Part 1 | Part 2 | Examples
Terry Gilliam's Imaginative Fantasies:
A so-called imaginative fantasy trilogy of the inimitable Terry Gilliam's films include: (1) the British, Monty-Pythonesque, profitable time-warp film Time Bandits (1981) about a time-traveling boy named Kevin (Craig Warnock) and six renegade dwarves passing through various historical time periods, (2) his nightmarish Brazil (1985) about a fantasizing civil servant in a future totalitarian and bureaucratic state, and (3) his expensive and elaborate effort - the unique, visually-rich and witty fantasy film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) - about a notorious, tall story-telling, baron and his adventures with a headless 'king of the moon' (Robin Williams), a naked Botticelli's Venus (Uma Thurman), the god of the volcanoes Vulcan (Oliver Reed), and other fantastic characters. Another Terry Gilliam fantasy focusing on imagination and reality, though not part of the trilogy, was the bittersweet and enigmatic The Fisher King (1991) about two lost souls -- a disillusioned shock-jock radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) and a half-insane homeless ex-stock broker (Robin Williams) -- who are both searching for spiritual redemption and questing for the Holy Grail.
Fantasy Adventures - Journeys in Time:
One of the most popular fantasy films of all time was director Henry Levin's adaptation of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) - a journey into the earth's core to prehistoric, underground lost worlds through a volcano by a scientist (James Mason). Another Verne book was also adapted for Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) with seaman Kirk Douglas captured by Captain Nemo (James Mason) and his Nautilus submarine. Its most memorable scene was the battle against a giant squid.
Mention has already been made of two excellent examples of time-travel adventures: George Pal's version of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1960) and Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits (1981). There were two remakes of the Victorian novelist's 1895 book. In the TV movie The Time Machine (1978), John Beck starred as a progressive scientist traveling into the future where he encountered Three's Company Priscilla Barnes as Weena. And the adventure-fantasy The Time Machine (2002) about a time-traveling inventor (Guy Pearce) was directed by Simon Wells, the author's great grand-son. Fantastic Voyage (1966) told the adventure/sci-fi tale of a group of shrunken scientists journeying through a patient's body. Malcolm McDowell traveled forward in time as H.G. Wells himself - in pursuit of Jack the Ripper (David Warner) in 20th century San Francisco in the thriller Time After Time (1979). The romantically-sentimental fantasy Somewhere in Time (1980) showcased a brief romance crossing many decades (triggered by the key phrase "Come back to me") between Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.
Kris Kristofferson (as an aircraft crash investigator) and Cheryl Ladd (as a woman from the future intent on saving the human race) starred in director Michael Anderson's dramatic fantasy film Millenium (1989). In the futuristic thriller Timecop (1994) set in the year 2004, Jean Claude Van Damme starred as special law enforcement agent Max Walker overseeing time-travel in the Time Enforcement Commission - and on a mission to prevent the murder of his wife Melissa (Mia Sara) 10 years earlier. Writer/director Shane Carruth's low-budget cult film Primer (2004) was a complex depiction of time-travel in its story of two scientists/engineers (Shane Carruth and David Sullivan) whose friendship was ultimately ruined by their accidental discovery of backward time-travel. Writer/director Mike Judge's off-beat sci-fi comedy Idiocracy (2006) told about how an Army private (Luke Wilson) and a prostitute (Maya Rudolph) participated in a secret military experiment in which they awoke after a year of hibernation to find themselves 500 years later in a degenerated world of idiots.
George Roy Hill's Slaughterhouse Five (1972), an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's black anti-war comedy told about "unstuck in time" Billy Pilgrim (Billy Sacks) - an adventurous individual who inexplicably survived various out-of-sequence life experiences. The Back to the Future trilogy of films (1985, 1989, and 1990) saw Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) on multiple time-travel journeys in Doc's (Christopher Lloyd) high-speed, plutonium-fueled DeLorean. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) portrayed two slacker teen dudes (Alex Winter as William S. Preston and Keanu Reeves as Theodore Logan) who traveled through time to pass their history class test by collecting historical personages. Their stupidity was demonstrated when they were offered the Iron Maiden by their medieval Evil Duke captor - they reacted with "Excellent!" without realizing that it was a torture execution machine and not a rock band. Another appealing time-travel story without special effects was Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) - 42 year-old lead character Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) time-traveled to her teenaged years after passing out at her 25th high school reunion. Marisa Tomei starred in Brad Anderson's romantic comedy Happy Accidents (2000) as an unlucky-in-love single female who met a guy (Vincent D'Onofrio) claiming he was from the future year of 2,470. Writer/director Richard Kelly's original cult film Donnie Darko (2001) told of the title character, a troubled teen (Jake Gyllenhaal), who had visions of a giant rabbit named Frank that foretold Doomsday premonitions - and thereby attempted to fix the space-time continuum.
Sci-Fi Fantasies of Lucas and Spielberg:
The highly successful Star Wars (1977) and its sequels in the trilogy were a tribute to 1940s swashbuckler serials, with additional special effects, exotic space creatures and spacecraft. Fantastic, but friendly aliens or extra-terrestrials were the subjects of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
Sword and Sorcery Swashbucklers in the 80s and 90s:
Due to the fast popularity of Dungeons and Dragons games, many 80s fantasy films followed suit by combining adventure swashbucklers with typical fairy tales - as in the following:
Angels, not surprisingly, have been featured in many fantasy or supernatural films over the years. Hollywood has responded to the interest in the existence of heavenly beings with a long list of 'angel' films. In the past and recently, the most popular ones have been:
Tom Hanks starred as a thirteen year-old boy who suddenly had the body of an adult in director Penny Marshall's comic fantasy Big (1988). Tim Burton's imaginative and poignant Edward Scissorshands (1990) was about a young man (Johnny Depp) with metal, scissor-like hands. And the fantasy comedy The Mask (1994) starred Jim Carrey as a hyperactive, green-skinned superhero whenever he donned a magical mask (produced by Industrial Light and Magic's CGI effects) - similar to the antics of cartoon characters created by Tex Avery in the golden age of animation. [A sequel-flop from Lawrence Guterman, who directed the acclaimed visual effects hit with taking animals, Cats & Dogs (2001), was titled Son of the Mask (2004), with comic star Jamie Kennedy in place of Carrey.]
The Franchise Films of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia:
Peter Jackson's successful fantasy adventure-epic about witches and wizards - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) - the first of three films - was derived from J.R.R. Tolkien's tale of Middle Earth with Hobbits, dwarves, and elves. A three part trilogy of Hobbit films, adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved 1937 fantasy novel, was created as a prequel - set decades before the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a set of 13 dwarfs (led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage)) recruited the reluctant hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to take a dangerous quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) - also the first of a series of eight films - was taken from J.K. Rowling's imaginative world of wizards. Both blockbuster fantasy films appeared at the same time and competed each year against each other in new releases year after year.
Following close on their heels was Buena Vista's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), derived from a series of seven fantasy novels for children written by C.S. Lewis in the early 1950s. It told about four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, who journeyed through a magical wardrobe into the land of Narnia where they met the great lion god/messiah Aslan and took part in breaking the evil White Witch Jadis' strangehold power.