Re-Read of “The Legend of Drizzt” – The Icewind Dale Trilogy

drizzt-IIIt has been many years (13 or so) since I read the tales of the Legend of Drizzt Saga. For those who are familiar with this series, the name evokes memories of adventurous tales of grand action. For the uninitiated, these books are perhaps the definitive experience for those wanting to read fantasy works set in the universe of Dungeons and Dragons. Nerd hats on, everybody. Here, I review volume II of the Legend, which contains the Icewind Dale TrilogyThe Crystal Shard, Streams of Silver, and The Halfling’s Gem.

The Icewind Dale Trilogy

The “Icewind Dale Trilogy” is a fast-paced fantasy adventure following Drizzt and company as they fight enemies, get pursued by assassins, and more.

Salvatore does an excellent job here of keeping the action moving. The books never seem to drag–a problem that existed in the Dark Elf Trilogy. Here, readers are thrust into action scene after action scene without letting up. This was an excellent decision because that also means there is little time in the whirlwind of activity to reflect on the total coherence of the story. More on that later, but for now it is worth noting that at no point did I feel like these books dragged or that the story had crawled to a stop.

The overarching plot isn’t quite as cohesive and interesting as the Dark Elf Trilogy’s was. This trilogy feels quite a bit like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with a few points linking all the adventures together. It just is not as tied together as the prequel trilogy. Although enemies do persist and there is a general sense of a broader world, there is little sense I do have to wonder, too, why it is referenced as the “Icewind Dale Trilogy” when, realistically, only the first book deals much with Icewind Dale proper. It’s a minor complaint, but there it is.

The part of the stories that I think I enjoyed most when I read these books so long ago was actually the part I most frequently found myself skimming this time around: the action. I know I already talked about how it is good the books stay fast-paced, and it is. My point, though, is that a lot of the fights feel very similar. Scimitars slash, hammers whirl, axes cut in half, bows fire–all with abandon. But after a while it feels like the characters are just going through the motions. The fights began to get meshed together in my mind, with just settings and a different order of enemies slain to differentiate them. They’re clearly choreographed and thought out, but–maybe this is a symptom of being older–I just wanted more plot.

What Salvatore did do quite well regarding the plot, however, was character development. Each main character (and indeed most of the secondary characters) felt like real people with motivations and personalities that were generally distinct. Whether it was Cattie-Brie or Bruenor, Wulfgar or Drizzt, the characters were all well written and interesting. Moreover, the villains themselves were intriguing and had enough backstory or mystery surrounding them to keep me interested.

Overall, the Icewind Dale Trilogy was a solid read. It’s not going to blow readers away with the plot, but it will provide several good afternoons full of sweeping adventure. And really, that’s much of what fantasy is all about.

The Good

+Fast-paced
+Good character development
+Glimpses of moral issues
+Interesting villains

The Bad

-Repetitive action
-Weak overarching plot
-Why is it called “The Icewind Dale Trilogy”?

The Verdict

Grade: B+ “It drags at times, but ‘The Dark Elf’ Trilogy is an intriguing introduction to a fantasy legend.”

What do you think?

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

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80s Fantasy Movie Review: “The Neverending Story”

Oh 80s posters. I miss you.

Oh 80s posters. I miss you.

I embarked on a quest to watch through Tor’s list of 80s Fantasy. I have only seen an embarassingly small number of the movies on that list, and have decided to rectify that! I have seen “The Neverending Story” before, however, multiple times. It’s been several years, though. What do I think of it this time around? There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

The Neverending Story was a favorite of mine that I didn’t discover until I was in high school. And, I’ll admit, I haven’t watched it since viewing it so many times in the last two years of high school. Thus, it’s been quite a bit of time since I last saw it and it was with some trepidation I watched it again. Would I accidentally destroy all the nostalgia I’d built up for this film?

I’m happy to report that re-watching the movie did not destroy my enjoyment of it. Looks like I didn’t get everything wrong in high school!

First off, the plot hook is great. A bullied kid lacking confidence who has just lost his mother find an escape in an epic fantasy novel. After delving in, however, it seems the novel is strangely aware of the reader, and indeed the world itself depends upon him!

That world itself is full of wondrous creatures and settings–some admittedly off-putting due to dated special effects. Each new scene has a new challenge to overcome, and as Atreyu’s quest to save the world continues, we as viewers feel as though the third wall has broken and we are involved in the story as well; we are just as present as Bastian in this universe.

The story, it must be admitted, is itself fairly standard fare. A hero is chosen to save the world. But it transcends its simplistic premise by interweaving elements of the “real” world and Bastian into the plot, while also presenting enough unique characters and locale to remain interesting throughout. There are some scenes in which the film drags, but these are few and fare between. Even in those scenes, the scenery and detail of costumes are so robust that I didn’t even care how slow it felt like it was moving.

