It has been said that, "literature is a luxury, fiction a necessity". Fantasy, an extension of fiction, has become the needed fix for humanity in this era of gore and bloodshed. More than ever we seek to escape the groans and moans of this new millennium, and filmmakers oblige. Film has always been the greatest form of escape. Within the walls of a movie theatre we are insulated from the deluge of television's perpetual news bulletins, we are carried off to other lands, other worlds, other places for a well-needed rest from our daily turmoil and torment.
Nicole Kidman, bewitching in Bewitched
The uniqueness of the art of film is its widespread democratic appeal. While all other arts reach a few at a time, film reaches hundreds of millions on a daily basis. It is everywhere, ready to entertain, inform, and educate, in the classroom, in our homes and in the theatres. Its main property, however, is a relaxing and soothing sedative that comforts and cheers as it displays the fortunes and misfortunes in others' lives. So great is our recent need for escape, filmmakers inundated the screen with tales of fantasy and fancy, whims and dreams, of utopias and fairylands, vivid visions of elusions and delusions, of men with superhuman powers and: "such stuff as dreams are made of".
Where are the bubbling comedies, lavish musicals, historical pageants, inspiring biographies, exciting spy thrillers, suspenseful crime mysteries, and fluffy frothy romances? Gone are the glorious stars of yesteryear with their excessive glamour and splendor whose very names made your heart beat. The major trend that dominates the screens of today is the nameless, faceless, easily acceptable superhero. Our escape from reality to irreality is complete because we are unfamiliar with Toby McGuire ( Spiderman ), Christopher Bale ( Batman ), Hayden Christensen ( Star Wars ), Hugh Jackman ( X-Men ), Eric Bana ( The Hulk ), etc. We may know them a little, but not enough, and this erosion of star quality makes the task of conviction easier.
What are fantasies? Stories that involve beings and events that could not exist in real life. They may begin realistically enough, but soon, they assume superhuman qualities that we can only dream of. An epidemic of ghosts and ghouls, aliens and vampires, X-men and Men In Black, witches and wizards, hobbits and goblins, inundate our waking hours through the silver screen, leaving us transfixed in something beyond our realm. We trade real lives for reel lives, regardless of where they come from, outer space, middle-earth underground, or beyond.
This summer season is a prime example of the gauzy fantasy churned out in Hollywood en masse, to calm the nerves of a shattered world. Star Wars, The Revenge of the Sith followed by Batman Begins, and noble mediaeval knights on a crusade for God and country in Kingdom of Heaven, or Martians coming to inhabit the planet in War of the Worlds. We are in the thick of a fantasy cycle, reminiscent of those early days of film, when the so-called 'horror' films of a pre- depression, pre-war era were forms of relief for an over-anxious public. The 1930s 'horror' films are more fantasy fare and as such, their creatures roamed around the world landing on islands inhabited by prehistoric creatures, behind a backdrop of gloomy decaying mansions, or a dark chaotic metropolis -- all too awfully familiar in present day film. It all sounds very contemporary and up to date.
How rapidly we seek comfort in such escapist fare, in times of turbulence and unrest. Our double dose of fantasy gauges our society's collective moods and fears. Our present preoccupation with scientific technology heightens our need for a new form of science-fiction that looks to a future of new worlds and powers, or to a past with its nostalgic tradition of romance and chivalry -- virtues lost in our millennium.
In search of such relief you will come across witches and warlocks in the present adaptation of the 1960s beloved TV sit-com Bewitched which starred the late Elizabeth Montgomery. A new big screen version revolves around the same basic premise. A young contemporary witch, Isabel Bigelow, is determined to abandon her supernatural powers in lieu of an ordinary normal life. Instead, she finds herself playing 'Samantha', the witch in a TV revival of the old sit-com, because of her uncanny resemblance to the original Samantha. Once again the cute button nose is called upon to twitch and wiggle, altering conditions to her advantage. Nicole Kidman is adorable as witch Isabel playing Samantha, so is the twitch of her cute button nose. Opposite Ms Kidman is Will Ferrel, another graduate of the Saturday Night Live institute, which gave us dozens of super comedians from John Belushi to John Candy, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, etc. Bewitched is written and directed by Nora Ephron ( Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail).
The second course in our fantasy banquet is nothing less than a fandango feast with the Fantastic Four. They are the same Marvel Comic Book heroes -- three men and one woman astronauts sent on a space mission to the centre of the earth to unlock the secrets of the human genetic codes for the benefit of all mankind. Their mission is thwarted when their space station is engulfed by turbulent clouds of cosmic radiation which genetically transforms them, irrevocably altering their DNA and their future. Each one of these astronauts discovers new supernatural abilities. Reed (Ioan Gruffudd) 'Mr Fantastic' can stretch and contort his body into any shape. Sue (Jessica Alba) the 'Invisible Woman', renders herself invisible; Johnny (Chris Evans) the 'Human Torch' can engulf his body in flames and take flight at will; Ben however, becomes a freakish orange-coloured creature with superhuman strength called 'The Thing'. Together they become The Fantastic Four turning every tragedy into triumph, every catastrophe into coalition, using their formidable powers to protect the citizens of New York from the evil plans of their nemesis Dr Doom (Julian McMahon).
The advancement of visual effect technology is enabling filmmakers to pull off a realistic dose of what once existed only in our dreams. Computer- generated imagery and photo-realistic software has exceeded all the limits of our imagination and expectations. "The 1960s science fiction has become the 21st century's science fact." Space travel, DNA, cosmic radiation, are all no longer figments of our imagination, but everyday realities. Now they have become part of our mainstream consciousness, never so far beyond the realm of our present and growing technology.
Marvel Comics and DC comics have replaced theatrical plays and classical novels as a source of rich material for feature films, satiating our hunger for a full meal of fantasy. Such film have been among the highest grossing in history. Star Wars, Star Trek, Spiderman, Batman, Superman, X-Men, II, III, Men in Black I & II, Daredevil, The Thing, The Blob, The Hulk, Terminator, The Matrix, not to mention the martial art heroes of Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon. Need I continue?
With the season's offerings focusing on heroes, super heroes, space heroes, supernatural heroes, superhuman heroes, they leave us faced with our helpless humanity. How are we to deal with earth's woes?
This hybrid combination of science-fiction and action-adventure is just what the doctor ordered to lighten our load and help us go forward into the dark unknown that becomes even darker with each calamitous event, saddening beyond solace the hearts of mere mortals.
Imagination is more important than knowledge
-- Albert Einstein (1879 -- 1955)