Tuesday, June 28, 2011

80s Fantasy Round-up

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Labyrinth’s premier, so to celebrate, here’s a rundown of ten of the more memorable (or, in some cases, the unfortunately unforgettable) fantasy films of the 80s.

Excalibur, 1981
Premise: From the moment young Arthur plucks Excalibur from the stone, his destiny begins…
Based On: Malory's Le Morte d’Arthur.
Magical Kingdom Of: Camelot (It’s only a model.)
Big Star, Early Role: Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Patrick Steward pre-TNG.
Hot Villain: Morgana, the sexy metal bustier-wearing sorceress.
Beloved Muppet: There is a dragon, briefly.
Soundtrack By: Wagner.
Sparkle Quotient: Shiny, shiny armor.
Head Trip? Sir Percival’s Grail quest gets a little—abstract—at times.
Cult Status: There are films that are cult films, and films that are bad films. This is not the former.
Aged: Other than being an awful movie, it holds up pretty well as far as special effects go.

The Dark Crystal, 1982
Premise: Jen, the last of his kind, has to go fix a crystal so the world can be right again.
Based On: Buddhist philosophy. Or was it Taoist?
Magical Kingdom Of: Thra, a world where everyone is a Muppet.
Big Star, Early Role: Directorial debut of Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
Hot Villain: None. The Skeksis are some of the creepiest figures ever to grace the silver screen.
Beloved Muppet(s): Everyone!
Sparkle Quotient: Well, there’s this big purple crystal…
Head Trip? Whoa, man, it’s, like, deep.
Cult Status: Doubly so, as it has the reputation of being loved by fantasy geeks and stoners alike.
Aged: Considering it was so carefully made at the time, very well.

Return of the Jedi, 1983
Premise: After rescuing Han Solo, Luke Skywalker finally confronts the Dark Side as the Rebels make their final play against the Empire.
Based On: The genius mind of George Lucas... and some stuff he ripped off of Japanese movies.
Magical Kingdom Of: A long time ago in a galaxy far away, specifically the Forest Moon of Endor.
Big Star, Early Role: Warwick Davies as an Ewok.
Hot Villain: Averted when Darth Vader takes off his mask and reveals he's an ugly old white guy.
Beloved Muppet: Master Yoda, puppet he is!
Soundtrack By: John Williams. Yeah!
Sparkle Quotient: None, but it's got light sabers!
Head Trip? Not even if you haven't seen the first two films.
Cult Status: It's frickin' Star Wars!!
Aged: The weakest of the original trilogy, it's still far better than Attack of the Clones.

The Neverending Story, 1984
Premise: A bullied kid finds a magical book that lets him in on Atreyu’s quest to save his world from The Nothing.
Based On: Half of the book by Michael Ende.
Magical Kingdom Of: Fantasia (the book's Fantastica). Oh, and some creepy school attic.
Big Star, Early Role: Where are those kids today?
Hot Villain: The bad guy is an abstract concept, so, no.
Beloved Muppet(s): Falkor!!!
Soundtrack By: Title song from that guy from Kajagoogoo and some chick
Sparkle Quotient: Blindingly high.
Head Trip? Maybe not for everyone, but when you realize that the whole thing is a metafilmic commentary on how viewers identify with the cinema…
Cult Status: And how! The Neverending Story is beloved by a generation who grew up watching it on VHS.
Aged: Not well. The effects look cheap, and those kids really can’t act.

Ladyhawke, 1985
Premise: Two lovers cursed—she’s a hawk by day, he’s a wolf by night—to be always together, eternally apart.
Based On: Fairytales, though none in particular.
Magical Kingdom Of: Medieval Europe.
Big Star, Early Role: Matthew Broderick, pre-Ferris Bueller.
Hot Villain: An aging, lecherous bishop, so not so much.
Soundtrack By: Alan Parsons.
Sparkle Quotient: Going for a more authentic medieval look, so very low.
Head Trip? It takes them a while to explain what’s going on, and Broderick talking to himself is a bit odd, so more confusing than anything.
Cult Status: High. It’s somewhat obscure and not very good: the makings of a perfect cult film.
Aged: Not very well. The fancy dissolves for the changes are really cinematic, but in the era of digital technology, it looks like a cop-out. And the acting is more wooden than a baseball bat.

