In my reviews of 25 Fantasy Films of the 1980s, I feel a bit like a broken record. Of course, there are a few gems in the list of films that I chose, but there are many more that I seem to point out the same exact issues again and again, as if they all came from the same mold. I’m sure there is a crowd for many of these films, but box office numbers, awards nominations, and critic reviews of those days certainly seem to agree with many of my opinions.
It is to be hoped that in this list, many will find some films they may have missed and check them out for themselves. Perhaps a revisit to a film not seen in many years is in order. Whatever the outcome, I hope you have been enjoying my articles.
With that, I give you…
25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s
~ Willow ~
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Billy Barty, Pat Roach, Kevin Pollak, Jean Marsh
Country: United States
Specs: 126 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG
Willow (Davis), a dwarfish farmer, finds a baby floating in the river. He soon learns that the baby is the rumored answer to the prophecy of the child who will grow to slay the wicked Queen Bavmorda (Marsh). He begins a quest, aided by the human thief Madmartigan (Kilmer) and a couple of fairy-like creatures, to deliver the baby to a nearby kingdom, where she can safely grow into the warrior she’s to become. However, they are soon thwarted by Bavmorda’s troops, and begin a game of cat and mouse, where they eventually must face Bavmorda themselves.
A fun little film, though flawed in a number of ways. The film requires a liberal dose of suspension of disbelief throughout to fill in a number of holes in the story. Once past that minor hurdle, the film delivers an amusement park ride in droves.
To start, the film opens with the wicked Queen’s minions killing every baby in the land to prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled. However, when it comes to baby Elora, they never choose to kill her on sight. Rather, they decide to kidnap her a number of times, for an apparent ritualistic killing (of course if they chose to kill her on sight, the film is over very quickly, but still…) There also is little time inconsistencies that could be baffling if taken seriously. For instance, the storming of the fort scene has the Queens soldiers chopping down a tree with an axe, cutting off all its leafs and branches, and carving it into a battering ram, all in the matter of minutes! In addition, Willow and his crew somehow dig tunnels under the earth for a surprise attack, again, all in a matter of a couple of hours!
The biggest whopper is that the film has little to do with the prophecy at all, since SPOILER ALERT: the ending shows that the prophecy was wrong the entire time! However, the film is fun nonetheless.
Nominated for an Academy Award of Special Effects, the film sports some truly amazing effects, all courtesy of producer and story writer George Lucas and ILM. The Rancor looking two headed dragon, the morphing sequences, the transformation of the army to pigs, the trolls running up walls, and other spectacular looking effects. Most of these mentioned sequences (as well as a few minor potty humor jokes) do seem a bit intense for the intended audience of young children, but to this adult it was action packed and gripping all the way.
While not all the acting was top notch, the performance by the always delightful Billy Barty, and Jean Marsh were worth the price of admission!
Overall, a welcome change to the sword and sorcery genre.
My Rating: **** / B
Available from Amazon: Willow (Special Edition)
~ Sheena ~
Orphaned as a child deep in the African jungle, Sheena (Roberts) is taken in and raised by a local Shaman tribe, where she is taught to telepathically communicate with animals. Years later, an American reporter named Vic Casey (Wass), travels to Africa to do a story on former pro-football player, and now ruler of the kingdom of Tigora, Prince Otawani (Thomas). He comes across Sheena, and learns of Otawani’s evil intentions on eradicating all the native peoples to gain access to their mineral-rich land. Together, he and Sheena begin a quest to stop the diabolical monarch and his powerful military, thus rescuing the idyllic land and saving its people.
More like “Sheena: Queen of the Sahara”. Actually, I would guess that to be the reason they lost the “Queen of the Jungle” tag on this film. This female “Tarzan” (creation of comic book legend Will Eisner) film has little more purpose than to feature a naked Tanya Roberts bathing, riding bareback on a Zebra, and prancing around in little more than a loincloth. The blank stares on Roberts’ face do little to prove her acting prowess. In fact, I am going to take a risk and say the directing of this film is at fault, as a number of the performances are so over the top bland, they come across as comical, unintentionally I’m sure. Surprising as the director has a lengthy history of directing other Africa set tales, including a few Tarzan films.
The film has a story more full of holes than a package of Swiss cheese, let alone the obvious problems with the aforementioned directorial decisions. The helicopters not being able to hover over one location, the zebras being overdubbed with horse sounds (Zebra’s sound more like the cross between a jackal and a donkey, in actuality), the fact that everyone in Africa apparently speaks American English, and the not so subtle anti-oil (gasoline)/pro-”animals are innocent, peaceful beings” stance does little more than prove that this film belongs to the late night cable channel showings (where this original box-office “bomb” has gained its cult following throughout the years).
Of course, the script isn’t any better. The dialogue alone is so banal, the actors couldn’t have hoped to come across as anything more than amateurish.
