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Archive for March, 2012


As we previewed here a few weeks ago, the franchise of Star Trek: The Next Generation has teamed up with the franchise of the current Doctor Who series in a new crossover comic book series coming in May from IDW Publishing:  Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimiliation².  Since then we’ve learned that the shot of the Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory will be an exclusive, limited gatefold cover for the first issue.  It’s quite cool:

But even better yet for fans of all things cyborg, the true Best of Both Worlds will now undoubtedly be featured as common enemies of Captain Picard and crew and the Doctor and his companions, as revealed this week in this image of Issue #2 of the new limited series:

Yes, finally fans of 2 of the 3 biggest sci-fi franchises (don’t forget about Star Wars!) will finally get a good old fashioned mash-up of epic proportions.  Will the half human, half robot Cybermen–the decades old favorite borg enemies of Doctor Who–partner with, or also confront, The Borg–the cybernetic assimilators of all species that have plagued Captain Jean-Luc Picard back to the episode “Q Who?” in the year 2365?  We last saw Captain Picard face The Borg in Star Trek: First Contact in the future year 2373 and Captain Janeway faced (or will face) the Borg Queen in 2378 in the last Star Trek Voyager episode, “Endgame.”

Will the series take place between 2365 and 2373 or will writing Team Tipton give us a future story?  The answer to that can be found at least in part in the gatefold image above–showing clearly the bridge of the Enterprise-D, which is destroyed as acting Captain Will Riker careens the saucer section across the surface of Veridian III in 2371 (Star Trek Generations).  So, unless there is some time travel, and with Doctor Who there fortunately always is time travel, at least part of the story will occur on the Enterprise-D between 2365 and 2371.  Either way, Star Trek and Doctor Who fans can hardly wait!

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The world needs more Frank Cho.  Frank Cho got me interested in Ms. Marvel and The Mighty Avengers when I hadn’t bought a Marvel comic book in years.  And now Frank Cho has caused me to want to read more about the Scarlet Witch, Spider Woman, and a more recent X-Woman named Hope (actually they call her an X-Man, but that doesn’t quite work for me).

I was immediately surprised and pleased when I saw the display for the new prologue to Avengers vs. X-Men, Issue #0, because it is reminiscent of one of Frank Cho’s all-time best covers, that of the Scarlet Witch in the trade edition of Ultimates 3; Who Killed the Scarlet Witch, which I have not managed to pick up yet to read from the back issue stack.

So what I hope is that Avengers vs. X-Men will focus heavily on the focus of this prologue–equal parts redemption of the Scarlet Witch, who betrayed her husband Vision when we last saw her and devastated the mutant community, and the rest about a girl named Hope Summers, the so-called Mutant Messiah, whose story here follows a coming of age, breakaway from the status quo that feels very similar to Batgirl’s journey in DC Comics’ New 52 line-up.

What I thought this issue would cover is a lot of over-the-top brawling between Thor and Hulk and Iron Man and Wolverine, etc.  I was very happily surprised that wasn’t the case.  Since it does not appear that Frank Cho will be doing all the interiors for the actual AvX series, I just hope I am not disappointed in what comes next.

AvX #0 sold out practically instantly Wednesday across the country but no doubt the reprints will follow soon enough if you missed it.  It is a nice standalone issue, and can go firmly on the shelf next to the best of Cho’s Marvel pages.  You hear that writers write to the strength of the artists that they partner with, and it seems unlikely that Brian Michael Bendis and Jason Aaron didn’t also follow suit here.   This book is chock full of what Cho draws best–not just voluptuous women, but superhero females in action, acting smart, acting tough, being cool in every way.  As I mentioned above, that means Scarlet Witch, Hope Summer, and Spider Woman, but it also means Ms. Marvel and Emma Frost make a solid appearance.  It also means that Bendis sent Cho a few lay-ups, with some dinosaur-tipped rockets fired at the Scarlet Witch courtesy of M.O.D.O.K. (that’s Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing).  I think only Cho could pull that off, and he did it here.  If this work is what partially delayed Cho’s Guns & Dinos series, there was a great reason for the diversion, and his fans will be pleased with this latest entry.

There is some alpha and omega, yin and yang going on here, as Hope was the first mutant born after the Scarlet Witch turned all the mutants (except 198) into mere mortals.  Will these two get to deal with each other in the pages of AvX going forward?  I hope so.

In this issue, we had split writing duties, with Jason Aaron taking on the frustration of Hope against the always whiny and wimpy (and often annoying) Cyclops.  Brian Michael Bendis wrote the story of Scarlet Witch in her return to Marvel’s pages from a bit of a hiatus.  Both writers balance the story well and Cho’s art further keeps the issue cohesive.  It would be great if this trio took the reins for the entire series, but that is not the case.

What’s the coolest thing about Hope?  Along with having an interesting character voice, she has one of the best powers around–she can mimic the powers of others.  I remember thinking this was a great ability when I watched Peter use this power in the Heroes TV series.  Hope uses these powers to both use Cyclops’s rays against himself and to take out a motley group of baddies at the end of the book.  She also uses the classic head-butt maneuver to good effect in a classic scene found in this issue.  Aaron’s writing includes a number of funny and quirky moments for Hope–she is endearing.  And you instantly must side with Hope Summers against Scott Summers.  It’s the same style of writing that makes Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men successful.

Cho's original cover art is sadly partially obliterated by the AvX logo. Check out the angel in the background. Doesn't it look like the angel from the Fearless series?

Scarlet Witch–Wanda–never looked better (you just know she wears a Beltsville shirt in her down time).  She is back but wants to stay away from the Avengers.  But Carol Danvers aka Ms. Marvel insists she accompany her and Spider-Woman back to their friends.  The result is a long-and-coming encounter with her husband who turns her away, to the anger of Ms. Marvel, but the acceptance of Logan and Tony Stark.  Bendis is really good–you really feel bad for Wanda here in a short number of pages, both from the story and Cho’s visual portrayal.  And we are left with this prophecy that Hope will have to face the Phoenix… that she senses is coming toward her from far away.  Cho shows us that it is not just a prophecy but will be addressed in issues to come.

For AvX, this is a great start, using the powerhouse writing and art trio of Bendis/Aaron/Cho upfront.  Hopefully the rest of the creators at Marvel Comics will keep the momentum going as we will find out with the premiere of Issue #1 next week.  And more than anything this issue has made me want to catch up on past Cho trade books: Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn, Fear Itself: The Fearless, and The New Avengers.

I’ve got to admit, I can’t get enough of movies based on the works of Philip K. Dick.  And even though I can’t imagine anyone playing Cohaagen better than the great sci-fi character actor Ronny Cox (Robocop, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Stargate, Medium), I am sure Bryan Cranston (The Flash, X-Files, Breaking Bad, John Carter) will do nicely.  I’m talking about Total Recall–the new adaptation of Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” originally adapted 22 years ago into the 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his acting career, which became a sci-fi classic.  Since last year when we saw the Columbia Pictures display across the street from the San Diego Comic-Con, revealing one of the future cops and police vehicles, we’ve been eagerly looking forward to this film.

