Tag Archives: fantasy films

The Neverending Story

The Never Ending Story began life as a number of films have; it was originally a book, written and printed in Germany. I have not read the book, only the description. From that, I know I prefer the film.

Speaking of which, the movie The Never Ending Story begins by showing us Bastian (short for Sebastian), as he has breakfast with his father. Bastian’s mother died some time ago, and Bastian’s father has been doing his best to take care of him ever since.

Lately, Bastian’s been tardy in getting to school. Not only that, but his grades have been falling. In fact, his teacher has called Bastian’s father to report that when Bastian was supposed to be writing out math equations, he was instead drawing “horses” in his notebook.

“Unicorns,” Bastian mutters dejectedly, “They were unicorns.”

“What’s that?” Bastian’s father asks, having missed what his son muttered.

“Nothing,” Bastian mumbles, but in a tone his father can hear this time.

Bastian’s father extracts a promise from his son to “keep [his] feet on the ground and [his] head out of the clouds.” Bastian is unexcited by this promise, but he makes it anyway, knowing it will please his father.

Bastian’s dad then heads out to work while Bastian goes to school. Halfway there, Bastian meets three boys who go to his school. The boys enjoy throwing Bastian in the dumpster, and though he fights hard, he ends up in the trash. This is the main reason Bastian has been late to school: the three bullies.

Upset that he has been plunked in the garbage yet again, Bastian climbs out of the dumpster and starts on his way to school. But the bullies are waiting for him. They chase Bastian down the streets, trying to catch and grab him so they can throw him in the dumpster again.

Bastian, for once, is faster than they are. He ducks into a store and hides behind the door. The three bullies rush on past, thinking Bastian has continued down the street. Bastian sighs in relief and, as he is getting his breath back, takes a good look at the store he has entered.

It is a book store, filled with volumes of all sizes and ages. Mesmerized, Bastian wanders into the store further, where he meets the owner. The store owner angrily tells Bastian that only book-lovers are allowed in the store. He will find no video games here. Bastian tries to peak at the book in the owner’s lap. It is a large, worn volume, with a crest on the cover that shows two intertwined snakes.

Once again the owner says, “Be off with you!”

“But I like books!” Bastian says, furious in his turn. “I’ve read Treasure Island, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Lord of the Rings, the –“

“Yes,” the owner interrupts. “But those are safe books. Were you ever those characters? Were you ever Captain Nemo, watching the dreaded Giant Squid tearing up the Nautilus?”

“Yes,” breathes Bastian. “Yes, I was!”

The owner nods. “I thought so. But those were safe books. This,” he holds up the book he was reading, “This isn’t.”

Suddenly, the store phone rings. The owner lays down the book, stands up, and goes to answer the phone. While he is carrying on his conversation, Bastian carefully writes a note on a scrap of paper. Then he picks up the book, The Never Ending Story, puts the paper down in its place, and hightails it out of the shop.

The owner returns to find his book gone. He reads Bastian’s note: I’ll return it as soon as I’ve read it, the writing promises. The owner goes to the door of the shop and peers through the glass. Strangely, he smiles in a very satisfied manner after Bastian’s disappearing figure.

Bastian makes it to school and heads for his math class – only to find that there is a test in progress. Thanks to the bullies, he is late for a test he is not prepared for. Knowing he cannot enter the classroom in the middle of the test, Bastian escapes to the school’s attic (since when did schools have attics?). There, he pulls up a pad, lies on his stomach, and opens the book.

There he begins reading the story of the land of Fantasia, where all kinds of fantasy creatures live. The peoples of Fantasia are greatly disturbed. It seems a mysterious void known only as “The Nothing” is destroying their world. For instance, a Rock Biter describes how a lake in his people’s country was there one day, and then simply gone the next. It did not dry up or turn murky, and no one drank it dry. One day it was there – the next it was gone, as if it had never been!

An envoy from each of Fantasia’s people has gone to the Ivory Tower at the center of Fantasia to seek help from the Child-Empress. If anyone can stop The Nothing, then surely she can!

Except that the Child-Empress has fallen ill. No one knows why. No one has a cure. So the Empress’s councilor has sent for a great warrior from the Plains People, one who has killed many of the Purple Buffalo and who is renowned for his fighting skill. His name is Atreyu.

The ambassadors and the Empress’s councilor are expecting a grown man. But what they get is a boy no older than Bastian!

However, the boy-warrior is their only hope. So the Empress’s councilor sends Atreyu and his faithful steed, Artax, to the Swamps of Sadness to seek counsel from a wise creature who lives there. Atreyu sets out at once.

But unknown to Atreyu, a creature called Gmork is hunting him and Artax. Sent by The Nothing to kill the hero, Gmork will not rest until he has Atreyu in his jaws!

