With the première for The Battle of The Five Armies this week, many sites reported on comments made by Jackson about legal issues could keep him away from the rest of Tolkien's Middle-Earth tales. While it's still sad to see these sagas end, his departure might mean good things for Epic Fantasy at the Box Office.
Now, this isn't a redressed whinge about The Hobbit trilogy - even as someone who adored the Lord of the Rings films and enjoyed the first two Hobbit films despite their flaws in comparison though, I couldn't help but feel a little relieved when Jackson made the comments that the rights to The Silmarillion and other Middle-Earth works were tightly wrapped up in the Tolkien estate (who've spent a very long time getting all pent up over the movies anyway, so it's unlikely to see them relinquish them for a long time). It's not that I wouldn't take more Middle-Earth on film, but it's largely because I think that the dominance of it on screen has sort of lead to other studios having an aversion to epic fantasy - and that now the sun is setting on Bilbo and friends on the box office, that dominance will have gone, and studios might try to approach the genre again. Well, until we get the inevitable Lord of the Rings Reboot Rings - The Lordening in 2025 that is.
As I noted last month, traditional fantasy has declined at the box office after the explosion of popularity for the setting grew out of the Lord of the Ring's trilogy's vast success - part of that is because it was too much too soon (and also because very little of it was as good as Lord of the Rings, so audiences weren't so receptive), and it's partially because Fantasy's wider scope has meant it's changed and evolved, and we're getting different permutations of it now, like the Superhero genre - the modern day childhood fairytale is just fantasy in another guise. And as many commenters chimed in on that previous post, fantasy's resurgence has persevered on TV thanks to the likes of Game of Thrones or the BBC's Merlin (and its successor, Atlantis - sure, not traditional medieval fantasy but one surrounding different mythologies). But the spectre of Jackson and Warner Bros.' Middle-Earth movies has quelled other attempts to bring a similar sort of High Fantasy to cinemas. Even if the Hobbit trilogy hasn't had as solid a reception as the Lord of the Rings movies, it's extended that dominance, and no one has really tried to go up against it. And that's a damn shame because Fantasy of all ilks can make for wonderful tales, for wonderful movies, and it's about high time we started seeing more of them.
Fantasy has come to mean so many things as the genre has evolved - urban fantasy, permutations of its themes like the superhero genre, low fantasy like Game of Thrones, and so much more - but there's still a place for it at the box office, especially traditional fantasy. The sort of epic storytelling you can get from settings like it can be rarely rivalled by other genres, and above all, I think Fantasy is a genre that unites people in a way that others rarely can. High Fantasy is the stuff of our childhoods - magic and elves and castles and all that, it's the fairy tales and fiction of our youths, almost the stepping stone into all the other genres we would go on to dip into as we aged. They're tales we remember, and a common ground for so many people. Why not have more things like that on the big screen these days? It might have gone away for a while, but I think the time is right - especially without the chance of much cinematic Middle-Earth in the near future to draw all the comparisons - for that sort of storytelling to get its chance again. Something to fill the void left behind by Peter Jackson and co., to fill the void of traditional fantasy on the big screen in general.
There is some hope that this might be happening - there's Warcraft coming in a few years, Dragonriders of Pern is finally on the way to getting somewhere with a movie adaptation (fingers crossed), even Game of Thrones is contemplating ending with a trip to the Cinema. And there's fanbases crying out to see fantasy fiction get its chance at the box office again - take a look at our own Katherine Trendacosta's recent stirring argument for the works of Tamora Pierce to get movie adaptations. It might have stepped out of the limelight over the past few years, but it feels like it's time for traditional fantasy to make its comeback - and we could be seeing the first signs of it.
So thank you Mr. Jackson, for your wonderful Middle-Earth adventures. But hopefully now that they're out of the way, other people will take chances on other fantasy worlds, and the genre as we know it on film can step out of Tolkien's shadow and give us something new.
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