Category: Fantasy Realms


Review by C.J. Bunce

Nothing in my lifetime in the fantasy genre has had an impact as great as Jim Henson, his creations, and influence.  That stretches to The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, tangent puppet creations like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and Henson’s masterwork, the 1982 holiday release The Dark Crystal.  So nothing could be greater than to revisit The Dark Crystal in a new incarnation, and not only find the people behind it got it right, but set a new standard in storytelling along the way.  No visual storytelling medium is older than puppetry, and nothing reaches inside you like a story told with creations you know aren’t real, yet when done exceptionally well they convey every emotion as if they were real.  The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, now streaming on Netflix, sets a new bar because it expands on the original film’s story, bringing to life a larger, fully fleshed-out world and a timeless tale that firmly installs the name Henson (Jim and daughters Lisa and Cheryl) as equal to fantasists like the Grimms, Kipling, Milne, Howard, Tolkien, Lewis, Beagle, Harryhausen, Lucas, Jackson, and Rowling.  “Wonder” should be the Henson family hallmark.  Beyond that, the series surpasses the best fantasy of television and big-screen productions, so from here on audiences may ask comparatively, “Yes, but does it convey the emotion and wonder The Dark Crystal series created?”

Dynamic, thrilling, suspenseful, and full of action, mythology, sorcery, good and evil, despair and triumph, swashbuckling adventure, unimaginable beauty and love for nature and community, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance presents better than anything before what every other fantasy before it seems to stumble on: Stakes.  The preparation of the viewer for a world of dire fantasy stakes couldn’t have been more artfully revealed.  What is at stake in the film isn’t just another “end of the world” story, but something that reaches in and makes you believe a stack of rocks can be lovable, the innocent can rise against the darkest evil, where the world of humans and their conflicts is not a consideration, and where you may find you want a hug from a giant spider.  Glorious, ground-breaking, faithful to the original, with thousands of creators making a film in a spectacularly difficult way, it more than fulfills its promise.

You could heap all sorts of praise on the series, beyond Netflix for betting its money on a prequel, the Hensons and original visionary family the Frouds, beyond director Louis Leterrier, writers Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, haunting music by Daniel Pemberton, the spectacular assemblage of voice actors, from Simon Pegg and Warrick Brownlow-Pike (who perfectly resurrected Chamberlain the Skeksis, one of fantasy’s greatest villains) to Donna Kimball and Kevin Clash (resurrecting fantasy’s greatest sorceress, Aughra).  The unsung heroes will be those puppeteers and the designers of the production, the puppets, the costumes, and props.  There’s not a big enough award for this series or its many creators, artists, and artisans, and all that had to come together to make it.  A glimpse behind the scenes can be found in a must-see feature following the ten episodes of the series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you had a time machine and your goal was to find someone to give a master class in storytelling–a master class in worldbuilding–and bringing an idea to reality, would there be a better choice than Jim Henson?  Henson will be forever known first for his Sesame Street character Ernie and Muppets Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, The Swedish Chef, and more.  The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show are beloved by generations.  He made the unreal seem real, and fantasy as close to reality as we may ever see it.  Yet he was perhaps proudest of the creation of the first full-length, live-action motion picture where the stars were all creatures, The Dark Crystal, yet another of the unforgettable films from 1982 we’re celebrating this year here at borg.com.  The Henson family and The Jim Henson Company have opened their archive and published the remarkable story of the film from idea to the film’s release in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, available this month from Insight Editions.

Writer Caseen Gaines’ new chronicle of The Dark Crystal is not a typical “visual companion.”  The story told in the text provides a most intriguing account of Henson, a behind the scenes look at the man from his family and all those who worked with him, as he talked through the idea for a darker story while delayed on a chance cancelled flight with his daughter, as he cast a team of puppet builders, creative performance artists, artisans, costumers, and concept design artists, as he leveraged the success of The Muppet Movie, and strategically negotiated his way to gain investment dollars to make a film that stands alone in the history of fantasy film.  As daughter Cheryl Henson states in the book, “I don’t think my father ever tried to hide how something was done, because how it’s done is often as interesting as the final product”–and that proves true in The Ultimate Visual History.  She provides a foreword to the book and an introduction is provided by film creators Brian and Wendy Froud.

