Unfortunately, making a real version of Lord of the Rings is fraught with problems, as some directors know, so Lucas and Howard teamed up on an original short dude-goes-on-epic-adventure tale, this time having a "Nelwyn" named Willow (ex-Ewok Warwick Davis) finding a baby in a river, whom he must then protect from the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), who is seeking the baby to destroy her thanks to the classic she-will-grow-up-to-destroy-me prophecy. Willow teams up with a half-crazed human named Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), rescues a shape-changed sorceress, battles a two-headed dragon (allegedly named "Eborsisk" after a certain powerful pair of film critics) and converts the evil queen's daughter (Joanne Whalley) from the dark side, all in two short hours.
Back in 1988, the digital special effects were groundbreaking -- with Willow pioneering "morphing" technology (and detailed at length on a documentary included on the special edition DVD. Today, they look a little silly -- no fault to the film, it's just that computer effects were half-baked at the time. The worst is the use of life-size actors playing nine-inch tall "Brownies," shot against a bluescreen and inserted into the footage. It looks cheesy, and their "comic relief" isn't really worth the problems caused by pulling you out of the film's world.
Much has been made of Willow's similarity to the Star Wars universe -- the rugged loner and the child that eventually turns from evil -- but those are really just elements of classic fantasy. Willow in fact stands as one of the great fantasy movies put the film -- in fact, it's one of the only fantasy movies put to film, simply because working with magic, horse-riding armies, endless swordplay, and period sets and costumes on this scale is exhorbitantly expensive. Most of the time, Howard gets it right -- he's a bit heavy-handed with all the good v. evil, but the film is a lot of fun for kids and adults -- with Kilmer's goofy swordsman the best character in the bunch. The special effects aside (and you'll need to look past them -- there's even some Claymation in here...), Willow is grand escapism.
The only other notable item on the DVD is an old making-of documentary, which for some reason is one of the worst pieces of filmmaking ever produced (Breathless narrator: "Willow... had to be a movie!"). Skip it, watch the morphing bit, and see the movie -- with or without Davis's commentary track running.
Use the force, Val.
Run time: 126 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th May 1988
Box Office Worldwide: $57.3M
Distributed by: MGM Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Imagine Films Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lucasfilm
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 15
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Ron Howard
Producer: Nigel Wooll
Screenwriter: Bob Dolman
Starring: Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood, Val Kilmer as Madmartigan, Joanne Whalley as Sorsha, Jean Marsh as Queen Bavmorda, Patricia Hayes as Fin Raziel, Billy Barty as High Aldwin, Pat Roach as General Kael, Gavin O'Herlihy as Airk Thaughbaer, David Steinberg as Meegosh, Phil Fondacaro as Vohnkar, Mark Northover as Burglekutt
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