Why Fantasy Film is Dead Today

Growing up in America in the early 1970’s we got to see the best in imaginative Saturday morning cartoons. Every kid I knew then was just starting to enjoy great animations on the weekends. It wasn’t until the late 70’s and 80’s that animation really exploded into film, anime, and even wilder forms. Yet sadly, after 1980 it all felt dead creatively.

I honestly can say I do not remember any cartoon that was as memorable as those from the 1970’s. Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, early 1971 Scoobee Doo mysteries, Speed Racer, or 1960’s JonnyQuest remain highly imaginative series, filled with mystery, the unknown, and adventure. Everything after that seemed soulless. Why? I’ll explain….

In 1982, following the nationwide explosion of Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game played by millions of kids, Marvel decided to release a cartoon for kids on the subject. I had started playing the first edition of the game in 1980 and by 1982 had regular campaigns in my Mom’s living room with friends. It was epic fun! And free!

But following the worldwide interest so many kids had in the game, numerous groups in Hollywood began campaigns of trying to cash in on the popularity, releasing several low budget films and a cartoon series in the 1980’s. One of those was the Dungeon’s & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon series of 1982.

I saw this cartoon when it first came out. But I just couldn’t watch it after seeing what it was all about. They had tried to play off the hero-worship element in the animation by focusing on players and weapons rather than the mystery of adventure, monsters, and the creepy unknown corners of the mind….all facets of D&D that made the role-playing game my friends and I played so rich and the imaginative. To us D&D was about adventure, and the exploration of the unknown, not winning, being famous, or becoming Gods.

The concept of a role-playing game being almost solely about character building, realism, building friendships, character attachment, bragging rights, convention ego’s, reputation, getting rich, or conquering kingdoms came from the later D&D editions that would come after 1989 when the game morphed into a form unrecognizable where winning, finding loot, following complex rules of engagement, and building relationships to a realistic character became all the rage and the focus.

D&D like America would be about the other half of America that cares more about winning than people, money over morality, and ego over love or care of one’s fellow man. That is the culture we have today, not what we had in 1975.

All that, like most of entertainment after 1980, became an unconscious focus on Ego, one’s desires, fulfillment, one’s connection to the competitive modern world of money, and all the things the 1960’s had rejected in its music, culture, and views of society just a short 20 years prior.

The failure of some silly D&D cartoon represented the beginning of some massive decline I felt and foresaw in America, some movement towards the money-driven, power-driven America we have today in 2019. The cartoon just felt empty to me….like all the 80’s cartoons of that period. And that is likely why the series died within a year. It’s focus was on magic items and relationship between characters, not the excitement of exploration and the wonder of magic, monsters, and mystery so evident in film and games of the 1970’s.

There has never been a film or tv series that ever captured the game, sadly. But the cartoon hinted at the types of unimaginative entertainment that would evolve later after 1982 in America and the shifts in focus from the spiritual heart and freedom of the 1960’s to the money-making, marriage-based, power-based, competitive Capitalistic culture we have today.

This isn’t a blanked statement about all film since 1982. But sadly fantasy films that “stir the imagination” have remained few and far between. I do love the creative imagination in Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. They have offered up what Dungeons and Dragons in film might have been with more money spent and more talented writers.

But I feel sorry for those that came of age as kids after 1980. I think they got stuck with all the crappy hero-worship cartoons and unimaginative entertainment that still fills theaters today. And that is the real reason I feel fantasy film died after 1980…..this focus on relationships, money, power, and competition in fantasy movies today drowns out the imagination, the mystery, the adventure that was so wildly expressed in film and animation in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

This hyper-focus on love, egos, relationships, power, fighting, competition, marriage, tribalism, political extremism, and realism has destroyed the creative and spiritual will that is imagination in entertainment today. The themes of anti-government rhetoric, racism, trolling, friendship, competing, violence, sex, alt relationships, lies, corruption, bigotry, and money today are all a direct reflection of our Modern desires and needs in American culture today.

In 1971 it was the opposite. There was a rejection of convention, of society, of conventional relationships and a reinvention of the self, of exploration, new age religion, freedom, and adventure that we saw show up in 1977’s Star Wars that today is completely gutted from all film, music, and art.

For to be free and write story based on adventure is to break free of all constraints set by society, business, religions, family, marriage, and institutions. It’s that “breaking out” and away from relationships and society norms that spawned 1970’s Fritz the Cat or Wizards or the first Star Wars. Those films would have never been made without the rejection of those things, rebellion against the people in the society and their groupthink culture.

And that is the opposite of today in 2019, where conformity and a return to radical religion, or limited human bonds, or radical ideology, or political extremism, or political correctness define all of who we are, where institutions, or broken family, or social media movements, or online attacks, or mass social media opinion now dramatically shape the definition of our personal beliefs to a common failed belief. Sadly, these are what secretly now confine our minds and create the shackles of ourselves in our lives and our arts, separating us from our singular imagination and instead surrounding us with a common Spiritual Wasteland we all silently celebrate as one in the unmoving and deafening culturally-bound movies and art we blindly create today.

Sadly we are trapped as were the creators of D&D animation so long ago. That era was the precursor of what we now find ourselves stuck in. For shackled by cultural “groupthink” today we cannot find the mystery of life in our culture any longer, find real joy in our cutthroat, competitive sports and games, our dualistic, divides politics, our failed underfunded institutions, or our bland cultural moments. There’s nothing left to rebel against or defy worthy of our lipid energy. We have completely lost the free adventure, mystery, or even a belief in the unknown enough to support moving and stirring fantasy film, as a result.

For once bound to try personal exploration, or true emotional story about relationships bound to real love, free love, and freely given and on connections between two human beings, we find nothing stirs us or can work without such truly mythic stages as we once conceived in our books and films.

We have not the knowledge of what that feels like in American culture or the arts today. That’s the sad fact.

And so returning to the failure of a 1982 cartoon I saw as a teenager…..to capture the real essence of D&D is going to require a really creative, different kind of film maker, one that simply doesn’t exist yet in our modern culture today, sadly. Because to be so radically different would require a sort of “Hermit Artist”, completely free of cultural norms, and bound only to his total disconnection to the closed culture around them.

But in future generations that creator will appear, it’s certain. For with each generations comes a counter-revolution against the former. And the babies born today will harness their resentment towards today’s drab social media deadscape, fighting against the suffocating oneness of today’s social warriors, challenging today’s culture with its increasing judgements against the artistically unlawful, enough to build the chaotic freewill moment to completely topple it again. They then like 1960’s hippies shall reject all limited forms of human relationships and society imposed on us today, such that they alone recreate the rare and beautiful creative moments we once had 50 years ago, now lost in time today.

– the Author

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