I can’t recall the first time I saw Willow. I can only assume it was shortly after it came out in theatres (1988). I was in my prime for fantasy films and adventure. I needed little encouragement to disappear for a few hours or few days and return with stories to share. Thirty-minute water-fetching trips sometimes took four or five hours and often involved ice cream, a lost cemetery or endless dirt roads.
The basic story line that survived the passage of time was: A baby who is destined to destroy the evil ruler is born and must be delivered to safety. Her protectors include a halfling and a human fighter. The human is found in a suspended cage near a cliff where he is left to die, and the halfling sets him free to help save the child. Of course, they succeed and the evil queen is destroyed.
Basically, that is what happened, but I had forgotten all the stuff in between which makes a movie worth watching. I had forgotten the evil queen’s (Queen Bavmorda) daughter Sorsha (played by Joanne Whalley) betrayed her, fell in love with the human fighter Madmartigan (played by Val Kilmer) and helped save Elora Danan, the chosen baby rescued from the river by Willow (played by Warwick Davis), a Nelwyn.
The Nelwyn race were not halfling, but a hobbit-like race who lived a peaceful life of farming, mining and magic. Willow was married with two children and became an unlikely hero who would risk his life to deliver a baby to a far off land where he might not return. His sacrifice was more than that of a single man who no one relied upon for food and shelter.
I had no idea which actor played Madmartigan. I knew only that he had long dark hair and—in my memory—was handsome. Now with time between me and those memories, I see from research on the Internet that it was Val Kilmer.
In my mind, this man was an ‘action-movie star’, of which is no interest to me. You see, movies that fall under the category of “how many bodies can I rack-up in two hours?’ do not appeal to me. They’re boring simply because of their goal. I loved Bruce Willis until he joined the league of inept men who began killing for no reason but to entertain. Willis was so funny, it was sad to see him become a killer.
It seemed strange to me, but maybe not to others who know more about that time frame in the general population, movies and men’s chests, that Madmartigan went either topless or wore an open shirt that exposed his chest the majority of the time. He even wore an open shirt in the snowy mountains. Was this to make him more appealing to female viewers? Such childishness if this was the case.
Further research revealed that the story of Willow was written by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard. Over the years I’ve discovered the stories by Lucas are more formula than anything else, so as a story goes, Willow falls short on imagination. But if you think of it as a romp through the fantasy world, it will satisfy.
I’ve also discovered over the decades that Lucas cares more about the money than actual story-telling. He’s proven that time and again with the ‘cash cow’ Star Wars and every mini-movie/TV series/cartoon show he’s sold the name to. The last three latest movies of the Star Wars series were a disaster in story-telling, but a big win in the money department.
I put much faith in Howard’s ability to direct, but perhaps he was still learning when he shot this movie. One large booboo I noticed was the low camera angle on the cart that had lost both its rear wheels in a chase to get away from the Queen’s men. The camera stayed too long, revealing the modern rubber wheels that held up the cart and gave it balance. Whoops! I’m pretty sure wheels like that were not of that time period, and if they were, they weren’t attached beneath a wagon that was meant to roll on four wooden wheels.
There were several other goof-ups in the movie that did not go unnoticed. They can be found on IMDb.
The special effects weren’t that great, so you’ll have to excuse their awkwardness to enjoy the movie. The floating fairy Cherlindrea who appears in front of Willow and explains the importance of the baby was too bright in the DVD version I own. It would have been better to have her stand in front of him and have a slight grow around her figure to suggest her magic. They tried to accomplish a magical image, but they failed miserably.
If you’ve never seen Willow and would like to watch an 80s fantasy film that rates about 6.5 out of 10, it’s worth taking a look. Just don’t expect too much and you’ll enjoy it.