As part of our special issue on the surreal and fantastic (available to collect on campus now), our writers have cherry-picked some of their favourite on-screen fantasy moments. From breathtaking visuals to enchanting scores and iconic one-liners, here are some of the films that have captured our imaginations and stayed in our hearts since we first beheld them.
My Neighbour Totoro – ‘Totoro takes flight’
Is there anything that can even be considered more beautiful than Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro? Consider each aspect of one of Studio Ghibli’s most prominent films separately and you have beauty at its finest. Join them all together, and you have art. It’s a film that allows surrealism, imagination and ambiguity to run freely through its veins, aspects which marry together expertly at the film’s midpoint. As Satsuki and Mei are woken from a hot sleep, they spot Totoro and his two smaller spirits engaged in a ceremonial dance around seeds they had planted a few days earlier. Running out to join them, the tree begins to grow, giant and magnificent and infinite, pooling into the sky’s boundlessness, and the girls hop onto Totoro’s back to spend the night flying over the twilight sky. And whilst its visuals amaze, it’s really the scene’s rich score which cements it into the most surreal, and beautiful scenes in cinematic history.
Words by Sophie Trenear
The Princess Bride – ‘My Name is Inigo Montoya’
The Princess Bride will always be one of my favourite films – a feisty fantasy fairytale with a load of genuinely great comedy thrown in, it’s an often-quoted classic. By far the best fantasy scene is the duel between Inigo Montoya and Count Rugen. Montoya seeks revenge against the six-fingered man who scarred him and killed his father. He and Rugen meet in a tense stand-off where Inigo finally gets to say the familiar phrase that he has rehearsed his whole life: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”. The evil Rugen severely wounds Inigo and mocks his quest for vengeance, but Inigo recovers his strength, repeating his grim refrain and inflicting the same wounds on Rugen. Rugen begs for his life, but Inigo simply and heartbreakingly replies that he wants his father back and kills him, finally gaining closure.
Words by Eleanor Joyce
Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King- ‘Battle of the Pelennor Fields’
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields is a simply jaw dropping sequence of fantastical film-making brilliance. From the opening moments of the decapitated heads of the Gondor soldiers being catapulted at Minas Tirith, to the arrival or the Haradrim and their Mumakil, to Eowyn’s confrontation with the Witch King, it’s a stunning and epic part of the film. Peter Jackson crafts the whole ordeal with immense capability (it dominates a large chunk of Return of the King‘s three hour plus run time), placing our favourite characters in moments of peril, tugging on our heartstrings in the process, whilst also giving them triumphant and powerful victories. This is all whilst utilising the scene as a symbol of what the whole story hinges upon and what lengths the forces of Middle Earth will go to in order to retrieve the One Ring. As far as battle scenes go, nothing can top it.
Words by David Mitchell-Baker
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug- ‘The Terror of Smaug’
Terror. It is a hard thing for film to grasp, when every film has realistic CGI and a bigger and badder villain than the last; we no longer fear what’s behind the screen. Introducing Smaug, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, this antagonist craves gold and alongside his cruel and sadistic personality he makes a diabolical villain. In The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’s ending scene, Smaug leaves the mountain, and with a monstrous vengeance he takes to the sky to reap chaos on Lake-town. Smaug becomes a true monster, a merciless black figure in the sky with the capability to destroy a whole town. The dragon’s finishing line “I am fire. I Am… Death!” is hair-raising. Followed by a deafening silence as he flies to destruction, it puts the audience on the edge of their seat. For me it was the first time I had sat in a cinema and felt real terror.
Words by Fern Bowdery
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – ‘Lucy first steps into Narnia’
The fantastical world of Narnia captured my heart from the moment the books were first read to me as a child, and this film remains to be one of my nostalgic favourites. As Lucy pulls the cloth to the floor, revealing the iconic wardrobe, Georgie Henley’s childish smile of awe reaches out to that same curious child in us all. She steps in, leaving the door slightly open (she knew that it is very foolish to shut oneself into any wardrobe) and walks backwards into the snow-covered wonderland we all dreamed of finding as children. According to an interview, Henley had never seen the set before that take, and so we are seeing her first, joyful reaction as it truly was. As we watch her experience the magic of Narnia for the first time, we can’t help but remember our own feelings when we first discovered the land where it is always winter but never Christmas.
Words by Sophie Jones
Inception – ‘The World of the Dream’
One of the best fantasy moments I’ve ever witnessed on screen is in Christopher Nolan’s mind-blowing sci-fi flick Inception, when Ariadne (Ellen Page), the architecture student recruited by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) creates ‘the world of the dream’ for the first time. The moment is triggered when she asks an underlying question: ‘What happens when you start messing with the physics of it all?’ The answer comes within the next seconds, when the buildings of Paris start shifting until they are turned upside down, matching the ones surrounding Ariadne and a surprised Cobb as if in a puzzle. The moment becomes even more striking when they step very naturally on a street that goes upwards, defying gravity. Before she learns that there are rules in the world of dreams, Ariadne alters reality however she likes, and we see what happens when a student’s imagination is unleashed.
Words by Thea Hartman
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – Our first look at Hogwarts
‘Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.’
For two decades J.K. Rowling’s ground-breaking Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has captivated the imaginations of children (and adults) everywhere and many have dreamed of experiencing Harry’s wondrous world for themselves. Symbolising a gateway between our mundane world and the magical world beyond, millions have waited patiently (and impatiently) for their Hogwarts acceptance letters. Sadly, for many Muggles, Hogwarts was no more than a fantasy until, in 2001, Chris Columbus made our dreams into a reality bringing Harry’s magical world to the screen. Adults and children alike gawped in awe as Hogwarts was revealed for the first time, making Harry’s arrival at the wizarding school one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history. In the words of Ron Weasley, it certainly was “Wicked”.
Words by Laura Woodhouse
Pirates of the Caribbean – ‘Jack Sparrow gets eaten by the Kraken’
Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is one of the most divisive and interesting properties that the famed mouse house has provided us with. Fans of the films rarely agree on the best one and in fact, if you ask anyone who’s watched all three (let’s forget the fourth), you’ll find that their alliances between them are fairly evenly split. Regardless of your preference, there is one scene which undeniably captures everything the series strode for. After a lengthy, jaw-dropping sequence that sees the Black Pearl battle with The Kraken, Jack Sparrow (played flawlessly by Johnny Depp) faces the consequences of his actions eye to eye…or teeth. Covered in the creatures goo, he reclaims his iconic hat, brandishes his trusty sword and as Hans Zimmer’s astonishing score swells, our hero invites his doom as he whispers ‘ello beastie’ and plunges into the abyss. Cue goosebumps. To this day, it still grips me like it’s the first time.
Words by Eddy Tesfay