Tag Archives: Fantasy

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

I found the original draft of my Last Unicorn graphic novel review. This is completely different in tone and length from what was  published in the San Francisco Book Review last January 4, 2012.

This review has comments on the ending. To read the hidden spoilers, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

A nice addition to the graphic novel section of the library. Not in photo: my Hellblazers and Alan Moore.

Peter S. Beagle is a familiar name to most fantasy readers since his introduction graced many a paperback copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Yet for me, growing up in the Philippines, that was the only contact I had with the name for years. Even back then I knew he must be an important writer, because unimportant writers don’t write introductions to other people’s books. But as to coming across one of his books, lack of access was an issue.

 Some college friends were lucky enough to grow up with The Last Unicorn. In hindsight I envy them. I didn’t have any luck finding a VHS tape of the animated version, either, in that part of the world. After a few years of curiosity I simply gave up.

So getting a copy of the new graphic novel adaptation in the mail was nothing short of a dormant dream come true.

I was a little worried about being too old to like it. There are some texts that should be read at the appropriate age. I remembered feeling incredibly let down when I read C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew a couple of years ago. i I feel the need to apologize to all hardcore Narnia fans but I simply could not stand being talked down to by that insufferable man. It reeked of the overbearing Catholicism I couldn’t stand since elementary school.

Thankfully, The Last Unicorn is more accessible to my adult mind, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt there were some gaps in the narrative, probably caused by condensing a novel to its graphic novel form, but the basic story still worked well. The art by Renae de Liz and Ray Dillion was also apt and beautiful.

I was worried that after a few pages, The Last Unicorn would explode into full-on shoujo sparkles and glitter, but no, it didn’t happen. The unicorn’s transformation into a mere mortal was incredibly painful to read. I found it awful that she forgot about her quest at one point, but I suppose enchantments will do that, even to a strong character.

The Last Unicorn’s last plight ultimately reminds me of the subtle tragedies of childhood, and how a little experience can taint everything. I probably would have cried buckets if I read this as a child. That it can affect me, even now, is probably a mark of a brilliant piece of fantasy.

A Fire Demon’s Humble Opinion

A Fire Demon’s Humble Opinion

I’ve been playing Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7 during mental breaks from research. Apparently, Dumbledore agrees: Privet Drive is greater than Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

 

“Nobody’s safe in a wizard’s house.”

 

—Calcifer in Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) 

Merlyn’s Cure for Sadness

Merlyn’s Cure for Sadness

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

— Merlyn in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958)

Review: Wizard People, Dear Reader

Review: Wizard People, Dear Reader

A longer version of this post first appeared on my old blog last June 27, 2009. 

 

Okay, let me start at the beginning. There’s this cartoonist named Brad Neely. He recorded an audio track meant to be played alongside Harry Potter’s and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) with the original sound turned off. In fact, you can download the entire thing and play it as an audio book over here. (Update: the original link is now dead! Sorry.)

If you’re lazy, though, other HP fans have made it easy by playing Neely’s audio over the film and posting it all over YouTube. Since it’s an unauthorized piece of genius, the videos keep getting flagged, so most of the links might go stale after a couple of months (or years).

Why am I reviewing this? Because it’s funny in an insane sort of way, and it kept Adam and I in stitches for over a week (we were watching it in installment.) With his harsh, raspy voice, Neely re-imagines the space of the film into something superior to the original. The humor is spontaneous, with a lot of ad-libs and meanderings. His language is colorful, with the most purple prose never seen in print since The Fireless Inferno.

For instance, Neely refers to Harry most of the time as “HP” or “Harry fucking Potter,” and never fails to give him a moment of badassery, profanity, and drunkenness. Coupled with the moving images of a very young (and clueless) Daniel Radcliffe, it’s just… brilliant.

I guess it’s easy to laugh when Maggie Smith is called “Hardcastle McCormick” and you are being told that Alan Rickman is a woman, and that Turkish Massage Owls are on the to-buy list of school supplies for freshmen, and…

Oh, forget about me, just watch it on YouTube. Seriously.

Since I am being an effusive, complete dork about this, I hope someone starts a campaign for this guy to make the sequels, although I’m pretty sure he can’t because of all the lawsuits already filed. Sigh.

