This month at Amoeba SF we're forging a fellowship for Fantasy genre awareness and appreciation! Given the recent release of Numero Group's most excellent "one comp. to rule them all" collection of Dungeons & Dragons inspired pre-Heavy Metal underground Rock, Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles, and the impending Game of Thrones hype-a-thon building up to the premiere of the HBO show's fourth season on April 6th, we figured the month of March could do for a heady dose of Ice and Fire-fueled cinematic dream-fasting -- a visual poultice with which the reality-weary may allay their workaday woes, watching. Do keep an vigilant eye out for our Fantasy endcap at Amoeba SF featuring golden genre gems like these from the nineteen-eighties:
Dragonslayer (1981) in which a young wizard's apprentice (Peter MacNichol of Ally McBeal and Ghostbusters 2 fame) must kill a virgin-snacking dragon to save the King's daughter who has been chosen by the kingdom's lottery system as the next sacrifice in line to keep the beast's appetite for destruction at bay.
Ladyhawke (1985) concerns the cursed lovers Captain Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer, who also starred in the similarly fantastical Flesh + Blood) and Lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) who, punished for their love, must suffer his becoming a wolf by night and her taking the form of a hawk by day. The two together, with the help of thief Philippe "The Mouse" Gaston (Matthew Broderick), attempt to overthrow the corrupt Bishop of Aquila in order to break the spell.
The Princess Bride (1987), being very much the stuff of beloved classic fairy tales, features memorable performances by Mandy Patinkin (as a master swordsman with a vengeance), Andre the Giant (as Fezzik -- a giant), Christopher Guest (as an evil count), Wallace Shawn (as an "inconceivable" genius), Robin Wright (as a beautiful princess), and Cary Elwes (as a farm boy and a pirate in black) among many other delightful players. Though this film features some overly bemoaned kissing scenes, its legendary sick-day cult favor is earned when read to grandson, Fred Savage, by a kindly grandfather, Peter Faulk.
The Last Unicorn (1982), a Japanese animated Rankin/Bass adaptation of the wonderful book by Peter S Beagle. The production is resplendent with some of the most refreshing visual concoctions of the Fantasy genre and featuring a memorable soundtrack by America and the vocal talents, as well as the somewhat tenuous singing skills of Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, and Angela Lansbury. Long considered a family film, I'll never forget every curious exclamation of the word "damn!" as heard in the original version of the feature I recorded to videocassette when I was a kid. Recent versions have since cut down on the cursing, but the violence and semi-nudity, not to mention the singing, remain fully intact.
Excalibur (1981) is without a doubt the single best film adaptation of Arthurian legend ever produced. After corresponding with J.R.R. Tolkein with the intent to make a The Lord of the Rings movie, director John Boorman incorporated elements and themes related to that project into the epic Excalibur when plans for the former project fell through (hence the eponymous sword's "one ring" vibe). Filmed in Ireland, largely on Boorman's own private property, and featuring Boorman's own children cast alongside Helen Mirren, Nicol Williamson, Nigel Terry, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Corin Redgrave among many many others, the film is at once intimate and sprawling, exquisitely detailed, yet epic in execution. A film for the ages in terms of visually realized mythology, folklore, medieval literary tradition and modern historical fiction.
Troll (1986) features a young Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a neighbor-turned-nymph when wicked troll king in search of a mystical ring that will return him to his human form invades a San Francisco apartment complex where a powerful witch lives. With a such memorable scenes of WTF*ckry like Michael Moriarty's solo baby-boomer vinyl dance party, this movie just is a curiously satisfying watch that in no way prepares you for the horror that is Troll 2. Spoiler alert: at one point the witch turns into a hotter, younger version of herself.
The NeverEnding Story (1984), like The Princess Bride and Labyrinth, is a book-driven family friendly adventure epic what follows a bullied school boy named Bastian as he suffers near-terminal enchantment diving into a mysterious book. A touching tale of loss, despair, gumption, and self-empowerment The NeverEnding Story is a timeless enduring classic flight of fantasy anyone can enjoy.
