Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Wishlist for a Fantasy/D&D Movie

I was accused of having spent the last 10 years under a rock yesterday when I texted a friend with the discovery that there is a reboot of Willow in the works. Willow, of all things. I am against 'reboots' and remakes as a matter of principle, but even if I wasn't, I still don't think I could quite get my head around what it is about Willow that would justify such treatment in its case. When was the last time you even remembered Willow existed, let alone watched it?

The barrel is clearly now being scraped - the 70s, 80s and 90s having been plundered so thoroughly by the reboot machine that 'creatives' (I use the term loosely) are now being forced to do the cinematic equivalent of raiding the back of the kitchen cupboard for old cans of kidney beans and spam in order to rustle up a meal. When Willow is on the menu, you know that it's been a long while since dad brought home any bacon. I genuinely don't know what could be next - The Ice Pirates?

My friend asked me whether there is a film or franchise from my youth that I would like to see updated. My answer is 'no', but his question did spur me to ask myself what I would like to see in a new fantasy film. If I had my druthers, what kind of film would people be making?

  • Well, it perhaps goes without saying, but while I will tolerate films that are based on books, I really prefer it if people actually - bear with me, I know this is a radical concept - come up with new characters, stories and settings when they make films. I know, mind=blown, right?
  • I really dislike that species of modern special effects which I term CGI Roger Rabbit, where you have real actors running around in front of a green screen and computer generated monsters roar at them and chase them. (I also have a general thing against monsters which roar at people and chase them. I now remind myself of Kevin Smith's description of Scott Mosier as a film critic: 'Listen, this motherfucker doesn't like anything.') I much, much, much prefer good animation, or skilful use of puppets/mechanics (like the tyrannosaur scene in Jurassic Park) in order to show fantastical/impossible things on screen. My ideal fantasy film would be a hand-drawn animation. (I also hate Pixar films.)
  • I like the mood of Miyazaki's film-making but (whisper it) often his plots leave a lot to be desired. Capturing the feeling of watching a Miyazaki film but in a different style of animation and with a good story would be perfect, thanks. 
  • Guillermo del Torro would be nice as director - it's a tragedy he was shunted off The Hobbit, as with him in charge it had a fighting chance of being good, or at least interesting - or, naturally, Inarritu. Inarritu's The Revenant is actually another good touchstone (CGI bear notwithstanding) for the kind of thing I think a fantasy filmmaker should aspire to. 
  • I am also a fan of filmmakers (well, okay, Mel Gibson is the only one I can think of) who will have a stab at having the cast speak in unfamiliar languages with subtitles rather than have people from a very distant and strange culture sound like they're from California, or the English home counties if they're a villain. Creating a new fantasy/alien language for a film and having the cast speak primarily in it is the pinnacle of aspiration here. 
  • Actually, I thought of another director who has done this - James Cameron. And Avatar is another touchstone, come to think of it. It is painfully flawed in so many ways, but you have to give him credit both for the spectacle and for having the ambition to create a genuinely new thing. If Avatar hadn't been so very cliched and had been hand-drawn but on the same scale, it would be remembered as one of the greatest films of all time - by me, at any rate. 
  • A film should ideally have a consistent mood, and one of the things that I most strongly dislike about modern blockbuster film-making is the tendency to endlessly slip between over-the-top melodrama and sledgehammer style 'comic relief' moments and back again without ever finding equilibrium. The Peter Jackson LOTR and Hobbit films were all like this - the death of the goblin king in the first Hobbit film being the classic example. I don't expect the tone to be relentlessly similar throughout, but lurching between registers is a no-no.
  • Fight scenes - I hate anything that is obviously choreographed. My favourite fight scenes in films are David Cronenberg's chaotic ultra-violence (Eastern Promises; A History of Violence), the hyperrealism of McQuarrie's The Way of the Gun, and the down-and-dirty 'real' realism of, say, the final shootout in David Mamet's Heist
If anyone can put all these elements together into a cauldron and serve it up it would be a hearty meal indeed - nothing like the scraps they are forcing you to eat with this Willow bollocks. That said, it would probably only be me in the cinema watching it, so the moviemakers of this world would be wise not to heed even a word of my advice. 


  1. Disclaimer - I am a Marvel fanboi, so all my opinions can be safely disregarded.

    I've ignored almost all modern fantasy and TV, but Willow holds a very special place in my heart. It's also far more D&D almost any other fantasy movie I can think of. The series could be trash, but I will defo be trying it.

    More generally, I don't mind adaptations or remakes in principle. If good thing is good, that's all that matters. In practice, however, almost all are somewhere between unnecessary and terrible.

    In theory, the benefit of adapting or remake something existing is that you are starting from a stronger position; a compelling protagonist, plot, defined mood and themes etc. IMO, that makes the terribleness of most adaptations and remakes all the more frustrating.