Film Review: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Film Review: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

This was posted to my old blog last February 25, 2010.

This review mentions some minor plot spoilers.

 

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is one of those films that lingers at the back of one’s mind, long after it’s been viewed. I watched it last January, began a review, then got too busy to finish it. More than a month later, here I am, still thinking about it. So here goes:

I was excited to get a couple of hours off from Serious Family Matters to go to the local cinema to watch The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Ricky may have introduced me to the cult of all things Monty Python, but I was a Terry Gilliam fan before knowing who he was a member of that gang. I loved Time Bandits and The Fisher King long before I knew the same guy directed both films. (Yes, I remember the Jurassic era known as pre-IMDB.)

I also have to admit to a morbid sort of curiosity towards what others simply call “Heath Ledger’s last film.” In case you didn’t know, Gilliam is notorious for being the most unfortunate director in Hollywood; his films are always plagued with accidents, budget problems, and fights with producers and distributors. When I first read about Gilliam’s predicament, I was like, ZOMG! Just how, exactly, would Gilliam deal with the problem of his lead actor passing away before filming was completed? It boggled my mind.

Enough rambling and useless trivia, though.

The first onscreen image of Heath Ledger is uncanny and ominous. He is shown, dressed in a white suit and half-strangled by a rope. It’s kind of shocking to see a dead guy play a half-dead guy! He dangles under a bridge until the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a seemingly low-budget sideshow troupe, cut him down and rescue him. His name is Tony, and that’s all he can remember. For the lack of anything better to do, Tony tags along with the Imaginarium and tries to help their “show” reach an upscale market… if only he understood what he was actually selling to the crowd.

One of the subplots of the film revolves around the recovery of Tony’s memory, and the awful crimes he committed. Make no mistake about it: Tony is a con man… but such a charming, passionate one.

After his establishing scenes, I expected for Ledger to simply fade away, but no. There was more Heath Ledger than I was initially led to believe. There are just a handful of scenes each for Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell who took turns playing Tony, too. (I love Johnny Depp but the crazed look in Jude Law’s eyes was simply awesome.) Gilliam was quite lucky that the story was flexible enough to accommodate the change with actors; I can’t imagine something like Brothers Grimm or Brazil with the same conceit.

But what is the Imaginarium? I won’t spoil that major part of the film, except that its one of those amazing places that is clearly the product of a chaotic genius. It’s the perfect setting for a character like Tony to make amends with his past and decide the course of his future, and for the art direction to run amok with visuals ripe with metaphors.

The film is full of the usual Pythonesque elements: giant sculptures with gaping mouths and rolling tongues, dancing bobbies, crossing-dressing young men. But even if someone is not familiar with the TV series, these visuals are still funny, and sometimes overwhelming. They definitely make it essential for the film to be watched on a large screen.

Like most of Gilliam’s work, The Imaginarium is a crazy roller coaster ride into fantasy and the dark side of the soul. Dr. Parnassus may be an immortal who is easily tempted into making bets with the devil, but Dr. Faustus he’s not. Everyone who hitches a ride with him takes a chance with the Imaginarium must make the choice between his own imagination and his most base desires.

It’s tempting to say that Tony and Dr. Parnassus are cinematic stand-ins for the late lead actor and the director, and that all film-making is one long con. Perhaps its a cheap sort of insight to say that Dr. Parnassus’ dilemma is merely a metaphor for Terry Gilliam’s lifelong struggle to tell the stories he wants vis-a-vis the compromise that Hollywood producers always demand from him.

It’s obvious that he’s contemplating the delicate balancing act between telling the tale or letting the devil do it for you. But whether he feels that the greed trumps imagination, I have no idea. Perhaps Gilliam doesn’t know the answer to that either.

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed most of The Imaginarium, the sharp shift of focus at the end felt slightly unsatisfying. Gilliam is not known for clear-cut happy endings, but I feel it might have ended differently if Ledger was around to film the original ending. I would love to read of the script before the rewrites — perhaps they’d put the old storyboards in the DVD release? — to see if I’m right, or just suffering from a very retro desire for Aristotelian dramatic structure.