Fire and Ice (1983) is essentially a sword-and-sorcery animated feature for adults (the little kid in me that made this realization upon watching this movie for the first time is still kind of embarrassed about it). The story involves the young warrior Larn on his quest to avenge the destruction of his village by the evil Ice Lord, Nekron. When Nekron targets good king Jarol's Fire Keep fortress and succeeds in abducting the king's daughter, Teegra, Larn steps in and the battle for good and evil begins in earnest. Though scant of plot and paper thin (literally!) of character, Fire and Ice remains something of a testament to the art of rotoscoping and remains nothing if not another beautifully rendered slice of Ralph Bakshi Fantamation. Also, Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings (1978) is something of a must-see for Fantasy nerds as it features a screenplay adaptation penned by Peter S. Beagle and dazzling conceptual art that proved very influential to Peter Jackson's design concepts for his own Tolkien production.
Legend (1985), a most notably beleaguered yet fantastically cinematic Ridley Scott production, stars Tom Cruise as Jack, a sort of fairy forest wild man, in love with Princess Lily, played by '80s film hottie Mia Sara. When one of their more magical dates goes horribly wrong the two find themselves embroiled in a conflict with Darkness (a memorable performance by the incomparable Tim Curry) wherein they must hold back the night (and his goblin cronies) fighting alongside elves and fairies to protect their love and the light of day from utter destruction. If nothing else, Legend teaches us that unicorns sound like humpback whales!
The Beastmaster (1982) is an exemplary highlight of the sword-and-sorcery genre in spite of its trashy trappings (clearly that "panther" is a tiger painted black) and sweaty, fleshy, barely loin-clothed silliness. Released the same year as Don Milius' Conan the Barbarian, this Don Cascarelli adventure manages to top Conan for action and actual depth of content as the plot follows the fate of "chosen" animal-whisperer (or Beastmaster) Dar, played by Marc Singer, on his quest to avenge the destruction of his dog, family, and home village. As he leads his quest for justice he makes many friends, both animal and human -- notably a sexy slave girl name Kiri played by Tanya Roberts who, just a few years later, lands a role in a film portraying a warrior woman similarly gifted with animal telepathy in Sheena. Fun fact: due to a cult status built by repeat TV airplay, some folks have dubbed TBS to be "The Beastmaster Station" and HBO as "Hey, Beastmaster is On."
The Dark Crystal (1982) is a deeply disturbing yet wondrously captivating feature film created from a Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Brian Froud collaboration. The tale is set in the distant past on another planet where a Gelfling, Jen, strives to restore order to his world by searching for a missing shard of a magical crystal. Personal note: though I grew to love this film I'll never forget seeing it for the first time as the second picture of a double feature paired with Disney's Peter Pan as The Dark Crystal spawned rather vivid nightmares in my bed head.
Labyrinth (1986), another Jim Henson picture, stars David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King, as he follows the wishes of fifteen-year-old Sarah, Jennifer Connelly, by abducting her baby brother, Toby. Sarah must complete the Goblin King's Labyrinth within thirteen hours to rescue her brother or the King will keep him forever. An infinitely friendlier family film compared to the weight of the aforementioned Henson flick. Fun fact: Mr. Bowie's costumes for Labyrinth fit so distinctly that someone out there has actually made a Facebook fan page for David Bowie's crotch in Labyrinth. As of this moment it has over 13K likes.
Conan the Barbarian (1982), Conan the Destroyer 1984, and Red Sonja (1985) solidified Arnold Schwarzenegger's status as the sword-and-sorcery archetype to be emulated, proving that you didn't have to convincingly possess an aptitude for swordplay or tactical battle strategy to effectively portray a comic book brute. However, whatever these films lack in substance is made up in design (those sets!), style(Grace Jones!), and questionable comic delivery. All cheesiness aside, the fact that these films precede the great CGI effects revolution their modern counterparts all too eagerly display is a reason enough to celebrate their cinematic achievements, even if it amounts to chuckles as the "movie magic" unfolds.