Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Willow (1988) - Feeling a Bit Peckish

On the Menu: WILLOW (1988); Special Edition DVD

Ingredients: Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Billy Barty, Pat Roach, Gavan O'Herlihy, Rick Overton and Kevin Pollak. Directed by Ron Howard. Run time: 126 minutes. Rated: PG.

At First Bite: As a child of the '80s, I had watched this movie countless times. I'm pretty sure I have some of the action figures boxed away somewhere (I remember the Death Dog figurines specifically). The film itself was always one of my favorites growing up.

Second Helping: This time around, having seen it so many times, I felt compelled to watch it with the commentary track provided by actor Warwick Davis (Willow). Davis is probably best known for his roles as Wicket the Ewok, the evil Leprechaun (still hard to believe there were 6 films in that series) and, most recently, Professor Flitwick in the Harry Potter franchise. The commentary is very informative. Davis recounts the locations, weather, fun and mishaps of almost every scene. He talks about how George Lucas approached him for this film, his working relationship with Val Kilmer, and, among other things, how he had to train to be a father and care for children (he was only 17 during filming). I was very pleased with all the nuggets of info. Plus, you could really hear the pride in his voice, and that's refreshing for a DVD commentary.

Tough to Swallow: I was a little disappointed not to hear from Kilmer, Howard or Lucas on the commentary. Having not read The Hobbit or any of Tolkien's other stuff as a kid, I didn't realize at the time that the plot is pretty similar. The love story is pretty far-fetched. The Brownies, played by comedians Overton and Pollak, do become annoyances after a while, and their insertion into some scenes throws off the pace.

Something to Chew On: Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) provided some kickass effects given it was 1988.  The "morfing" sequences were groundbreaking stuff back then. Kilmer provides a good amount of comic relief.  Keep in mind that this was only his 4th feature film; his first two films, TOP SECRET! and REAL GENIUS, were comedies. The two-headed dragon in the film wasn't referred to by name in the film, but is known as the Eborsisk, which is a reference to film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Ebert called the movie "uninspiring and overlong," while Siskel said the film was a like a meld of other Lucas films (2 Thumbs Down). It is said that Ron Howard had the dragon designed to resemble his brother, Clint, since he couldn't find him a role in the film. Okay, I can definitely see the resemblance. Kilmer and
Whalley married after meeting on the set; they have a son, Jack, and a daughter, Mercedes. They divorced in 1996. WILLOW garnered two Oscar nominations: Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects (both awards went to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT).

The film currently has a 7.1 user rating on IMDb.com (30,819 votes).

Sides: The Special Edition DVD includes the original 1988 featurette entitled "Willow: The Making of an Adventure." It also includes a second featurette, "From Morf to Morphing: The Dawn of Digital Filmmaking," which deals mostly with the computerized effects. There's the aforementioned audio commentary by Warwick Davis, 8 TV spots, 2 theatrical teasers, the theatrical trailer and a still gallery.

Aftertaste: After all these years, I still find the movie fun and entertaining. The run time is slightly over 2 hours, and the story is a bit rehashed, but there's enough action and special effects to keep your interest. It was rated PG, but would probably see a PG-13 tag today for all the violence. Aside from the violence and some scary monsters, it makes for a good family film, in my opinion.  If anything, it should let your kids know that even the littlest person has the capability of being a hero and/or a great sorcerer.  If you think my rating suffers from sentiment and nostalgia, you're probably right.


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