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The Boston Globe



We like gods: fantasy adventures

Back in the day they had myths about gods and heroes and fantastic adventures. Today we have the same, but in 3-D. With Peter Jackson looking for another box office record with last Friday’s release of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” it’s time to assess the fantasy adventure genre and establish a pantheon of the very best. Here are five that belong there.

Kino Lorber

Die Nibelungen (1924)

  • Tolkien fans will find much that’s familiar in Fritz Lang’s masterpiece (in two parts, “Siegfried” and “Kriemhild’s Revenge”) — it adapts the German epic that in part inspired “The Lord of the Rings.” A dragon, dwarves, invisibility, a (nearly) invulnerable knight, a 4½-hour-plus running time — though they are films without sound, color, or 3-D, they still transport you to another realm.

Columbia Pictures

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

  • You can have your CGI, but when it comes to achieving the sense of wonder essential to the best fantasy, you can’t beat the stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen. The skeleton army sprung up from the dragon’s teeth, the giant metal warrior, the flying harpies: It’s enough to convert you to paganism.


The Lord of the Rings (1978)

  • Ralph Bakshi’s rotoscoped animation can’t match the detailed spectacle of Jackson’s live-action version. But it does move fast (around 1½ volumes in under two hours), and the sketchiness allows the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps.

Spirited Away (2001)

  • Adventure doesn’t get much more fantastic than in Hayao Miyazaki’s polymorphously perverse anime about a little girl who enters a world ruled by a giant crone and an enormous baby. By the time the heroine must tend to the “Stink God” in a bathhouse, you realize you’ve entered a protean, mind-boggling universe that merges innocence with id.


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

  • You didn’t think we could leave this out, did you? It’s not just the king of fantasy adventure films, but, according to blogger Eric M. Van (, “the 11 hours of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ constitute the single greatest achievement in the history of cinema.” Hmm. If not that, then certainly one of the most lucrative.


  • Keanu Reeves revives the samurai tradition with his remake of Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1941 masterpiece “The 47 Ronin” (opens Dec. 25). Which films in this revered, highly influential genre are your favorites? And looking ahead to Dec. 29, counting down to the new year is sometimes more fun on the screen than it is in real life. Which are the best New Year’s Eve scenes in movies? Cast your votes at

Peter Keough can be reached at

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