Gaines includes tipped-in replica memorabilia from the Jim Henson archives, which he integrates into the narrative to illustrate the five years of Henson’s concept to screen process.  Readers gain new appreciation for Henson as we witness his own hand-written notebook pages of ideas for the characters that would transform into the dualism of the Skeksis and Mystics, Brian Froud’s original concept book created to sell the idea to investors, outlines, story treatments, hand-drawn sketches, scene memos, and a concept art pitch book by Froud for a planned sequel.  Photographs document a chronological preparation of characters looking at first nothing like their final on-screen personas and the difficult process of creating the mechanics for each type of character, for Gelflings Jen and Kira, the exiled Skeksis Chamberlain, Jen’s dying Mystic master, a room full of potato-headed Podlings, the wise goddess/prophet Aughra, the majestic Landstriders, the giant beetle-like Garthim, and the cute and toothy fuzzy Fizzgig.  The new fantasy world had its roots in myths and folklore, yet Henson created something singular with all these magicians that was akin to Tolkien’s fantasy realm.

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With Amazon Studios releasing a new, full-length trailer for its six-part series Good Omens, showrunner Neil Gaiman discussed his creative process for the book and the show at this weekend’s South by Southwest (SXSW 2019) conference and festival in Austin, Texas.  Check out his panel interview below, with Gaiman discussing the series and his creative process.  Gaiman co-wrote the novel Good Omens on which the series is based with Terry Pratchett way back in 1989.  Pratchett passed away in 2015, and now, led by Gaiman’s efforts, twenty-nine years after its creation the book is on its way to a TV adaptation later this spring.

In Good Omens the end of the world is coming, and opposite personalities in the form of an Angel and Demon are brought together to form an unlikely alliance to stop Armageddon.  They have lost the Antichrist, an 11-year-old boy unaware he’s meant to bring upon the end of days, sending the pair to find him and save the world before… The End.  The series combines the talents of Douglas Mackinnon, who directed episodes of Sherlock and Doctor Who, and it stars David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Viva Blackpool) and Michael Sheen (Passengers, Doctor Who, Tron: Legacy, Frost/Nixon, Alice in Wonderland).  Other big names appearing in the series include Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Star Trek Into Darkness), Jon Hamm (Baby Driver), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Muppets Most Wanted), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), Michael McKean (Clue, Laverne and Shirley), David Morrissey (Doctor Who, The Walking Dead), Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards, Isle of Dogs), and Brian Cox (Shetland, RED, Doctor Who).

First, take a look at the new full-length trailer for the series, followed by the discussion with Neil Gaiman this weekend at SXSW 2019, and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For years it seemed like new Christmas classics were few and far between.  It usually takes some time for a movie to gain “classic” status, and that itself is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.  Early on audiences stamped the label on Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.  You have your A Charlie Brown Christmas, your How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a bevy of Rankin & Bass stop-motion animated shows like Frosty the Snowman.  Then more modern fare came along, like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Elf.  Oh, and we can’t forget Die Hard.  All stamped with an anvil as “classics.”  If you want to see more movies from cinema history, check out the Turner Movie Classics book Christmas in the Movies, reviewed last year here at borg.

Putting aside the modern made for TV movies, if you’re younger, you may count as a classic something like The Polar Express, with Tom Hanks.  It’s that kind of recent film category where you can add in Netflix’s new movie–its first animated feature, Klaus Both of these movies are animated in interesting ways that will keep you entertained simply from a visual perspective, Klaus from its unique lighting and color choices and a strong Spanish comic art style (as seen in Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy).  They also share a certain traditional storybook look, and their tales also look back to nostalgia for their ideas.  Klaus is another origin story take on Santa Claus.  Audiences have seen this many times, including in the not to be missed films Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (featuring the voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn) and in books like L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and more recently, the brilliant Santa: My Life and Times, with artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz (we reviewed it here).

Spain’s Sergio Pablos directed Klaus intentionally stepping away from modern Disney-style CGI animation to traditional hand-drawn art, so it looks more like Disney’s top technical achievement, the Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast from 1991, and less like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The story is cute, and contrasting with the traditional visual style, is the inclusion of humorous dialogue told by voice talents famously known for being snarky.  We follow a postman named Jesper, who couldn’t look or sound more like David Spade, actually voiced by Jason Schwartzman.  Jesper is a non-achiever, and his father sends him to a distant Scandinavian town to learn to be successful at his job.  The town ends up like a lawless town out of the Old West.  His job is to get people to use the mail service again.  Along the way he runs into a Hatfield-McCoy conflict, with one part voiced by Joan Cusack, and an old man with a house full of toys named Klaus, voiced by J.K. Simmons.

