The Genre of Fantasy Films

Fantasy Films
“A fantasy film is literally the ‘mise-en-scène of desire,’ the setting whereby impossible desires may play out to their logical conclusions.”

Definitions and Theories:
•    Fantasy encompasses desires: “dreams, daydreams and wishes”
•    Created by feelings of “awe and hesitation” brought on by “strange and/or improbable events”
•    In film especially, these feelings are felt both by the viewer and character
o    Through character: a continuum of questioning the alternate reality or events
o    Through viewer: understanding the reality as questionable or accepting the world as reality of the story
•    “Fantastical” fantasy = simply outrageous elements, understood to be unreal
•    “Uncanny” fantasy = the implausibility of the narrative can be described rationally or psychologically, e.g. dreams or hallucinations
•    “Marvelous” fantasy (aka subcreation or “high fantasy”) = the viewer and character is supposed to accept the fantastical elements without questioning them
•    Purpose of Fantasy:
o    Medium of escapism
o    Raises questions about reality
o    Reveals repressed dreams or wishes
o    “Fantasy makes explicit what society rejects or refuses to acknowledge”
o    Can be explicitly subversive
o    Vehicles for wish fulfillment through “glorification of magical (hence unrealistic) solutions to serious problems”

Mise-en-scène is the placement of props, actors, sets, costumes, and lighting in each scene of a film or theatrical production.  These factors contribute greatly to the look and feel of the scene and the film as a whole and can fundamentally change the emotional response of the viewer.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Scene- 0:19:24-0:21:32

•    Shifts from real world (in Kansas) to the imaginary world (Oz)
o    This is a “fantastical” world, understood by all parties involved
•    Imaginary world becomes the reality, with the both the viewer and Dorothy cease to question its implausibility
o    A shift to a “marvelous” world, without questions
•    At end of the film, the viewer and Dorothy realizes it is all a dream
o    The movie becomes an “uncanny” fantasy; there is a reasoning behind the fantastic elements
•    Thematic Elements
o    Color Seep: movement from black and white to color and less color to more color.
o    Long shot
o    Pan (While zooming out)
o    Medium close-up
o    Cut away
The scene shifts from black and white to color.  As Dorothy emerges from her home after the tornado, there is a blatant over-saturation of color in the new environment.  It seems as if there is very little effort to make the plants seem natural- evidence of the fantastic nature of the world in which the main character now finds herself.  In the middle of the scene is the yellow brick road with blue water and plants everywhere.  Dorothy’s costume has not changed, but the costume of the good witch immediately instills confidence that her character has a positive role in the story.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Scene- 1:04:32-1:08:00

•    Like the Wizard of Oz, this movie goes through a range of fantasy elements
•    The movie begins completely straightforward
•    The fantastical elements of the father’s eccentricity and inventions, they are accepted as somewhat fantastical, but real at the same time
•    Then, on the beach, the son asks his father to tell him a story. As the story is created, the fantastic elements become real, and they are surprised
o    An “uncanny” fantasy = they question the reality
•    As the plot progresses, both the viewer and the family fully believe in the fantastic elements
o    A “marvelous” fantasy world is developed
•    The movie ends with the family back on the beach, after the end of the story.
o    While there is no real “uncanny” resolution, the viewer and characters do seem to understand that the movie was indeed a created fantasy within the confines of a story
•    Thematic Elements
o    Cut away
o    Medium close-up
o    Zoom
o    Zoom out
o    Pan (during zooming out)
o    Long shot
o    Rear Projection: During medium close-up as car moves on water. (Used before green screen).
Mise-en-scène:  In the first scene, the car is placed on the beach with the actors in various positions around/in the car.  The lighting is appropriate with the scene taking place on a sunny beach.  The colors (both of the surroundings and of the man-made objects that appear in the scene) are natural and muted- reinforcing the realism (or the notion that the story has very real components and could conceivable have taken place) of the story.  The characters are dressed in accordance with the time period (1920 or so), a great contrast with modern beachwear.  The father and son are dressed in suits (or the equivalent for a young boy) and the woman and daughter in white dresses.  When the change from reality to fantasy occurs, the characters suddenly find themselves and the car in water (as the tide has instantaneously risen).  As the action rises, the car becomes a boat and the scene changes to showing the car/actors motoring in the open ocean.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Scene- 0:26:40-0:27:40

•    This is one of the most popular current fantasy series.
•    The series begins with the Hairy Potter being thrust into a fantasy world of magic.
o    It is rather “uncanny” for both Potter and the viewers, who do not believe that such a world exists
•    Soon into the first film, and throughout the rest of the films, the validity and realism of the world is indeed accepted by all players
o    Thus forms the basis of the “marvelous” fantasy created.
•    Purpose of the film:
o    Raises questions about reality – Does witchcraft really exist?
o    Reveals repressed dreams and wishes – Many youth (and adults) wish they could fly and perform magic
o    Explicitly subversive – the film has taken much criticsm from religious groups that condemn witchcraft and paganism
o    Glorification of magical solutions to problems – magic (literally) is used to solve the characters (and thus the illusion, thoughts, and dreams of our own) problems
•    Thematic Elements
o    Pan
o    Extreme close-up
o    High Angle
o    Over the Shoulder (Multi shot)
o    Medium close-up
o    Cut Away
o    Zoom
o    Close-up
Mise-en-scène:  The characters are all dressed alike (as would be the case in a large English boarding school) and are wearing robes because they are wizards.  The colors (of the costumes and the set) are muted and dark because the scene takes place inside an old building with only candlelight.  In the dining room scene, the characters are evenly spaced at the tables and provide some order to the shot (in contrast to the relative chaos of scenes, including the following scene, in which the school is changing classes).  The characters travel in a group (consistent with their roles as close friends) and are well spaced throughout the shot.  The constant changing of the staircases adds to the visual complication and fantasy of the shot as the characters head back to their dorm.  As they walk up the stairs, they are greeted by an animated portrait that guards their room.  All individuals in the portraits on the wall move to watch the guardian adding to the fantastic nature of the shot/film.

Sources Used:
•    “Fantasy Films: Theory and Ideology”
•    “Mise-en-scène”
•    “Mis-en-Scene”
•    Setting Up Your Shots

Made in Collaboration with Sebastian Weeks, Topher Anuzis, and Ben Shelor.

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