Fantasy, but for whom?

It has just been December, that special time of the year. The landscape transformed, and children looking forward to the magic of Santa. No wonder then, that fantasy entertainment is closely linked to Christmas in the Nordic region.

In many countries around the world, science fiction movies, horror films and fantasy franchises make up some of the biggest entertainment forms all the year through. Looking at the world’s most popular movies ever, sci-fi and fantasy dominates the Top 20 list, with Titanic and one or two other films creeping in from the side. While Spider-Man, The Hobbit and anything related to Star Wars are huge successes also in the Nordic region, our domestic production does not reflect the big interest in all things fantastical. Due to a number of reasons, most of the fantasy (including sci-fi but excluding horror) produced up here are aimed at children. And since Christmas is a time for magic, stories and indoor activities, the weeks leading up to the holidays are a perfect time to release home-grown fantasy films or TV.

Looking at the genre julivalhallproductions from the Nordic region this year, the total output was meager, as always. And, as usual, most of the non-horror genre drama was aimed at children (horror films or scary TV anthologies are almost never aimed at children, due to “natural reasons”). Norway had three noticeable fantasy projects this year; Thale, Journey to the Christmas Star and Julekongen. As Thale was an independent film made on a shoestring budget funded by the film’s makers, the two other projects remained the only fantasy drama with proper, official funding. And both were aimed at children. Journey to the Christmas Star drew a large crowd to theatres, partially because adults need to accompany children who want to see the film, and Julekongen was a 24-part TV drama mainly viewed by children in the comfort of their homes. And here we arrive at two interesting and typical aspects of Nordic genre drama.

First, the fact that maybe 70% of all fantasy drama (TV and features) are made for small and older children. It is probably linked to adults thinking that children live in some kind of make-believe world where adventure, magic, dreams, games and tales merge, and that this is something adults would not enjoy. “Realism” is boring to kids, but necessary for adults (which is why social-realistic kitchen sink dramas dominated Scandinavian cinema for decades). It also appears that some directors, writers and producers think that it is easier to create fantasy drama for children, as they are not so demanding as older audiences. Just throw in some goblins, trolls and elves with big eyes and cute hats, and you have a hit. And if your budget is not high enough, use talking animals in stead. Like Disney. Just cheaper. Hand-puppets with funny voices will do.

Second, the fact that Christmas is a big season for fantasy. This year, all three Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) offered fantasy-based “Christmas calendars” (aka advent calendars), a special 24-episode countdown drama aired from December 1st to 24th. This is in fact a Nordic invention (the first series aired in Sweden in 1960) and all Nordic countries air them each year, alternating between new productions and reruns of the most popular series. Norway’s Julekongen (“King of Christmas”) featured a magic glove and an alternate reality (a little like Narnia), Sweden’s Mysteriet på Greveholm – Grevens återkomst (“The mystery of Greveholm – Return of the Count”) had castle ghosts in major roles, and the Danish Jul i Valhall (“Christmas in Valhalla”) centered around Nordic mythology and Viking legends.

julekongen

While it is great that children are accustomed to fantasy, sci-fi and horror (so they will become genre fans in the future), it also means that in small countries with limited resources (and often public funding with strict rules) money will be tied up in children’s productions, and genre projects for adults will suffer. There is simply not enough money to produce movies for adult fans and at the same time provide enough genre entertainment for children. Whenever Nordic producers, broadcasters and funders (who often are the same) evaluate fantasy properties, they land on the above mentioned  misconceptions and decide that the only viable option is to create something for the children.

Considering that sci-fi and fantasy for adults earn a lot of money in theatres and on video, and Nordic producers and directors these days are as professional and genre experienced as their foreign counterparts, and with a global audience being ready for alternative fantasy (examples; Troll Hunter and Dead Snow), we urge our local talent to focus more on fantasy for audiences older than 16. Let that be your new idea for 2013.

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One thought on “Fantasy, but for whom?

  1. Pingback: Warming up to Christmas |

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