Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Film Faves - Fantasy Films FTW

Rabid Lit Major:
Mood: Hungry and unfocused
Watching: Q.I., a fabulous BBC show that's like "Whose Line is it Anyway" but educational. Essentially, Stephen Fry sets 4 comedians at a table, quizzes them on obscure trivia, and awards them more points for "interesting" answers than correct answers.

First, a plea: do not get mad at me for the long delay. I did not have access to a computer during the interim since my last post. Many apologies.

Okey-dokey. Let's dive into my film extravaganza (which, now that I think about it, I should have done during Oscars week...) where I will be reviewing films, and explaining the literary reasons they are either awful or awesome.

I'm going to ease into this with two films that are complete classics...if your definition of classic is similar to mine and allows for cult-classic 80s films. Which...why wouldn't it?

The two films which I shall be reviewing are impressive in their handling of classic fantasy novel themes. Where they differ is that one focuses on fairy-tale elements and the other on mythology elements...but both take these themes and make something completely new and unexpected.

So, without further ado: let's jump in. We'll go chronologically. Age before beauty as they say...

Film: Labyrinth (1986)
Starring: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and the genius creations of Jim Henson.
Screenplay: Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame.

So what happens when you take Monty Python cleverness, mix in a bunch of creepy puppets, dump them in a fantasy scene, and have David Bowie star in it and write/perform the entire soundtrack? A set with glitter dumped all over it.

I love this film. My mom was forced to rent it an absurd number of times when I was quite young...which probably explains a lot. Viewing it again as an adult I am struck by how dark it is and how impressively the fantasy elements are woven in. The plot, on the surface, is fairly simple. An imaginative and overly-dramatic teenage girl, angry that she has to babysit her baby half-brother, makes up a story in which the King of the Goblins will take him away if she simply wishes for it. When he actually shows up and takes the baby away, she is struck with remorse and asks for the chance to save the baby. He then gives her 13 hours to solve a huge labyrinth and take the baby back before he turns him into a goblin.

Then you watch the film and you wonder what in the world just happened.

For all the silliness, from the hard-to-look-away-from bulge in David Bowie's tights (yes, tights) and the manic goblins (Jim Henson puppets all) and all of the crazy obstacles (the MC Escher scene had to be the coolest set ever) it's actually a brilliantly written film under all of the glitter. There are four major reasons for this.

1. Mythology elements

If you have ever studied mythology you will be impressed by the little jokes put in the film. The classic riddle where there are two doors, one which always lies and one which always tells the truth, makes a grand appearance. The trippy peach-dream scene is a nice reference to the legends surrounding eating fay food in the land of fairies...which in many legends causes the person who eats it to lose their memories of the real world and lose track of time. The overarching plot of the Goblin King is a variation on Changeling myths. All-in-all it shows that there was some serious thought put into making this seem like a classic story book which helps create....

2. The Ambiguous Ending

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about "Inception" and how it completely botches its attempt at this. "Labyrinth", however, has this down to a science. The whole story begins with Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) by a lake looking like a medieval princess and speaking in beautiful prose. It isn't until she flubs her lines and pulls out a play that you realize she's playing a game in the park, further highlighted by her realizing the time and hitching up her dress to run to run, revealing the jeans beneath. As you watch the film, you begin to realize that all of the characters and situations she's running into not only echo the themes in the play she'd been reading (called "Labyrinth" of course) but also look like objects from her room. Hoggle looks like a bookend she had. Sir Didymus looks like on of her stuffed animals and rides "Ambrosius" who looks just like her dog "Merlin". Ludo is reminiscent of the "Wild Things" from the Maurice Sendak book on her bookshelf. The MC Escher stairs print on her wall makes a reappearance in the climatic scene. Her music box features a spinning girl in the same ballgown she wears in the peach scene. Heck! She even has a Labyrinth game. There are tons more of these details, but what it boils down to is the vague feeling that the whole thing had been a dream. (The constant references made to dreaming and dreams don't help much here.) The only problem is: it's never confirmed. Even after she "wakes up", she reunites with all of her friends for a party in her room. Regardless of whether it was real or not, the salient point is that she's completely changed by the end of it: she no longer resents her brother or her new stepmother, nor is she as zealously obsessed with her things.

3. Dark horror elements that subtly teach a lesson

You all know how I feel about subtlety in morals. It was the core of my Avatar vs. Monster's Inc. post. One of the most brilliant moments in the script was the junkyard scene. Sarah is shown into a perfect likeness of her room by this freaky junkyard creature...a little old woman puppet who's dwarfed by the large pile of junk she's accumulated on her back. She brings a dazed Sarah to this room and starts handing her her treasured belongings - beginning with the teddy bear that was given to her brother Toby which prompted her to wish him away. As the junk lady hands Sarah the items she mumbles about how Sarah needs these things, how she never wanted to lose them and always emphasizes how they are hers, Sarah's. As this continues, you slowly realize that the items are piling up on Sarah as she clings to them...and she begins to look more and more like the junk lady. It isn't until she exclaims that it's all junk and that what she really needs is to save her brother that the illusion crumbles away revealing the junkyard again. It's terrifying...and subtly warns against holding objects in higher regard than people.

4. Musical numbers

Ok ok. It's not really a literary thing. I just like films with musical numbers. Plus: it's David Bowie. (Although I heard that he's embarrassed by this film...can't imagine why. Maybe it's the tights?)

Wow this is going long. Moving on to film number two.

Film: Princess Bride (1987)
Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Serandon, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Fred Savage...
Screenplay: William Goldman, also known for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

I don't think I need to tell you that this film is great. It's quirky beyond all reason and the fact that it's written by the same guy who wrote the book means that it holds all of the quality of a novel. I will however give you the main reasons you like it so much.