    To your fantasy film wishlist, I'd add: A sense of deep time and/or space. One thing moving pictures can do well is show accelerated time passing, or depict worlds, vistas, maps. Yes, this can be hackneyed, but Miyazaki does it well in e.g. Castle in the Sky, and I think the opening sequence of Game of Thrones is a really effective bit of worldbuilding. The quantum sequence of the original Ant-Man was remarkable (and stronger for the tonal shift).

  2. I rewatched Willow the other day, also without knowing there was a reboot in the works. Still the 2nd best fantasy film, 2nd to Arnold's Conan and yes, including all the LOTR's. Still one of the most D&D films ever made.

  3. Willow is actually a series, a sequel, coming out on Disney plus in the near future. But I take your point. Never been the greatest fan of reboots.

  4. Discarding the Hero's Journey would be the first step, but this is something the modern film industry is incapable of, especially in the fantasy domain.

    You don't get good material out of creative bankruptcy.

    1. fuck the hero's journey, joseph campbell was a hack who cherry-picked bits from across mythology to invent a shitty totalizing colonialist framework.

  5. My problem with remakes is this: If a movie is good or great, it was done right the first time and doesn't need remade. If a movie is terrible, a remake probably won't help (unless it's a "remake in name only", but then why bother?). That leaves a very, very narrow class of films that were okay, but could be better if remade. It does happen; the Bogart classic THE MALTESE FALCON was actually the third version of that movie. But it's almost as rare as winning the lottery.

  6. I rewatched Willow within the last year (with my kids who'd never seen it), also not knowing there was a reboot in the works. They still haven't seen the most recent Hobbit films.

    Also: kind of love the girl in Reservation Dogs being named "Elora Danan" after the baby in Willow. Yeah, Willow's fine fantasy fare, man. Back when Kilmer was less crazy. (*sigh* *nostalgia*)

    Reboots that haven't yet been done? Um...how about Krull? So many excellent ideas/concepts in that film begging to be explored in a long-form series. Have they redone Buck Rogers yet? The original was a fairly dark, post-apocalyptic nightmare. How about Logan's Run? I know it *had* a series back in the late 70s (I barely remember watching as a wee lad).

    Yeah, post-apocalyptic fantasy: not enough of that. Ark 2, Damnation Alley, that kind of thing. Scare some people into taking climate change seriously. Jeez...you think putting horrific images in the collective psyche did nothing to slow the nuclear arms race?

  7. "What's Willow?" asks man who has clearly spent 35 years under a rock. (Actually... it does begin to ring a bell, so perhaps I fall into the group that "don't even remember Willow existed")

    I'm with you on all of the above points, but more so (I really don't like *anything*) At least... not anything made in the last 10 years or so. Seems that the temptation to use shit CGI is just too overwhelming for directors to resist, and I can't stand how polished everything looks. Probably just old man grumpiness, but I can happily watch movies from the 80s & 90s, but modern stuff leaves me so cold.

    I would, theoretically, love to see a reboot of the Conan movies, except that I know that for the above reasons I would hate it. Ditto Elric of Melnibone, which I remember being passed from director to director about 20 years ago without ever getting made (I imagine it'll only happen now once Moorcock dies).

  8. Michael Cain once said "don't remake the good movies, remake the ones that had potential but didn't live up to it because of budget or timing or whatever". I agree with this attitude.

    Remake Sword & Sorcerer and Hawk the Slayer, not ones that were perfectly well made back in the day.

  9. You would have some company in that cinema--your priorities for these type of films and mine are quite congruent. My hope is that as time goes on and the costs of producing and distributing film continue to fall we will continue to have an ever-widening range of film available to us. Hopefully there will soon come a time when there will be enough makers of our kind of film able to reach us, when what mega-budget Hollywood does will be as relevant to our ability to find satisfaction as we are currently relevant to mega-budget Hollywood.

  10. You would have some company in that cinema--your priorities for these type of films and mine are quite congruent. My hope is that as time goes on and the costs of producing and distributing film continue to fall we will continue to have an ever-widening range of film available to us. Hopefully there will soon come a time when there will be enough makers of our kind of film able to reach us, when what mega-budget Hollywood does will be as relevant to our ability to find satisfaction as we are currently relevant to mega-budget Hollywood.

  11. Yes, very radical. Almost Communistic. ;PP
    I'd like to point out a couple of moments:
    1. Miyazaki was a very intelligent, well-educated man. Even his mistakes are very interesting. On the other hand, the mood in his works... let's just say it doesn't resonate with me at all. And, of course, our "creatives" always try to copy that mood. %((
    2. While mood swings as they are done in MBBFM (you are welcome to being pointed as the author of the term ;) ) are quite silly, the single consistent mood as proposed by French neoclassicists at the 18th century is not the be-all-end-all of things. There are many Chinese movies which experiment with genre switches, and there were Japanese ones while Japanese cinema was still alive... ;)

  12. We'll know the well is finally dry when someone does Every Which Way But Loose with a CGI orangutan.

  13. The Willow series is not a remake of a reboot its a sequel that's been in the works (at least in novel form) since the original movie. The planning of a movie sequel has been going on for like 20 years.

  14. Impossible without Madmartigan.