Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Film Review: Return to Oz (1985)

Also known as: Oz, The Adventures of the Devil In the Sky (working titles)
Release Date: June 21st, 1985
Directed by: Walter Murch
Written by: Gill Dennis, Walter Murch
Based on: Oz books by L. Frank Baum
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Deep Roy

BMI (No. 9) Ltd., Oz Productions Ltd., Silver Screen Partners II, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Distribution, 113 Minutes, 110 Minutes (“uncut”), 109 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“I have always valued my lifelessness.” – Tik-Tok

I saw this in the theater when it came out. I’m not sure how this was a kid’s movie because it scared the shit out of me. Granted, it scared the shit out of me in that really cool way that made me re-watch the film again and again once I copied it onto my own VHS after renting it. Yes, I was a bootlegger creating my own entertainment library at six years-old.

Anyway, usually things that I found scary as a kid aren’t scary in adulthood. However, the two key creepy scenes in this film still hold up and are actually still effectively creepy. In a time when kids are much bigger pussies than my generation, this movie would wreck six year-olds’ brains.

The two scenes I’m talking about are the introduction of the evil Wheelers and the hall of severed heads, especially when their headless host awakes and the heads all come to life in their glass display cases.

In fact, that latter scene is pretty over the top and kind of a mindfuck even though I know it’s coming and honestly, that’s incredibly rare for a movie rated PG.

Moving beyond those two moments, the film itself is still pretty damn dark. I mean, any film that starts with a child being locked up in an asylum and about to receive electroshock therapy is quite unsettling.

Unfortunately, despite a few moments with some imagination and potential, the picture as a whole is kind of drab and definitely fifteen or so minutes too long.

The whole third act is really drawn out.

Once Dorothy and her friends get to the Nome King’s mountain, things screech to a halt. It’s not that this portion of the film is uninteresting, it’s just dragged out to an ungodly length and moves at a snail’s pace.

I still really enjoy the flick as a whole and it’s worth a watch for fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. However, it lacks energy in most places and getting from one sequence to the next can be like waiting for an elderly turtle to pull his dangling balls across a pool of molasses.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Oz films, as well as ’80s family fantasy movies.

Film Review: The Changeling (1980)

Release Date: March 26th, 1980 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: Peter Medak
Written by: Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Music by: Rick Wilkins
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns, Madeleine Sherwood

Associated Film Distribution, 107 Minutes

Review:

“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.” – Minnie Huxley

I saw this movie as a kid and it was one of the few that legitimately creeped me out. Although, I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, so it was cool to check it out now, courtesy of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In.

George C. Scott is a tremendous actor so seeing him in a very serious attempt at a horror film is very interesting. It adds a level of legitimacy to this film, which came out as slasher flicks were becoming the norm in the horror genre. This, like The Shining from the same year, were two solid classic horror movies that wouldn’t go quietly into the night despite the efforts of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and the soon to debut Freddy Krueger.

This is a classic haunted house/ghost story. But it has a lot of mystery thrown in and Scott’s John Russell must solve this mystery and assist the angry spirit if he doesn’t want to be driven mad or be murdered by the ghost. There are a lot of layers to the story and it’s not as predictable as similar ghost stories.

The movie also starts off really dark, as Russell sees his family killed right before him. Depressed and defeated by life, Russell moves into this haunted mansion in an effort to distance himself from the pain and to get back to his musical work in seclusion.

Scott’s stellar performance makes this entire film work in ways that a lesser actor wouldn’t be able to. Scott had to carry the ball and he is in nearly every scene in the movie. But he commits to the bit and really sells the horror with gusto and passion.

The score by Rick Wilkins was enchanting and set the mood. However, the direction of Peter Medak was impressive and the man let Scott be himself while employing impressive camera work and shot framing.

The Changeling is truly a classic in every sense of the word. However, it seems to be forgotten and not appreciated as much as some lesser horror films.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other “serious” horror films from the late ’60s through the early ’80s: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The OmenThe Shining, etc.