Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Top-Ten Tuesday - Top 10 Fantasy Movies

I've already(fittingly) talked about my top ten fantasy books.  So it only stands to reason that I'm a fan of fantasy in other genres.  Therefore, here's my top ten fantasy movies.  Be warned, I cheated by lumping movies together a couple of times.  Also, try to keep in mind that I was a child of the 80s/early 90s.

10. Return to Oz

This movie, along with a couple others on this list, finds its place here with partial credit given to nostalgia and my age when I first saw it.  Even so, this is a wonderful fantasy movie which should not in any way be compared to the original.  While I believe this movie(someone correct me if I'm wrong) follows the source material of L. Frank Baum's Oz series a little more closely(drawing inspiration from The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz), it is . . . shall we say, unique.

Gone, for the most part, are the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man.  Instead, with a cast involving a talking jack-o-lantern named Jack Pumpkinhead, a robotic warrior named Tik-Tok, and a flying donkey-head couch thingy named Gump, this movie is anything but typical, even for fantasy.  Then there's always the Nome King, the Wheelers, and the evil head-changing princess to incite nightmares in any child who watches it.  Plus, it's interesting to see a young Fairuza Balk in the main role of Dorothy.

9. Time Bandits

In all honesty, I can't remember the last time I saw this movie, but to this day, it sticks with me.  For one, it comes from Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame.  If you've seen any of the films he's been involved in, you already know this is going to be an imaginative tour de force.  

Time Bandits sees an imaginative young boy, ignored by his parents, encountering a group of dwarves who come pouring out of his wardrobe one night(with a very Hobbit-ish nod) and take him on an adventure through history.  With the dwarves, the boy helps to defeat Evil, who wishes to take control of a map the dwarves possess that basically represents the space-time continuum.  

The ending to this movie will always nag at me, with its completely open-ended, not-quite-happy conclusion.

8. The Neverending Story

Definitely a movie that could only be made in the 80s, The NeverEnding Story is one of the most amazing fantasy movies I've ever seen.  Take away the synthesizer soundtrack, and you have an amazing tale in which a young, bullied boy, Bastian, finds himself as the only hope for the world of Fantasia, a fantasy land contained within a book he steals from the bookstore he hides in when escaping a group of bullies.  Fantasia is threatened by the Nothing, a force that is essentially erasing all of existence, representing the loss of people who truly believe in the world.  Bastian soon realizes the book is addressing him directly, and in the end is pulled into the world upon saving it.

One thing I absolutely love about this movie(aside from the amazingly creative Rock Biter, Luck Dragon, among dozens of other unique characters), is that in the end, we are not treated to the typical 80s fantasy movie ending of "was it really a dream?"  No, Bastian chases down his bullies atop a giant, intimidating(but in actuality quite pleasant) Luck Dragon named Falcor in the real world.  It's nice to escape the aforementioned cliche.

I am well aware that the author of the book this is based on was not happy with the film.  For years I've wanted to purchase the book and see the author's true vision.  When my first son is a couple years older, maybe, I'll pick it up and we can experience the adventure together.  

7. The Wizard of Oz

My wife will applaud that I placed this above The NeverEnding Story(we once had a discussion about which of the two movies was better, with me on the side of The NeverEnding Story).  Anyway, a decade or so later, and I can readily admit that this movie will live on far beyond the other, and for good reason.

The Wizard of Oz was already a classic book.  I could go on for paragraphs upon paragraphs about what makes this movie such a fantasy classic, or really just a true classic movie, but you've all seen it and know exactly why(and if you haven't seen it, shame on you!).  Obviously Oz was beautifully realized, and the use of color was a brilliant technological leap then, and a genius artistic device now.  The characters are awesome, the music wholly memorable, and this may be the first multi-quotable movie ever made(follow the yellow brick road, I'm melting, I'll get you my pretty . . ., etc.).

Although, even if the book ended the same way, and this movie was made weeeellll before the 80s, it ends with the "was it all just a dream" cliche I mentioned before.  Oh well, I'll forgive it this once.

6. The Dark Crystal

Full disclosure: I have a Jim Henson bias.  Anything he was involved in, in my eyes, came from the mind of an artistic genius with an imagination and the creative skill typically only associated with children.  His vision was truly brilliant.

