Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fantasy Books That Made it to the Big Screen

I've written about comic book movies, so it's the logical next step to talk about my favorite novels that have made their way onto the big screen. The last few years have been big for fantasy lovers like me. From Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, there has been a lot of choice for people like me who love to see this on the big screen. Especially since most of these movies have had, or will have many sequels... The Lord of the Rings was a huge undertaking by Peter Jackson. Based on the books by J. R. R. Tolkien, the Lord of the Rings is classic fantasy and adored by many. The risk Jackson took by making the movies was that they would fail big, especially since the first book, The Hobbit (not included in the movie trilogy) has been around since 1937. The Lord of the Rings was published in 1955, having been read by millions before Jackson's movie hit the screen. Over the years there have been many adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, none as successful as Jackson's. Changes had to be made to the original story to make it work for the big screen, though Jackson has been credited for being very faithful to the original. Filmed in New Zealand, the three movies: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King are lushly beautiful and create a mood so appropriate to the story that it is easy to get lost in the movies. I was captivated by the first movie and didn't find the 3 hour running time an issue. It was harder for me to sit that long in the later two, though I think it had more to do with the intervals between the release dates than the movies themselves. Jackson has done a great job in creating an atmosphere for the movies that make them seem otherworldly. Not an easy feat. However, I was impatient at the end waiting for Frodo to throw the ring into the lavas of Mount Doom as watching three 3 movies that all run 3 hours can be a big movie-watching task. Harry Potter is my absolute favorite fantasy series that has been made into a movie. Known more for being a children's series they have nonetheless been extremely popular among adults as well. The movie experience varies from film to film due to a change in directors. The first two were directed by Christopher Columbus, known mostly for directing Home Alone back in 1990. Columbus is a director who stays as true to the books as possible. It's never an option to put everything from a book into a movie. Peter Jackson, for example, had to cut liberally from Tolkien's books even though he had 9 hours of screen time. The amount of material available always necessitates making changes and combining elements of the story. Columbus does an admirable job of keeping as many of the major elements in place and never seems to deviate from the books. If you're a purist, then the first two movies will definitely satisfy you. The third movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, was directed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n and is less true to the exact storyline of the book. The movie is good, but takes more liberties with the story and I also believe injects more humor than we've seen up to this point. But if you've read the books faithfully, you will find yourself missing certain elements. I wasn't sure if I liked the movie when I left the theatre because I kept waiting for certain scenes that never appeared. But my husband, who had never read the book, enjoyed it more than the first two. The last movie to be released was The Goblet of fire, directed by Mike Newell. This one is the best in my opinion. I don't think this movie had a misstep from beginning to finish. The hardest thing for a director to do is to make a movie suspenseful when the audience already knows how the story is going to end. I think this is the difficulty Chris Columbus had with the first two and what Cuaron was trying to avoid in the third. Somehow Newell delivers. I don't know specifically what he did differently, but this one is the one to see if you only pick one. Despite the success of the fourth movie, there is yet another director, David Yates, is scheduled to take the helm on the fifth installment, The Order of the Phoenix. The thing these movies have going for them the most, despite the constant directorial changes, is the cast. The kids who started as Harry, Ron and Hermione are still in the character roles they created. As long as that is the case, I will probably keep watching. Unfortunately, Richard Harris, the original Dumbledore, passed away and had to be replaced by Michael Gambon. Though Gambon stepped into the role nicely, a feat that would be nearly impossible for the three lead roles. The Chronicles of Narnia is another fantasy series that made a big impression recently. C. S. Lewis wrote the first book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, upon which the first movie is based, in 1950. The series of books has often gotten a lot of controversy over what is considered Lewis' Christian allegories. There is definitely a Christ like element to the character of Aslan, the great lion. But Lewis also brings many pagan elements into the story, such as the White Witch, dwarves, fawns, satyrs and other talking animals. I don't believe you have to pay too much attention to the religious overtones if you don't want to. I enjoyed the books quite a bit as a child, and found the movie to be beautiful and involving. As a work of fantasy, it's definitely a worthy effort. The sequel, Prince Caspian is due for release in 2008. It has been good for fantasy lovers recently, and may continue for a time to come. Eragon, the novel written by a young Christopher Paolini is due for release this December. The books have been called derivative of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, but the movie may be quite good, we'll have to see. I have always loved fantasy novels and get excited every time they make it to the big screen. The movies don't always deliver as I hoped, but I'm always happy the filmmakers make the effort. From the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland to the Princess Bride, I have enjoyed seeing my favorite books brought to life. The question is, what next? Once we've run through the Harry Potter's, the Narnia's and the Eragon's, what will we have to look forward to? I'm trying to think of fantasy series' that would fit the bill, and there are a few, but I haven't heard of anything else that's expected to be turned into a movie. Have you? What are your favorites? What would you like to see? And what have I missed? Let me know, I'd love to hear what others have to say.


Paloma Negra said...

Hey. Checked out your blog again. Noticed you are from Sac area. Small world!!!

I have had my spurts of sci-fi obsession. The most intense was a show called Babylon 5. It was short lived , kind of like Firefly, and has a small cult following. Have you seen it?? I have all 5 seasons and each of the movies. I LOVED IT!!!! Super philosophical and spiritual and showed the politics of global - universal conflict (like most sci-fi) I got hooked. Not much more for me now with the basic cable but at least I have those to watch!

SQT said...

It is a small world. I live in Roseville and I was kind of surprised when I saw you were in Sac. So many times I look at profiles and people are from all over the globe. It's nice to 'talk' to someone closer to home.

You know, I haven't checked out Babylon 5. I'm not sure why, maybe it was a timing thing, or I wasn't aware of the show until it had been on for awhile. But since you recommend it, I'll definitely take a look. I'll look and see if I can rent it on DVD, then I can watch it from the beginning.

astrid said...


Having followed most of Babylon 5, I'd say BSG exceeds B5 in every way - bolder stories, better acting, more creative risk taking. I also wouldn't say B5's 5 seasons was a short run.

If you haven't yet done so, do check out Cowboy Bebop. It's an amazing anime with great dubbing. Also Wonderfalls - my boyfriend hated it but I really liked its quirkiness. Wonderfalls shared a showrunner with Firefly.

SQT said...

I watched Wonderfalls when it came out and thought it was great. I wish they had put out more. Occasionally I'll see it on TV and watch it.

I'll probably still check out B5. Though it'd be hard to catch it in order on TV, so I'll probably see if I can rent it.

astrid said...

Another similar series with a huge cult following is Farscape. I don't haven't watched it yet, but the premise is quite intriguing.

SQT said...

I haven't checked out Farscape yet either. Sounds like another one to use tvwithoutpity to catch up on.

I wish I had more time to watch all these shows. The sci-fi channel has become quite the bonanza for people like me.

Crunchy Carpets said...

watch Farscape for sure...amazing show.

B5 after the first season rocked....the production values and acting always were a bit questionable but he made up for it with a really good storyline that hooked you right in.

Worth renting.
Farscape is the better one though...oh man I loved that show.

SQT said...

Farscape is the better one though...oh man I loved that show.

Thanks for the recommendation, I definitely will. I'm not even sure why I didn't watch it in the first place. I'm wondering if I didn't have the sci-fi channel when it started because it isn't like me to not catch the start of these shows. But I'll make up for lost time for sure.