This week saw Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Nightmare Alley receive an Academy award nomination for Best Picture. An opportune moment then to reflect on the Mexican director’s quarter century or so as one of the most visually creative filmmakers around. British film writer Ian Nathan has focused on a number of the world’s most interesting movie men in these beautifully presented and intelligent coffee table books before for example,. Quentin Tarantino, the Coens and Tim Burton (all reviewed in the past on here). Now del Toro, the man behind Pan’s Labyrinth and the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water gets similar treatment. Published late in 2021, there is only a little about Nightmare Alley and the forthcoming Pinocchio which del Toro has produced for Netf;ix here yet but his full body of work to date is otherwise covered thoroughly.
Del Toro’s career has thus far been characterised by an impressive fusion of fantasy and horror. Sometimes this results in commercial but usually interesting films like Blade II, the first two Hellboy films and science fiction beat ’em up, Pacific Rim. On other occasions, it has led to other intriguing offerings such as post-Spanish Civil War ghost story, The Devil’s Backbone and perhaps his two most famous films, Pan’s Labyrinth and aquatic monster movie, The Shape of Water. Although less obviously box office friendly on paper, these have captivated large audiences too.
Filled with visually arresting images from del Toro’s career, this is yet another fascinating insight from Ian Nathan into the life and work of one of the early 21st century’s most imaginative and innovative filmmakers.
Guillermo Del Toro – The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work, by Ian Nathan. Published by: White Lion Publishing. 2021.
Pat Mills' Sláine, the 'Celtic Conan' has been wowing readers of UK sci-fi comic, 2000AD since 1983. The saga was never more vividly realised than when in the late 80s and early 90s when Mills and young artist, Simon Bisley produced the masterful epic, Sláine: The Horned God.
Sadly, as this is an audiobook, inevitably, Bisley's wonderful visuals - the gore of the battles, the beauty of the land of Tir Nan Nog, Sláine's ageing sidekick Ukko and the sight of Sláine going into warp spasm (don't ask) are lost.
This is nevertheless an excellent adaptation which does full justice to the classic comic story.
A former local journalist who later moved into public relations, Terry Pratchett grew from being a cult comic fantasy author in the 1980s to becoming the bestselling author in the UK of all in the 1990s. Biographer Marc Burrows does an excellent job detailing the prolific Discworld and Good Omens author’s busy life and extensive back catalogue – no mean feat as the Discworld series alone comprises 41 novels – successfully emulating Pratchett’s own literary style as he does so, with numerous witty footnotes throughout. Burrows also details the progress of the Alzheimer’s disease which sadly blighted Pratchett’s final years leading to his death in 2015, aged 66.
I spotted only one mistake: Pratchett never reported on the assassination of Egyptian President Nasser as this event never happened. Perhaps the author meant Sadat? At any rate, this should not detract from Burrows’ achievement. Apparently, Pratchett’s official biography has not been written yet. Whoever writes it will have their work cut out surpassing this.
Book review: The Magic of Terry Pratchett, by Marc Burrows. Published by Pen and Sword. White Owl (2020)
For more on Terry Gilliam, see my feature The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam in issue 14 of Geeky Monkey magazine.
Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir by Terry Gilliam, published by Canongate, 2016
Terry Gilliam has always stood out from the crowd.
Even when in Monty Python, he stood out somewhat as the one American. Slightly odd looking, he mostly remained off screen at first, producing instead the celebrated animated sequences (for example, during the series’ opening titles) for which he became famous. Nearly fifty years on, this book, his memoir is illustrated throughout in a similarly unique style.
Like many people called Terry (Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks, fellow Python Terry Jones, er, Terry Scott?). Gilliam found himself drawn to the fantasy genre. His directing career began awkwardly with Gilliam co-directing Python ventures with Terry Jones. Although mostly good films in the end, they were tough shoots with Jones and Gilliam gently wrestling for overall control and the likes of Cleese and Palin losing patience with the American who they felt treated them like they were bits of animated card.
Gilliam really came into his own in the first half of the Eighties with brilliantly imaginative fantasies like Time Bandits and Brazil. He’s had many fine moments since – notably The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys and has undeniably developed a unique visual style. Despite this, he has never developed a reputation for being a safe pair of hands, largely due to high profile flops like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and The Adventures of Don Quixote which never even completed filming.
Though he sometimes adopts an overly defensive tone when discussing his own films, Gilliam makes for an engaging likeable narrator on his own life. The world of cinema would certainly have been poorer without him.
It isn’t just The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. No science fiction or fantasy saga is complete without a wise old bearded God-like figure often played by a theatrical knight who occasionally fights, usually dies but like E.T himself (or the MP John Stonehouse) comes back later.
Spoiler alert: John Stonehouse came back ages ago (look it up)…
First appeared: 1937 (in print in The Hobbit), 2001 (on screen).
Does he die? Yes. Gandalf the Grey falls down the crack thanks to the big fiery Balrog thing in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Does he come back? Yes. As Gandalf the White in The Two Towers.
Who played him? SIR Ian McKellen
Fun to play? McKellen seems to have enjoyed it and apart from the “insane laughter” scene in Frodo’s bedroom in the third film has done a great job of it.
Is he Jesus/God?: No. JRR Tolkien was keen to emphasise the books were not supposed to be allegorical.
Obi Wan Kenobi/Old Ben Kenobi
First appeared: 1977 Star Wars, later rechristened Episode IV: A New Hope.
Does he die? Yes. Darth Vader turns him into a dressing gown towards the end of the first (or fourth) film.
Does he come back? Only as a badly animated and well paid ghost. Bet Marlon Brando wished he’d thought of that for the Superman sequels? Although he’d have been too fat anyway.
Who played him? SIR Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor as the younger sometimes un-bearded Obi Wan in the inferior prequels.
Fun to play? Not at all. “…new rubbish dialogue reaches me every day on wadges of pink paper – and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable,” Guinness complained. He also resented being nicknamed “Mother Superior” by a young Harrison Ford. Understandably. Sir Alec made a small fortune, however, having claimed a 2 ½ % share of the profits on the three films although thanks to the exorbitant tax rates in the 1970s, not as much as is commonly thought. MacGregor’s complaints about filming against blue screen, meanwhile, were amongst the first bits of negative publicity to break around The Phantom Menace in 1999.
Is he Jesus/God?: Perhaps. But then, a similar case could be made for Han Solo. And Harrison Ford was a carpenter, just like Jesus was. See? It all makes sense.
First appeared: (in print) 1997 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and on screen in the 2001 film.
In the US this was called: Harry Potter Can’t Believe Americans Don’t Know What A Philosopher Is and Apparently Think A Sorcerer is Basically the Same Thing.
Does he die? Yes. Snape (Alan Rickman) chucks him off Hogwarts at the end of the penultimate volume The Half Blood Prince. In the film, his death is reminiscent of Alan Rickman’s own character’s death in Die Hard. Except Bruce Willis wasn’t involved.
Does he come back? Only in a dream sequence.
Who played him? Richard Harris until his death after the second film. Succeeded by SIR Michael Gambon thereafter.
Fun to play? Ignoring the fact the Irish Harris didn’t actually have an Irish accent when playing Dumbledore (who isn’t, as far as we know, supposed to be Irish), the usually excellent Gambon for some reason initially put on a somewhat half-arsed Irish accent when he took on the role. Happily, this soon went and he was great from then on.
Is he God/Jesus?: Probably not, although like Jesus he is gay. JOKE. No, in reality, Dumbledore was not really gay.
Nearly there but not quite:
Aslan in the Narnia books
He does die, come back, is wise, bigoted, bearded and is very clearly supposed to be God. He is not a man though. HE IS A LION.
Jaga (from Thundercats)
Wise counsel to feline Skywalker-type Lion-o, Jaga dispenses important nuggets of wisdom such as encouraging him to enter his litter tray regularly but dies en route from the Thundercats’ home planet of Thundera to Third Earth. He does come back as a ghost though and fits the bill very well. However, he is rather transparently (literally) “heavily influenced” by the character of Obi Wan Kenobi. Also, unlike everyone else Jaga isn’t feline at all. This isn’t explained.
No one in His Dark Materials
A big fantasy saga, yes but with NO bearded wise God-like grandfather figure. Perhaps reflecting the atheistic nature of the plot.
Optimus Prime in The Transformers
A robot, yes. But he was wise and dies (in 1986’s Transformers The Movie) and later comes back. He may die in the new films too. Who knows? I was asleep.