Newest Review: ... with everything from dwarfish, heroic Willow determined to do the right thing as a family man to madcap Madmartigan, out for the main ... more
I don't love Sorsha, she kicked me in the face!
Member Name: Wolfzilla
Advantages: Great fun, great production values
Disadvantages: Could have done with a teensy bit more depth for some characters
While it would be wrong to say Willow retreads or rehashes Star Wars, it certainly strikes a similar chord, and is the same sort of feel good, family friendly adventure that A New Hope was, unpretentious good time cinema. When you consider Star Wars was basically a fairytale with a Sci Fi setting, it's not surprising Lucas turned to a straight fantasy feature once their original Star Wars trilogy came to its conclusion. What does differ slightly between Willow and Star Wars is that Lucas had some money to play with, hence the directorial duties of Howard and acting abilities of Val Kilmer being at the film's disposal. Making the jump from Lucas' more famous series was Warwick Davis, who had played the most prominent Ewok, Wicket, in Return of the Jedi 5 years earlier.
The film is set in a mystical realm under the rule of the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). While she holds an iron grip on the land with her magic, she lives in fear of a prophecy of a child born with a distinctive mark who will lead to her downfall. She dispatches her daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and lackeys to inspect every baby born in the kingdom. However, with the help of a kind midwife, a baby with a distinctive birthmark on her arm is smuggled out of the castle and sent down the stream in a hamper...
Untouched by Bavmorda's evil reign is a small Elywn (that's short-people) village, presided over by High Aldwin (Billy Barty) a powerful magician. The village is also home to Willow Ufgood. Willow is a farmer struggling to get his crops in to keep his wife and kids safe. His world is changed forever when a Dykeenie (read: full size human) baby washes up at the shore of the river behind his crop, bearing a strange mark on her arm.
High Aldwin senses something special about the baby, and sends Willow and the village's strongest warriors to take the baby to the land of the Dykeenies and hand her over to them. However, the only Dykeenie they find willing to listen to them is a man left to rot in a cage by the road named Madmartigan (Kilmer), against his better judgement Willow hands the baby over to Madmartigan, and tries to set off home, only to be accosted by a fairy, who informs him that the baby, Elora Dannan, has chosen him as her guardian, and he must deliver her to the Kingdom of Tir Asleen where she can help inspire the revolution to defeat the evil Bavmorda. With a reluctant Madmartigan and a couple of spritely Brownies (Rick Overton and Kevin Pollak) in tow, Willow sets off on an adventure to save the world and end Bavmorda and her reign of terror.
Of course that doesn't do the film's plot total justice, missed out are a good few battles, a wagon cart chase, a two-headed dragon, some beastly trolls, an unlikely romance and a shape-changing good witch, but you get the gist of it. A group of unlikely heroes band together to foil an evil ruler. Certain Star Wars parallels can be seen with the characters, the farmer in Willow/Luke, the lovable rogue in Madmartigan/Han Solo, the pair of sidekicks in the Brownies/The Droids, but its about there the similarities of plot really end, and Willow takes the characters and spins its own enchanting, action packed and perhaps sometimes a bit silly fable with them.
I mean there is no point whatsoever trying to state an argument that Willow is a great movie filled with insightful dialog and great depth, because to be blunt nothing could be further from the truth, but one thing that Willow most definitely can be accused of being is a damn good time. It's basically Lord of the Rings if you remove all the walking and terrible scenes of emotion (and that awful song that went with them) and replaced them with decent acting and a healthy dollop of fun. It's not perfect, the backstories for Madmartigan and Sorsha that made it into the novelisation and comic adaptation would have went a long way to rounding out their characters, especially Madmartigan's, who shares a great onscreen chemistry with a soldier fighting Bavmorda named Airk (played by Gavan O'Herily), whom he has a history of disappointing which is alluded to, but never explained, in the script. While trying to get too deep into the characters in a film like this could end badly, a lack of any depth to some of the characters is what really lets the film down. Take Pat Roach's General Kael. The head of Bavmorda's army, a prominent face on the film's poster, quite rightly with his imposing black armour and skull mask. Check how many times I mention him in my summary of the plot above. He had the potential to be, and was clearly designed as, the film's Darth Vader, only while Vader's background was shrouded in mystery in A New Hope, his prominent place in the plot in fact made you all the more intrigued. Kael just kind of storms about and looks cool, had they actually perhaps given him a character, and Madmartigan more of a rival, the film could have benefited.
Yet as is it's still hard to fault Willow, it manages to keep great action set pieces coming, some of Willow and Madmartigan's banter is great, and it does it all while keeping things family friendly. It's a bit like a nice amalgamation of every fantasy story you've ever heard, given that Lucasfilm twist (though oddly, I don't remember the film being well merchandised to take advantage of the numerous great character designs)
It's well acted, Davis is great as the titular hero, and as I mentioned his chemistry with Kilmer is great. Kilmer's always been a bit hit or miss for me, but he's actually on form here in a role that seems like it was written for him. Marsh and Roach's demonic duo are a hoot to hate, Pollak and Overton are hilarious as the French(?) accented Brownies and Joanne Whalley is great to look at as the fiery redhead Sorsha, even if her character isn't particularly great.
The bigger budget afforded to Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic effects men is for the most part money well spent, though there are a few discrepancies, mostly with the trolls, which appear to be bad gorilla suits. The 2-headed dragon is well accomplished with stop-motion animation that would have made Ray Harryhausen proud and the blue screen work to bring the minute Brownies to life is actually pretty incredible for the time.
Likewise James Horner's score is fantastic. Sweeping themes that could only fit a fantasy movie like this.
Overall, while it may not be perfect, I can't help but recommend Willow to anyone who just wants a fun family adventure movie. It may not change the way you look at film, but it will guarantee you 90 minutes worth of entertainment.
Summary: Lord of the Rings. If it were fun.