Thoughtful Thursday: From here to the cinema

So this week is about fantasy nirvana for movie goers. Between the new Twilight movie, the new trailer for the final installments in the Harry Potter series (it had better open with Dumbledore’s funeral or I’m going to be mad), and the just leaked trailer for a new Lord of the Rings movie, we’ve got all the bases covered.  It’s been interesting watching the hype surrounding both the Twilight and Harry Potter movies build at the same time.  NPR did a story on Twihards camping out for a week just to see the stars at the premiere, not actually watch the movie itself.  Other Potterites are buying tickets to Eclipse just to watch the Harry Potter trailer.  And I’m greeted by this gem of a Facebook status from my niece today:

The Department of Magical Affairs is investigating claims of sparkling vampires and shapeshifting wolves nearly starting a war in Italy. This is a matter of Magical Security. Do not be alarmed, we have the situation under control. Thank you, and please contact your local auror if assistance is needed.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSo, with Eclipse being the penultimate Twilight movie, and Harry Potter down to two movies as well, fantasy fanatics need a new movie phenomenon to justify elaborate costumes, camping out for a midnight showing, or naming your children. And that is where I see problems for fantasy fans. We have yet to see a new book craze hit, as far as I can tell.  We went from Cedric to Cullen and I don’t see the next big thing on the horizon.  Are any of you out there seeing signs of an emerging literary juggernaut?

The other question that I’ve been thinking about this week is why hit fantasy books turn into hit fantasy movies, but rarely the other way around. The Lord of the Rings, Twilight and Harry Potter movie crazes started with books, but rarely are people writing fantasy movies as original screenplays, rather than as adaptions.  Obviously there is an audience for fantasy movies, so why is that demand so rarely being satisfied with original content? The top grossing movie of the year for the last ten years has been either a fantasy, science fiction or comic book movie.  Other than Avatar, each of them was based on a book.  (I’m claiming Shrek II is based on a book, since it is basically riffing on every fairy tale ever told.)

Why then, with fantasy readers being willing to plunk down cash for good stories either on the page or on the screen, is so little good original fantasy storytelling being written for the cinema?

So, dear readers, weigh in on either question.  What’s the next big literary craze? or Why are there so few original fantasy movies? and we’ll enter youfantasy and science fiction book reviews in a drawing to win a brand new paperback copy of The Strain, co-written by Guillermo del Toro, the Academy Award winning director of Pan’s Labyrinth, one of the most original fantasy movies to come out in a decade, and Hammet award winning author Chuck Hogan.  We have five copies to give away, so many can win.  We can only ship these to the United States, though, so if you’re in the UK, we’ll let you pick a book off our UK stacks.  Additionally, to celebrate the New York Times bestseller, HarperCollins teamed up with Fandango for a great giveaway – a trip for two to LA to meet Guillermo del Toro.  For more information and to enter, go here.

And don’t forget to go here to fill out the address form for receiving your book if you win.  We promise we’ll never sale, trade, or in any way share your information with anyone else.  We’ll just use it to send you free books!


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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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27 comments

  1. I think the reason that we don’t see many original fantasy stories being made into movies is that movie making is a business. Studios don’t want to take a chance on the unknown. It’s safer to make a movie based on a book that already has a following – you have a built in audience.
    I’m suprised no one has picked up the Vampire Academy series for a movie yet.

  2. Anonymous /

    I think that is at least part of the answer. But book publishing is a business as well. True, that explains the rash of clones every time a series hits it big – seriously, how many more variations on a vampire can possibly exist – but someone had to give Rowling or Meyers a chance in the first place.

  3. Your niece is awesome!

    If there’s a next big thing brewing at the moment, I think it’s the Hunger Games books. I would so see a movie based on that, and I think it would translate well.

