25 Fantasy Films of the 80's – Part III

29 Sep

2008 SDCC poster for the as yet unrealized remake of Red Sonja, starring Rose McGowan

Robert Rodriguez is all set to remake two sword and sorcery tales originally made in the 80’s.  While his take on Red Sonja has seen many delays (MTV Article), and the previously announced remake of Fire and Ice I mentioned in Part 1 has yet to see the light of day, he continues to comment that they are indeed coming.  When compiling the list of films for this 5 part blog, I decided to include the original films in my list of 25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s.  Of course, he apparently will be working on a sequel to Sin City ( article) (better known as Sin City 2), and the next installment in the Spy Kids franchise ( article) (Spy Kids 4) before tackling the world of barbarians and magicians.  Thankfully, given his success with most of his other films, I’m highly confident they will be above average pictures.  What chance do they have of being better than the originals?  Read on to see…

25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s

Part III

Film #11

~ Red Sonja ~

Director:  Richard Fleischer
Year:  1985
Cast:  Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Paul L. Smith, Ernie Reyes, Jr.
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  89 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35:1 / MPAA Rating: PG-13

After her entire village is brutally murdered, a young woman named Sonja (Nielsen) begins a quest to seek revenge on the evil queen (Bergman) responsible.  Along the way, she meets up with Kalidor (Schwarzenegger), a barbarian who secretly aids her in her quest, which also entails rescuing the magical orb from the hands of the queen before she can use it to destroy all mankind.

Having enjoyed Conan so much, I went into Red Sonja with expectations to match.  Moments in, when the film opted for a narrated flashback montage in lieu of a linear pre-credit sequence, I knew that I was in for an entirely different beast.

There were a number of factors that prevented me from truly enjoying this foray into the world of the scarlet savage.  I never was quite sure which was worse, to be honest:  the dialogue or the acting?  The best and most interesting part of dialogue came not because of clever writing, but because of its connection to another film starring Nelson.  In Rocky IV, just as here, we get to hear the line (or a variation thereof) “I can’t kill it.  It’s a Machine!”  (In Rocky the line is “I can’t beat him.  He’s not a man, he’s a machine!”)  The story itself doesn’t help.  For reasons likely found elsewhere, the character of Conan has his name changed here to Kalidor.  Such nonsense as a zip line across a chasm conveniently in the middle of nowhere just outside the fortress walls, Sonja is in some Asian Sword Training Camp as the only female (how or why she was taken in is a mystery?), the magical “throne” room is filled with thousands of lit candles (who took the time to light all these, and why?), the glowing orb (what exactly is that?).

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this film, however, is the completely out of place and random shot of the evil queens magic mirror and the reflection of the nude dancer.  Was this supposed to be a humorous scene of the magician conjuring up the wrong spell?  It comes across completely gratuitous, bringing an otherwise goofball children’s movie out of that age group.  Why do I assume its geared towards children?  Why else would they feature, as comedic elements, the fat guy who is always after food, the young boy who is a complete brat and worthy of a spanking (as Sonja points out repeatedly through the film), the goofball servant to the queen, and as previously mentioned, the bumbling wizard who conjures up the wrong spells?

Were the choices in effects any better, I may have nicer things to say.  However, the strange backlit myst simply to have a “cool” shot in the doorway (they are in a dungeon.  Where is all that backlight coming from?), the comically chintzy looking glowing green orb, and the few random dismemberments (for shock value, no doubt) all left me scratching my head.

Remarkably, the film isn’t unwatchable.  No, that film would be “Conquest”.  It’s simply silly.  Which is unfortunate.  Especially since Fleischer has proven he is capable of much finer fare.

My Rating*** / C-

Available from Amazon: Red Sonja [Blu-ray] and Red Sonja

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Red Sonja

Film #12

~ Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes ~

Director:  Hugh Hudson
Year:  1984
Cast:  Christopher Lambert, Ian Holm, Ralph Richardson, Andie MacDowell
Language:  English
Country:  United Kingdom
Specs:  143 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

Orphaned as a boy in the jungles of Africa, young Tarzan (Lambert), heir to the Earl of Greystoke, is raised by apes as one of their own.  Years later, an expedition led by Philippe D’Arnot (Holm) comes across Tarzan, and, realizing who he is, tutors him in English and other civilized mannerisms, before bringing back to his family’s estate.  However, Tarzan finds it difficult to assimilate into the new life, even as he begins to fall in love with the young ward of the estate, Jane (MacDowell), and must make one of the most difficult decisions of his life.

I’ve always been a fan of the Lord of the Jungles adventures on the silver screen.  Without question, one of the most famous sounds in the world would be the “call” of Tarzan, so wonderfully created by Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films of the 1930s and beyond.  So it was with great surprise when the closest thing to a “call” that this Tarzan delivered was the grunts of a silverback gorilla, or the grumbling roar of a tiger.

The films opens with truly stunning cinematography of the lush and exotic jungles of Africa, with enough waterfalls, animals, and vegetation to fill the largest of HDTV’s.  The beautiful score echos across the landscape in the most pleasant way.  However, the film never quite lived up to the expectations that I had.

While the make-up effects of the gorillas was rather impressive, I did find myself a number of times in the film noticing that it was a man-in-suit, briefly pulling me out of the experience.  A nude Tarzan parading around the jungle leant an air of believability to the film, until we see him grow into a young man.  For some zany reason, this jungle man who had no reason to wear clothes of any kind, didn’t have any hair on his body, sans the top of his head!  No facial hair or chest hair whatsoever.  I easily could have looked over this one inconsistency, had the filmmakers themselves not brought attention to this in one of the most confusing segments of the film.  When the wild man is found by the explorer D’Arnot, he sits down for a lesson in shaving, even getting a straight razored massage himself!  BUT HE HAS NO FACIAL HAIR!