Columbia just released a teaser for a trailer coming this Sunday.  That’s right–a teaser for a teaser.  Check it out:

You can also find some early marketing at the official Total Recall website.

Colin Farrell (Minority Report, Phone Booth, Daredevil), Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Much Ado About Nothing), Jessica Biel (Stealth, Next), Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Underworld, Pirates of the Caribbean), Ethan Hawke (Gattaca), John Cho (Star Trek)–that’s a pretty good cast with something for everyone.  And consistent with past envisioning of Dick’s future Earth, this teaser looks a good deal like the art design is similar to that used in Minority Report, which also featured Colin Farrell.  Still, at 30 seconds this one truly is a teaser in the truest sense of the word.

So we can look forward to even more this Sunday!  But the release date?  August 3, 2012.  Ugh!!  Enough teasing already.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

As I drive back and forth to visit my parents in Arizona, I use those long solitary times in the car to listen to podcasts. “WNYC’s Radiolab,” “the memory palace,” “Thrilling Adventure Hour,” “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” “Doug Loves Movies” and “The Sports Poscast” all satisfy different moods and help make the drive a chance for laughs, learning and great stories.  On my past visit, I queued up the two-hour plus “Poscast” from 3/14/2012 featuring Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur as I drove across the Mojave Desert.  The first half concentrated on my favorite sport, baseball, and discussions and predictions regarding the upcoming season.  (Go Cardinals).  The second half concerned something that I think all readers of borg.com can get behind – a draft of the characters of Star Wars.  (Star Wars was defined as Episode IV through Episode VI – any other movies never had existed.  That is the correct view).

So, as much as I loved the baseball discussion (go Cardinals, again) this draft excited me.  My one addition to the draft (everyone’s a critic) – I would have drafted Biggs.  The idea of an infinite universe and somehow two friends from Tatooine end up flying X-wings together is better than just running into someone you know on the streets of Chicago or in a café in Paris (though both of those are pretty awesome).  It’s just my idea of magic and what I read into the trilogy, though all of their picks made perfect sense.  I still am up in the air about who would have won – each team had two Jedis, each team had people good with blasters and the last pick, though one was much more powerful, one was a lot more lucky.  As far as favorites go though, I have to side with Schur’s draft.  He had the first pick and of course he took Han Solo and the ensuing discussion got me to thinking.  That moment they cite as the favorite Han moment, that moment that we all want for ourselves, the moment where chills run through me, my hair stands on end and my eyes well up is the Millennium Falcon shooting a TIE Fighter out of space, disrupting Darth Vader’s shot on Luke’s X-wing, and Han exclaiming, “You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home.”

The rogue becomes a hero.  He is in it for more than the money, he has a heart.  He cares enough to love something.  We all want to be that person.  In continuing to think about that, it ran up against my thoughts of Community as I finally got to see a panel for the show at WonderCon the previous Sunday.  Then, I finally had my epiphany on my love of this show and other well crafted ones like Schur’s own Parks and Recreation.

We all love Star Wars.  It’s a great story.  However, the characters are archetypes and therefore, we can vicariously insert ourselves into them and become the hero.  We can “play” Han and Luke and Leia as kids because the simple traits that they have don’t intrude on our true personalities.  We all want to be heroes.  We all want to find that cause to champion.  We will defend ourselves.  We will defend our friends.  We will save the girl or the boy with our own bravery and pluck.

On the other hand, you look at a Jeff Winger or a Leslie Knope and you run into something different and that is specifics.  Winger is a lawyer.  He cheated his way into becoming a lawyer and once he was found out, he had to return to community college to earn his degree.  He knows how to talk himself out of about any situation and can convince about anyone to do anything, but he’s learning that isn’t always a good thing.  He’s trying to coast through college because he doesn’t know how to work hard and study.  His Halloween costumes are just excuses to dress well and show off his good looks.  He once wet himself playing foosball.  He’s an agnostic.  He interferes with others’ relationships.  He stinks at pottery and it can infuriate him.

We know Leslie is a tireless worker in the Parks Department.  We know her mother intimidates her, but that she looks up to her success in city government.  Her mom can be a rival for the affection of a man like Ben Wyatt – and she will stand up to her to fight for him.  She will prepare 72 hours of reading for her best friend Ann Perkins to do in 12 hours for an interview Ann never wanted.  She’ll risk her career for love, but she won’t give up either because she wants it all.  She’ll steal artwork to protect it from censors.

We can’t project ourselves onto these people – they’re too different.  There may be some similarities, but I doubt there is a real Leslie Knope or Jeff Winger or Britta Perry or Ron Swanson or Abed Nadir.  However, because they are so likable, we can project ourselves into Greendale or into Pawnee, Indiana because we want to hang out with them for the 22 minutes every week.  Then I have to shift to first person as my adventures of driving an hour to WonderCon after waking up at 5 am to volunteer at the L.A. Marathon to go and sit in a room for two hours watching the two previous panels just to be sure I can get an early viewing of “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” and see my first Community panel after two years of Comic-Con disappointment due to not getting to the line in time, because my experience is more specific.  (It also deserves more than one, long, rambling sentence).

Following the episode, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chris McKenna, Ken Jeong, Dan Harmon and Steve Basilone assembled at the panel table in front of the huge crowd.  We found out that in the 18-34 demographic Community beat American Idol, which got a huge cheer.  Then Yvette prefaced her comments by saying that “Dan Harmon is broken” and thanked the audience for their support, because through all of the tributes, they can feel that love for the show.  The best line was, “The fact that you guys walked away from your computers and watched us live and got us those numbers, it’s magic.”  Even though I’ve seen this week’s show, I’ll be watching again live, though no one will count it.  If you have a Nielsen box, please do the same.

Some of my other favorite moments of the panel:

While discussing the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” that the moderator attributed to Chris McKenna, he said, “We have a writing staff.  Dan came in and vomited up a bunch of ideas for it and we picked through the vomit.”

Gillian mentioned going to Comic-Con last year and a few people whooped, while Dan jumped in and said, “You guys like comic books?”

Steve describes the episode “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” as “retardedly awesome” and the moderator steps in and asks, “Are there any retardedly awesome people in the audience?”  (As an aside, I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Scrooged as my favorite holiday entertainments, but this year, I just watched “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”  It’s easily in the top 3 of Christmas for me now).

The interplay between Yvette and Dan when Yvette started talking about Dan’s skills with rap flow and lyrics and Dan’s humility deflecting it to a voicemail from Chevy Chase that says he won’t live past 57.  Most of it is Dan going in to detail and Yvette repeatedly saying, “Harmon.”

The character of Britta was just a list of stuff that the writers (and Dan) considered as things they found attractive in a woman.  Then a female writer, Hilary Winston then said that she didn’t like Britta and gave Dan the reasons.  Dan then said, “Instead of changing the character, I thought, ok so that’s who Britta is.  She’s the woman that women don’t like.”

Dan again on Britta and other female characters, “What creates a good female character is a guy forgetting that it’s a female character.”  Then Yvette added, “It works for diversity as well.”  Then Yvette and Dan went into another dialogue, as Dan got a little humorously offensive about writing about race and talked about going to RaceCon.