The only real complaint I have about the film is that some of the special effects haven’t held up well at all. That’s not to be unexpected–it is over 30 years old, after all–but it can be distracting at times. But, often enough excellent sets and wonderful costumes are enough to offset whatever difficulties with imagination the special effects cause.

At its root, this is a story mostly about Bastian and the gaining of self-confidence in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds, but it does so much more than that. It’s full of detail, wonder, and magic, as all fantasy should be.

 

Thus, we have the Neverending Story. Presumably it continues because it draws on the readers to construct it themselves; it forms a continuing chain of fantasy that, well, doesn’t end.  The movie, at a deeper level, is a call for those of us viewing it to continue to write the plot: to make our own stories, our own adventures, and our own fantasy. It’s a stirring story that cannot but be charming.

The Good

+Interesting and unique plot
+True sense of wonder
+The world seems very real
+Fun meshing together of the “real” world and fantasy
+Excellent costumes

The Bad

-At times fairly slow
-Some of the special effects don’t hold up well at all

The Verdict

Grade: “A film full of unique plot devices interwoven into a stirring and epic fantasy tale.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “Dragonslayer”

The existence of this poster makes the world a better place.

The existence of this poster makes the world a better place.

I embarked on a quest to watch through Tor’s list of 80s Fantasy. I haven’t seen many of those flicks, so I figured I’d watch through. Here, I review “Dragonslayer,” which promises to have at least one Dragon being slain. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

A boy who wants to be a wizard is given the mantle of his tutor when the former sacrifices himself, apparently for naught. Thus embarks an epic quest for the boy to slay the dragon.

I really wanted to love this movie. Who wouldn’t want to love a movie named “Dragonslayer”? But there are many problems here, and the longer I watched the more apparent they became. The movie moves very slowly. It seems like the actors were told that they should pause a few seconds so the camera could focus on them while they apparently deliberated internally for a length of time about whether to do something or not. The plot itself takes a long time to really develop. This isn’t always a bad thing; indeed, it can give a more epic feeling to a movie. But here, it’s as though the movie was artificially lengthened in order to draw it out more.

The plot is not just slow-moving, but it is also paper-thin. It takes a lot to type out all the details, but really this is just a kind of coming-of-age story with a bit of deus ex machina thrown in to slay a dragon. It’s cool at parts, but there’s not enough of substance or background to really give viewers a feel for the world. This is surprising, given how slow-paced the film is. But it was hard to care too much about the plight of the characters when they all seemed set against a kind of generic background. We never get a sense of a larger world in play  Another problem is that the voices of the main characters are really annoying. It’s hard to listen to Galen talk.

The twist in which wizard-man comes back to save everything by blowing up the dragon with… himself… is pretty awesome, but feels a tad contrived. But hey, I like cool things as much as the next person. Let’s just let this be cool. Also, the fact that the princess wasn’t saved was pretty shocking to me. The movie did do a good job in this category: unexpected twists. There aren’t a lot, but those that were there were pretty cool.

The movie has a classic epic premise: damsel in distress from dragon; dragon must be killed. But it just doesn’t go much beyond this classic premise and ends up feeling a bit cliche. Not a terrible movie, but not as epic as it could have been.

The Good

+Some cool scenes
+The plot twists are cool

The Bad

-Voices of main characters annoying
-Never quite lives up to its attempts to be epic
-Paper-thin plot with poorly developed world
-Slooooooooooow

The Verdict

Grade: C+ “I could never quite decide how I felt about the movie. I just never got sold on it.” 

Guest Score and comment: My wife gives the movie a B+ “‘Dragonslayer’ was slow at times but it was a pretty fun movie.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “The Last Unicorn”

80s Movies have the best Posters. Seriously.

80s Movies have the best Posters. Seriously.

I have embarked on a quest to watch a number of 80s Fantasy flicks and share my findings with you, dear readers. Today, we reflect on “The Last Unicorn.” One of the only animated films on the list, I was pretty excited about this one because 80s and Unicorns pretty much are synonymous in some weird sense to me. Anyway, here goes! There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Review

First off, can we all just agree that Prince Lir is the original brony?

Anyway, “The Last Unicorn” has some undeniable charm that just wriggles its way into you as you’re watching, despite it being absolutely terrifyingly strange. The plot itself is a neat fairy tale: a unicorn discovers she’s the last one in all the land and looks to find out if that is actually true. After being rescued from imprisonment by Schmendrick, an aspiring wizard, she discovers that she must track down the Red Bull, which has apparently chased all the unicorns into the sea for the pleasure of King Haggard. Ultimately, with the help of a pirate cat, Molly, and Prince Lir, the unicorn manages to fight back against the Red Bull and cast it into the sea, releasing all the other unicorns and tumbling King Haggard’s tower to the ground.

