The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara is the flagship novel of author Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. (First King of Shannara actually takes place before The Sword of Shannara, but he didn’t publish that until later on).

Shea and Flick Ohmsford live in Shady Vale, a quiet community of hard-working folk living in peace. When evil from the North comes looking for the last living descendant of Jerle Shannara, aka Shea Ohmsford, a mysterious Druid by the name of Allanon arrives to help the two escape and embark on an epic quest to find the fabled Sword of Shannara, which has the power to destroy the evil Warlock Lord.

Many critics (and a few of my friends) have universally panned this novel because some say that it’s a blatant rip-off of Tolkien. Admittedly, there are heavy imprints of Tolkien’s influence at work here, but it’s only at the beginning. Towards the end, you begin to truly get a sense of what Brooks is trying to do with his characters, and especially in later novels when he expands to areas that Tolkien never touched and you get to see other elements besides Tolkien’s writing which he drew on, like mythology and history.

I would liken this series to the lovechild of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, actually.

If you look past the initial similarities (and assuming you like Brooks’ writing style) what you’ll find is an enjoyable romp through the Four Lands and the beginnings of an epic fantasy adventure that seems to be more and more rare these days.

The characters are memorable, the settings are great, the monsters are scary. What more can you ask for?

JOE Rating: ★★★★

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Deathstalker (1983)

Deathstalker (1983)

Original Theatrical Release: February 1984
Director: James Sbardellati (As John Watson)

The warrior known as Deathstalker (Richard Hill) is tasked by an old witch to gather three powerful items; a sword, an amulet and a chalice, before the evil magician Munkar (Bernard Erhard) collects them first and becomes unstoppable. After getting his hands on the sword and angering Munkar, Deathstalker enters The Big Tournament where he hopes to wrestle the kidnapped princess from Munkar’s control, while Munkar has plans of his own to kill Deathstalker.

First off, this movie is from 1983. I was only two years old, then. The special effects are TERRIBLE and are pretty consistent with the visual effects limits of the time, utilizing even puppetry to supplement the fantastical needs of the film. That being said, the puppetry is part of what made this movie so laughably bad.

Bernard Erhard is pretty much the only actor who can actually act in this film, but his performance is so over the top that it’s awkward to watch next to the wooden and stoic Richard Hill and his portrayal of Deathstalker.

As far as Deathstalker movies are concerned, I actually thought Deathstalker II was the best out of the bunch. (Even though Deathstalker II rips a scene right off the reel from this movie and just re-uses it, no questions asked)

Most lovers of fantasy have to give a nod to cheesy, 80’s Fantasy films like this, filled with topless barbarian women, oiled and dumbed-down Conan the Barbarian clones and ridiculous makeup, and this is no exception. It’s worth a watch if you’re in the mood to laugh at a terribad film, or for nostalgic reasons…that’s it.

This is definitely not Lord of the Rings caliber material.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For Deathstalker

Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth (1986)

Original Theatrical Release: June 27, 1986
Director: Jim Henson

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a fifteen-year old girl who lives her life in a fantasy world after her mother dies. She is unhappy with her current stepmother (like in any good fairytale) and resents being left home to watch her baby brother Toby while her father wines and dines the would-be-replacement mother. In a fit of rage, she wishes for the Goblin King, Jareth (David Bowie) to take him away. When he does, she realizes the mistake she’s made and must traverse Jareth’s labyrinth and make her way to his castle in only thirteen hours or Toby will be gone forever.

When this movie first came out, I was five years old. Back then, Jim Henson was a god (and still is, I guess), at the height of his popularity. Sesame Street and The Muppets were king…along with Fraggle Rock and all those other Jim Henson vehicles.

This was a movie we watched every year, and I still do. Jennifer Connelly was as beautiful and talented as ever back then and David Bowie’s role in this movie is untouchable, even though at one point they were considering having Michael Jackson as Jareth. (That would be so weird!)

Some of the special effects, by today’s CGI standards, are outdated but still hold a certain charm not available to CGI characters. The sets are beautiful and Jim Henson’s creations really shine and come to life.

The characters are all amazing and even though the story is simple and sort of familiar, drawing on many fairy tale and fantasy tropes, everything else combined makes it stand out from a lot of other films and media with the same types of themes.

The music is where it’s really at, though. The mood. The relationship between Jareth and Sarah. It’s all very well-conceived and I think even if you didn’t grow up with the film you could still watch it today with your kids and let them enjoy it before they are indoctrinated with all the CGI effect-laden films and cartoons we have today.

This is one of my favorite films of all time. Can you tell? This is me, cosplaying as Jareth himself.

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JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Labyrinth