Three Dooms for Sister Christian

How to Train Your Dragon, written by Adam F. Goldberg, Peter Tolan, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, based on the novel of the same name by Cressida Cowell, directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill and Craig Ferguson (2010): Why are the vast majority of good fantasy films now animated?

Possibly because the idea guys have far more control there than on live-action films. How to Train Your Dragon, based on a series of children’s books, is a fine fantasy, and the best dragon-centric fantasy film since Dragonslayer. Compare this to, say, the inept, idiotic but somewhat similar Reign of Fire, and wonder where so many live-action fantasy films went so horribly, horribly wrong.

The dragons are charming and occasionally scary, the characters nicely fleshed out, the fantasy world itself fairly rationally worked out. Jay Baruchel’s voice work is solid as the young man whose theories and study of dragons ultimately change the way the entire embattled Viking island in the movie deals with the regular resource raids of hundreds of dragons (and at least a dozen different species of same). A lot of fun for anyone. One wishes the written fantasy worlds of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea or Gordon Dickson’s Dragon Knight series would be lucky enough to get the animated treatment from filmmakers such as these. Highly recommended.

Sahara, written by Philip MacDonald, James O’Hanlon and John Howard Lawson, directed by Zoltan Korda, starring Humphrey Bogart, Bruce Bennett, Lloyd Bridges, J. Carrol Naish and Dan Duryea (1943): Bogart plays Sgt. Joe Gunn, in charge of an American M3 Lee tank in full retreat from Nazi forces in Libya in 1942. He and his crew collect a ragtag, multinational group of survivors on their way back to rendezvous with Allied ground forces, but soon find themselves forced to engage a much larger Nazi infantry and motor column (though thankfully no other tanks — the M3 Lee, one of the first tanks mass-produced by the U.S. during the early stages of WWII, was relatively lightly armed and armoured, and would soon be supplanted by other, more capable armed vehicles).

Everyone from an Italian prisoner to a sympathetically portrayed Muslim Sudanese military men has to come together to defeat the Nazi threat, and hopefully find some water while doing so. Solid, fairly realistic war film with a solid cast. Recommended.

The Core, written by Cooper Layne and John Rogers, directed by Jon Amiel, starring Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, DJ Qualls, Richard Jenkins and Stanley Tucci (2003): When it comes to bad science, The Core may be the greatest science-fiction movie ever made. Or one that takes place in an alternate universe with radically different laws of physics. The US military accidentally stops the Earth’s core from spinning.

In our world, the energy released by this stoppage would probably blow a significant portion of the Earth’s crust and mantle into orbit, creating several new moons orbitting a dead Earth. In the universe of this movie, though, birds get confused and Earth’s electromagnetic field starts developing gaping holes over famous landmarks that then get destroyed by solar radiation. I think the exploding Earth idea would have been a lot more interesting.

In any event, some plucky astronauts, academics and scientists get into a magical tunnelling subway train made out of a magical metal called Unobtainum (which begs the question, How did they obtain it?), a substance that can survive the high temperatures and super-pressure of the Earth’s underregions. Apparently, nuclear explosions can restart the core’s spin.

Hilarity ensues, a lot of people die heroically or at least semi-heroically, and the remaining heroes make it back to the ocean floor through an imaginary tectonic plate juncture near Hawaii, where killer whales sing to them in the voices of humpback whales. I’m not kidding. Hilariously bad, so I’m recommending it — it makes Armageddon look like a documentary about NASA by comparison.

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