Just as Kal-El was sent by his parents to Earth from a dying planet in order to save him, so too did Alexander and Ilya Salkind try to save their dying franchise by trying to spin it off with a new character with Kara, Superman’s cousin, better known as Supergirl! Things didn’t quite go according to plan, however. Helen Slater is fetching in the title role, and Faye Dunaway suitably sinister, in the best of ways, as Selena, the sexy and scheming sorceress out to conquer the world. Is it fun? Is it dumb? Is it dumb fun? Yes, yes, and yes!
The Cannon Group took a bath with the failure of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE in 1987, a film that had gone over budget and well beyond schedule.
The film starts off in the mythical land of Eternia, where the ruthless villain Skeletor (Frank Langella) has managed, with the help of a powerful musical cosmic key, to capture Castle Grayskull, the source for a wealth of magic and power in the region. Skeletor has taken the powerful good Sorceress (Christina Pickles) prisoner and has been draining her of her essence to channel into his own, making him more powerful as time goes on. However, the great hero of Eternia, He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), is still free, and with his cronies, the faithful Man-at-War (Jon Cypher) and his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field), he seeks to thwart Skeletor’s plans for dominion over Eternia and restore Castle Grayskull back to its original state.
Their plans go awry when the cosmic key’s creator, the dwarven creature known as Gwildor (Billy Barty), opens up a portal to modern Earth with a prototype of the same key for them to escape Skeletor’s clutches. The key is lost on arrival to Earth, soon found by a couple of high school aged teens named Julie (Courteney Cox) and Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill), who activate it thinking it must be some newfangled musical device. However, using the device alerts Skeletor as to its whereabouts, and once he has pinpointed its location, he sends a band of mercenaries to recover the key and ensnare He-Man, of whom he plans to make an example of in custody to break the will of any would-be heroes left in Eternia.
John Boorman’s polarizing but highly ambitious take on Arthurian legend is a visually and aurally striking look into the myth, the fantasy, and the haunting imagery that the medieval Thomas Malory tale has evoked over the last several centuries. A then-nobody, but now all-star cast that includes Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart appears alongside stars Nigel Terry and Nicol Williamson to spin this sword-and-sorcery take on this well-known tale unlike any other that has seemingly come before or since.
1985’s THE BLACK CAULDRON represents Disney at its nadir as an animation studio, resulting in a box office failure and years of obscurity. It’s first PG-rated animated feature struggled to find an audience clamoring for its dark and violent tones. However, it has garnered a significant cult following over the years, with its tales of swords, sorcerers, and black magic-infused battles brought to life with stunning visuals that incorporate the studios first forays into computer-generated elements into its hand-drawn animated cels. Does it deserve obscurity, or is it about time to reappraise a hidden gem in Disney’s vast and storied filmography?
Disney collaborated with Paramount Pictures to make a fairly adventure for audiences that were a bit older in DRAGONSLAYER, a rousing but somewhat brutally dark tale of a sorcerer’s apprentice who must undertake the treacherous journey of slaying a dragon that regularly consumes the women of a nearby village as a peace offering. Adventure and one amazing dragon, perhaps the best ever put to film, make this a notable entry for lovers of 1980s fantasy flicks.
Ray Harryhausen’s final film marked the popular early 1980s adventure based on ancient Greek myths, CLASH OF THE TITANS. Harry Hamlin stars as Perseus, the illegitimate mortal son of Zeus who ends up falling for the beautiful princess Andromeda, having to overcome puzzles and a variety of vicious beasts in order to gain her hand in marriage. If only she weren’t slated to be sacrificed to the giant (and reportedly invincible) Titan known as the Kraken…
Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Burgess Meredith are in supporting roles in this dated but charming fantasy flick.
Following up two sci-fi masterpieces in ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, Ridley Scott turned his gaze toward the realm of fantasy with LEGEND, starring Tom Cruise and Mia Sara. Critics greeted the film with a shrug upon its initial release, but it has gained a cult following over the years, and the Director’s Cut release has had some re-evaluate it. Is it still problematic, or is it a film that has aged well over time?
Rankin and Bass, the team that brought us Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as the ThunderCats, brought this charming animated feature featuring Japanese animation from the team who would go on to form Studio Ghibli, and voiced by stars like Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, and Christopher Lee. Peter S. Beagle adapts his own children’s book, tapping into the metaphorical journey from the safety and security of youth to the strange and perilous odyssey of growing up, with the last unicorn as our guide. Featuring folk-rock tracks sung by America and written and composed by Jimmy Webb, the nostalgia is strong with this one.