At times, the story is genuinely disturbing, at other times it is lighthearted. King Haggard, for example, is extremely disturbed. He once saw a unicorn and it made him happy. So what does he decide to do? Use the Red Bull to gather them all and throw them into the ocean so they will be trapped there forever, such that whenever the wave rolls in he can see them and delight in their misery. I’m not making this up. On the flip side, it’s hard not to take some joy in there being unicorns, a talking pirate cat, and other fun characters to uplift the heart from the genuine darkness of the main plot.

It’s very much like a fairy tale, but that brings its own pitfalls along with it, such as the complete lack of explanation or background to many key plot points (like the Red Bull). Moreover, there is an awful lot of 80s weirdness here. A busty elderly woman/tree attempts to smother Schmendrick after a failed attempt to use magic, for example. Awkward! Another example: the butterfly near the beginning of the movie randomly calls the unicorn “Mary Jane.” It’s the 80s folks.

The soundtrack by AMERICA, in my opinion, leaves something to be desired. It is also a huge part of the movie, as characters just burst into song at random. The theme song is kinda catchy but I’m just not sold on the breathiness of the lyrics or the strange folksy style. Just not my cup of tea.

Despite these criticisms, there is something that just captures you and draws you in as a viewer in this movie. It’s got that haunting sense of loss to it that the best fairy tales have,. Even though it ends happily, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss and even foreboding about it. I have a feeling this one’s going to stick with me a while.

The amount you enjoy this movie will depend on how much of the weirdness you can swallow. I enjoyed it well enough, but I don’t think I’ll watch it again.

The Good

+Pretty animation with some anime style
+Super creepy bad guy
+Catchy theme song even if it’s not the greatest

The Bad

-Weird moments abound
-Music is REALLY 80s/breathy
-Creepy!
-Plot elements largely unexplained

The Verdict

My Score: C+ “Super weird but still has some undeniable allure.”

Guest Verdict (My wife, Beth): B+ “It was a charming and enjoyable unicorn story.”

Conclusion

“The Last Unicorn” isn’t a terrible movie. In fact, I think it’s kind of good… it just really wasn’t my cup of tea.

The Movie poster is not my property and I use it under fair use.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “Legend”

This poster is pretty epic. Unfortunately, the movie isn't so epic.

This poster is pretty epic. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t so epic.

I have embarked on a quest to watch a number of 80s Fantasy flicks and share my findings with you, dear readers. Today, we reflect on “Legend.” I’ve never seen it before, but was excited when I saw how cool the cover was. Anyway, here goes!

Review

What the devil did I just watch? [See what I did there?]

“Legend” starts off pretty well with some ominous discussion between baddies and then a beautiful look at a fantastical forest. I want to dwell on this for a bit: the movie looks really good. The sets are all highly detailed and interesting to look at, the makeup used for Lily and other characters has enough whimsy to sell it without being too cheesy or overdone, and the camera effects often highlight and emphasize the setting in just the right way.

Unfortunately, there is very little else that goes well. The dialogue is pretty poorly written (apart from the cool scene with a riddle and most of the lines the Devil gets to speak). The characters never receive any background story or development, which makes it extremely difficult to care what happens to them. It tries to come off as being fairly dark, but only seems to end up taking itself too seriously.

The worst thing, though, is how much of the movie feels like it is just added in to fill it up. At several points dialogue is repeated; at least one clip of a scene is shown twice back-to-back, large amounts of time are spent just staring at characters’ faces, and when characters do speak with the cheesy (or wooden) dialogue, they often do so for interminably long periods of time without any action to drive the movie forward. We are subjected to a very lengthy portion of the film dedicated to watching the Devil try to seduce Lily while Jack and friends move through the Devil’s stronghold, which highlights the decent dialogue written for the ultimate bad guy, but doesn’t do much for the other characters.

All this filler means that, as mentioned before, viewers never get a feel for why the characters act the way they do, what motivates them, or why we should care about any of these to begin with. Some of the characters are also exceedingly annoying, which doesn’t help matters.

Ultimately, I was left just wondering why I should care or what there was to care about. I know this one is considered a bit of a classic and is very well-loved, but I just thought it was overdone. At least it’s pretty!

The Good

+Solid beginning
+Beautiful scenery, makeup, camera effects, and sets

The Bad

-Some parts seem to drag on forever
-Lots of filler
-Not as epic as it should have been
-Very little connection to the characters
-Poor dialogue (and too much of it!)

The Verdict

My Score: D+ “Very little of ‘Legend’ is compelling or legendary.”

