Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

"Lucas and Howard's often-dark adventure is still an enjoyable sword-and-sorcery tale."

A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, George Lucas made the Star Wars trilogy and changed the world. Not satisfied with (arguably) the most popular three-movie series of all time, five years after Return Of The Jedi the beard-totting writer-producer-sometimes-director approached Ron Howard to direct a new fantasy yarn he'd penned - and hopefully begin another globe-conquering franchise.

Sadly, the force wasn't quite as strong with this one. When halfling farmer and would-be sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) finds an abandoned baby girl, he learns that she’s actually the one predestined to eventually end the tyrannical reign of evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). Tasked with taking her to a safe kingdom, Willow reluctantly heads off on his long journey, helped along the way by a great warrior Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) while the Queen’s army hunts for the child.

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Despite its failings Willow (or Munchkins as it was originally, somewhat questionably, titled) remains a charming cult-fav. Yes, it's the sort of Eighties movie that you'll really only love if you grew up with it. And yes, modern viewers probably won't give it the time of day. However, despite being feeling substantially (and ironically) smaller in a post-Lord Of The Rings world, Lucas and Howard's often-dark adventure is still an enjoyable sword-and-sorcery tale.

So, who cares if it's dated? Some of the effects seem poor today, but many hold up and ILM's morphing technology was ahead of the curve back in 1988. James Horner's score has its moments, too, while some of the set-pieces (such as the snowy mountain escape of final castle siege) are actually quite exciting. The best thing on screen though is Kilmer, the Top Gun man balancing danger, roguish charm and sarcastic wit (“No, don’t! There’s a peck here with an acorn pointing it at me!”) for his unstoppably likeable swordsman Madmartigan. Hell, even his romance with Bavmorda’s daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley, who later became Joanne Whalley Kilmer) works, despite the fact she changes allegiances so fast you’d think several scenes were cut.

It’s pretty much Han and Leia though, right? Yes, but then nit-picks will notice plenty of similarities with bigger pictures. On the one hand we’ve got Lucas’s own Star Wars (innocent farmboy looking after princess, helped by bad boy, two comedy sidekicks), on the other you’ve got Lord Of The Rings (small folk keeping something special from evil, epic quest, hero warrior redeemed). Still, Davis is winning as the eponymous lead and any movie that has Pat Roach as a skull-wearing henchman deserves to be cult. Plus, even though the tiny Brownies annoy, they get some good lines (“Lizards? Your mother was a lizard!”).

Completely and utterly bettered on nearly every level by Peter Jackson’s LOTR, Willow still remains a fun Eighties swords-and-sorcery effort.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 2010
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Willow packshot
A would-be sorceror enlists the help of a warrior to take an abandoned baby to safety.
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Director: Ron Howard

Writer: George Lucas, Bob Dolman

Starring: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Billy Barty, Pat Roach, Gavan O'Herlihy, David Steinberg, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Robert Gillibrand, Mark Northover, Kevin Pollak, Rick Overton

Year: 1988

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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