Film Review: Willow (1988)

willow

George Lucas produces and Ron Howard directs this sword and sorcery fantasy adventure about an unlikely band of heroes who protect a prophetic baby against an evil queen who seeks to destroy them all. Willow is its producer’s baby and has a lot in common with the Star Wars movies. It’s characters are broadly drawn, the drama never scrapes below surface level, and it’s full of visual effects and thrilling action set-pieces. It borrows liberally from Tolkien, Joseph Campbell, and even The Bible, but manages not to be a piecemeal effort.  Instead, it creates a compelling and cogent fantasy world that I really enjoy returning to every now and then.

It may not be an ideal showcase for acting talent, but Val Kilmer is certainly charismatic in the role of the rogue swordsman, Madmartigan. Jean Marsh also delivers a memorably wicked performance as Queen Bavmorda. Warwick Davis (just 18 at the time the film was made) picks up the title role after previously playing Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi.

What I enjoy most about Willow are the aesthetic achievements, particularly Adrian Biddle’s color-saturated cinematography, James Horner’s rousing music, and ILM’s extensive and eclectic visual effects work. Many of the magnificent outdoor vistas were captured in New Zealand, so if you’re reminded of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, there’s a good reason for that.

Historically, Willow bridges the gap between old school special effects techniques and the dawn of the digital era. It was one of the last movie to feature optical effects, hand-painted matte backgrounds, and stop-motion animation on a grand scale, while also introducing one of the earliest forms of computer generated imagery (morphing) to the public.

Willow is a gorgeous film and a fun ride, and whenever I re-watch it, I’m fourteen again.

Rating: 4/5 ★★★★☆ 

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About Scott_S

Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit www.scottschirmer.com. Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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