Conclusion

I wanted to like this movie very badly. I just didn’t. It is filled with, well, filler, has a very threadbare plot, and very little world development. The characters never grew on me and I never felt connected to the story. The best part about the movie is the sweet cover/poster.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “The Black Cauldron”

80s movies have awesome posters

80s movies have awesome posters

I embarked on a quest to watch through Tor’s list of 80s Fantasy. I have only seen an embarassingly small number of the movies on that list, and have decided to rectify that! Here, I review “The Black Cauldron,” yet another one I haven’t seen before! But I did read the whole series of books! There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

They really don’t animate movies like they used to. Seriously, “The Black Cauldron” is stunningly beautiful. There is so much detail in each scene that it is easy to catch yourself just looking at the scenery rather than paying attention to the film. But that would be sad, because the story is pretty solid too.

There’s something inherently awesome about having an assistant pig-keeper as the hero of a story, but the other characters, from a silly bard to a sarcastic princess, are each fun in their own way. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to peel back the layers to examine it further because it’s truly compelling. I enjoyed the fact that it seemed like no one character in the movie could have accomplished everything on his or her own–they each needed the others to succeed on the quest.

The story is actually pretty dark, though, when you think about it. Much of the imagery used to convey the story is also super creepy, especially the Horned King! The notion that the Black Cauldron requires death in order to be appeased makes your skin crawl too.

The main problem with the movie is that there is never any real sense of the consequences of the activity of the heroes and villains. We never see anyone besides the main cast as “good guys” so we don’t know who it is the Horned King might be trying to conquer. Nor do we know why he wants to conquer so badly.

Overall though, the movie is charming, beautiful, and foreboding. It’s got a solid plot and good characters. Another winner! These 80 fantasy flicks are sweet!

The Good

+Visually impressive
+Captivating story
+Initially compelling

The Bad

-No sense of a broader world
-Seems pretty creepy for kiddos
-Characters never get fleshed out much

The Verdict

My Score: A- “Dark but uplifting, ‘The Black Cauldron’ was a blast to watch.”

Guest Verdict (Wife, Beth): A  “All the childhood nostalgia!!”

Conclusion

“The Black Cauldron” is a beautifully animated and well-written story of heroism from unexpected places. I’m glad I took the time to watch it.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “Ladyhawke”

ladyhawke

Even the movie poster is stunning.

I embarked on a quest to watch through Tor’s list of 80s Fantasy. I haven’t seen many of those flicks, so I figured I’d watch through. Next up is “Ladyhawke,” yet another one I’ve never seen before–to my embarassment! There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

“Ladyhawke” is, at its most basic level, the story of a curse. Two men–a corrupt bishop and Etienne of Navarre, the Captain of the Guard–fall in love with a woman–Isabeau d’Anjou; one is rejected and decides to curse her for spurning him. Thus cursed, the woman is a hawk by day, and the man a wolf by night. Fearing endless torment, the man decides to kill the one who has put them in this condition, and thus begins a quest which leads to the curse being broken at last.

But “Ladyhawke” is way more than that. It’s got true love, adventure, escape, fighting, revenge…okay I’m not talking about “The Princess Bride,” but this is a fantastic movie. Basically everything goes right. Seriously.

But let’s get this out of the way–the thing that goes “wrong” is the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s almost 100% 80s synth-rock. I’m sure it seemed like a great idea at the time, but it has not stood the test of time very well.

With that out of the way, let’s explore what went right. First, the movie is stunningly filmed. The angles in each shot are just awesome, often with characters silhouetted against beautiful landscapes or sunsets. Second, the story itself is compelling and epic. It’s a true fantasy, and it feels like a fairy tale that I never knew about [it apparently is one, by the way]. Third, the characters are endearing and extraordinarily well-acted, particularly Mouse–the cutpurse comedian who dialogues with God throughout the movie–played by Matthew Broderick. Fourth, you get the idea–go watch the movie!

The humor from “Mouse” was sustained throughout, but there were a number of truly epic one-liners that just had me laughing with glee. I don’t want to reproduce them here both because they really should be watched and because some of them are only humorous contextually. I could see this becoming a movie I start to memorize and use lines from, though.

The story itself holds up remarkably well, for as simply as you can write it out. Again, this is largely due to the strength of the characters. Etienne is clearly distressed by the cursed condition and is driven to vengeance while Isabeau holds out hope. Mouse deftly inflames their love even more. Something about the curse itself seems simultaneously sad and awesome. If only they could morph into those animals at will rather than having it tear their love apart.

Seriously, this movie was amazing. I immediately purchased it (having gotten it from the library).

The Good

+Interesting main plot with just enough feeling of a “fairy tale”
+Great characters that are each well-acted
+Absolutely stunning cinematography
+Genuine humor that never takes away from the movie
+Fantastic dialogue

The Bad

-80s Synth Rock doesn’t quite seem to fit the tone of the film

The Verdict

Grade: A “A super epic fantasy movie that just blew me away. ‘Ladyhawke’ is AWESOME.”

Guest Grade (Wife): A “It was absolutely delightful all around.”

Conclusion

“Ladyhawke” is a tremendous film.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.