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Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis in Willow

August 2002                                                  SITE MAP   SEARCH
cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Jean Marsh, Warwick Davis, and Patricia Hayes

director: Ron Howard

121 minutes (PG) 1988
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail
[released 5 August]

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
An almost numbingly conventional fantasy adventure for little kids, Ron Howard's Willow is based on a story by George Lucas, clearly inspired by biblical stories, and Disney's Snow White, with generic trappings lifted from Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings. What's different about Willow is that traditional gender roles are reversed so that it's females who are directing the fates of males. It's also significant that the central character, farmer Willow Ufgood (played by teenager Warwick Davis), is a midget.
   The film's embarrassingly simplistic plot reveals that its makers were entirely preoccupied with ensuring Willow maintained the highest level of production standards in every technical department (especially the visual effects by industry leaders ILM), whilst sacrificing many of the qualities required for a good fantasy movie: strong characterisation, well written dialogue, and a story with thematic weight or contemporary relevance. The only things that Willow does with any success are monsters and trick shots.
   Saving this film from being dismissed as the worst type of blockbuster trash is the enthusiastic role-playing of its principal cast. Despite weak direction, stars Val Kilmer (as swordsman Madmartigan), Joanne Whalley (as warrior princess Sorcha), and Jean Marsh (as evil Queen Bavmorda) give spirited performances, which grant their stereotypical parts what little screen life they have, and it's to their credit alone that Willow owes it's enduring appeal. When the two-headed dragon (created by variable stop-motion animation) appears, it's the actors who 'sell' this wondrous image as believable. Willow also showcases an early experiment in the later universally overused computer morphing effects, when dwarf hero Willow uses magic to lift Bavmorda's curse from the good witch Fin Raziel, transforming various animal forms into noted British actress Patricia Hayes.
   On the negative side, working against the film's achievements as genre drama, are two faerie brownies, Rool and Franjean (Kevin Pollack and Rick Overton), who attempt to provide comic relief but quickly become a rather annoying double act. It's also quite true that we see far too many reaction shots of the messianic baby, and yet she has one of the film's most outré� scenes, appearing in bondage during wicked Bavmorda's climactic spell casting sequence.
   DVD extras: making-of featurette, effects retro item From Morf To Morphing, commentary track by Warwick Davis, three trailers and eight TV spots, and a photo gallery.