Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oaken's Twelve: Year of the Dwarf.

2012 is the year of the Dwarf. It has to be - besides Jackson's The Hobbit kicking off in December we've also had TWO versions of Snow White and the Seven (or so) Dwarfs, and meanwhile on the small screen HBO's biggest series has at its core an Emmy and Golden Globe-winning dwarf actor playing a (non-fantasy) dwarf. Dwarfs are everywhere this year! With that in mind then it's a good time to also look at how various films of recent years have tackled the issue of portraying your actual fantasy Dwarf. Most have elected to follow the Tolkienesque, Norse-inspired Dwarf. The Lord of the Rings kicked things off, and was followed quickly by Walden Media's short-lived stab at the Narnia books. Dwarfs here are portrayed by Kiran Shah, Peter Dinklage, Chris Cruikshank, and Warwick Davis respectively.
Source-wise there's not much to be said for the Dwarfs of Narnia. Lewis' creatures are brought in bulk from myth - largely Classical with some European inclusions, but he's scant on detail and world-building for his imports. Centaurs are centaurs, Minotuars the same, and Dwarfs, though they come in various 'colours' (temperaments), behave like fairy tale Dwarfs. They can be noble, duplicitous, loyal, fallible... but there's no sense of a great history or culture as far as I can see. They're world-filling rather than world-inhabiting. When WETA Workshop took o the task of providing the designs of Narnia for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they tellingly took in a great deal of Lewis' Twentieth-Century world as well, including the Pre-Raphaelite artists, the Arts and Crafts movement, and contemporary artists. The result is a triumph of style over substance, a well-executed and well-planned extrapolation. But it's clear, too, in its planning and labour; Lewis' fellow Inkling Tolkien was far more descriptive, and while WETA took great liberties with their treatment of his work as well, the results speak as something more derivative of the author's own imagination. As for this year's other cinematic dwarfs, the two versions of Snow White offer the same choices the makers of Tolkien's and Lewis' movies had: cast using actual dwarf actors (Mirror Mirror), or cast normal-sized actors and use camera tricks to play with scale (Snow White and the Huntsman). Here are Mirror Mirror's dwarfs:
I haven't seen the movie, but from the stills it's clear Disney went against type: no beards, no hoods - the style they utilised with their first animated feature, and the movie that popularised the original fairy tale. It's fair enough - bold, even. It suits the whimsical nature of the film as far as I can tell, and if the Dwarfs here don't 'look' Dwarfen, then I really can't complain. The story is so old that it should be able to tolerate this kind of multi-cultural reimagining. If I squint I can even imagine something of Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits dwarfs in there as well.
Snow White and the Huntsman takes things more traditionally. It's not a family-friendly retelling of the tale, but something more 'teen', or eben 'adult'. It's darker, and has battles and death. It casts big name actors in its small roles: Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Brian Gleeson, Nick Frost. Almost as much in 'bigging-up' the original story, there are EIGHT Dwarfs here:
So what does this tell us? Well, clearly there's still some latitude for variety in your cinematic Dwarf, and though the rule appears to be that the more fight there is in a Dwarf, the more likely he will have a beard seems to apply, there's no reason for the filmmaker of 2012 to stick to the well-worn silhouette and appearance of the fantasy Dwarf of the past thirty to fifty years. It's a broad church, which is of some consolation going into the look that the new Hobbit movies have given Thorin Oakenshield's company.
To Be Continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment