Beowulf

December 1, 2007

Well, it’s not your grandfather’s Beowulf, and certainly not your great-great-great-great… (one more) great-grandfather’s, I can say that. I mean, yes, technically it does take place in ye olden times, but I at least can’t remember seeing many mentions of gold stilettos in the Germanic history textbooks. (if you don’t know who wears those stilettos in the film, you’ve been living under a rock – I’ll give you a hint, the actress’s name rhymes with Brangelina).

Of course, just because the film’s plot has almost no relation to the original epic poem doesn’t mean that it’s bad. In fact, it’s quite good. See, imagine you like the characters of the whole Romeo and Juliet tale – Romeo, Juliet, that disease-obsessed Mercutio guy – but don’t quite like how that whole star-crossed lover thing plays out. So you take those three characters, a few major plot points (like, well, location and, um, some fight scenes) and put it all together into a new story. And that’s pretty much what Beowulf is, with a new story that’s not half-bad. It’s got temptation, greed, lust, and the mother of all vicious cycles (literally). It’s mythic, unexpected, haunting, and very Neil Gaiman (who helped write the script).

And that’s the interesting thing about this film, which was directed by The Polar Express‘s Robert Zemeckis. With all the hyped 3D animation technology (the film’s all in performance capture animation – remember Gollum from LOTR or The Polar Express?), massive fight sequences and “I am Sparta!” – sorry, Beowulf – trailers, you would think the action scenes, cool technology factor and well-toned people would be the film’s main strengths. Story be darned. But with performance capture making all the characters look like they took a major overdose of Botox, and some ho-hum, anti-climactic adventure scenes, the plot is what redeems (somewhat, anyway) the whole thing. Although, okay, all that body candy is nice too. For all gender orientations.

Many of those with me at the theater noted the hindrance of expressionless characters, uneven pacing, and shrug-inducing action sequences – although some may have used the verb “to suck” in various forms instead of that exact language – but everyone came away taken with the story. It almost makes you wonder what the film could have been if its production hadn’t been so focused on working with this style of filmmaking. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, does unlimited access to technology corrupt limitlessly? No between-the-lines reference to another filmmaker intended.

And I almost hate to say it, but yes, Angelina, the centerpiece of the plot and the most intriguing character, was actually the best part of the film.

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Holiday Gift Guide 2007: the movie edition

November 27, 2007

By now, you’ve probably seen at least several hundred of these (I could be exaggerating – but sadly, or disturbingly, I don’t think so). But hey, what’s one more to add to the pile?

See, I like to wait until the web is totally oversaturated with exactly the same content to publish my own contribution to the excess. Or for the precise moment when many people don’t even want to think about shopping for a whole ‘nother week after spending six hours standing outside of Best Buy in the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving (you know who you are) – and then walking home, uphill, hopefully in the snow. In any case, I find it much more thrillingly extraneous that way. Or so I tell myself.

With that said, here are some of my own recommendations for what to get that incurable movie fanatic you know and love. I mean, there’s bound to be at least one in every family, right? Or am I just writing my own holiday wish list? Well, either way – hopefully my family is paying attention…

(all prices are retail, and thus pre-any sort of discount, such as the standard Amazon deductions)

Stocking stuffers

Or gifts for the other seven nights. Or, well, whatever the case may be. You get the idea.

Pure fun miscellany – If you’re in New York, buy a can of EVIL, some powdered antimatter and other superhero stuff at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store. If you’re in San Francisco, buy pirate goodies at the Pirate Supply Store. Seattle: space travel necessities at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. LA or Ann Arbor: time travel essentials (Echo Park Time Travel Mart) and monsters-in-your-closet supplies (The International Monsters Union) respectively.

Sound far-fetched? Fortunately for kids at heart everywhere (and, of course, actual kids), it’s not! For more information on these real life stores, click here.

Gift cards – If you don’t live in any of these cities, or don’t have easy access to one of them, there are, of course, many alternatives.

