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.

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80s Fantasy Movie Review: “Conan The Barbarian”

CONAN

CONAN!

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 examine “Conan the Barbarian”. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Review

“What is best in life?”
“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women.”

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

Okay, not it doesn’t.

“Conan the Barbarian” is just all-around epic. There’s no way to deny this. From the opening scene to the end, we are treated to an epic quest for revenge and overthrow of a really evil snake-cult thingy. The director apparently decided to just throw in all kinds of awesome moments just because. Conan and gang paint themselves with a cool black camo pattern that doesn’t camouflage them at all in the setting they enter. Why have that detail then? Because they look awesome. And that pretty much summarizes the vast majority of this film. Why do things happen the way they do? Not because of some intricate overarching plot. No, the reason things happen is because they are awesome.

Does this quest for epic always work? No. Some moments fall flat, and the amount of gratuitous nudity is very off-putting for me. However, the number of moments the quest for epic works outnumbers the moments it doesn’t work to such a degree that the epic easily wins out.

Speaking of epic, the music. THE MUSIC! Wow. I can’t tell you how well-suited the music was to this film. It basically made the movie twice as good as it would have been otherwise. You can’t help but be swept away by the Wagner-esque orchestral pieces throughout, and they always add to the atmosphere in just the right way.

The characters, it must be admitted, are very paper-thin. There’s not a lot (any, really) backstory for them. Heck, there’s not a lot of story here at all. Conan’s family is killed by this snake cult. He is enslaved and basically through a life of heavy labor and forced gladiator combat becomes an awesome warrior. Then he is set free and decides to pursue vengeance against the snake cult, who just so happen to be super evil too.

On the way he picks up Valeria, an awesome warrior-thief-woman, and Subhotai, whose skill set is unclear but increases over the course of the movie. Basically the movie feels like an awesome Dungeons & Dragons campaign in movie format. You form the party, throw some reason for them all to be together in there, and set them off on a wild adventure. Meanwhile, the director/Dungeon Master just throws stuff in because it sounds like it’d be cool. Yep, that’s this movie.

I loved it.

The Good

+Super epic music
+BARBARIAN!
+Consistently entertaining
+Multiple awesome moments and quotes
+Genuinely feels like an epic quest

The Bad

-Gratuitous and unnecessary nudity in parts
-Characters and overall story are paper-thin

The Verdict

Grade: “Consistently epic, ‘Conan’ feels exactly like an epic fantasy adventure should.”

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: “Excalibur”

excalibur-poster

I’m not sure if you can get more 80s epic than this onto a single poster.

I have embarked on a quest to watch a number of 80s Fantasy flicks and share my findings with you, dear readers. Here, I review “Excalibur,” the tale of King Arthur. This is another one I hadn’t seen before, so my reflections are from that perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Review

“Excalibur” is really hard for me to judge. At times a grand epic with awesome fights, grand scenes, and epic stories, it threatened to sweep me away in its glories. Unfortunately, at other times it is weird, grotesque, and confusing to the extent that it made me want to skip scenes entirely.

I think the biggest problem with the film is that it bites off more than it can chew. It throws so much of Arthur’s story at viewers that it sometimes feels like a lesson in legend, but it does so in a fashion that fails to grasp several of the moments that it wants to be epic. Much of the story seems unexplained to the point that it is just assumed that you as the viewer know what’s happening, and that you must think it is epic. I admit only a passing familiarity with the story of King Arthur, but this movie made me feel like a complete novice. There’s a lot there, and the scope of it is pretty cool at times, but that same scope is daunting.

Another huge flaw is the weirdness of the move in parts. Unneeded nudity is scattered throughout (and has its own weirdness, like one sex scene that has Bambi featured on screen [not actually Bambi]), and some really gross moments happen (like seeing ravens picking at the flesh of dead men hanging from trees).The music isn’t great, apart from some pretty awesome insertions of O Fortuna into the flick, such as the final battle. The scenery also didn’t seem like it was utilized as well as it could have been.

On the other hand, the fighting scenes are pretty exciting, with numerous notable and exciting battles on horseback and off. The story is pretty epic, despite being really hard to follow throughout. Enemies rise and fall, and the theme throughout seems to be of a dream that humanity cannot quite grasp–spoken to by Merlin–that human hearts contain the potential for great evil that is all-too-often exercised so needlessly. The ending is pretty epic as well.

So yeah, this is gonna be a really tough movie to grade. You know that thing that teachers do in which they can’t decide what grade to give you so they give you A-/B+? I’m about to do that to the nth degree.

The Good

+Progressively gets more epic
+Arthur’s accent is sweet
+Cool round table
+Patrick Stewart is in this
+Really cool plot, if a bit too much

The Bad

-Merlin is too young
-Super creepy/weird/scandalous/unnecessary scenes all over
-The music’s not great (except for O Fortuna)
-Gratuitous weirdness and gross/weird factor

The Verdict

My Score: A-/D- “It oscillates between awesome and ‘what the heck!?'” [Okay, if I was forced at gunpoint to pick a grade, I’d give it a “B” but it is a really strong/weak B. Okay, maybe a B-. An A? D? F? I prefer A-/D-.]

Conclusion

A really epic and really not epic story of King Arthur. I’d watch it again, but only with the ability to skip through about 35% of the 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: “Highlander”

The whole movie should have been in this setting.

The whole movie should have been in this setting.

I have embarked on a quest to watch a number of 80s Fantasy flicks and share my findings with you, dear readers. Here, we look at “Highlander.” I have not seen this movie before, but like just about everyone, I know THE quote: “There can only be one…” so it’s kind of like I’ve seen it. Okay, not really. Onto the review!

