So I’ve just popped my head up for air, after playing Guild Wars for 2 solid days, and am busy tasting the bitter pill of shirking all my responsibilities. I read a lot of fantasy novels when I was a kid, and I mean a LOT; growing up in a dusty mining town in Botswana left little scope for epic adventures outside of the imagination. It’s funny how you get bored by why you’re used to. I suppose that driving over dirt roads in an ancient Toyota Land-Cruiser with no shocks, spotting the various wild beasts of darkest Africa might sound exciting to some. But to me and my sister it was just another one of those forced-family-fun-time activities, like scrabble-night, that it seems as though everyone would just rather avoid. I read the entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy on one particularly long and hot summer holiday, jolting up and down in the back seat on the long and arduous drive from Gaborone to Francistown.
Mum: Look! A herd of magnificent zebra galloping across the savannah! Lions loping regally through the bushes! The splendour of nature! Look, sweetie!
Me: Ok mum, whatever. In a bit… lemme just finish this chapter, ok? And I would go back to trekking my way across Middle Earth with Frodo and Co.
Now that I am no longer 14 and have a bit of perspective, I fully realise that journeying to Mordor across dangerous and hostile terrain must be a lot more crap than having to push a Land-Cruiser out of the sand every hour or so. But there is still something about a huge and well-imagined fantasy landscape that holds a strong appeal for me, hence the Guild Wars. So much better than ordinary life, which is full of irritating little things like office birthday-parties and remembering to put flea powder on the cat. It also offers far fewer opportunities to shoot fireballs at things, and your friends can’t resurrect you if you die.
So, since I absolutely positively have to clean my kitchen after I finish writing this, before the mould in there takes on a life of its own and comes to kill me in the night, I thought I’d take the opportunity to remain in full-on fantasy mode for a little longer. Dorks like me often take issue with a director’s vision of our favourite fantasy landscapes, but I’ve always admired the richness of imagination, detail and careful planning that went into creating these alternative worlds. A fantastical world must have scope; it must appear as though there is a story behind everything that exists there, as vividly detailed as our own history. The following films, to me, represent some of the most well-imagined worlds in the genre. They transport us from our everyday hum-drum existence into something magical and so finely-detailed that it could almost be true. And frankly, I would rather be there than here right now, where I’ve just knocked the ashtray over onto my keyboard.
The ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy : Well, you can call me Captain Obvious if you like, but it doesn’t get any better than this. I am guilty of hosting the Great LOTR Marathon of ’08, where we watched all of the extended versions and the bonus features in 3 days: that’s roughly 36 hours of footage, for the uninitiated. I think it may have caused a permanent brain disorder whereby I can remember amazing amounts of LOTR trivia, but never where I put my car keys. Did you know that there was embroidery on the inside of the costumes, where nobody would ever see it? You go Peter Jackson, you huge nerd you.
‘Mirrormask’ Slightly more obscure, perhaps, but no less totally freakin’ awesome. Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, and to see his work brought to the screen in a manner befitting its strangeness and whimsy is breathtaking. Although I usually disapprove of the ‘and then she woke up and it was all a dream’ form of story-writing, this movie perfectly captures the strange disjointedness and flickering quality of something brought back from a dream, in the early hours of the morning.
‘The Fifth Element’ Some might quibble over the Science-Fiction/Fantasy issue here, but the principle is the same…I want my flying cars and blue-tentacled opera singersnow, not just at some vaguely defined possible point in the future. I also want Milla Jovovitch clad only in skimpy bandages to fall through the roof of my taxi, but that’s never going to happen either.
‘Hook’ An oldie but goodie, ever since I first watched this movie at the age of ten or so, I’ve had the desire to have a food-fight with brightly coloured shaving-cream. Nowadays I think it might be more fun to be a pirate, and just get drunk underneath a giant stuffed alligator all day.
‘Avatar’ I left this one till last, because although the world is stunning and well-imagined, the actual story is as bog-standard as they come. ‘Only you can save the native peoples, my son, because even though they have been doing this stuff for years, you are somehow much more awesome at it.’ Think ‘Dances with Wolves’ and ‘The Last Samurai.’ But I can’t help including it, because of the sheer beauty of its design. Floaty Mountains! Phosphorescent jungles! Maybe if I just leave the dishes in my sink, they’ll grow to look like Pandora eventually.