By John H. Foote
To begin, how is a fantasy different from a science fiction film? Granted there are cross overs, but fantasy cinema is defined as films which take the audience to the nether land, or bring about fantastical happenings, transcending the bounds of human possibility or the physical laws of nature. They often have elements of magic, myth, wonderment, escapism, the rather astonishing. Now, that said fantasy also crosses into the realm of science fiction and I used what I think was fair discretion in compiling my list, science fiction is to follow in a week or so.
Through the history of cinema fantasy has presented itself as giant creatures left behind by evolution, magic and make believe, magical weapons, dragons, the absolute bizarre, mystical lands and characters, physical aberrations, and a grand sense of wonder. The importance of making a great fantasy film is making the wonders seen in the film realistic, sweeping the audience into the narrative so they believe everything they are seeing and hearing in the film. Without that, the film fails. What sets the great ones apart from the average or weak, is establishing the world which the characters inhabit, and then the characters, without the merging of the two the film inevitably fails.
The most obvious cross overs to fantasy include horror and science fiction, which I have tried to weed out and keep in their respective genre.
Regrettably, I could not include Metropolis (1927), which is a stunning fantasy that became the benchmark by which all great fantasies were measured. Exploding in the seventies, the genre has bloomed strong the last fifty years, with some of the greatest movies ever made exploring the realms of fantasy.
In 2003, The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King, directed by Peter Jackson became the first fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, winning all 11 for which it was nominated and tying the records set previously by both Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997) for most Oscar wins. Since that win only The Shape of Water (2017), another breathtaking fantasy film, has captured the Oscar as Best Picture, leaving the genre still sadly underappreciated, yet beloved by audiences. What is important is that the Academy finally started honouring them. Oh that they only could go back and hand Best Picture awards to King Kong (1933), and E.T.- The Extraterrestrial (1982) which would be well deserved.
Here are my choices for the finest 15 fantasy films in film history:
15. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)
Admittedly a guilty pleasure but a wonderful creaky, old fashioned fantasy film chock full of Ray Harryhausen stop motion visual effects that are still striking today. Sent on his quest to find the golden fleece, Jason gathers together his band of Argonauts, including Hercules, and sets out to find the coveted wool. Along the way he is tested time and time again by the Gods, who gaze down on earth playing a game of chess with an unknowing Jason and his crew. Often saved by magical creatures, such as Triton under whose massive arm they sail avoiding certain death from falling rocks, but the greatest effect is the army of skeletons which emerges from the earth to fight Jason and his men. A stunning achievement which takes your breath away this was the highlight of many a Sunday afternoon at the movies on network TV. Bronze statues come to life to retrieve that which was stolen, magic and mystery is all about, making this a superb adventure film filled with awe and wonder. The famous stop motion visual effects by Ray Harryhausen are terrific, the vile harpies that plague the blind man in the temple being my favourite, though the skeletons that rise to fight are truly the stuff of nightmares. Not a great film in the grand scheme of film history, but a mesmerizing fantasy that plunges us into another world. Saw it in my youth and have never forgotten it, pure movie magic.
14. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)
Without a single visual effect, Academy Award winning director-writer Woody Allen creates a superb time travel romance, his best film since Match Point (2005), and the first to get him back in the Oscar race as a director since Bullets Over Broadway (1994), 17 years earlier. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a major TV writer with severe writer’s block who heads to Paris to find inspiration with his vile martinet of a wife Ines (Rachel McAdams) and her snobbish parents. There, while walking the streets of Paris at midnight, Gil is transported back in time and encounters F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, and Ernest Hemingway along with countless other artists of the twenties. There he finds his muse in these wonderful artists whose work has come to mean so much to him. Learning the evil Ines cheated on him leaves him free to find love in the streets of Paris and he does just that, forever altered by this extraordinary city. Now, a time travel without a single visual effect? Yes indeed, a car pulls up, an antique car, not uncommon in any major city, and once in, Gil is transported back in time. He parties with the great literary figures of the 20th century, picking the brains of the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway himself and many others of great importance. As he spends time in the past it becomes clear to Gil he is not living the life he wants, and he is only too happy when his girlfriend cheats on him, allowing him an out. He finds his muse on the streets of Paris, where the ghosts of the past walk with him, in a breathtaking finale. Just stunning in every way and so perfectly acted you will not quite believe it. Wilson is terrific as Gil, the entire cast surrounding the young comic with their greatness.
13. HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978)
Warren Beatty chose for his first directing assignment to remake the classic forties film Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) a delightful fantasy that is also a love story, and a comedy. Beatty did not feel he was ready to do the film entirely on his own so Buck Henry co-directed, co-wrote and co-starred in the film, though those on the set stated Beatty did it all. For his efforts he became just the second person in history to be nominated as Best Producer (Picture), Actor, Director and Screenwriter, following Orson Welles for Citizen Kane (1941). Three years after being nominated for Heaven Can Wait Beatty won the Academy Award for Best Director for his masterpiece Reds (1981), again being nominated four times for his efforts on that masterwork. In Heaven Can Wait, as football player Joe Pendleton (Beatty) prepares to play in the biggest game of his career, he trains constantly, but one day appears to be hit by a truck while on his bike. He ends up in heaven, where a mistake is discovered – he was pulled out of his body just before the accident, but with his extraordinary reflexes would have saved himself. Mr. Jordan (James Mason) the gatekeeper to heaven, decides he must be put back into his body, but sadly Joe’s body has been cremated. Thus they must find a body for Joe, which leads to all kinds of hilarious possibilities before deciding on billionaire Leo Farnsworth, who Joe believes he can whip into shape in time for the big game. He buys the Los Angeles Rams, and breaks the news to best friend Max (Jack Warden) that he is still alive, just in another body, while his assistant and wife plot to kill him. And Joe/Leo falls in love with a pretty British activist, seeking his help and rather shocked when he gives it. Beautifully acted and directed from a tight, fine screenplay the film is a lovely story, filled with brilliant images of the afterlife, all filled with light and clouds, everyone but Joe dutifully falling into line for their next destination. Dyan Cannon is superb as the hysterical wife, leaping at every loud noise, terrified and paranoid at the same time, while Jack Warden is as reliable as ever. Beatty has never been credit for his comedic gifts and they are on full display here, but he will be forever remembered as a director. This lit that match. A wonderful warm, enlightening film.
12. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)
This gentle fairy tale was directed by Tim Burton just after he became the hottest director in movies with Batman (1989) and is light years away from the superhero genre. In a lovely prologue, a scientist portrayed by Burton hero Vincent Price, builds a young man, who looks not unlike Tim Burton, but before he can finish in giving his creation hands, the old man dies. Looking around the workshop Edward (Johnny Depp) creates his own hands, fashioned from knives and sharp blades, scissorhands. He lives in a castle high above the town, alone, never interacting with anyone until an Avon lady (Dianne Wiest) knocks on his door, sees his face and begins applying creams and lotions to help with the scarring caused by the deadly scissorhands. Seeing he is alone, she adopts him into her family and takes him home where he is the immediate talk of the neighbourhood. His skills with the blades make him popular as he creates stunning designs with bushes and shrubs, but a horny housewife brings him down when her flirting turns dangerous. Driven from the town like the Frankenstein monster years earlier, he heads to his castle where a terrible murder takes place, leaving Edward alone never to grow old, to carve his ice sculptures for his love to see. Winona Ryder is excellent as his great love and Wiest is as always perfect. Beautifully designed, the film has a terrific look to it, a true fantasy world, but it is the performance of Johnny Depp that carries the beauty of the picture. Almost Chaplin-esque in his movements and body language, it is an exquisite performance that made clear he was so much more than a strikingly good looking movie star. With this film, Depp was forever stamped an actor.
11. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)
With little in the way of grand visual effects, this Christmas classic directed by Desmond Hurst sweeps us into Victorian London at Christmas time before the holiday became so commercialized. Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim) is obscenely wealthy in 1850’s London, yet a cruel old miser who guards every penny as though it were his life blood. Dickens’ classic novel, many believe the finest work of his career, has been brought to the screen many times before 1951 and after, but none finer than this 1951 black and white film (avoid the atrocious colourization). Each of the episodes are brought to vivid life as the old miser is visited by his dead partner Jacob Marley, wailing his hellish pain from the pits of the damned, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and the Future. Each ghost is unique in its own right, and transports Scrooge to his past, where he learns things he never realized, shaming the old man. In the present the huge, jolly ghost takes him to the home of his much put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit where Scrooge learns more about the man than he ever knew, and the ghost of the future shows him what dark hell awaits Cratchit, the death of his son Tiny Tim. Waking up Christmas morning, the old man is imbued with the spirit of Christmas, dancing around like a jester in court, terrifying his housekeeper, to whom he kisses and honours with a raise. She believes him raving mad! Filled with more joy than he ever thought possible, the old man does not quite know what to do with himself as he held back so much through the years. He visits his nephew, ending a long silly feud with the young man, sends Bob Cratchit and his family a huge prize winning turkey for dinner, and vows to help Tiny Tim. We see Tim does live and refers to Scrooge as Uncle, and the happiness on the face of Scrooge makes me weep. I have watched this every year, sometimes as many as three times, and the tears flow each time. Sims is magnificent as Scrooge, a vile, horrible man at the beginning, but in an instant makes us love him because he has changed. Christmas changed him; life changed him. I often have wondered how this influenced Dr. Seuss in his writing of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? With its simplistic visual effects it certainly inspired Woody Allen to create Midnight in Paris (2011). Brilliant. The greatest special effect is the performance of Sim as Scrooge, a true Christmas miracle.
10. THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)
This fantasy won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Director and remains a bold visionary work. Set in the Cold War America, where Russian spies are feared, a strange creature from the Amazon has been captured and secured in a secret government installation, where they plan to learn from it before dissecting the creature, worshiped by a God in its homeland. When a mute cleaning woman, luminously portrayed by Sally Hawkins, realizes she can communicate with the creature, she falls in love with him, and decides to help return him to the sea before the government can dissect him. She involves her friendly gay neighbour, portrayed by Richard Jenkins, and kidnaps the creature out of the facility, hiding him in her bathtub with the help of one of the scientists, Michael Stuhlberg, who is in fact a Russian spy. Del Toro makes bold visionary images in this film, and never apologizes for them. In one stunning dream sequence, the creature and Liza perform a dance number not unlike Astaire and Rogers, and of course, make love in her apartment. Cornered by the madman who caught him, tortured him and wants to kill him, the creature takes some bullets, yet heals himself and rises from the dead, like a God (but also a super hero … watch the shot), and grabbing a dying Liza dives into the sea. Under the water, he heals her and the scars on her wounded neck become gills, leaving her to follow her love underwater the rest of their lives. A modern day fairy tale, the film takes your breath away with its sheer humanity and lush beauty. A knockout that left me smiling for days. Bold in its vision, without the stunning performance of Sally Hawkins the film would never have worked, she truly is breathtaking.
9. AVATAR (2009)
James Cameron might be an arrogant ass, but the man is a born entertainer and shows us that which we have never before seen. Coming out of Avatar for the first time I remember thinking, “that was amazing, I have never seen anything like it”. But I had this nagging feeling I had. It came to me on the way home – Dances with Wolves (1990)! The film is a variation of Kevin Costner’s magnificent western set in space with the alien race standing in for the Native Americans. Think about it, a man befriends an indigenous race of aliens and becomes one with them, fighting the common enemy, man (of course), from destroying their lands. So what if it is not original, it is still a stunning spectacle to behold. Turning the tables on the alien story of them coming to earth to mine our resources and exterminate man, here mankind has found a planet with unique resources that they plan to mine for enormous wealth. What they do not care about is that the beings of the planet, 10 foot tall creatures, are mysteriously connected to the planet and all living things in a mystical, Native American manner. When one of the humans assumes the avatar of one of the creatures and becomes one of them, he realizes their ways, and celebrates them, wants to be one of them, causing the military to declare war on him and the Navi, the blue creatures inhabiting the planet. The battle sequences are startling in their realism and the havoc wreaked on the pristine planet, but watch how every living thing on the planet fights back. Though the story is cliched, and torn from the Costner western, there are startling images in Avatar I have never before experienced in a theatre. In many ways a majestically beautiful film, however flawed.
8. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988)
What if cartoons, or toons, lived in our world? What if they were confined to an area called Toon Town, coming out to make a movie or three, often wreaking chaos in the human world? That is the premise of this wildly entertaining, innovative, special effects masterpiece from director Robert Zemeckis featuring every famous animated character in film history and a few new ones along the way. Roger Rabbit is the biggest toon star on the planet, but something is messing with his mojo. He believes his stunning, buxom wife Jessica is having an affair, and he is being set up for a murder he did not commit. Ten seconds with this hyperactive, goofy rabbit and you know murder just is not in the realm of possibility but he takes every opportunity to make you laugh. Roger, like all toons, lives for laughter, to him it is better than sex. When framed, his wife calls on jaded private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to find the killer, though Eddie has a problem with toons in that one killed his beloved brother, ruining his life. The first time I saw this film, I was dazzled and stunned by the quality of the visual effects, as animated characters acted seamlessly with live action characters, it was quite astonishing. Eddie seemed to really get a hold of Roger’s throat, and when he kicked one of the weasels in the groin, the reaction was perfect, and for adults only. And Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner), I never saw so many men transfixed by a hand drawn sex object as I did that night in the theatre, all eyes were on her, mouths were dropped open, men were in heat at the mere sight of her. The effects were truly ground breaking, highlights including a stunning piano battle between the two ducks, Daffy and Donald, Jessica’s first appearance, an erotic dance, Roger exploding into action when tormented by “shave and a haircut” and the finale where the evil Judge proves to be a Toon and a killer. The film won four Academy Awards but deserved more, and absolutely should have been a Best Director and Best Picture nominee.
7. KING KONG (1933)
The original still has its charms, and the visual effects, despite being a bit creaky (80 plus years old), are good enough to make the film a very pleasurable viewing experience. In black and white, the story unfolds very quickly and before we know it, Carl Denham and his crew, along with Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) are on Skull Island encountering Kong. The giant gorilla takes a shine to Ann and takes her with him into the jungle, leaving Denham and his men to chase them. They take him back to New York of course, where he again gets his hands on Ann and climbs to the top of the highest building, the Empire State, when the bi-planes come calling. Though terrified, Ann never realizes the ape is trying to protect her, even back on the island she is never in harm’s way as long as Kong is close by. But he is no match for the airplanes and their machine guns, they shoot him to bits high above New York City. The film, a variation on the classic beauty and the beast story, ends with the classic line, “it was beauty that killed the beast.” Brilliant after all these years.
6. THE HARRY POTTER FRANCHISE (2001-2011)
The J.K. Rowling series was brought to the screen with such care, such meticulous detail for more than a decade, making more than a billion dollars for Warner Brothers, entertaining billions of children and adults around the globe and were praised for the magnificent job the creators of the films did in bringing the world of Harry Potter to the screen. Over eight films, made between 2001 and 2011, we experience the story of Harry Potter a very special boy, the son of wizards hidden with his aunt and uncle until he is of age to attend Hogwarts School of Wizards. Though the aunt and uncle do not want him to go, despite their terrible treatment of him, he does indeed go, taken by the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) to a magical castle where the youngsters are taught magic, and the art of wizardry. Presiding over this huge school is Dumbledore (Richard Harris/ Michael Gambon), a famous wizard in his world, something of a legend. The school is populated by all sorts of magical folks – Snape (Alan Rickman). McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and dozens of others including Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleason, Kenneth Branagh, Imelda Staunton, and so many others while John Hurt, pops up as the wand master, and Helena Bonham Carter is truly magnificent as the vile Belatrix, sworn forever to the horrific Dark Lord Voldemort, portrayed with snaky delight by Ralph Fiennes. The journey of Harry Potter and his friends Ron and Hermione was a breathtaking ride through their youth, we quite literally watched them grow up. Daniel Radcliffe grew perfectly into the role of Harry, while Emma Watson was superb as Hermione and Rupert Grint excellent as much upon Ron. Heroes emerge where you do not expect them, the finest being, eventually, Alan Rickman’s heartbreaking Snape, who loved so much, so deeply, he buried himself in his grief, silently seething at the man who murdered his true love. Stunning, magnificent, one the greatest film achievements of this twenty first century.
