Fantasy, as a medium, describes the conflict between the real and the imagined. It can be seen as a subset of imagination, and as a mental process whereby the mind creates connections that do not necessarily exist in reality. The medium of fantasy is based in the unreal, a created world. Therefore, it is a process of the mind. Fantasy is described by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a spectral apparition, phantom; an illusory appearance” (OED). The fantastic can be thought of as the antithesis of reality; it is a world where the reality of everyday “history” does not exist. Kleiner says, in a discussion of Mircea Eliade’s works that, “everyday ‘reality’ in the accepted sense of the word, concerns the historical moment only, the realm of the dominion of time” (Becker, 13). Fantasy works against the grain of historicization. It cannot be placed in a specific time or space. Instead it works within the mind of the fantasizer, to bring out the deep desires from within. This will be examined further during the discussion of fantasy films where the setting is unknown exactly and time, or place in history is without specification.
The previous entry describes the arena where fantasy resides as a struggle “between reality and desire” where “fantasy [is] the mediator” (Brenner). However, this struggle may not exist in the realm of fantasy, but instead in the realm of reality. The understanding of fantasy, as it stands, could not be done without the perception of what is given as real. Without a mass consciousness of reality, there would be no understanding of what fantasy is. Therefore, it is not between the imagined and the real that we find fantasy, but rather when the imaginary begins to intersect with reality. It is as if there is a Venn diagram where the intersection of the real and imagined is the space of the fantastic.
The link between fantasy and ideology is considered greatly in media theory. The link, however, is contested. On one hand, it is considered that ideology “highlights ‘false consciousness’”; however, according to Jodi Dean, there is not a need to critique ideology in order to “expose […] false consciousness” (Dean, 5). She further states that the “materialized set of beliefs is ideology” (Dean, 5) where the beliefs are based on appearances. This set of appearances leads to a social reality which is continued by a social reality and leads to “an underlying fantasy of what things are like” (Dean, 8). There is a conflict between the real and the imagined, and the unity of social practices, here defined as appearances. This conflict leads to the fantastic, the fantasy of reality. How reality interacts with imagination is based on the ideology of fantasy.
From the standpoint of social appearances and unified “false consciousness,” there can be a discussion of film, which is a unified and collectivizing fantasy. Fantasy film is, “extravagant or visionary fancy” (OED), where an important subset of the overreaching genre of fantasy is science fiction. Science fiction is considered fantasy because it is the “imaginative fiction based on postulated scientific discoveries” (OED). Science fiction can be established to be within the Venn diagram of the real/imagined space because it is the concept of possible future fact. It does not yet exist, therefore it is imagined, but it is based on things that currently do exist, therefore it is partially in reality. Though the entirety of fantasy film seems to be “in implicit opposition to some notion of ‘realism’” (Donald, 213), instead it appears that it is imagination which is in opposition, and fantasy that is based partially in reality.
Fantasy can be examined through the concept of perception. Perception is “the process of becoming aware of […] phenomena […] through the senses” (OED). There is a basis of intuition that comes with the understanding of fantasy. Fantastical elements must be perceived by the self or spectator, and may not necessarily be seen in the same way. As the mind reacts to the fantasy, it can be seen in different ways with different outcomes for the perceiver. The senses’ reaction to fantasy makes it a highly subjective experience. Within the confines of this medium, the spectator is able to process each fantasy in a highly individualized way. Therefore, fantasy becomes an individual’s reaction to the imaginary or unreal.
This becomes distorted when discussing fantasy within the confines of the filmic medium. While a fantasy is a highly personalized experience, within the confines of the cinema it must be shared in order to become an experience of both the spectator as an individual and the audience that spectators collectively compose. There is a distinction between the individual and group response, but there is a “close relation…between the reel world of film and the private fantasy experience of the printed word” (McLuhan, 286). The private experience of the viewer of film is the same fantasy experience as the reading of novels; however, it is based in a collectivized atmosphere. The ideology in the “reality” of the film viewing experience is that it creates a false unified collectivity within the audience of a film. It creates a fantasy that exists within the minds of all, taking away the individualized experience of the imaginative fantasy within literature.
While the previous entry points to a lower-class distinction between the imagery of some media and the type of imagination within fantasy, this has begun to change with the emergence of fantasy, especially literature, which has been adapted to film. It is the exploration of the mirage that is presented in the world around that can be examined specifically through the concurrent media of film. In films, “the more intensely and flawlessly [the director’s] techniques duplicate empirical objects, the easier it is today for the illusion to prevail that the outside world is the straightforward continuation of that presented on the screen” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 4). The world of fantasy has been integrated into the filmic medium, and can be seen heavily in the work of computer-generated imagery (CGI). While fantasy is the extension of the self in a purely visceral manner, the introduction of CGI allows for a more universalized experience towards fantasy, prompting Bordwell and Thompson to conclude that “the natural home for CGI is fantasy and science fiction” (34).
Fantasy films have become synonymous with science fiction in recent years, as recognized by the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, with sections in their Celebration of the Fantastic on science fiction, and essays entitled “Virtual Space and its boundaries in Science Fiction Film and Television: Tron, ‘Max Headroom’ and WarGames” (Morse, et al). Their collections of papers from their conferences rely greatly on the influence of science fiction films in fantasy media. It is becoming more commonplace to use CGI technology in films. With even comedies using the technology to add in objects or change backgrounds, long gone are the days where CGI was reserved for science fiction films alone. Yet, it is within the realm of science fiction (Tron, 1980) or violent fantasy films (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) that fantasy remains alive during the age of CGI.
CGI allows for the presentation of a reality that does not exist. In Harry E. Shaw’s discussion of reality he states that reality is “naively transparent and malignantly totalistic” (9). This is true of fantasy films with CGI. They are a complete world that exists not only within the minds of the spectator, but in the world at large as a document of computer prowess. However, there is a part of it that presents itself as false. It is not a true consciousness, nor is it the reality that exists in everyday life. It is imagined. Yet, it exists as ideology within the imagined world. Fantasy in the realm of CGI is placed squarely at the intersection of imagined and real. Fantasy, within these films takes on a new meaning. It is no longer the passive daydreams of an individual, but the mass expression of an ideology within another universe.
Though the Lord of the Rings films were based on fantasy novels with the same theme and degree of violence, the experience remained within the singular reader, as they were left alone to fantasize about the violence and the action. With the advancement of advanced filmic technology, there arrived a new dimension in which presentation these tales could be presented. The images were made for the spectator, and the highly important aspect of imagination was taken out of the equation. Hortense Powdermaker is quoted as saying in regards to the interaction of fantasy and Hollywood, “Hollywood provides ready-made fantasies or day-dreams; the problem is whether these are productive or nonproductive, whether the audience is psychologically enriched or impoverished” (Donald, 3). This discussion of the collectivization of the audience into the fantasy film allows for a new take on ideology in reality. It is no longer the expression of the false consciousness of the individual, but instead the complete illusion of the masses.
The discussion of the fantasy that films give the spectator can be expanded to examine how fantasy changes from introverted to extroverted perception. While the classical definition of fantasy allows for a personalized experience, the emergence of filmic fantasy creates instead a much grander scheme of identification. There are many modes by which a viewer can identify with a film. This marks a departure from the ideas that arise from the beginnings of fantasy, the psychoanalytical basis, discussed further in the first entry. It seems that within film, and especially films that utilize CGI, there is a loss of what Tankard calls “faerie.” He notes that, “Apprehending faerie involves an exercise of imagination of a kind or to a degree which is not called forth by cinema” (Stratyner and Keller, 91). In this sense, much is lost by the advent of the filmic fantasy genre and medium. The understanding of fantasy, therefore, must be changed when in discussion with the medium of cinema. While cinema has always striven to produce what cannot be seen by the natural gaze, CGI changes the playing field by doing so convincingly enough that it can be mistaken for the natural gaze. The unification of the masses creates the ideology that is lacking when there is only the fantasy of one person.
Ultimately, the “fantastic achieves its most typical effects not when the supernatural suddenly interrupts into the flow of our ordinary, civilized lives, but when ordinary events begin to gather into mythic outlines, when myth begins to emerge from history” (Becker, 15). The idea of fantasy is that it presents a way for the mind to adapt the imagined into reality. It is most effective when it is seen in terms of the everyday lives that are lived. This helps it gather a sense of possibility when impossibility enters the fore. CGI is a way for outsiders to project their fantasies into the minds of others and communicate some sense of comprehension. Unlike with other mediums, such as literature, there is no sense of varied perception when it comes to film. The fantastical images that are displayed are there for everyone to see. CGI takes away the individualized sense of traditional fantasy and makes it more universalized, creating mass ideology.