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Five top films to take you far away from the Covid-19-ridden world outside

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 5/8/2020 Matt Glasby
Judy Garland et al. posing for the camera: There are plenty of places on film to visit to escape the coronavirus-ridden world outside, including the magical land in The Wizard of Oz. There are plenty of places on film to visit to escape the coronavirus-ridden world outside, including the magical land in The Wizard of Oz.

Even during lockdown, movies have the power to take us to brave new worlds. Here are some of the most alluring ...

1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more," says farm girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) to her faithful dog after a tornado whisks them somewhere over the rainbow to the magical land of Oz.

The early scenes of MGM's classic fantasy, based on L Frank Baum's 1900 children's book, depict Dorothy's hardscrabble life in harsh black and white. But the moment they arrive in Oz, the film explodes into glorious Technicolor - hence the yellow brick road, Dorothy's ruby slippers and the Emerald City.

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Indeed, as our heroine and friends encounter Munchkins, witches and flying monkeys, their all-singing, all-dancing adventures take on the feel of a wonderful fever dream. There's even a scene where they fall asleep in a field of deep-red poppies.

Although Dorothy ultimate decides, "There's no place like home!", we've seen numerous returns to Oz, from Sidney Lumet's musical starring Diana Ross, The Wiz (1978), to Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful (2013).

a man standing next to a tree: Chow Yun-fat in a still from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Director Ang Lee wanted to present a © Provided by South China Morning Post Chow Yun-fat in a still from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Director Ang Lee wanted to present a

2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Chances are, China during the 18th-century Qing dynasty wasn't the most inviting place to hang out - not that you'd know it from Ang Lee's magnificent martial arts epic, which stars Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi as warriors seeking a legendary sword.

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Shot in a series of jaw-dropping locations, from the vertiginous Mount Cangyan in Hebei province to the 900-year-old World Heritage Site village of Hongcun in Anhui province, the film casts a powerful spell.

Thanks to the combined genius of Lee, cinematographer Peter Pau Tak-hei, and choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, the fight scenes become dazzling feats of athleticism, with combatants dancing up battlements, walking on water and facing off amid a canopy of bamboo trees.

Rather than getting bogged down in reality, Lee's stated goal was to present a "China of the imagination"; a world to lose yourself in for 120 marvellous minutes. It clearly worked. Not only did the film break box office records, it rejuvenated the wuxia genre for new generations.

a woman standing in front of a building: Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru in The Fall. The film plays like a travelogue of beautiful places you'll never visit. © Provided by South China Morning Post Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru in The Fall. The film plays like a travelogue of beautiful places you'll never visit.

3. The Fall (2006)

Like Madonna, music video director Tarsem prefers to be known by his first name alone. Also like Madonna, he's made some terrible films.

After receiving a critical pasting for The Cell (2000), he decided to finance the follow-up himself. To do so, he took advertising jobs in stunning but inaccessible locations across the globe, somehow crafting a fantasy movie in his spare time with a skeleton crew.

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Shot over a period of four years in more than 20 countries, the result is one of the most gorgeous-looking films ever made. From his hospital bed, injured stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) spins an epic tale of adventure to the young girl (Catinca Untaru) who befriends him.

But what lingers isn't the tale, it's the backdrops. From Jodhpur's cerulean blue city in India to the white-clay plains of Namibia's Deadvlei to the mossy-green temples of Ubud in Indonesia, it's like a travelogue of beautiful places you'll never visit.

Sam Worthington in Avatar. The film is a CGI triumph and takes place on a lush, alien moon. © Provided by South China Morning Post Sam Worthington in Avatar. The film is a CGI triumph and takes place on a lush, alien moon.

4. Avatar (2009)

If the Hollywood rumour mill is to be believed, James Cameron is making at least two sequels to his all-conquering sci-fi spectacle. And although he's been toiling for more than a decade on them, his timing couldn't be better. Who doesn't fancy a trip to Pandora right now?

Characterised by mist-soaked vistas, floating islands and psychedelic coloured flora, this lush, Amazonian moon is a CGI triumph, presented in yet-to-be-bettered 3D that allows viewers to swoop through the forests like the local Na'vi tribespeople.

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While the visuals are magical, the story's pretty iffy - a tired "white saviour" narrative that sees soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) infiltrating the Na'vi to get his mitts on the laughably named mineral unobtanium.

Still, only the critics seemed to care. Audiences were so keen to explore Pandora's awesome environs that Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all time. Unfortunately, like George Lucas before him, Cameron seems to have spent so long finessing his universe, we may never get him back.

a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a still from Inception. What better place to go right now than the mind? © Provided by South China Morning Post Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a still from Inception. What better place to go right now than the mind?

5. Inception (2010)

"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream," wrote Edgar Allen Poe in 1849. Trust Christopher Nolan to take the concept to the next level.

This extraordinary sci-fi thriller posits the idea of "extractors" like Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio), who infiltrate their target's subconscious to steal secrets or plant ideas. This sets the stage for some world-class world-building.

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As Cobb assembles his team to carry out a daring heist, we get to experience different dreamscapes as they do. Some are exciting, like the James Bond-style raid on a snowy mountain fortress; others are awful, such as when Cobb is washed up on a beach beneath the ruined edifices of a city crumbling into the sea.

But what's so appealing about them is that, here, anything is possible. The moment where Cobb and Ariadne (Ellen Page) stop and stare as Paris collapses in on itself is one of the most staggering in modern cinema. Next-level stuff indeed.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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