Willow (1988)
Willow (1988)

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 6 min.

Release Date: May 20th, 1988 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Ron Howard Actors: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Billy Barty, Pat Roach, Phil Fondacaro, Kevin Pollak

 


 

A

bold and adventurous fantasy from director Ron Howard and writer George Lucas, “Willow” has all the trademark creativeness and wonder that only this unique duo could produce. Wrought with wry humor, unrestrained mythological elements, and a good old-fashioned story of bravery and friendship, “Willow” is an essential stepping stone to many visual masterpieces, including “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Harry Potter” series. It’s a clear descendant of “Star Wars” (especially with all the odd names), “Labyrinth,” and “Legend,” but it nevertheless retains originality and provides plenty of influence.

In the nearby forest, Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) and his dwarf family discover a human baby, which had been sent downstream in a desperate attempt to save its life from the evil, tyrannical Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). A prophecy foreseeing the queen’s demise is based on the fate of the infant princess, and it’s up to Willow to safely deliver her to a band of rebels who can help fulfill the child’s destiny. During his quest, the miniature man trains to be a mighty sorcerer, but has only been able to conjure magic tricks thus far; he stumbles upon Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a master swordsman with questionable honor, who’s been locked in an iron maiden and hung out for the birds; and he encounters Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), a powerful sorceress. Deceptive, but with a soft spot for acts of heroism, Madmartigan joins Willow in his mission, during which the twosome must outwit the likes of Bavmorda’s daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley); the fearsome General Kael (Pat Roach), who, similar to Darth Vader, sports a grim skull-like mask to hide his scarred face; a monstrous two-headed dragon; and a band of mischievous fairies.

“Willow” possesses many ideas and themes that closely mimic elements found in Tolkien’s epic lore. Ufgood’s people are very much like Hobbits, except that the actors are actually dwarves and never shown to be miniscule in stature merely through camera tricks. The script incorporates a satirical social standpoint amongst the various species that live in the fantasy realm of Nockmaar: while the dwarfish “Nelwyns” are not at the bottom of the food chain, they are discriminated against and called “pecks” in a derogatory fashion. Humans are called “Daikinis,” and though they appear to rule most of the lands, there are also trolls, sprites, and other mythological inhabitants that contribute to a class hierarchy.

The character designs are fascinating, as are the creature effects (helmed by Industrial Light & Magic and nominated for an Academy Award), which appear heavily influenced by “Star Wars.” Additionally, most of the editing and transition wipes resemble shots from Lucas’ 1977 science-fiction epic. It’s an entertaining precursor for contemporary fantasy blockbusters, sporting a unique story, amusing characters, and enough monsters and wizardry to alert audiences that George Lucas was involved. Although fairly typical of swords-and-sorcery pictures of the time (and not as hilariously innovative as “The Princess Bride”), “Willow” is well executed and visually thrilling.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10