The Dark Crystal, I believe, was his first full-length fantasy film feature.  It follows Jen, and elf-ish being belonging to a nearly extinct race called Gelflings.  The Skeksis, more 80s movies nightmare material, have nearly wiped out the Gelflings, and Jen, along with another surviving Gelfling named Kira, go on an epic journey to bring light back to a darkened world.

This movie is a great fantasy film, though it proves just how dark a children's fantasy movie could be in the 80s.

5. Harry Potter (Order of the Phoenix/Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2)

"Foul!" you say?  Well, I can lump 3 movies together if I want to, so there!  Clearly, the Harry Potter book series was revolutionary, bringing in a readership in the millions, from young children to older adults.  It sparked a movement for children to learn to love reading, as well as reading books with word counts in the 100s of thousands.  

The movies, like the books, were amazingly well done, and though I don't believe any after the Prisoner of Azkaban lived up to the books, I liked them all.  However, these three were my favorite movies of the bunch, capturing the darker feel of the two books(books 5 and 7), while keeping an air of the fantastical aspects of the series.  

4. The Princess Bride

Sorry, but you have to love this movie.  You just have to.  If you don't, then . . . well, INCONCEIVABLE!  (If you got that joke, then you're okay by me).

With a fun, lighthearted(mainly) story, a fantasy world(though the author of the book it was based on, William Goldman would like you to believe Gilder and Florin are indeed real countries), amusing characters, an amazing cast, and a huge dose of comedy, this movie can be enjoyed by just about anyone, whether they like fantasy or not.  

Also, I dare you to come up with a more quotable movie(don't take me up on this, because you'll probably win).  If you can, well, that's just plain inconceivable.

3. The Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers/Return of the King)

I'm going to gloss over these movies for the moment, and just say they were amazing, but in my opinion weren't as great as the first.  Granted, I haven't read The Lord of the Rings.  Yeah, I know, throw your stones.  I'm not a fan of Tolkein's writing.  Yes, I know in the overall scheme of things he's the most pivotal fantasy author of all time, and my own writing and love of fantasy can be traced to the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I just can't read them with their excessive detail.  

Anyway, the point is, I can't compare these to the books, I can only base my opinion of the movies on their own merits.

2. Labyrinth

Another film that falls under the Jim Henson bias, is incredibly nostalgic for me, and can probably be directly credited for my initial love of fantasy.  David Bowie's package aside, the world that Jim Henson and his crew built for this movie is amazing.  The detail, in a mostly pre-CG world is nothing less than astounding.  The story is simple, the live actors are out-acted by the puppets, and the music(though I love it) wears the time period on its sleeve, but Labyrinth will always be one of my favorite fantasy films of all time.  I say mosty pre-CG, because the entire intro credits has a CG owl flying around the screen, a technical feat that meant nothing to me as a child, but strikes me as well before its time today.

Sarah, upon wishing her baby brother away, gets her wish granted by Jareth, the Goblin King.  A regretful Sarah is taken to Jareth's labyrinth where she has 13 hours to find her brother at the castle at the center of the Labyrinth.  Nothing I type here will do this film's endless creativity any justice, so go watch it.  If you don't like fantasy, weren't born in the 80s, and don't have parents born before 1990, this one may not be for you.

1. Fellowship of the Ring

Here's the reason I skipped the other two above.  This movie stands as my favorite fantasy film, even if it's not my favorite fantasy film story.  This movie just hit all the right notes for me.  Peter Jackson picked the perfect location for Middle Earth with New Zealand, the scenery breathtakingly beautiful.  CG is kept to a minimum, but nearly nothing looks fake or manufactured.  Heck, he freakin' built a real Shire!  I mean, really!  The actors were amazing(even if Elijah Wood displays all of 2 expressions throughout), and of any fantasy movie I've ever seen, this one strikes me as the most real.  Nothing about it snaps you out of the fantasy world.  Okay, maybe the flight through the mines of Moria where the fellowship is clearly animated.  For the most part, however, Peter Jackson takes you to Middle Earth and keeps you there for 3-4 hours(depending if you have the extended cut or not).

Of the three movies, this is the one I never tire of, and likely never will.  If you haven't seen it, watch it. If you have, go watch it again!  If your only experience with the filmerized(I'm declaring this to be a word) Middle Earth is the more recent Hobbit movies, definitely watch it. 


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