Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Greatest Fantasy Movie

So, I'd no sooner seen the newest and final HOBBIT film than the question came to me: are Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations the greatest fantasy films ever made? Certainly they'd have to be in contention. It cd be argued that, Tolkien being the greatest of all fantasy authors,* someone setting out to adapt his works has a built-in advantage, but I think that wd be to underestimate Jackson's own talents.

I remember when fantasy film meant WILLOW (fun but daft), LEGEND (pretty but boring), or LABYRINTH (muppets and rock stars? really?**) -- in fact, one of the things that got me interested in anime and manga was the realization that there was a lot of fantasy out there, far more than we were getting in US films, only in animated form. It didn't help that what American films were coming out were firmly in the 'B-movie' range, at best. We've come a long way now since then, with fantasy films now very much in the mainstream (the HARRY POTTER series, GAME OF THRONES, Peter Jackson).

Trouble is, I can't judge how great a movie the Peter Jackson LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT are because I can't divorce them from their Tolkien content to arrive at a fair judgment. Similarly, when it comes to what's probably the most famous fantasy movie ever made, THE WIZARD OF OZ, its very familiarity makes it hard for me to judge on its own merits. What wd that film be like to someone who didn't grow up on it as a viewing tradition, year after year, in a society filled with references to it?  And, of course, I haven't seen every fantasy film ever made, nor do I want to, so any judgment has to come from partial knowledge.

But, given those caveats, I'd have to say THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT still wd have to rank at or near the top of the list.

So, the question: what's the greatest fantasy film ever made?

--John R.
current reading: Brodie's LOCATION GUIDE to New Zealand sites filmed in THE HOBBIT movie(s). [2014]

*I think his nearest rival to that claim wd be Lewis Carroll -- whom Tolkien didn't think wrote fantasy. But then Verne didn't think Wells wrote science fiction, so authors may not be the best judges of such things

**to be fair, I've never seen this one all the way through, so it may be much better than the bits and pieces I've seen wd indicate


David Bratman said...

I don't believe there are any great fantasy movies. Not serious ones, anyway: there have been some great comic ones (The Princess Bride, Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and possibly if you expand the definition of fantasy sufficiently some serious films would qualify.

But when I count the movies I've seen that I consider great, although one or two serious science fiction films make the cut (2001, Blade Runner) no fantasy films do.

The best faithful film adaptation of a fantasy novel I can think of, The Last Unicorn, is good but kind of stiff next to the novel.

It's strange, given the number of great fantasy novels, but there's not a serious genre fantasy film I've seen that, if it were a novel, I'd care for it at all. That includes such purportedly great fantasy films as Pan's Labyrinth, and it most certainly includes, Last Unicorn aside, anything that is an adaptation of a great fantasy novel. Miyazaki Jr's Earthsea is a particularly horrid example. It's freer with the plot than Jackson's Tolkien, but aside from that it's no more false to the book than Jackson is.

The point is that, if Tolkien's books were anything like Jackson's movies, I'd never have read them, let alone liked them if I had. Which, considering how much I love Tolkien, seems to me proof that he's completely unlike Tolkien in all the ways that matter. (A general outline of the plot is not what matters.)

JL said...

Thanks for the Last Unicorn mention, I would agree to that. And Pan's Labyrinth would definitely make the cut for me as a 'great' movie, along with maybe some more surrealist movies like Jeunet & Caro's City of Lost Children.

But talking about high or heroic fantasy it gets really tough. I feel compelled to mention The Dark Crystal -- although a children's movie it was one of the very few ones to offer a truly alien, fantastic landscape and a non-human cast. I am also willing to defend the 1982 Conan at least for the great soundtrack and pictures.

But handing the trophy over to Jackson, especially when it comes to the Hobbit films, seems a bit like calling Band Aid the greatest pop group of all times. Because, yes, thanks to tons of money spent it really looks great (at least as long as the actors don't move and the HFR soap opera effect doesn't ruin it for you), but artistically, it's unsatisfying on all levels I can imagine.