    As for the second, I suspect it’s because most fantasy writers–who tend to have started out as fantasy fans–are in love with books and want to write them. I know my brain tends to default to “I want to write a book” rather than”I want to write a screenplay.” I do wish there were more del Toros, though. I adored Pan’s Labyrinth

  4. I believe special effects are a factor. Until the last 10-15 years, the technology needed to bring great fantasy/sci-fi/comics books to life just wasn’t there. The few exceptions involved so much more time and work that it was too expensive. (Even taking inflation into account, back-in-the-day, No body ever dreamed of spending the kind of money to make a movie they spent now.)When I was a kid the best they could do for LotR was a cartoon and even that cut-out 80% of the books.
    The other thing is Sci-fi/fantasy in general is so much more popular then it used to be. What I recall of what would be called YA in my day, would amount to Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Little House on the Prairie. Tom Swift was Sci-fi I guess, but I never read any of these books. The only thing close to what’s out there now and readily available to kids was mostly comic-books, and even then, you were limited to what was on the rack at the local grocery store.
    So I think movies and fantasy books are getting there but, as far as popular culture, it’s a relatively new phenomenon or maybe a renaissance of sorts.

  5. I think you have a good point, Greg. It’s only recently that CGI has made it affordable to do the “big special effects and a cast of thousands” things that feature in many fantasies, without making the effects unintentionally funny instead of magical.

  6. All of these points are really good!
    To back up Greg’s second point in particular: try going into a middle school or high school library these days and look at the books standing up on display on top of the shelves. They are nearly all YA fantasy novels. I was in one recently and I was startled to realize that because I construct the FanLit author pages I was familiar with all of the books on display! And because of reviews by those who read YA books around here, I knew which ones to recommend! :eyebrows:

  7. Yeah, I keep wishing I’d been a YA now instead of when I actually was. I might have become a fantasy fan much sooner. The YA shelves at the time were full of Sweet Valley High on one end of the spectrum and depressing books about diseases-of-the-week on the other. Rowling, and later Meyer (have to admit this even though I don’t really dig her work), really shook things up.

  8. Minitaurs are the future of SFF. the Onion told me so.

  9. I keep hearing this about Minotaurs. *g* Funny thing is, I would so read a book about an angsty teen minotaur. Maybe I should write it!

  10. I like minotaurs way better than vampires and werewolves. Bring ’em on!

  11. I would love for there to be Dresden films, but alas I don’t think it will happen. I think we’re ripe for a scifi series to take off.

    As for the original fasntasy movies? It’s exactly what Sandy said, business.

  12. I agree that Hollywood generally seems to be risk-averse. They like the known quantity. Just look at the number of movies coming out that are essentially remakes of films from thirty, forty, and fifty years ago.

    Beyond that, though, creating a new world is a major undertaking. It takes real commitment to a vision of that world, and it’s a challenge to write that in the spare environment of a screenplay. A lot of that vision has to come from the director, and unless the director is creating the world, the writer has to somehow hand over that vision.

    It’s clear how a strong graphic novel can give a vision of a new world–just look at a panel-by-panel comparison of 300 with the movie. But books, also, with their more detailed descriptions and masses of text (at least in comparison to a screenplay) are excellent tools for world building that demand less from a director.

    Occasionally you get a director with strong vision and good writing skills, such as Brad Bird with his incredible movie (with a name I won’t redundantly mention). But more often you get movies like Avatar with amazing visual direction and world building, but with weak writing. (I’m sorry–Unobtanium?)

    The combination of both strong writing and strong visual direction is rare. When you have a good book to base your movie from, half the battle is already won.

  13. @Kat: Well, every Monday I have “writer’s group” with a good friend, and every week we spend the whole time kvetching about not writing instead. I think the “angsty Minotaur” idea is cracktastic enough to break me out of my block. I’m going to give it a shot! :drink: (I’ve done some of my best work with my wackiest ideas. I think it’s the less-self-censorship thing.)

  14. @Andrew: I do have plenty of gripes about Avatar, but I suspect unobtainium was a geek in-joke. Proof that J.Cam reads TV Tropes? ;)

  15. Well you know back in the 80’s there was a string of B-flick Sword & Sorcery movies that for most part were first movies and later the book adaptations came-out. The one exception to vice-versa was movie adaptations of Conan.
    Unfortunately most of them were really bad. A few I liked when I saw them as a kid, like Beast-Master, Sword and the Sorcerer, and, Krull, but not so easy to watch now. Others I thought were horrible even as kid, like Ator.

    This also brings to mind, The Highlander. I’m pretty sure that was a movie a long time before the book ever came out. And that movie was awesome, one of my all-time favorites, but then they screwed-it up with all the sequels and TV series, -which if they’d have stayed true to the original, would not have worked.

