Once Upon a Time and Grimm succeed as TV series because they take the fairy tale theme, make it contemporary, and twist it in different ways, adding layers of plot, character development and multiple story arcs. They let the viewer in on the joke and take you along for a fun ride. The fairy tale movies are just big, overblown stories with A-list actors who should know better playing ridiculous roles against a green screen. Big-budget special effects get added in later along with a loud score and another formula movie is born.
It didn’t have to be this way. All they had to do was look at classic Star Trek for an example.
Wagon Train in Space
When he put his “Wagon Train in Space” series together, Gene Roddenberry turned to the best science fiction writers in the business for scripts: Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, DC Fontana, Norman Spinrad and David Gerrold, for example. Roddenberry went where no Hollywood idea man had gone before (or since) and encouraged true creativity. He also took to heart Rod Serling’s observation that, “You can put words in the mouths of aliens that can’t be spoken by Democrats or Republicans.” Roddenberry made sure they were darn good words. The result was a ground-breaking series that addressed big issues like war, racism, power, and injustice.
But the Hollywood Dream Machine doesn’t really like ground-breaking things because they are risky and scary and have a downside. Instead they prefer remakes of what already worked. For new ideas, they can just wander down to Comic-Con in San Diego and ask people who actually read fantasy novels which ones would make a great fantasy movie. The ideas would have followed thick and fast, whether for a movie or a series. They would have to beat them off with a stick. But, hey, retooling fairy tales is so much easier. And the books are in the public domain so you don’t have to pay rights for an original story. That’s money that can go into special effects and those are so much more important, right?
The Real Score
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) had an estimated budget of $50,000,000 and the US Gross to date is $34,463,000 for a loss of $15,537,000. Snow White & the Huntsman (2012) was budgeted at $170 million and brought in $155,111,815 for a loss of $14,888,185. Red Riding Hood (2010) was made for a measly $42 million and has grossed $37,652,565 for a loss of $4,347,435. Combined, that’s $262 million in production costs resulting in $35 million in losses. I know how well that would go over in the high-tech industry.
These are the US grosses, though, so maybe these movies are making those pots of money in Europe and Asia—although Red Riding Hood has had enough time to demonstrate a track record. Fair enough. Maybe the Europeans do love to see their archetypes dressed in anachronistic and historically inaccurate costumes, talking 21st-century trash, and behaving like bad-ass action heroes. Fair enough.
But let’s look at one, just one, original fantasy story that includes no fairy tale characters, vampires, werewolves, ghosts or other archetypes:
See the difference? All I am saying is that, there are so many good mature fantasy novels out there, written by great authors, that would be terrific on the big screen, why does Hollywood settle for retreads of old, old stories that we all read as children? Can’t we have something better? Something creative and original? Please?