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Last year before the release of The Hobbit: The Desolution of Smaug we at Entertainment Fuse looked at the fantasy genre before the release The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The Hobbit Trilogy is coming to end with “The Battle of the Five Armies” and most possibly the end to adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, so now is the time to look at the impact The Lord of the Rings Trilogy left on the movie fantasy genre.
The Lord of the Rings‘ journey to the silver screen was long and arduous with proposals starting back in the late 50s. Ideas included The Beatles starring in a version directed by Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman having a stab, leading to him making Excalibur before Peter Jackson and his screenwriting team were allowed to have a crack. The original idea was to make two movies based on the books before the project moved to New Line Cinemas, allowing the adaptation to become a trilogy.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was a massive risk for New Line, costing at least $281 million with all three movies being shot simultaneously and having a director making his first big picture. The gamble paid off, with the movies making $2.9 Billion worldwide and winning 17 Academy Awards. The Lord of the Rings raised the standard for the fantasy genre and provides a focus for other fantasy movies to aspire to.
A contemporary to The Lord of the Rings was the Harry Potter series from Warner Brothers. Though Harry Potter was aimed at more of a family audience there was plenty of overlap for fans of the fantasy genre. As Harry Potter continued the movies became darker, appealing more to a slightly older audience and when The Lord of the Rings Trilogy ended Harry Potter became a go-to series for fantasy fans. With the success of both franchises other studios looked to fantasy properties they could adapt and have their success.
C.S. Lewis was a contemporary and friend of Tolkien’s: both were literary academics at Oxford and Cambridge and successful fantasy novelists, Lewis’ being The Chronicles of Narnia. The Chronicles of Narnia is a beloved series and, with the success of The Lord of the Rings, Disney came knocking, seeing seven books could make seven money making movies. The series started strongly with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, making $745 million from a $180 million outlay and earned a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as the movie aimed to follow in The Lord of the Rings‘ footsteps. But the series suffered from diminishing returns, the budget for Prince Caspian being $225 Million while its earned $419.7 Million: the movie only earned $141 million in the United States and Canada. Fox took over the franchise for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader but the domestic return was even worst, making $104 million: though the international gross was $415.6 million and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 49%. The series’ future is in limbo, but it is still one of the stronger post-Lord of the Rings fantasy franchises.
Fox’s attempt at the epic fantasy genre was with Eragon, an adaptation of the first novel in the Inheritance Cycle. The Inheritance Cycle was written by Christopher Paolini who was 15-years-old when he wrote Eragon and fortunate enough to have parents who owned published firm. It needs to be restated -the novel was written by a 15-year-old! The books themselves have received a mixed reaction at best and the film adaptation Eragon had an atrocious critical reaction, getting a pitiful 16% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.1 on IMDB with the movie being compared unfavorably to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. The movie only made $249 Million and the series died with it. Eragon was Stefen Fangmeier’s only movie as a director and after this failure he returned to visual effects.
New Line Cinema’s had a second attempt at making a fantasy franchise with Phillip Pullman’s critically acclaimed His Dark Materials Trilogy, starting with the first novel The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK). The movie had an established cast featuring the likes of Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman and Eva Green. But there was controversy because of Pullman’s open atheist views, using his novels to criticize organized religion, leading to religious groups calling for a boycott. The producers attempted to appease these groups, groups that would never be interested in seeing the movie, by toning down these themes and darker elements which upset the fans of the books – so pleasing no one. The Golden Compass was a box office and critical disappointment and the sequels were never made. As a fan of the books, I hope a proper adaptation will be made in the future. A quick note, there are plenty of people of faith who enjoy the novels as a story.
Even Uwe Boll has had a go at making an epic fantasy, adapting the Dungeon Siege games with In the Name of the King. It was one of Boll’s bigger movies, having a $60 Million budget and having a big name, if eclectic cast, including the likes of Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta and Burt Reynolds. As you would expect from an Uwe Boll movie it has atrocious ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB ratings.
But not all post Lord of the Rings fantasy movies in 2006 and 2007 were disappointments, Matthew Vaughn pleasingly adapted Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Stardust was a fun swashbuckling adventure set in the Kingdom of Stormhold, a world filled with living stars, witches, ghosts and flying pirates. It was a fun fantasy adventure with multiple storylines that perfectly blended together in the end. While it was a box office disappointment, it earned a deserved cult classic when it came out on DVD.
In recent years some famous fairytales have received big movie adaptations, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer and Oz: The Great and Powerful. Three of the movies were helmed by big name directors and the writer, director and producer of Snow White and the Huntsman were very vocal about Lord of the Rings being an influence, coping its tone, art-direction and cinematography. But all these projects were met with mix critical reception.
As well as movies fantasy has been gaining a presence on television and in computer games. Game of Thrones has been a big hit for HBO, a violent, character driven series that has a realistic political environment in a rich medieval world filled with various cultures and military orders. Fantasy elements like dragons, wolf-beasts, giants and armies of the living dead. There have been many games set in fantasy worlds, from online games like World of Warcraft to action-RPGs like Dragon Age and Skyrim since the release of Lord of the Rings.
The Hobbit trilogy was a highly anticipated project since the completion of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: but it was a project that suffered through development problems. There were rights issues for The Hobbit, MGM owned the rights and it was delayed when the studio went through bankruptcy. Guillermo del Toro was originally set to direct but after a long development time due to the financial troubles Peter Jackson had to take over. Before filming there was doubt that The Hobbit was nearly not filmed in New Zealand, with protests happening in the nation forcing reforms to help the production stay there. The filming was troubled with actor Robert Kazinsky leaving in the early stages of filming and had to be replaced and there were allegations of animal abuse. The Hobbit trilogy has generally been well received by critics and the first two movies have made nearly $2 Billion, but it has not received the near universal love that The Lord of the Rings Trilogy generated.
It is doubtful we will get see more of Middle-Earth because the Tolkien Estate have kept the rights of Tolkien’s remaining works, The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tale and The Children of Húrin thus it is unlikely to let them be attempted. But if you are a fantasy fan there are plenty of movies coming out for you: The Seventh Son is coming out early in 2015 and 2016 will see the release of Duncan Jones’ adaptation of Warcraft and Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur” movie. Harry Potter director David Yates is set to return to the series with the prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and one of the biggest fantasy franchise is coming back next year: Star Wars.