The 411 Movies Top 5 10.12.12: Week 352 – Top 5 Fantasy Movies
Welcome to Week 352 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world. Peter Jackson’s fourth movie in Middle Earth comes out this week with The Hobbit. That gave me the idea of the topic for this week, and that is fantasy based films. This doesn’t really include sci-fi or horror, although some of those films can fit here as cross-genre films.
The 411mania writers were given a couple of guidelines: “Here is a good definition to go by: ‘films with fantastic themes, usually involving magic, supernatural events, make-believe creatures, or exotic fantasy worlds.’ Sci-fi and horror movies are different, but some do cross over – you just have to explain why you believe it to fit the criteria. Basically, think of movies like the Lord of the Rings series. If you include fringe movies (Star Wars, Time Bandits, How to Train a Dragon, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), just explain why you consider it fantasy.”
Let’s get to it…
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This week’s writers:
Bryan Kristopowitz, author of The Gratuitous B-Movie Column
Jeremy Wilson, author of The Hush-Hush News Report
John “D-Rock” Dotson, no longer just a guest writer, soon to join Alternate Takes in “D-Rock’s Corner”
Shawn S. Lealos, author of Alternate Takes
5. Red Sonja (1985)
When I first saw Red Sonja I thought it was the third Conan the Barbarian movie, as Ahnold Schwarzenegger appears in it as a big ass dude that kills people with a big ass sword. But then Ahnold wasn’t playing Conan, he was playing some other guy named Kalidor. No, the real star of Red Sonja is the person actually playing the title character, and that would be Brigitte Nielson. And Nielson is pretty dang decent here. She looks great (Nielson was hot back in the 1980′s) and she proves to be more than capable in the flick’s abundant action and sword fighting scenes. She also has good good guy/bad guy chemistry with the movie’s villain as played by Sandahl Bergman (Queen Gedron). And how about Ernie Reyes as the little kid kung fu fighter Prince Tarn? There was nothing cooler when you were a kid seeing a kid doing kung fu (it was also pretty dang cool having a fat guy follow you around threatening to beat the crap out of people with a giant bone). Still worth watching all these years later.
4. Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Lots of people prefer Conan the Barbarian to the sequel Destroyer because, I assume, it’s Rated R and is much more brutal in terms of its violence (James Earl Jones gets decapitated, something I don‘t think has happened in any other James Earl Jones movie). Or maybe it has something to do with that whole “the sequel is never better than the original” thing. Well, I like Destroyer better because it’s much more fun. It’s got Ahnold kicking ass again as Conan, Wilt Chamberlain acting, the great Mako as the same wizard guy he played in the first movie, Grace Jones as an incredibly freaky female warrior, the immortal Sarah Douglas as Queen Taramis, the person that gets Conan to go on the movie’s adventure, and that monster thing that Conan rips the horn out of. Even the score by Basil Poledouris, the exact same one from the first Conan, just seems better, more epic and fun.
Try not humming that theme.
And the ending is pretty dang neat, too, with the tease that there could be a third Conan adventure in the future. It hasn’t happened yet, but wasn’t there a news bit not that long ago that Ahnold wanted to do another one? It’s about dang time, isn’t it?
3. The Beastmaster (1982)
2. Excalibur (1981)
This brilliant adaptation of the King Arthur myth, directed by John Boorman, still packs a punch 31 years later. From the amazing soundtrack to the set design to the performances, this movie just oozes excitement. Nicol Williamson as Merlin, Nigel Terry as Arthur, with Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, and Gabriel Byrne showing up, too. There’s quite a bit of story to get through, at times it’s hard to remember what you just watched, but you’re still engrossed in what’s happening. The movie is also incredibly violent, and when people get stabbed and bleed it’s kind of awful. Even after Arthur returns to health after drinking from the Holy Grail and the flowers start to bloom again it’s still a harsh world. That’s what you’re most likely to remember. Man, I have to go watch this again.
And tell me you don’t want to stand up and yell “Yeah!” after watching and listening to the following scene:
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
The Return of the King won just about every award it was nominated for, acting as a catch all for the entire LoTR trilogy. Director Peter Jackson’s work could no longer be ignored. It’s still a stunning achievement nine years later. The Return of the King is kind of clunky, especially at the end, but, again, it’s all about the overall achievement. Andy Serkis nails it as Gollum. Viggo Mortensen is the ultimate badass king as Stryder. And Elijah Wood as Frodo is the great relatable hero. I’ve only seen this movie once, but it’s still with me. I’m not sure how Jackson can top himself with The Hobbit. I’m glad he’s giving it a shot, though. It’ll be fun to go back to Middle Earth.
5. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
It’s The Wizard of Oz. Do I really need to explain why it’s here? Okay here are a few reasons: Judy Garland. “Over The Rainbow.” The yellow brick road. The Munchkins. Technicolor. The Wicked Witch of the West. Scarecrow, Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion. The flying monkeys. Poppies. The Emerald City. “I’m melting! Melting! Oh what a world! What a world!” The Wizard. Sepia-tinted black-and-white Kansas. “There’s no place like home.”
