by Dane Youssef
This one wasn't much when it first came out. The budget was extravagant and the box-office returns just barely covered the big fat price tag. And as measly as a movie as this was for it's day on it's own merits, it's dwarfed even further by the immortal "Lord Of The Rings" saga.
"Willow" is the film the impish Warwick Davis is renown for his participation in the never-ending Horror-movie stories, the "Leprechaun" movies.
This was his first lead role and he brings a likeable and earnest charisma to the role instead of just trying to be little and cute like so many child performers and other midget actors. Thankfully, he proves himself as to be more than just a cheap gimmick like so many other "bit-players." He allows himself to really give a true performance and the film itself doesn't go for the cheapest of shots with any of the height of it's little people.
As a filmmaker, George Lucas is and has always been a homage-payer. He's one of those filmmakers who always tries to re-make those old films he loved during his own adolescence. With space operas: "Star Wars," With Matinee Adventure flicks: "Indiana Jones," With futuristic sci-fi adventures, "THX 1138."
And now with "Willow," he attempts to do the same for the sword-and-sorcery genre.
Notice I use the word "attempts."
The whole universe is derived from the whole medieval sword-and-sorcery genre. And it's a full bar and buffet smorgasbord here: We've got "Lord Of The Rings," "The Story of Moses," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Gulliver's Travels" just to name a few.
Val Kilmer is pound-for-pound one of the great heavyweight champion actors from here to Timbaktu. Perhaps even Pluto. But he even he and the rest of this considerable cast can't make it's movie as special and magical as it's title character is supposed to be.
The 20th century and the 21st saw few better thespians. He truly delivered an Oscar for his re-birth as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's "The Doors."
Here, anyone could have done the same job he does. It's his most unremarkable performance to date. They didn't need the great Kilmer for this one.
Any stock actor with a Screen Actors Guild card or with one year of high school drama class experience could have done as good a job.
Jean Marsh does a good job as Queen Bavmorda, but just about any random British actress on the planet could have done the same and gotten the same results.
Sadly, this one just stands toe-to-toe with the He-Man "Master Of The Universe" movie from 1987.
Even though Ron Howard Opie Cunningham was at the helm for this one, just about any hack with access to a tripod (that tilts low) could have done the same and gotten the same results.
The real problem with "Willow" is that it's totally unremarkable. It's about a likeable little guy with a big heart for his family. He has a magical gift and uses it to make a name for himself. He meets a great warrior with a shady record who may find love along the way.
They do battle with a wicked queen who happens to be a powerful witch with a great army, a two-headed dragon, a menacing lieutenant General who wears a mask scarier than his own face, yada yada yada yada. Do you even care?
There are two little like the 3-inch tall people in "Gulliver's Travels" called Brownies named Rool and Franjean with helium voices and ethnic caricatured French accents that would have been considered embarrassing in the '30's. They irritate and confuse, but never amuse. Unlike R2D2 and C3PO or Marcus Brody, they never provoke as much as a smile.
Lucas planned for this to be something of a series saga of films. But since this one barely made any return whatsoever, Lucas wound up scrapping the film "trilogy" and continuing the story in books. Hey, anyone out there ever actually so much as read a copy of the continuing "Willow" story?
With "Star Wars," "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti," Lucas swung for the fence like a dominant male gorilla. He pulled out all stops and then some. This one is on-par with your average episode of a Saturday Morning TV series, even for the day.
With Lucas' legendary "Indiana Jones" saga, we all remember one key gruesome scene in each movie---like the "false grail" scene in "Last Crusade" or the "Ripped Heart" in "The Temple Of Doom." In "Willow," there's a similar sequence inspired by the "Bay Of Pigs" from the Greek tales of "The Iliad and The Odyssey."
Lucas story pretty much recycles the whole outline plot of the "Star Wars" saga (episodes IV, V, and VI). Unfortunately, Lucas and Howard don't really feel like they're trying to have the last word of the genre as they did in many of their earlier efforts.
You can see anything just as good and inspired/thrilling/etc. every Saturday morning on just about any network.
Unlike "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" or "Cocoon," this is not a product of theirs that defines the genre it's from.
And what is it with the baby Elora Danan? She's so much of the damn plot and yet, all she does really is smile and cry on cue. There are babies in diaper commercials who have characters with more depth.
I like the two-headed dragon. It doesn't look like the traditional fire-breathing dragon. It hardly even looks like a serpent. This one is kind of inspired. As a change of pace, it has more of an ugly look to it with long and furry serpent necks, almost like an ostrich. It's really weird.
Although, it's one of the few inspired touches in this routine medieval epic.
It's a Lucasfilm Ltd. production, so the special effects are (as it goes without saying) in the Oscar nomination territory. Enthralling for the day, some even by today's standards still shine. Lucas has made a bigger name for himself as a innovator of special effects than as a filmmaker.
While it was a defining role for actor Warwick Davis and it employs more midgets and dwarves than any other production (and respectively), for anyone else, "Willow" is never anything special, nor does it attempt to be.
Even for it's day "Willow" was unremarkable. Seriously, how many tales of swords, sorcery, kings, queens, dwarves, dragons and trolls had we seen in movies, TV shows, books, fairy tales and what-have-you before this came along? Yet another case of, "Too little, too late."
Nearly 20 years later, that old axiom proves even more true.
--Still With Love For Lucas and "Opie Cunningham," Dane Youssef