A Netflix gift subscription is always a fun option (and addictive, I’m on my, um, 23rd month or so past the three I originally got as a gift), and a gift certificate for a movie theater chain is easy, affordable and flexible. Almost all movie theaters have them, even the most staunchly independent ones. With ticket prices soaring to $11 (and no matinees) in cities like New York, and that’s not including the $4.50 small popcorn, your friend or family member will thank you.

And of course, finally, an iTunes gift certificate will let them download their favorite movies onto that new iPod nano you caved in and got them.

The book Cinescopes: what your favorite movies reveal about you – One of those “laugh over after opening and then forget” presents (we’ve all gotten them), it’s nonetheless the type of gift we all need during holiday bonding time with the family. $14.95 at Kitson.

DVDs – Basic, yes, but certainly not the easy way out. Individual DVDs are the fun, simple item that many people want but don’t want to actually spend the extra cash on to get themselves. I mean, really, you’re doing them a favor.

Solid

Candy Princess Kit – If you just can’t deal with one more Disney Princesses toy in your home, but someone you know is desperate for something royal after seeing Enchanted, try this fun gift basket ($50) from the famous Willy Wonka-esque candy store, Dylan’s Candy Bar. Sure, you won’t be able to drag the recipient from the walls, but most of it will probably be gone by the next morning. It includes pretty much everything you could ever think of that involves a Disney princess and sugar.

Film journal – I think we can all agree that no one actually uses these, apart from that diligently filled out first entry, of course. But if you have a Phoebe Cates fan on your list, you can cleverly point out that this elegant film journal ($45.00) came from her boutique in New York. That’s practically 3 degrees of separation!

Books and graphic novels – Sure, books that have recently been turned into films make great gifts, but if you understandably want to avoid the “Oh… Great… A book… Thanks…” response, check out these bound alternatives.

Stardust – The fairy tale (but not, I repeat not, with Disney’s G-rated fairies) graphic novel on which the Claire Danes, Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer special effects flight of fancy is based.

300 – Before it was an ultraviolent, testerone-fueled box office heavyweight, it was an ultraviolent, testerone-fueled graphic novel about the historic battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece (it’s almost an educational book, really…). Other novels by Hollywood golden boy Frank Miller that have been adapted into film: Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns (not directly, but still very influential; see Tim Burton’s Batman)

Scott Pilgrim – Get a jump start on this 2009 film by reading the indie graphic novel on which it’s based. A boy must fight off his new girlfriend’s 7 evil exes – tongue-in-cheek, martial arts video game style. Vol. 4 just came out, but for you newbies, start with – what else? – Vol. 1.

Pretty much anything by Alan Moore – Disgruntled Hollywood golden boy Moore has written the graphic novels that inspired The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and the upcoming Watchmen (2009).

If books are in the cards, however, try these:

His Dark Materials – Controversy or not, these elegant, and at times emotionally wrenching, tales for young adults are a must for fantasy fans. The first book in this three volume series by Philip Pullman is the basis for the new Golden Compass epic film.

No Country for Old Men – It has certainly been Cormac McCarthy’s year. Between the Pulitzer and Oprah’s Book Club selection for his bleak The Road and the critical acclaim for the film adaptation of No Country‘s disturbing tale, McCarthy is having a good holiday.

Beowulf – Lure them in with Angelina Jolie, keep them (for a time at least) with Seamus Heaney’s actually intelligible translation of the classic English poem. And no, this is not just my own revenge for having to read this in high school – after all, my class didn’t just read it. We had to listen to it read to us in Old English, with a lyre, for hours. Well, maybe I should take back that revenge comment…

Why not?

“Ultimate” DVD collections – They’re hefty, pricey and they’ve got that “cool, lots of stuff” factor. As a very early collector of the comics, I’m partial to the Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition ($99.98 – but phew, not $100!), which comes with 14 discs (including the Richard Donner version of Superman II and loads of extras) and total non-portability.

But perhaps your gift recipient is a Bond fan? Check out the James Bond Ultimate Collector’s Set ($289.98) with its whopping 42 discs (Never Say Never Again and other “unofficials” not included).

As for me, I’m actually hoping for the collector’s set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – was that too subtle of a hint? Mom?

