The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The one movie that opened for a new wave of Scandinavian sci-fi and fantasy

with 17 comments

let the right one inIt used to be nearly impossible to get money to make a science fiction, fantasy or horror movie in Sweden.

I learned this at the recently held science fiction convention Fantastika, where one of the panel debates covered the state of science fiction and fantasy in Swedish film and television.Until very recently, your best chance to get financial support for a TV series or a movie was to describe it as bleak, naturalistic social drama. That was what was in demand, maybe not by the audience, but by the ones who took the decisions. Perhaps it was the always omnipresent heritage of Ingmar Bergman that caused this effect. Perhaps there was something else at work. But regardless: if you insisted on making a genre movie, you’d better not call it as such.

There were examples from film history of Swedish horror and fantasy movies. The first one that comes to mind is The Phantom Carriage from 1921. Bergman also did some movies with supernatural ingredients, such as The Seventh Seal and Hour of the Wolf. And some of the child movies based on the works by Astrid Lindgren took place in foreign worlds of imagination.

But for some reason those films were never called for what they are. They never got tagged as  “horror”, “science fiction” or “fantasy”. The panellists – writers, directors and producers – never provided any theory about why it was such a taboo connected to the genres, so I can only speculate why. Maybe they thought that movie making for fun and entertainment was better left to Hollywood. Perhaps they thought that the Swedish audience wasn’t familiar enough with fantasy and science fiction. It was safer to let them stick to social issues and existential broodings.phantom carriage

However this situation changed overnight in 2008, thanks to one single movie. Doors that previously had been firmly closed were now suddenly open. The movie in question was Let the Right One In, which became an success – among critics as well as in the box office, not only in Sweden, but worldwide. In the footsteps of Let the Right One In, it has been possible to approach decision makers in the film industry with ideas that would have been immediately dismissed before 2008. And now, a few years later, we’re starting to see the effects of this changed attitude, as the ideas are getting into production.

Current projects
The most notable one so far is the science fiction TV series Real Humans (Äkta människor), about a parallel world where human-looking robots live side by side with humans, which raises a lot of interesting questions about what it means to be a human and what rights a robot should have. It recently won the award Prix Italia and has been sold to over 50 countries. And yes, the inevitable English remake is planned.

There’s one upcoming fantasy movie, The Brothers Lionheart, which will be directed and written by the same duo that did Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson and John Ajvide Lindqvist. For being a Scandinavian movie, it has a gigantic budget – about 50 million dollars according to the rumour. I hope they’ll make good use of it. If nothing else I bet they’ll make a more believable dragon than they had in the 1977 movie adaptation of the same novel.

The third big project, that has the chances of gaining an international audience, is The Circle, which is based on a Swedish young adult fantasy trilogy about a group of teenage girls in a rural town who discover that they are witches, chosen to save the world. After one of the former members of ABBA took a liking for the story and provided funding for it, shooting will start this spring and the movie will premier in 2015.

A Scandinavian wave
Is this the beginning of a new wave of film and television from Scandinavia? We’ve become successful in the crime genre with franchises such as Wallander and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Could science fiction and fantasy with a Nordic touch be the next thing?

It certainly looks like it. First Sweden made Let the Right One In, then Norway countered with the wonderful found footage movie Troll Hunter. The second season of Real People will premier in December and within the next few years we have a couple of big fantasy productions planned.

What I’d like to see now is something from the time travel genre, which I think would suit Scandinavia well. For budget reasons we’ll never see a Star Trek equivalent from Sweden. But movies about time travelling require great ideas rather than great effects. It can be done cheaply. I don’t see any reason why Sweden couldn’t make a film such as Timecrimes, Primer or Safety Not Guaranteed.

A door to science fiction, fantasy and horror has been opened in Scandinavia. It will be exciting to see what will pass through it in the next few years.

äktamänniskor

Written by Jessica

November 17, 2013 at 4:08 pm

17 Responses

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  1. All Norwegians are jealous of Swedish cinema, even if most of us won’t admit it. Män som hatar kvinnor plus the sequels and Let the Right One In were so damn good! I’m so happy for this post, I think Scandinavia could really rock sci–fi and fantasy, the films from here are generally so authentic and well–made. And I’m very excited for Brothers Lionhearts, I still love the book!

    elina

    November 17, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    • Actually we’ve been jelous of Norwegian cinema over the last few years! Apart from Troll Hunter, you also had Oslo August 31st, Turn me on, dammit! and Headhunters. Just to mention a few brilliant films. But this year I’ve seen several good Swedish films, so I think we can settle for that Scandinavian cinema overall is doing pretty well at the moment. I think like you that we very well could be successful in those genres. Exploring the Nordic troll heritage like you did in Troll Hunter was a great idea. And we’ve got our viking heritage as well to build on. For instance we could totally do Thor, but the Scandinavian version instead of the cartoon/Hollywood one.

