by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Film”

Lessons I Have Learned From Watching Fantasy Films

Posted 15 February 2009 in by Catriona

1. It is by no means difficult to pick up—in a relatively short period of time, usually only days or even hours—sufficient skills with a sword to disarm, seriously maim, or perhaps even kill an enemy who has had lifelong training in swordsmanship.

Clearly, Inigo Montoya and Westley were rather slow learners.

2. Walking in a fantasy world is not tiring at all. This is almost certainly due to the rarified atmosphere in a pre-industrial world.

3. The more unconvincing the enemy looks, the harder it will be to kill. This is particularly true when the enemy is actually a puppet.

4. Dragons are a bit rubbish, really, aren’t they? I mean, they can breathe fire, own great wealth, usually demonstrate strong magic, often possess some sort of ill-defined wisdom that has passed, over the eons, beyond the ken of man—but when do you really see a dragon using these powers to thoroughly subjugate a kingdom?

Okay, yes: there was Reign of Fire.

But apart from that? Really, dragons should be firmly and metaphorically crushing entire populations beneath their scaly claws, and they just don’t. Rubbish, really.

5. Surely most fantasy kingdoms must suffer from an unusually high rate of osteoporosis. I assume this because of the relative dearth of cows. Sure, when you pass a humble farmstead, there’s bound to be one or maybe two cows outside. Sometimes goats. Enough to provide for the milk and cheese needs of a single family, especially given the relative size of agrarian families in a pre-industrial world.

But where, when the hero is tramping across acres of what look to me like prime dairy land, are the herds of cows required to provide milk to the urban centres?

Why, in short, are fantasy films so lacking in cows?

6. Most places in a fantasy world that are likely to hasten your demise—to make your death more untimely, as it were, than it might otherwise have been—tend to wear their heart on their sleeve. They’re usually called something like “The Caverns of Doom” or “The Fire Swamp.”

This should make them easier to avoid, really.

7. Weapons in a fantasy world seem to operate counter to the nature of their own materials. People never seem to clean their swords before resheathing them, despite the damage this would cause to the blade and to the scabbard. And, for that matter, why don’t swords have blood grooves? Vast amounts of blood would be running down over the wielder’s hand, causing them to drop the sword constantly. And, for that matter, why isn’t there more blood in a fantasy sword fight? And how do you keep your sword sharp when hardly any hero seems to own a whetstone or, if they do own one, to use it, despite spending all day hacking off bits of their enemies, even down to the bone, which must surely blunt the edge of even the sharpest sword?

Of course, these questions don’t apply if you have a named sword: everyone knows that named swords operate under their own laws, even when those laws contravene the laws of physics themselves.

8. Every fantasy kingdom is, well, a kingdom, isn’t it? Oh, I don’t mean that there aren’t any queens, because there are. Sometimes there are even evil Regents.

But where are the oligarchies? The ruling priesthoods? The democratically elected governments? I know they exist in the books, but where are they on film? What, in short, is so great about kings?

9. I’m not even going to cover question about bathes and personal grooming, since the always fabulous Diana Wynne Jones has already covered those.

10. I’m not sure about this, but I have a feeling that girls, like dragons, are a bit rubbish, too. This goes against much that I’ve learnt from sources other than fantasy films, but it does seem that, in the fantasy world on-screen, girls tend to be more trouble than they’re worth, always getting kidnapped and screaming, falling over and breaking their ankles, or just plain getting into trouble.

And they’re so lippy, and there’s nothing worse than a lippy woman. Apparently.

Of course, I’m excluding the dead wife from Hawk the Slayer from this category. You know, the one who has a concealed blade in her over-sized crucifix? She turned out to be the most interesting part of that film.

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