The Very Best and Worst of Pagan Film

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This weekend the very best, and worst, in film will be celebrated. On Sunday, the 79th Academy Awards (The Oscars) will be handed out to those films thought to be the very best of the past year, and the day before that you’ll see the Golden Raspberries (The Razzies) handed out to the very, very worst. Films with pagan themes hold the strange honor of holding several nominations in both.

In the category of the very best is Guillermo del Toro’s masterful “Pan’s Labyrinth”. This dark fairytale, set during the rise of Franco in Spain, has garnered six Oscar nominations. Achievement in Art Direction, Achievement in Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Achievement in Makeup, Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score), and Original Screenplay.

Guillermo del Toro with Doug Jones as ‘the faun’.

Del Toro’s film has earned high praise from critics (including Stephen King), and won the “Golden Tomato” award from Rotten Tomatoes for being the best-reviewed foreign film of 2006. This film was widely anticipated by many in the Pagan community, and few (I think) were disappointed with the final product. You can read my review of the film, here.

“It’s a matter of creating a fairy tale that is in favor of disobedience – obedience disguised as blind patriotism is often invoked for the worst causes. It’s at a time when we are supposed to be better people by not questioning anything and in reality we are better people by doing it.”Guillermo Del Toro, Oscar Watch

On the opposite side of the scale is perhaps one of the most ill-advised remakes in movie history, “The Wicker Man”. Based loosely off the amazing 1973 film about a police officer running afoul of a island of Pagans off the Scottish coast, and starring Christopher Lee and directed by Robin Hardy, this remake by Nicolas Cage* and Neil LaBute takes everything that was good about the original and turns it into a bizarre misogynist screed involving killer bees.

Nicolas Cage and Neil LaBute discussing their bizarre hatred of women.

Thus, one of the most beloved pagan-themed films is remade into one of the worst pagan-themed films of all time. As a consequence it has racked up an impressive five nominations in the Razzies. Worst Picture, Actor, Screenplay, Remake and Screen Couple. I never formally reviewed the film on this blog, but I did eventually see it on DVD, and it truly is one of the worst films I ever had to sit through (the director’s commentary is the only truly scary thing about it). Here is what HecklerSpray had to say about the film in their Razzies betting odds.

“You tend to get an idea that a film remake is bad when the director of the original angrily instructs his lawyers to remove his name from all promotional material for the remake, and that’s just what happened with The Wicker Man. In years to come, The Wicker Man will be used as a blueprint for what not to do when you’re remaking a classic film. You don’t swap a creepy pagan island for a town full of feminists. You don’t replace Edward Woodward’s righteous fundamental Christian virgin policeman for Nicolas Cage being a bit scared of bees. And you absolutely don’t tack on a ridiculous ending starring the angry boy from Spider-Man just for the hell of it. The Wicker Man is so profoundly awful it almost verges on sacrilege but – incredibly – The Razzies say it wasn’t the worst film from the last year. Current Razzies Worst Movie betting odds – 6/1”

I hope both films sweep their nominated categories.

*Perhaps not so coincidently, Nicolas Cage ruined another of my favorite films with his “Wings of Desire” remake “City of Angels”. Maybe he should stick to playing roles like “Ghost Rider”.