Other “Ultimates”:
Blade Runner Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition ($78.92) comes in one of those super spy, I’m handcuffed to this, shiny metal briefcases. Ooo, shiny.
Essential Art House – 50 Years of Janus Films ($850) might break the bank, but with 50 discs, you get a huge slice of indie film history all in one place.

Portable DVD player – A bit of a classic but always a good choice. I got one of these (plus that Netflix subscription) one year for the holidays and it was the best day (almost better than a basket of mini-muffins – sorry, in an oblique references to Friends mood) … Ah, materialism. For one that will last you beyond the next year’s holiday season, expect to pay about $150 and up.

Movie magazine subscription – Something they will literally enjoy (or at least receive) for a year. They range from mainstream (Entertainment Weekly) to humorously British (my favorite, Empire) to Hollywood (Variety). Depending on seasonal offers, a year’s subscription can run anywhere from about $20-40 (EW) to over $150 (international subscribers to Empire). For more film magazine options, click here.

Video editing software – For the aspiring filmmaker. Expect to pay around $70-$100 (from what I can tell). For help picking the right one (who can tell them all apart? capability to do what exactly?), if your budding director hasn’t given you very specific requests, go here for PC Mag’s detailed guide to buying video editing software.

The holidays only come once a year… right?

Maya and RenderMan – If you know someone who is really (really, really) into 3D animation – like, “Pixar or bust” into animation – then they are probably drooling over these computer programs, if they don’t have them already. Autodesk’s Maya software, “the current king-of-the-hill in high-end 3D animation software” (according to 3DRender.com), is the program to beat, and since you can’t get more name-brand than Pixar, throw the 3D animation king’s own rendering software into the mix as well with their RenderMan for Maya product.

Of course, you get what you pay for, and sadly, you will pay for these products: at about $4,000 and $1,000 respectively, these pricey animation gifts clearly eliminate any need for additional stocking stuffers – or any gifts for the next 10 years, for that matter.

James Bond accessories – Sure, that Ultimate DVD set is nice and all, but why just watch Bond when you can look like him? Check out Bond Lifestyle to find the stuff that the movie spy and his associates actually use and wear. Items range from the Omega watch seen in Casino Royale (about $2,500) to Brioni suits ($5,000-ish) to a sterling silver Aston Martin keychain (approx. $400).

The site also includes a list of the watches worn in the 007 films. They probably won’t shoot darts or help unzip a dress (not literally anyway), but nothing’s perfect. For a history of Bond watches, click here.

That Ferrari you’ve always wanted

Now that winning a part in a Will Ferrell movie is off the market, what gifts are there for a movie lover to dream about – or actually purchase, for those ridiculously wealthy people out there (any lottery ticket now!)?

Design your own Star Trek apartment – Although the original sold for over $800,000, get your own room, house or apartment transformed into an insanely authentic replica of the Star Trek starship by the guy who built it. No joke – if you haven’t seen pictures of what this guy did to his apartment, click here now to visit his official “24th Century Interior Design” website.

Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane Oscar – On December 11th, Sotheby’s is auctioning off the only Oscar that this über-acclaimed flick ever won (believe it or not): Best Writing, Original Screenplay. The Oscar was shared by Welles and Herman Mankiewicz. It’s expected to fetch around $1 million, but $800,000 at the very least. Steep, you say? Well, there’s nothing like literally holding Oscar glory in the palm of your hand. Or at least, Sotheby’s hopes so.

Home movie theater – Sure, that 60″ flat screen is nice, but really, it’s got nothing on a full-on luxury movie theater in your own home. In the US, companies like Gramophone, Sound Image and New England’s Home Entertainment Expo will design you a seriously jealousy-enducing home theater. Think huge leather chairs, fully integrated sound system, paneled walls, high definition lowered screen, and those essential movie curtain drapes. MTV Cribs will be knocking down your door within weeks – if they aren’t busy with those Star Trek-inspired homes of course.

If you don’t want to go quite this far, check out about.com’s list of movie theater accessories (from a projection screen to a vintage popcorn maker – nothing like the smell of popcorn throughout your entire house to make you feel that the expense was totally worth it).

Or go for the sleek accent look and purchase these stage / movie – style polished steel light fixtures from NY boutique staple, Mxyplyzyk (yep, named after that dimensional Superman villain, and it’s pronounced mix-ee-pliz-ik according to the store).

** For more similar, exactly the same and not so similar gift suggestions for movie fans, see Jenny Lauck’s thoughtful list. Also check out Moviefone’s gift guide. It’s a lot less practical than Lauck’s (think “Dumbledore gay pride” t-shirts), but, as a result, great eye candy and perfect fodder for internet procrastination. I know I at least am definitely getting that voice-changing Optimus Prime helmet for a, um, friend.


Best blogs from movie celebrities

October 2, 2007

With so many blogs on entertainment these days, how do you know where to go to get the juiciest stuff? (besides, obviously, going to this blog!) You go straight to the source, of course! For better or for, well, worse, many celebrities, or at least people who would kind of look familiar if you saw them on the street, are actually blogging.

Here are some of the best entertainer blogs out there, organized, most conveniently if I do say so myself, into easy referencing categories:

Quirky fun – is there anything better?

Kevin Smith (My Boring-Ass Life) – From the wealth of content here, some might argue not so boring, but in either case, this blog features relatively regular posts (up to a couple times a week) from the man behind Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Mallrats, and, of course, the whole Jay and Silent Bob saga regarding what he is up to these days. Features lots and lots of pictures, long posts and helpful information about Smith’s new projects and appearances – all told, naturally, with his signature dry, self-deprecating, casually R-rated humor.

Zach Braff – More down-to-earth chatter from that quirky guy from Scrubs and Garden State. Yes, he has “shameless plugs” (his words, not mine) in his blog, and not just in their officially designated area, but they’re scattered amongst (unfortunately infrequent – about once a month) blog posts full of funny and casual chatter. Skip past the seemingly obligatory “sorry it’s been awhile” at the top of each post and you’ll find cool nuggets of fun. My favorite – Zach’s answers to posted questions:

Answers to questions:
No
Yes
Cinnamon raisin.
That sounds like it would hurt me. No thanks.
Wrinkly, like a stone mason’s elbow.
I have several.
It depends; if it’s itching and burning, I would see a doctor.

Also included in the blog: videos, his favorite music, and yes, “Shameless Plugs.”

Funny or Die – Okay, yes, not technically a blog, but it does include a blog! (So ha!) This video site from Gary Sanchez Productions, a production company run by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay (SNL writer, director Talladega Nights and Anchorman) and Chris Henchy (producer on Entourage), features original comedy videos from Ferrell and other celebrity guests as well as user-generated content. Users vote on which videos are funny and which, alas, are not and thus deserve to die (get it – funny… or die?). The blog itself features such gems as:

I spent the last week in Reno and it was great. I went there with some eyeshadow and a dream and came back with a vanity license plate, a sprained ankle and a new husband, one Mr. Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Just for the suspense

Matt Groening – Is it a blog? Maybe a Simpsons archive? The future site for a new version of Mr. X? Or, gasp, a top secret storage space for as yet unaired Simpsons scripts? Sigh. We may never know. As Matt Groening himself says, according to simpsonsfolder.com:

I’ve reserved mattgroening.com. (Laughs) It’s said “This Site Is Under Construction” for three years now. I’ll get around to it. I know how disappointed I am when I go to a Web site and nothing has changed, and until I’m ready to wade in on a regular basis, I’m holding back.

Well, I suppose we’ll have to take his word for it. For now.

Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Wil Wheaton – If you’re a recent convert to the movie blogosphere, this name might not sound familiar, but for an actor who once starred in Stand by Me (1986) and Star Trek, Wil Wheaton has quickly become what the New York Times (not too shabby of a reference) called “a quirky star of the blogosphere” in 2005. With an important dose of that ever-popular self-deprecating humor, Wil’s blog features frequent posts (almost every day or so), pictures and favorite music. For you Alexaholics (you know who you are), his Alex rank currently stands at 110, 149, which ain’t too bad for a random blog. The blog is currently up for a Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2007 Bloggies.