Jim Henson conceived of this elaborate realm of fantasy in which two competing races vie for the destiny of a faraway planet, as the evil Skeksis try to thwart the Gelflings of prophecy from uniting the planet yet again and bringing equilibrium to life there for those enslaved. This imaginative film had been a disappointment on early release but has gained a rabid following among fantasy fans. Frank Oz co-directs this film done entirely with puppets, and is a rare film that doesn’t a human character in sight.
Don Bluth’s first big screen effort under his own name after splitting from Disney, along with several other Disney animators and artists, in order to try to return to the kind of groundbreaking style and commitments to storytelling that their former company had been skimping out on during the 1960s and 1970s. THE SECRET OF NIMH adapts Robert C. O’Brien’s 1972 book, “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”, and makes an interesting animated allegory for the experience these artists went through on their quest for independence and destiny.
Jennifer Connelly is cast in one of her first starring roles as Sarah, a teenage girl who has grown tired of her stepmother and father leaving her home alone to babysit her infant brother, Toby. In a bout of exasperation, she wishes him away, and inadvertently summons the vain and moody Goblin King of myth, Jareth (played by David Bowie), who kidnaps the baby and steals him away into his fantasy realm. There, the baby boy remains hidden in a dangerous castle in the middle of an ornate labyrinth. If Sarah wants a chance at getting the brother she really didn’t want to go back, she must traverse the enigmatic trail before midnight, or the Goblin King gets to keep Toby forever.
Set in France during the Middle Ages, Philippe ‘The Mouse’ Gaston, a convicted pickpocket escapes from a castle dungeon only to get involved in a bitter feud between the powerful, scheming Bishop of Aquila and two lovers, a former captain of the guard named Etienne of Navarre and a lady named Isabeau d’Anjou, who were cursed with dark magic when the Bishop, who also fancies Isabeau, finds out of their union. The spell transforms the knight into a wolf by night, and the lady into hawk by day, and they can only see each other briefly in human form at dawn or dusk.
This final entry sees the Empire creating a new Death Star, a feat with such magnitude, even the Emperor himself has come to oversee the progress. Meanwhile, a rescue attempt is underway to try to spring Han Solo from his icy trap in Jabba the Hut’s lair. Luke has grown in his Jedi training, but only a confrontation with Darth Vader will make the transformation complete, and its a showdown Luke wants to avoid now that familial ties have been revealed. The Rebellion once again plans to destroy the Death Star before it becomes functional by eliminating the force field surrounding it generated by a base on a nearby planet, but the Emperor isn’t a fool, and has a few surprises up his sleeve.
The Empire Strikes Back continues the Star Wars saga in exciting fashion, with the Empire now having driven the Rebels from their secret base to another on an ice planet called Hoth. The Empire eventually locates this new base, forcing an evacuation, whereupon a more experienced Luke is told by the “spirit” (aka Force Ghost) of Obi-Wan Kenobi to seek out a wise and powerful Jedi instructor named Yoda for training. Meanwhile, romance is brewing between Han Solo and Princess Leia,, but Han has problems of his own as he is plagued by bounty hunters and the Empire out to nab him. Excitement erupts as Luke and Vader meet face to face, and some startling revelations occur.
The inaugural review of the 1980’s film retrospective, looking at George Lucas’ monumental blockbuster. Yes, it’s from 1977, but it’s mandatory to cover in order to comment on the later films.
The plot: A couple of robots shuttle to a desert planet after their rebel spaceship is taken over by an Imperial star cruiser, capturing everyone on board including the Rebel Alliance princess, Leia. Leia has sent the robots to Tatooine to convey a message to a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi, who she claims is the only hope left for the rebels to beat the evil Empire. A pair of Tatooine farmers buy the droids after they are captured by some scavengers to use on their farm, and after the farmer boy, Luke,discovers the princess’ message, he heads to Obi-Wan to deliver it. While he is away, his family is killed by the Empire seeking the droids, as they make their escape from the planet with the aid of a galactic smuggler named Han Solo, and make their way to help the princess, who is now aboard a space station powerful enough to destroy an entire planet in seconds, the Death Star, to which the rebels have obtained plans that reveal a weakness to destroy it — if only their home base doesn’t get destroyed first.