[This missive is being re-posted for those that may not have seen it on FILM+TV, 6/16/10]
I recently read an article on HBO's new series "Game of Thrones" that's premiering in 2011. That simple announcement woke a sleeping geek that has been dormant for a while now. The Sword & Sorcery Geek. (The SSG, also know as the D&D Geek, or that poor guy Mintz-Plasse played in "Role Models.)
Early on in my geek days I was a total superhero nut - JLA, Spiderman, Legion of Super-heroes - reaching it's zenith with the Byrne & Claremont Uncanny X-men era. Next came Blasters and Lightsabers (Of course!). Then, for a brief shining moment in the 80's, I fell in love with the realm of fantasy.
I had (unsucessfully) tried my hand at D&D when I was in high school. And fantasy was always on the perifery of my geekdar but I had not been sucked in yet. That is until 1981 and the release of three movies that would alter the course of history! (Not really, but it momentarliy shifted my own trajectory.)
They were: "Clash of the Titans", "Dragonslayer", and "Excalibur". And in that order they became the meal that served to fuel the SSG.
The Appetizer: Titans with it's ridiculusly hairy Harry Hamlin and timeless Ray Harryhausen creature effects. Oh, and Bubo of course. "Release the Kraken!"
The Main Course: Dragonslayer. OMG that movie was awesome! Disney's first PG rated film (made with partner Paramount) was the first great screen dragon I can remember. Made with a combination of practical and Go Motion effects created by Industrial Light and Magic it raised the bar for visual effects that were to follow. (Guillermo del Toro has stated that “One of the best and one of the strongest landmarks [of dragon movies] that almost nobody can overcome is Dragonslayer [a 1981 movie]. The design of the Vermithrax Pejorative is perhaps one of the most perfect creature designs ever made.").
Dessert: Excalibur. I was so taken with John Boorman's film that I must have seen it a half-dozen times at the Mohawk Mall Cinema when it came out. It's hard to put my finger on it but Boorman's gritty, bloody battle scenes, Nicol Williamson's Merlin and the beauty of the locations (Ireland) all made for an incredible, incredible vision of medieval and fantastical Camelot.
After this trifecta immersion in cinematic fantasy, 1982 proved to be the year that the SSG would reign supreme.
Three more fantasy films came out that spring/summer; "The Sword and the Sorcerer" in April, "Conan The Barbarian" in May and "The Beastmaster" that August. These films had all the trappings of B-movie wonderment. Scantily clad females, over-muscled, crazy-coiffed heroes and really cool, badass swords. None of them could match the vision or splendor of "Excalibur" but for me it was "Conan" that stood out as the best of the lot. Baby-faced Ah-nuld, competent direction by John Milius a great score by Basil Poledouris and an appearance by Darth Vader, er, James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom. I was loving it, this whole fantasy thing was turning out to be alright! But it was a fantasy book series that truly cemented the deal.
By chance I discovered a paperback copy of Pawn of Prophecy at the Price Chopper supermarket on Central Avenue (next to Kmart) in September of 1982. That one book started a long list of now gone and forgotten fantasy novels read and reread over the next few years. I scoured the local Waldenbooks (Colonie Center and Mohawk Mall) to find the second book - of David Eddings "The Belgariad" - Queen of Sorcery. After devouring that book I would have to wait a whole year for Magician's Gambit. Castle of Wizardry and Enchanters' End Game followed in 1984.
This series of books, to this day, stands as my favorite sword and sorcery series (book, movie, TV or comic). The characters were wonderfully written, the story starts with a great emotional hook and an introduction of memorable foes and heroes alike. And by the end of five books you were satisfied with the outcome of the story and STILL you wanted more. I would continue reading the odd series here and there and collect all of the Eddings books that followed, but they all paled compared to The Belgariad.
1982 ended with the perfect Christmas gift in the form of "The Dark Crystal". Here too is a film that is a classic and forever linked to that magic time in the 1980's. My SSG was again thoroughly enamored with a fantastical world of crazy creatures, epic adventure and winning heroes. It didn't hurt that all this magic was brought to us by the Muppet masters at Henson Studios. The original "The Muppet Movie", "The Muppet Show" and "The Dark Crystal" are the best pieces of work they have produced. Read The World of The Dark Crystal for a look at Brian Froud's amazing artwork and character designs.
The 80's continued with a string of not-so-great and absolutely great fantasy films. My personal favorites include: Krull (1983), The Black Cauldron (1985), Ladyhawke (1985), Legend (1985), Highlander (1986), The Princess Bride (1987) and Willow (1988).
And just like that it was over. "Willow" (which I loved) was the last hurrah of the Sword & Sorcery Geek. There were no more great movies to see or books to read. I'm not sure when he actually went to sleep and gave way to more mature pursuits (chuckle) like work and college and ya know, real life. I still like fantasy and really like Anne McCaffrey's Dragons (more sci-fi I guess) and now Naomi Novik's Temeraire (Historic Fantasy?) series. But I hadn't invested in another fantasy book series until I read Tad Williams' The Dragonbone Chair: Book One of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn a few years ago followed by Across the Nightingale Floor: Tales of the Otori, Book 1 by Lian Hearn. Both of which are just terrific, please take the time to them.
But now comes George R.R. Martin's massive seven tome epic: A Song of Ice and Fire. The brief footage and the few publicity stills from "Game of Thrones" [check out Sean Bean, below, as Eddard Stark... Boromir lives!]
was enough for me to go out and buy the first book in the series "A Game of Thrones" and immediately dive in. So far it's very cool. Lots of made up names with overly long titles attached, far off exotic sounding lands, haunted forests and characters that speak impossibly poetic and wordy prose. AND an immence wall of ice that protects them from the mysterious 'Others' in the north.
So what is it about this work that has me excited enough to read a massive epic fantasy and add yet another one-hour drama to the DVR queue? Well, simply put; HBO. The cable network has been home to such greats as "Deadwood", "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under". I know they will have quality production values, great actors, great writing and great directing. This isn't going to be "Xena" or "Hercules". It isn't going to be the sadly laughable "Dragon Wars" or "Dungeon and Dragons" movie. And it definitley won't be some SyFy Saturday Night Crap-Fest ("Sharktopus" anyone?)!
Since it's chic to be geek right now the SSG is back and ready for action... Bring me my sword!
Summers span decades. Winters can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.
It will stretch from the south where heat breeds plots, lusts and intrigues; to the vast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men…all will play the ‘Game of Thrones.’