The Omnipresence Award

Rosie O’Donnell – People are just going crazy over this thing. Now admittedly, the recent scandal can’t have hurt, but it certainly does feel like everything really is coming up Rosie (sorry, it was just too easy). Quotes from the blog, pretty much Rosie’s personal press agent at this point, pop up all over the news media (“on her personal blog,” “in a post on her official blog,” etc. etc. You get the idea). The blog itself is a tribute to all things Rosie, presented in that classic Internet format (i.e., no caps or punctuation) and in, well, poetry, plus photos, videos, links to her charities, and, of course, her gift shop. Posts are impressively frequent for a celebrity blogger – essentially every day. The blog currently has the most votes for “Best Celebrity Blogger” at the Blogger’s Choice Awards.

For “flans”-in-training (and those who understand what that means)

Nathan Fillion – The charismatic star of the cult film Serenity (and the Joss Whedon show, Firefly, on which the movie was based) writes every month or so on his MySpace blog about his life, interests and the crazy world around him. His down-home, direct talk is funny and refreshing and makes for an enjoyable read, although you may struggle not to be jealous as he describes his visit to the only paper supply office truly worth visiting:

I had lunch at the Office a few weeks ago. The Annex, the kitchen, the office itself- it’s all real! There is so much space between Pam’s desk and Dwight’s that I never knew about. I rummaged through Michael’s safe. I watched as cast members updated their myspace pages and checked their emails while on lunch, but at their character’s desks! Can you believe it? Now, many of you may have weirded out- sputtering stupid things excitedly while being ushered around on a first class tour. I’ll have you know… I’m not above that. Thank you, Jenna, for putting up with the high pitched squels [sic] of excitement, the stupid questions, and demanding that you answer as Pam.

And just cuz I can’t resist plugging it, if you’re as into The Office as Nathan here, and especially if you’re not into it at all, check out Jenna (aka, Jenna Fischer – Pam Beesley)’s own MySpace blog on my blogroll.

For the Faerie in you

Neil Gaiman – The award-winning author of illustrated fantasy works like The Sandman and Stardust (yep, the one that recent film is based on) and the co-author of the new Beowulf film shares his many, naturally well-worded, thoughts on his life, works, appearances, and other projects, and answers questions from fans and others. There are also lots of extras: book excerpts, interviews, essays, background info on some of his books, a schedule of his appearances, various message boards, and so on.

In memorium

Quentin Tarantino – The now-defunct diary of “QT.” Sure, it was fake, but hey, nobody’s perfect, right? And it certainly had its crazy day in the sun while it lasted.

Misc.

Other celebrities with a will to blog:

David Hewlett – The guy from Stargate: Atlantis (Dr. McKay) and the director of the recent independent film A Dog’s Breakfast shares his thoughts, and promotes his film, at this well-liked blog.

Michael Moore – The documentary star finally finds a way to express himself.

William Shatner – How could this guy not have a blog, I ask you? Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder.

The Huffington Post – Features blog entries from David Mamet, John Cusack, Christopher Guest, Ellen DeGeneres, and more. Click on the Huffington Post link for an index of all Huffington bloggers, or go here for the Wikipedia list of celebrity bloggers on the site.

Goro Miyazaki – From a man who knows something about living in a father’s shadow, the son of acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki discusses the development of his animated film, Tales from Earthsea, based on the Ursula LeGuin novels. For those of you who can read Japanese, enjoy! For us mere mortals, here is the English translation.

Margaret Cho – The well-known comedienne (Notorious C.H.O and, believe it or not, Face-Off) shares her thoughts on life, loves and the world at large, as well as many, many (many, many) pictures and videos.

Pamela Anderson – The eternal blond bombshell writes personal, and frequent, entries about her life, malicious rumors and the world at large in her bubblegummy diary (and I mean that literally – I’m suddenly craving something pink and fluffy…).

Michelle Rodriguez – Lengthy but sporadic messages from the tough Fast and the Furious and Lost beauty on her official website.

And finally…

Check out EW’s best and worst celebrity blogs for their take on some of these blogs, and others not mentioned here.