Re-listening to the panel, it didn’t strike me then because I had no clue who it was, but I have to say that Gillian is pretty darn correct in the fact that she can resemble the later-in-life Michael Jackson that she plays in “Contemporary Impressionists.”

Just re-reading this, the differences between a fan of Community or Parks and Recreation and a fan of Star Wars (heck, they’re probably the same people a lot of the times) are not that great.  The characters have more depth in the TV show because they have over 20 hours to develop over three seasons instead of six hours over three movies.  Fans get crazy excited about all three.  I just want to figure out what makes a show like Community so special to me and that makes me spend the past few days watching my DVDs of seasons 1 and 2.  I thought the idea that I wouldn’t play a sitcom out with friends when I was a kid might be that germ of understanding because of the character depth.  Then again, if I were ten again, maybe I would “play” Community.  I get to be Troy.

By C.J. Bunce

One of the Midwest’s best pop culture and comic book conventions was this past weekend, Planet Comicon, which has been Kansas City’s largest fan convention for more than a dozen years.  The show seemed to be bursting from its seams this year with thousands of guests, and appears to be outgrowing its venue at the Overland Park International Trade Center.

The film and TV headliners for this year’s show included Edward James Olmos, best known to sci-fi fans for his role in Blade Runner and as Adama in the Battlestar Galactica reboot series.  He signed autographs and took photos with fans both days of the show.  Here he is with Erin Gray, who appeared with other actors from the 1979-1981 TV series Buck Rogers and the 25th Century: 

Gray also appeared on an episode of the Syfy Channel’s Hollywood Treasure last year.

The other featured major guest from film and TV was Billy Dee Williams, best known as Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but also as Harvey Dent alongside Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman film.  His current work includes a stint on USA’s White Collar.

Billy Dee also appeared at the show both days.  (I offered a woman in line $5 to say “Billy Dee, Billy Dee, Billy Dee!” when she finally met him but didn’t take me up on it.  And it’s OK if you don’t get that reference).

Early Saturday morning legendary comic book artist Michael Golden is getting fueled up before embarking on a sketch of Green Arrow:

Green Arrow by Michael Golden. How cool is that?

Michael is known for his work on such titles like Marvel Comics series The ‘Nam, GI Joe Yearbook, Star Wars, and Micronauts.  He is also the co-creator of the X-Men character Rogue.

I’ve been a fan of the different styles Mike Norton uses in his art for quite a while.  Here he is signing one of his comic pages for the Green Arrow/Black Canary series, where he did the pencil work and comic book legend Bill Sienkiewicz provided the ink work:

Mike is working on a creator-owned project currently and has previously worked on Runaways, Gravity, the Young Justice animated series comic book.  He was actively sketching pages for fans at the show and produced probably a dozen at least over the weekend, including this great image for me:

Unfortunately Bernie Wrightson wasn’t sketching at this year’s convention, but he was signing plenty of shirts and books for his Frankenstein book.  Wrightson’s horror artwork goes back several decades, with his first published comic work with House of Mystery in 1969.  He co-created Swamp Thing in 1971.  His work has appeared in Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, and Batman: The Cult.  Here Wrightson is at a signing table with Freddie Williams II and his wife Kiki:

Freddie is well known for his work on his Robin series, and is currently one of the DC Comics top artists.  We reviewed his and JT Krul’s Captain Atom series here at borg.com a few weeks ago.  Freddie was busy creating sketches for fans and speaking on panels at the show.

Currently working on projects for Dynamite Comics, Bionic Man writer Phil Hester and Lone Ranger writer Ande Parks had pages of original artwork as well as copies of their books new and old that they were signing for fans, including a lot of low-priced original art from their run on the DC Comics Green Arrow series:

It’s great that these guys have tackled both the writing and illustration sides of comic book creation.

I got to catch up again with a couple well known Kansas City authors.  Here, Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, two of the best known authors of Star Trek novels, talk with fans at the show.

The NBC TV series Heroes co-creator Tim Sale was signing books and art at his booth:

Sales’ past work includes art in Batman: Dark Victory, Batman: The Long Halloween, Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Grey, Spider-Man: Blue and Superman For All Seasons.  (What’s with these color titles, anyway?).  His unique stylized paintings on Heroes featured into the plot of the series.

I spent time chatting with Rob B. Davis, currently providing illustrations for a Sherlock Holmes series and past artist for Malibu’s Deep Space Nine comic book series, writer Jai Nitz, who was juggling signing copies of his Kato and Tron: Betrayal series while moderating different comic book panels at the show, borg.com writer Art Schmidt, local writer Justin Cline manning the front of the convention, and Todd Aaron Smith, who sketched this great Black Canary image for me:

Smith had provided storyboards for Family Guy and other animation art for shows like South Park and various DC Comics and Marvel Comics TV series.  Current Marvel Comics lead writer Jason Aaron could be found with some good lines of fans waiting to get copies of his various Hulk, Wolverine and X-men series signed:

The facility was packed wall to wall with plenty of booths selling everything from graphic novels to collectible action figures, original comic book art, and comic book back issues.  Here, Elite Comics comic book store owner William Binderup appears to be raking in some cash from sales of comics at his booth:

Show producer Chris Jackson seemed pleased with the success of this year’s convention.

And of course there were plenty of cosplayers.  Here a few Batman characters huddled for a photo:

But I think the best was this “Hello Kitty meets Stormtrooper” mash-up:

No doubt it would have been a far different Star Wars had Luke showed up to rescue the princess with this outfit.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

When we decided to do a list of the Top Ten Fantasy Movies for each of the borg.com authors, the definition of “fantasy” became very simple – it had to have magic in it.  I thought, no problem. That’s easy – and I was right.  I had more than enough movies to make the list work without including super-hero movies or science fiction.  (Though, there is one movie that could be seen as a super-hero movie.  Technically.)  Then, I came to a realization.

Of all of the movies that I found, there are an overwhelming number of romantic comedies.  When I think fantasy, I think Game of Thrones, the Dragonriders of Pern, Xanth, Tasslehoff Burrfoot and many other series.  It surprised me that love, true love, also has a fantasy aspect to it.  Maybe it’s because finding your true love has turned out to be one of those ultimate myths like unicorns or white wizards.  Maybe it’s because in order to find true love, you need a little supernatural push.  Maybe I’m just being overly analytical and love itself is a kind of magic.  (At this point, I’m sure you could be singing “Magic” by The Cars, “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News or any number of pop love songs and convince yourself that love is magic because the bards say so.)  No matter what the reason, there are more love stories than adventures in my list.  If I read the other author’s lists and see more adventures, well, then I will assume that I’m a hopeless romantic.  If they have romances as well, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief and think that my brain is not love sick, just good at finding magic in the everyday where relationships, not dragons, need to be shot out of the sky with large weapons.  Wait…oh, never mind, on to the list.

