Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hard Drive Woes + Willow

I lost my second hard drive in the space of less than six months. Fortunately I always have two on my machine and backup important data from one to the other. The last one that failed was just two years old. This one was slightly over three years old. Not too impressive I have to say, but maybe it had something to do with the fact that they were IBM Desk(Death)Stars.

Since my OS drive was gone, I had a fun weekend reinstalling everything from scratch. FUN! I'm still in the process of restoring everything, and it probably won't be back to 'normal' for a few weeks yet, as I come across applications I've forgotten. AAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! As you can imagine, I didn't exactly have much time for watching movies, but I still managed to sneak one in on Sunday evening.

Willow (1988) - Or Lord of the Rings Lite. Directed by Ron Howard and written by George Lucas, the fantasy flick owes more than a small debt to Tolkien's opus.

The story goes something like this. The evil queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) rules over the land, but there is a prophecy that a child will be born who will one day bring about her downfall. To prevent this from happening, Bavmorda rounds up all the pregnant women in the land (no, really) and when their babies are born she checks them for a birthmark that this child is meant to have on her arm. When the child is born, someone manages to sneak her out of the castle and she winds up floating along a river and into the hands of the unlikeliest person imaginable. No, not Bilbo Baggins, but Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), one of a race of 'little people' who live in their idyllic pastoral little village.

The village wizard tells Willow that he must take the baby out of the village and give it to one of the 'big folk'. So Willow sets out with a small band of his buddies, and they wind up dodging black riders and meeting Galadriel. Willow finally ends up alone with the baby (the others return to the village), and is forced to team up with Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), an impish rogue who's also the greatest swordsman alive. They adventure from one place to the next, meet up with a cursed sorceress, a medieval hottie, and a few nasty creatures before the climactic showdown with the evil Bavmorda (hope I didn't spoil that for you).

On technical merits Willow holds up well - it was probably a marvel when it came out. The production values are top notch, and the effects are good for their day. I found the story to be fairly engaging (if derivative), but lots of the events seemed to be contrived and not driven by character or logic. The whole thing lacks the 'epic' feel that it obviously strives for, with people running from one land (and landscape) to the next in seemingly a matter of hours. The action sequences aren't all that impressive or exciting. The thing that really drags the film down is the tone, which consistently resorts to childish buffoonery. This should have been an early warning for Star Wars fans - childish buffoonery is something Lucas carried over to the Star Wars prequels (although he tried to phase it out by the third film, and replaced it with childish melodrama and inane characterization).

Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer are well cast and play off each other nicely, and their banter makes for some of the more memorable character moments. Fortunately these two are the central characters to the story, because most of the other characters are forgettable. The exception is the evil Bavmorda, played with over-the-top hamminess by Jean Marsh. The scenes with the Nelwyns (the little people) is actually fairly strong and feels more real than the rest of the film.

As with most Ron Howard films, Willow is directed clinically but with a nondescript style. The writing, as with so many fantasy films, features anachronistic dialog - medieval people saying things like 'jackass' is just plain incongruous. Thankfully, this doesn't happen too much anymore. The music is nice, but James Horner's trademark self-plagiarism is readily apparent. Overall, Willow is a fun film to watch, and I loved it as a kid, but through my now jaded eyes its flaws are obvious. This was once one of the better fantasy films around; today, it's not even close. Good but not great, with a few too many groan inducing moments.

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