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November of course means Novembeard–where participants grow beards to raise awareness of men’s health issues.  Or, just because beards are cool and it’s become an annual tradition.  So who better to celebrate than the actor who has made a beard work for him throughout his career?  That would be Kurt Russell.  As Snake Plisskin in Escape from New York.  As MacReady in The Thing.  As Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China (stubble counts).  (Russell only had a moustache in Tombstone so we’ll skip that one).  As the sheriff in Bone Tomahawk.  As John Ruth in The Hateful Eight.  As Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.  Even his son Wyatt knows how to sport a cool beard–He wore won this year as the star of Lodge 49.  So what’s left for the guy with the cool beard to take on next?  How about playing the guy with the best beard of all time?  That’s Santa Claus, of course.

The best part?  In this trailer for Netflix’s new The Christmas Chronicles, Russell isn’t playing just another “Bad Santa” role.  Sure, it looks like a traditional family Christmas show, but Russell revealing how cool Santa is (and always has been) and lines that sound like they were written for Jack Burton?  That’s an inspired choice.

He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so you’d better clean up your act right now.

The movie stars Benji star Darby Camp and The Babysitter’s Judah Lewis as kids who want to film Santa in action.  Look for co-stars Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride, Darrow & Darrow) as their mom, plus Lamorne Morris (New Girl, The Guild) and Martin Roach (Kick-Ass 2, The Shape of Water). 

Check out this new trailer for The Christmas Chronicles:

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i-am-jim-henson

Life’s like a movie… write your own ending… keep believing… keep pretending…

Throughout the past year Brad Meltzer, noted fiction and non-fiction author and television personality (and DC Comics writer for the Identity Crisis and Green Arrow series) joined former Marvel Comics artist Christopher Eliopoulos to produce the Ordinary People Change the World series of books for young readers from Dial/Penguin/Random House.  Each of these could–or should–be your child, your nephew, niece, grandchild, or other young friend’s first book.  Back in September we previewed the most recent books in the series here at borg.com, featuring Dr. Jane Goodall and President George Washington.  This month Meltzer and Eliopoulos are releasing their latest inspirational and educational book for kids, I am Jim Henson.

What is incredible about this book in the series is Eliopoulos’s success in seemingly including every Muppet you can think of one way or another, all his fuzzy and beloved characters from both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.  From Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy to Yoda and the movies Henson created, details of Henson’s life that will interest his fans are all here.  Meltzer, writing in first person as Henson, recreates Henson’s influences and youth.  Most importantly, Henson’s love of magic, imagination, and learning, and characters who taught everyone about laughter and kindness, will inspire new generations to look at his works again, and maybe even create their own.

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Meltzer and Eliopoulos know Henson’s characters like fans do–some of the most memorable lines and images of them can be found tucked into the background and corners of each page.

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Not many R-Rated movies these days get much attention in a genre world of sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, action, or suspense/thriller films.  The current wave of hit films seems to be targeting the broader, all-age audience, not just the adult set, with Deadpool being the notable exception.  But a new historical romance opening this weekend is so loaded with genre actors it drew our attention.  The background for Tulip Fever is as unusual as its subject matter.  Tulip Fever was initially set to be a Steven Spielberg film with Paramount Pictures starring Jude Law, Keira Knightley, and Jim Broadbent, way back in 2004, but a change in UK tax rules stopped the film in its tracks.  So Harvey Weinstein bought the rights and re-cast the film and production commenced in 2014.

The costumes, from Academy Award winning designer Michael O’Connor (Dredd, The Duchess, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and the set design by Simon Elliott (Bleak House) look quite good, a dark European drama with Les Miserables-esque cinematography.  The film’s premise is unusual.  Academy Award winning actress Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Jason Bourne, The Danish Girl, and next year’s Tomb Raider) stars as Sophia, a young married woman who falls for a portrait artist during Tulip Mania in 17th century Amsterdam.  Her lover is played by Dane DeHaan (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Amazing Spider-man 2).  The comparison of this couple to Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s secret lovers in Titanic is unmistakable.  But can a movie set with the backdrop of Tulip Mania possibly hope to draw the appeal of the sinking of the Titanic?  Probably not where this film is heading.  The film was originally screened at Cannes in 2015.  It’s release has been delayed at least six times.

But the genre actor cast list continues.  Sophia’s husband is played by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Spectre, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, The Legend of Tarzan, Muppets Most Wanted).  Oscar winner Dame Judith Dench (the James Bond series, The Chronicles of Riddick, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Shakespeare in Love, Henry V) has a cameo role as a nun.  BAFTA winner Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean series, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Muppets Most Wanted, Valkyrie, Gosford Park) plays a doctor.  Primetime Emmy winner Zach Galifianakis plays a friend of DeHaan’s character and DeHaan reunites with Valerian co-star Cara Delevingne.