10.  Hawk the Slayer

This one is pure nostalgia.  I could have put other, better movies that this one on my list like Big Fish, Stardust, Spirited Away, The Prestige, Stranger than Fiction, Ella Enchanted, Last Action Hero, The Fall, Kung Fu Hustle,* Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure or Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium on this list**, but I still remember staying up late and watching this movie a few different times with friends while I was in grade school.  I look at the trailer (part of a site which may make a sequel!) and nostalgia makes me want to watch it again, but my mind tells me that I’d rather keep it unsullied in the memories of 10-year-old me.  My favorite moment occurred outside the movie because my friend Russell and I would “play” Hawk the Slayer and fight over who got to be the elf.

*This is the movie that I think blurs the line between “fantasy” and “super-hero” but because it isn’t technically in my top ten list, I’m ok with it.

**Consider that the rough draft of my 11-21 movies, though not necessarily in that order.  Bill and Ted is the nostalgic one in that list.  Mr. Magorium could just be oxygen infused airline viewing and Natalie Portman that made it wonderful.

9.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail

See #10, except this listing is for junior high/high school nostalgia and I still watch it occasionally, especially for the opening credits.  Llamas will never cease to be funny for me.  My favorite moment in the movie is always the anticipation of the first “wik” in the credits.  If you’re looking for a fantasy moment, the whole scene with Tim is pretty darn great.

8.  Midnight in Paris

My favorite movie of 2011, as I’ve posted before, and I think it belongs on this list.  I still remember smiling and filled with such happiness when I walked out of that theater.  My favorite moment happened when Owen Wilson waited for the car to pick him up a second time.  He had found magic and he got lucky.  The fear of that being a one-time shot made that moment exquisite in anticipation.

7.  L.A. Story

Before I moved to L.A., I really liked this movie a lot. (I seem to place it, Last Action Hero, Hudson Hawk and Quick Change into the same place in my mind, probably due to release dates and also because I seemed to like them much more than anyone else.)  The presence of this movie on my list made me look at the rest of the movies and that’s how I came up with my introduction.  My favorite moment is the scene where the showers can change to slow motion.

6.  Shallow Hal

Yes, the message hits you over the head like a +5 mace of creaming.  Still, from both sides of a romance, don’t you want the person you date, you marry, to be able to see all the things that make you who you are, that make you beautiful?  It’s a great concept, taking the parts of us in our heads and hearts and making it visible to everyone as abs or perky breasts or a full head of great hair or legs that go all the way to the ground.  My favorite moment is the first time Hal (Jack Black) goes dancing in a club with his new sight and is just so happy.

5.  Big

Yes, this has a lot of funny parts and there is a sweet kind of romance to this one, but I always have considered it to be one of the saddest movies I have ever seen.  Not because of arc of the Elizabeth Perkins character, but because of Josh Banks not being able to live purely as a child again once he has become big.  There’s no way to make his innocence magically return.  He’ll forever be an adult.  My favorite moment, “I get to be on top.”

4.  Groundhog Day

Andie MacDowell is gorgeous and I think I could see how a man would spend eternity trying to woo her on her looks alone.  Bill Murray is not as pretty and definitely not that cool in his role as weatherman Phil Connors.  By the end of the movie though, Murray is definitely the one that is so obviously a catch as he seems to have so much more depth. However, this could just be my Murray Man Crush*** speaking.  My favorite moment, out of many, is “Don’t drive angry.”

***I think it is a definite diagnosis for men from 20-50 that have seen Caddyshack, Meatballs, Ghostbusters, Lost in Translation, etc.

3.  Scrooged

This cements the fact that I have a Bill Murray crush.  If Frank Cross made my favorite character list, then his movie should be a part of my favorite fantasy movies, right?  My favorite moment is my guaranteed Niagara Falls, “You forgot God bless us everyone.”  But, a close second is, “Did you try staples?”

2.  Fellowship of the Ring

Here is the truest of true fantasy adventures.  A call to arms and heroes emerge to pursue the quests that need their help.  (Just writing that last sentence makes me want to read some Joseph Campbell.  The awkward construction was part of my plan to make the reader think of Joseph Campbell.  Failing that, I’m just going to ram the name Joseph Campbell down your eye sockets.)  I think this may be the best adaptation of a book that I have ever seen.  Great visuals, great casting, great writing.  My favorite moments in the movie involve the Nazgul.  I love the dream glimpses of their human forms.  I love the chase of Frodo and Arwen.  Such awesome imagery actually might have beaten the visions I had in my mind from the books.

1.  The Princess Bride

One of my favorite movies of all time, as soon as C.J. mentioned the list, I knew this would be at the top of it, the tough part being how the rest of it would look.  I have two favorite moments amidst a movie filled with quotable moments and great scenes.  “I do not think it means what you think it means,” and the moment Peter Falk turns back toward Fred Savage and says, “As you wish.”  Ok, that settles it.  I am a hopeless romantic.

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

If there’s one thing these lists demonstrate, it’s that great fantasy stories are enduring.  All four of us have named several films that reach deep into the literary and oral tradition of myths, legends, traditional bedtime stories, and classics of fantasy literature.  It’s not surprising that what makes a great fantasy movie is the same stuff that makes a great story, period: amazing worlds, epic quests, doomed romance, and soaring imagination.  More than half the movies on my list are direct retellings of well-known tales, and all of them are adapted in one way or another from earlier source material–be that a novel from the 1990s or a play by William Shakespeare, or anything in between.

It’s neither accidental nor surprising that my personal favorites list went this way, but there are plenty of contenders that just narrowly missed the cut and are worthy of mention, at least in passing.  I’ve been thoroughly impressed by recent films Stardust (adapted from the Neil Gaiman novel) and Prince Caspian (from CS Lewis’s beloved Chronicles of Narnia), but I haven’t seen either film often enough to declare it a favorite… yet.  Likewise, two classics from my childhood deserve a nod, and would have made the cut if this were a Favorite 15: the glorious Jim Henson/Brian Froud collaboration The Dark Crystal; and Willow, which is just as good as any other high fantasy film made in the last century.  Lastly, because I feel someone should mention it, yet it somehow gets overlooked whenever we start talking about great fantasy films, is one of the few mermaid movies ever made (surprisingly enough), 1984’s fantastic classic Splash.  It gets overshadowed by Hanks’s Big from a few years later, but it really is a wonderful movie that deserves to be better remembered for its contribution to the genre.

But. You’re looking for the ones that did make the cut, so here is my winnowed-down list of my ten alltime favorite fantasy films:

1.  The Princess Bride
Art has suggested that we define great fantasy by the age at which we’re introduced to our favorites, and I tend to agree.  This Rob Reiner masterpiece came out when I was thirteen, which is the ideal time to experience this wickedly smart, hilarious, and romantic fantasy romp.  But viewers can enjoy it at any age!  There are no roles in film history to rival Carey Elwes as Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts or Mandy Patinkin’s iconic Inigo Montoya, but Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Billy Crystal, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk, and all the others turn in perfect performances, too. T he memorable scenes and imminently-quotable catchphrases ensure this film’s status as a fantasy legend.