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

September 10, 2007

Is the new title of the Indiana Jones 4 movie, according to Shia LaBoeuf’s announcement at MTV’s Video Music Awards.

Huh. Well, that’s… nice.

Here are other worrying, and encouraging, details about the new Indiana Jones movie:

1)  It will star Shia LaBoeuf (Transformers), John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, Lord of the Rings), Ray Winstone (King Arthur, Sexy Beast, Beowulf), Harrison Ford (if you don’t know who he is, I can’t help you) and Karen Allen, who played “Marion Ravenwood” in Raiders of the Lost Ark and will be returning to the role in this film.

2)  It will NOT star Sean Connery, who gives the excuse that “retirement is just too damned much fun.” I see. But The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was worth the break from retirement?

3)  Spielberg is directing again and George Lucas exec-producing.

4)  The script was written by David Koepp, no stranger to big-budget action flicks (and Spielberg) with his screenplays for War of the Worlds, Spider-man (1 and the upcoming 4), Jurassic Park and Lost World, and Mission: Impossible.

5)  It will be released in the summer of next year, May 22, 2008. According to Firstshowing.net, also released that month will be Iron Man, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (the new Judd Apatow film starring Kristin Bell from the now defunct “Veronica Mars.”)

6)  Other possible titles for Indy 4 included (according to slashfilm.com): Indiana Jones + City of Gods / Destroyer of Worlds / Fourth Corner of the Earth / Lost City of Gold / Quest for the Covenant. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more excited about a movie that’s about a city of gods or, even more so, a lost city of gold, than one that’s about some sort of crystal skull. Come on, El Dorado: Indiana Jones style? Awesome.

7)  Intriguingly, there is actually a ride at the DisneySea Park in Tokyo named Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull. It’s not even a new ride either. Could the Indiana Jones 4 team be pulling a Pirates of the Caribbean for this new installment?


Best and Worst Mythology Movies – sorry, ‘King Arthur.’

August 28, 2007

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a myth geek. I even read academic books about myths in my spare time (yuck, I know). Which is why, as a movie geek too, I was so excited when my favorite film magazine, UK’s Empire, recently posted a blog entry by Helen O’Hara on Hollywood’s recent interest in movies based on classic myth or legend.

O’Hara, a self-proclaimed “history geek and fantasy lover,” makes a few choice comments about the recent film updates (“Troy works wonderfully as a silent movie” and so on) and what she would like to see in the future (Táin Bó Cúailnge, anyone?). And since I’m, well, a history geek and fantasy lover myself, I couldn’t resist using her entry as inspiration to make a list of what I believe are my favorite and least favorite movies based on myths and legends.

MOST FUN

The Mummy – I believe I’ve said it before, but this is one of those guilty pleasure movies that I can watch again and again (and I do). I love ancient Egypt and ancient Egyptian mythology, and this has got fun spins on both. A Book of the Dead made entirely out of some sort of hardened black substance? Sure, why not. A Mummy that brings with it the ten plagues of Egypt? An interesting take on the Bible, but okay. An expert on ancient Egypt as an action heroine? It’s about time! Fun, entertaining (sometimes in a campy sort of way), action-packed, somewhat romantic, and rooted in Egyptian myth, The Mummy’s got it all.

Troy – Okay, it has its weak points (for me, the Paris/Helen chemistry-free romance), but it’s got some awesome fight scenes (Brad Pitt vs. Eric Bana in a gracefully brutal Achilles and Hector showdown) and I have to admit that I was touched by the love story of Achilles and Briseis, whether or not it was true to Homer’s The Iliad, the movie’s basis.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Not for everyone, this is one of those movies that most people I know either love or just don’t get. Me? I still crack up at the opening scene (I’m getting better!) and:

-What is your favorite color?

-Blue. No yel- Ahhhh!

And who can not appreciate an extended discussion on the flight capabilities of the African swallow?

