Robin Hood (1922)

The origins of the Robin Hood legend goes back to mediaeval times, and is shrouded in the veils of time. Robin may or may not have been a historical person, and he may or may not have been a rebellious fighter for the justice of the poor. Side characters such as Little John and Will Scarlet may or may not have been part of the original story, whereas Friar Tuck, Alan-A-Dale and Lady Marian are probably later additions.

By 1922, Douglas Fairbanks was making great leaps in the advancement of filmmaking. Two years before, he had made The Mark of Zorro, the first true romantic adventure movie, and in 1921 he followed it up spectacularly with The Three Musketeers. This year it was time for the making of the next classic movie adventure, Robin Hood.

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922)

While Fairbanks’ Robin Hood was not the first screen version of the character, it was the first feature-length film, and it seems to have been an important step in bringing together many of the characteristics of the modern Robin Hood.

Many accounts associate Robin Hood with Robert of Locksley, a historical character, though it is by no means proven that he has any real connection with the Robin Hood of legend. The early accounts are in agreement, however, that Robin Hood was a yeoman, a free man below the nobility in status. Fairbanks, however, makes Robin into one of King Richard’s most trusted advisers, before voluntarily becoming an outlaw in order to better be able to rebel against Prince John. In this version, Robin Hood is the Earl of Huntingdon, an identity that was ultimately derived from a 17th century play.

One of the most influential Robin Hood tales in popular culture is Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe. Fairbanks shows that he is influenced by Scott’s work, not only by the Lionheart connection, but even more clearly by having King Richard appear as an anonymous knight after his return to England.

Robin Hood remains an excellent picture, over 90 years after its premiere. The sets are splendid and majestic. In fact, the mediaeval halls and castles were never so spectacular in real life as they are in Hollywood. Fairbanks weaves legend and fairy tale, and he does so with an elegance that few later Robin Hood accounts can match.

This film is best enjoyed for Fairbanks’ athletic version of Robin Hood. There are a good many nice stunts, especially towards the end of the movie.

Douglas Fairbanks as Earl of Huntingdon and Enid Bennett as Lady Marian in Robin Hood (1922)

Robin Hood
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Year: 1922
Running time: 2 h 12 min
Director: Allan Dwan
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: None
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.7 G)

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Santa and the Three Bears (1970)

When Santa and the Three Bears was first offered as a Christmas special to various American TV networks, they declined, saying that it did not include an antagonist. This goes to show just how stuck people often are in the preconceived Hollywood notions of how a story is supposed to be told.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

So there is no evil nemesis in Santa and the Three Bears. Just an old and kindly park ranger and a bear mother with her two cubs. The cubs learn about Christmas and want the ranger to tell them more about it. So they decide to wait up for Santa Claus, instead of going into hibernation. Sounds boring? It is not. Not unless you are absolutely allergic to a bit of sentimentality which, admittedly, this film has its share of.

The film is also filled with music. Original music, yet it fits perfectly with the Christmas theme. If you love Christmas music, then you are going to love the music for this film.

Santa and the Three Bears is certainly not the most polished piece of animation. It looks mostly like some low-budget Hanna Barbera cartoon. But that is easy to forget and forgive when the beauty of the story starts to kick in.

This film is best enjoyed while getting into the mood for the Christmas season, especially if you fancy the American variety of Christmas.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

Santa and the Three Bears
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Year: 1970
Running time: 46 min
Directors: Tony Benedict, Barry Mahon
Stars: Robert Hal Smith
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (700 M)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

In a recent poll about the worst ever Christmas movie, the Swedish film site Filmtipset nominated Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as one of the candidates. It is not the first time the film has been mentioned as one of the worst Christmas movies ever, or indeed one of the worst movies ever, period. Among many other accolades, the film currently holds 87th place on IMDb’s Bottom 100 list.

And, well, yeah, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a bad film and a true turkey. But is it really that bad? Read on and find out!

John Call, Victor Stiles, Donna Conforti, Bill McCutcheon and Leila Martin in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

The story is, it must be admitted, pretty inane. Martian kids are far too serious and just watch a lot of Earth television. After consulting a wise man, some Martians decide to kidnap Santa Claus from Earth, and they happen to bring a couple of Earth kids along as well. Santa agrees to help build a workshop for making Martian Christmas presents, but some of the Martians think that this is a bad idea, and want to close down Santa’s business.

