MA Film Studies

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Falstaff and Gandalf: Adapting Fantastic Texts to Film

Course unit fact file
Unit code DRAM70022
Credit rating 30
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


The fantastic has been described as the dominant mode of fictional expression in the last century but remains one of the most maligned and misunderstood.  Why is fantasy so prevalent in our lives and why are we so suspicious of it?  Why, as Ursula Le Guin asks, are we afraid of dragons?

This course explores how filmmakers have represented the mythic and fantastic.  Our emphasis is on adaptation in various genres (legends, fairy tales, gothic horror, science fiction and epic fantasy) and students will be encouraged to adapt their choice of text in their final coursework.  As well as addressing the audio-visual possibilities of film in realising the fantastic, we will consider relevant theoretical concepts (particularly orientalism, the carnivalesque, temporality and the work of Tolkien and Ernst Bloch). The course closes by addressing the value and socio-political function of the fantastic in our lives and the dangers and benefits of escapism. 


Pre/Co/Antirequisite units

DRAM71331: Film Theories, Debates and Approaches



  • to explore varying approaches to adapting fantasy-related and mythic texts to film
  • to encourage students to apply a critical awareness of the necessary aesthetic strategies involved in adaptation to their own practical work
  • to develop an appreciation and critical understanding of fantasy as a mode of expression
  • to challenge the assumption that fantasy has no social or political relevancy by considering the socio-political application of fantasy

Knowledge and understanding

  • identify and articulate the way in which filmmakers adapt a fantastic play, novel or story to film
  • define the fantastic and discuss how it can be expressed visually and aurally
  • demonstrate an advanced awareness of several of the major fantasy-related genres (particularly Arabian Nights fantasies, Arthurian fantasies, fairy tales and science fiction)
  • demonstrate familiarity with the audio-visual style and thematic interests of key practitioners (particularly Terry Gilliam, Orson Welles, Kurosawa Akira, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Angela Carter, Julie Dash and Andrei Tarkovsky)
  • show awareness of and be able to account for any social and historical factors that contribute to the adaptation of a particular text
  • translate a critical awareness of the fantastic into individual research for seminars, essays and creative projects

Intellectual skills

  • Critically analyse and interrogate films and related sources (posters, trailers, reviews and industry documents)
  • Contextualise historically films and practitioners, and to draw on contextualisation to develop understanding
  • Critically evaluate a series of films, practitioners, theorists and genres in relation to key moments of socio-political change in relevant territories
  • Synthesise theoretical terms and concepts and apply these to analysis, argument and creative practice

Practical skills

  • Research academic and non-academic materials, and evaluate the effectiveness of these materials as supporting evidence for individual essays, seminar presentations and creative projects
  • Plan, undertake and evaluate independent critical and creative work
  • Use relevant software to collect, compile and present audio-visual material for presentations
  • Communicate research material both verbally, audio-visually and in writing
  • Enhance relevant practical skills depending on the nature of the creative project undertaken (e.g. directing, digital editing, screenwriting, art design, sound design etc)

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • demonstrate an advanced ability to self-manage learning – to ask questions independently, identify relevant research material, take initiative, make decisions, and develop independent and sustained responses to complex problems, working successfully to a deadline
  • demonstrate an advanced ability to develop sustained arguments and present these effectively in written, oral and audio-visual form

Employability skills

Employability skills that students can expect to gain from successful completion of this unit include: l Advanced critical thinking, problem-solving and planning skills l Advanced ability to exercise initiative and personal responsibility l Working productively as part of a group and independently in learning environments that present complex and unpredictable challenges l Ability to effectively adapt self-presentation to different audiences/contexts, especially when communicating complex topics l Ability to manage, complete and evaluate a project effectively

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods


Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Seminar presentation - oral


Essay or practical project – written


Consultation on essays and practical projects – oral (each student will receive a one-to-one tutorial in order to discuss their plans for the assignment)



Recommended reading

Attebery, Brian. 1992. Strategies of Fantasy. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Butler, David. 2009. Fantasy Cinema: Impossible Worlds on Screen. London: Wallflower.

Furby, Jacqueline annd Hines, Claire. 2012. Fantasy. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Lim, Bliss Cua. 2009. Translating Time: Cinema, the Fantastic, and Temporal Critique. Durham: Duke University Press.

Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth. 2019. The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games. New York: New York University Press.

Todorov, Tzvetan. 1975. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Walters, James. 2011. Fantasy Film: A Critical Introduction. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Zipes, Jack. 2002. Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

Zipes, Jack. 2011. The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films. New York: Routledge.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Practical classes & workshops 83
Independent study hours
Independent study 217

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Butler Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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