2.  Ever After
When you’re a fairy tale fan, the golden goose (so to speak) is, of course, Cinderella.  No other tale so captures our love of the genre and our hope for true love to lift us from the drudgery of our daily lives.  Everyone knows this story, and making it fresh and new and wonderful is hard!  But Ever After was up to the challenge, and more.  Set in the intensely naturalistic setting of early Renaissance France, this adaptation builds on the basic rags-to-riches framework to deliver a complex and deeply satisfying tale of smart lovers who complement one another, yet are set apart by a nearly unconquerable divide.  Also, it doesn’t hurt that Dougray Scott makes for a Prince Charming any woman would swoon over.

3.  A Knight’s Tale
Carrying on with the argument that retellings fit in the fantasy genre, magic or not, I’m sneaking one of my very favorite movies–period–onto this list.  Turned off by the truly dreadful previews, I nearly missed this one–and I’m so glad I didn’t.  From the ensemble cast (Heath Ledger!  Rufus Sewell!  Paul Bettany!  That guy from Firefly!) to the wacky rock soundtrack, Chaucer has never been so much fun (and he was no wet blanket to begin with).

4.  Mary Poppins
No film explores the power of childhood make-believe adventures better than this Disney classic.  Who didn’t want their toys to put themselves away?  Or spend an afternoon popping in and out of chalk drawings, riding magical carousel horses and winning the derby?  Or laugh themselves into flight?  A spoonful of sugar and the confident wink of a magical nanny makes it all possible.

5.  Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
Tales of King Arthur and the Holy Grail have been centerpieces of Western fantasy as long as we’ve been telling stories.  The third, and arguably the best, installment of the Indiana Jones franchise brings that classic quest to the screen better than any film, ever.  (I’m talking to YOU, da Vinci Code.  You too, Excalibur. *shudders*)  (The second-best film adaptation of the King Arthur legend is, of course, the 1960s classic Camelot with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.)

6.  Portrait of Jennie
For pure romance and starcrossed lovers, you can’t ask for more than William Dieterle’s sweet Depression-era tale of a starving artist and the doomed model who shapes his career, and his life.  It has all the makings of a gothic mystery–but the tender performances of Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones make this instead a sweeping story of the power of love to reach beyond time and death.  Fans of Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve’s Somewhere in Time should look this one up.  (And fans of Portrait of Jennie should look up the marvelous children’s novel Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillippa Pearce.)

7.  Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban
The best installment of one of the most beloved fantasy series of our age.  Need I say more?

8.  Beauty and the Beast
No one was surprised when this Disney adaptation of Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s classic French fairy tale became the first-ever animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (and thus changed the awards structure forever).  The lavish production, with its marvelous soundtrack, brought this tale as old as time to life with all the wonder and beauty we expect in our fairy tale films.

9.  Arabian Nights
I have expressed my love for these stories on borg.com before, and this made-for-TV miniseries starring Mili Avatal absolutely swept me away.  The production is gorgeous and epic, with a bold and brilliant cast that includes fine performances by Jason Scott Lee, John Leguizamo, Rufus Sewell (!), and Andy Serkis.  It offers up all our Arabian Nights favorites: Ali Baba, Aladdin, and, of course, Scheherazade and her deeply disturbed husband, played with heartbreaking madness by Dougray Scott (who, really, we could stand to see A LOT more of.  Just sayin’.).

10.  Much Ado About Nothing
This is last on my list not because it’s my least favorite of the ten; far from it–it’s actually my alltime favorite movie!  But of the ten, it’s the one that feels the least like fantasy to me, although it has neither more nor less magic than The Princess Bride, Ever After, or A Knight’s Tale.  Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh at the height of his early career, this utterly perfect adaptation of Shakespeare’s lusty romantic comedy is set against the breathtakingly beautiful Tuscan countryside and features fantastic performances by Emma Thompson, Brian Blessed, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard, Michael Keaton, and Denzel Washington.  I want to step inside this movie and live there, every time I watch Much Ado–and if that’s not the very definition of fantasy, than I don’t know what is.

By Art Schmidt

I have a few Honorable Mentions that I am going to list first, rather than sticking them at the end like after-thoughts.  Since I didn’t include them in my actual Top Ten list, the least I can do is put them first so they aren’t entirely skipped over.  These made my initial rough list but, for one reason or another, just didn’t make the final cut: Heavy Metal, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Dragonslayer, Shrek, Time Bandits & The Wizard of Oz.  (Note: Starting at number one, since #10 is the ‘top’ of my list)

#1 – The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

A favorite of my youth, and one of the Ray Harryhausen classics.  Dynamation doesn’t hold a candle to the powers of today’s CGI engines, but in its day it ruled the cineplex, at least as far as fantasy went.  Sinbad’s voyage across the seas to find the Fountain of Destiny was fun and exhilarating and awesome in its day.

Of course, this is more a sentimental favorite than a real ‘All-time Top Ten’ winner, but it works for me.  And of course, there was Caroline Munro…

#2 – Willow

“The power to control the world is in which finger?” the High Aldwin asks the young apprentice hopefuls, holding out his hand.
“I was going to say my own,” Willow later admits, after first choosing poorly.
“That is the correct answer!” Billy Barty’s High Aldwin exclaims.  “You lack faith in yourself.”

Willow is one of those movies that just makes me smile.  It’s funny and different and has quirky characters, but the fantasy element is strong and Val Kilmer (Top Gun, Heat, Wonderland), Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, the Harry Potter movies) and Joanne Whalley (Scandal, The Man Who Knew Too Little) are all great.  Especially Kilmer.  Davis’ Willow gives the movie its heart and soul; Kilmer’s Madmartigan gives it the proper excitement and humor.

What I like about Willow most is that it avoided all of the Conan rip-offs of the day.  No muscle-bound hero, no comedic side-kicks, no supreme magical spell/artifact/being/weapon (unless you count Princess Elora herself).  It was an honest tale in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, about simple people trying to thwart evil.

#3 – The Frighteners

One of my favorite movies, The Frighteners is a little bit horror movie, little bit comedy, little bit fantasy, little bit love story, and a whole lot of cool rolled into one hundred-and-ten-minute roller coaster ride.  Michael J. Fox (The Back to the Future movies, Family Ties, Spin City) is funny and believable as Frank Bannister, a self-proclaimed ‘psychic investigator’ who claims to be able to rid the living of the mischievous spirits of the dead, when in fact he’s a psychic con man who sends in the spirits to drum up business in the first place.  Until he runs into the Grim Reaper, taking a deadly toll on the small coastal town Frank inhabits, at which point he begins to use his powers for good in an inhuman man-hunt.

Bannister’s ghost side-kicks are hilarious, the sight gags are funny, and the scary parts have the right amount of creep in them.  The whole movie is fast-paced and fun, and while some bits of the storyline are fuzzy, it’s a blast right up until the end credits roll to the tune of ‘Don’t fear the reaper’.

#4 – Conan the Barbarian (1982)

This pick needs little explanation.  I’m a life-long Conan fan; the Howard stories and novels, the Marvel comics, the movies, the ongoing novels by various authors, the Age of Conan MMO (though that was short-lived), and of course numerous toys and other stuff.  And Conan the Barbarian is one of the pinnacles of barbarian culture there is.  The original, that is, though the recent remake was a fairly decent movie.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hero, James Earl Jones’ villain, Mako’s gritty narration, and Sandahl Bergman’s fiery Valeria come together in what might have otherwise been a terrible movie.  Many still think it is, but I beg to differ.  Conan came forth in the era in-between Claymation and CGI, after Clash of the Titans but before Jurassic Park, but the effects were good enough.

#5 – Shrek 2

Disney was the king of all things animated for seventy years, and lately Pixar has ruled that roost.  But Dreamworks Animation absolutely nailed the animated fantasy adventure with the Shrek series, and the best one by far is the second installment.  This is one of the few sequels that surpassed the first.  The clever twist on fairytale standards begun in Shrek goes crazy in the sequel, with Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother, the frog turned prince (and then king), and the fairytale land Far, Far Away all getting a well-deserved skewering as Shrek, Fiona, Donkey and the whole troop make a joyous wreck of everyone else’s plans and schemes.

The tongue-in-cheek references are just the icing on the cake; Shrek 2 is a movie I can watch again and again and never get tired of seeing Pinocchio getting jiggy wit’ it chanting “I’m a real boy! I’m a real boy!  I’m a…” *poof* “Awwwww…”

Color me tickled pink.

#6 – The Princess Bride

What can be said about The Princess Bride that hasn’t already been said?  Nothing, nothing at all.  Why do people love this movie so much?  You mean, you don’t?  Inconceivable!  Ok, lemme ‘splain.  No, there is no time.  Lemme sum up:

It’s not a kissing book, but there is some of that in there.  And the hero is not left-handed, but he is the dread Pirate Roberts.  Sort of.  But give him a break, he’s been mostly dead all day.  And the other hero’s name is Inigo Montoya; someone killed his father, and they better prepare to die.  You still don’t know what the story is about?  Inconceivable!  It’s about true love, of course.  And perfect breasts.  And having fun storming the castle.

Wow.  That makes me want to watch the movie again.  What’s that?  You still don’t know how that movie is on my Top Ten list?

Inconceivable!

I know, I keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.

#7 – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I won’t bombard you with movie quotes from this one, the most quotable of all movies ever made, whether by the Python troop or not.  Holy Grail is, quite simply, the Holy Grail of all comedies.

What is your favorite movie?  The Holy Grail!  No, wait, The Lord of the… AHHHH!!!!!!!

#8 – Sleepy Hollow

Tim Burton is a great director (Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland (2009)), and his ongoing collaboration with Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) has given us some great fantasies over the years (did Edward Scissorhands really come out more than twenty years ago?  Sheesh, I’m old…)  To me, almost all of Burton’s work is great in its geeky, off-kilter, out-of-the-box way, but none shines like his take on Ichabod Crane.  The plot elements from Washington Irving’s original story, the screenplay by Kevin Yagher and Andrew Kevin Walker, the atmosphere Burton creates, the innocent beauty portrayed by Christina Ricci, and the superb fish-out-of-water academic played by Depp, is a perfect storm of fantasy creativity.

The Headless Horseman is especially well-conceived, with Ray Park (The Phantom Menace, X-Men) performing the combat acrobatics and Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, The Dead Zone, True Romance) giving ‘the Hessian’ ghoulish life when his head is in place.  The curse, the old tree, the vengeful witch, the sleepy town, the foggy woods, they all come together in the perfect blend of fantasy, horror and, thanks to Depp, humor amidst the gore.

#9 – Excalibur

John Boorman’s masterpiece tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is my kind of fantasy movie.  It’s dark, gritty and foreboding.  It pulls no punches and doesn’t candy-coat.  Arthur is the boy hero but he’s also fatally flawed, Merlin is the all-knowing but equally-flawed magician, and of course the relationship between Guinevere and Lancelot is passionate, compelling and tragic.  Combat is harsh and cruel and down-in-the-mud filthy, and not many of my friends came away from that movie wanting to swing a sword for a living.  Boorman’s hallmark was always his ability to set a mood, dark and deep, that grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go.  And Excalibur is all of that, and Boorman’s finest work.

“Good and evil,” Merlin says wisely.  “There never is one without the other.”  Indeed.

#10 – Raiders of the Lost Ark

Whose blood doesn’t start pumping faster at the rousing opening notes of the theme to Indiana Jones?  Ok, I know what you’re thinking.  You’re probably thinking “Wait a minute!  This isn’t a fantasy film, at least not in the truest sense of the word.”  But hang on, it does contain magic.  At the very least it contained religious paranormalism, which is pretty darned close even if you don’t think of it as real ‘magic.’  But let’s not get into a debate about that, shall we?  Inevitably, no minds would get changed and it would only spoil the mood.

Raiders was and still is one of the greatest classic adventure movies of all time (fantasy adventure movies, that is!).  And besides, I could not allow myself to have a Top Ten Fantasy list without a Spielberg movie on it.

#11 – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Duh.

I assume that you wouldn’t be reading this article unless you were interested in fantasy movies yourself, so there should be no need to explain this at all.  In fact, it almost goes without saying.  As in I almost didn’t even list it, since almost any Fantasy Top Ten Movie list would in reality go up to an understood Eleven, and Eleven would be The Lord of the Rings.

But if you are aren’t a fantasy fan, reading this for some other reason (I have no idea what that might be), let me educate you as to why The Lord of the Rings is the most awesome fantasy ever.  It’s the chicks.  All those elven chicks running around in leather halter tops with bare midriffs, and the scenes where they make out with the heroes (that rules!).  And all of the dragons, the ones rampaging across the skies and waylaying all those armies of trolls and skeletons, yeah, that’s what it was.  And the big, strong hero guys in cool-looking armor on horseback with the huge magic swords cutting all of the bad guys’ heads off, those guys rule.  Oh, and the awesome sorcerer combat scenes where the wizards are hurling fireballs and lightning bolts and vorpal bunny swarms at each other.  These movies totally rock!

Of course, all those common tropes of hum-drum fantasy movies are not in LOTR, and that’s what makes it so awesome.  Years ago, a friend of mine summed it up perfectly.  “In most fantasy, the heroes are questing for all-powerful magic that’s central to their success and will make them famous.  In The Lord of the Rings, the heroes are striving to destroy the great magic so they can return to their normal lives.”  Fantastic.

Turn out the lights, this discussion is over.

(OK, not really, tomorrow… come back for ten more of our favorite fantasy movies).

By C.J. Bunce

Fantasy movies have been around since the beginning of cinema itself.  The earliest filmmakers themselves were magicians of sorts, and what better way to dazzle an audience than show them something amazing and… unbelievable.  But it’s not until the last ten or so years that fantasy was fully realized, rich and realistic, with classic stories finally matching the imaginations of decades of readers.  There are of course exceptions.  Big ones even.  Like The Wizard of Oz.  Only The Lord of the Rings trilogy gives The Wizard of Oz a run for its money, but does any single LOTR film compare to the one, classic Oz?   I think that film still holds up today against any other film made since.

