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Tag Archive: Wizard of Oz


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Warner Bros. has announced a grand celebration to honor the 75th anniversary of the greatest fantasy film of all time, The Wizard of Oz.  Imax has remastered the original 1939 film and created a 3D version that will be released for one week, September 20-26, 2013, in North America, and a stunningly loaded collector’s edition box set will follow October 1.  MGM premiered the film at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1939, and re-released the film in 1949 and 1955, before beginning its TV run on CBS in 1956–Turner Classic Movies will be hosting a re-release event at the same theater this month.

Warner Bros. marketing disclosed that even 75 years later, statistically 100% of all Americans have heard of The Wizard of Oz and 80% of children.  Warner Bros. will have a hot air balloon and giant balloon characters featured in the 87th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  A themed competition will also be featured on an upcoming episode of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars to be aired later this year.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Every bit like a crazy and dark Sam Raimi production, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters takes an already creepy Grimm fairy tale and amplifies it into a bloody Rated R monster movie.  It is as true as you could probably hope to get to the spirit of the original story of two kids who outwit a witch in a house made of candy.  We even get to see the original tale laid out nearly verbatim to the centuries-old story, including the triumph of the kids who foil the witch and throw her into the oven.

H and G

But that is only the beginning of the tale, and this is the story after the story, a sequel where Hansel and Gretel become mercenaries who hire themselves out to small forest towns to rid them of the plague of witches who have stolen nearly a dozen children.  Witch Hunters never takes itself seriously.  Images of the missing children end up on printed broadsides on the 1800 version of a milk bottle.  And after decades of consuming candy, Hansel is diabetic (he has the “sugar” disease) and must take an early form of insulin to prevent him from dying.

Famke Janssen in Witch Hunters

Harkening back to the German origins of the fairy tale, Witch Hunters is a German production with lots of German design influences.  Like the original Grimm tales this is a violent and gory story.  Witches are instantly the unsympathetic villains who are bad for bad’s sake.  Led by the beautiful Famke Janssen, who for most of the film dons some impressive prosthetics, these witches are the stuff of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.  A motley assemblage of Halloween-esque witches with brooms don dark garb on their own evil sabbath day and congregate in a spot in the woods in something strangely similar to an annual rally in Sturgis.

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Alice in Wonderland cover

Fans of classic fantasy and manga will be interested in a new adaptation of Alice in Wonderland by Filipino comics creator, writer and illustrator Rod Espinosa.  The new hardcover edition from Dark Horse Comics collects Espinosa’s four-issue series from 2006 in a nicely designed storybook form and is scheduled for release January 30, 2013.

So how close does Espinosa get to the original Lewis Carroll work, considering it is not a complete word-for-word adaptation and it reveals the story in manga form?

Espinosa Alice interior page

Espinosa’s take on Alice–adapting both story and art–approaches the realm of picture books, revealing a possible entry point to Alice for little kids.  If you’re not outright reading the original work to a kid not old enough to read, and the kid needs pictures to hold his/her interest (as Alice herself does) and he/she holds a fondness for manga or anime, this may be tailor-made for you.  And as book design goes this volume is right up there with several well-done Archaia Publishing books–known for their nice presentations–such as David Petersen’s Mouse Guard series and Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl.

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Oz the Great and Powerful fireworks

Happy New Year!

Disney is back again trying to replicate the success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland with a similar classic fantasy effort, Oz the Great and Powerful.  If you’re not a fan of prequels you will probably avoid this one as it is a prequel to the greatest fantasy film of all time, The Wizard of Oz.  The plus is that this film will adapt L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz so those loyal to the fourteen Oz novels may appreciate this effort.  The other plus is that it will be helmed by director Sam Raimi who knows fantasy films as well as anyone, having directed the Spider-man film trilogy and serving as producer of Timecop, Hercules the Legendary Journeys, Xena Warrior Princess, and Legend of the Seeker.

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Most reality TV and competition shows aren’t worth watching when compared to all the great TV writing available these days.  Two weeks ago in our Spring TV Wrap-up, we discussed the best of this past season, and you’ll notice there are no reality shows listed there.  Why?  The reality TV formula got old fast as the past decade moved along, as did competition shows generally.  Sure, American Idol and Top Chef still get big viewership numbers, and we drift back for an episode of Iron Chef once in a while, but at some point even their fans will dwindle.  Let’s face it, there’s something for everyone and we won’t knock it (it’s why having several hundred channels to choose from seems to be a very “American” thing) and fans of reality shows probably aren’t also watching our sci-fi, fantasy, and other genre programming.