Legend, 1985
Premise: A feral young man has to get his girlfriend back and help some dwarves save the last unicorn to prevent the Lord of Darkness from ushering in eternal winter.
Based On: Vaguely, fairytales and folklore.
Magical Kingdom Of: Somewhere that has fairies and unicorns and stuff like that.
Big Star, Early Role: Tom Cruise after Risky Business but before Top Gun.
Hot Villain: The Lord of Darkness, a.k.a. Big D, a.k.a. Tim Curry in more makeup than Frank N. Furter.
Beloved Muppet(s): Not as such, but the makeup makes some of the actors look like Muppets.
Soundtrack By: Tangerine Dream, with a video by Bryan Ferry.
Sparkle Quotient: More glitter than a kindergarten art project. And unicorns!
Head Trip? Like all Ridley Scott films, it takes a while to get to the point, but other than that, it’s fairly easy to follow.
Cult Status: Somewhat, though the fan base may be a bit smaller than some films mentioned, especially since the original US release was crap.
Aged: Well, thanks to the director’s cut.

Highlander, 1986
Premise: A bunch of Immortals fight each other to the death because there can be only one.
Based On: Sort-of the Scottish literary tradition of tartantry, but not really.
Magical Kingdom Of: Bonnie Scotland, as well as 1980s New York City.
Big Star, Early Role: No one went on to fame from here, though, of course, Christopher Lambert was in the sequels.
Hot Villain: You'd have to be really kinky to find the Kurgan sexy-evil as opposed to scary-evil.
Beloved Muppet: Pffft, who needs Muppets when you've got Sean Connery... as a Spaniard?
Soundtrack By: Queen.
Sparkle Quotient: Lightning. And lots of it. What else would you expect from the Quickening?
Head Trip? Only if you start thinking about why you're still watching it.
Cult Status: Sequels, a TV show, spin-offs, books... Yup.
Aged: Look, it's a terrible movie, and the effects looked cheesy even in the 80s. And yet, there's something that you just can't help but love about this film.

Labyrinth, 1986
Premise: Teenage girl wishes her baby brother away to the Goblin King and has to make her way through a magical labyrinth to get him back.
Based On: Freud. Um, I mean, Froud. Drawings by Brian Froud. Yeah, that's it....
Magical Kingdom Of: The Labyrinth.
Big Star, Early Role: Future Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly.
Hot Villain: Jareth, the Goblin King.
Beloved Muppet(s): Hoggle, Ludo, Sir Diddymus… pretty much everyone but Connelly and Bowie. Even the baby gets replaced by a puppet at one point.
Soundtrack By: David Bowie.
Sparkle Quotient: Jareth enters in a shower of glitter. It’s Bowie, what did you expect?!
Head Trip? Not very. Unless you really, really want to unpack the Freudian stuff.
Cult Status: Loyal fan base. Many people might think of Labyrinth just as that weird kid’s movie with David Bowie, but there is a whole generation of fans who grew up watching it. Also, has sparked a religion devoted to Bowie’s crotch.
Aged: Pretty well, other than a few special effects fails it holds up as a family/tween film.

The Princess Bride, 1987
Premise: Having lost her beloved, Buttercup is kidnapped on her way to marry an odious prince and gets a surprise from the mysterious man who rescues her.
Based On: The book by William Goldman.
Magical Kingdom Of: Florin.
Big Star, Early Role: Robin Wright, before she added Penn to her name.
Hot Villain: The Dread Pirate Roberts, who wasn’t quite what he seemed…
Beloved Muppet(s): ROUS!
Soundtrack By: Mark Knopfler.
Sparkle Quotient: Surprisingly low for such a staple of 80s fantasy.
Head Trip? Nah. Solid family film.
Cult Status: Low. I know a whole bunch of people quoting "My name is Inigo Montoya..." are about to argue with me, but come on. It's shown on basic cable ALL THE TIME.
Aged: Very well. Like I said, it gets a lot of play on TNT and the like.

Willow, 1988
Premise: A Little Person takes it upon himself to protect the baby prophesied to destroy the evil queen.
Based On: Given that George Lucas wrote and produced, Joseph Campbell’s writings on mythology, probably.
Magical Kingdom Of: Several Kingdoms, actually, made up of people of different sizes.
Big Star, Early Role: Val Kilmer.
Hot Villain: Jean Marsh is the evil queen, so only if you have a thing for aging head house-parlor maids.
Beloved Muppet(s): Sadly, this is one of the first movies to use a new technology called the digital morph.
Sparkle Quotient: Not as much. High Glitter was on the wane by the end of the decade.
Head Trip? Not really. Unless Madmartigan’s drag bit confuses you.
Cult Status: Yes. Though perhaps not as big as some of the other 80s fantasies, it does have it’s loyal followers.
Aged: Once groundbreaking, the special effects look a bit behind the times. And it tends to lag.

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