Ossus Library Index Fantasy Movie Index

WILLOW

Directed by Ron Howard (1988, Columbia Tristar)
Starring Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, and Jean Marsh

A young wizard attempts to return a child of prophecy to its own people, thwarting those who would destroy her.

View Count: 5 times

 

 

3 stars+

February 15th, 2003 on DVD

 
    I love the idea behind Willow, and the story has a lot of charm to it, but the movie suffers because of the acting and execution.

Made today, this movie could have looked a lot better than it does. Special effects today make fantasy movies like The Fellowship of the Ring look fantastic. Unfortunately, Willow came a decade and a half too early, when computer animated effects, which are necessary for this type of movie, were just beginning. The monsters in the moat look fake, the trolls look like people in furry suits.

The story idea is not new, either. For an evil witch to seal away all the pregnant women so that her prophesized nemesis will not be born is logical. But Bavmorda is naive to think that she can defeat prophecy. Even her strongest minions cannot find the baby after it has left the castle, thanks to a brave handmaiden.

The Nelwyns were pretty well cast, though they looked rather awkward when they walked. I don't know if they were wearing prosthetics, which made it difficult to move, but many of their movements seemed unnatural. The Nelwyn children were an exception, especially Willow's kids. They were both adorable, but the girl was terrific in the scene where she was terrified by the dog/wolf.

The trek that takes Willow and his companions to the crossroads is pretty dull, simply the group walking and scenery. At least there was one scene where they had to hide from one of those ugly dogs. I don't know why it didn't sniff them out, though, especially looking for a baby.

The bad acting comes in the form of Madmartigan. I don't know what kind of character he was supposed to be, but he really rubbed me the wrong way. I much preferred him as a serious swordsman, rather then trying to be Han Solo. This is disappointing, because his character had so much to go on. He is a womanizer, which is depicted in a great scene after he loses the baby Elora. Willow was, of course, right not to want to leave her with him.

The action getting out of the mess at the inn was fun, but went on for too long, with all the standard action clichés, such as Madmartigan being dragged behind the cart. I liked the way the wheels fell apart, though. As a reluctant hero, I liked the character of Madmartigan. He just wasn't played right, more often seeming like he was intentionally trying to get the audience to laugh.

The better humor comes from the two Brownies. Franjean and Rool (the only characters other than Elora and Willow to make it into the sequel novels) definitely had the best dialog in the entire movie. In their roles as protectors and guides, they failed miserably and hilariously! They were always last to arrive, being so small. Too bad they couldn't have hitched another ride on an owl.

Another neat part of the movie concerns Fin Raziel. Even if Willow couldn't transform her back to her Daikini self, at least he was able to to create a more useful form. She went from muskrat to crow, convenient to escape Sorsha and to guide Willow to Tir Asleen. There, she was transformed into a goat, better to knock the bad guys over! Only when she is needed in Daikini form was Willow successful. A plot device, sure, but a good one.

The battles were fairly well executed, both in Tir Asleen and at Nockmar. Willow's look when General Kael takes Elora away was total anguish. I loved the way Sorsha looked at Madmartigan in awe when he was dispatching soldiers by himself. No wonder she fell in love with him! That makes more sense than her falling for his poetry; I can't figure out why she didn't kill him in her tent right then. In Nockmar, I was reminded of Robin Hood, which was better (and later), and laid out almost exactly the same way, complete with catapult and stairway to the main tower, where a ritual was being performed. My only query is that both castles looked far too small, on the inside and outside, to house so many people.

What I remember disliking in the past about this movie is something that I truly enjoyed this time around. Except for Fin's "nah-nah-nah" talk when she was spinning Bavmorda around, this magical fight felt truly magical. It wasn't the best, but I was again reminded of another, later movie, in that Gandalf and Saruman took it to even greater heights in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The resolution of the movie has Willow saving the day, of course, with his disappearing pig trick. Bavmorda, horrified, ends up sending herself to the netherworld instead of the baby, by accident. Willow returns triumphant, a real wizard.

This is still a really good movie, especially considering the stuff we don't get to see. I think the reason this movie has such a following is because we learn about an evil that is coming into the world, in the form of Bavmorda. I think we could have had a better narrative than the opening scrawl, but I would have loved to see some of Bavmorda's army taking over the other castles. I suppose Eric's decimated army gives us enough of a hint as to what happened. There is history in this story, and peoples that we barely got to see. We get to wonder if Franjean and Rool are typical brownies (probably, given the Gulliver's Travels scene), and we only get a hint of the fairies.

The music was the usual great fantasy stuff, very uplifting, very heroic, and even spooky in spots. Just what I expect from a Lucasfilm production.

It makes me a little upset that the sequel novels changed the world so drastically. The text the precedes the movie tells us that the prophecy was of Elora Danan signalling the end of Bavmorda, not as a savior of the people of the world. I liked the way she ended up doing it, however, not as anybody expected at all. The magic was so innate in Elora that she must have called Willow to her, though she didn't know what she was doing.

The special features on the DVD are nothing really special. The best thing about it is the main menu, a revolving 360 degree scene, showing off the main characters, and locations.

The main feature is a 1988 documentary, which doesn't really say much, except to advertise the movie, and indeed shows more of the movie than behind-the-scenes shots. It sure looks like George Lucas had an immense amount of control, seeing as he wasn't the director. I wonder if he did the same thing, to the extent of contradicting the directors, with the directors of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi?

There are two features showing us the dawn of digital filmmaking, with the morphing sequence for Fin Raziel. One of them is an Easter egg hidden among the TV spots, dating from 1988. It showed some of the morphing sequences, but couldn't really tell us much about it, since we don't know much about computer imaging. The one on the Special Feature menu is really just an update of that feature, with much of the same footage, and just a few extra interviews. Even the TV spots and trailers were rather uninteresting, seeming to promote Lucasfilm more than the movie.

I was just happy to see the movie in widescreen after so long. Maybe the long anticipation of the movie brought my expectations up too high.

 
   

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