      Jessica

      November 17, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      • A Scandinavian Thor would be AWESOME! And it’s true, we’re doing great. The Danish Jakten… good lord… I’m so happy to live here right now. 😉

        elina

        November 17, 2013 at 8:02 pm

  2. Interesting information. I have been in a quiet battle my entire professional life in an effort to bring understanding of the worth and vitality of the science fiction genre. Its strange, in the past two years since Ray Bradbury’s death, the high school I work at has opened their collective eyes to the value of his work and I have been sanctioned to teach his work. Before, well, it was always ridicule. Maybe the world is growing up, little by little. 🙂

    Vicki

    November 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    • I think there’s hope actually. Look at the reception of Gravity for instance! A small part of me mourns the fact that we’re not exclusive like we used to be. Fandom used to be a hideout for the outcast, for the geeks. And now science fiction and fantasy has turned mainstream, it’s something that a lot of people appreciate. But mostly this is for good of course! I’m glad that you’ve been sanctioned to teach Bradbury. Not all science fiction writers from earlier days hold up, but he does, thanks to that he’s such a terrific writer.

      Jessica

      November 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm

  3. So you’re not counting the Thor movies then? 🙂

    You mentioned Norway in addition to Sweden. Finland had Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale a couple years ago. If you haven’t seen it and like twisted humor then you might want to check it out. The negatives I’ve read about it are all from people expecting a gory horror movie when it’s actually a dark comedy. And we are approaching the right season for it.

    Chip Lary

    November 18, 2013 at 12:51 am

    • We should make the Thor films according to ScandinaviaI think… Thanks for the tip! If we’re in Finland I guess we should mention Iron Sky as well, though I haven’t seen it myself, so I can’t say how good it is.

      Jessica

      November 18, 2013 at 7:37 am

      • Iron Sky is the kind of film that you have to be in the right mood for. In the U.S. we would describe it as very “tongue in cheek”. I’m not sure if that translates. It roughly means that the movie is intended to be funny or to poke fun at things, but it’s not blatantly obvious to everyone. I liked Iron Sky and I’m actually going to be reviewing it towards the end of next week. I’ve read some posts from people who just hated it, though, mostly because they were expecting some kind of big space battle film.

        Chip Lary

        November 19, 2013 at 1:31 am

        • I see. I’ll save it for the right moment and mood then.

          Jessica

          November 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm

  4. Oh I didn’t realise they were going to do Brothers Lionheart. Oh I do hope they keep true to the book, and not try to shy away from some of the darker themes there, to trivialise it. But I would love to see a version of Nangiyala with modern capabilities.

    stnylan

    November 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    • With Alfredson diriecting and Ajvide Lindqvist making the script I can’t imagine that they’ll shy away from the darker themes. If anything I expect it to be darker than the adaptation they made in the 70s. And with a lot better special effects of course.

      Jessica

      November 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm

  5. Jessica, I’m glad to hear that Let the Right One In has made it easier for sci-fi films to get made. It’s a stunning film and deserves all the acclaim. Troll Hunter also was an interesting take on the found-footage movie, and those upcoming projects look really promising. This is all good news!

    Dan Heaton

    November 18, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    • Yes, I loved both of those movies. After seeing several great Swedish films this year I’m much more hopeful about it than I’ve been in quite some time.

      Jessica

      November 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm

  6. Great piece Jessica. I’ve had a keen eye on the Scandinavian output for a few years now and I reckon it’s the most consistent output around just now. There is a genuine buzz for films and tv from your little corner of the world. Long may it last 🙂

    Mark Walker

    November 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    • I hope so! The crime trend has been going on for a while now and there’s no sign that it’s going to end anytime soon. Hopefully we’ll get this fantasy/sci-fi/horror thing going now as well.

      Jessica

      November 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm

  7. Also, before the movie, I understand that the book really broke down the floodgates. All of a sudden it was “ok” to write serious fantasy and horror books that were intended for adults.

    Sofia

    November 20, 2013 at 6:21 am

    • That’s true too. There are ton of Swedish fantasy, sci-fi and horror novels out there now which I’ve sadly haven’t come around to read yet.

      Jessica

      November 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm


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