Also, for some reason Tarzan not only learned to live like an ape, he also miraculously was imbued with the strength of these powerful beasts.  In one scene, he is brutally attacked by a silverback gorilla, with not one broken, or bruised, part on his body.  To top it off, near the end of the film he lifts and carry’s a full grown dead silverback male gorilla as if it were no more than a small sack of potatoes.  Anyone with half the sense would easily understand that these large animals weigh nearly 400 – 500 lbs!

The film did lose some of its luster once Tarzan entered the civilized world, but not enough to label it boring.  Generally, an enjoyable, but flawed, film.

My Rating*** / C+

Available from Amazon: Greystoke – The Legend of Tarzan

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

Film #13

~ Ladyhawke ~

Director:  Richard Donner
Year:  1985
Cast:  Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leo McKern, Alfred Molina, John Wood
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  121 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG-13

Philippe Gaston (Broderick), a thief facing execution, escapes from the Bishop of Aquila’s (Wood) dungeons with the help of a mysterious knight (Hauer) who travels with a hawk at his side.  When an even more mysterious woman (Pfeiffer), who is accompanied by a shadowy dark wolf, appears on the scene, Gaston learns a terrible secret, which requires that he return to the Bishop to set right the dark magic that has bewitched the trio.

Apart from the very dated 80s soundtrack, there is little in this film to not like.  This wonderful fairy tale sword and sorcery pic is an example on excellence in filmmaking.  The subtle mix of action with comedy is something Donner does well, and the director doesn’t deter from his proven formula here.  Broderick shines in his role as a “Mousey” character who is tasked with an impossible task.  Pfeiffer is stunning, and makes it very easy to see how, as it is told in the film, that all who see her character become smitten with her.  Hauer, as always, is commanding in his performance as the mysterious man in black with the hawk at his side.

Shot entirely in Italy, the film has scenery that any filmmaker would covet.  The costumes, sets, and locations are all excellently chosen, completely allowing the viewer to immerse themselves in the world of 12th Century Europe.

Low on anything that sadly is all too common to films in the fantasy/sword and sorcery genre, this film is a wonderful treat for the family to gather around and escape to a land of magic and intrigue.

A very pleasant palate cleanser, indubitably.

My Rating***** / A

Available from Amazon: Ladyhawke

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Ladyhawke

Film #14

~ Barbarian Queen ~

Director:  Héctor Olivera
Year:  1985
Cast:  Lana Clarkson, Katt Shea, Dawn Dunlap, Susana Traverso
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  70 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33:1 / MPAA Rating: R

When Roman forces invade her village, Queen Amathea (Clarkson) helplessly watches as her entire village is either massacred or taken as slaves.  Accompanied by two of her best female warriors, Amathea sets out to rescue her people, and bring vengeance upon those responsible for the travesty.

Where is Joel Robinson and his trusty robots when we need them?  The tone for this film is set seconds into it as we are witness to a topless young maiden frolicking about near a lake picking flowers, whereupon she is accosted and raped by a couple of barbarians.  We then travel to a small village where the people have the most primped and proper of 80s style haircuts, but for some reason cannot afford the leather to cover up even the smallest of breasts!  Were I to state that the dialogue is much better, I’d be accused of the gravest of lies.

The film plays more like a prison sexploitation film set in the world of sword and sandals than a swashbuckler.  The most obnoxious and degrading scene in the whole film comes during the “torture” scene with the barbarian queen herself and her bespectacled captor, proving that this film has little purpose beyond the aforementioned.

My Rating* / F

Available from Amazon: Barbarian Queen/Barbarian Queen 2: Empress Strikes

Film #15

~ Fire and Ice ~

Director:  Ralph Bakshi
Year:  1983
Cast:  Randy Norton, Cynthia Leake, Steve Sandor, Sean Hannon, Leo Gordon
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  81 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

In the midst of a fierce battle between the two countries, Evil Queen Juliana and her son Prince Nekron of Icekeep kidnap Princess Teegra of Firekeep for Nekron to take as his bride.  However, Teegra is able to escape her captors and meets up with Larn, a wandering warrior without a home.  When Teegra is recaptured, Larn, along with the mysterious barbarian Darkwolf, set out to rescue her, and destroy the evil royals, ending their destructive rule over all the land.

It becomes apparent moments after the opening credits that this animated film is not your average Thundarr the Barbarian animated fare.  The wonderful musical score by William Kraft kicks in, with an equally excellent sound effects track to enhance the audible experience.  The photo realistic animation from director Bakshi and famed painter Frank Frazetta only solidifies that this wonderful little film stands head and shoulders above most other animated fare (as well as the live action entries in this category) of this period.

The barbarian tale with the scantily clad heroine features a story not too uncommon to this genre, however, the writing skills of comic book writers Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas (the latter no stranger to these type of stories, having penned hundreds of Conan the Barbarian stories for Marvel Comics) bring it a step above the others (which is only enhanced by the aforementioned elements) in a way that is both intriguing and absorbing at every turn.

The film did end rather abruptly, and the interiors of the glacial castle of villain Nekron did resemble Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, but these are minor quibbles to an otherwise above average sword and sorcery tale.

My Rating**** / B

Available from Amazon: Fire and Ice [Blu-ray]

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Fire and Ice

To Be Continued…

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Posted by on September 29, 2010 in Movies


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