YouTube HOF: Game of … Thrones and Swords and Magic and Whatnot
Dio — “Mystery”
Chuck Klosterman: Everyone assumes Ronnie James Dio lived in an ancient windswept realm populated by dragons and elfin thieves, but that’s only a fraction of his mythos; after his three-year stint in Black Sabbath, he sometimes roamed sexualized dreamscapes dominated by teenage magicians. It’s sad there are not videos like this today, since this was an excellent way for American kids to learn about lightning and telekinetic conjuring. Things get a little confusing at the 2:30 mark (I feel like Dio’s conflict with the invisible werebear/alien should have been a larger part of the narrative), but at least the onscreen action corresponds with the song’s undeniable chorus. At least we get an accurate portrait of unfathomable reality. Today, this brand of information is far too politicized.
Mark Lisanti: Not to dismiss the excellent contributions of my esteemed colleagues, and this is not a competition, but it’s kind of game over here, isn’t it? Flip over the table and scatter the Magic: The Gathering cards to the winds, roll the 20d, preemptively make whatever AD&D reference Greenwald’s about to pull out. In 1982, the swords-and-sorcery thing was having A Moment, with the release of Conan the Barbarian, an instant classic, and The Beastmaster, which instantly seemed to appear in a nonstop loop on HBO moments after its release in theaters. Take Marc Singer, who resembled Peter Scolari after he stumbled upon Schwarzenegger’s unattended gym bag, add the Doolittlian ability to communicate with animals, a creepy ring with an eyeball in it, some pet ferrets, a scantily clad Tanya Roberts, J.J. Evans’s dad in a thong, some winged demons who greedily digest flesh with a deadly hug and burp out steaming, picked-clean bones, and you have your formula for the greatest movie you could ever stumble upon during an unattended flip through the early 1980s cable grid. Watch the video again, we’ll wait. [Two-minute pause.] So amazing! Let’s watch it again. [Another two minute pause.] Wow, still the greatest thing ever. Come here, I need a hug. It won’t hurt a bit.
Andy Greenwald: I wasn’t going to submit anything to this Hall of Fame due to a deep ambivalence about fantasy. (An ambivalence soon to be on weekly display in my Game of Thrones recaps!) All the genre’s tired tropes — the noble elves, the stalwart dwarves, the nonexistent females — leave me cold. I tend to prefer entertainment where there’s at least an owlbear’s chance in hell of encountering stuff like “humor” or “girls.” But it wasn’t always so: There are plenty of orc skeletons in my Bag of Holding. (Question: Aren’t all bags Bags of Holding? I use mine to carry my Books of Reading and my Gums of Chewing.) When I was a kid I gobbled up installments of the Dragonlance series like they were Otik’s Famous Spiced Potatoes. This was either because they were well-written novels with great psychological insight into the tortured relationship between between half-elves and regular elves, or because they had cool covers. Either way, my submission is this clip from an animated adaptation of Dragons of Autumn Twilight (seriously!) in which Kiefer Sutherland mails in a whispery performance as the ethically challenged mage Raistlin. You can practically hear him cashing 24 residuals in the recording booth while Raistlin uses spooky magic dust to make goblins fall over. +10 Cynicism! +22 Vacation Home! Roll again!
Amos Barshad: Confession: I believe it to be a bit of a bummer that 300 became a punch line so quickly after its release and box-office domination. It was dumb, certainly, but its dumbness was self-aware (maybe it wasn’t quite in on the joke, but it at least knew the joke was there, and it didn’t care much if you made it) and calculated for awesome maximum spectacle. Watch the “This Is Sparta” scene again — why are all the messengers, who have shown up from a hostile enemy to deliver a blood threat, hovering so precariously near the edge of that giant hole? Who cares! It makes kicking them/stabbing them in the stomach in slow motion look that much radder. Years later, as seen above, the movie would inspire a bit of pitch-perfect, tedium-based juvenility on Party Down via a joke delivered at the expense of Martin Starr’s character, Roman. I laughed when I watched this scene, but just to cover up my shame.
Chris Ryan: Funny story. This was the probably the first film for adults I ever saw. I still remember sort of peaking my head into the living room when my parents were watching this on VHS and saying, “What’s this?” I was clearly confused by the lack of Voltron involved in the story, but stuck with it. My parents must have been tired or otherwise distracted because she allowed me to sit through this John Boorman-directed telling of the Arthurian legend, which happens to feature a few scenes where knights rather forcefully make love to maidens while wearing full suits of armor. You can imagine my surprise when high school came around and you were expected to lose the chain mail during intimate moments. The movie is still pretty awesome, even if it features a ridiculous amount of overacting (especially from Nicol Williamson, who plays Merlin). Also, this film wonderfully features Carl Orff’s probably overused “Carmina Burana,” as you can see from the scene above.
The Worst Sword Fight Ever
Mike Philbrick: While this doesn’t open with a tone-setting weapon lick like this clip, it still has most of your Game of Thrones action in a really shitty, postapocalyptic kind of way. There are no horses, but there is a winged jet pack and what appears to be Marty McFly’s hover board (with knives!). There are swords, of course, but there is also a gun — something I highly recommend you bring to a sword fight. Indy agrees with me. But if you bring a gun to a sword fight and still lose like this guy does, you definitely get what’s coming to you Ned Stark-style: a good, old-fashioned beheading.
Legolas Kills the Oliphant
Dan Silver: I want to loathe Orlando Bloom. His doe-eyed, angelic face and whispery line delivery are like nails being dragged on a chalkboard. But I can’t hate him. He’s Legolas. The badass Elven Warrior who has some of the best action moments in The Holy Trilogy (I removed this moniker from Star Wars once Jar Jar appeared onscreen). And no scene is better than when Legolas single-handedly takes down a monstrous oliphant in the climactic battle for Minas Tirith. It’s a culminating moment for the character as it shows his commitment to The Fellowship, his battle skills, and his ever-present dry humor. And listen closely at :32, Peter Jackson throws in a Wilhelm scream.
Katie Baker: Between Empire Records and The Craft, Robin Tunney may have been second to only Alicia Silverstone in time spent on my friends’ basement TV screens during middle school sleepover parties. But unlike Empire Records, which I liked but didn’t particularly get — it would take a few years and the Internet before I’d be exposed to true music snobs — The Craft had real meaning: Who in 1996 didn’t know a few wannabe Wiccans here and there? (I also went to an all-girls Catholic school, where the ratio might have been particularly high.)
For girls who played “light as a feather, stiff as a board” or totally didn’t move it, you guys when testing out the old Ouija, The Craft seemed to hold actual possibility and promise. We’ve all had a Christine Taylor type in our lives, and after The Craft we all fantasized about using our powers to pull out her beautiful hair. (I notice that scene isn’t in the trailer, and I’d like to think that Ben Stiller retroactively had something to do with that.) We’ve all also had nightmares about the snakes in the sink.
At any rate, while the Fairuza Balk-led ladies did at times use their witchy wiles to meet men, the movie still passes the Bechdel Test — which is probably more than can be said for lots of the latter-day “teen paranormal romances.” Give me The Craft as my ode to the occult any day.