A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.)

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July 2, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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