Resurgent Lord of the Rings Rules Fantasy

Lord of the Rings, one cli-fi to rule them all.

Thank Gandalf! J.R.R. Tolkien’s riveting fantasy epic Lord of the Rings is once again hypnotizing Earth. As I write, Peter Jackson is booting up its cinematic prequel The Hobbit, probably with The Office and Sherlock straight man Martin Freeman in Bilbo’s furry feet. Jackson’s Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings bonanza is out on Blu-ray. I’ve marked the occasion by compiling a list of unforgettable fantasy film classics and giving away Lord of the Rings prizes for Wired. Want to score some Old Toby?

Resurgent Lord of the Rings Rules Fantasy Classics
[Scott Thill,]
Really, what is there to say? Peter Jackson’s CGI-soaked fever dream of innocence and evil revolutionized blockbuster cinema in the early ’00s and made a zillion dollars to boot (look it up!) — all while remaining mostly faithful to Tolkien’s densely fascinating source texts. Although all the films collected Oscars, Return of the King scored a Best Picture statue in 2003, the only fantasy film to ever achieve that feat. Even a genre colossus like James Cameron’s Avatar couldn’t do that, nor could any other sci-fi film in cinema history. Put that Old Toby in your Shire pipe and smoke it.

Pan’s Labyrinth

I’m a man, and not partial to crying, especially during films. But my wife and I bawled over our daughter’s crib like terrorized babies after watching this stunning nightmare of fantasy and fascism from director Guillermo Del Toro, which happened to be one of 2006’s finest films. Pan’s Labyrinth is everything contemporary fantasy film should be, from its Nazi-fied historical setting to its anomalous mystical creatures to its utterly shattering story of youthful sacrifice in the name of peace.

After watching it, it makes total sense that Peter Jackson snatched up Del Toro to direct the upcoming Hobbit films. Del Toro eventually bailed for more stable shores, unable to wait for the film’s studio to sort out its financial madness. And while Jackson might take over the director’s chair and do another perfect job, the mind reels at what fearsome magic Del Toro would have wrought out of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. A shame.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

It’s exceedingly hard to choose one standout amongst all the Arthurian and medieval sagas available to fantasy hounds. From Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and John Boorman’s Excalibur to Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and beyond, our cup runneth over with candidates.

But truthfully, that cup could fit inside Monty Python’s immortal Holy Grail, and still not fill it up.

Although the members of the British comedy group were more or less miserable when they made it, the unrelentingly hilarious Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains the most memorable, quotable and hard-hitting critique of the Middle Ages and its phased-out phantasms in existence.

The 1975 movie remains a perpetual meme generator, with way too many skits to forget. From its skewering of clueless monarchy, witless mobs and callous social services (“Bring out yer dead!”) to its roll call of unforgettable characters including Tim the Enchanter, a killer bunny and, of course, the gory existential nightmare known as The Black Night (above), it’s a fantasy satire that will joke you to death.