“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make".—JRR Tolkien
From 1902 to the present day, audiences have been enjoying the escapism that only high fantasy films can provide. Whether it’s The Wizard of Oz sticking with us through childhood or looking forward to an A Wrinkle in Time sequel—there is much pleasure to be had in getting whisked away to a far-off land. A lot of work goes on behind-the-scenes to make these imaginary worlds take root, though. Sometimes the effort that goes into making a fantasy film is as fascinating as the beautifully unrealistic world that comes from it. The technology of the modern world has taken a lot of risk and authenticity out of real-life acting on set, but there’s still some magic to be had here and there. Here is a list of facts about some of the craziest things that have happened to make fantasy a reality.
1. He’s Got His Doubt(fire)s
You know in the film Jumanji (the original, of course) when Robin Williams acts afraid while being shot at by Van Pelt? Well, it’s not entirely acting. The gunfire was shot with blanks, but it was still ear-piercing on set! The movie ended up being so scary that Williams wouldn't even let his own children watch it!
2. No Power of Voodoo
In Labyrinth, David Bowie’s character may be a bit of a space oddity, but the powerful Goblin King can’t actually manipulate crystal balls like he does in the opening of the movie. This illusion was filmed with the help of contact juggler Michael Moschen who stood behind him and did the feat blind.
3. Beat It
Director Jim Henson had Michael Jackson on his list of potential actors to play David Bowie’s character Jareth in Labyrinth. And Sarah Jessica Parker auditioned to play the main character Sarah before Jennifer Connelly landed the role. I'd sure like to see how and MJ/SJP Labyrinth would have looked!
4. Risky Business
When Guillermo del Toro was filming Pan’s Labyrinth in Segovia, Spain, the only real monster was the risk of natural disaster. The region was undergoing a terrible drought during filming, so they couldn’t risk using any real flames. The only real fire in the movie is an exploding truck; everything else was added in post-production.
5. Fight Fire with… Juice?
When “fire” comes out of the ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz, it’s not real flames at all. Believe it or not, it’s dark apple juice that's spewing out of the shoes—it was sped up to look like flames. Now that's what I call movie magic!
6. Too Fantasy for Film?
I remember my dad reading me The Chronicles of Narnia series as a child and I could totally see it being made into a movie. But do you know who couldn’t see it? The author of the books. He thought the books, particularly the creature characters, were too fantastical to be represented on screen. Fortunately for fans, CS Lewis did leave behind the film rights when he passed and his stepson sold them to Walden Media. I guess CGI is better now than it was when Lewis passed in 1963!
7. Destined to Be
The Wizard’s coat in The Wizard of Oz was chosen out of a whole rack of second-hand clothing because of it’s shabby, used-to-be-elegant look. One day, the actor Frank Morgan casually pulled out his pocket and found a tailor’s label which revealed that that very jacket had been created for Frank L. Baum, the author of the original Wizard of Oz books! After the film was finished, the coat was presented to Baum's widow.
8. Fainting From the Faun
The most convincing screen screams are the real ones. Or at least, that’s what director Andrew Adamson thought on the set of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. He kept many costumes and sets secret until filming and it was particularly effective in the case of the child actors. Georgie Henley, who played Lucy, says she let out a real scream on camera when she first saw James McAvoy dressed up as Mr. Tumnus, complete with a furry tail and horns.
9. Simple Doesn’t Always Mean Easy
Stilts? Stilettos? Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. To turn his lower half into a goat for The Chronicles of Narnia, James McAvoy had the walk around set on tiptoes all day. He also had to bend his knees and hunch over, all while wearing big, furry pants, green tights (to add his legs later in CGI), and remote-controlled ears.
10. Ende’s End
When it was first published, hype for Michael Ende's book The Neverending Story seemed like it would last forever. The book was at the top of the charts for years and it’s been translated into 27 different languages. Ende’s other books got really popular as a result. Considering the book’s popularity, it seemed like a good idea to turn it into a movie. Ende assisted in the movie’s creation, but ultimately hated the film. He felt like the filmmakers were just in it for the money and asked for his name to be removed from the credits. It was.
11. What a Diva!
It took the horse playing Artax in The Neverending Story seven weeks and a hydraulic platform to train before filming the Swamp of Sadness scene. I don’t blame him, though, he had to stand in a swamp up to his chin in mud without running off. It’d take me seven weeks of training to be okay with that experience, too!
12. Perfection at a Price
Artax the horse wasn’t the only one that had to be up to chin in mud for seven weeks—Noah Hathaway, playing Atreyu, was also up to his waist in the muck the whole time. The film’s German director, Wolfgang Petersen, didn’t speak much English and was a bit of a perfectionist. Filming was supposed to take three months and ended up lasting for a year. Scenes could take Petersen up to 40 hours to perfect.