  16. @Andrew and Kelly: The unobtanium thing was a geek joke that Cameron talks about in a few of his interviews (I think it was Time Magazine).

    Sandy nailed in on the head with the risk that studios don’t want.

    As for book into movies I saw Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon (and a few others) but I have to say that HtTYD was my favourite and it was based off a kids book!

    And Ruth, how dare you make me freak out about a new LotR (did you know that they are planning on re-releasing the movies in 3D and that they are starting filming of The Hobbit at the end of the year?) and only give me THAT! Inconceivable!

    As far as the next book into movie… I have no idea. I haven’t been reading anything recently that would make it on the list.

    Thanks for the quote btw. :D

  17. I think I would bet on Kelly’s prediction of Hunger Games being the next books to get cinemutated. I know that my library has about 30 copies of both books and they are always all checked out and wait-listed.

  18. @Ruth: Yeah, and they have Team Peeta vs. Team Gale wars too. I’m weird–I don’t actually have a preference between the guys. I have a prediction of how I think it will go, but I couldn’t care less; I just want to see Katniss overthrow the government in as badass a way as possible. :thumb:

    @Rebekah: HTTYD was amazing! I was so pleasantly surprised by it.

  19. I could see minotaurs being the next big thing. A type of reversion back to the beauty and the beast type of story. I read one series – and know of another – which features gargoyles which might be interesting. I would bet on Hunger Games being the next big movie though.

  20. The main reason we don’t see more original fantasy/sci-fi movies being made is because of marketing. Why would Hollywood studios fork over millions of dollars in marketing to try and convince people to watch something they don’t know about, when they can get the rights to a comic book, book series or video game property that already has millions of fans? In short, Hollywood has become lazy. Personally, I think this is sad. While it’s cool to see my favorite comic book characters, books or video games adapted for the big screen, I would rather see original content and I think a lot of people feel the same way. Take Avatar for example. Of course, that movie was more of an exception because of James Cameron and the new 3D technology, but if George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, or Peter Jackson decided to film an original sci-fi/fantasy film, I think it would be pretty successful…

    As for the next big craze? Urban fantasy is still going strong and I think it’s just a matter of time before one of the better selling series (LKH, Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, etc.) makes it to the big screen. Personally, I think Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” could make waves. The book seems to be talked about everywhere nowadays, and it was picked up for film adaptation long before it was even released!

  21. Oooh, The Passage. I haven’t read it yet but I bet you’re right and I bet it will become a movie. Tons of buzz, and post-apocalypse is really hot right now.

  22. Geek in-joke or not, ‘Unobtanium’ served to break the reality of the world for me, and for a show that is only good if it makes me forget that the world isn’t real, and that I’m not THERE–that’s a problem.

    I look forward to Hunger Games in movie form, hoping they let the author be in on the storytelling process. I admit, I haven’t read Catching Fire yet because I’ve been afraid that it can’t live up to the first one. (I’d be happy to be convinced otherwise.)

  23. I agree with Kelly Lasiter, I think the hunger games books may be the next big thing – they’re YA which translates well to screen a lot of the time.

    I also predict a zombie resurgence – have they ever really gone away? I read somewhere that World war Z is being made into a movie. Just read Feed by Mira Grant which would translate into a great thought=provoking politically charged Zombie movie about living in a paranoid state ( really good horror debut BTW I’d recommend it)

  24. It does seem confusing why there aren’t more orginal fantasy screenplay. Many popular fantasy novels seem like poor fits for movies, either way too long or requiring a very large budget for special effect. I think studios are trying to hedge their bets by making movies that have a preestablished fan base. Thats why there are so many remakes of 70s TV shows or previous movies. Then again, there are a lot of great fantasy novels published each year, so they can pick and choose the ones they think will will translate the best.

  25. @Amanda: I keep meaning to read Feed. Zombies aren’t really my thing in general, but I’ve enjoyed her Seanan McGuire stuff so far.

  26. Well, I think the next big literary craze may just be angels. (Zombies are trying to win our hearts but…) We see a little of that in Angelology, but if vampires start to slip from our minds, I think angels or rather “fallen” angels may just take over some of the shelf space.

  27. Woohoo, I won! I heard a lot of good things about the Strain. Thanks for holding the contest, I always look forward to the Thoughtful Thursday post!

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