A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 124 – Willow

Willow – July 2nd, 2010

I admit it. I had never seen this before. Sure, I laugh when MST3K makes fun of it, but I’d never actually seen it before. That doesn’t seem quite fair, so here we are. It seems strange, I know. I’m a big fantasy fan. I’m sure the local Blockbuster had it when I was a kid. I saw Labyrinth. I saw The Dark Crystal. I saw Neverending Story about a billion times. I saw the Ewok movies and a whole host of forgettable made-for-tv fantasies. How did I miss this one? I have no clue.

As fantasy plots go, it’s fairly standard fare. There’s an evil queen, a prophecy about a child who’ll be her downfall, and then the quest to keep said child away from said queen until… You know, I’m not sure. The whole movie takes place while Elora, the kid, is still a pre-verbal baby. Maybe I missed some key plot exposition or maybe the plan was to somehow hide Elora long enough for her to grow up and vanquish Bavmorda, the queen, herself? Given how easily Elora’s found in the first place, that seems like a totally unworkable plan. The way it turns out, it’s not Elora who’s Bavmorda’s undoing, it’s the people acting on her behalf to protect her. So. Yeah. Let’s not dwell. Let’s just move on.

Baby Elora ends up in the hands of Willow Ufgood, a farmer from a small peaceful village who has aspirations of being a sorcerer. When the village is attacked not a full day after Elora’s arrival (see? she floated there on the river! and they still found her a day later!) the village council decides to send Willow off to bring the baby back to where it came from – presumably a village full of taller people, as Willow’s village is all a small race known as the Nelwyns. Of course it doesn’t go as planned and he ends up traveling across the land with a rogue swordsman, Madmartigan; a sorceress, Fin Reziel; and two Brownies whose names I don’t care about.

Okay, hold on. The Brownies. Just. No. Please. I liked Madmartigan very early on just because he hated them and got them off my screen. They’re supposed to be funny but really they’re just grating.

Back to the plot. Our trio (okay, quintet, but let’s ignore the Brownies) heads off to um. A castle? Where they’ll supposedly be safe? They aren’t safe there, not at all. So why go there? Because it has weapons? Who knows. They go, the baby gets grabbed, and the climax is a big battle at Bavmorda’s fortress with her army and an army Madmartigan somehow convinced an old friend to bring along and upstairs there’s Bavmorda and Fin Reziel battling with magic. Oh, and somewhere along the way, apparently in a deleted scene, Bavmorda’s daughter Sorcha turns against her and falls for Madmartigan.

It’s kind of messy. From what I can tell, there was a lot cut out that gave the world more depth and the story more coherence. As it stands, it’s not bad, but it’s kind of confusing in places. But I’m watching this as an adult and holding it to the standard of movies like The Dark Crystal and Neverending Story (which it shares an actress with, by the way – see if you can spot her) and my nostalgia for them. If I ignore the plot holes and stuff that’s cut out and the Brownies and the dated effects, and focus on the fun stuff, it’s really not a bad movie at all.

I do really enjoy seeing Warwick Davis on screen in a leading role. He’s a lot of fun and he does a good job with the character of Willow. Val Kilmer is just plain bizarre as Madmartigan, but that fits the role the character plays, so I’m down with that. It’s got three Wilhelms, which is so awesome I can’t express it. I’m kind of curious about finding the books IMDB mentions, because the world feels like it has a lot more to it that we never see. I’m sure if I’d seen this as a kid I’d have wanted to read the books and spent as much time thinking about it as I spent thinking about Neverending Story. So I feel kind of bad about laughing at it for all this time. I mean, sure, it’s got some cheese and the effects aren’t great and there are plot holes. But it’s fun and well-acted for the most part and it’s got good action and battle scenes, so what’s the problem, right? I liked Willow just fine.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Willow

July 2, 2010

Willow

In my teenaged years I lived and breathed fantasy. I devoured the works of Madame L’Engle, Piers Anthony, Lloyd Alexander, Wendy and Richard Pini and Anne McCaffrey. I had an all consuming desire to see in the theaters the kind of adventures and magic I was always reading about. And I was almost always disappointed. Very few fantasy films then or now were ever able to really capture that magic feeling I was after. The Neverending Story came mighty close. The Dark Crystal was pretty much perfect. And then there was Willow. George Lucas was trying at the time to create a fantasy franchise with the power of Star Wars. He tried with the Ewoks movies. He tried with Labyrinth. And he tried with Willow. At the time that this came out I saw it at least twice in the theater. But even then I was watching the movie more for what it could have been than for what it was.

The state-of-the-art big budget special effects of the day were not quite up to the task for one thing. This was produced during the primordial dawn of the digital effects age. It doesn’t contain any all-digital creatures, but I remember there was a big deal made of the digital motion blur and tweening used to smooth out the stop-motion of the big two-headed dragon beast. It still moves in a very stop motion manner though. And the constant blue-screening necessary to insert the brownie “comic relief” characters into the action often shows masking lines and lighting discrepancies. Oh and they don’t have shadows most of the time. About the highest tech in the movie is the digital morphing effect used for the cursed sorceress Fin Raziel. For the most part the effects are serviceable – they show enough of the action that your imagination and suspension of disbelief can fill the gaps of what isn’t right there on the screen.

Of course effects have never been what makes a great movie. But on the other hand you do need a great plot for an epic fantasy film. And again, Willow is serviceable, but not great. It does a lot of what I now recognize as liberal Lucasian “homages” to fantasy tropes, themes and cinematic moments. Amanda started riffing the movie MST style right at the start when the baby who’s coming was foretold to destroy the tyrant queen was laid in the rushes and floated off downstream. My comment: “I can’t see anything here that’s derivative of anything I can think of.” I’ve seen the bit with the hero grabbing the reigns on the runaway cart in countless westerns. The flitting firefly like fairies were actually in one of the Ewok movies. Madmartigan’s swashbuckling remind me of nothing so much as Indiana Jones himself. And I’ve always thought that the climactic confrontation between Willow and the evil Queen Bavmorda lacked impact.

I don’t want to give the impression here that I hate this movie. I realize that I’m spending a lot of time talking negatively about it, but the fact of the matter is that it’s actually pretty good. Aside from some of the cringe inducing comedic elements it’s a fun fantasy film with magic and sword fights, masses of extras and big expensive sets. If you’ve read my reviews of Frost/Nixon and Apollo 13 then you know that I have a great deal of respect for Ron Howard as a director. This isn’t his greatest work, but it’s competently done, and he wrangles a lot of action and special effects without completely losing the plot.

I enjoy Willow for what it is, a good but not great fantasy film. But in the end no mater how hard I wished it to be so this movie was not what I so deeply desired. I would have to wait thirteen more years for the epic fantasy of my dreams to finally arrive on the big screen and truly carry me away to another world. (And even then it was a book to film adaptation and not an original world. I’m still waiting for that.)

July 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment