Fantasy Movie Round-Up

I’ve been laid low by a nasty chest infection for most of the month. Seemed like an excellent time to hunker under the quilt on the couch and catch up on some sword and sorcery, escape into some realms of magic and fantasy.

The Black Cauldron (1985)

Ted Berman and Richard Rich direct Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan and Freddie Jones in this Walt Disney animated adventure where a keeper of a psychic pig takes on the evil Horned King in his search for necromancy cauldron.

A real outlier in the Mousehouse back catalogue. 15 years in the making it was produced to little profit when the studio was going through massive upheavals. It’s reputation is similar to Return To Oz. Too dark for the family market. The difference is Return To Oz is a thoroughly made, superb piece of fantasy cinema. This proves, at best, to be inconsistent. The nightmare, action elements are good. Especially the imposing evil villain. Some of the backgrounds are breathtaking. But none of the character design marries up together. The story jerks along sluggishly. The heroes are vanilla melts that no kid nor adult could find any texture to relate with. A brave attempt to make a Disney Lord Of the Rings but the end results are clearly the work of too many cooks, none of whom could remember the recipe. Too often The Black Cauldron is the wettest, dullest entry so far. Only comes to life when it is too scary for its target audience.


The Dark Crystal (1982)

Jim Henson and Frank Oz direct Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell and Billie Whitelaw in this puppet populated adventure set in ancient world.

Bored me as a young kid, bored me as a late teenager and now as an open minded adult, The Dark Crystal still struggled to hold my attention. Just dreary, slow and not my cup of tea. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve managed to complete the whole thing in one sitting… it is 93 minutes loooong. I understand its achievements but beyond the unique technicalities nothing much happens at a deadly pace.


The Princess Bride (1987)

Rob Reiner directs Robin Wright, Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin in this fairy tale adventure where a long lost lover rescues a betrothed heroine.

Somehow meta yet sincere. The most lo-fi in terms of FX in this mini-session. And easily the most magical. As a kid I always knew this as the Andre The Giant movie?! The Princess Bride’s reputation has ballooned over past three decades both in my own head and the general public’s affections. The wit of the script, the subtle performances of the actors in what could be blunt, stock roles and the romantic sweep of the location work make it iconic. It is an experience where the charms are soft and gentle but the overall effect is near perfect. And then Billy Crystal and Carol Kane blunder in late in the day and somehow steal the show… “INCONCEIVABLE!”


Shazam!: Fury Of the Gods (2023)

David F. Sandberg directs Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer and Helen Mirren in the DC sequel to the kids gain superhero alter egos comic book fantasy.

The weak runt of a DC Extended Universe. We already know this wish-fulfilment world is being mothballed, making this entry essentially redundant. But taken as a family adventure movie in its own right – it works. Sandberg has logged which actors and elements popped in the first entry and upped their screentime. The humour never undermines the peril, the scale feels workable. The Greek mythology monsters brought to life in the third act are nicely horror tinged. Younger up-and-comers Jack Dylan Grazer, Rachel Zegler and Meagan Good are appealing and have clean comedy timing. The blatant product placement kinda feels old school charming. It has everything I want from a throwaway blockbuster. There are far worse dying breaths from franchise attempts out there. Hopefully this finds a bit of a cult following on streaming. A minor pleasure.


Jumanji (1996)

Joe Johnston directs Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst and Bonnie Hunt in this fantasy adventure where some kids get trapped playing a deadly cursed board game that won’t stop spewing out carnage until it is won.

Another one that I kind of bypassed as a teenager but seem to have somehow watched all of in spits and spats over the decades anyway. It was better than I expected, in that Jumanji keeps the threat level going right up to the end and the humour doesn’t solely rely Williams ad libbing his little toes off. The CGI is very creaky in places and it is hard to now fully embrace a children’s flick that ultimately meant nothing to you as a kid.


Dungeons & Dragons : Honor Among Thieves (2023)

Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley direct Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and Hugh Grant in this swords and sorcery adventure based on the popular role playing game.

Plays out very much like a Guardians Of The Galaxy in leather jerkins… only with battle axes, spells and labyrinths. With also a little Ocean’s Eleven thrown in for good luck. I really lapped this up… even though I could see some flaws (Sophie Lillis’ part is shockingly underwritten, not all the potent set-pieces last much longer than a glimpse of a clever writer’s room idea). I think on rewatch this might grow on me to be more of a favourite, the topped billed are that appealing. But I’ll score it the same as Shazam 2 as it hit the same multiplex chords within me and it would be unfair to elevate one just as the ensemble is that bit more familiar.


My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here


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