13. Step Aside, Daniel Radcliffe
After his life-changing experience in the lengthy shoot of The Neverending Story, Hathaway did another fantasy film called Trol.l In this movie he played the character “Harry Potter Jr". Sound familiar? As far as he knows, it’s pure coincidence that JK Rowling’s famous fantasy character has the same name. Hathaway is sure of one thing, though—he was a cuter Potter than Radcliffe!
14. Take What You Can Get
Ava DuVernay, director of A Wrinkle in Time, never seeks out a film of any specific length or scale. There are not many black, female filmmakers in the business, so she “just needed another one, and this is another one". DuVernay hadn’t read the book before agreeing to direct the movie, but she absolutely loved the film’s script!
15. A Lifetime in the Making
One of A Wrinkle in Time's producers, Catherine Hand, was so passionate about the book and its potential to become a film that she single-handedly ensured its creation. Unfortunately, she imagined Walt Disney as the director and he passed before it could be produced. But, 30 years after she began the hunt for a production team, the film was finally made with the help of Disney Studios.
16. Manufactured Magic
Sometimes doing things the old-fashioned way is more magical than all the new-fangled technology can manage. In A Wrinkle in Time, the production designer Naomi Shohan refused to use CG effects unless it was absolutely necessary to the film. She says she wanted the movie to look more “painterly” than computer generated.
17. Which Hair to Wear?
There’s a reason everyone’s hair in A Wrinkle in Time is so on point. The movie used a total of about 25 wigs that took months to create. Once they were constructed, they took up to a week just to style. Then, flashy bits and pieces were added to the different 'do. Many of the hairpieces were dedicated to the characters Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, who had four wigs each.
18. They Must Have Gone Over the Rainbow!
The Wizard of Oz is now reported to be the film most seen by audiences in movie history, but it didn’t always do so well. When this early fantasy film first came out it, it was a bit of a flop, despite its award-winning musical score, fantasy narrative, and use of Technicolor.
19. Quiet on Set!
During the filming of Willow, the pigs on set were clearly a little overexcited for their first acting gigs, because they kept trying to mate outside the castle. The solution? Dousing them in cold water to get them to quit it. Kind of like when your household cat gets onto the kitchen table and you squirt her with a water pistol.
20. A Big Opportunity
The role of Willow was a phenomenal gig for Warwick Davis, who had to practise sword fighting, horse back riding, caring for a baby, magic performance, and a new accent for the movie. Willow also had a huge casting call, especially providing many opportunities for little people like Davis. Over 225 actors appear in the movie.
21. In a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Some fan conspiracies say that the film Willow is a part of the Star Wars universe. Although these suspicions are false, I can see why people might think that. Willow is directed by Star Wars creator George Lucas, who considered filming the movie in the same locations as Return of the Jedi. Lucas also originally met Warwick Davis while filming for Star Wars and knew he wanted to make a movie for him to star in.
22. Hats Off to Him!
André the Giant is so large that when Robin Wright got chilly on the set of The Princess Bride, he would just place his hand over her head to warm her up. He says his favorite part about being involved in the film is that no one there looked at him any differently for his height.
23. Now That’s True Love
“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You ended my father. Prepare to die". I bet even if you’ve never seen The Princess Bride you’ve heard this line quoted aloud. Mandy Patinkin hears it quoted to him by fans about two or three times a day, but he still loves it. Inigo Montoya is his favorite role of his acting career.
24. Game On!
An on-set version of the board game “Jumanji” recently sold for $60,800! There are a whopping 110 spaces on the official “Jumanji” game board—even if you don't get sucked into a jungle world, sounds like it would take a long time to finish a game.
25. Flexing Those Movie Magic Muscles
Surprisingly, despite his great stature, André the Giant needed assistance lifting Robin Wright during filming for The Princess Bride. He was having back issues, so Princess Buttercup was caught by wires instead of Fezzik’s arms.
26. Losing the Rat Race
The rodent of unusual size, or R.O.U.S., fought in The Princess Bride was actually a man sewn into a rat suit.
27. A Genre Without a Past
Nowadays, I love the kind of escapism that only fantasy films can bring, but before the 1980s they were few and far between. Until filmmaking technologies and techniques and audience interest improved, fantasy was not a common film genre. I guess if you're going to spend a ton of time and money to make a fantasy film that looks utterly ridiculous, it might not be worth the effort.
28. I Have No Words
Georges Méliès was a pioneering French filmmaker for fantasy films. He was working in the early 1900s in the era of silent film and is most well-known for A Trip to the Moon, which he made in 1902 and was extremely innovative for the time that it came out. Méliès and his film would go on to serve as an important part of Martin Scorsese's film Hugo.