5. THE ORIGINAL STAR WARS TRILOGY (1977-1980-1983)
Though it could fit into science fiction, I put it here because George Lucas called his films space fantasy and I quite agree. Though I believe we have by now been beaten over the head with the Star Wars franchise to the point of being sick and tired of it (speaking for myself), those first three films were ground breaking, thrilling and awe inspiring films that altered the cinema of America. The first film exploded into theatres and the American landscape in 1977, sweeping audiences into a world that was set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” and explored the adventures of young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) a farmer with dreams of fighting in the rebellion. He has no idea he will, and become one of the great Jedi Knights of the galaxy. Taking pages from the legends of King Arthur and his knights of the roundtable, Flash Gordon and The Seven Samurai, George Lucas created a trilogy that spanned the unknown galaxies with an array of humans and space creatures unlike anything we had ever seen before. But this was not a gleaming brand new world, these places were lived in, dirty, beat up just as they would be having been inhabited for tens of thousands of years. Skywalker goes off to fight in the rebellion, finding a fast friend in Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and a loyal friend who turns out to be so much more in Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Spanning three films Luke will learn that the evil Darth Vader is in fact his father in one of the great reveals and twists in film history (I am your father) and the Princess is his twin sister. Solo, the rogue pirate, finds his conscience and becomes a decent man, very much in love with the Princess, and of course good wins over evil. There are too many characters to name here but among the more fascinating are Yoda, Vader, the Emperor, Lando Calrissian, R2D2 AND C3PO. The worlds are even more interesting, the desert planet where Luke lives, the ice planet Hoth, the swam world on Dagobah, the cloud city, and the forest planet Endor, all magnificent creations. The original films were pure movie magic moving at a furious space, hyper speed if you will. The prequels of the nineties were dreadful, the more recent films from Disney not all that bad. But truthfully, nothing matches the first three, and that second one The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is among the finest films ever made.
4. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
Pure movie magic, this is both fantasy and musical, merging together to create one of the finest films to ever emerge from Hollywood. The famous story about a Kansas dreamer who flies over the rainbow seeking adventure only to find everything she wants and needs is right here at home has been delighting generations for eighty years. Judy Garland became a superstar as Dorothy, while the supporting characters were simply extraordinary. Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion is exquisite, Jack Haley is romantic and sweet as the Tin Man who has no heart (he thinks), and Ray Bolger is all loosed limbed and whip smart as the Scarecrow, seeking a brain never realizing he is the smartest of the quartet. Hot on their trail is the vile Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) one of the greatest villains ever created for a film and a career best performance for the actress. The early parts of the film in Kansas are shot in a sepia tone, but when the house lands in Oz after a twister scoops it up, Dorothy opens the door to spectacular colour, leaving her to exclaim, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Indeed, from Munchkin Land, she follows the Yellow Brick Road all the way to Oz with her new friends, encountering the supposedly wise wizard, who turns out to be a sham, though he does deliver everything he says he can. Filled with colour, wonder and movie magic, this film has endured over 80 years and tops many lists as the greatest film ever made. Without a doubt it is among them. And the Witch? The stuff of nightmares … still.
3. KING KONG (2005)
Could Peter Jackson really surpass the original film? Acting as though the inferior 1976 remake with Jessica Lange had never happened (and it should not have), Jackson’s film was set in the bustling city of New York in the thirties. Recreating the period to perfection, he plunged his audience directly into the story and followed the original film closely, though he had far more grand visual effects scenes and moments of staggering, jaw dropping adventure. When Kong finally makes his appearance, he is the last of his kind, a massive gorilla with battle scars abounding and a weak spot for the beautiful, blonde Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts). When the great ape takes her into the jungle, the men on the boat follow in pursuit discovering a world time had forgotten, where dinosaurs still roam the countryside, making it very dangerous indeed. In one startling sequence Kong fights not one T Rex but three, one of the most extraordinary visual effects achievements I have ever seen. And when they return to New York, there is a lyrically, poetic and beautiful moment as Kong and Ann frolic in snow and on an ice pond. And yes, he makes the ascent to the top of the city, fighting off the bi-planes as though they were the prehistoric mosquitoes he fought on the island. Shot in daylight, the planes dip and dive at Kong who at one point leaps into the air to grab one of them and send it hurtling to the ground. The visuals are astonishing throughout this major piece of cinema, but the performances are what give the picture its heart, beginning with Andy Serkis in motion capture as Kong, the beating heart and soul of the film. Naomi Watts was deserving of an Oscar nomination as Ann, much feistier than Fay Wray, but not cocky or silly as was Jessica Lange. The creation of Kong is astounding, an old warrior, the last of his kind, battered, scarred, sitting high atop the island, overseeing the prehistoric island lost in time. Around him are the bones of his ancestors and family, long dead, their skulls making a curious graveyard around the sad ape. The joy he finds in his time with Anne is striking to see, pure, childlike wonder as he plays with this blonde haired beauty. The scenes back in New York with Anne and Kong have a poetic lyrical beauty, something luminous and filled with awe, with wonder. The recreation of early century New York was remarkable, and every aspect of the film worked, even Jack Black as Carl Denham, the producer willing to die for his shot. A stunning achievement that was among the very best films of 2005.
