Review by Ryan Wilson

The major cinematic event this last week wasn’t found in movie theaters but was broadcast on HBO. Game of Thrones premiered last Sunday night, bringing the epic scope of big screen fantasy to the small screen. With lead actor Sean Bean and what looks like every major set and piece of armor borrowed from the Lord of the Rings films, the new ten part series had all the anticipation of a major movie premier.

It’s worth noting that fantasy, aside from the Rings films, doesn’t translate well to film, at least not for purists who are probably reading these long tomes in order to mentally stay a world away from our own for as long as possible. The true fantasy geek is as patient as any grey-bearded wizard when it comes to ensconcing oneself in the theology, politics, and character lineage of that other world, and a two or even a three hour movie is obviously going to feel limited and disappointing to such a person.

I know because I was once a member of this cult back in high school, back when reading about the intricacies of magical monarchies sure beat the hell out of studying geometry. I even once hid a fantasy novel under a folder in choir class so that I could escape even while pretending to sing.

So I understand the hype for Game of Thrones, first because George R.R. Martin’s series, according to fantasy fanatics, is a step above most other sword and sorcery sagas, and second because this is an opportunity to do justice to a fantasy series on film. HBO has long been the channel for the serialization and elevation of longer narratives. We saw it with The Sopranos, and we’re seeing it currently with True Blood.

This is also perhaps why the first episode felt overly expository, or just plain boring to those who don’t normally read fantasy. In this genre there’s just so much anticipation, even within the anticipation of events to come. But already viewers of Game of Thrones get the general notion: there will be a power struggle, and at times the story will feel like it will never end. My guess is that many viewers will not stay with the series because of this, but that is okay. This moment is not for them. The gigantic film undertaking and genre experiment that is Game of Thrones is really for all of those people who grew up hiding fantasy novels within their school textbooks, the same people who for years envisioned how fantasy stories should be translated properly on film. So congratulations all of you geeks like me; your ambitions have finally moved out of your mom’s basement, and they’ve landed on HBO, where lucky for you, you get all the violence and nudity you know the genre deserves.

It’s perhaps good timing that the new film Your Highness hit theaters a week before Game of Thrones, if only to mock the fantasy genre. This spoof-comedy stars Danny McBride as the lecherous nobleman who lives in his big brother James Franco’s shadow. When Franco’s damsel, played by Zooey Deschanel, is in distress, McBride is ordered by his father the king to lend a hand.

McBride is best known for his own series on HBO, Eastbound and Down, where he plays washed-up baseball pitcher Kenny Powers, a man so consumed with his former glory that he doesn’t see how laughable and pathetic he actually is. McBride is basically playing the same character in Your Highness, with the same Southern-tinged accent under a bad English dialect. The trouble is that he has no target in the film, whereas on his HBO show his entire character seems to be a satirical comment on the New South. Therefore, in Your Highness all of the vulgarity and ugly humor just comes across as ugly.

Recent Oscar-winner Natalie Portman shows up to further put McBride in his place, but she’s largely wasted as mere eye-candy for him. Franco and Deschanel are also of little use as the straight men to McBride’s antics, one of which includes wearing a Minotaur’s privates as a trophy around his neck (I’ll admit this specific sight-gag made me sort of chuckle).

This sort of stoner-humor might play much better if one is actually under the influence while watching it. But it will most likely grow tiresome even then. We’ve seen much better satires of the fantasy genre, most notably from Monty Python and The Holy Grail and even from the The Princess Bride. I can only recommend Your Highness if, after watching a few episodes of the deadly serious Game of Thrones, you’d like to step back and completely muddy the enchanted water.

Take 5 on Film is a production of Delta College, Quality Public Radio.

© Ryan Wilson, 2011