Review

Highlander giveth, and Highlander taketh away. The film has some scenes that are fantastic, but other scenes are just disastrous. The depiction of MacCleod’s wife growing old and dying was really touching, for example. But other scenes are drivel, such as the scene with the Kurgan driving like a maniac. It just makes me wonder what the heck the point of it is. The background story is intriguing and built up well, but then largely abandoned (what happened in the intervening years?).

Frankly, if the film had only been about the discovery of immortality, it would have been better. Perhaps it just bites off more than it can chew as far as the time it is supposed to cover is concerned. The concept of these immortals having to go around killing each other is a bit underdeveloped as well. Why? Other than the “Prize,” what have they to gain from it? Why must there only be one? Why can’t we all just get along? Alas, we are never treated with further explanation because we have to get dragged back into the 80s to fight Kurgan. On paper, it’s a good concept, but in practice I was left just wishing for more plot and less absurdity.

We just never get a chance to see whether the film is Braveheart or the Matrix, and I wish that the two points had melded together better. It really does have the feel of an awesome, epic movie at several points–during the training montage, for example–but then it is just dragged down by silliness. The world has a true feel of lore to it and behind the scenes, but I was left feeling like the curtain was never fully pulled away to see that lore. The hints we get in the flashback scenes are awesome, and the way the movie very slowly gives hints of what’s happening is actually really well done, but all the potential never fully comes to fruition.

Indeed, it seems to me that most of the “modern” scenes in the 80s are unnecessary and frankly kind of silly. We never get a sense of why the gathering of the Immortals needs to happen at that point in history or why there are so few remaining.

I really wanted to love this movie, and it fed me plenty of potential for me to love it, but it just didn’t cash in.

The Good

+Pretty cool premise
+It’s SO 80s
+A lore-filled world oozing potential
+Solid backstory…

The Bad

-…which is never really fully cashed in
-Really weird scenes
-Some terrible dialogue
-It’s SO 80s

The Verdict

My Score: “An uneven film that is at times awesome, but at other times terrible.”

Conclusion

One of the most inconsistent and frustrating movies I’ve seen. Lots of potential and some cool scenes make me not sad I watched it, but I could stand to skip about 1/2 the movie and then have that 1/2 filled in with more cashing in on the premise.

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: “Willow”

willow

They don’t make movie posters as epic as they used to. This is SWEET!

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 “Willow,” another one that I had never seen before. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

“Willow” is the story of a prophecy- one that says that a dark Queen–Bavmorda–will be overthrown by a child. Naturally, the Queen decides to check for all the children to see if they might be the prophesied one, but also naturally, that one is born and many people manage to work together to smuggle her away. Then, she ends up with Willow, part of a Nelwyn–race of little people–community. After they decide to take the child elsewhere because she’s not their problem, Willow gets embroiled in an adventure to protect the child alongside Madmartigan, a great swordsman (and seeming ne’er-do-well). Along with some Brownies and other characters met along the way, they protect the babe and Willow–the aspiring Sorcerer–saves the day.

Wait, what? I thought the kid was supposed to defeat the Queen! Well never mind that. And really, never mind basically any attempt to be serious about anything in this movie. After an opening that seemingly promised epic adventure, we are delivered a kind of silly, whimsical journey of Willow’s own discovery of himself as a hero.

But you know what? You don’t care. The movie is just that fun. So many scenes stand out as just being uproariously ridiculous, like when Madmartigan and Willow go swooping through the snow, with Madmartigan ultimately getting turned into a solid block of snow. It’s silly, it involves sword fighting, and it’s amazing. Time and again the film delivers huge action scenes that are infused with all kinds of silliness, and as a viewer I really didn’t mind. It just works. Part of what makes it work is that a great decision was made to leave virtually no time for the viewer to sit back and reflect on the plot. It’s just action followed by more action followed by hilarity, all in a continuous cycle. Another part that makes it work is that it is so genuinely humorous. Only rarely do the attempts at humor fall flat.

What does’t work so well is finding the audience. It’s clearly aimed at kids–Lucas himself apparently said so–but there is some pretty creepy stuff like the dark magic or some weird transforming trolls that are super gross. Also, there were clearly some scenes in which you as a viewer are supposed to be taking the movie more seriously… but you just can’t because of the context of the whole movie. It at times wants to be an epic fantasy, but it has sold itself so much on the comedy side that it can’t rebrand itself enough to be taken as seriously as it would like.

What does work, though, is the underlying theme of the “little person” against the overall evil and injustice in the world. No that wasn’t supposed to be a pun! But it works! Anyway, it’s a good story of Willow finding in himself more than he thought was possible, and a story of how one person can change the world.

“Willow” is one part epic adventure, one part a journey of self-discovery, and two parts silly. Whether that is a good thing or not is up to you.

The Good

+Genuinely hilarious moments
+Virtually no downtime between action scenes
+Great opening scenes
+Fun characters

The Bad

-Takes itself far too seriously for its content
-Some scary scenes make it hard to figure out what audience the movie was made for
-Somewhat enigmatic resolution of the plot

The Verdict

Grade: B+ “Oscillating constantly between ridiculous and taking itself too seriously, ‘Willow’ is a treat.” 

Guest Score and comment: My wife gives the movie a B+ “‘Willow’ was a delightful if somewhat absurd fantasy story.”

Conclusion

Silly and fun, “Willow” is an enjoyable adventure.

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.