That said, one of the more fun reality-esque shows because if its unique subject matter is starting its second season this week: the Syfy Channel’s Hollywood Treasure, which airs on Tuesday nights.  I was impressed that they changed up the show a bit for the season two premiere, and offered a lot of content anyone can enjoy.  Three key things make the series work.  First, although Hollywood Treasure has the obligatory formula for reality shows, including the repeated scenes that straddle each commercial break and make you race for the fast forward on the remote, the plain coolness of the subject matter of the show outweighs any reality show annoyance factor.  Second, the show focuses on the guys who run Profiles in History, consistently the entertainment memorabilia auction house that pulls in the highest sales of any auction house in the world, and items they sold at auction in the past year.  These guys run into all sorts of neat props and costumes from Hollywood and occasionally an actor or show creator.  Third, the guys who run the auctions and are featured in the show, Joe Maddalena, Jon Mankuta, Brian Chanes, and Fong Sam, are actually fans of genre films and comic books as much as they are businessmen.  I’d dealt with these guys in the past and they are always great to work with.  Some of the scenes are formulaic and more than a bit contrived, but their passion and excitement for memorabilia always shines through.

The highlight of episode one of this new season, and what will certainly keep watchers coming back for more if they can keep bringing in similar guests, is a segment where actor Sean Astin discussed movie props he owns (and used to own) from Rudy, Goonies and The Lord of the Rings.  Astin always has such an aura of authenticity that you can ignore all the theatrics and just enjoy seeing this guy simply talk about making movies.  The personal items he retained from playing Samwise Gamgee are certainly treasures any LOTR fan would love to get his hands on.

Astin kept his screenused backpack and pans, his Elvin pin, his bread pouch, and leather wineskin from The Lord of the Rings films.

Other sequences in this episode were an attempt to auction one of the four original sets of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz for $2 million, which Profiles was only able to sell after the fact by direct sale, still attaining the $2 million the owner wanted as a minimum reserve price.  In this sequence Profiles also revealed that they actively solicit buyers after sales for items that don’t meet the minimum reserve price–buyers that kick themselves later for not bidding, thinking the sell price will be out of their range.  In reviewing the slippers they got to visit what seemed like a private collector’s own Fort Knox lockdown facility.  Another segment featured Joe Maddalena buying a Jim Carrey hat and cane from Batman Forever, then trying to flip them at auction for profit.  And Maddalena also visited the Dreier collection of costumes and props, which is being auctioned off over a few years.

Profiles in History is the same auction house we discussed here last year that made all sorts of records selling off the Debbie Reynolds movie costume and prop collection, including the famed Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch subway vent scene dress and an Audrey Hepburn My Fair Lady dress, among millions of dollars in other sales, and the Captain America auction last month.  And these are the guys we caught up with last year at Comic-Con showing the Back to the Future III DeLorean.  Their auction website is www.profilesinhistory.com.  We hope they can keep up the momentum started in their first episode of season two all season long.

C.J. Bunce

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borg.com

By C.J. Bunce

We highlight them all the time here at borg.com.  But some of them don’t naturally come to mind when you think of cybernetically enhanced organisms–cyborgs, or borgs for short.  What makes a borg?  An organism, human, alien, or animal, who has been modified by technology or uses technology as part of or in place of another biological function.  We use this broadly, encompassing not only a long-accepted group of borgs that are more metal than man, but also robots or androids modified with biology or biomatter, although taken to the extreme this would seem to include the bioneural starship USS Voyager from Star Trek Voyager.

Regardless of how you define it, meet our borg.com Hall of Fame, always ready for new honorees…

With Marvel’s big premiere of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, we’ll begin with Tony Stark’s Iron Man.  Tony Stark is not advertised as a borg, but if your power source involves techno-gadgetry via an arc reactor and you have his fully integrated armor, we think that makes you a borg.  Whedon is very familiar with borgs, having created the character Adam, the nasty, almost unstoppable foe of the Scooby Gang in Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If Iron Man is a borg, should one of the oldest creatures of science fiction be considered a borg as well–Frankenstein’s monster?  How integral are those bolts and attachments to his survival anyway?  Does an external power source make a borg?  Did he ever have to regenerate?

