Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Let's Take A Walk Through The Enchanted Forest: Part 1

So. I watched Decedents and immediately regretted it.

Okay that cemented my disgustEntertainment is part of the hospitality package after all. There are standards to be kept. And don't get me started on their villain songs. Yikes. If you're going to put on the black do it right damn it. What's the point of being a proper villain if you can't ham it up a bit. Maybe have a suit of armor made of spikes, some sort of imposing fortress and a dungeon for people who annoy you.

Anyway I really do like the IDEA of fairy tales walking around in modern times. Urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres.

Fantasy tends to work on rules and most of the characters from Bilbo on up kind of have an innate awareness of those rules. Good guys always win, true love always prevail and never trust anything that talks if you can't see where it keeps its brain.

But what happens with those rules being futzed with by the setting. Fairy tale urban fantasy a specific subgenre that I have yet to see get it right on the screen. There are some good shows but I have yet to find the fairy tales in a modern setting idea done in a way that doesn't have serious flaws at least on TV.

And it bugs me because it's something I really really want to see.

But I want to talk about some of the attempts.  Before I start in earnest however, allow me a brief digression on a few literary fairytales.

On Literary Fairy Tales

For my purposes a fairy tale is any story that draws more so on oral tradition than literary tradition. Oral stories have to be relatively short and broad to be remembered by the orator and as such many of these stories are more episodic than written literature. That's why Odysseus, Athena, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Paul Bunyon, and Mab tend to bounce around from and adventure to adventure. And that carries on into stories that are trying to evoke that oral tradition like Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit or even Harry Potter.

Think about it in most of the Potter books, particularly the early ones the plot doesn't usually kick in until the last 50 or so pages and the rest is just hijinks at Hogwarts.

Literary fairy tales on the other hand try to expand upon the relatively simple nature of oral stories normally by adding detail to plot, characters and setting that wouldn't work if the tale was being told by a single person on a single night along by the fire.

And that tangent was basically a way to allow me to discuss my favorite example, Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier a retelling of The Six Swans. One of my major beefs with the stories I'm going to talk about is that the characters ascribe their actions as predestined roles to be played in a story, (What do you expect. I'm Rumpelstiltskin the dude who tricks women into trading their first born so I can eat them in my stew. Screwing people on the deal is what I do sir. It's what I do. ) but Daughter of The Forest is brilliant at giving character reasons for everyone's actions. More over a lot of those motivations were influenced by her version of the story's Celtic setting. Hell that's one of the story's subtexts. One of the characters thinks he might be doing what he's doing because of magical brainwashing only for it to be revealed, nope it was all you buddy and if you had it to do over you would make all the same moves 'cause of wuv. The only exception is maybe the villain and she get's her due in the sequels, which are admittedly weaker than the first book (Note: I only read the original Seven Water's trilogy so any books after that are Greek to me).


Instead of starting with the obvious let's start with The 10th Kingdom.

The 10th Kingdom

Okay. The 10th kingdom was a 2000 Hallmark miniseries. In general there are some real gems there so check some of those out.

But alas. This is about The 10th Kingdom. It suffers from two main problems, the first being produced on a made for television budget just before the LOTR fantasy boom.

To a modern audience that's used to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter style battles the framing can't help but feel smaller than the story warrants. Plot wise it's mostly because the main cast is on the run and trying to keep a low profile but all the same there aren't that many big set piece moments. Instead of the wide shots making things feel expansive it makes you realize just how empty this place is.

 And the second is it's tone is all over the place.

All the same before Once Upon A Time I would say it was probably the best of these. Hell a lot of stuff was borrowed from it. Oh and it has John Larroquette and Warwik Davis.

The plot is that the well evil queen from Snow White or at least her successor escapes prison and transforms Snow White and Prince Charming's grandson who is about to be crowned king into a dog who hightails it to New York and enlists the aid of a woman who you could easily call Emma Swan 1.0.

The first third of the story is more or less her standing by and snarking at all the insanity of being hijacked into a fairy tale and more poignantly a place where all the talk of true love, honor and all that jazz actually means something rather than you know New York.

Back to that tone problem though the big bad who I'll get to in a moment is actually a serious threat but her underlings are idiots. (Except from THE Huntsman played by Rutger Hauer)

It doesn't help that Dianne Wiest her actress is probably the only one consistently playing her character straight, again except a stoic Hauer as The Huntsman. Oh I can't help it.

Anyway whenever the Queen actually starts doing plot stuff things get pretty serious even downright bleak but the rest of the show is a joke as Virginia (our Swan) snarks at the stupidity of fairy tale rules until they actually start helping her as one of the good guys.

And I forgot about the Wolf who is so problematic I'll save him for later. To be fair in a lot of ways Hook from Once Upon a Time is basically him done better but here he comes off kind of creepy and in some scenes downright rapey. How that guy didn't get locked up 5 minutes after touch down is beyond me... and he tried to do the grandma thing.  Seriously he's an  embarrassment to wolves everywhere.

Anyway since The 10th Kingdom doesn't take most its the characters seriously most of them are paper thin being used for cheap gags at the expense of being destined to play their roles, with The Wolf hamming it up like there's no tomorrow (and more than a few double entendres), but since that's what the show is going for I'm okay with that. However some of the humor can be cringy and I can never help but feel if it had given it's script a few more passes it could have been something more.

The best adaptations of fairy tales make the inherent fairy-taleness a result of the setting rather than the characters who are just playing by the rules of the universe. Or to put it more bluntly a lot of the "hijinks" are cause by the characters being kind of idiots and the actual plot doesn't really kick in until a late game reveal which is more or less the inverse of Swan's.

That said that late game reveal is very well foreshadowed and quite interesting I just wish it had come maybe two or three episodes earlier and actually added some much needed drama to the work.  The first few episodes are kind of hard to watch as nothing important really happens in the them once the set up is established.

Even though it's part of its character development the Prince's primary motivation is that he wants to be crowned King not all the stuff and evil witch and a troll will do in power, while everybody else just wants to go home. And that becomes kind of insufferable. The majority of story spends so much time pretending that there are no stakes that you wind up believing it after a while.

In short watch the first 45 minutes and maybe the last 2 and a half hours out of this 7 hour show the rest if filler.

The Wolf Among Us

You know what I'll say it The Wolf Among Us is by far the best version of this idea I have seen played out. All of the fables stories are just that stories that inform both themselves and the audience of who they are, what they want, and how they operate.

It also does a good job of making sure each of the Fables feels like themselves.

I don't want to spoil too much because it's so good but the set up is thus. Something happened that made all the Fables, your characters from folklore and fairy tales flee their worlds. They're on the lamb in New York and Because of his rep, The Big Bad Wolf, Bigby has been made the Sheriff of their little community, the guy who keeps the peace. In this installment is tasked with solving a murder case.

That said this one is kind of short but I'll give it some string since it's based of a long running comic series I haven't read. If I want more, and I do want more I know where to find it.

But anyway onward to the more obvious and yes more topical entry. Once Upon A Time...Next Time

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