Monday, May 22, 2006

Favorite Fantasy Films?

Covered some favorite SciFi movies earlier -- so this time looking at fantasy movies. All the magic & monster flicks we grew up with (or saw recently), and still get a kick out of. It's interesting to note that 11 of the AFI's 100 Greatest Movies are scifi/fantasy films. Be sure and let us know which of your faves were left off the list!!

King Kong. (1933) What can you say about King Kong that hasn't already been said? The story & characters are still fun and engaging, 73 years later. Love Peter Jackson's film too, but there's something especially entertaining about those early SFX, where you can see Kong's fur move because the model was being manipulated, and the dinosaurs look kinda clunky and slow. Thank goodness we can now see all those scenes the censors snipped out years ago (like Kong sniffing Fay Wray's clothes, and eating and crushing those poor natives... why did the residents of Skull Island make that gate big enough for him to get through anyway??)

The Wizard of Oz. (1939) The level of detail is still amazing. When I saw a pair of the ruby slippers at the Smithsonian, I was impressed with not only how small they were but how dark they were. The extremely bright, hot Technicolor lighting made them appear that sparkly and magical. They don't look quite that intense in a glass case. The magic is in the details. Like Margaret Hamilton practically going up in flames on that second take in Munchkinland. Yikes! Also, this is one of our dog's favorite movies, which in her mind is known as The Adventures of Toto.

The Thief of Bagdad. (1940) Great film I saw when I was a kid. Of particular note is the grand, soaring score by master film composer Miklos Rozsa (who did the scores for Ben Hur, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and many many others). It's by turns romantic, noble and mythic. And Thief's SFX are just great fun. Actor Sabu, who also played Mowgli in Jungle Book, died of a sudden heart attack at age 39.

La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast). (1946) "Once upon a time..." A fairy tale for adults: the dreamlike, surreal, gorgeous masterpiece from Jean Cocteau, the poet of film. If you've never seen it, you owe it to yourself (and your children) to rent it! Truly one of the top-100 films of the 20th century.

Miracle on 34th Street. (1947) When I was a kid, this movie was pure holiday magic: Santa, the Macy's Christmas parade, adorable Natalie Wood, and the charm of Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. All these years later, the message of the commercialism of Christmas rings truer than ever.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. (1958) The first really big success for movie-magic maestro Ray Harryhausen. The cyclops ranks right up there with the best all-time movie monsters. Of course, have to mention Bernard Herrmann's thrilling score -- one of his very best. Love all of Harryhausen's movies really, from Mighty Joe Young (1949) all the way up to Clash of the Titans (1981), but if I had to pick one favorite it would have to be this Sinbad tale. Well, or maybe...

Jason and the Argonauts. (1963) That other amazing bit of mythical magic from the Master. The harpies, the giant Talos, the multi-headed hydra, the golden fleece, Triton, those battling skeletons... and did you know that one of the seven skeletons was the same one used in that sword fight from 7th Voyage of Sinbad? Oh, and did I mention Bernard Herrmann?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (1968) If only for Benny Hill as the toymaker, the Baron and Baroness Bomburst trying to off each other, and that vile Child Catcher... "Come along kiddie-winkies!" Creeee-py. And the songs were actually quite good. No wonder they turned it into a Broadway musical, complete with a flying car.

Star Wars. (1977) So I remember sitting on the roof of the car in the heat of summer, watching this for the third time at a drive-in with a blonde teenage girl, all her hormones a-ragin'. Wanna make something outta it?? Doesn't mean I didn't still have a thing for Han Solo in the summer of '77. Or maybe even, in a freaky way, for Chewbacca.

The Empire Strikes Back. (1980) Easily the best of the whole series. When the DVDs come out of the original versions, I'll be right there in line. Forget all the CGI tweaking... I want the movies the way I first saw them. Especially this one. I remember standing in line for an hour to get into the theater, which at that time was the longest line I had ever stood in. Other than maybe to buy tickets to a Kiss concert.

Dragonslayer. (1981) It was a good day when this movie finally came out on DVD. It was one of those I had been waiting for, and it was as good as I remembered it. The 80's was a particularly good decade for fantasy films -- just look at how many showed up on this list. This dragon is still one of the coolest, together with the one from 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Difference is this one had babies...

