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Adding to that stunning achievement of the film industry was the equally important publication of Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical novel ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ (or ‘The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death’). Though quickly adapted into an award-winning, commercially-tepid theatrical feature, this semi-autobiographical, nonlinear, time-travel twister had a striking consequence on the science-fiction and fantasy genres alike.
Narrative structuring (particularly with its unreliable source and metafictional components), the incorporation of real historical events (like the fire-bombing of Dresden), and allusions to actual geographic and scientific settings are mind-bogglingly mixed into the wildly ungraspable notions of fatalistic four-dimensioners and the extensive disorder of form.
‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1975), another picture with roots in fantasy (despite overwhelming helpings of comedy), adopts Vonnegut’s famous flair for postmodern, presentational theater-like storytelling. Clearly, art in any medium fuels transcendence.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned around here, it’s that people aren’t always what they say they are…
One of the most overlooked feature-length animated films of the decade, ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ adapted the popular 1961 children’s book by Norton Juster, who packed quite a few morality lessons and educational moments into what was an otherwise madcap bit of cult fiction in the making. Reversing ‘Mary Poppins’’ concept of animated sequences peppering a live-action film (and setting up the arrival of ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’  and ‘Pete’s Dragon’ ), ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ bookends continuous animation with live-action segments, which segue the normalcy of a San Francisco apartment into the wonders of the Kingdom of Wisdom.
Young Milo (Butch Patrick) unwraps a magical tollbooth gateway that transports him to the Lands Beyond, where he’ll find high adventure in the Mountains of Ignorance, Dictionopolis, and Digitopolis, accompanied by Tock the watchdog (a literal combination of a dog and a watch), and in the way of the Dodecahedron, The Demon of Insincerity, the Terrible Trivium, the Senses Taker, and the Mathemagician – all while trying to rescue the Princess of Pure Reason and the Princess of Sweet Rhyme (a.k.a. Rhyme and Reason).
Although it was met with moderate critical success, audiences didn’t quite flock to it, marking it as a project riddled with apprehensions; MGM’s animation department struggled to release it even after a 1968 completion, and closed up shop permanently thereafter – paving the way for subsidiary United Artists to debut ‘The Secret of NIMH’ in 1982.
An obvious expansion upon the staggeringly influential ‘One Million Years B.C.’ from 1966, ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’ is a regularly forgotten Hammer Films epic, which also followed ‘Slave Girls’ (1967) and spawned a fourth picture in the caveman/cavegirl series called ‘Creatures the World Forgot’ (1971). All feature scantily-clad, blonde vixens and muscly men communicating with few words and engaging in anachronistic battles against oversized stop-motion reptiles – here going so far as to earn an Oscar nomination for the sensational visual effects.
This middle chapter, however, is one of the most notable, particularly for its audacity in containing a sex scene with actual nudity that was added in for foreign viewership – creating a marketing scandal when the G-rated American edit was accidentally swapped for the saucier R-rated cut just before home video release.
That, of course, doesn’t impact the general lack of a plot, which basically involves prehistoric humans getting separated and then reunited with their tribes – while combating boa constrictors, carnivorous plants, giant fiddler crabs, and all sorts of unusual dinosaur species (for some reason, the standard T-Rex is substituted for rarer hybrids).
We must not stay here. Prisoners! We shall break the illusion. This is magic! Goodbye to the Holy Mountain. Real life awaits us…
The plot, which is so abstract and absurd that it’s infrequently interpreted correctly (or even appreciated) after the first viewing, essentially follows an eclectic smattering of mortals who ascend a mountain in search of the secret of immortality. More amusing than the premise is the outrageous strangeness of the whole ordeal, which features the alchemic transformation of feces into gold; a footless, handless dwarf; a fat man posing as the Virgin Mary; and anus-bathing, which was too extreme for George Harrison, who was originally up for the lead role but objected to such undue nudity.
Part of the weirdness is due to director Jodorowsky’s insistence that the central cast members spend extended periods of time conducting spiritual exercises, live communally, refuse to sleep (as a Zen practice), and take LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. In the end, the references to ‘Ascent of Mount Carmel’ by Saint John of the Cross, and ‘Mount Analogue’ by Rene Daumal, as well as to tarot cards and various rituals and ceremonies, are lost to the unintentionally hilarious imagery of surreal preposterousness.
We have a building from God, a house not made with hands…
The pervading concept of mutated insect women seducing men into bouts of fatal, sexual exhaustion sounds rife with exploitation potential. And indeed, with a bevy of beauties posing as scientists, librarians, and entomologists before revealing black compound eyes during thrombosis-inducing sex games is certainly a titillating setup for eroticism and violence.
It’s a B-movie and a bee-movie, utilizing ideas so silly that they’re utterly riveting – such as honey-showering brainwashing, a striptease to Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite ‘Scheherazade,’ and a lip-locking initiation into the aroused female hive. If it weren’t approached with such sincerity, it might have been unwatchable; instead, it’s a sensational example of an unapologetically bad movie with striking moments of undeniable entertainment value.
Although all of the Captain Nemo adaptations and derivations during the ‘70s would prove far more satisfying and financially successful, ‘Beyond Atlantis’ nevertheless attempted to purloin most of the major themes and plenty of plot points for a family-friendly, underwater adventure, starring none other than Patrick Wayne, John Wayne’s second son (who turned down the role of Superman due to his father’s battles with cancer).
With plenty of revealing swimwear, a turbulent catfight, death by piranha, watery mating, and a particularly sleazy Sid Haig (better known now as a collaborator with Rob Zombie and a regular in low-budget horror films), the routine motives of repopulating a nearly extinct mer-people civilization, an escape from such submerged confines, and the hope of stealing valuable pearls are unable to palliate the pleasures of inadvertent hilarity at the expense of poor acting and scripting and climaxes.
The fantasy genre almost always wanders into the realms of historical, biblical, horror, science-fiction (as in space operas), or quasi-medieval environments, giving it a particularly rich and sweeping range for cinematic inclusions. Even without visualized magic, mythology, or escapism, this wondrous form of speculative fiction (a term popularized by controversial author Robert Heinlein) provides just as many tremendously famous masterpieces as it does a plethora of overlooked works worthy of closer examination or reevaluation.
Do you have a favorite of the era?
If so, please don’t hesitate to mention it in the comment section below!