My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on three films in the “Sword & Sorcery” subgenre.
THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
It’s hard to believe that it has been more than twenty-five years since I’ve seen THE NEVERENDING STORY. Re-watching it this past week, I was shocked at how much I’d forgotten, only recalling brief moments, and also how much more I can appreciate the craftsmanship behind it now.
Wolfgang Petersen crafts an unforgettable children’s movie and a defining entry in the fantasy genre. The visuals and set design alone would be worth watching and re-watching this film. Working in the fantasy genre right now, I appreciate the art direction on a deeper level than I ever would have before. However, the movie holds up over time because of the simple story, Atreyu’s symbolic journey through sadness and fear. STORY bounces back and forth from fantasy to “reality” but there’s nothing complex about the script, a mistake modern filmmakers make all the time. Petersen’s film puts all its focus and attention into striking visuals, simple but clear emotions, and its rich characters.
I will say that I don’t consider NEVERENDING STORY part of the “Sword & Sorcery” subgenre, though it appears on many such lists. Fantasy? Yes and one of the best but what I think of as Sword & Sorcery (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, SWORD AND THE SORCERER) is a different category. I will have to think more on my own definitions and what distinguishes one from the other.
Watched on HBO Max.
KULL THE CONQUEROR (1997)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
It’s hard to watch KULL THE CONQUEROR and not constantly question what the script would have been if it was CONAN movie with Arnold as originally intended.
With Sorbo and company, it feels like a pale imitation of DESTROYER which itself was a watered down version of what really kicked off the Sword & Sorcery genre in the 80s. By the late 90s, it all feels pretty tired and headed straight for TV.
That said, there are some fun moments in KULL and if nothing itself, it’s a delight to watch Tia Carrere ham it up as the villainess. My twelve year old self would have had a major crush on her and that’s probably when I should have seen this, upon its original release. To look back on it now, it can mostly be appreciated as a film that does not take itself seriously at all, which is slightly refreshing in today’s cinematic landscape.
Watched on Amazon.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (2000)
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
What a weird time to look back on… with this film being released right on the heels of the first Peter Jackson LORD OF THE RINGS entry, like Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE coming out against STAR WARS. Only THE BLACK HOLE is good and this is certainly not.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is filled with so many bad decisions from extras casting to putting its main bad guy in shiny blue lipstick to filling most of its frames with enough CGI to vomit. The characters and actors who play them aren’t strong enough to carry the weak script and the ones inserted to lighten the mood (thinking of the dwarf) are downright annoying.
There are two parts of the film that work: 1. The dungeon maze is sort of fun until it fizzles with a disappointing climax. 2. The second act surprising death of one of the characters turns this into a real movie for about ten minutes and I thought it might stay that way. Sadly, it does not.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a curiosity and glimpse back at a genre that was being done poorly in Hollywood and about to be re-invented, for better or worse.
Watched on Tubi.