CLASSIC FILM: Fantasy favourites

Top 10 Fantasy faves.

BANK holidays will always be associated with fantasy films that were exciting enough to keep everyone awake, but weren't going to offend.

They would feature dragons or dinosaurs and there was usually a princess who needed rescuing, whose flimsy outfit would cause Grandad to splutter into his cocoa.

Fantasy films tend to get put into the horror or sci-fi category, but they are a distinct breed, often involving a journey to a lost world or mysterious country where treasures and nubile dancing girls are in abundance.

These lands of milk and honey always throw up a rampaging monster though, which takes great delight in stomping all unwelcome visitors.

10) The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

Cowboys working for a rodeo in Mexico find a hidden valley which is home to a horde of dinosaurs, courtesy of special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen. The rodeo has been struggling, but just think what a massive man-eating allosaurus could do for gate receipts.

Fortunately health and safety issues weren't high on the agenda back then and soon the cowboys have roped the beast, named Gwangi, and are heading back to town. Any film with cowboys and dinosaurs is a sure-fire winner and by the time Gwangi squares up to fight an elephant, the below-average production values have been long forgotten.

9) Gremlins (1984)

Director Joe Dante teamed up with Steven Spielberg who co-produced this dark comedy which was marketed as a children's film, but is surprisingly dark and violent.

A little furry creature called a mogwai is bought as a Christmas present from a mysterious Chinese man who warns it mustn't be exposed to sunlight or water and whatever you do, don't feed it after midnight.

The little moppet is named Gizmo and is irresistibly cute, but soon a whole batch of more aggressive gremlins has appeared and they start to run amok and cause chaos in the local town.

8) The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Sinbad, the heroic sailor from The Arabian Nights, had already featured in a 1947 film, but when he reappeared in 1958 it was Ray Harryhausen's creatures who were the stars.

This is classic fantasy fare with a princess who has been miniaturised and must be saved from an evil wizard, with numerous mythological monsters to be fought along the way.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is the first and best of the Sinbad trilogy (two more films followed in the 1970s) and the scenes involving the animated creatures — primarily a dragon, a Cyclops and the legendary giant bird, the roc — still hold up today in terms of excitement.

7) Donnie Darko (2001)

This cult favourite stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the title character, a troubled teenager with an imaginary friend who dresses in a rabbit costume.

Donnie Darko has a multitude of interpretations to its plot lines and when I first watched it I didn't have a clue what was going on — I just thought it was about a cuddly giant rabbit.

Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze add some recognisable names to the cast, but this is Gyllenhaal's vehicle all the way.

Look out for a great montage scene as Donnie arrives at school, with Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears booming on the soundtrack.

6) The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T (1953)

Dr Seuss is known for his best-selling children's books (Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat), but he also wrote one screenplay which was made into The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T.

Despite the horror-sounding title, it actually refers to 500 kidnapped boys who are made to play a giant piano (hence the 5,000 fingers) by the sinister Dr Terwilliker.

The story is played out in a fantasy world with sinister characters, surreal sets and strange songs which make this a must for any fans of the bizarre.

5) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy could easily have been a disaster, but he managed to complete all three films to an incredibly high standard, satisfying cinema-goers and fans of the original books.

Their scope is impressive and while the script and performances sometimes don't bear too close scrutiny, these are fantasy films on a truly epic scale.

The Two Towers, with its set piece battles at Helm's Deep and Osgiliath, takes the nod as the best of the trio, but they are all spectacular to watch.

4) King Kong (1933)

In terms of landmark moments in cinema history, the arrival of King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World, must rank very highly.

It is difficult to imagine the effect that Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation had on audiences back in the 30s, but it convinced me when I first saw it (to be fair I was about six which is an impressionable age).

The film is obviously dated, but it has a multitude of classic scenes, from Kong's first appearance to rescue a screaming Fay Wray, through to the climax on top of the Empire State Building, when all our sympathy is for the big guy.

3) Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

The third Harryhausen entry in the list, Jason and the Argonauts is surely the best known bank holiday standing dish (along with Where Eagles Dare).

No one remembers Todd Armstrong who played the mythological hero Jason, but every kid remembers the moment when the giant statue Talos comes to life and slowly turns his head.

There is a universal appeal about going on a long and dangerous quest, and the eventual encounter with the hydra and battle with the skeletons is a fitting climax to a film which is so cheesy it really is good.

2) Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

It's not often that foreign films make it on to the UK cinema circuit but when they do, it is usually because they offer something pretty exceptional.

Set in Spain after the Civil War, the story revolves around a little girl travelling with her mother to meet her new stepfather, a brutish army captain. There are lots of fairy-tale influences and Alice in Wonderland situations, but Pan's Labyrinth manages to have a totally unique look and feel where the fantasy effects are more than matched by the performances and script.

The scene at a table laden with food, with a strange, eyeless figure in white, is guaranteed to bring nightmares and this is without doubt a classic of any genre.

1) The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Judy Garland is suitably doe-eyed and innocent as Dorothy, the young girl who must find her way back to Kansas after she is transported to the Technicolor land of Oz.

This is simply one classic scene after another as Dorothy travels from the land of the Munchkins, along the yellow brick road to meet the mysterious Wizard. She picks up the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion on the way and together they sing and skip their way through a golden age of Hollywood which will be impossible to capture again.

It doesn't matter how old you are, those flying monkeys are still a bit scary.

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