4. The Harry Potter series (2001-2011)
I don’t know if any of the Harry Potter films would make the Top 5 Fantasy Films list on their own (except perhaps Hary Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2). However, as a collection of eight films, the Harry Potter series has become not only the most successful franchise of all time, but a great epic journey from start to finish that works best together. You know what they say – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. From those first couple awkward, youth-centered Chris Colombus movies to the birth of the darker, more visually arresting series that it grew to be starting with Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire (the point that marks the halfway point of the franchise and essentially represents the transition from childhood to adulthood), all the way to the breathtaking, action-packed finale, the Potter films have essentially reignited and defined fantasy films for the modern era (along with Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy). They are an enormous accomplishment sprung from the mind of J.K. Rowling and executed by a laundry list of talented people, including four different directors.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Like many, I believe Guillermo del Toro is one of the great visionaries of his generation and perhaps the most important fantasy filmmaker working today (not named Peter Jackson). As great as many of his dark fantasy films are (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and the Hellboy films), it is Pan’s Labyrinth that is (and perhaps will always be) his masterpiece. A very adult fable about a young girl in Francoist Spain, the film takes the standard fantasy device of a young child escaping their own unpleasant reality to explore a new, wondrous fantasy realm. However, del Toro isn’t interested in making that fantasy realm safe; instead, he makes it horrific and twisted, a mirror of the grim reality the young girl faces newly living with her fascist stepfather. There is no escape for Ofelia – save one – and the breathtakingly beautiful imagery in Pan’s Labyrinth – including the signature Pale Man – is both haunting and intoxicating. It’s a world that makes you wince and fear, but you can’t help wanting to watch it again and again, admiring the aesthetic and symbolism inherent in the dark fantasy classic.
2. Being John Malkovich (1999)
To be considered (by me at least) the best film of 1999 – a famously good year for films – is a high compliment. The fact that it was Spike Jonze’s feature directorial debut is even more startling. Being John Malkovich is a seminal work by two of the most talented, creative, outside-the-box people working in movies today: Charlie Kauffman and Spike Jonze. Between Kauffman’s wildly original and near-perfect script and Jonze’s wondrous eye for visuals and strong, ultra-realistic direction, Being John Malkovich remains one of the most original and inventive American movies…ever. How a film that so disregards the commercial marketplace and has any number of potential disasters that could lead to its demise – particularly the fact that the entire movie depended on John Malkovich accepting a supporting part in such a strange film revolving around himself – turned out as perfect and perfectly weird as it did is a movie miracle.
1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
About 11 years ago this week, I saw a little art house indie called The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I am here writing about movies for this site because of that and the impact this franchise has had on me. Some are Star Wars or Indiana Jones children, but the single biggest event that sparked more than a mere love of movies on my part were Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. This is as good as live-action epic fantasy gets and these films – already based on novels from J.R.R. Tolkien that define literary fantasy – will undoubtedly stand the test of time. What The Wizard of Oz did for generations more than sixty years ago, The Lord of the Rings will do for generations to come. It is rare that I find myself just as in love with a film multiple years and viewings after I first saw it. There are always crushes and first loves, but it’s rare to form a bond with a work of art and entertainment which you know will never grow old for you. It’s like a marriage; it’s come a long way from the first time I saw each film, but every time I watch them, that relationship grows and matures in different ways. From Ian McKellan as Gandalf, Andy Serkis as Gollum and Howard Shore’s impeccable score, to Helm’s Deep, the majesty of Minas Tirith and the Ride of the Rohirrim, mainstream movies have yet to truly recreate what Jackson and company accomplished. Like a great piece of music, I know every beat and line, yet it never ceases to amaze and move me. As far as I’m concerned, they are films that have defined a generation and act as the bedrock of fantasy.
Honorable Mention: Wizard of Oz, Stardust, and The Princess Bride
5. Conan the Barbarian
When I think of a good solid male testosterone movie, I think of the original Conan the Barbarian. This is a movie so aggressively violent that when it’s over, all I want to do is go out and destroy some bad guys(Gerard Butler Spartan-kick style). It’s just awesome as hell. Even the score is pretty epic for a film that acts like a B-Movie. Put this soundtrack on while you are working out and tell me it does not make you feel like you just overdosed on steroids. This is also vintage Arnie back when he looked like he could bench press a soccer mom van. Arnold brought a tremendous angle to the character playing the quiet samurai approach. This was largely due to the fact his English was still rusty at the time, but hey, it worked. It was recently announced that he would reprise the role in The Legend of Conan. Krom, I pray you make this happen. And if you don’t… Then to hell with you!
4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Generally, all the Harry Potter films were decently made but Prisoner of Azkaban is my personal favorite for a variety of different reasons. First reason is the amazing direction that Alfonso Cuaron brought to this adaptation. This is the one film I felt that Cuaron completely made entirely his own and sets itself apart from the rest. Now, forgive me because I haven’t read the books. So, this could be largely due to the writing of J.K. Rowling , but Prisoner of Azkaban is the first entry in the franchise that took the series in a completely different darker direction as well. Bottom line, this was my favorite film of the Potter era and the one I’ve experienced the most in viewings.
