Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fantasy - A Debriefing

The American Film Institutes Top Ten American Fantasy Films

*My Interpretation*

So here's what I'm going to do - I'm going to give you the movies in their order, and then I'm going to reorder them in the order I think is most accurate. Exciting, isn't it?

Their order:
#10 - Big, #9 - The Thief of Bagdad, #8 - Groundhog Day, #7 - Harvey, #6 - Field of Dream, #5 - Miracle on 34th Street, #4 - King Kong, #3- It's a Wonderful Life, #2 - Lord of the Rings, #1 - The Wizard of Oz.

My Order:
#10 - The Thief of Bagdad (1924) - Too old, too silly. There just isn't enough thought and meaning behind this movie - It has a plot like a video game.

#9 - Field of Dreams (1989) - I don't really like baseball that much, it isn't that interesting, I'm still not really sure what it's about. I didn't mind watching it, but I don't want to watch it ever again.

#8 - Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - It's a great Christmas movie, and it has the best Santa ever, but the romance is boring and it's only okay.

#7 - Big (1988) - Cool concept, good acting. It's alright.

#6 - Harvey (1950) - Interesting commentary on mental illness, Jimmy Stewart, filmed creatively. Definitely a unique movie for it's time.

#5 - The Wizard of Oz (1339) - A fun movie, and a movie that's lasted a long time and is important to our culture. It's just not technically good enough to me. It's too silly.

#4 - King Kong (1933) - Just silly enough. This movie is great. I've always wanted to watch a giant stop motion gorilla fight a pterodactyl, and now I can. This movie has great atmosphere.

#3 - Groundhog Day (1993) - I just really like this movie. It's funny, it's sad, Bill Murray is in it, it's about a silly holiday. What's not to like?

#2 - It's a Wonderful Life (1947) - This movie makes me feel like it is a wonderful life. I just love watching it . It really is heartwarming, which is kind of uncommon in movies.

#1 - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) - Lord of the Rings made fantasy what it is today, and the sheer amount of detail that went into this movie really can't be topped. This movie showed that putting this kind of money behind a fantasy movie is worth it because people want to see it. This is totally the best movie on the list.

Fantasy #4 - King Kong (1933)

You guys, King Kong is everything that King Kong should be. It's like a fake movie from the 30's. This movie is like the film at the beginning of Up. If (No, when) I owned a drive-in movie theater, I will show King Kong once a month, because that is the way it should be seen. There's this romance that comes out of nowhere, an old fashioned movie director, stop motion animation, giant snakes and dinosaurs that don't act the way they should at all. Fay Wray can't climb down a ladder herself until a man guides her to it, and the island has a bunch of natives. King Kong fights a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It's awesome.

Obviously, this movie has to rely a lot on being charmingly cheesy. The acting is only okay, and I think that a lot of that can be blamed on the awkward dialogue, and the special effects obviously don't look at all real, but it still kind of works. This was just a really entertaining movie. Most of the characters are pretty fun - The director is more interesting than the love interest, and Fay Wray is mostly really pretty, but they still all work. I liked watching this movie. It actually looks and sounds really great for 1933, especially when I think of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was made only three years earlier.

I can totally see why there would be a remake of this. Someone would definitely look at this and say "This movie is awesome - wouldn't it be great if Kong Kong could look less silly?" Because he does. I realize that the effects are really impressive for the time, but now they don't look anything close to good. King Kong looks like the Abominable Snowman in Rudolph. It is really good stop motion though - There are still scenes in this movie that animators don't really know how to replicate. It looks great as far as stop motion goes. And that is the best giant gorilla/T-Rex fight I've ever seen.

King Kong is old, and it's cheesy, but it works. It's a really entertaining movie - More entertaining than The Thief of Bagdad. I would totally actually watch this movie again. I liked it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fantasy #1 - The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I am surprised this is number one. The Wizard of Oz certainly has it's merits - It's influenced are culture greatly, it's lasted a long time, it's got good make up, it's good whimsical family fun, but it just isn't all that great a movie to me. It's really silly, the acting's usually only okay, it doesn't have any real symbolism or deeper meaning. While Lord of the Rings felt like it was in it's own, real world, The Wizard of Oz is in a sound stage. They don't try to hide it, because they know they can't, and they go for story book-y whimsical sets, which is smart, but it still doesn't measure up.