2. E.T. – THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL (1982)
Yes it crosses the line into science fiction as the film revolves around a child’s friendship with an ancient little alien accidentally left behind by his fellow botanists. Yet it is very much a fantasy for the fantastical elements within the film. It is often forgotten that the lead character in the film is a visual effect, operated by several technicians, the voice provided in post-production. Further forgotten is the fact the young actor Henry Thomas was acting opposite this chunk of latex and cable and gave the greatest performance ever given by a child onscreen. The film was described by the great Pauline Kael as “a dreamscape” of a film, and I cannot think of a better description. This lonely child, Elliott, reeling with the impact of his parent’s impending divorce, feels aimless, lost until he encounters this wayward little creature in his backyard – terrified, freezing and hungry. He coaxes the creature into his house and begins the process of taking care of him and aiding him to contact his people to come back and find him. The creature, dubbed E.T., learns to speak, learns the ways of humans and connects with Elliott on a mystical level, feeling his feelings and hearing his thoughts as Elliott does with him. There are so many awe inspiring moments in the film, the best being that wondrous flight in the forest that climaxes across the face of the moon – it starts as a forest bike ride that becomes something magnificent, and yes, fantastical. Did anyone expect the emotions Steven Spielberg drew out of this film? During the heartbreaking goodbye sequence I remember wiping the tears off my face and realized most of the packed audience were also weeping. Magical in every way, easily the best film of the year, though it did not win. Nominated for nine Academy Awards it won four, all richly deserved, but losing Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography was criminal. The film became the highest grossing film of all time within months of its release, and though a sequel was discussed, Spielberg wisely declined, stating there was nowhere to go. Masterful, this film defines why we love the movies.
1. THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001-02-03)
Peter Jackson’s dream project in 1996 had been a remake of King Kong (2005) which was turned down by Universal, leading him to pitch The Lord of the Rings to Miramax. Convinced the film could not been made, Harvey Weinstein gave Jackson a limited amount of time to sell the film to another studio, and pitching to New Line as two films, Bob Shaye, the CEO of New Line queried why he was not making three films if there were three books? Done. Sold. The film had a new home, and would be shot all at once, over eighteen months, each film released a year apart. Jackson stunned the entire film world with his superb adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien books. Where the author spent pages describing the look of a forest, castle or mountain, Jackson did in a single shot, his ever moving camera capturing the look of Middle Earth to perfection. Hobbits, elves, wizards, trolls, and orcs were brilliantly realized by the director and his team of artists, but it was in the performances of the exceptional cast is where the film found its heart. Elijah Wood was exceptional as Frodo Baggins, the brave little Hobbit tasked with destroying the deadly ring sought by the Dark Lord Sauron. The fellowship around him, dedicated to helping him destroy the ring are Gandalf the great wizard (Ian McKellan); Aragorn, the rightful King (Viggo Mortenson); Legalos, the dangerous warrior elf (Orlando Bloom); and the hobbits sworn to protect Frodo – Sam (Sean Astin), Merry and Pippin. Together they go to war against the dark forces of Sauron and his massive army of orcs. Over the massive three films the story unfolds, brimming with excitement and deeply moving moments, especially those between Frodo and Sam as they make their way to the fires of Mount Doom, led by the treacherous creature Gollum, who covets the ring and will kill to have it back. With sweeping, massive battle sequences, vicious creatures lurking in wait for them, the fellowship works slowly to the Mountain, never fully aware if Frodo and Sam are even alive. Astin, McKellan and Mortenson are stand outs in the cast, all deserving of Oscar nominations which only McKellan received for the first film. Cate Blanchett is ethereal as the Queen of the Elves, while Liv Tyler is superb as the beautiful warrior elf Arwen, in love with Aragorn. So many great moments, far too many to name, but without question the greatest fantasy films ever made. Try and see the Extended editions released on Blu Ray which expand and deepen the stories with an hour of extra footage cut for theatrical release. Transformative and astounding. The trilogy was awarded 30 Academy Award nominations, winning 17, with the final film winning 11 of the 11 it was nominated for, including Best Picture, and the finicky New York Film Critics Circle named The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King their Best Picture award, a huge accomplishment for this film and this series.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.