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: The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Release Date: April 6th, 1984 (West Germany)
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Written by: Wolfgang Petersen, Herman Weigel
Based on: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Music by: Klaus Doldinger, Giorgio Moroder
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Moses Gunn, Patricia Hayes, Sydney Bromley, Gerald McRaney, Deep Roy, Tilo Pruckner, Frank Welker, Alan Oppenheimer

Neue Constantin Film, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

I really like Flashback Cinema and the fact that they bring beloved classics back to the big screen for modern audiences. I was especially excited to revisit The NeverEnding Story, as it was one of the first films I saw in the theater as a kid. I also must have watched it a few hundred times on VHS from the mid-1980s through the 1990s. I had planned to review this a few months back but when I got wind that it was on Flashback Cinema’s docket, I decided to wait and see it on the big screen again.

It was cool seeing this in a theater, over thirty years later, with a new generation of kids present. Unlike most family films I have seen in recent years, the children were quiet and pulled right into the film. It didn’t feel hokey or aged or like an ancient relic that couldn’t compete with the giant blockbusters of the 2010s. The audience was engaged and it was nice seeing parents genuinely happy that their kids connected to something that they once held dear.

That being said, The NeverEnding Story still plays really well. Sure, it has aged and the effects are outdated but the magic is still alive and strong in the picture and it rises above its limitations and still transcends the screen.

I wasn’t a great judge of an actor’s performance when I was a kid, as most kids aren’t, but the performances by the child cast are phenomenal. Noah Hathaway is beyond amazing as Atreyu, Barret Oliver made Bastian relatable to every kid and Tami Stronach, even with limited screen time, is sweet, elegant and perfect in the role of the Empress. It is rare that you can see one good child actor but this is a film that features three great performances by children, who I wish had done a lot more work after the film. They are the real force that makes the film work.

Moses Gunn, Deep Roy and Tilo Pruckner were all fantastic as well, even though each of them had little time to shine. Gunn’s stoic but serious presence added a legitimacy to the narrative. However, it was Thomas Hill’s Mr. Coreander that really takes the cake, as every line he delivered was perfect and chilling. It is great seeing him return in the sequel, even if that film doesn’t live up to this one.

The special effects are really well done for a German film that didn’t have the budget of bigger American movies. The creatures and their facial animatronics were superb, especially those used for Falcor the luck dragon and G’Mork the evil gigantic wolf. Most of the sets were well designed and accompanied by fabulous matte paintings for their backdrop. This was also a great time for matte paintings in cinema and this film features some of the best work in the pre-CGI era.

The success of this film lead to great things for director Wolfgang Petersen, who would go on to do many more English language films and find a permanent place in Hollywood. He had already got an Oscar nomination for Das Boot before this picture but it was The NeverEnding Story that gave him a career that allowed him to direct later films such as Enemy MineIn The Line of FireOutbreakAir Force OneThe Perfect Storm and Troy.

The NeverEnding Story is a family classic. It is one of the best fantasy films ever made and based off of my experience, seeing it in the theater in 2017, it is a timeless motion picture. Hopefully, later generations will also find the film and appreciate it like millions already have.