So, if the story is that bad, and the special effects and sets are on par, then how come lots of people enjoy the film? The truth of the matter is that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is an enjoyable film to watch not mainly because of its faults. After all, many films have been made that are infinitely worse than this one, and in most cases watching them is just painful. But Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, in spite of its many faults, also rests on a solid foundation of good. The pacing is adequate, and the actors do the best job possible with the material they have to work with (even though John Call as Santa Claus is a terrible case of bad casting). It is this foundation which makes it possible to enjoy the spectacularly bad qualities of the film rather than choke on them.

This film is best enjoyed with good company. Some nice chatting and commenting will not spoil this one. Quite to the contrary.

John Call in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
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Year: 1964
Running time: 1 h 20 min
Director: Nicholas Webster
Stars: John Call
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Windows Media (917 M)

Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye (1996)

Today, advanced computer graphics is something that you come to expect in most new movies, at least in the action genre. Many times, these graphics are so advanced that the human eye cannot tell them apart from what has been filmed in “reality” (whatever that means in the world of motion pictures).

In the 1990s, this new technology was only starting to become a tool for film-makers, and films like the Mind’s Eye series, which was basically only a platform for showcasing the latest and best animations, were really cool and spectacular. Today, they seem a bit quaint, but they do have innate artistic values in addition to the nostalgia factor.

I have previously written about the series in my review of Beyond the Mind’s Eye. Now, the turn has come to the fourth and final part, Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye.

"Flying Start" by Doug Foster from Odyssey into the Mind's Eye (1996)

The differences between the four parts in the series are fairly subtle. They all reflect the visual and musical preferences of the early to mid 1990s. My feeling is that Odyssey is more thematically coherent than the other parts, but it has less originality, less metaphors, and less artistic integrity.

There are lots of things we have seen before, such as underwater scenery, futuristic cities, alien plant life and psychedelic patterns. The only part that feels really timeless, perhaps even groundbreaking, is the far too short segment titled “Martell – The Art of Cognac”. But I would still recommend Odyssey, especially if you enjoyed some of the earlier parts. At its best, it is soothing, dreamlike and almost meditative. True, the music is not as coherent as in the other parts, but it is still very good if you happen to like the 1990s.

The Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye copy to be found at the Internet Archive is a VHS rip, and therefore quality is less than perfect. It is a good VHS rip, however, and it is definitely enjoyable, unless you strive for optimal quality.

This film is best enjoyed after you have already seen some of the other parts in the series and want more of same.

"Aspen Moon" by Kurt McKeever in Odyssey into the Mind's Eye (1996)

Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye
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Year: 1996
Running time: 1 h 6 min
Director: Steven Churchill, Edward Feuer
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (635 M)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

There is a certain amount of confusion about which was the world’s first feature-length science fiction film. Partly, perhaps, because it is not always very clear where to draw the border between what is and what is not science fiction.

Wikipedia, along with several other sources, claim for instance that the first ever science fiction feature film was Metropolis (1927), but then in the same article mentions several earlier films. (Here we see some disadvantages of community editing without an overseeing editor, but that is a discussion for another time.)

Edna Pendleton, Dan Henlon, Allen Holubar and Ned Land in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

The earliest one mentioned in that article, and one which is often mentioned in other soruces, is the 1916 adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A splendid novel, which was one of my childhood favourites.

The film is unique not only because it was early science fiction, but also because it was the first feature film that used underwater photography, showing “actors” in spectacular diving suits. The divers move slowly and clumsily, but the coolness factor is enormous. It was also one of the first ever submarine films.

This film is best enjoyed for its historical significance. Due to its age, it has a number of faults, such as the blackened face of Captain Nemo. Still, it is a good effort for its time, and for sci-fi fans in general and Jules Verne fans in particular, it is a cinematic milestone.

Divers in diving suits in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
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Year: 1916
Running time: 1 h 40 min
Director: Stuart Paton
Stars: Dan Hanlon, Allen Holubar
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Excellent; synchronised with the images
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (678 M)