The Dark Crystal (1982)
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Return to Oz (1985)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
The Fall (2008)
Today's discussion is about fantasy movies. Obviously, it's a subject today that involves the Harry Potter films and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, but for my purposes these will be omitted so we can concentrate on the '80s push that helped make them possible, as well as a few other more recent entries.
Jim Henson's production offices got the ball rolling back during the first season of Saturday Night Live, where the concepts behind The Dark Crystal were first explored. The same company later developed Labyrinth, which has been the standard memory of the '80s fantasy push, thanks in part to the participation of David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. Younger fantasy fans had The NeverEnding Story and its sequel, while Return to Oz was an attempt to follow-up the iconic Wizard of Oz.
Legend proved to be a bomb, and only took on cult status when Ridley Scott later released a director's cut. It can be argued that Legend has the longest creative legacy. Besides the look of Hellboy (which evokes Tim Curry's character in the movie), it can also be said to have inspired Pan's Labyrinth, the breakthrough critical success of Guillermo del Toro. Willow might be said to be the first attempt at correcting the perceived mistakes of Legend.
Following the mixed fortunes of these early efforts, The Princess Bride went in an entirely different direction, downplaying the fantasy elements and instead focusing on the comedic potential of the humans involved. The Fall later went further and made the whole thing dramatic.
It's interesting to think of these movies in relation to each other, whether or not the filmmakers did at the time they were being made. Genre fans will no doubt have spent some time comparing them, or simply making preferences (that's the business of being a genre fan right there). Some of them will no doubt have fallen through the cracks, so that unless you know they exist you might think the ones you do know are all you need to know. Hollywood has never embraced fantasy as fully as other genres, which makes the '80s explosion all the more notable. Yet, with the genre's fanciful elements, these films are often the source of remarkable creativity, and as such are capable of being among the most breathtaking movies you'll ever experience.