If I have whetted your curiosity, readers, then I will leave my description of the story here. I saw The Never Ending Story when I was very young, and I loved it. I saw it again not too long ago, and found that I still love it. If you watch the film – or have already seen it – odds are good that you can understand why. I highly recommend this movie to “kids from one to ninety-two.” It is applicable to people of all ages everywhere!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

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Saving Mr. Banks

When I first heard about Saving Mr. Banks, I thought, “Oh, great, another brainless Hollywood idea. Somebody in the break room must have said, ‘I’ve got it. Let’s make a documentary about Walt Disney.’ Wheee.”

I really, truly, one hundred percent respect and love Walt Disney. I grew up on almost all the original Disney films – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and so on. So the idea of seeing Hollywood maiming this great man’s character did not appeal to me in the slightest.

Well, sometime back, a couple of my friends saw part of Saving Mr. Banks. At one point, Tom Hanks (who portrays Walt Disney in the film), said something that made both my friends respond with something on the order of, “Mithril has to see this!” They said it at once, interrupting the film.

They almost never do that.

I agreed to see the film, keeping my reservations – and earlier contempt for the movie – to myself. I sat down with my friends to watch it. About midway through the film, I started to sniffle. Then, a few minutes later, I broke down and cried.

I never, ever, thought I would do that during this movie, and I cannot remember the last time I cried while watching a film. I did not even cry during The Battle of the Five Armies, for heaven’s sake! But when this film showed one of the songwriters performing “Tuppence a Bag,” I lost it. The water works kept coming, on and off, after that. By the end of the movie, it was a miracle the room was not flooded. It took me another hour to calm down, and even then I was still sniffling.

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney worked very hard to get the movie rights to P. L. Travers book Mary Poppins, so that he could make it into a film. He had promised his daughters that he would make the film, and Saving Mr. Banks tells us how he kept that promise.

As the movie explains, for twenty years Disney kept asking the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, to give him the rights to turn her first book into a movie. But Mrs. Travers keeps refusing, until she runs into money trouble. Then her agent insists that she go see Mr. Disney, who has agreed to let her have creative input on the screenplay. Anything she does not like will be taken out of the script. She has final say. She can refuse to hand over the rights if she does not like the way Disney and his team are handling the movie.

Mrs. Travers finally caves in to her agent’s pleading and flies to California. The rest of the movie shows us just where the idea for Mary Poppins came from, why the film was almost never made and why Mrs. Travers loved Mary Poppins as much – if not more – than any of her fans.

I will not go into the details of that story here. One, I do not want to spoil the movie for you, readers. Two, I might start crying again – and then I will not be able to type to finish this post!

But what, you may ask, was the thing Walt Disney said that made my friends immediately agree that I should watch the movie? It is very near the end (and I cried while I watched it), so I will try not to spoil too much. But Mr. Disney was so determined to make Mary Poppins a film that, when Mrs. Travers abruptly returned to England in a fury, without signing over the rights and without an explanation, he immediately followed her there.

Before he did, though, he learned that her name was not really P. L. Travers. That was her pen name; her real name was Helen Goff. Travers was her father’s first name, and she loved him so much that she took his name as her pseudonym, insisting people call her “Mrs. Travers” in order to hear her father’s name over and over again.

Back to what Walt Disney told her near the end of the film. I do not know if it is really what he said to her in that interview, but from what I know of Walt Disney (admittedly, I do not know him by anything except reputation), it sounds like something he might have said. He told her (as best I can recall through the waterworks), when he was convincing her that he would never do anything to Mary Poppins to ruin it that, “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

Excuse me – but I need to stop for a tissue.

*Ahem.* He was right. Storytellers do just that.

The world is a hard, nasty, chaotic mess. No one needs to look any further than the newspaper or the TV news channels to know that. The reports on which Hollywood stars are dating whom drown out the story of a nine year old girl shot and killed while doing her homework in her Chicago home. The videos of Planned Parenthood selling aborted children’s body parts are ignored in favor of the news that a famous lion was killed by a foolish dentist. Two hundred other lions were killed as well by different people in the same country, but even they do not get the spotlight.

What kind of a world is this? It is a world filled with horror and darkness, and that affects us all. It affects some more than others. Babies who could grow up to change the world are killed so that those who kill them can make a profit off their bodies the same way arms or drug dealers make money off of weapons and drugs. A nine year old girl working on her school assignment is killed before she can grow up and decide how she wants to change the world.

The rest of us watch it all happen, either unwilling or unable to do much of anything to turn back the darkness. For those of us who do anything, or at least try to do something, we relate well to what Cap is reported to say in the Civil War trailer, “Saving everyone we can doesn’t mean that we can save everyone.”

We are not God. But many of us pretend to be, and it only furthers the darkness. In a world like this, where is the hope? Where is the order? Where is the sense, the sanity?

