Dir. by Peter Yates
Starring Ken Marshall, Freddie Jones, and Lysette Anthony
A young prince teams up with a mysterious wise man, a cyclops, an ineffectual sorcerer and a band of thieves to rescue his fiancée from the teleporting fortress of an interplanetary marauder, who believes that the princess’s child is destined to rule the galaxy.
None! That’s right, to get back into the swing of reviewing (the Alice in Wonderland review was written before the hiatus), I’m finally tackling a cult 80s movie that I’ve never seen. At least, never seen in its entirety. I’m pretty sure I’ve caught bits and pieces of it here and there on TV.
If you think that plot summary above sounds like someone took the scripts for Legend and Star Wars and ran them through a predictive text algorithm, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. This movie was clearly inspired by the latter film, although with a much stronger fantasy emphasis. There are prophecies, shapeshifting wizards, cyclopses, flying horses, and trap-filled fortresses, but there are also weird alien slugs encased in metal suits that use laser rifles. And unfortunately, the whole movie doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Unlike Star Wars, where George Lucas was able to cover for incomplete (or at least under-communicated) worldbuilding with a grand mythic plot structure and wonderful lived-in production design, Krull seems to jump from set piece to set piece without rhyme or reason. Ostensibly, they’re on a mission to discover the future location of a fortress that teleports to a new place every dawn. However, all of the connective tissue is missing from the screenplay. It feels like it’s a D&D session where the players go so far off-script that the DM ends up just rolling on the Random Encounter table over and over.
For example, at one moment the party is dealing with quicksand in a swamp and a shapeshifting assassin that attempts to take out the prince by replacing one of the party. After a brief cutaway to the captured princess, the group is suddenly out of the swamp and in a forest, and is being brought food by a bunch of never-seen-before women. If any explanation of how they found them or where they came from is ever offered, I must have missed it. All that I picked up was that one of them is the wife of one of the thieves, played by an extremely young Liam Neeson.
Every time they seem to run into an unsurmountable problem, one of the crew suddenly remembers or mentions an alternative route or plan of action, one that had never been even hinted at before. Sure, that sort of pull-it-out-of-nowhere plotting is typical for a fairy tale, but fairy tales are also intended for pre-teens. It really isn’t going to pass muster for anyone older who stops and thinks about it for a minute.
It doesn’t help that, after a fairly pretentious opening monologue about the prophecy, we are introduced to the prince and princess, about to be wed, in a set of scenes that reminded me of nothing as much as the Druidia parts of Spaceballs. In general, the sets, costumes and effects are wildly hit-or-miss. Some of them, such as Prince Colwyn’s costume and his distinctive weapon, show where some of the huge budget (almost $50 million in 1983 dollars) went. Others, such as the rest of the party, look like the crew knocked over the warehouse holding the spare costumes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And having re-watched Willow already, made only five years after this, the transformation effects for the shapeshifting assassin look downright awful. Actually, now that I mention it, that’s exactly what this movie is like: Holy Grail as a drama instead of a comedy.
Now, I’ve been very down on the film so far. And don’t get me wrong: it might be the worst movie I’ve done for this project so far. But there was at least one sequence that I did think was of a significantly higher quality than anything else around it: the Widow of the Web. In this sequence, party member Ynyr the Old One (why “Old One” we’re never told, especially because the actor looks about mid-50s, tops) has to cross a giant spider’s web, complete with a translucent-bodied giant spider, to obtain the location of the fortress from the witch imprisoned at the center. That the witch is his ex-wife, and that she was imprisoned for killing their child, adds emotion to the scene that is completely lacking in most of the rest of the movie. The effects here are also noticeably better than the rest of the film, and the stop-motion spider, its body transparent enough to vaguely make out organs inside, is the single best effect in the movie.
So, yeah, this movie is…not good. However, I’m still kinda glad I watched it, as it gets referenced a lot (if usually only for its badness), and it was a significant blind spot in my fantasy film knowledge. Now, it’s time to watch something a bit better.
-Prince Colwyn is played by Kenneth Marshall, none other than Michael Eddington from Deep Space Nine (yes, I know I reference DS9 a lot. It’s my favorite Trek show by far, and one of my favorite TV shows in general). I actually had a hard time recognizing him with a full head of 80s hair, and I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t already known that Marshall was in it.
-Speaking of recognizing actors, in addition to an extremely young Liam Neeson, another of the bandits is played by an equally young Robbie Coltrane, though his voice was dubbed by someone else for some unknown reason. It’s not an accent thing, as Neeson was using his native Irish accent.
-Sorry, but my D&D background and Medieval Studies classes won’t let it pass: you keep using the word “glaive.” I do not think it means what you think it means.
-While I’m on the subject, if you do have a magic spinning death Frisbee, why the heck would you keep it in your pocket until the last five minutes of the movie? Especially if you spend a good 5-10 minutes on obtaining it at the beginning of the film? Just saying…
-The planet Krull has two suns. Why? Because Tatooine did, obviously.