Willow

"W-w-i-l-l-o-w! You i-i-i-i-d-iot!"

With Willow, George Lucas tries to do for High Fantasy what he did for Space Opera. He really shouldn't have bothered.

Set in a fantasy land so generic they don't even bother to give it a name, the film kicks off with the birth of Elora Danan, a child prophesied to bring about the end of Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh, there to collect an easy paycheck). Who is Queen Bavmorda? No idea. This film never really takes the time to delve into the backstory of any of its characters. All you need to know is she is your standard evil monarch/sorceress with an imposing looking castle in a desolate wasteland. Fantasy movie villains never build their castle anywhere scenic. Do they have something against nice views? Are they worried they'll attract too many tourists? Or are they just really cheap? I imagine real estate prices are low in desolate wastelands. Ideal for a evil queen looking to save some cash while fighting a lot of expensive wars.

In a moment of shockingly lax security, the guards leave the baby alone with the midwife who then promptly escapes from the castle with the newborn and sends it floating down a river, Moses-style, before she is killed. Bavmorda sends her daughter, Sorcha, and head minion, General Skelator, to find Elora and bring her back so she can cast her into another dimension with a ridiculously long ceremony instead of, you know, just killing the little shit then and there. Honestly, movie villains would fail a lot less if they didn't give into their inherent need to pointlessly over-complicate things.


Eventually the baby is found by the family of Hobbits Nelwyn led by Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), a farmer and amateur magician who longs to be apprentice to the local wizard. After the village is attacked by one of Bavmorda's hounds, the local wizard tells Willow that he must go on a grand quest to return the baby to her people. A quest that he decides to sit out. I guess he knows what happens to fatherly mentor figures in these types of movies and realised he was better off staying home.

If this all sounds familiar that's because it is. Willow doesn't just rip whole pages out of every major fantasy novel ever written, it recycles the plot of Star Wars (I am not calling it A New Hope). Willow is basically Luke, a farmer who longs to escape his farm and become a great Jedi wizard. He's reluctantly entrusted with transporting the means of defeating the bad guy (a baby instead of a droid with Death Star plans) first to a OAP with magical powers and then to a rebel base. Along the way he teams up with Val Kilmer as a poor man’s Han Solo who later develops a love hate relationship with Joanne Whalley's spirited princess who just so happens to be the daughter of the villain.

I mean, it technically isn't plagiarism if you're just shamelessly stealing from yourself.

As with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lucas entrusted this potential new franchise to one of his dear friends. Unfortunately, that dear friend was Ron Howard, not Steven Spielberg. Now, Howard isn't a bad director, he's just a rather unremarkable one. He's the epitome of a safe pair of hands. He's the type of guy you hire when you want the film to come in on time, on budget and to spec. That's really all Willow is: a by the numbers tale made so competently that it lacks anything even remotely distinctive or memorable.

Davis is likeable, if bland, as Willow while Kilmer and Whalley are just bland. There’s no denying that Kilmer can be a magnetic presence in the right role (see Tombstone or Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang), but his character is nothing more than a dashing rogue stereotype, there to balance Willow’s earnestness with snark. And his romance with Sorsha? God, that is as clumsy as it is unconvincing. The same can be said for her decision to switch sides halfway through the movie. Just as the film never bothers to develop its villain, it is also skips on her relationship with her daughter or what would motivate her to betray her, besides meeting a cute boy.

The future former Mr and Mrs Kilmer. 
Notes and Quotes

--Despite playing the title character and hero of the film, Davis gets third billing behind Kilmer and Whalley.

--Lucas' original title was Munchkins.

--The finale starts off with two sorceresses throwing special effects at each other until they run out of money and then it's just two old ladies punching each other.

--Industrial Light & Magic developed new digital morphing technology for the scene where Willow tries to turn Fin Raziel back into a human, but keeps turning her into different animals instead.

--There are some comedy pixies that are a worrying sign of the horror that was come with Jar Jar Binks.

--Lucas wrote a trilogy of novels with X-Men writter Chris Claremont, entitled the Chronicles of the Shadow War, that picked up the story fifteen years later and followed a teenage Elora Danan.

--James Horner provides a rousing score that is typical of his 80s output.

Willow: "What are you doing?"
Madmartigan: "I found some blackroot. She loves it."
Willow: "Blackroot? I'm the father of two children, and you never, ever give a baby blackroot."
Madmartigan: "Well my mother raised us on it. It's good for you! It puts hair on your chest, right Sticks?"
Willow: "Her name is not Sticks! She's Elora Danan, the future empress of Tir Asleen and the last thing she's gonna want is a hairy chest!"

High Aldwin: "Go in the direction the bird is flying!"
Burgelcutt: "He's going back to village!"
High Aldwin: "Ignore the bird. Follow the river."

Two and a half out of four imposing looking castles in desolate wastelands.

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

1 comment:

djsosonut said...

Aww. I always have a soft spot for Willow. It might've been by-the-numbers but I found it entertaining. And I liked that Willow won with slight of hand at the end. Plus I liked the chemistry between Val and his future ex-wife.

I might cut it a lot of slack because it was it was one of the few good fantasy movies out there. Think at the time all you had was Willow, Labyrinth, Legend, The Neverending Story, Dragonslayer, Ladyhawke and Krull. If you liked the genre, beggars couldn't be choosers.