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When you think of the adventure genre, you might have a sort of impressionistic view of what ‘adventure’ entails. Exploration, laughing in the face of danger, epic vistas – it all goes hand in hand with adventure films. However, adventure is so much more than that. Adventure films overlap many other genres, from science-fiction to animation to fantasy and more. Adventure is almost more of a tone than a genre, yet some films explore the themes of classic adventure so well, they need to be highlighted.
The 1990’s were a time of “hyperrealism”, and films like ‘Titanic’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘JFK’, and ‘The Matrix’ were the kings of the box office. This was a stark contrast to the 1980’s, a time of whimsical fantasy with films like ‘E.T.’ and ‘Star Wars’.
Still, the 1990’s churned out some pretty decent adventure fare. Some whimsical, some not. I’m going to highlight some of the best, often overlooked adventure films from 1990-1995.
Native legend says that, the Nile’s source lies deep in the interior. They call the place Mountains of the Moon…
‘Mountains of the Moon’ is a severely underrated adventure film from the beginning of the decade. Set in the 19th century, the film follows the real-life adventures of explorer and anthropologist, Sir Richard Burton (Patrick Bergen), and his partner, John Henning Speke (Iain Glen), as they attempt to discover the source of the Nile River.
Directed artfully and with great care by Bob Rafelson, this movie has a lot of heart and really explores the characters of Sir Richard Burton and John Henning Speke in a way that brings out all the different flavors of the film as you’re watching.
The fact that most of the depicted events actually happened adds to the allure of this robust adventure yarn. Aside from the movie’s serious historical message, there is also an adventurous spirit and whimsy lying just beneath the surface, akin to films like ‘Indiana Jones’, evidenced in one scene where Sir Richard Burton humorously compares adventure wounds with one of his peers, with the two of the men discarding clothing to show evidence of injuries. This is not a movie to miss.
Is there any good reason why we can’t just bury him here? I don’t think he’ll know the difference…
‘White Fang’ is adapted, of course, from the novel of the same name by Jack London. Set in the late 1800’s, a teen boy named Jack (Ethan Hawke) befriends a wolf named White Fang and they end up on a touching and heartfelt adventure together in the Yukon wilderness.
While this is a Disney film, I feel like it is often overlooked. The movie is beautifully shot, and the actors all give genuine performances. Fans of the book might be a little disappointed, but I think that it holds its own as a family-friendly adventure film, and so deserves a spot on this list (Just don’t watch the sequel. *shudder* ).
You always get to a point where you have to stop torturing yourself and play the percentages. You’re afraid of committing yourself, you have the desire for perfection…
‘Wind’ not only shows that women have the chops to direct a good modern American adventure story, but also that adventure doesn’t have to be specific to the exploration of the great unknown. Set in the world of competitive yacht racing, a love triangle between a young racer named Will (Matthew Modine), his ex-girlfriend Kate (Jennifer Grey), and Kate’s new boyfriend (who happens to be an engineer), leads Will to ask for their help in winning America’s Cup.
Though this film received lukewarm reviews at the box office, I feel like ‘Wind’ was really well-directed and the dramatic acting holds it all together. Some may not be titillated by a bunch of competitive yuppies in what is essentially a very indulgent pastime, but I think that what really comes through in this movie is the traditional “American Spirit” present in sports films like ‘Seabiscuit’. And besides, Jennifer Grey is in this film, and who can resist her charms? We all know Patrick Swayze couldn’t, so why should you be any different?
When you throw a stone in a lake, it’s not happy ’til it hits the bottom. Make sure he doesn’t drag us all down with him…
This film has it all. A gorgeous, Celtic score. Beautiful cinematography. Majestic horses. Adorable child actors. Gabriel Byrne in a leather jacket. ‘Into the West’ is about two children “Travellers” (similar to Gypsies) named Ossie (Ciaran Fitzgerald) and Tito (Ruaidhri Conroy) with an alcoholic and disparate father named Papa Reilly (Gabriel Byrne). The three of them live without their late mother in the slums of Dublin just trying to get by, when out of nowhere, a beautiful white horse named Tir na nOg befriends the young boys, Ossie especially. There is something that more than meets the eye with this horse, though, and soon, the boys are travelling across Ireland with their father, with the police in hot pursuit.
Part of the reason this film is so enjoyable is due to the two child actors who do an excellent job of portraying their own childlike innocence. But the other reasons this film succeeds are the sense of adventure and the excellent direction by Mike Newell, who never lets things get dull.
From the moment the film begins, right up to the finale, you’ll be swept up in this modern day Irish folktale. It is an almost perfect example of magical realism, with hardly any special effects.
Irvin, you know all about feelings. Won’t you try to help me? Won’t you explain why all those children only have nightmares?
Last but not least, ‘The City of Lost Children’ is a strange, wonderful gem about a circus strongman named One (Ron Perlman) whose brother is kidnapped by a mad scientist named Krank (Daniel Emilfork). One seeks to free his brother and teams up with a young, thieving girl named Miette (Judith Vittete) in order to face off against Krank and his allies.
Though some may be put off by the weirdness of the movie, the character growth and the adventurous spirit evoked by the two main leads is definitely enough to rocket this film to one of the top spots on this list. It has a lot of heart, a lot of strange and interesting characters, and beautifully creepy backdrops. You definitely need to experience this film.
Adventure films – as a genre – often get mixed in with all sorts of other genres, and so they often don’t seem to have their own voice. But adventure is a spirit that everyone can share, and that spirit pervades these titles we’ve showcased. Though these movies aren’t the end-all/be-all of the adventure film genre, they deserve to be seen.
And, rest assured – where these movies came from, more followed. But, that is for another list. Onward, to adventure!
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