A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Star Wars Ewok Adventures: Caravan of Courage

May 11, 2010

Star Wars Ewok Adventures: Caravan of Courage

I remember watching this made-for-TV movie when it was first broadcast in the eighties and being disappointed in it. The chronology of the whole thing is a tad mixed up in my mind. You see – my uncles wrote and directed the second Ewok movie which came out a year later. So I had perhaps more exposure to Ewok related things than your average twelve year old as a result. I had a couple of novels of Ewok adventures which I quite enjoyed. They were tales only of Ewoks – no humans or starships – just fantasy adventures. Then there was the animated Ewok television show, which took some of its stories from the novels I had read. And there were these two live action movies. I don’t actually remember if I knew when I watched the first movie if I had been told that my uncles were already working on the second one. (Though I’m sure the second one was in production by the time the first one was broadcast.)

In the hazy memories of my youth I remember this movie being long, slow, and unbelievably boring. Watching it now I actually find that it actually does a pretty good job. I suppose in the intervening time I’ve seen a lot of TRULY bad movies, so I am more forgiving. It’s not a good movie, but it’s not the interminable slog that I remember. It’s a well meaning magical quest tale that is struggling with a number of problems.

For one thing there’s the matter of budget. Everything about this movie speaks of a massive effort to disguise the paltry budget they are restricted to. At times the video quality is extremely poor – so clearly this was not shot on film. The faces of the Ewok costumes are not articulated in any way so when they speak their Ewokish lines their mouths barely move. (Warwick Davis does an admirable job working the mouth of his mask – reaching his tongue out through the teeth and even managing to move the mouth somewhat.) The special effects are rarely special. I’ll give a pass to the rubbery wolf monster puppet and it’s stop-motion counterpart (for wide shots) because the tech of the time probably didn’t allow for anything more convincing. But the spiders later in the movie are laughably bad (visible strings and all.) There’s also very little footage of the Ewok’s treetop village as depicted in the Return of the Jedi and the Ewok cartoons. Apparently the Ewoks live in huts at the base of the trees as well. Because the budget had been blown on costumes and stop-motion and a puppets and the little fairy things there was no budget remaining to create domestic animals for the Ewoks (or so I surmise) resulting in the somewhat incongruous presence of terrestrial ponies, goats, ferrets and llamas on the forest moon of Endor.

Then there’s the language problem. The film makers chose not to sub-title the Ewoks (probably because the movie was meant to appeal to children too young to read in some cases) so there are vast parts of the movie filled with pantomime. So large are these bits that they’ve added somewhat heavy handed narration to explain the plot to us. Any time you have a narrator telling you what you’re watching at that very moment things have gone disastrously wrong. (See: The Creeping Terror – one of my favorite MST3K episodes.) On the plus side it IS Burl Ives providing the narration – so even if it’s insipid and regrettable even so it is melodious and comforting to listen to.

And the final problem with the movie is that there’s just not much to the quest involved. After their starcruiser crashes and their parents are kidnapped by a giant ogre thing Cindel and Mace set out on a journey to rescue them. They travel for a couple days they get there, and have their confrontation with the ogre. Along the way they overcome obstacles and become fast friends with the Ewoks that help them. It’s fun, but there’s really not much to it. With the result that there’s a lot of padding to get it out to the hour-and-forty minutes of a TV movie. There’s a bit at the start when Cindel is sick and the Mace almost gets eaten by a muppet in a tree. Then there’s Mace magically getting stuck in a little pond. Then the horse with Cindel on it runs away. Little episodes that momentarily imperil our heroes but don’t seem to serve to advance the plot in any way. There’s a lot of that.

While I’m thinking of it I’d also like to comment that the ad breaks are very strangely placed. If you’re making a made-for-TV movie it would seem to me to be pretty self-explanatory that you build up to an action crescendo right before an ad break and leave the viewer with a mini cliff-hanger which makes them want to stick around to see how things come out. Strangely, however, there are at least two fade-to-black breaks that come just AFTER the resolution of a little action scene. Perhaps this contributed to the pacing problems I had when I first viewed the move.

Still, despite its shortcomings, I find I no longer hate this movie. It’s a fun little adventure – sort of a Ulysses light – for kids. It has some hints of Star Wars (particularly in Mace’s costume and blaster) and some mystical magic as well. Think of it as a pilot for Willow, which I’ll admit I really quite enjoy. I’m impressed to find that it even involves a little bit of a character arc for Mace as he learns to love the Ewoks. It could never be considered a good movie, but it’s not truly awful either. Far, far better than Attack of the Clones at any rate.

May 11, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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