And if Frankenstein’s monster makes the cut, maybe this spin-off fellow should, too:

Yes, Frankenberry, the only cereal mascot borg?  Are those pressure gauges on his head?  What functions do they serve?  Before we move forward very far in time, we also think we need to at least consider Maria’s doppelganger from Fritz Lang’s sci-fi film classic Metropolis as a possible borg.com honoree–a robot admittedly, but somehow transformed into a humanoid creation with flesh, used to replace the real Maria and wreak havoc across Metropolis:

From one of the biggest science fantasy franchises, Star Wars, Darth Vader began as Anakin Skywalker, but through his own rise to evil and subsequent downfall he became more machine than man:

He even caused his son to require borg technology by slicing off his arm and hand with his lightsaber, making Luke Skywalker a borg as well:

With Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, we met an interesting new villain, General Grievous, a four-lightsaber wielding almost lobster-like biological creature made up of techno-armor and, in close-up are those reptilian eyes?  His apparent disfigurement and breathing problems hint at a back story that must be not unlike Vader’s.

In The Empire Strikes Back we also briefly met Lando Calrissian’s majordomo who possessed some type of brain adapter technology–we learn from action figures, trading cards and comics his name is Lobot:

And probably the very first cyborg to be referred to specifically as a “borg” (by Luke Skywalker, even), Valance was a cyborg bounty hunter in the early pages of Star Wars, the Marvel Comics series:

Some borgs are more cybernetic than organism, at least at first appearance.  This would include Doctor Who’s Cybermen:

and we’d learn even the Daleks were cybernetic organisms:

and the Terminators from the Terminator movie and Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series, very much more machine with a bit of organics (and even Arnold’s character called himself a “cybernetic organism”):

In Star Trek: First Contact the Borg Queen alters the android Lieutenant Commander Data in such a way so as to make Pinocchio a real boy:

giving real organic material to Data, (like Maria’s double above from Metropolis?) bringing him briefly into the realm of borg status, like Isaac Asimov’s Bicentennial Man:

and this even suggests the Tin Man from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz may be a rudimentary variant borg being along the lines of Frankenstein’s monster:

All humanoids or aliens modified to become The Borg of the Star Trek franchise clearly are good examples of cyborg beings, the most famous of which are probably Patrick Stewart’s Locutus:

the seemingly innocent Hugh:

and Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager:

On Earth we encounter humans all the time with bodies improved by borg technology.  Because of the OSI Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers were rescued from near death with enhanced biology and appendages to become the Bionic Man and Bionic Woman:

The British agent James Bond had to take on Doctor No, an evil scientist who took on his own technological enhancements because of medical maladies, bringing James Bond into the fold of genre franchises investigating a borg character:

Featured in a 1980s movie series and soon to be the subject of a new movie, Robocop:

showed us a variant on Austin and Sommers, and a bit like Iron Man, we have the government creating technology to make super-humans, and here, a superhuman police officer.  This is taken even further, making three animals into borgs for military use in the Eisner-nominated comic book mini-series WE3:

 …a far darker take on the classic cartoon character Dynomutt from Scooby Doo:

Inspector Gadget:

and Doctor Octopus (Doc Ock) in Spider-man 2:

 

both were borgs that made it into big-screen films.

In the DC Comics universe we have a newer Justice League featured member Cyborg, a football player/student who is in the wrong place at the wrong time, when his father’s lab goes up in flames and his father uses his own research to save his son from death:

Before that, Frank Miller envisioned a disfigured future world Green Arrow who would need his own prosthetic cybernetic arm in The Dark Knight Returns:

Mr. Freeze was an early borg villain in the Batman series:

In Marvel Comics Rich Buckler created Deathlok the Demolisher, another cyborg creation, and one of the earliest borgs in comics:

Add to that Marvel characters like Ultron, the “living” automaton:

Ultron’s own creation, named Vision, the “synthezoid”–

and the borg called Cable:

In the 1990s Jim Lee created the Russian borg in the pages of X-Men called Omega Red:

Long before these Marvel characters the cyborgs Robotman and Robotdog graced the pages of DC Comics in the 1940s, and yes, they were not just robots:

The modern Cylons from the reboot Battlestar Galactica TV series are borgs in the Terminator sense, robots made to look and pass for human.  And there were a bunch, not just background, but named characters, the most famous of which was the seductive Number Six:

  

Years before, Philip K. Dick would create more than one borg character in his novels and short stories, revealed to us the best as the Replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner:

Several replicants appeared in the film:

 

…all indistinguishable from humans to the naked eye.

In the horror realm we have Ash, from Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, his arm a functioning chainsaw, and at least in the comic book, like the Star Trek borgs he has an interchangeable arm like a mega Swiss Army knife:

If we include Ash do we also need to include Cherry Darling from Planet Terror, since she has a rifle as a leg like Ash’s arm attachment?

