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Friday, 30 March 2012

Does Fantasy Sound Better with a British Accent?


The BBC have got an interesting article up today discussing the fact that many characters in fantasy film and TV productions talk with British accents. They cite The Lord of the Rings films and TV adaptation Game of Thrones as examples where most, if not all the voices are British. Indeed in Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage is singled out as being the only US actor who, for the show, puts on a very convincing RP (Received Pronunciation) accent – very apt for a Lannister.

To my British ears, these shows would just sound wrong to me with US voices, and I say that as someone who generally prefers US TV shows to British ones. However, in using British accents all of these productions face another problem with the use of regional accents. In The Lord of the Rings the hobbits all have different accents, suggesting they are all from very different locales. In Game of Thrones the voices in Winterfell are all essentially from the North of England, but even amongst those there seems to be a mix of Yorkshire, Lancashire and a bit of Scottish. What's the US perspective on how they sound?


9 comments:

  1. Note: I am not a native English speaker so my comments below may be rubbish; maybe they are actually more interesting because "from the outside" :)

    I have the impression that, in older US films, American actors had 'stage' accents. Then they allowed their actors to use their natural accents, which now I relate to modern, urban films.

    So a fantasy character speaking with a modern, urban accent wouldn't do the trick. But would he with a modern, London accent?

    PS-- a last comment: the actors in Willow spoke with US accents, didn't they?

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    1. In the Religious epics of the 1950s you'll find plenty of 'stage' accents - strong American voices with real gravitas - and the films seem better for them.

      Actors in the fantasy films from the 80s (Willow, Krull, The Beastmaster, Deathstalker, Krull, etc.) had mostly US accents. However, I think on the whole those films had far bigger problems than the accents used by the actors.

      A modern London accent would not be ideal in a fantasy film. If you want an example, type "Eastenders" in to YouTube and you'll see what I mean.

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    2. The recent Wii game Xenoblade Chronicles is your standard post-Final Fantasy Japanese scif-fantasy hybrid rpg, but for some reason when they localised it they went with British voice acting. Not Royal Shakespeare Company type either; they sound like they wandered off of Albert Square. It was grating at first -- although the original Japanese voices were worse! -- but I've become used to it now, and it's rather charming.

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  2. As an Aussie who prefers British TV over American (which I detest) and even Australian (which mostly copies America), but who enjoys American movies, I must admit American accents in fantasy films have always made me cringe, but since they're the ones making most such movies who am I to complain. I think the worst examples are those in which the main actors (usually the male and female love interest) are American and all the supporting cast British. It would be better if all the cast were American.

    However, American accents in historical and historical-fiction movies that are set in Europe is just plain wrong.

    Before LotR was released I had thought that Jackson might, for example, have all the hobbit actors speak in a southern English accent, which seemed fitting and consistent. I agree that by badly mixing the British regional accents Jackson stuffed up quite badly to anyone who knows the difference.

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    1. Yes, the accents should be all or nothing. I still cringe when I remember how Keanu Reeves sounded in "Bram Stoker's Dracula". Russell Crowe in "Robin Hood" was given a tough time by the critics (they pretty much hated the film too) over his accent and he stormed out of one interview after the interviewer suggested that Crowe's Robin Hood sounded like "an Irishman who took frequent holidays in Australia".

      It'll be interesting to see what the accents are like in "The Hobbit" though.

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  3. I've noticed this not only in fantasy movies, but also in historical ones. why does everybody in Gladiator have a British accent, if they're from ancient Rome? It seems like the conception is that British accents make things seem more "Ye Olde Timey", and since fantasy is supposed to be pretty "Ye Olde Timey", they use British accents. I think it's pretty odd though, especially when its an American production with all-American cast.

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    1. Well, you are in fact incorrect. 'Gladiator' did not have ab all-American cast. Russell Crowe is Autralian, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi, David Schofield, John Shrapnel, Alun Raglan are all British. Connie Nielsen (who plays Lucilla) is from Denmark, and Djimon Hounsou (Crowe's character's African gladiator friend) is from Benin.

      So, Dungeon Smash, how does that constitute an all American cast?
      Here is something to make you stop and think: all those wild west films we've seen from day one - do you really think the pioneers of the wild west had American accents? No. Seeing as the settlers were predominantly from Europe and Britain. So you'd have Scottish, Irish, Welsh, English, French, Portuguese, etc. So the American accent as it is today would not even have been around back then.

      Hopefully this answers the question of why historical/fantasy films and productions use British/European accents. Like it or not, American accents have no place in such productions purely for the fact it is, for all intents and purposes, a modern accent by historical standards derived from a mish-mash of other accents thrown together. Wher do you think the Pilgrim Fathers came from in 1620?

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    2. I must admit as far as Australian historical productions go, they do a good job of ensuring accurate accents in the depiction of our British/Irish early settlers.

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    3. *forgive my typos - typing on a touch screen iPad isn't the best for speed typing at stupid o'clock in the morning ;) *

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