The season five debut of Game of Thrones is still a month away, which leaves you plenty of time to catch up and/or get reacquainted with its complex and detailed interweaving storylines. One great chance to do exactly that is Saturday, March 14, when the Denver Public Library's Fresh City Life program will offer a marathon of Game of Thrones season four at the Denver Central Library. Before that refresher course, there's plenty of time to dream about what other fantasy franchises should get the Game of Thrones treatment — lush, expansive series (or miniseries), populated by top-notch actors and shot with the kind of budgets they need to bring them to life. Here are five franchises that offer as much promise as George R.R. Martin's blockbuster series.
5) David Eddings's The Belgariad
A big part of the charm of Martin's Game of Thrones series (or A Song of Ice and Fire series, if you prefer) is the way that it subverts the core tropes of typical fantasy in favor of a complex, realistic world where life is nasty, brutal and short, politics are woven into everything and magic, while real, has about as much on the everyday lives of the people at Westeros as it does right here in America. On the other hand, you have The Belgariad, which is basically just every familiar fantasy trope ever jammed together into one big ball of fun. You have your reluctant predestined hero, your magical items of unimaginable power, your party of friends made up of one representative of all the good nations ... it's all very familiar to anyone who's ever delved into the depths of the fantasy milieu, but in a way that's always welcoming and never feels tired or played out. For that exact reason, it would make a great palate cleanser after the next shocking Game of Thrones twist — in the world of The Belgariad, the good guys win, and when a hero dies a tragic death it always serves a purpose beyond just reminding us that, hey, things were kind of fucked up when feudal lords ruled the world.
4) Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber
Much like Game of Thrones, Zelazny's Amber series leans heavily on fucked-up family dynamics, backstabbing siblings and secret plots upon secret plots, all aimed at grabbing the throne. Here the throne isn't just the head of seven kingdoms, though — it's the One True Throne, that sits at the head of infinite realities, all cast as shadows of the only real world, Amber. And the family in question is a bunch of near immortals who can walk from one plane of reality to another merely by thinking about it. That gives the series a vast scope and scale that genuinely deserves the term "epic." Throw in the literal forces of Chaos, who live at the far edges of reality where shit gets real weird, and plenty of mysteries and secrets to reveal, and you have the making of the show that could really be special in the right hands.
3) John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China
Switching gears from books to film, it's high time the world got a little more — or a lot more, actually — of Big Trouble in Little China. Seriously, how is it that the second-best cheeseball fantasy-action epic of the '80s, Highlander, got four sequels (all bad) and a long-running, well-loved (by some, at least) TV series, plus multiple other spin offs, — while the actual best, Big Trouble in Little China, of course, got ... well, there's a soundtrack album you could track down. It's time to rectify that, and put the one and only Jack Burton (or maybe his son, if you didn't want to recast the part) back in the fight against the barely hidden forces of the occult that exist in our own world. He could drive around in his eighteen-wheeler, stumbling into millenia-old conspiracies and kicking evil right in the face with a cowboy-booted foot. It'd be like the best parts of B.J. and the Bear and Supernatural mashed up with the original's goofy, comic-book vibe and bumbling protagonist. Speaking of Supernatural, Jensen Ackles would be perfect for the lead — he has the same kind of smirking, effortless charm that made Kurt Russell so great in the original.
2) The Legend of Zelda
Video games typically don't translate well to other media, but The Legend of Zelda is not your typical video-game franchise. The various tales of Link's quests to assemble the Triforce and save Zelda have always displayed an unusual depth and poignancy for games, going all the way back to the original NES incarnation. The series is set in the weird and wonderful land of Hyrule, where an incredible bestiary of strange creatures roam. Zelda's almost twenty incarnations have introduced a fascinating and hilariously bizarre supporting cast, all of which could be mined for the TV show. Plus, tireless protagonist Link is typically portrayed as a teen, which opens the door to making this a YA fantasy series, and a perfect show to enjoy with the kids. It doesn't always have to be incest and patricide, you know?
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1) Robert E. Howard's Conan
On the one hand, this one has been done to death — three movies, a short lived '90s TV show, comics, plus all the original short stories and novels. On the other hand, a lot of that stuff sucked, and yet despite all the sucking people keep trying because Conan is just that fucking awesome. He's a barbarian, but an intelligent and cunning one. He's good with the sword, has a dark sense of humor and looks great in a loincloth. The dude is practically made for TV, in other words, even if most of his previous incarnations have hardly done him justice. Give this to someone who loves the character and the mythos and has the writing chops to do the character justice, and the sky's the limit. There are more than eighty years' worth of Conan stories to draw from but no official canon — making for a rich vein to mine with almost total freedom to go where the story needs to go, so long as it stays true to the character. Imagine that in the hands of someone like Joss Whedon and it's not hard to see the potential for true greatness just sitting there, waiting to be brought to life.
Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.