat can take you on an intense journey through the question of what is human, what is it to have a soul or be soulless, what is love and is love something a beast can feel? Those questions aren’t questions that most people can stomach a human being exploring. The same is true of JRR Tolkien’s epic exploration of the issues of heroism and what makes a hero. What, you think it’s a story about short people and big expensive to shoot landscapes? Ha, yeah. Oh, and what about JK Rowling’s beautiful series about the value of friendship, love, and faithfulness? Not to mention Stephanie Meyer’s bold examination of how cool it is to have a sparkly boyfriend.
Oh, wait, there it goes. The problem with most of the Fantasy and Sci-Fi being produced today is that it doesn’t hold to the traditions that make the genre so worthwhile. You can’t take modern themes and thrust them into that world with a big budget and no understanding of the spirit of the thing and expect the same success. Twilight isn’t what I consider fantasy- it’s a teen romance where there happens to be a vampire. The Vampires in that story do not hold any of the brutality or potential of the species. You want a romance with a Vampire, look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The first time she has one, her love costs him his soul and he starts killing and threatening everyone she knows and loves and nearly destroys the world. The second time she does, he nearly kills her before he realizes that he too could truly love her, goes to hell to get his soul back, and goes insane. There’s a storyline that examines the truth of love as well as it’s consequences, not a pile of fluff with some fangs thrown on to make it seem more dangerous.
And, sadly, most of the science fiction and fantasy hitting today’s market has the same fluffed up feeling to it. At first, Warehouse 13 seemed like it might live up to it’s steam punk ancestry. But, in the end, it turned out to be a procedural drama with a little kookiness thrown in to make it look like it’s forebears without any respect for it’s ancestry. Grimm is much the same way. You know how I can tell the difference between Grimm and Law and Order? There are those cool quotes at the beginning, and the makeup is different. (Okay, maybe I’m being too harsh.) Then there’s Eureka, which lost the appeal of it’s “here’s an average guy having to wrap his head around this wild scientific craziness” appeal after a few seasons- it didn’t take long for it’s characters to become caricatures and for it to become increasingly predictable and formulaic. And don’t even get me started on the movies, most of them aren’t even worth downloading illegally, nonetheless paying the ticket price.
There are, though, a few shows which pay homage to the depth of thought that makes the fanatics all fanatical. Spartacus is more than really attractive abs and gratuitous sex. It takes a look at loyalties, what makes something worth giving up your life or taking the life of another, and the value of each human soul, which is strongly pounded into the audience with each slit throat and growling glare. There’s still good old fashioned superhero romps like the Avengers to remind you that sometimes it’s about having fun, too, although they don’t let you forget that it’s also about redemption. Not a one of the characters in that film get to walk onto screen without dragging a loaded past behind them. (Well, except for Captain America, hence his reputation as a bit of a snob.) And there are more worth watching, and more worth reading as well.
But I fear for the genre, because more and more there’s little I’m even motivated to pay attention to.
So, what are your thoughts? What is there worth the time and money? Are there any geeks left at the helm, or has Hollywood made the genre it’s whore?*
*Ahem, Joss Whedon. But other than him…?