My Rating: ** / D+
Available from Amazon: Sheena
Or Amazon Video on Demand: Sheena
~ The Warrior and the Sorceress ~
Kain (Carradine) a wandering mercenary for hire, wanders the planet Ura, when he comes upon two warring factions, led by Zeg and Balcaz. Noticing a beautiful sorceress, Naja (Socas), he decides to take residence in order to win her hand, hiring himself to both sides simultaneously, in the endless battle over the towns only watering well.
An uninspired remake of “Yojimbo”, this time set in the world of the sword and sorcery genre. Sadly, it falls into the formula of all too many films in this vein, that being sub par acting, soppy special effects, and an unabashed overuse of aimless nudity.
Had the film anything resembling an interesting story (how does one mess up the excellent tale so wonderfully redone in “A Fistful of Dollars”?), perhaps the aforementioned would be forgivable. Regrettably, the most exciting aspect of this tale is in the (unintended?) homage to “Return of the Jedi’s” Jabba the Hut, complete with slimy little green creature.
Of course to give this film as much credit is balderdash. If only it had as much originality as that…
My Rating: * / F
Available from Amazon: Warrior & The Sorceress
~ Masters of the Universe ~
Director: Gary Goddard
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, Courteney Cox, Chelsea Field
Country: United States
Specs: 106 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: PG
When the evil Skeletor (Langella) attacks Castle Grayskull of the planet Eternia, barbarian warrior He-Man (Lundgren), along with a ragtag motley crew, attempt to defend the castle and its inhabitant, the Sorceress of Grayskull. When outnumbered, they flee through a portal, where they land on planet Earth, losing the portal key in the process. When two young teenagers inadvertently find the key, the heros hurry to regain the key, and return to Eternia to destroy Skeletor and his minions, once and for all.
“Superman” style opening credits? Check. Horrible 5-and-dime style Halloween masks on the characters (little to no lip movement)? Check. Storm trooper-ish henchmen that shoot “Star Wars” laser guns? Check. Does any of this destroy the film? Nope.
A fun romp, albeit an inaccurate portrayal of the original characters and universe, can be found in this little film. While the acting is pretty bad at times, the choreography is bland and amateurish looking, and the strange one-off implication ‘that vegetarianism is “normal” and meat-eating is barbaric’ stuck into the middle of the film, the pacing of the film, as well as the interest level in that campy 80’s “Monster Squad” type of way, is properly timed, thanks in part to the wonderful score by Bill Conti and the exceptional editing by Anne V. Coates, I’m sure.
The film, loved by children upon its release, but panned by the critics, is easily friendly to the generation it is geared towards (sans one use of a four letter word!). Nice sets, the performance by the unparalleled Billy Barty, and the adorable Courtney Cox in her “Misfits” stage all add to the enjoyment of this film that is memorable in every way.
By the power of Grayskull, I’d watch this again…
My Rating: *** / C+
Available from Amazon: Masters of the Universe (Keepcase)
Or Amazon Video on Demand: Masters of the Universe
~ The Barbarians ~
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Cast: Peter Paul, David Paul, Richard Lynch, Eva La Rue, Virginia Bryant, Michael Berryman
Country: United States
Specs: 87 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: R
Twin brothers (‘The Barbarian Brothers’ Peter and David Paul) attempt to save their people of entertainers against Kadar, whose lust for the ruby that produces their talents has forced him to take them captive.
One thing I’ve noticed after watching the films in this genre is that I’m becoming dumber (at least I feel that way). This silly campy story is more humorous watching the two “Barbarian Brothers” attempt to delver their horrible dialogue with a straight face than the written intended humor. The lack of continuity or realism is also mind-numbingly humorous. For instance, the two brothers are kidnapped as young scrawny boys along with a multitude of others the same age/build. Interestingly, in a montage that takes us 15 years later, we see all the children slaving away in the rock mines, etc. Amazingly, the two boys are the only ones who build out to Herculean size, complete with long permed hair with 80’s headbands around their head, and a constant supply of baby oil to define their sculptured burly bodies. None of the other children are blessed with such superhuman physiques, nor do any of the other characters (adults) age a day. In fact, the storyline picks up exactly where it left off before the montage of passage of time, as if the “Barbarian Brothers” had stepped through a time portal.
Of course, there aren’t such a thing as unattractive women in the world of the barbarians either, right? Every female character could easily have stepped out of the pages of the recent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. To top off the already spoiled ice cream Sunday, the film is replete with 80’s synth music in all its “glory”, lest anyone wonder if the music may possibly be worthy of saving grace.
All in all, surprisingly, not horrible, just not worth the time to dig out of storage my well worn VHS tape. Save it for the late Saturday night cable viewing (if that channel happens to already be on).
My Rating: ** / D+
Available from Amazon: The Barbarians (Import)
To Be Continued…