This is the first of four articles where each of the borg.com writers discusses their “ten favorite fantasy films” as we did with our favorite Halloween films last fall.  Note this is a favorites vs. a “best of” list.  We may have to do a “best of” list later, but “best of” lists are everywhere and often look exactly alike.  When you’re discussing “favorite fantasy films” as opposed to “the best” you are bound to see some of the best films straddle both lists.  But “favorites” lists allows you to fold in guilty pleasures, and maybe those films that, as quality is concerned, don’t hold their own to today’s audiences, considered from a more objective standard.  Hopefully you can pick up a fantasy film or two you either haven’t heard of or haven’t seen yet.

What is fantasy?  Our criteria was that there should be some element of magic in the film, and that the film wouldn’t better fit in another genre list like sci-fi or horror, etc.

Exclusions

My list excludes several genre films that could arguably fall into a fantasy list.  I’ll save holiday fantasies like Elf and Miracle on 34th Street for another day.  I also did not include superhero movies or action/adventure films, which I see as their own separate genres, or historical fiction, like Braveheart, despite that film often topping fantasy genre lists.  Finally, I have not included movies that are also predominantly science fiction, otherwise the “greatest space fantasy of all time”–Star Wars, would be on the list.  So my goal is including only “plain old classic fantasy movies.”

Honorable Mentions that made nobody’s Top 10

Because you can’t just list your top ten (why leave it at that?) I want to mention a few films that would have made the list before the advent of modern big fantasy films.  Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal stood by itself for a time as real, incredible fantasy, with strange creatures and places.  This film, and the strange Labyrinth, were the kind of romping fantasy that seemed to skip by an entire generation of baby boomers.  Goonies is sure to make a favorites list for me but I am not sure there is any magic there to technically merit placing on a fantasy list.  Great acting by Dennis Quaid and a great dragon voiced by Sean Connery made Dragonheart a solid fantasy film that was easy to watch over and over, and City of Ember and the better than average Disney film The Sorceror’s Apprentice with Nicholas Cage are newer fantasy films that I liked a lot but haven’t re-watched enough to have it make my list–yet.   I’d watch any of those films again today.  It’s the “over and over again watching” that I looked toward to finally nail down the order of my top ten.  So here it is, from 10 to my current favorite at the number one spot:

10. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  What defines fantasy as a genre is the presence of the magical or supernatural.  Captain Jack Sparrow is a dead pirate captain, like the ghost pirate we loved in Scooby Doo, and what Lord of the Rings: Return of the King revealed to be that production’s coolest creation, the brilliantly executed army of the dead.  From a completely over-the-top but cool performance by Johnny Depp to a fun voyage, a great ship, and a whole stew of solid actors, Pirates is fun fantasy in a historical setting, with a rousing soundtrack by Klaus Badelt that will stick in your head long after the credits have rolled.

9.  Alice in Wonderland.  I’ve never been much of a fan of Tim Burton’s unique style, until I was blown away by his take on this classic story.  Burton was born to create Wonderland for movie audiences.  Johnny Depp is completely mad as the Hatter, Anne Hathaway perfectly cast as the White Queen, and Helena Bonham Carter vile and insane as the Red Queen.  They also went all out with voice work for the digital characters with Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, Christopher Lee, and Michael Gough all supplying great characterization.  Beyond stunning visuals and sets, the story masterfully blends Alice in Wonderland with other works of Lewis Carroll as if they always belonged together.  Burton’s audacity pays off and Alice can be watched again and again, each time finding incredible nuances.  Burton joined Peter Jackson and Victor Fleming in an exclusive club of masters of the most classic of fantasy books to make it to screen.

8.  Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.  This movie was written and created to get it into theaters as quickly as possible, in only a matter of literally weeks.  So how can such a thrown-together film stand the test of time?  I give a lot of credit to Kevin Costner as a believably viable, yet oafish and sincere Robin.  His merry men are all well cast.  And we got to see Alan Rickman as the most classic of villains, playing the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham.  One of the best surprise endings gives us Sean Connery as we’d like to see him in an entire feature-length role (The achingly, poorly cast First Knight didn’t cut it, unfortunately).  Who cares if the cast isn’t British and their costumes don’t make much sense?  OK, this wouldn’t make any “best of” list, but I love watching it whenever it is on TV so it belongs right here.  And it also has a great soundtrack by Michael Kamen.

7.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  In one sense, taking away the last three Harry Potter films, which to me are lesser works, the first five all sort of merge together–except for the story of Azkaban.  Professor Lupin is probably the best of Harry’s professors, and his greatest role model is Sirius Black.  Of all the Harry Potter films this is the only one I will stop and watch again.  It’s a standout film in the biggest mega-fantasy franchise ever.  Here you have cool tools of fantasy like the Marauder’s Map and Hermione’s time-turner.  And the Dementors are rivaled in their quiet dark creepiness only by the Nazgul from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  And although there are some minor story problems involving the time-turner and the killing of an innocent with little commentary, the digital realization of a Hippogriff named Buckbeak becomes one of the best executed fantasy animals ever.  John Williams was able to make a throughly creepy mood with his darkest (and final) Harry Potter soundtrack here.

6.  Field of Dreams.  “If you build it, he will come.” “It’s not heaven, it’s Iowa.”  Not only did Field of Dreams give us some of the best catch phrases ever, it got people who don’t like baseball to like baseball (me included).  Of all the ten movies on my list, Field of Dreams may be the most transformatively magical, and possibly the most unique because it is so off-the-wall.  How did anyone sell this as a movie?  Ghostly baseball players coming out of a cornfield to get in another game of baseball?  The one-two punch of Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones (and Burt Lancaster!) put this film up with Jaws as a film that you can’t walk away from once you start watching it, even for the 100th time.

5.  The Jungle Book.  Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 book of stories called The Jungle Book included the story of Mowgli, and it comes alive in a very wonderful way in 1942’s Disney animated movie.  Mowgli’s life is the ultimate in escapes from reality for young viewers.  Who wouldn’t want to be raised by wolves?  Who wouldn’t want a giant friend who was a bear, and a wise advisor who is a black panther?  The music made the simply detailed animation more frolicking and fun.  And even the sinister villain, the tiger Shere Khan, need not meet his end in this film in order to round out a well told story of friendship, manipulation, and trust.  And the hypnotic Kaa remains unmatched as the clever manipulator until we meet Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 

4.  The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  What’s the best of the three movies of Middle Earth?  My hope is one of the two movies being made right now into The Hobbit series.  I have issues with both Fellowship of the Ring and even more issues with The Return of the King, but it all amounts to nitpicking.  As a series, it is the best fantasy series ever.  As stand alone film, The Two Towers makes my list for the same reason The Empire Strikes Back would trump the other Star Wars films.  Introductions of incredible places, like Rohan.  And where my eyebrows wrinkled at killing off Gandalf the White in Fellowship of the Ring to only bring him back with a different name, Gandalf the Grey knows how to lead an army into battle at Helm’s Deep.  My favorite character of the series gets a full story arc here–the classically regal and noble yet flawed Theoden King, leader of Rohan.  The brother of the frustrating Boromir is introduced as David Wenham’s Faramir, who both kidnaps and then frees the traveling Hobbits.  Merry and Pippin recruit the help of the awesome Ents–talking, walking trees that march into battle to protect what is theirs (also seen in The Wizard of Oz).  Although the main journey of Frodo and Sam and Gollum finds them moving from point B to point C in this installment, the real adventure is what happens to the other six remaining members of the Fellowship.  Whereas at the end of Return of the King the several denouements had me cheering for Gollum, in The Two Towers the excitement and pacing was just right, leaving audiences hungry for more at the end.