Heck, even horrific camp troller Jason became a borg eventually in Jason X:

Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn comics had both the borg assassin Overtkill:

and the cybernetic gorilla Cy-Gor:

Speaking of borg beasties, even Japanese monster movies embraced borgs, having their hero Godzilla encounter Mechagodzilla:

and Gigan:

In the world of manga and anime we have Ghost in the Machine’s own borg girl Motoko Kusanagi:

leader of a group of borgs, and the villain Cell from Dragon Ball: 

Cowboy Bebop had the borg character Jet Black, which seems influenced by the design of Seven of Nine:

Akira had Tetsuo Shima:

And we have a new one to add to the list because of the film Prometheus, the creepy borg, David 8:

But he’s certainly not the first in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe.  Don’t forget Ian Holm’s Ash in Alien:

Lance Henrikson’s Bishop from Aliens:

and Winona Ryder’s Annalee Call from Alien: Resurrection:

But these are just the biggest examples of borgs in popular genre works.  Countless books, comics and short stories have introduced other borg beings, not to mention every other new video game.   What will be the next borg to enter the mainstream, with a new TV show or movie?

Should we add an Honorable Mention list to the borg.com Borg Hall of Fame, for beings resulting from the merging of humans with cyberspace?  Think of characters like Tron and Flynn from Tron and Tron: Legacy?  Or Neo and Trinity & Co. from the Matrix movies?  You can argue some of the above in or out of the list, but we’ll be visiting most of them here now and then.

We’ll update this list from time to time and feature it as its own page on the borg.com home page.

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.

Tonight dog lovers across the galaxy tune in to their screens for the annual Super Bowl of dogdom, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.  Here at borg.com, this is serious TV viewing, and this year our thoughts naturally turned to… dogs in space.  Like Laika, the first dog in space who beat mankind into the outer realms, these dogs have gone… where no man has gone before.  So we bring you our very own contenders for Best in Show–our picks for best dogs from genre fiction in TV, movies, and comics (in no particular order).

1.  Toto – Who better to start our list than the little terrier feisty enough to take a bite out of Miss Gulch and accompany Dorothy on her journey down the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz?

2.  Einstein – Doc Brown’s faithful sheepdog companion, like Laika, was the first to make a historic voyage there and back again in a Delorean in Back to the Future.

3.  Fluffy – Two heads are better than one, so three must be exponentially better.  How can you not like this lovable cerberus from Harry Potter & the Sorceror’s Stone?  Just don’t let thieves know their secret, that music will lull them fast to sleep.

4.  Fang – Speaking of Harry Potter, we can’t pass up the loyal and large pal to Hagrid, Fang the boarhound (played by a Neapolitan Mastiff).  Although Hagrid calls him a bloody coward, in The Sorceror’s Stone he took Harry and company through the Forbidden Forest.

5.  Krypto – Strange how themes repeat themselves.  Originally, Krypto, like Laika and Einstein, was Jor-El’s first foray into creating a vehicle to get Kal-El (our Superman) off of the planet Krypton and on his path to Earth.  Although a mishap sends Krypto off-course, fortunately he makes his way back to his best friend.

6.  Porthos – We would later learn Porthos would have a pack of offspring of his own per Scotty in Star Trek 2009.  This fellow accompanied Captain Jonathan Archer on many a mission where no man had gone before in the earliest Star Trek stories on the series Enterprise.

7.  Astro – Maybe the first family dog we were introduced to in the future of our past, Astro loved Elroy, Judy, Jane and George Jetson and showed there are no bad dogs today and hundreds of years from now.

8.  Commander Kruge’s targ - We never learned her name, but this fiercely loyal friend helped make all of us cheer for Kruge when he went up against Admiral James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Search for Spock.  Unfortunately, she represents the one four-legged companion on our list that doesn’t make it, thanks to that dastardly Kirk and friends.

9.  Fizzgig – Seemingly cute and innocent, Fizzgig is the Muppet companion to Kira in The Dark Crystal.  Like Kruge’s targ, although not technically Canis familiaris, he had all the qualities of a good buddy and did not hesitate to bear his fangs to protect Kira when he sensed danger.

10. Butler – James Kirk redeems himself in his last mission when he is sucked into the Nexus in Star Trek Generations.  His reaction to seeing his dog Butler at his old home shows there was a real guy in that Captain Kirk.

Honorable mention:  All greyhounds, since they look like AT-ATs from The Empire Strikes Back.

