?By Adrian Beiting
The concept of portal hopping has been thoroughly represented in most popular mediums, including TV, movies, books, and videogames. Of course, it’s easy to see why since being able to leap into a portal at will would make a lot of things easier, including such intriguing options as grabbing a bite to eat, going to (or escaping from) school, and skipping ahead in line to purchase portal-themed TV series, movies, books, and videogames. But their mere ability to reduce our commutes does not account for their entire appeal to our little geek hearts. After all, in many cases, the portal traveler has a somewhat limited understanding of where his portal will take him. So, it’s the portal’s mysteriousness that really intrigues us; where does it lead? What will we find there? Dino-people? Pizza trees? Free robots? We decided to compile a list to celebrate the 10 greatest cases involving these wormholes of wonder. Which portal adventures made it? Jump in to find out.
10) Super Mario 64
Of course, the brothers Mario are no stranger to journeying to new lands and hidden locales by use of alternative means of transportation (commonly via their trusty warp pipes) but it was Super Mario 64‘s fantastic portal paintings that earned them a spot on this list, as it’s hard to argue that traveling somewhere via hanging canvas is just way cooler than a simple piece of plumbing pipe. And let’s not forget that Mario’s destinations were quite awesome as well, as one fateful jump into one of SM64‘s portrait portals could help Mario journey to many diverse and fantastic lands, ranging from Jolly Roger Bay to Bob-omb Battlefield.
Most will recall the plot from Half-Life to involve a significant amount of portal hopping — usually landing leading protagonist Gordon Freeman in the center of some alien-related conflict, as evidenced by the representative video above. Like its cousin Portal, Half-Life did fine justice to the concept of portal travel, along with the first person shooter genre in general.
8) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The “portal” in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is clearly of the non-traditional variety compared to many of its companions on this list — no flashing lights or glowing circles floating in mid air here. No, gentlemen and gentleladies, we’re talking about a piece of good old fashioned, well-constructed bedroom furniture that transported the heroes of C. S. Lewis’ forever classic tale into the fantastic and subversively religious fantasy land of Narnia, making it both a practical and stylish means of otherworldly travel.
7) The Subtle Knife
The His Dark Materials book trilogy by Phillip Pullman features a lot of portal- (or “window-“) enabled interdimensional intrigue. The element in the series that portal pundits might find most interesting however is included in the HDM saga’s second book, The Subtle Knife; in TSK, Pullman introduces the character of Will Parry, a 12-year-old boy and owner of The Subtle Knife, a blade which can be used to create portals into other worlds and has the ability to cut through anything its wielder should desire. How much badassery can one utensil pack? Not much, if you were wondering.
6) Mighty Max
The two seasons of Mighty Max that saw the light of day had a lot of cool things going for it already, especially for what was in retrospect a TV show created to advertise a toyline that was essentially Polly Pocket for boys: a villain voiced by Tim Curry, a Viking bodyguard, a talking fowl friend named Virgil and of course, a magical red cap that created portals capable of transporting Max around the world in the blink of an eye. The series was also kind enough to include other forms of nerdery, including storylines based around videogames, space travel, and time paradoxes. And of course, the opening theme kicked some major rear too.
Where would this list be without the aptly titled Valve Corp 2007 Orange Box favorite? In Portal, players use a tool referred to as the ASHPD or Portal Gun to create their own portals on demand to solve puzzles for the strangely overemotional computer GLaDOS. Using the portals to solve the rooms involved a great deal of thought, hand-eye coordination and basic knowledge of physics, since the portals transferred velocity along with the player. Thanks to its creative gameplay and stellar writing (and its preposterously fantastic Jonathan Coulton-penned end credits song, “Still Alive”) the game itself turned out to be quite awesome and was praised by both critic and gamer alike upon its release.
4) Alice in Wonderland
Like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Alice in Wonderland‘s portal pathology is inspired not as much by sci-fi razzle dazzle as it is by good, old-fashioned fairy tale magic, but just because Alice isn’t jumping through a shiny floating oval doesn’t make her trip down the rabbit hole any less of a portal getaway worth mentioning. To the contrary, with characters like the Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts in the mix, Lewis Carroll’s timeless classic is unforgettable.
3) Being John Malkovich
Malkovich, Malkovich? Craig Schwartz’s (John Cusack) discovery of a portal that leads into the head of actor John Malkovich while taking care of his clerical LesterCorp duties on floor 71/2 was a storied one indeed, as it’s safe to say that there hasn’t been any portal adventure quite like the one Schwartz, Malkovich and company embarked upon after the portal’s discovery. This is not to say that it was a good idea to start offering up the portal as some form of freakish theme park ride, as Malkovich himself learned quickly enough after hopping through it and traveling into his own mind. Upon escaping from Malkovich Land, the Steppenwolf sage appropriately chose not to mince words: “That portal is mine and it must be sealed forever for the love of God.”
Fox planned to cancel this gem after only its first season, but the show was resuscitated to ride out its run of four more seasons by the fanboy firestorm that promptly followed. Featuring such awesome episode titles as “Dinoslide” and redheaded geekcrush Wade Welles, Sliders typically featured a new parallel universe for the gang to explore in each story along with, naturally, a portal to slide through to get there. Of course, Fox couldn’t help but meddle in the creative process as the series continued, seriously watering down the quality of the later episodes. Whisper it sexily with us now: “Sliderrrs.”
Obviously, the Stargate franchise has seen plenty of action since the 1994 Roland Emmerich flick starring James Spader and Kurt Russel. The first Stargate focuses on a giant Egyptian artifact that, we learn, can transport the traveler to a planet thousands of miles away. Of course it helps that the Stargate portal is gargantuan in size AND an artifact that is shrouded in mystery, upping the geek ante considerably. Add in the rest of the Stargate franchise — SG-1, that Infinity cartoon, Atlantis, the new Universe TV series, all those DVD movies — and that’s a whole of portals through the universe. And since these portals are capable of transporting armies, aliens and Kurt Russell instead of just Jerry O’Connell, we’re giving the #1 spot to Stargate.