You all know how big a fan I am of Marvel Comics. I am a big fan of a lot of stories. I listed some of them, in movie form, at the beginning of this post. I pay attention to the news about upcoming Marvel films. I blog about stories. I daydream about stories.

There are a lot of people like me. Some attend the Comic Conventions and other such events around the globe. They learn to speak Klingon; they dress up as their favorite characters; they pay huge amounts of money for an action figure or a film prop, and they are as ecstatic over a new story in their favorite genre as they are when they learn someone in the family is going to have a baby or is getting married.

Others do not show their love of stories by dressing up, learning Klingon, or spending gobs of money on a new action figure. But they still love the stories. They still love the characters. They still catch the latest movie, book, television episode, etcetera. Why? None of this is real. As Mrs. Travers says in Saving Mr. Banks, “Mary Poppins is not real.”

“She’s real to me,” says Disney. “She’s real to my daughters. She’s real to all your readers. She’s there when we need her.”

People who go to Comic Conventions are mocked a lot. I have never been to a Comic Convention, but I have heard the snide things people say when they speak about those who go to these events. “Yeah, Jake went to Comic Con this year. He dressed up like Superman. Can you believe it? He’s forty and he’s still dressing up. Not to mention getting excited over a stupid comic book character. Ha ha ha!”

And that is Walt Disney’s point in this scene. Mary Poppins is not a stupid character. Superman is not a stupid character. Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, the Avengers, the Fellowship of the Ring, Luke Skywalker – none of them is a “stupid character.”

Yes, these characters are not real people. I will never walk down the street and accidentally meet the Steve Rogers I find in Marvel’s comic books. I will never meet Luke Skywalker, Optimus Prime, Col. Jack O’Neill, Aragorn, or any of my other favorite characters in the flesh.

But that does not make the characters any less real. That does not mean they are not there, within me, ready to be there for me when I need them most.

As an example, remember the end of The Two Towers? Frodo has just tried to kill Sam, but he has recalled himself in time and pulled back. He has done what Gollum decided not to do when his friend Deagol discovered the Ring. “What are we doing here, Sam?” Frodo asks, horrified and sick with the knowledge of what he nearly did.

Sam says, “I don’t know. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. It’s all mixed up!”

Then, more quietly, Sam adds, almost to himself, “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? Folks in those stories, they had a lot of chances to turn back only they didn’t. They kept fighting, because they were holding onto something. And that’s what we’ve got to do, too.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?” Frodo asks, still scared. Still lost. Still hurt.

Sam turns to him, helps him to his feet. “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,” he answers, “And it’s worth fighting for!

I do not know Klingon, and getting me to dress up is harder than putting socks on a crow.   I used to think I was crazy for all the attention I paid to stories, those snide comments about Comic Convention attendees ringing in my ears. What makes me any different than them, I would wonder. I do not dress up or speak Klingon, but I am still practically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to certain stories. I still care more about a good story and the characters in it and get angry at writers who mistreat those characters than I care about having lunch, going for a walk, going shopping, or other such things. What if I’m nuts?

Doubtless, readers, some of you probably think I am nuts. But I do not think that. Not anymore.

Because, in Saving Mr. Banks, in that one scene where he tells Mrs. Travers that “Storytellers bring order to the world and give people hope, time and time again,” I learned what I really am. I may not be a great storyteller, and I do not know about giving people hope time after time. But I know I want to be and do both of those things, and that I am willing to fight to be a storyteller and to give hope to people, over and over again, during this “Long Defeat.” And that I am willing to fight any and all aggressors who deny the value of stories and their characters.

I am a blogger, a storyteller. I am naïve. I have limits. I cannot be everywhere at once, read minds, change shape, or protect everyone. I cannot love everyone in the world, though I have a special place in my heart for all of you, readers.

But I can write. I can appreciate a good story. Because as Samwise the Brave said, “There is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for!”

So that is what I am going to do, as best I can, and I am heartily thankful to those friends who sat me down to watch Saving Mr. Banks. I am grateful to those who made it, to those who made Mary Poppins, the book and the movie. And most of all, to the One who made me and all the good things and people in this world, I am very, very grateful, beyond words.

Catch you later, readers.

The Mithril Guardian

Dragonheart

I have always been fascinated with flying and being up high. The reason I mention this interest in flying is because, since I have this attraction to soaring, I am naturally fascinated by all creatures that can take wing. One of my favorite fictional flying creatures would of course, therefore, be DRAGONS!

This is where the movie I wanted to discuss today comes in. It is a film called Dragonheart.  Dragonheart is a movie that the critics apparently panned, to their everlasting detriment. The movie focuses on a knight “of the old code” named Bowen (played by Dennis Quaid) who, in the first act of the story, is the knight appointed to instruct young Prince Einon in the ways of knighthood. Bowen starts out very cheerful and devoted to his young charge, hoping to change the young prince’s outlook on life so that he will not be as cruel a king as his father.