Do you have any others you think should make the list?  Let us know, and enjoy the Dog Show tonight! The 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show airs tonight and Tuesday on USA and MSNBC. Only dogs from Earth are eligible.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

In the Entertainment Memorabilia auction community, today is day one of the biggest auction weekend in years.  Following up on their second auction of Debbie Reynolds’ collection costumes, props and camera equipment from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Profiles in History pulled out all the stops and has accumulated props and costumes from sci-fi, fantasy, action TV and films, and an entire day devoted to original animation art.  It begins with the Icons of Hollywood Auction today and tomorrow, December 15-16, 2011, and continues Sunday, December 17, 2011, with the Icons of Animation Auction.

As reported here December 6, 2011, one item on the block is a special effects arm used for Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Summers as the original Bionic Woman.  But that just scratches the surface of great stuff available.  And based on recent auctions, there is no global economy problem, as props and costumes are breaking past records.  On eBay recently a Matt Smith Doctor Who costume sold for $75,000.  With a franchise as popular as Star Trek, and as old and with a similar fan following, this kind of price reflects fan loyalty and what really loyal fans are willing to shell out to hold a piece of TV or silver screen magic in their hands.

The auction starts today with original studio marketing photographs of various actors and actresses over the past 100 years, as well as lobby cards, posters and one of a kind costume sketches by the likes of Edith Head and other early designers.  Then lots of scripts and logo art from TV and film credits.  Here are some key items from Day One:

  • Billy Mumy shirt for his role as Will Robinson from Lost in Space, with an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.
  • One of the 1969 Dodge Chargers used as the General Lee in The Dukes of Hazzard has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.
  • Dalek from a 1985 episode of Doctor Who, estimated at $10,000 to $12,000.
  • Mork from Ork costume from Mork and Mindy, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000

Some key items from Day Two:

  • Bela Lugosi screen-worn cape as Count Dracula from Dracula, estimated at $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
  • Longbow from The Adventures of Robin Hood, estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.
  • Judy Garland gingham dress as Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz, estimated at $200,000 to $300,000.
  • One of four known pairs of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, estimated at $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
  • Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz, estimated at $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.

  • A variety of items from The Planet of the Apes and Back to the Future franchises.
  • The DeLorean from Back to the Future III that was at Comic-Con this year, estimated at $400,000 to $600,000.

  • Steve McQueen driving suit from LeMans, estimated at $200,000 to $300,000.
  • Steve McQueen U.S. Navy uniform from The Sand Pebbles, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.

  • Gene Wilder Willy Wonka hat from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.
  • Sean Connery Marko Ramius Russian naval uniform from The Hunt for Red October, estimated at $6,000 to $8,000.

  • The “Red October” submarine model from The Hunt for Red October, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.
  • Michael Keaton batsuit from Batman Returns, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
  • Endo-skull from Terminator 2, estimated at $12,000 to $15,000.
  • Bruce Campbell Ash costume from Army of Darkness, estimated at $12,000 to $15,000.

  • Peter Weller Robocop costume from Robocop, estimated at $10,000 to $12,000.
  • James Marsden Cyclops costume from X-Men 2, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
  • PreCrime stunt jetpack from Minority Report, estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.
  • Bob Newhart Papa Elf costume from Elf, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.
  • Will Farrell Buddy the Elf costume from Elf, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.
  • Star Trek Original series wooden hand phaser, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
  • Patrick Stewart Captain Jean-Luc Picard tunic from Star Trek: The Next Generation, estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.
  • Jonathan Frakes Commander Will Riker tunic from Star Trek: The Next Generation, estimated at $3,000 to $4,000.

  • Collection of six costumes from bridge crew of Star Trek Voyager, estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.
  • Original NASA Gemini spacesuit, estimated at $150,000 to $250,000.
  • Russian spacesuit worn by first Russian woman to walk in space, estimated at $200,000 to $300,000.

On Day Three, every lot is a masterwork of animation history.  Lots include original art from Little Golden Books like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Smokey the Bear and The Night Before Christmas, Charles Schulz art from The Pumpkin Patch and Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, original work from production studios from Hanna Barbera to Walt Disney.  Major highlights include:

  • The earliest known color cel of Mickey Mouse, estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.
  • Cels of the Queen and Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, estimated between $12,000 and $20,000.

  • Giant pan cel from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.
  • Original Dumbo, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp and Cinderella cels, estimated at $4,000 to $8,000.

  • Several cels from Song of the South.
  • Several stunning cels of Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, estimated from $300 to $80,000.

More information is available at the Profiles in History website.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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