StargateThis is myth-based, you say? Of course it is! Clearly it is simply a sci-fi retelling of ancient Egyptian myth. Who is the god Ra? Why he’s an alien, of course! How else do you think they built the pyramids? (Riley from National Treasure, you were right all along) In any case, it’s got Kurt Russell and James Spader battling it out with that guy from The Crying Game in an alien version of ancient Egypt. It doesn’t get more fun than that.

Aladdin (Disney) – Perhaps not the most accurate adaptation of the Arabian Nights (if the tale of Aladdin is a Nights tale at all), but probably the most financially successful one. Who would’ve thought that Robin Williams as a blue genie could be so much fun? And don’t even try to deny that you’ve had “A Whole New World” stuck in your head at some point or another – for better or for worse.

Hororable Mentions: Ghostbusters and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Okay, a bit of a stretch perhaps, but the use of a Sumerian god, Gozer, and an Aztec curse? They might both be fictional, but still clearly influenced by mythology.

CAMPIEST (and thus, lots of fun as well)

Clash of the Titans – This is truly a camp classic of mythology. Presenting the tale of Perseus and Medusa with stop-motion animation (see the giant monster Kraken move jerkily forward to attack!), this 1981 film has got enough action, fantasy and romance to satisfy anyone. Not convinced? Then go for the actors who play the gods: Maggie Smith plays Thetis, Ursula Andress is Aphrodite (Venus), and Laurence Olivier himself plays Zeus. And for you gamers out there, Harry Hamlin, who does the voice of Perseus in God of War II, originated the role in this movie.

Comingsoon.net reports that Warner Bros. is scripting a remake. Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time.

Jason and the Argonauts – Another stop-motion animated classic, but this time from 1963. It’s a retelling of the classic myth of Jason and his crew of Argonauts (including Hercules), and their search for the Golden Fleece. If you like Clash of the Titans, you’ll like this.

Excalibur – Another cult classic. A dramatic and violent, and beautifully shot, retelling of King Arthur and his knights. With Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Bryne, Liam Neeson, and others. Be prepared for lots of mist!

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys / Xena: Warrior Princess – I know they’re not technically movies, but you know I had to include them.

The Thief of Baghdad (1924) – Watch the caliph’s daughter swoon over Douglas Fairbank’s swashbuckling (yes, swashbuckling) Aladdin in silent black and white. Need I say more?

Honorable Mention: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Referencing classical mythology and Celtic folklore, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is of course the classic comedy by William Shakespeare. It is, however, also a recent film from Fox Searchlight. Sit back, relax, and watch stars like Calista Flockhart, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale, Kevin Kline, and Stanley Tucci have lots of fun running around in the forest, while occasionally tripping over Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.

MINISERIES (solid and not too shabby)

The Odyssey (1997) – Okay, I can give adaptations a hard time, but let’s admit it, it’s not easy to adapt a classic epic, especially one that is one of the most famous in the Western world. Although not perfect (but what is?), this miniseries with Armand Assante as Odysseus manages to pull off a solid retelling and keep many of the tale’s details intact. Also starring Vanessa Williams, Isabella Rosselini and Christopher Lee.

Mists of Avalon – Based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s popular King Arthur epic with a feminist twist, I didn’t think this was half-bad. The book was still worlds better, but a solid adaptation nonetheless. Plus, Michael Vartan plays Lancelot!

Helen of Troy (2003) – I’m torn on this one. One of those “this is the true story of…”, it doesn’t necessarily always stick directly to the original mythology. Plus, some of the legendary characters get short shrift; Achilles and Hector who? But I still found the miniseries – about the Trojan War from the perspective of its famous beauty – entertaining at times and usually fun to watch, and it contains many of the characters left out of other adaptations (Cassandra, Pollux, poor Iphigenia, even Kings Atreus and Theseus make appearances).

Arabian Nights (2000) – Nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, this adaptation of the 1001 Nights plays up the romance between Scheherazade and Sultan Schariar, to whom Scheherazade must tell a story every night in order to put off her execution at his hands. It’s got its campy moments, but it doesn’t digress as much from the Nights as other adaptations and Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II, Ever After) and Mili Avital (From Stargate! It’s all coming together…) are convincing as the troubled king and his beautiful storyteller.

Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King – A miniseries that aired on the Sci-Fi channel and is based on the Germanic tale, The Nibelungenlied (nee-buh-luhng-ehn-leed, I believe – it’s a very impressive name to mention at parties). Ever heard of Wagner’s Ring cycle? Also partly based on The Nibelungenlied (translation: Song of the Nibelungs). Benno Furmann, a Kevin Sorbo look-alike with his long hair, plays Siegfried, the hero and dragon-slayer, and Alicia Witt is Kriemhild, his sometime lover. Kristanna Loken plays the other lover, the warrior Brunhilde. Not bad for a miniseries, it’s got lots of fun, smoldering dialogue and special effects. It lags at times, but generally provides lots of often campy fun. It was originally released outside of the US and under various different titles, including Ring of the Nibelungs.

BEST

Spirited AwayHayao Miyazaki‘s beautiful and haunting animated movie was heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto mythology and tradition. It tells the tale of a girl who wanders into a supernatural world populated by all manner of magical creatures. The film won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Just goes to show that you don’t need fancy CGI to make a stunning animated film. If you’ve seen this and liked it, go rent My Neighbor Totoro. An earlier film by Miyazaki, it’s the story of two young sisters and their adventures with magical spirits. Playful and fun, but also moving.

Whale Rider – Set in New Zealand, the film uses Maori myth and tradition to captivating and poignant effect. It’s a touching story about a girl growing up to become a leader in a male-dominated society. The lead actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes, was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film at the age of 13.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Like Monty Python, most people I know either really like this or don’t get it at all. An odd, yet oddly captivating, retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, the movie follows three ex-prisoners in the 1930s as they encounter a Cyclops, sirens and more on their search for treasure and love. George Clooney is Ulysses and Holly Hunter plays the modern Penelope, “Penny.” In my opinion, all worth it for the scenes with the Soggy Bottom Boys.

Ramayan (1987-88) – A hugely successful Indian “miniseries” that recounts the famous epic story of Rama and Sita, ancient heroes in Hindu tradition. According to Wikipedia, the series was watched by over 100 million people when it was first on the air. It can move at a slow pace and may seem campy to Western audiences, but it’s lovingly done and an Indian classic. It’s also a great way to learn more about beloved Hindu figures. The whole thing is 78 episodes long (no, that’s not a typo), so if you haven’t seen any of it, catch an episode of it sometime if you can.

Fritz Lang’s Die NibelungenThe Nibelungenlied again, but this time in silent black and white. The famous director of Metropolis tells the epic tale in two parts (Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge). Slow but powerful.

WORST

Hercules (Disney animated) – I just don’t like this movie, I’m sorry. Hades as a used car salesman type? No, no, no, and no. Not for me.

King Arthur – I love Clive Owen, and have a soft spot in my heart for Keira Knightley due to her beautiful portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, but I was not impressed by this movie. They were striving for the “real story” of King Arthur, and I respect that, but it just didn’t work.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (animated) – Yet another example of why celebrity voices alone (Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones) can’t sell a movie.

UM…

Pasolini’s Il Fiore delle mille e una notte (The Flower of the One Thousand and One Nights) – I really don’t know what to say about this film. It defies description. Critically acclaimed, yes, but I’m just not sure I get it. Be warned though: for adult audiences ONLY.

The Fountain – Lots of references to Mayan myth, but again… ?

TO BE DETERMINED

Beowulf – Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother? I’m suspicious, but willing to give co-screenwriter Neil Gaiman the benefit of the doubt. For my review, click here.

Thor – In development, an adaptation of the Norse superhero in the Marvel Comics. For more, go here for Rotten Tomatoes’ news of the event.

Yes, I know I’ve missed some (First Knight and Camelot come to mind – even The Matrix and Star Wars), and probably many, but this list can’t go on forever. What can I say? The ones above are the films that made the strongest impression on me, for better or worse.

For great print versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Arabian Nights, check out Neil Gaiman’s Dream Country for his award-winning take on Shakespeare’s play, and Fables and Reflections for a look at the world of the Nights – both volumes are part of Gaiman’s Sandman series.