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In the realm of fantasy

Fantasy films seem to have a dream run at the box office, says parvathi nayar, as Harry Potter 6 scorches the screens globally


Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (HP6) may well finish as 2009’s top summer release — if it stays on course for a stratospheric box office rendezvous of US$1 billion. India is contributing to the journey with HP6’s cumulative takings here amounting to Rs. 105,547,551 following the opening weekend. Denzil Dias, Deputy Managing Director of Warner Bros (WB) in India, says this makes it the biggest opening weekend ever for a WB film here.

Sunil Narvekar, head of film distribution at Sathyam Cinemas, explains this is part of a larger trend: “Unlike the past, Western preferences are now accepted in India, so that fantasy films that do well abroad perform well here too.” In Tamil Nadu too, this trend holds true says S.Venkatraghavan of Sony Pictures in India. Within the Sony stable of fantasy movies, for example, the Narnia franchise tops the list, with Prince Caspian doing Rs. 1.5 crore in Tamil Nadu. Venkataraghavan adds, “Fantasy movies always do well in India, especially those based on popular books, which have preceded the movie release and created a readymade audience for the movie.”

As with the boy wizard’s saga. With fans lapping up even HP’s more fantastical outcomes — Emma Watson becoming a fashion icon, for instance — it’s no surprise that HP recently topped the list of best fantasy movies. At an Internet poll conducted by websites Moviefone and Bebo, HP earned a whopping 73 per cent of the vote; next in line were Lord of the Rings (LOTR) with 16 per cent, Twilight with eight per cent and The Chronicles of Narnia with three per cent.

Before we rubbish them as “make believe”, fantasy performs a particular function of story telling most admirably: it activates the imagination, so valuable in an era where we are spoonfed information and entertainment.

Why has HP in particular caught our collective fancy? The answer is a complex potion brewed of such ingredients as our love for a good story, the richness and consistency of the fantasy world that JK Rowling has created that has something for readers of every age — and, of course, Harry himself, the perfect contemporary version of the classic Hero or “Chosen One”. As Joseph Campbell famously pointed out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the monomyth of the Hero is one that repeats itself; ie the mythology of Star Wars is not that different from that of Hercules or Moses or Rama — heroes who fight great battles and restore the balance of good and evil.

Fast forward to our times, and you can see why Harry Potter has joined the brigade — and “muggle” (ie non-magic human beings) has gained entry into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Yes, this week in the U.S., HP6 was toppled by G-Force, the 3D animated film about a group of government-trained guinea pigs out to stop an evil billionaire from taking over the world. You might retort “Accio Deathly Hallows!” summoning up the final HP films as a surefire way to trounce all such celluloid opposition. But either way, the overall box office winner remains fantasy films. Oink.

Books to films


Harry Potter

JK Rowling’s series of seven books that chronicle the adventures of the boy wizard against evil Lord Voldemort. Go on, treat yourself: rent out the first 5 movies, watch them back to back, then go to the theatres well prepared for HP6.

Lord of the Rings

Epic high fantasy spun out of J R R Tolkien’s fantastical trilogy about the diabolical Lord Sauron, whose plans are thwarted by an alliance of weird and wonderful beings, including the wee hobbits. Absolutely fabulous.

Twilight

Romantic-fantasy film of the first book in the series by Stephenie Meyer. Teen audiences swooned over the delectable Robert Pattinson; he plays vampire Edward Cullen who loves the somewhat whiny human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart).


The Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis have produced two movies thus far: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) and Prince Caspian (2008), which have a by-the-numbers, determined-to-dazzle with special effects feel.

The Golden Compass

“His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman must be the best fantasy trilogy of our times. Golden Compass is the celluloid version of its first book, “Northern Lights” — and the name change says it all. Forget the film, devour the books.


Down fantasy lane

To step back for a moment, we can trace our love affair with fantasy films all the way back to the origins of filmmaking itself, and such classic works as the Melies brothers’ silent short film A Trip to the Moon (1902). The most famous — and still beloved — is The Wizard of Oz (1939), by which time moviemakers had sound at their disposal. Fantasy films did well down the years with fairytales such as the endlessly remade Cinderella, or children’s stories such as the delightful Mary Poppins (1964), or more modern yarns such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959). As technology advanced, audiences’ expectations of fantasy grew exponentially; from, say the 1980s onwards, science fiction-based fantasy such as Flash Gordon made a dramatic celluloid entry. Though fantasy became mainstream, critical recognition was harder won: The Lord of the Rings-The Return of the King was the first fantasy film to earn an Oscar Best Picture in 2004.

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