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Fantasy Ain’t Just For Football Season Anymore

Fantasy Ain’t Just For Football Season Anymore

Andy Whitfield as Spartacus

“I am practiced with sword not words. Perhaps this gift will explain where words fail.”
– Crixus from Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Last year I unexpectedly fell in love with a show called Game of Thrones. It came completely out of nowhere for me as I was part of a segment of a generation that grew up in the 80’s thinking fantasy was just about the lamest thing on the planet. The 80’s were more about space and lasers and rightfully so with blockbusters like The Terminator and Aliens. However there were a couple fantasy movies that stood out like Ridley Scott’s Legend and Willow, which was brought to us by Ron Howard and George Lucas. I put the Conan movies in a separate category because they are Arnold movies. The 90’s saw the dissolution of many categories of movies. Fantasy almost completely disappeared unless you count Stealth director Rob Cohen’s Dragonheart and Beastmaster 2: Through The Portal of Time. I don’t.

But it’s a genre with a legion of fans that often gets lumped in with science fiction because no one wants to admit they like either. For example I was led to believe Highlander was science fiction. Looking at it now I think its fair to say that its more of a fantasy. I actually grew to love Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories in recent years and had to revise my opinion of fantasy as a genre. As I was lamenting the fact in 2005 that there would probably never be a new Schwarzenegger movie of consequence again and that my childhood was effectively forgotten, I binged on classics like Pumping Iron and the Conan movies. On a whim or maybe out of desperation I picked up a massive tome of Conan stories. I had just read Jeff Smith’s Bone thanks to my cousin Matt and was ready for fantasy.

Well Conan proved to be a mind blower. I didn’t expect it to be that awesome and clearly understood why it had such an impact over the last 70 years. Yeah, it’s persisted for over seven decades and reads as fresh as if it were the digitally remastered Blu-ray Final Cut of Bladerunner. Suffice to say I was thinking, why isn’t there more stuff like this? Previously the only fantasy-esque material I enjoyed was Trent Kanuiga’s CreeD. But Trent only released the comic sporadically and with faster paced fare available I never had an imperative to “fill the void.” (CreeD readers will get the reference)

So I forgot about fantasy, which I still viewed as the antithesis to reality. I know the word “fiction” is in Science Fiction but somehow its more real than real or as the motto of the Tyrell corporation proclaims: “More Human Than Human.” And the same case I think can be made for fantasy. Both genres provide a filter for the conversations we want to have and if you want to have a debate with a sword than you’ve come to the right place. So last year I was amidst a crazy work schedule, had one day off after maybe 20 straight days and sat down to veg. I turned to HBO on demand and thought I’ve seen posters for Game of Thrones on the train, let me see how this is. Some 11 hours later I had my answer. This is awesome. And then I had no Game of Thrones to watch until the new season premieres some time this year.

I needed fantasy bad. I read some more Conan but I needed more. CreeD Omnichronus came out but I’d already read all of that. (Still awesome though) So this Christmas I received a gift card to FYE and went hunting for fantasy. I moved past the obvious aisles where maidens in distress lurked, minus swords of consequence of course. And then I remembered another poster advertisement I’d seen for Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Now I grew up a big fan of Stanley Kubrick, particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shinning. But his movie Spartacus based on the real life gladiator slave who led a rebellion against the Roman Empire always remained prevalent to me. I just never figured it as a fantasy. But clearly, Roman culture has left its mark in the genre and the highly stylized brutality and romanticism of Spartacus: Blood and Sand proved to be a home run.

The characters are great. The acting is great. Whoever casted this was a genius. I found myself laughing hysterically at the punch lines, feeling angry when it was time to get pissed, and hoping love would prevail. It didn’t so there was a riot and all the guests at the party were killed, setting the stage for the slave revolt in season two. Some may find the language off-putting at times because of the profanity, but unlike Deadwood, it’s funny and purposeful and usually framed as a joke instead of saying profanity for profanity’s sake, which is distracting. As far as gratuity all I can say is ladies there are hot naked guys. Dudes there are hot naked ladies. Forget that other aisle. This story is for real. It expounds on no less than 100x the story of Kubrick’s film in which the slave portion comprised maybe 30 minutes.

Sadly, as much as I look forward to season two, which started in January and the prequel series Gods of The Arena, which is already out, it’s tainted. Andy Whitfield, the actor who played Spartacus passed away from cancer last year. Watching the special features on the DVD collection drove home the point how perfect this guy really was for the role and how much he loved it and the fun that was to be had making this awesome series. His passing was so shocking that I hope the new material can persist. As I was watching the DVD he had already passed unbeknownst to me as I just kept thinking I can’t wait for season two. So the shock I felt upon hearing the reality was surreal.

Now I’m terrible at watching shows when they come out so I probably won’t see the new stuff until its available for purchase, but I literally can’t wait. So I doubled my problem. I thought I was satiating my need for fantasy in the wake of Game of Thrones. Then I doubled it with Spartacus: Blood and Sand. That means double entertainment come DVD purchase time Christmas 2012. If the Apocalypse doesn’t get us first. Fingers crossed. I need to see if Crixus and Naevia make it.


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  1. Jim says
    2012/02/22, 15:52

    This is an interesting topic, fantasy vs. science fiction. I like both but it’s probably true to say I’ve always liked science fiction better as well. Even when it’s a cautionary tale of dangers ahead, the underlying point is that things can change. On the other hand, the most convincing criticism I have heard of fantasy is that it tends to romanticize a feudal sort of society that was really pretty shitty. I’m not sure I agree with that 100% – a lot of fantasy is about quests to overthrow domination, not to support it – but I think there’s some truth to the looking forward vs. looking backward comparison.

    That said, I am a big fan of Game of Thrones! I can’t really claim, as I often do, that I read the book first. Well, technically I did, but only because I heard all the hype leading up to the show, so I read it right before the series started airing. The show was great and I enjoyed it despite knowing what was coming up. I couldn’t bear to wait all year for season two so I started reading the rest of the series. Recently finished the third book. OOOOOO I won’t spoil anything.

    I haven’t read or watched any of the other things you mention (except one Conan short story, in audio form) but I’ll have to check them out.

    • Pete says
      2012/02/22, 23:19

      I agree Jim that Fantasy gets pigeon-holed because of romanticizing grime, but I found myself thinking that most of my favorite sci-fi stories make distopia seem cool. Also I think it’s an interesting point you’ve made about questing to overthrow a dominating force. If anything, stories like those found in the Conan anthology and Lord of the Rings, just as two famous examples, are about defeating powerful forces. The difference between the two approaches is different of course: Conan just destroys everything as a lone wolf and in Lord of the Rings you have fellowships and alliances.

      I have deliberately not read game of Thrones because I want to be surprised but I might have to jump on that. What an amazing character story it is. The political intrigue is even entertaining, then you have the raw emotion, and of course…swords. April can’t come fast enough.

  2. Matthew Bailey says
    2012/03/20, 12:08

    I agree with Pete in that 80’s fantasy was incredibly “lame”. It really took a while to be a viable genre in film with Lord of the Rings and now looks like it is taking off on tv too.

    I must admit I have never see Conan, Game of Thrones or Spartacus. Ouch… I better get on that to see what all the fuss is about.

    • Pete says
      2012/03/21, 21:25

      MB you need to get in touch with your inner barbarian stat. Some one needs to get you some kind of meat smothered in meat sauce as you have a sit down with Conan. Long over due. Willow was the bomb though. I have fond memories of watching that in your room after a 3DO session.

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