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Five Important High Fantasy Films

by on 2012/02/01

 What exactly is “high fantasy” anyway? Isn’t it all just “fantasy”? What difference does it make?

I’ve rarely given much thought to the distinction; it’s usually fairly intuitive. Standard fantasies are like those Twilight Zone episodes, where the real world is tweaked in some way. In Harvey, for example, a grown-up man communes with an invisible giant rabbit. The possibility of magic is doubted by nearly all.

In a high variant, however, the world itself is pervasively fantastic. Aladdin’s lamp isn’t disbelieved, genies are real, and carpets can actually fly. The presence of magic is unsurprising to most. (In short, think swords and sorcery on an epic scale.)

As I kid I consumed both types, but wished for more of the latter. From the earliest years of the Eighties, I got my fix courtesy of computers: Scott Adams’ text adventures, the Infocom games, and Richard Garriott’s Ultima series. These games led me to live role-playing, TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons, and Games Workshop’s Fighting Fantasy. From there, I continued to work my way through comics — ElfQuest, Groo, and Sandman — to piles upon piles of books, like DragonLance, Narnia, and Tolkien.

But rarely, if ever, did I follow fantasy movies. If pressed, I’d admit to enjoying two: Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Rob Reiner’s Princess Bride. As compelling as I found the lazy medieval worlds based on Joan of Arc, King Arthur, Robin Hood, or William Tell, I never really accepted them onscreen. I knew it was all imaginary — myths, legends, fairy tales, and fictionalized histories — but I also expected realism . . . something few films or shows could deliver convincingly. Even when they resorted to animation.

Later I’d learn there were more such efforts than I was aware of, some quite good, though still very rare, too few and far between. Now we hope to rectify that situation with a month-long look at high fantasy. To kick things off, let’s take a look back at five films we’ve already reviewed . . . at least those we could argue are most important.

Conan The Barbarian (1982) on 2012/01/30

* * * *

“There are so things to love about this nasty, brutish, greasy-pectorals-and-flashing-steel Arnie vehicle, I fear I might not be able to stop raving. So I decided instead to pull together a Top 10 list of the ways in which I love Conan, the first in the series and in my heart.”

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) on 2012/01/05

* * * *

“Mostly, I think I like Harry Potter so much because it made me believe not just in magic (briefly) but the hope that children could be brave, resourceful, compassionate and kind to one another.

“I love the idea of Harry Potter.”

The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) on 2011/01/29

* * * *

“Just about nothing I imagined while playing D&D looked as good as The Fellowship of the Rings. Director Peter Jackson can kick the ass of just about anyone’s above-average imagination any day of the week. Jackson makes you want to give up on all this role-playing and imagination junk, and just mindlessly watch his movies instead.”

Highlander (1986) on 2011/01/17

* * *

“What is Highlander? Lazy medieval high fantasy? Swords and sorcery? Historical fiction? Police procedural? Romance?


“And an inexplicably endearing mess.”

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) on 2010/12/11

* * * *

“If I am less enraptured by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe than I was with The Golden Compass, I’m very grateful nonetheless it was realized so well. How Narnia functions subtextually, I’ll leave for others to judge but, as a fan of the original books, I’m satisfied.”

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  1. A Geek’s Month in Review: February 2012 « Geek vs Goth

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