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