29. A Man Before His Time
In Méliès’ most famous film, the characters fly to the moon and encounter a group of lunar inhabitants from whom they must escape. And all this only about 20 years after the invention of the lightbulb! Needless to say, the film was a huge success and influenced other filmmakers to use exciting special effects and more narrative storylines—not just in the fantasy/sci-fi genre, but in films across the board.
30. I Like Big Bucks
The Lord of the Rings series was a huge undertaking. It had a budget of well over $200 million and, all told, took eight years to accomplish.
31. Rooting for the Home Team
Apparently Peter Jackson wanted to #shoplocal for actors for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, because it was all shot in his home country of New Zealand. One in every 160 New Zealanders were a part of the films in some way and all three films were shot at the same time, making it a huge affair for the whole country!
32. Looking the Part
Jackson made sure the Lord of the Rings trilogy was realistic right down to the biological core of it. The plants were growing in Hobbiton months in advance of filming and the creatures were accurate to how they’d be if they existed in real life. Even the weapon were manufactured for the film, with nearly 50,000 pieces of armor and 10,000 arrows being created specifically for the movie.
33. What Big Feet You Have!
If you think there are a lot of guns in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, don’t even get me started on the costumes. There were nearly 20,000 costumes made for the films and all of them were sized and aged appropriately. To make the hobbits all look legit, each actor wore prosthetic feet (about 1,800 pairs total) and some also wore fake ears, noses, and heads.
34. Rated R for Rewrite
Where the Wild Things Are was marketed for adult audiences, which makes sense for nostalgia purposes. However, there might be another reason. Spike Jonze’s first draft of the movie was not child-friendly enough for Warner Brothers’ liking and they wanted Jonze to completely re-do it. With some more time and money he edited it to the point that both him and the studio were happy.
35. Human Bobble Heads
When the wild thing heads arrived on the set of Where the Wild Things Are, any onlookers would have been able to see a bunch of monsters stumbling around like they were tipsy. The heads were too heavy for the actors to walk in a straight line, due in part to the mechanical eyeballs. The monsters’ eyes had to be removed and replaced individually in post-production.
36. It’s Getting Hot in Here
The wild thing actors could only wear their costumes for about a half hour at a time because they got so hot inside. The stunt doubles, on the other hand, were daring enough to wear them for hours on end with no break for AC.
37. Finding a Match for Max
There was an open call put out for Max, the main character of Where the Wild Things Are. The casting team saw thousands of boys and the audition process took multiple months to complete.
38. Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow!
It’s always good when actors have natural chemistry on screen, but Cary Elwes and Robin Wright took it one step farther while filming The Princess Bride. They were so into each other that they kept making up excuses to reshoot the final kiss of the movie—they didn’t want filming to end!
39. Old Hobbits Die Hard
Bilbo Baggins was almost played by Harry Potter instead of Sherlock Holmes’ assistant. Originally, Martin Freeman’s Sherlock filming schedule conflicted too heavily with that of The Hobbit and it looked like he couldn’t agree to the role of the titular hobbit. Both Daniel Radcliffe and Shi LaBeouf were considered, but Peter Jackson was so set on Freeman to play the role that he altered the schedule for him.
40. Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
The Witch of West is supposed to be wicked, but not THAT wicked. Most of her scenes had to be edited down or deleted from The Wizard of Oz because Margaret Hamilton’s performance was deemed too scary.
41. Some Hard Work Never Pays Off
del Toro insisted Pan’s Labyrinth be filmed in Spanish, but there was one big problem: His favorite actor for the roles of the Faun and the Pale Man didn’t speak the language. That didn’t stop him, though. Doug Jones is known for working in strange, heavy costumes and thick makeup, so del Toro said they would dub his voice, but Jones had other plans. Instead, he literally taught himself to speak Spanish while on set. Unfortunately, del Toro still wasn’t happy with it and dubbed the lines anyway—worth a shot!
Guillermo del Toro, one of the most well-known fantasy filmmakers in the world, was the first person approached to direct The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. He said he would do it on one condition: Alsan, the lion, had to die and stay that way. Where’s the risk in the Aslan’s end if he’s just going to be resurrected? Evidently, the studio didn't agree, because Andrew Adamson ended up directing and he didn't take del Toro's note.
43. Secret Snape
Has there ever been a more perfect casting than the choice to have the late Alan Rickman play Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series? Pretty much everyone who read the books took one look at the actor in his long black cloak and though "Yup, that's Snape". JK Rowling also seems to have had this same faith in Rickman, and as such she told him a specific secret about his character that she had never told anyone else, and which helped him inform his portrayal of Hogwarts' potions master. Sadly, Rickman passed in 2016, and he never once shared what the secret was. Shortly after his passing, Rowling finally revealed it to the world: She had told him the meaning behind the word "always". For those who aren't diehard HP fans, when Dumbledore discovers that Snape's Patronus takes the shape of a doe, just like Harry's mother's did, he says "After all this time?" and Snape responds "Always".