Your First Mistake Was Having Expectations
Two stories have broken today regarding a pair of established and much-loved pop culture franchises. The first is the news that actor Henry Cavill has been cast as Geralt of Rivia, in the forthcoming Witcher TV show currently in production by Netflix. The second is regarding how newly established games developers Athlon Games are currently working on a new F2P Middle-earth based MMO. Considering there is no further details on either of these two points beyond what has already been stated, one could be tempted to say rhetorically “nothing to see here, move along”. However, this is the age of social media, so let it suffice to say that both these announcements have caused a degree of consternation in certain quarters. Namely fans of those already established iterations of The Witcher and The Lord of the Rings.
As I get older and therefore less sentimental and less invested in fandom per se, I do find the sort of complaints, criticism and sundry “brouhaha” that has accompanied both of these developments, somewhat irrelevant. All are based on a misplaced assumption that existing fans needs are the primary force driving both projects. But they are not. Yes, I agree that the look, feel and voice of Geralt of Rivia where honed to perfection in CD Projekt Red’s video games. This will naturally determine a lot of people’s conception of the character, the same way that a handful of artists such as John Howe and Alan Lee have shaped the popular opinion of what Tolkien’s characters should look like. Another example that is age dependent, is who you consider to be the best incarnation of James Bond. But artistic interpretation as a concept tends to “pooh-pooh” such dogmatic ideas as “the definitive version”.
From what I’ve gleaned from the information that’s available about Netflix’s The Witcher TV show, it is not intended to be merely a fan service to those that enjoyed the three video games. It is a broader adaptation of the original source material by by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, intended to reach as wide an audience as possible. Fantasy as a genre is very popular and marketable at present. Thus, casting a known quantity such as Henry Cavill, who has experience of genre productions along with matinee idol good looks is hardly surprising. The objections of a minority of “core fans” is frankly just standard operational collateral damage when adapting such a franchise. Frankly, when you consider the current trend for remakes, reboots, altering race, gender and generally repurposing any franchise or brand if it is deemed profitable to do so, complaining about the casting of Henry Cavill is somewhat redundant.
As for there being a new Tolkien based MMORPG that is set at some point in The Lord of the Rings timeline, I really don’t see it being a major issue for the existing ten-year-old LOTRO. It’s hardly uncommon for multiple licensed products to share a specific market place at the same time. Look at Neverwinter and DDO for example. Furthermore, it is highly likely that both games will be very different from each other and therefore not in direct competition. I recently wrote about the possibility of a LOTRO 2.0 and how those players “joined at the hip” with the existing iteration of the game are not necessarily disposed towards migrating to a new and more modern game. A new title with contemporary bells and whistles would seek a new audience who favour such mechanics. I see it very much as an “apples and orange” situation. Plus, the point has already been raised as to whether the new Middle-earth based MMO is going to be linked in someway to the TV show that is currently under development for Amazon Prime.
Both of these examples reflect once again the inherent myopia that seems to accompany contemporary fandom. They represent a failure to see both of these franchises for what they are; products. And as such they can be augmented by the rights holder in whatever way they see fit. That doesn’t mean that fans can’t have an opinion. They are of course free to like or not like something. But considering the nature of the global market that all products must compete in these days, the uniquely subjective needs of fans only makes up a small percentage of potential customers. Therefore, these bespoke “requirements” are far from paramount. If you want a more specific example, then consider how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has “adapted” the source material to make it accessible to a wider audience. Lore has been altered and known box-office names have been cast to ensure a wide reach. Yes, some fans have disliked what they’ve seen, but in business terms Disney have struck gold. In a world where hype, following trends and number crunching dictates policy, it’s hardly surprising that the Henry Cavill has been cast as Geralt of Rivia and that a new Middle-earth based MMO is going to embrace the current foibles of the F2P business model. To those bemused by all this, your first mistake was having expectations.