With reference to Aylish Wood’s concept of ‘timespaces’, this essay explores the sentient spaces of fantasy film.1 It suggests that digital technologies, either in producing computer-generated or computer-assisted effects, have extended the capacity and significance of film settings by endowing them with a cognitive awareness and physical articulation more in line with film characters than with backdrops for action. Wood contends that ‘digital effects produce spaces with the ability to transform, or […] have a temporal quality, thus adding an extra dimension to the narrative progression’2 and designates these temporally-extended special-effects spaces as ‘timespaces’. However, the digitally generated/assisted landscape often moves beyond Wood’s notion of a temporally-extended space, and rather, constitutes an enhancement of setting to the level of a sentient being. Moreover, this sentience invests the narrative with a causal as well as a temporal element. In other words, sentient spaces contribute towards narrative progression in ways beyond temporal extension. Trees are especially amenable to such effects, evident, for example, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) when animated tree roots malevolently ensnare one of its characters, Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson). The sentience of landscape is not in itself a new phenomenon, being evident in early fantasy film – for instance, the forest of The Wizard of Oz (1939) similarly assumes cognitive qualities. Yet, new animation and digital techniques facilitate a more credible anthropomorphism of settings, to the extent that they are either little different to animated characters or are conflated with them. Analogous to Wood’s contention for convergence between time and space in ‘timespaces’, this chapter therefore argues that settings have become credible sentient entities, with digital technologies effecting a diminishing/absent margin between character and setting. In so doing, it utilises the description ‘animated settings’ in relation to sentience in both the genres of animation and fantasy. Textually analysing a range of fantasy films, including the Harry Potter series (2001-11), Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03), and Steven Spielberg’s The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) amongst others, and referring to Wood’s ‘timespaces’ as well as Sigmund Freud’s theory of animism and studies of animation by Paul Wells and Chris Pallant, this essay posits a concept of sentient computer-generated imagery (CGI) as marking setting-character convergence.
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