Here’s a trailer for Tulip Fever:

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Fathom Events is bringing Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s landmark fantasy The Dark Crystal back to theaters tomorrow and Wednesday, and advance response has resulted in an additional two screening dates the following week and expansion into 700 theaters nationwide.  A member of the Class of 1982, The Dark Crystal just celebrated its 35th anniversary.  The ambitious story of The Dark Crystal takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn by a fracture in a great magic crystal, which caused two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings.  The Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal.  The quest sends Jen on a classic adventure to try to restore harmony and peace to Thra.  Don’t wait–get tickets now here at the Fathom Events website before tomorrow’s screening sells out.

We recently revisited Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a groundbreaking look at the film and co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz in Caseen Gaines’ The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, a new deep-dive into the film reviewed here at borg.com.  According to Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson, The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s most personal work.  This is a great time to have The Dark Crystal fresh in our memory, as we expect to see a 10-episode Netflix follow-on series hopefully by the end of 2018.  The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance does not yet have a release date.

Yes, we’re just as excited as Fizzgig–The Dark Crystal was the reigning favorite fantasy film of all time for legions of moviegoers before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings came along.  The film features performances by Jim Henson as Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voiced by Billie Whitelaw), and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz, and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis. Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira, and Aughra. With a screenplay by Dave Odell (The Muppet Show), The Dark Crystal also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth).  Along with Yoda creator Frank Oz, the film was produced by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz.

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Wrapping up this spectacular and anniversary-filled year of the best of classic genre films will be a Fathom Events screening of Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal.  Another member of the class of 1982, this one slipped in during the holiday season, and it’s anniversary screening will be heading to a theater near you in February.  It’s been an unprecedented year that was almost a weekly opportunity to see the best nostalgic trips into the past, with 1982 films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Blade Runner, and The Princess Bride celebrated its 30th anniversary, while Close Encounters of the Third Kind celebrating its 40th in theaters, and audiences in Europe attended screenings celebrating the whopping 90th anniversary of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  It seems Disney refrained from partaking in the big screen retrospectives: no Star Wars (40) or Tron (35) anniversary theatrical screenings were to be found, but maybe it’ll happen in five years for the next benchmark year.  But it ultimately didn’t matter–this year of classic movies couldn’t be beat.

We recently revisited Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a groundbreaking look at the film and co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, a new deep-dive into the film reviewed here at borg.com.  According to Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson, The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s most personal work.  This is a great time to have The Dark Crystal fresh in our memory, as we expect to see a 10-episode Netflix series hopefully by the end of 2018.  The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance does not yet have a release date.

Yes, we’re just as excited as Fizzgig–The Dark Crystal was the reigning favorite fantasy film of all time for many before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings came along.  The ambitious story of The Dark Crystal takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn by a fracture in a great magic crystal, which caused two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings.  The Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal.  The quest sends him on an unbelievable adventure that can restore harmony and peace to Thra.  The film features performances by Jim Henson as Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voiced by Billie Whitelaw), and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz, and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis.  Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira, and Aughra.  With a screenplay by Dave Odell (The Muppet Show), The Dark Crystal also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth).  Along with Yoda creator Frank Oz, the film was produced by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz.

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This one looks like it could be the next holiday classic.

Although he’s had theatrical roles in 2013’s The Fifth Estate, 2014’s A Walk Among the Tombstones, 2016’s Colossal, and this year’s Beauty and the Beast remake, Dan Stevens is better known for his British TV roles like Matthew Crawley throughout the run of Downton Abbey.  But the genre world really took notice of Stevens this year when he headlined a new X-Men TV series, playing David Haller, a crazed wielder of superpowers on FX’s new series Legion.  His next role takes him back to jolly old England and a character that can’t possibly be more classic and British: Charles Dickens himself.

Although the last time we saw someone play the part of Charles Dickens in a major film it was Gonzo in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Stevens’ off-kilter, frenetic kinetic sense, and quizzical expressions make for an intriguing take on Dickens in the first preview for The Man Who Invented Christmas.  Stevens looks like he’s channeling Gene Wilder from Young Frankenstein in one scene from the movie’s first trailer.

And we get to see Academy Award-winning actor and Shakespearean great Christopher Plummer (Twelve Monkeys, Up, Wolf, Dragnet, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Somewhere in Time, Return of the Pink Panther, The Sound of Music) join the likes of Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, and Bill Murray as Ebenezer Scrooge.  This take on Scrooge focuses on Dickens writing the novel A Christmas Carol and getting a spell of writer’s block.  And speaking of Finney, the view of the film in the preview looks like a mash-up of style from the comedies Tom Jones and Shakespeare in Love

Here’s a fun preview for The Man Who Invented Christmas:

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