Tonight will see the release of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1' -- easily the most important movie ever released since 'Unstoppable' -- and we're pretty sure that it's going to feature a lot of awesome wizarding action. Oh, and also walking. Lots of walking. And then some camping. And then some more walking. And then a dude named Xenophilius. And then some more walking.
In fact, sources tell us that Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend between 80 to 100 minutes of the film on the move, guided only by their wands and a metric ton of sexual frustration. While that time is no doubt interrupted by various mysteries and spats, the flick seems assured to join the hallowed pantheon of films about seemingly endless journeys made largely on foot -- road trips without the roads -- the vast majority of which have been either box office hits, critical successes, or 'Bubble Boy.' So with that in mind, let's take a look at seven of the films that paved the way for the assured affection and prosperity that awaits the latest Harry Potter film.
LORD OF THE RINGS
Thanks to 'Clerks 2,' Google was totally useless for this list because every hit eventually lead back to Mooby's. Yes, Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' flicks sure do involve a lot of walking, but if you know another way to get from the Shire to Mt. Doom I'd like to hear it (What's that you say? You can just hop on a giant eagle and you're there in like five minutes? ... You must never tell anyone about this). Fortunately for us all, the world of Middle Earth is a vast and enchanting place filled with beautiful vistas and serious pathos, and so the films always felt like a journey rather than a slog.
THE WAY BACK
Peter Weir's unfussy epic 'The Way Back' (reviewed here and set to be released on Dec. 29) tells the insane and mildly true story of some prisoners who, during the waning days of World War II, escaped from a Siberian gulag and walked over 5,000 miles to India in an effort to flee beyond the reach of Communism. It's 133 minutes of Jim Sturgess and Colin Farrell putting one foot in front of the other, trudging through frozen tundras as thick as their fake Eastern European accents and deserts as expansive as their fake East European accents. Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, and a few new faces round out the cast of a film that refreshingly insists its audience care about everyone equally, regardless of their relative fame. Because the opening title card announces that only three people survive, and the movie is gonna be brutally killing people equally, regardless of their relative fame (weirdly enough, that's literally what it says).
The first installment of Gus van Sant's spiritually connected "Death Trilogy" and the least suspenseful Bourne movie ever, 'Gerry' tells the story of two guys called Gerry (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) who head into the desert, lose interest in their vague destination, and get hopelessly lost. They walk up dunes and across empty stretches of sand and never seem to get any closer to civilization. People and critics (who according to the syntax of this sentence are not people) will tell you that the film is a quasi-existentialist mood-piece on the fragile state of man, but at the end of the day it's really just a PSA about how maps are pretty great. Other lessons to be learned include how things tend to go poorly in movies that are a part of "Death Trilogies," and that van Sant can literally film slowly rolling clouds and it will still be more interesting than 'Last Days.' For a good time, watch 'Gerry' while pretending that it's a documentary.
THE NAKED PREY
Cornel Wilde's 1966 film 'The Naked Prey' is a lot like Mel Gibson's 'Apocalypto' (like ... a lot), except the colonialist undertones are colonialist overtones, the scenes of shocking, primitively ritualistic execution are actually shocking, and the silly subplot about drowning involves fewer fetuses. Wilde himself plays the film's nameless hero, a guide leading some clients of his through an elephant hunt in the African bush. But the natives are restless and insufficiently bribed, and the next thing you know one of Wilde's buddies is being slathered in a thick layer of clay, and rotated slowly over a spit of fire in the worst roasting this side of Lisa Lampanelli. Wilde is saved for last as a human hunt for his unruly hosts, and thus begins his ragged trek across the brush. It's a sly, enduring, and relentlessly entertaining little adventure, and the deus ex machina with which it concludes is one for the ages (and more abruptly satisfying than 'Apocalpyto's' eerily similar final scene).
Hirokazu Kore-eda's 'Still Walking' is one of the very best films of recent years (and will be receiving a Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-ray release in February), but it doesn't really feature all that much walking. In this quiet yet deeply felt tribute to the films of Yasujiro Ozu, the walking is kind of like ... a metaphor, man (not to be confused with Meteor Man). While several characters embark on quick jaunts throughout the film, the walking in 'Still Walking' is ultimately the gentle imagery with which Kore-eda illustrates the stubborn path that a family must travel if they hope to remain intact as the generations tumble down. Stunning stuff.
If only all stories that began with a father driving his two kids out into the desert, trying to murder them both, and ultimately committing suicide instead, ended up so well. Nicholas Roeg's 1971 masterpiece 'Walkabout' is the surreal and poetic tale of what happens to two siblings abandoned in the outback once their father has taken his own life at the hands of metropolitan madness. After a still-revelatory introductory sequence that outclasses the opening of '127 Hours' in every which way, the kids are left to walk through the symbolism of the wild in a strange search for life. Oddly evocative of 'Y tu Mama Tambien,' 'Walkabout' is an amazing journey, and one that must be taken on foot.
'Meek's Cutoff' is here because it just so happens to be the most recent Kelly Reichardt film, but any of her flicks would fit the bill. 'Meek's Cutoff' is Reichardt's third straight film about people walking across the American West, but this time they're not looking for a puppy ('Wendy and Lucy') or to rekindle the past ('Old Joy'), they're looking for water. Described in our review as "The most poorly played game of Oregon Trail ever," the film follows Michelle Williams and co. as they get increasingly lost in their search for gold and a better life. They've got some covered wagons but they are hilariously bad at using them, so they spend most of their time walking in the dirt. If this story has a moral, it's that running is the way to go.