Centered on Vesemir, a witcher who was slaying monsters when Geralt of Rivia was nonetheless in brief pants, the brand new Nightmare of the Wolf is an interesting snapshot of how a lot Hollywood’s strategy to fantasy has modified.
Picture: Netflix

Spoilers for The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf to observe.

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, the brand new spinoff prequel film to the Netflix sequence The Witcher, accommodates a lot of what followers of the sequence have come to anticipate: bloody battle scenes, bizarre monsters, a hunky witcher taking a scorching bathtub in a picket tub.

What it doesn’t have is Henry Cavill.

As a substitute, Nightmare of the Wolf is centered on Vesemir, a witcher who was slaying monsters when Geralt of Rivia was nonetheless in brief pants. It’s set nearly 100 years earlier than the TV sequence, and does nothing to resolve any of the lingering cliffhangers from the season-one finale.

When you’re searching for connections to the TV sequence, Nightmare of the White Wolf has two actual features. It’s an early introduction to Vesemir, who will present up — older, and performed in reside motion by Killing Eve’s Kim Bodnia — in The Witcher’s second season, which premieres later this yr. It additionally fills within the backstory of an occasion that Geralt talked about, in a single tossed-off line of dialogue, again in season one: a standoff on the stronghold Kaer Morhen that led to common folks hating witchers a lot.

However you’ll solely actually know that stuff for those who really watch Nightmare of the Wolf (or, you understand, learn an article like this one). The film’s precise promoting level is a less complicated one: Right here’s extra Witcher, as quick as we might get it to you. (Amongst different issues, Nightmare of the Wolf is animated, which makes it quicker and cheaper to provide than any live-action fantasy present, and particularly in a pandemic.)

This mad dash to construct out the Netflix Witcher Universe marks a notable shift from October 31, 2018, when the beachhead of Netflix’s huge promotional push for The Witcher was basically “Henry Cavill with a wig”:

Leisure journalists coated the present accordingly, and normally underneath the belief that readers would do not know what The Witcher was. “Superman, is that you?” asked E! News. This very web site remarked on his “intense Legolas hair.” Although Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books have been in style in Poland, the place the sequence originated, the franchise was in all probability finest identified to avid gamers who had embraced 2015’s open-world action-RPG The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. For anybody else, The Witcher will need to have regarded like one of many dozen or so wannabe-fantasy smashes that cropped up across the time Sport of Thrones was winding down.

What a distinction a few years makes. If there is an ongoing competitors to be “the next Game of Thrones,” The Witcher is presently profitable it in a stroll. The query isn’t whether or not The Witcher has been huge for Netflix. The query is how huge, and the reply might be “even bigger than you think.” A month after season one premiered, Netflix claimed 76 million subscriber households had a minimum of sampled The Witcher, making it the service’s greatest debut sequence ever. (Compulsory disclaimer: Netflix shouldn’t be clear about its viewership numbers, and its metric for what counts as a “viewer” are notoriously questionable.)

But when 76 million might be a bit inflated, there are different signifiers that reveal simply how huge The Witcher actually was when it arrived in December of 2019. Shortly after the primary season premiered, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt immediately racked up more consecutive players on the PC gaming platform Steam than it had ever had — an astonishing feat for a recreation that had come out almost 5 years earlier. The sport’s builders have since revealed they’ll be including new content material impressed by the TV sequence — which was introduced at Witchercon, a lengthy livestream co-sponsored by Netflix that was devoted solely to all issues Witcher.

Whereas all this was taking place, Henry Cavill reportedly signed for as many as 5 extra seasons, and showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich simply inked a brand new multiyear take care of Netflix. In a statement, she stated her coronary heart belongs to the Witcher franchise, and she or he clearly means it; along with season two of the TV sequence, she’s additionally govt producer on each Nightmare of the Wolf and the upcoming The Witcher: Blood Origin. Blood Origin, a completely authentic restricted sequence that takes place 1,200 years earlier than Geralt’s adventures, not too long ago made information just by announcing which actors will play characters with names like Brother Demise and Uthrok One-Nut. The truth that these characters don’t seem in any earlier Witcher media, and just about each leisure web site bothered to jot down about it anyway, is one other helpful clue for the urge for food for something Witcher proper now.

Nightmare of the Wolf is about a lot nearer to the central Witcher timeline, however its operate as each a stand-alone story and a teaser for future, Vesemir-centric tales is a proof of idea for what the Witcher franchise would possibly finally turn into for Netflix. It’s the right time for it — as a result of if there’s one huge lesson from The Witcher’s first season, it’s that audiences actually don’t want their fingers held. This can be a sequence that informed its story over three separate chronologies and trusted audiences to determine it out solely through context clues. It dropped references to territories with fantasy names like Skellige and Nilfgaard and Kaedwen, and by no means gave audiences a map to determine how all of them match collectively. It parceled out loopy twists — to call one unforgettable occasion, college students getting became eels to energy a magic faculty — with out ever acknowledging that, even for a fantasy sequence, this was completely bonkers.

The Witcher’s huge wager was that audiences weaned on a gentle food plan of dense fantasy franchises and more and more interconnected Cinematic Universes would observe and care about this anyway, they usually have been clearly proper. So why not make a prequel film a couple of witcher who audiences haven’t even met but? Why not make a separate prequel sequence about a “sword elf” and the Conjunction of the Spheres? Why not burrow into any random nook of this universe that feels attention-grabbing, and belief that audiences will agree?

All this Witcher is an interesting snapshot of how a lot Hollywood’s strategy to fantasy has modified. It’s been almost 20 years because the launch of Peter Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings film. Jackson had initially pitched Lord of the Rings as two motion pictures, out of concern that no studio would green-light a full trilogy. Even that proved optimistic; the Weinstein brothers repeatedly pressured Jackson to chop much more from his therapy and make a single Lord of the Rings film, believing that audiences wouldn’t care sufficient about Center-Earth to trouble with scenes just like the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

Now, in fact, Amazon is about to debut a Lord of the Rings prequel spinoff sequence, which may cowl the historical past of Center-Earth within the really granular element audiences have come to need. It’ll be joined by who-knows-how-many Sport of Thrones spinoffs — a minimum of half a dozen have been announced at one level or one other — which is able to commit hours to tales that have been teased in a couple of stray traces of dialogue within the authentic present’s eight-season run. In trendy fantasy, audiences don’t simply need a story; they need a whole universe the place the tales are basically limitless.

It’s a precept that, to Netflix’s evident delight, might hardly dovetail higher with the lightning-in-a-bottle success of The Witcher and the better Witcher Netflix Universe that begins with Nightmare of the Wolf. So long as audiences maintain streaming, The Witcher can proceed its story in any and each course. As Geralt would possibly say, there’s at all times one other monster to slay.

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