It's just that I feel that The Wizard of Oz is likable because it's fun and campy and nostalgic, but not because it's actually a cinematic triumph. It certainly knows what kind of movie it is, and it's fun, and it's definitely an important movie, but it's just not that good. The plot isn't really all that great, all the dialogue is silly. Frank Morgan is definitely the best part of this movie, he's hilarious (He's the Wizard), and Margaret Hamilton is pretty fantastic. The transition to color is really, really cool, and all the costumes look really good - You remember the costumes for much longer than virtually anything else in the movie. And it is impressively old.

It does have its good points, but I feel like as an entire movie The Wizard of Oz isn't nearly as impressive as, say, Lord of the Rings. It's stuck with our culture, but it's just fun and old. It doesn't feel like any sort of real movie. It's entertaining, but it isn't really great.

Fantasy #2 - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

So, it struck me while I was watching this movie that there are not a lot fantasy movies out there, Sure, there are a lot of movies with fantastic elements around, but the only mainstream, epic fantasy movies I can think of are Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Even Harry Potter isn't nearly as classic fantasy as this movie is. The Lord of the Rings is, really, a very unique movie - I can't think of any fantasies on this scale at all in cinema, and none that use so many classic fantasy elements. Lord of the Rings is the foundation for modern fantasy as we know it, and it's influenced the entire Geek culture - It arguably created the Geek culture. Which is why it's weird to me that it's not number one to me. But more on that later.

What always really strikes me about Lord of the Rings is how well-crafted everything is. Every little piece of this movie has so much thought behind it, from sets to costumes to the score. I read that they hired people to make each individual link of their chain mail. And by "people", I mean "two guys," because, you know, nobody does that anymore. Some of their armor has decoration on the inside because it's historically accurate. All the fake languages function like actual languages. Actual languages were written for this story. It's just incredibly how much detail went into this movie.

It show, too. Lord of the Rings is so immersive - It doesn't look like a movie, it looks like that's just what's happening and they're filming it. It's like a documentary with multiple camera angles. Most of the time, of course. The special effects in this movie are terrific, but it's also eleven years old, and every once in a while something will show its age. Luckily they didn't use CGI for things they didn't have to, so we don't have anything silly looking too old. Like crowds or leaves or something. That's a good thing.

The acting in the movie is of course good. For one thing, Sir Ian McKellen. You can't question knighthood. And Golum is barely in this one, which is good because he's creepy and annoying. The score is excellent - even people who don't like the movie admit that - and New Zealand looks very pleasant. Truth be told, I really only have two real beefs with this movie:

1. It is long. So long. Truth be told, I don't actually think it's any longer than, say, Gone With the Wind, but it seems like there's so much more movie than that. That's probably because...

2. There's a slow motion crying scene like every twenty minutes in this movie. It is just too much sadness.

And that's not a bad amount of flaws for a four hour movie. I think this thing is great, and should have been number one.

Fantasy #6 - Field of Dreams (1989)

So, Field of Dreams is...okay. It's about how people connect through baseball, and how baseball represents a simpler time in American history, and there's some stuff about the afterlife and book banning I wasn't really following. Now, I do not like sports. They're not entertaining to me, and I don't connect to them. So I don't really connect with this movie - It was very emotional about a topic that I felt was undeserving of so much emotion. To say that baseball is the only thing that united people and connected us with the past seemed to be a bit of an exaggeration to me.

I do get it a little bit. Out of all the sports, I hate baseball the least - I actually understand the rules, they have the best outfits, and it does fill me with a patriotic fervor. It reminds me of super American things, like Mark Twain and trains and New York and self-made businessmen. But a lot of thing remind me of that time period. Like newspapers. And sweatshops. Baseball is a big part of one of America's many golden ages, but it's just one part.

James Earl Jones is in though, and that was cool. That's not at all how I thought Darth Vader would look - I was picturing someone taller. The whole movie had that weird, 80's/90's thing, where it feels like I just caught it on TV on a Sunday, rather than purposefully watching it. Field of Dreams is a better movie than, say Thief of Bagdad, but that's about it so far.