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Tag Archive: best fantasy movies


Last week The Princess Bride turned 30 and it returned to theaters this week as part of the Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies partnership (more classics are on their way to your local theater so keep an eye on the Fathom Events website for updates).  We’re big fans of The Princess Bride here at borg.com–more than five years ago it made 3 of our 4 lists of all-time favorite fantasy films.  This week’s screenings included Ben Mankiewicz interviewing director and producer Rob Reiner, and what shines through is Reiner’s enthusiasm for the film, three decades later.  He’s had several hits, from This is Spinal Tap to A Few Good Men, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and The American President, and more, and now in theaters is his latest–LBJ.  But so few films are beloved like The Princess Bride.

Why does it work so well?  Part of the film’s success is due to its sincerity.  It’s true to its source material, William Goldman’s novel The Princess Bride–the favorite of the author’s works.  Reiner tells a story of the difficulty in getting novelist William Goldman to sign over the film rights.  After countless big names were denied, Reiner was successful by agreeing simply not to change the story.  Goldman, who won Oscars for his screenplays to All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, also penned the film adaptation, further ensuring his original vision.  The story is bookended as only a fairy tale could be told (with a few interruptions) by Peter Falk’s Grandpa and Fred Savage’s Grandson, just having storytime.  The Grandson’s 1980s room provides plenty of nostalgia for kids from the period–a “Refrigerator” Perry poster, a Cubs pennant, Burger King The Empire Strikes Back drinking glass, He-Man action figures–this Chicago kid had a fun room.  But the family bonding is the thing–an old book keeping a story that bridges generations, inside the movie and out, told by an old man with glasses, gray hair, and a fedora.  And the story is sweet and about love–nothing in the movie is embarrassing or gross or disturbing–it’s safe territory to kick back and have a good time–for everyone.

Rob Reiner’s humor must also be a big component of the film’s success and appeal.  His choices, his casting, his own humor comes through, no doubt influenced by a lifetime in film thanks to his comedy dad Carl Reiner.  Carl belonged to that classic comedy school that also includes Mel Brooks.  It’s Brooks’ Young Frankenstein that The Princess Bride reminded me of the most in the theater.  What Young Frankenstein was to classic monster movies, The Princess Bride was for the fantasy film genre.  Is The Princess Bride a parody?  It doesn’t have those obvious, direct ties to specific classic scenes like Young Frankenstein, but it’s an homage to several–from Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood to Zorro and from Ivanhoe to Captain Blood and Sleeping Beauty.  The Pit of Despair, where Cary Elwes’s Dread Pirate Roberts is tortured, looks as if it could have been designed by the same crew as the laboratory set in Young Frankenstein (it didn’t but it did share its set designer–Richard Holland–with fantasy classics Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal).  But Rob Reiner’s humor is his own.  He never sits on a joke like the old masters of Hollywood comedy.  He leaves a laugh and keeps moving, which keeps in step with classic fantasyland storytelling.  You can laugh but the goal is the goal:  Rescue the Princess!

The classic archetypes are there: the Princess (Robin Wright), the Farmboy Hero (Elwes), the Three Woodsmen (Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant), a Wizard (Billy Crystal), a Crone (Carol Kane), an Albino (Mel Smith), and plenty of Villains including the Evil King (Chris Sarandon)–with a classic “rescue the Princess” plot.  But the movie is also unique.  What else has Rodents of Unusual Size?  The accents of Wallace Shawn as Vizzini and Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman?  An ad-libbing Billy Crystal partnered with a wonderfully badgering Carol Kane (Humperdinck! Humperdinck!)?  A real giant?  Two brave, swashbuckling heroes and two key villains (don’t forget Christopher Guest’s Count Rugen).  And the quotable lines!  It surely has as many big lines as Caddyshack: As you wish… My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my Father.  Prepare to die… Never get involved in a land war in Asia!…  Inconceivable!…  I do not think that word means what you think it means… Mawwiage! … And an endless litany of “boo”s.  The Pit of Despair!  The Cliffs of Insanity!

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mouse-guard-coloing-book-cover-petersen

The Jungle Book.  The Hobbit.  Winnie the Pooh.  The Last Unicorn.  Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  The Dark Crystal.  Mouse Guard.

There is an exclusive royalty of fantasy tales featuring non-humans in fantastical realms.  These books and movies should be on the bookshelves of everyone with an imagination.  Strange worlds familiar and yet unfamiliar.  Steeped in tradition, filled with myths and legends and populated by extraordinary creatures.  These are fantasy masterpieces that make us look beyond our humanity.

