Thursday, December 26, 2019

"The Witcher" Review: Fantasy Worth Watching

The Witcher Review

I must confess I have been disappointed with the high tech fantasies and science fiction adaptations for a long time. Game of Thrones became such a disappointment (this is my opinion) and left such a bitter taste in my mouth, I will not even list my grievances here. I loved the film, John Carter (should have been  John Carter of Mars), but the world claimed it a flop. I think people will rethink this in the future, as it is a magnificent adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs. But in this era of expensive comic book films with super heroes in tights, I long for  good fantasy or science fiction film. Do not get me wrong, comic book films have a place, but there is a rich library of wonderful fantasy and science fiction literature going back decades that could be adapted today with the  current technology and  some great casting and writing.

Enter, The Witcher.  I was happily surprised. I checked this out on Netflix with little hope. I knew it was based on a series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski and was also adapted to the video game world. I did not care if there was only one big name I recognized (Henry Cavill) in the show, as a good production does not need big  names, just actors cast in the right role. I have never read the books, but I plan to now. I loved it, because it gave us a real hero, one who is not shiny and pure, but an abused warrior who tries to do the right thing. Henry Cavill, though a studly god physically, never really impressed me until  now. He has found his signature  role. His Geralt of Rivia was a seasoned warrior with a painful past. He has issues of abandonment. The transformation to change him into a Witcher made him an outcast, even though his main goal was killing monsters for the people who will not even thank  him.

Geralt of Rivia thinks  before  he slays. He even tries to save some monster others say should die. Sometimes he is successful. He does not like to inflict pain, because he has endured so much himself. He is a hero, though a grey one. He has honor, yet is not a wimp. Geralt of Rivia has a code he lives by. He is alone in the world. what he has suffered would have turned most men insane, but he endures. He has a heart, but keeps it hidden. He is the perfect dark hero you want to cheer. Characters are so crucial to good storytelling, and this world has many. His love, Yennefer,(played by the wonderful Anya Chalotra) is an amazing sorceress and also has suffered in life and paid dearly for her  powers. Geralt's friend the Bard, is one of the only light characters, but is needed to soothe  the darkness of the character's tale. The system of magic the author created for this world is rich and amazing.  The world is gritty and textured.  It is a secondary world where all is possible.  

The story of The Witcher in this first series (it has been renewed-yeah) is jam-packed with intro to characters, the world, and wars. Lots of war. It is a lot to take in at first. I will not go into detail here, as in the mere 8 episodes it served up quite a banquet to explain in my humble blog. 

The bottom line is I enjoyed it and look forward to season 2. I plan to read the novels. And maybe drool a little bit over the image they created for  Geralt of Rivia, the white-haired Witcher. Enjoy something that doesn't have tights. Henry Cavill's performance was restrained but not boring, with rare glimpses of dry humor and layers of emotional pain. His performance goes beyond the physical image, though many actors would stop there. Henry Cavill makes him real and layered. I am now officially impressed by Henry Cavill. I credit the other actors in the series too (too many to mention). These brilliant actors who made these fantastical seem real.

So watch The Witcher and judge for yourself. I loved it. 

More to come later. Until then, read more fantasy!

Verna McKinnon

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Trouble With Tropes

I have been a Geek Girl since I can remember. Science fiction, fantasy, horror (though not the gross stuff),  paranormal-it's all good. However, I have noticed patterns over time that irritate the hell out of me. They are also the same annoyances that plague even regular dramas and comedies, both literary and screen versions. Let me just say-this  must stop! Here is my list of grievances.

1. The Girlfriend Death. She must die in the story, but it will be okay because our hero will have a sidekick. This got old decades ago, but they still force it down our throats. Most tragic science fiction or fantasy tales have the family/girl friend/wife/kids die in some tragic way. let's not forget slaughter of family or tribe. In the end, the hero manages to trudge on with his sidekick. Ugh. They used this a lot in Conan's TV and Film versions (hint: in the book series Conan's parents and tribe did not die. so he did not he need to seek revenge for it). 
Why are the girls/women so expandable? I do not know. I never liked it. The female hero and male hero together could be so much fun. An example of this tired trope is something from the 90's, BeastMaster TV series. Starts out with his love, Kyra, being abducted, and the hunt for her. Finally reunited at end of season 1, she dies tragically (of course, why let her live?) but he bucks up and continues his adventures with his male sidekick. Why couldn't she live? Because of the trope disease infecting stories. I personally think a scifi or fantasy couple fighting evil would be great. Exciting. Thank god for Xena, Warrior Princess. Please note, the wonderful Andre Norton book series would be better to examine. I have no idea why a fantasy couple is an issue. It's like the boy's club saying girls can't have fun too. Well, we can and I will damn well prove it with my books. 

2. Prophesy/Chosen Ones: This has been used to death, but even when it serves it's purpose, it gets old. The last time this worked for me was the David Eddings series, The Belgariad and the Mallorean book series. It was a foundation, but not the whole tale.

3. Vampires & Zombies: Done to death. Sorry, had to say, but this is a dead trope to me. And the sexy vampire thing is annoying too. And zombies? Really? I am so sick of the genre, I could scream. How many years can a bunch of people run from zombies? It gets old. And depressing. It only goes into misery without hope. There are few vampire threads that make them sympathetic. And zombies are so old and overused, even the offshoot comedy or spoof movies are lame now. Stop! Unless you can put a clean and fresh spin, just stop. I am not saying I have not enjoyed the genre. Buffy put a great spin on vampires. The short-lived Moonlight TV show had some interesting points and great characters. Vampire legends goes back centuries. They are not the clean stake through heart, sunlight issues with SPF needs, bloodsuckers in cinema. Think about what would make them interesting. 

4. Orphans: A Dickensian trope often used in science fiction and fantasy genres.These need to be carefully handled. 

5. Overlords/Dark Rulers: These need to handled with care-from Darth Vader to Lord Voldemort (is there a theme with V names here?). Use them with care. 

6. Gandalf Syndrome: A wise old wizard who speaks in riddles. Whatever.

7. Men are the heroes, women are watchers: No. Just stop. Stereotypes are nasty and not very inclusive or diverse. The maiden/wife (or whorish witch) and the heroic knight is the past. Live in the now.

8.  The single race/religion/society: A world has many religions and races and cultures. So many books so not expand on that. And do not make a race all evil/good or a society all evil/good. It is more complex than that. Same with religion-expand on it. Create a foundation in your world building to have richness and diversity. Think about faith and religion and it's complexities.   

9. Ice Worlds/Desert Planets:  This has been done. Move on.

10. Darkness/Light: Be imaginative. It is too easy to just say light is good and darkness evil. Life, nature, myths, and gods are not so simple. A good guy can be deformed or a maiden ugly but beautiful inside. A dark night may offer protection to the hero/heroine. Use your imagination.

Okay, I am done venting. Have a lovely holiday season.


Verna McKinnon