That plan seemingly goes out the window when, after Einon charges out to help his father put down a peasant revolt, he is mortally wounded. Einon’s mother, Queen Aislinn, has Einon taken to a dragon (voiced by Sean Connery) who lives near the kingdom. She begs the dragon to save her son’s life and the dragon agrees, giving Einon half of his heart after the young prince swears to rule with justice and virtue. The Dragon’s heart saves the young prince’s life and at the same time grants him virtual immortality.

So now everything is all hunky-dory, right?

Eh, not so much. It turns out that Einon is a worse monster than his father. He enslaves the peasant rebels and sets up a corrupt court. Bowen, in his fury, blames the Dragon for Einon’s apparent change of heart and vows to kill him.

Years later, Einon (now portrayed by David Thewlis) has a new castle and Bowen has become a champion dragon-slayer more interested in destroying dragons than in following the old code he so greatly revered and tried to pass on to Einon. Bowen eventually tracks down the Dragon, who reveals that Bowen’s last prize was his mate. The two battle but eventually end up in a stalemate.

The Dragon then manages to break their draw and pins Bowen, whereupon he points out that if Bowen kills him, the former knight will be out of a job and the Dragon will be dead. But the Dragon has a proposal to keep them both alive and in business. Bowen, at first, does not want to hear it, but he finally gives in and asks, “What’s the alternative?”

The alternative, it turns out, is defrauding people into paying heaping sums of gold to Bowen to “kill” the same dragon over and over again. All the while Bowen does not realize he has allied himself with the very Dragon he swore to kill. Nor does he realize that the Dragon, whom he at last dubs Draco, has suffered as much, if not more, with Einon’s rule than he himself has.

I will avoid spoiling the rest of the film for you, readers, but I will say that it is worth your time to hunt up and watch Dragonheart. The film has two sequels: Dragonheart II: A New Beginning, and a third film which came out this year, Dragonheart: The Sorcerer’s Curse. Truth be told, I would be more interested in this third installment if it had been done earlier. But it was not. Rats.

            Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

 

Spotlight: Hiccup and Toothless – Rider and Dragon

Without a doubt, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon films and television series have been unmitigated successes. For myself, I absolutely love the scenes that show Hiccup and the real star of the films/TV series, Toothless, in flight. The movies make me wish I was born with wings – or that I had a dragon of my own (preferably a Night Fury, but I could take a Stormcutter if no Night Fury presented himself/herself on the spot).

One of the films’ strong points is the friendship that forms between Hiccup and Toothless. While Hiccup starts out in the first movie as a veritable outcast in his own Viking tribe, Toothless similarly stands apart from the other dragons in the Red Death’s nest. He is the only Night Fury known to exist, and for that reason seems as out of place in the dragon world as Hiccup does in his village. Also, where Hiccup is smarter than your average Viking, Toothless is smarter than the average dragon. Whether that is a talent all Night Furies have in common or whether it is a special gift Toothless himself possesses, we cannot be sure.

These likenesses between the two characters are what lead to their extraordinary (for their world, that is) friendship. Hiccup’s higher intelligence means that he is naturally curious. This leads him to make inventions to help him in his work around the village, and thus he begins to learn how the world around him works.

Perhaps because of his curiosity and natural compassion, in the first How to Train Your Dragon film, Hiccup spares Toothless’ life when he could easily kill him. In return, Toothless neither eats nor kills Hiccup – though he does let the young Viking know he is not pleased with the previous night’s events. Later, Hiccup realizes that he may have spared Toothless and allowed him to live, but without a tail the dragon will be easy prey for other creatures – dragons and Vikings in particular. Feeling bad for putting the Night Fury in such a desperate situation, Hiccup designs a new tail to help the dragon survive on his own. However, the new tail does not work properly, prompting Hiccup to try again.

And again … and again.

Before either Toothless or Hiccup realizes what has happened, their work together on eliminating Toothless’ vulnerability has led to a friendship, or brotherhood, forming between them. Toothless knows that he would not have survived without Hiccup’s help, and Hiccup learns that dragons are not monsters hell-bent on destroying the Vikings. And if it is possible for one Viking to become friends with a dragon, why cannot other dragons and Vikings become partners?

Why, in short, should there be no dragon trainers – or dragon riders?

The friendship between Hiccup and Toothless is the heart of both How to Train Your Dragon films and is the underlying basis for the TV series. Without that friendship, there would be no story, and we would not know how to train our own dragons. ‘Cause let’s face it – some of the people we like could probably be dragons in another world. In this world, they just happen to be human!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian