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Long Ago, In A Galaxy Perhaps Far Away...,
This review is from: Willow (Special Edition) (DVD)
When Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon in 1969, the whole world paused; now such things are second nature to everyone, veritably taken for granted as more and more science fiction becomes reality every day. In 1977, when George Lucas made "Star Wars," it turned the cinematic universe on it's ear with it's scope and vision, offering things neither seen nor experienced by anyone before; now his accomplishments are virtually taken for granted, his vision dismissed by many with a shrug. But in this original story by Lucas, that vision is captured once again and proffered to the world via the magic of the movies, in "Willow," directed by Ron Howard.
A long time ago, in a galaxy perhaps far, far away, a baby comes into the care of the elvish Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) and his wife, Kaiya (Julie Peters). The infant bears the birthmark of the one prophesied to come who will put an end to the tyrannical rule of the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). But the Queen, too, knows of the prophecy and is seeking the baby bearing the telltale mark. For the sake of his village, as well as the safety of the child, it falls to Willow to transport the baby to a safe haven beyond the boundaries of his land and the reach of Queen Bavmorda. So Willow sets out upon his journey, and along the way finds an ally-- maybe-- in the person of the self-proclaimed "World's greatest swordsman," Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), and together (sort of) they embark upon an adventure that will ultimately lead them to a final confrontation with the evil Queen herself.
With some help from George Lucas, Ron Howard delivers this highly imaginative tale-- which bears that unmistakable Lucas touch-- with a touch of magic of his own. A showcase of special F/X-- it pioneered the "morphing" technique so vital to the success of films like "The Abyss" (filmed one year after this one) and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991)-- it is nevertheless decidedly not a "special F/X" movie. The F/X, though a big part of the film, to be sure, do not supersede the story. And because of that, it makes that necessary emotional connection with the characters possible, and takes the whole film to a higher level. A big part of what has made Lucas and Howard so successful, in fact, is that innate ability of being able to tap into the humanity of any given story (With Lucas, for example, his "American Graffiti" and even "THX-1138," and Howard's "Parenthood," "Night Shift" and "Apollo 13") and knowing how to convey it to their audience. It's the difference between being a true filmmaker, and just someone to whom an opportunity is handed who simply hasn't the insight or sense of human nature to know what to do with it (Like Adam Shankman with "The Wedding Planner," Jeff Franklin's "Love Stinks," Nick Gomez with "Drowning Mona" or Peter Ho-sun Chan's "The Love Letter." All movies that suffered greatly because of their director's inability to do what Lucas and Howard do so proficiently and seemingly with facility).
In the title role, Warwick Davis does a good job of bringing Willow to life, as does Val Kilmer in the flashier role of Madmartigan. Joanne Whalley does a decent turn as Sorsha, daughter of the evil Queen, but is overshadowed by the deliciously sinister rendering of Bavmorda by Jean Marsh, whose wickedness is shamefully delightful.
In a supporting role, however-- and with extremely limited screen time-- it is Julie Peters who really captures the attention with a sincere and affecting performance as Kaiya. She has such a pure and natural manner that it's hard to believe this is an actor playing a part; the realism she achieves, in fact, can be compared to that of Harriet Andersson in any one of a number of Ingmar Bergman's films. Her ability is a true gift that endows her with a quality and a presence that would make her an asset to any film, as she certainly is here. And it's a shame she has apparently never been afforded the opportunity of plying her craft more-- "Willow" is her only feature film. It's a singular success, however, and one of which she can be proud. Her portrayal of Kaiya goes far in demonstrating the positive effect a supporting role can have on a film, especially when it's this well acted.
The supporting cast includes Patricia Hayes (Fin Raziel), Billy Barty (High Aldwin), Pat Roach (General Kael), Gavan O'Herlihy (Airk), David Steinberg (Meegosh), Mark Northover (Burglekutt), Kevin Pollak (Rool), Rick Overton (Franjean) and Maria Holvoe (Cherlindrea). With an intelligent screenplay by Bob Dolman and original music by James Horner, "Willow" is an entertaining, enlightening film, rich in characterization and metaphor, with a subtle message and a moral that unobtrusively makes a statement about diversity and the value of an individual's contributions to the society of which he is a part; as well as the fact that one person can, indeed, make a difference. Visually stunning, too, it's a transporting experience truly filled with magic, and a journey definitely worth taking.