By Josh Williams Where does the idea of the myth fall in the world of cinema? Does it stand front and center along with fellow adaptations, or does it tend to stand more towards the back on its own? The genre of the “fantasy” film is one that has been around for quite some time but what is its actual purpose within cinema? Have fantasy or mythological films changed the course of film, or have they just kind of sat stagnant? With “King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword” opening this weekend, there are a ton of questions to ask with so little answers.
We already discussed this topic on the latest episode of The Next Best Picture Podcast which you can listen to hear. Otherwise, you can click below where today we take a look at mythology in film, what its purpose is and how it should be used. First of all, how does a film fall into the category of fantasy or more specifically mythological? Well, the definition of a myth is; a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon and typically involving supernatural beings or events. Quite a debate could be made for what films fall into the category of myth and what does not and that debate could go on all day long so we’ll do our best to avoid that discussion. But the world of the mythological opens up many doors for filmmakers, especially auteur filmmakers. Sadly auteur filmmakers rarely take their chances at the myth and one thing we can say for certain is that we want more auteurs to try and expand their horizons. Something that is clearly lacking from these films is a specific direction. Mythological films end up falling into more of a period piece category that drags and bores versus taking advantage of the supernatural events. Instead of taking a more surreal and say magical realism approach to the film, the filmmakers play it safely and just take a chance at a glorified period piece.
Now there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this approach it is just more disappointing than anything else. The world of the myth has so many opportunities and stories for filmmakers to explore and expand that it is almost overwhelming. Mythological films have their place in cinema and have definitely served an overlying purpose. Now certain films have had more of an impact than others clearly, but each film in this specific genre definitely serves as a stepping stone. The biggest film that lands in this genre that has had the most impact is without a doubt the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy that has masterfully encapsulated large-scale filmmaking. From an ensemble cast to ridiculously over the top fight choreography and then to top it all off the use of a mythological world or fantasy element. Revolutionizing how we use special effects and also how filmmakers now approach capturing such a massive scope, Jackson and his trilogy have changed the fantasy genre forever. But the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy definitely answers the question of; what is the purpose of mythological films? That answer is relatively simple; to entertain. Above all else, Jackson’s trilogy entertains. Despite all of its award wins, despite everything it has accomplished, at the bare minimum, the trilogy manages to entertain its audience. Rarely will you run into a cinephile who does not care for the “Lord of the Rings” films, and how could you dislike them? With such over the top action and emotional subplots, the trilogy is near perfect in every way. Mythological films are meant to satisfy the child in all of us, set a tone that is nostalgic but will also deliver an entertaining story that keeps up interested and does not force us to suspend our disbelief any further than we have to.
But how should films of myth be used? Cause if the purpose of a mythological film is to entertain a good majority of these films fail at even that basic aspect. I believe I have come to a solution for how filmmakers should approach the myth genre from this point on, and that is to use it as an arthouse option. Since so many of these myth films lack the general principal of entertainment by going the generic route, maybe it is time for studios and filmmakers to take the literal opposite road. Take these supernatural stories passed down from century to century and create something totally off the wall. Take an approach more towards magical realism and completely and totally embrace the supernatural aspect of the myth. Create a whole new world with these stories and make our minds work to figure out what the core meaning of these films are. Maybe if we take a more surreal approach to these stories we could find something new, we could strike gold even. The world needs more films that bend our reality and force us out of our comfort zones, why not try this with mythological beliefs? Myths have the perfect setup for these kinds of films anyway, channeling a part of our psyche that has already accepted that these stories are a bit strange. Filmmakers, especially arthouse and auteur filmmakers could make these stories even more strange, bend our reality thus creating a whole new genre of films. Expanding this idea to a different kind of audience could prove to pay off and work in ways that we could not have foreseen. But who knows, maybe we should just stick to things like Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword.”
Mythological films are a rather specific subset of cinema, and even though we are not sure where these films stand they do play an incredibly specific role. Usually being utilized for the summer blockbuster, the world of the myth seems to not take any risks. However, if filmmakers started to take risks with these stories, we could possibly see a complete 180 within this genre. You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @josh_williams09