3. King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson’s vision of King Kong is a heartbreaking and mesmerizing remake that is made with a heart bigger than Kong himself. Andy Serkis has been robbed twice during Oscar season for his amazing motion capture performances as apes. The man just brings so much humanity to the roles he does behind all the CG. At first, the ape terrifies you, and then out of nowhere he breaks your heart. The last five minutes of the film is heart-wrenching as well as captivating. Jackson and Serkis are an amazing duo and I hope they continue to impress me for years to come.
2. Pans Labrynth
The only man who I believe can stand toe-to-toe against Peter Jackson in delivering epic fantasies is Guillermo Del Toro. I had a friend say it best about the fantastic weirdness that Del Toro brings to his vision. He said “Everything Tim Burton TRIES to do, Del Toro actually DOES”, which is completely true. The man just makes it look so easy. The fairy tale world envisioned in Pan’s Labrynth is captivating, but that amazing Del Toro style way that is also a little scary. To make things better, even with all the splendor of his world building, he never forgets the most important backbone of a film… The story. Pan’s Labrynth is one of the best adult fairytale fantasy films of the last decade.
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
When I think epic fantasy motion picture, I think of The Two Towers. The second film had all the ingredients needed to be a tremendous sequel. Everything from “The Battle of Helms Deep” to giant trees walking around kicking ass, there is no areas of awesomeness that Peter Jackson does not cover. Also, this is the first film that introduces the cinematic world to “Gollum/Smeagol.” Again, Andy Serkis just does an outstanding job just disappearing into the role. Yes, I know it’s a motion capture performance but it’s a damn good one. I don’t think there is a more quotable phrase than “the precious.” The Two Towers is my all time favorite fantasy film and is my personal favorite from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now, who is ready for The Hobbit?
5. Labyrinth (1986)
David Bowie’s codpiece. Yes, that is the subject that comes up whenever I talk about Labyrinth to just about anyone. Directed by Muppets creator Jim Henson, the movie stars a very young Jennifer Connelly (16 at the time) as a girl who tires of her baby brother’s crying and wishes the Goblin King would take him away. Unfortunately for her, he does and she has to save him. Bowie plays the Goblin King, and I will be honest with you – when I saw this as a kid, it kind of freaked me out if for no other reason than the demons who popped their own heads off. It was an amazing work by Henson and proved that he could go dark (see also: Dark Crystal) and still put out one hell of a good story. Great puppet work too.
4. LOTR: Return of the King (2003)
The king of all fantasy movies has to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I chose to only include the third one on my list, although they could all be grouped as one unit as well. The last remains the most exciting with amazing battles and set pieces and some great action. While the ending was entirely too long and had too many false endings, the rest of the movie was masterful, as was the franchise in general. Sure, some complain about how much there is, but I still live and die by the extended editions and have no problem watching nine hours of Peter Jackson’s epic. That is why making The Hobbit into three movies doesn’t bother me. J.R.R. Tolkien has enough extra info in his appendages to make three movies more than enough.
3. Seventh Seal
Easily one of my favorite movies of all time, Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal tells the story of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow, The Exorcist) who returns home after the Crusades and finds death waiting for him. Death in this movie remains an iconic figure, spoofed in many movies and most popularly in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. In this movie, the knight bargains for more time and realizing that Death loves a good game, he challenges Death to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives but if Death wins, he leaves quietly. He knows he has no chance but he wants to see his wife one more time. Along the way, he meets two actors and his group slowly grows until Black Death finds them all. It is a beautiful movie and an amazing story.
2. The Princess Bride (2007)
Is it fantasy? I would say it fits the role simple because it is a story read by a grandfather to his ill grandson about a pirate who rescues a princess from an evil villain, who is accompanied by a giant and a swordsman. Sure, there is no magic in here (unless you count Billy Crystal’s wacko) but it is fantasy in my eyes. William Goldman won an Oscar for his first screenplay, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and that gave him a chance to get some of his dream projects filmed. One of those was The Princess Bride, based on his own novel. The movie tells the story of two young star crossed lovers. When the man leaves to find riches so he can marry the lovely Princess Buttercup, he disappears and everyone fears him dead, slain by the evil Dread Pirate. An arrogant price arranges for Buttercup to marry him, but frets when she is kidnapped by a Sicilian criminal, a Spanish swordsman named Inigo Montoya and a giant wrestler named Fezzik (Andre the Giant). The Dread Pirate shows back up and sets out to rescue the Princess in one of the best fantasy movies ever made.
“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father; Prepare to die!”
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
One of my favorite movies of all time, regardless of genre, is Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The movie takes place during the Spanish Civil War as a young girl and her mother move to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless and cruel member of the military. The little girl feels out of place, loving to read and engrossing herself in stories to escape the harsh realities of the real world. At her new home, she discovers a portal into another world, a fantasy world that is both beautiful and horrifying where she meets Pan, who warns her of the dangers of this strange new world. It is also here that she meets the Pale Man, a child-eating monster. Most of what she finds in the fantasy realms mirrors the horrors of the real world and Del Toro reveals his masterful fairy tale in one of the most gorgeous and horrifying movies ever made.
What is your favorite fantasy movie? Chime in below…
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