The Dark Crystal. (1982) There is something other-worldly about Jim Henson's puppets; their ballet-like movements brought a unique charm to the story. This is definately one of those movies that has grown in stature since its release. You hear fans talk about it with a kind of hushed enthusiasm -- a reverence almost. But maybe that's just the Brian Froud fans.

Ladyhawke. (1985) A strange medieval fantasy/romance where Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer hardly have a scene together. But Matthew Broderick's "Mouse" makes up for it. If there's a flaw in this movie, it's the awful, dated score by Alan Parsons. Just imagine what Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams could have done with this one...

Legend. (1985) Speaking of Jerry Goldsmith, the restored DVD edition of Legend features the alternate soundtrack with his original score, which studio executives had replaced with the schmaltzy synth-score by Tangerine Dream after test-screenings. It's a much better movie with the original music. Oh, and don't forget Tim Curry's Frankenfurter-as-the-Devil spin!

The Princess Bride. (1987) "Have fun stormin' da castle!" "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." "Inconceivable!" "Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam wifin a dweam..." Easily the most quotable movie on the list. Well, maybe other than The Wizard of Oz.

Field of Dreams. (1989) One you don't think of first as a fantasy, since it's a baseball movie. Well, and a really good Kevin Costner movie. But the characters, including the dead ones, are so well fleshed out (and who out there doesn't love James Earl Jones), and baseball fan or not you feel the home run they hit at the end. A tad sentimental. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Edward Scissorhands. (1990) Vincent Price's last movie, here playing a kind of gentle "mad" scientist, who has all the best intentions. For the guy that got all wiggy in those Poe-Corman movies, the Dr. Phibes movies, and thrillers like Theatre of Blood, this was a quiet way to go out. But over the years it has seemed all the more poignant. Oh, and think Johnny Depp was in this one too.

The Nightmare Before Christmas. (1993) Can anyone say "instant classic?" Between Sandy Claws, Oogie Boogie Man, Jack Skellington & Sally -- not to mention all the memorable minor characters like the Mayor, Dr. Finkelstein, Lock Shock & Barrel, the Clown with the Tear Away Face, etc. -- and some catchy Danny Elfman songs, it became a holiday staple. Of two holidays!

Sleepy Hollow. (1999) Obviously, Tim Burton wrote the cookbook on fantasy in the 90's. Stir together Burton, Depp, Washington Irving & Christopher Walken -- fold in Miranda Richardson and Christina Ricci -- add a heavy dash of Danny Elfman, and mix well. Top off with a pinch of Christopher Lee, and, voila! a sweet dessert with a bloody filling!

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (2000) File this one under fantasy/kung-fu/action-romance. Playing on a long tradition of fantastic martial arts movies that mix together mysticism with romance, most of which we've never seen in the West, it was an eye-opener for almost all of us upon its U.S. release. It will lead you to movies like Chinese Ghost Story, Chinese Torture Chamber, and of course House of Flying Daggers.

Spirited Away. (2001) This one had me as soon as the parents mutated into giant pigs. Love Miyazaki's other films, especially Princess Mononoke, but there's something special about Spirited Away, something hard to pinpoint. Something so foreign and yet familiar. Like a story I heard when I was a kid, but can't quite remember clearly. If that makes any sense. Gets better with each viewing.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (2001-03) A true landmark achievement: a film trilogy that appealed to us die-hard fans of the classic novel as well as those Hobbit-novices. Sales of the book (in all its many incarnations, including the fabulous edition illustrated by Alan Lee - conceptual designer on the movies) went through the roof with the release of these films. That has to be a good thing. One pay-off of many was when Shelob turned out to be even scarier than she was in the book. Brrrrrr.

Spider-Man 2. (2004) The ultimate comic book turned celluloid. Greater depth and character development than we had a right to expect. The first one was very, very cool, but this one upped the ante. Let's hope they can maintain the trend...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman Begins, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit -- all great fantasy films that came out in 2005. I guess you call that a banner year. Wow. Does that mean the Gods are going to punish us with a dry spell of notable fantasy for the rest of the decade?


Post a Comment

<< Home