Before I give my list I should probably preface it by saying that I don’t really go in for buying huge amounts of merchandise or stuff like that, so my demonstration of my love of these properties is pretty much limited to raving about the original works themselves.
Spider-Man: One of the first (if not the first) comics that I ever read was a beat-up old paperback of the first seven Lee/Ditko Spidey stories. It made an impression on me, and as I grew up and continued to follow the character if felt like he got ever more relevant and meaningful to me as my own life (inevitably) became more complex and difficult. Spidey is the incarnation of strength in the face of adversity: if you’ve ever had a problem, he’s had it too, and this acknowledgment of the fact that life isn’t easy, combined with his never-give-up attitude, morally-sound outlook and endlessly relatable nature makes him the most inspiring and human superhero of all, for me. It’s no exaggeration to say that I have at difficult times drawn real strength from the character. He has affected my core outlook on life, and I will always love him. Yes, he’s had some dud stories (haven’t they all) and “One More Day” pretty much signalled the end of me feeling a genuine affinity with the in-continuity version of the character (although the recent “Renew Your Vows” was a nice glimpse of him again: like meeting up with an old friend), but it hasn’t erased my affection for him as a character.
Terminator: Ever since I first saw Terminator 2, the franchise has captured my imagination in a way that few others have ever managed. The big ideas about fate, destiny and the nature of humanity are part of the appeal, but honestly I get just as much enjoyment from the brilliantly-conceived details of the story and its world. The first two movies are masterpieces and two of the most viscerally thrilling films I have ever seen, and even though the other movies (and TV show, and comics) have ultimately failed to recapture that, I still get enjoyment out of them to a greater or lesser degree. The foundations of the franchise are just too strong to be fully eroded even by inferior follow-ups. I even enjoyed Genisys quite a bit and I’d be there opening weekend for a sequel.
Toy Story: The first two movies were brilliant yarns with a great toys-come-to-life hook, great characters and excellent comedy, but it wasn’t really until the third one that I really got the emotional punch that has made these three films really stick with me. I saw the first movie as a thirteen-year-old kid and now I’m watching them with my own kids, so the generational message resonates with me pretty strongly. I don’t really cry at movies but there are at least two moments in the trilogy that are guaranteed to make me tear up. I’m a bit worried that the forthcoming fourth movie will ruin the perfection of the first three (and that perfect, perfect ending), but maybe I should give Pixar a bit of credit at this point. They’ve earned it.
Red Dwarf: My love of this franchise is not so strong today, but in my teens it was pretty much my favourite TV show in the world. The humour and the grounded take on sci-fi silliness was a revelation to me at the time (I watched it before I read/saw H2G2) and it was one of the first times that I felt like a pop-culture thing was ‘mine’: my parents didn’t really understand it, most people I knew had barely heard of it, but my geekier mates at school loved it and I ate up all the tie-in books, videos etc. The quality of the TV show fell off a bit in its middle years but the more recent revival was actually pretty fun, and I’m looking forward to the two new series that are meant to be coming from next year.
Spirited Away: My final choice. And I think the best way to explain my love of this film is probably to post the five-star review of it that I wrote for a DVD/Blu-Ray review site when the Blu-Ray was released a couple of years ago:
[QUOTE]Of all the films that I have ever seen, ‘Spirited Away’ is one of the ones that has touched me most deeply. A beautiful, strange and beguiling animated film from Japan’s famous Studio Ghibli, its coming-of-age story deftly mixes fantasy and reality to create an adventure that is partly an allegory for a child entering the scary world of being an adult, and partly a celebration of youthful naivety and imagination in the face of grown-up dullness. Filled with memorable and original characters, it’s a film that is guaranteed to stay in your mind forever, even after you’ve only watched it once.
To explain how it has touched me so deeply probably means revealing some of my personal history with the film. I was lucky enough to first see ‘Spirited Away’ at an advance cinema screening in the UK shortly before its release here in 2003, and as a result I didn’t know anything about it beforehand. But as soon as I watched it, I immediately knew it was something special. I had never even seen a Studio Ghibli film before this one, so the wildly imaginative and exotic, resolutely un-western creations of legendary Ghibli writer and director Hayao Miyazaki felt fresh and new to me in the same way as landmark modern animations like ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Toy Story’ felt in their day.
After seeing the film at the cinema, I immediately sought out the DVD (at that time having to import a copy, well before a UK version was available) and watched the film to death, drinking in the glorious animation and finding new subtleties and layers in the story each time I watched it. But it wasn’t until later that I truly fell in love with ‘Spirited Away’: on a difficult night when, suffering from insomnia and nervousness after a long evening of working, and unable to switch my mind off, I decided to sit down at 3am and try to calm myself by losing myself in the world of ‘Spirited Away’.
And I was transported.
The expansive world created by Miyazaki for ‘Spirited Away’ has its inception in the simple journey taken by a young girl, Sen, to her new home with her parents. However, when the family stop their car and discover a strange old abandoned theme park, Sen begins to be drawn into a magical world that lies just beneath the surface of her own - and as she gets sucked further into it (her parents being mysteriously transformed into pigs at this point), she discovers an entire society of strange creatures that live and work in a magical parallel universe.
But like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ - which surely must have been an inspiration for this story - the world of ‘Spirited Away’ is not all pleasant and kind. Sen is forced to work for her living in a local bath-house that is visited by a host of weird gods and monsters, all of which are magical and strange, but some of which have their own sinister agendas and secrets. Unlike many childrens’ films, ‘Spirited Away’ is not afraid to challenge childrens’ views about the world: but although the film is sometimes scary and often ambiguous, all of its darker and creepier moments inevitably lead Sen to the eventual discovery of a profound truth or a greater understanding of life, empowering her by encouraging self-education and empathy.
When it comes to filmmaking, there’s a lot of talk of ‘character arcs’ as an important aspect of every story - which usually means a character going from point A to point B in their life, and learning something or changing somehow on the way. But not many movies give you the sense of truly going on a journey with the lead character in the way that ‘Spirited Away’ does. Sen truly grows into a different character by the end of this film, and unlike many lesser movies, you are truly made to feel that (sometimes difficult) transition every step of the way.
And as I sat there in the middle of the night, going on this journey of self-discovery and edification with Sen (culminating in a beautiful and moving sequence set on a train, that I won’t ruin for newcomers here), I genuinely felt as though I had come out the other side of the film as a slightly different person: stronger, more confident, and more secure in my place in the world. How many films can truly move you like that?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you have to have a deeply personal or profound experience like mine with this film to enjoy it. There’s so much here to recommend to even a casual viewer, whether it’s the visual comedy of Sen’s bath-house experiences, the cuteness of many of the character designs, or the sheer sense of imagination that exudes from every pore.
But if you really invest yourself in it, you’ll find that this is a powerful movie that goes far beyond the normal reach of a mere animated kids’ adventure. And on Blu-Ray - with the unsurpassed picture and sound quality that makes the high-definition format such a boon for fans of hand-drawn animation (as well as the elimination of some of the defects of earlier DVD versions, such as the odd overly-red tinge that marred the visuals of many of the standard-definition releases of ‘Spirited Away’) - it finally has a release worthy of its greatness.
I wish I could give it six stars.[/quote]