Based on a world of characters he created in college in 1996, in May 2005 artist and writer David Petersen self-published the first of several stories of his micro-universe called Mouse Guard.  In 2006 Archaia started publishing Mouse Guard issues  books.  Petersen earned the 2007 Russ Manning Award for Most Promising Newcomer, and in 2008 he earned Eisner Awards for Best Publication for Kids (Mouse Guard Fall 1152 & Winter 1152) and Best Graphic Album – Reprint (Mouse Guard Fall 1152 Hardcover).  We at borg.com have been bragging up Petersen’s Mouse Guard series from the beginning.

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This month Archaia is releasing the first Mouse Guard Coloring Book, and we have previews of the book below.  It is a fantastic book to go crazy with crayons or pencils.  But it’s even more.  The more than fifty black and white illustrations in a format larger than what is printed in the Mouse Guard series shows the intricate detail of the environments, cities, and characters from across the Mouse Territories.  Although some images are printed smaller than the original artwork behind these previously published works, this is the closest you may come to getting your hands on an affordable gallery of Petersen’s original pencil and ink drawings.  At a convention commissioned inked 7×7 works from David Petersen go for $500.  Original Mouse Guard pages sold for that amount a decade ago but would sell for at least triple that today.  So this coloring book serves also as a look at what Petersen sees with his original art pages, as well as a great convention sketchbook.  And costs less than $15.

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Huntsman

Review by C.J. Bunce

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is now available on Digital HD and coming to 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand this week from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.  The Huntsman: Winter’s War on Blu-ray and DVD includes an all-new extended edition of the action-adventure, plus exclusive bonus features that show the depth and skill required to produce an epic fantasy film on par with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series.  Not since Godfather 2 has any filmmaker been able to so successfully stitch a prequel and a sequel into one film, as the story of Winter’s War takes place both before and after 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman.  Winter’s War also remains our lead contender for best fantasy of 2016.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War stars Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury RoadAeon Flux, Prometheus, Kubo and the Two Strings) as the evil Queen Ravenna, who betrays her sister Freya (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, Looper, The Adjustment Bureau), causing Freya’s evil, icy powers to emerge.  Retreating to a snowbound fortress, Freya raises an army of children into Huntsmen, banishing love in her realm.  Freya’s most elite Huntsmen, Eric (Chris Hemsworth, ThorStar Trek 2009) and Sara (Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak) are caught breaking the one law and forced to face off against the other Huntsmen.  Seven years after the events in Snow White and the Huntsmen, we meet the long-exiled Eric, now tasked to retrieve the legendary “mirror mirror” that set off the battle of that film.  He is joined by four dwarf warriors and propelled into a battle with Freya, who manages to acquire the mirror and unleash the dark power within it.  Be sure to check out our review of the theatrical release of the film from this past April here at borg.com.

Blu-ray Winters War Huntsman

Less than ten new minutes are added for the extended edition that accompanies the theatrical edition on this week’s release.  The added scenes alone won’t justify the purchase of the Blu-ray, but you’ll want to watch this new release as the spectacular features and beautiful transfer quality make The Huntsman: Winter’s War a feast for the eyes and the best home release so far this year.

So what are the features you get?

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Jungle Book clip Baloo Mowgli

I consider myself a big-time fan of Disney’s 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 work The Jungle Book.  To me, it has always been Disney’s #1 animated movie–from the perfect George Bruns score and memorable songs by Terry Glikyson and the Sherman brothers, including The Bare Necessities, Colonel Hathi’s March, Trust in Me, and Abba Dabba Honeymoon.  Back in 2012 here at borg.com I named it in my top five favorite fantasy movies.  (Quick trivia: It’s even one of Clint Howard’s earliest projects).  I even named one of my beautiful bear-cub looking dogs Baloo after the incredibly friendly best pal of Mowgli (and unsuccessfully petitioned the powers-that-be to name his sister after the protective panther Bagheera).  Although the animation itself isn’t Disney’s best, it doesn’t take away from the fun of the movie.  The animated version of The Jungle Book is a gem and a true classic.

So it was with some trepidation that I watched the first live-action adaptation of the story with Disney’s 1994 version of The Jungle Book.  This time the jolly, sing-along music and talking animals were gone.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  Solid direction by Stephen Sommers (Catch Me If You Can, The Mummy, Van Helsing, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) plus excellent acting and faithful characterizations allowed Jason Scott Lee, Lena Headey, Sam Neill, Cary Elwes, and John Cleese to make a truly enjoyable dramatic movie.

Bagheera

In 2016 Disney is trying again with another live-action version of The Jungle Book, this time directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) with a different twist: voice-over actors for the animals, including Bill Murray as Baloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Christopher Walken as King Louie, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Giancarlo Esposito as Akela, Lupita Nyong’0 as Raksha, and young actor Neel Sethi as Mowgli.  Expect this version to be heavy on special effects.  How will it compare to the prior versions?  One plus is that the original songs from the 1967 animated movie will be back, as hinted at the end of the first trailer just released for the movie.

Check it out here:

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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 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 that story comes alive in a very wonderful way in 1967’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.

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