3.  The Muppet Movie.  A perfectly magical film.  Jim Henson can’t be overstated as sitting among the kings of creating the fantastical.  The Muppets had already been known to us through The Muppet Show, yet this movie brought laugh out loud humor to a fully realized classic hero’s journey–a drive from the East Coast to Hollywood.  With a frog and a pig and a bear and a dog and what the heck are all those other guys like Beaker and Animal and …?  Not since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World had Hollywood comic actors united behind a single important film with too many cameos to count, and all brilliantly funny.  I like all the Muppet movies but this remains my favorite.  We don’t analyze it but Henson did the unimaginable by making fabric characters as real as any human in any film and without the realism required by all other fantasy films of make-believe characters.  Instead it just has a lot of honesty and heart, to make this movie beloved by audiences for generations to come.

2.  The Wizard of Oz.  I have likely seen only Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Trek films, and Jaws more times than The Wizard of Oz over the years.  Before video tape and DVDs I remember watching once a year on a Sunday night when The Wizard of Oz was re-broadcast, waiting to watch closely again to see how they changed from a black and white Kansas farm to the technicolor land of Oz.  Along with The Jungle Book, I watched this film as a young kid (unlike 8 other films on this list that came much later) and saw first-hand what magic in fantasy was all about.  So many elements make this movie work, many from the source story by L. Frank Baum, like the long journey leading back home.  A giant village of extras with the Munchkins.  Crazy scary flying monkeys and arguably the best villain ever filmed in both the Wicked Witch of the West and the equally evil Miss Gulch.  Good costumes from 1939 meant we didn’t need CGI or animation–the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion are all believable and real.  And of course the soundtrack and songs are unmatched and memorable, led by a perfect performance by the young Judy Garland.  The Wizard of Oz is the Citizen Kane of the fantasy genre.

1.  The Golden Compass.  A perfect, elaborate fantasy story in an incredible, new parallel universe of Earth.  A perfect cast.  Beautiful, unreal sets.  Historically inspired costumes that span different worlds.  Special effects that merge reality and fantasy seamlessly.  An often overlooked brilliant fantasy masterwork.  When I first saw this I instantly thought this was the finest, most enjoyable fantasy film I’d ever seen.  If all steampunk was this good I would be a true believer.  Look at the cast:  A stately Daniel Craig’s Lord Asriel, a beautifully striking but sinister Nicole Kidman’s Ms. Coulter, the perfect helpers along the voyage in Sam Elliot’s Lee Scoresby and Eva Green’s Serafina, smaller roles with gravitas by Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee, and stellar voiceovers by Kathy Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ian McKellen.  The design work is lavish with a textbook fantasy component talisman in the magical alethiometer, animals that share your journey and wear armor into battle with you.  Gyptians!  Flying witches with bows and arrows.  A cool airship.  A big, exciting ride.  What more could anyone want?

One big element I see across my list?  Talking animals (and other things that don’t normally talk like trees and cornfields and dead people) are in 9 of my picks.  Also, I must like Christopher Lee and Alan Rickman who show up in three films, and Johnny Depp, Ian McKellen, and Kevin Costner show up in two films.  Tomorrow… come back for day two of our favorite fantasy films and click on the Comments to let us know your favorites.

The CW Network just released the first photo of Stephen Amell in the new Green Arrow supersuit for the new TV series, titled simply Arrow.

The costume was designed by Academy Award winning costume designer Colleen Atwood.  A native of the Seattle area, Atwood has created a pretty interesting look for the classic DC Comics superhero son of Seattle, Green Arrow, alter ego of Oliver Queen.  In fact, you could see someone wearing this outfit in a crowd on the streets of Seattle on a typical gray day and no one would even give him a second glance.  And that certainly fits with an urban hunter who needs to keep a bit of a low profile.

The costume seems to reveal some tidbits about the new Green Arrow.  First, although the outfit doesn’t appear dark and brooding itself, the dark shadows that Amell is filmed in reflects that the producers want viewers to see this as a dark superhero drama.  So fans of the cheesier, bright and shiny, green vinyl look that Oliver Queen wore in the Smallville series, take note.

I always thought this bizarre "leafy" outfit from Smallville is something you'd see Joker's girlfriend Poison Ivy wearing.

As we predicted (and hoped) earlier here at borg.com, happily, they are taking a different tack here.

Jock's tougher looking, hooded Green Arrow outfit from the Year One mini-series.

Second, this photograph isn’t just an homage to Jock and Andy Diggle’s Green Arrow: Year One, this IS the Green Arrow designed by the artist known as Jock:  from the hood, the small arrow quiver, the vest design with the extended shoulders–further cements this new series as a Year One-inspired story.  The fact that one of the show’s characters is named Diggle leads one to believe either the creators were working with Diggle & Co. or at least heavily influenced by the recent incarnation of Oliver Queen in the Year One mini-series.

The costume also is obviously heavily influenced by the character’s own idol, Robin Hood.  This can be seen in both the medieval stylized green suede mantle and decorative trim, but even more so on the bottom from the front to the reverse in the skirting/dags/tippets/flaps as seen in Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood costume from the classic Adventures of Robin Hood, as well as in the Green Arrow early 1980s Wonder Years mini-series.  The medieval capa or hood bridges the early 1980s incarnation with the later 1980s version created by Mike Grell for The Longbow Hunters.

Green Arrow from Green Arrow: The Wonder Years

The small quiver would seem to indicate removing the possibility of fitting Oliver’s renowned trick arrows in there.  Probably a good thing for this kind of series.

The only possible detracting component is the pocket(s).  I think pockets on this kind of piece are actually kind of humorous.  Would Oliver have time to stand around with hands in pockets in stealth mode?  It seems a bit 1990s “hanging out on the street corner” kind of look.  Yet altogether my verdict is…  I think this costume works.  Green leather and possibly suede are slick materials to use.  Dark tones.  Inspired by various past Green Arrow influences.  Practical gloves.  No unnecessary belt with a big “G” buckle (I never have been a fan of that part of the costume).  Looks like someone jumping around buildings could move easily in it.  And it doesn’t look silly.  Clearly some good thought and planning went into this.

Atwood could have taken one of these huntsman outfits from the Snow White movie, but didn't.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  Costume designer Colleen Atwood has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three Oscars, for Alice in Wonderland, Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago.  Her other work includes Sweeney Todd, Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, Public Enemies, The Rum Diary, The Tourist, and the recently previewed coming release Dark Shadows.  Do we see a theme here?   Yep, pretty much all “dark and brooding”  Johnny Depp vehicles, and interesting designs.  Recently Atwood designed costumes for the 2012 release Snow White and the Huntsman and Mission Impossible III, but her past work includes film classics like The Handmaid’s Tale, Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, That Thing You Do, Gattaca, Fallen, Mumford, Big Fish, and The Planet of the Apes (remake).

C.J. Bunce

Editor

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