Monday, February 13, 2023

The use of open grasslands as a movie trope in epic quests (Willow 2022-2023)

The start of the quest (Willow 2022)

The new Disney Plus series Willow is a sequel to the beloved 1980s movie of the same name. It is an epic fantasy where the heroes go on a journey to rescue a prince from the clutches of a rising evil.

I had decided to watch the show during a particularly slow day. I was not expecting much from it, because I tend to like science fiction, but I was very pleasantly surprised when the series captivated me, and I now highly recommend it.

It was funny, deliberately cheesy, and somewhat campy in that the creators of the show introduced modern colloquialisms and music into the episodes. I also learned that the deceptively simple storyline was actually replete with symbolism and layers of complexity after watching a fantastic podcast called What the Force.  

Like many other high fantasy shows, the plot involves an epic quest. Interestingly enough, the director of the show depicted the start of the long journey by using wide angle shots of the protagonists on horses as they travelled across the open expanse of beautiful grasslands (the show was shot in Wales, and featured gorgeous scenery throughout the series). This scene was reminiscent of some other movies and shows that I had watched, and I realized that open grasslands are oftentimes used as a trope to characterize long epic journeys.

The quest continues (Willow 2022)

Movie or film tropes are a way of telling a story by using metaphorical language and scenes. They are used fairly often, and some common examples of cinematic tropes include the use of black for villains, and the frequent use of comedic sidekicks.

The use of open grasslands in Willow and in other shows made me think of why such landscapes are frequently selected to depict journeys or quests. I seldom see long epic journeys on fantasy films starting out with the protagonists hacking their way through the thick constricted underbrush of some deep dark forest.

A barrier between the open grasslands (Willow 2022)

When one thinks about the start of an epic fantasy quest in the movies, one cannot help but imagine that the journey will be filled with wondrous adventures and travels to exciting and far off lands for the protagonists. Thus, the director of such films needs to match his vision with the expectations of the avid watchers of the show, and the use of dark, cramped, and confined landscapes (such as the interiors of forests) would likely not entice them to ease happily into the story. 

Instead, he or she would opt for wide open spaces, panoramic scenery, and limitless vistas, attributes which are inherent to vast grasslands, as anyone who has ever stood in awe in the middle of old growth grasslands (or even grain fields) knows.

So the next time you watch high fantasy, such as LOTR, the Hobbit or Willow, see whether you can spot the ways the film producers use open ecosystems as a trope to entice and settle viewers into their equally expansive and sweeping world creations. 

The heroes meet up with the "Chosen One", Elora Danan (Willow 2022)

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