1. Frame Story

A good portion of the charm derived from "Princess Bride" is the framework. Rather than a straight up fantasy film, it's delivered as though it is, in fact, a storybook. The movie begins with contemporary Fred Savage as a sick kid home from school being read a book by his grandpa. The film is peppered with interruptions as the kid and the grandfather interact. The kid whines about kissing, the Grandfather interjects his own comments...they even argue about how a story is supposed to go...

2. Avoidance of cliches.

I was going to warn about spoilers here but honestly, if you haven't seen this film you should be watching it instead of reading my blogpost. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I consider it one of the greatest films ever. One of the great interruption moments with the grandfather and kid is when Westley, the hero, dies. The kid immediately interrupts, exclaiming that he can't be dead. The grandfather tries to continue with the story but the kid gets upset. He wants to know who kills the evil Prince Humperdink. When the grandfather tells him that Humperdink lives, the kid exclaims: "You mean he wins?! Jesus, Grandpa, what'dya read this to me for?" This perfectly highlights why it's so brilliant. While you get all of the elements of a classic fairy tale: the most beautiful princess in the world, daring sword fights, revenge plots, magical cures, kindly giants etc. etc. etc. it's amazing how much it defies convention. I won't go into too much detail here, but consider this. For all of the action and humor of the film, the big climatic scene, when the hero and antagonist face each other for the final time, has no huge chase, dramatic battle or brilliant self sacrifice.

The hero simply taunts the antagonist who then surrenders without a fight, allows himself to be tied up, and the heros simply leave.

There is literally no climatic battle between Westley and Humperdink. The turning point, the resolution of the whole plot, is full contained in the line "Drop. Your. Sword."

THAT is brilliant.

All right. I think this blog is plenty long enough. Tomorrow I'll explain why you should be very offended by Christopher Nolan. In the mean time, a small grammar lesson for you.


People are frequently confused by grammar rules...which is not surprising at all because for every grammar rule that exists there also exists at least one exception to throw you off. The combination of languages and roots that make up the English language make it particularly incomprehensible and often properly written sentences and words will look completely ridiculous. Generally, the best advice is simply to read whatever you've written out loud. If it sounds off, it probably is. There are, however, fiddly little rules that will always throw you off for the simple reason that nobody ever explained them to you. So here we go, the first of my little grammar lessons.

Possessives and apostrophes constitute some of the most frequent grammar violations. There is actually a fairly simple set of rules when it comes to using an apostrophe to denote possession. The issue is that most have never learned it and even those of us who have get confused because it sometimes looks so silly.

So here we go. A step-by-step process to knowing where to put your apostrophe.

1. Which word should the apostrophe go on? Look at the sentence. The apostrophe belongs on whichever word possesses the object in question, regardless of where it is in the sentence. What object belongs to someone...who does it belong to? The apostrophe goes on the latter.

2. Is this word plural or singular? If it's singular, regardless of whether it ends in an s or not, it gets an 's. This means that when you are referring to an ABC book belonging to Dr. Seuss, it's still "Dr. Seuss's ABC book" even though the "ss's" looks absurd.

3. If the word is plural and ends in an "s" it gets just the apostrophe. If it's plural and doesn't end in an "s" then it get's the "'s" just like the singular words.

In summation, there are cupcakes belonging to your parents, cupcakes belonging to many people, cupcakes belonging to everyone and cupcakes belonging to the class.

1. The people who possess the cupcakes are "parents", "people", "everyone", and the "class".
2. "everyone" and "class" are singular nouns. (They really are. You can't have multiple "everyones" and there is only one class mentioned, even if there are multiple people in the class. It would only be plural if it was "classes".
3. "parents" and "people" are, however, plurals of "parent" and "person" respectively.

So...Here are the cupcakes: my parents' cupcakes, many people's cupcakes, everyone's cupcakes, and the class's cupcakes.


Never use "'s" when creating a plural. Ever. It looks ridiculous. If I see a cupcake's in the previous sentence, it should be followed by the sprinkles that belong to that cupcake (cupcake's sprinkles) or it should be a contraction of "cupcake is" as in "This cupcake's great!"

Major exception: "its" is the possessive form of "it". "it's" is the contraction of "it is". To borrow from Lemony Snicket: Each boat has its own sail. I imagine this is to avoid confusion between possessive its and contraction it's...but let's be honest: It's much more confusing when "its" is its plural form considering that "it's" actually fits in the rules.


  1. Labyrinth is moving to #1 in my Netflix queue, and I am rewatching PB yet again tonite. Great reviews. And I'm emailing this post to my old law office gang where I formerly reigned as Grammar Queen. Thanks, Brie! Dance, Baby, dance . . . .

  2. I just watched PB again the other night when I discovered that THREE of the FIVE people I had over to watch the Doctor Who season premiere had NEVER seen it. Horrifying.

  3. I broke down and bought Princess Bride again because someone "borrowed" my first copy. I can't believe I lived so long without it!

    Also, thank you for the grammar lesson. Apostrophes in strange places bother me. Stephen Fry would not agree with me about the importance of correct usage, but then again no one is perfect. Not even Stephen Fry.

  4. I actually mostly agree with Fry. I'm not a big grammar nazi myself. Certain grammar rules I will honestly label as completely unimportant. (Example: Five items or less vs. Five items or fewer) If you know the difference, sure: put in the effort and be correct. Otherwise? Who cares???

    However, there's a difference between ignorance and laziness. I feel like a lot more people would use proper grammar if they were aware of the rules.