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BA Film Studies and East Asian Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Falstaff and Gandalf go to the Movies: Adapting Fantastic Texts to Screen

Unit code DRAM31042
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Drama
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 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.  


Available on which programme(s)?

Level 3 Drama, Drama and Screen, Drama and English, Music and Drama, Film minor and film half programmes.

Available as Free Choice (UG) or to other programmes (PG)? No
Pre-requisite units DRAM10031: The Art of Film AND any Level 2 core Theare or Film module.
Co-requistie units None



  •  to explore varying approaches to adapting fantasy-related and mythic texts to screen.

  • to encourage students to apply an 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.

Learning outcomes


By the end of this module, students will be able to:



Indicative syllabus (representative only – all of the topics listed below may not be covered every year):


Week 1: Introduction and the Problem of Fantasy

Week 2: Welles, Medieval Fantasies and the Carnivalesque

Week 3: Kurosawa and Japanese Demons

Week 4: Pasolini and the Arabian Nights

Week 5: Boorman, Merlin, Tricksters and the Grail

Week 6: Carter, Folk and Fairy Tales

Week 7: Visualising the Fantastic

Week 8: Time and the Fantastic

Week 9: Tarkovsky and Science Fiction

Week 10: Sound and the Fantastic

Week 11: Journey’s End, Escapism and the Value of Fantasy

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught via:

  • Lectures
  • Seminar discussion exercises
  • Creative tasks as appropriate
  • Screenings

The course unit will be complemented by a Blackboard site that conforms to minimum requirements including a course handbook, weekly course breakdown, provision of reading material, reading lists, case study films and additional media and online resources. Further supplementary material will be added as appropriate. The Blackboard site will be prepared and available to students at least one week prior to the beginning of the first teaching week each semester.

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 familiarity with 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 filmmakers (particularly Welles, Kurosawa, Pasolini and 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 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

Analytical skills
¿ Advanced critical thinking, problem-solving and planning skills ¿ Advanced ability to exercise initiative and personal responsibility
Group/team working
¿ Working productively as part of a group and independently in learning environments that present complex and unpredictable challenges
Project management
¿ Ability to manage, complete and evaluate a project effectively
Oral communication
¿ Ability to effectively adapt self-presentation to different audiences/contexts, especially when communicating complex topics

Assessment methods

Assessment Task Formative or Summative Length Weighting within unit (if summative)
Seminar presentation Formative 5 minute solo presentation N/A
Essay Summative 2500-3000 words 40%
Final essay OR practical project (short film, screenplay, storyboard, sound design, costume design etc) Summative 3500-4000 (if choosing the essay) 60%
Consultation on essays and practical projects Formative N/A N/A



Assessment Task Length
Essay As above
Final essay or practical project As above


Feedback methods

Feedback Method Formative or Summative
Verbal in-class feedback on seminar presentation Formative
Written feedback on final essay Summative
Written feedback on exam Summative
Additional one-to-one feedback (during consulation hours or  by making an appointment) Formative and Summative


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.

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
Lectures 33
Practical classes & workshops 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 134

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Butler Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Scheduled Activity Hours:

It is expected that there will be 10 hours of notional study association with every 1 credit achieved. Therefore, if a unit is worth 20 credits, this will equate to 200 notional study hours.

  •  3 hour weekly lecture/seminar (33 hours)
  • Two weekly film screenings (duration variable but approximately 3-4 hours per week i.e. 33-44 hours).
  • Dedicated weekly consultation hour.
  • Dedicated consultation on assignments (for planning and feedback), each student will receive a one-to-one mini-tutorial to discuss their plans for the final essay/creative project.


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