Director: Peter Yates
UK - 1983
off, thanks to those who wrote in trying to help me identify the word for
believing somethingís inherently better because itís Japanese. For future reference, itís an actual Japanese word, not a
Latinate form of ďĖphllia.Ē I
believe I first ran across it in a Shadowrun
game supplement, much as it may geekify me to admit, but it exists
elsewhere, too. In any case,
thanks for the efforts.
late í70s and early Ď80s were pretty good for the heroic fantasy film.
Starting with Conan the Barbarian, there were a slew of rip-offs and cheap
imitations, along with a few clever takes on the standard themes, such as Beastmaster,
Dragonslayer, and the subject of this review.
Mind you, many of these are worth a review on this page at some
point, but the movie I have on hand is much better than that, and is
Krull is a heroic fantasy quest movie with a sci-fi twist.
The medieval/renaissance setting is a foreign world, ďcoincidentallyĒ
called Krull, populated with magic beings and strange beasts alongside the
more conventional humans, horses, geese, piglets, and puppies, all plagued
with an invading force of powerful evil.
The unusual kick is that they know theyíre one of many planets in
the galaxy, and some of the creatures encountered are known as being from
other worlds. That having
been said, the sci-fi tropes donít get in the way of the
sword-and-sorcery action; it seems the makers of the film had heard of
Clarkeís Law: any sufficiently advanced technology will be
indistinguishable from magic. If
you think of it that way, then all the mystic actions performed by the
evil Beast, the thorough villain of the story, can be interpreted as
merely the outward appearance of Deep Physics.
After all, modern technology doesnít have to be angular, with
circuit boards and wires. Just
look at eXistenZ for proof of
in-movie technology aside, it is, in many ways, a classic quest movie.
There is an evil overlord to defeat, a princess to rescue, hordes
of minions to slaughter, a motley collection of unexpected allies with a
wide assortment of talents (necessary in any fairy tale), challenges and
innovative solutions. Thereís
plenty of humor and drama, and a bunch of not-too-bad action.
Mind you, itís early Ď80s action, so itís not like, say, Iron
Monkey; still, measured next to Escape
from New York, itís a thrill a minute.
It also features early roles for Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson.
Coltrane has gone on to a successful comedy career, which,
naturally, led to him being cast as a Russian gangster in a Bond film.
All Russian gangsters in Bond films are played by British
comedians, itís a simple law of nature.
Neeson, as we all know, went on to play a skinless psychopathic
vigilante and a dead Jedi. However, I donít think heís ever been in a Bond film, to
the best of my knowledge, so Robbieís still got a leg up on olí Liam.
open with a space field, and the approach of something from the dimness:
itís a spinning five-bladed weapon!
Neat swishing noise, but how are we supposed to be hearing that in
space? Okay, I know, I know,
I accepted it in Star Wars, I
should cut the title sequence some slack.
Okay, fine. The weapon
spins across the screen and revealsÖ the title!
Got right to it, didnít it?
Better that than wading through a whole bunch of vanity production
credits at the open. With the
reveal, the score swells, brasses and swirling woodwinds, sounding
incredibly familiar. Itís no wonder, as composer James Horner also composed the
themes for Star Trek II: The Wrath
of Khan the previous year, and Star
Trek III: The Search for Spock the year afterward.
He also did Aliens, Willow,
Die Hard, and others, all the way up through 2002ís The
Four Feathers and beyond. Thatís
one prolific movie theme composer, by the way.
Itís no wonder a couple of them are going to sound similar, just
by law of averages.
on-screen, we now witness the relatively slow, majestic approach of
something in space, a big meteor-like rock thing.
We see the odd rod-like structures along its side as it comes
closer, seeming rough-hewn, not entirely natural; this feeling is
reinforced by the distinctive rumbling that accompanies
it. Traditionally, in space
films, that rumbling noise accompanies powered movement of large-scale
ships, like a Star Destroyer or Klingon Battle Cruiser. The rock grumbles its way into orbit around a planet with two
suns, and eventually lands, burrowing its way half-way into the ground,
looking all tall, dark, and fortress-like.
It seems like a rocky wall protects a dome structure from one side,
the other being open to look at the cameraÖ I mean, to look out over the
stentorian British voice-over cranks up:
it was given me to know: that many worlds have been enslaved by the Beast,
and his army, the Slayers. And
this too was given me to know, that the Beast would come to our world, to
the world of Krull, and his Black Fortress will be seen in the land, that
the smoke of burning villages would darken the sky, and the cries of the
dying echo through deserted valleys.
But one thing I cannot know: whether the prophecy be true.
That the girl of ancient name shall become queen, that she shall
choose a king, and that together they shall rule our world.
And that their son shall rule the galaxy.Ē
this is going on, we see our first glimpses of the horse-mounted Slayers
at night, working themselves up to attack or celebrating a victory. Theyíre appropriately creepy, though we donít see much
detail. We see a smoking
ruin, to demonstrate the carnage theyíre wreaking across the land, I
suppose. Then we see a nicely
scene changes, and this hot, round-faced redhead gazes longingly out over
the landscape from a castle parapet.
This, we eventually discover, is Lyssa, the Princess (Lysette
Anthony, who has worked steadily since 1982, and some may recall as Lucy
Westenra in Dracula: Dead and Loving It, though thereís also a credit in the
IMDB for Lindsay Crouse, of Progeny
fame, for providing Princess Lyssaís voice).
Her father, King Eirig (Bernard Archard, the vicar in 1960ís Village
of the Damned), approaches and embraces her.
Oh, boy, now we have the exposition.
itís not so bad. They set
up the political situation, that she and this young prince guy, Colwyn
(Ken Marshall, whoís done a bunch of TV, including a stint as Lt.
Commander Michael Eddington on Star
Trek: Deep Space Nine), must get married to seal an alliance between
the two largest kingdoms in the land, King Eirigís and the one run by
King Turold (who is, logically enough, Colwynís father, played by Tony
Church). They need to fight
the Slayers, of course, and apparently a simple alliance isnít good
enough. Oh, no.
Of course, while this conversation is going on, we see a handful of
travelers riding hell-bent-for-leather across moors, down rocky hills, and
through forests. So, through,
like Wales, that is. Iím
not sure why they have to ride with this complex multi-tiered flag all the
time; I guess when youíre a king, you canít go without your heraldry.
Yes, this is the long-overdue royal marriage party.
At least when they make the brideís family host the wedding, they
donít have to pay for a whole lot of guests.
this film has now twice used a voice-over, and done it pretty well,
actually. That way, if
youíve got to take a little exposition, at least you have something to
the time the little father-daughter heart-to-heart conversation is done,
the opposing side arrives at the lovely white castle nestled in the
hillside. The pounding at the
gate causes the cool-looking guards (theyíve got these neat armor/cape
combos that look a bit like the Emperorís Guard outfits) to open up the
gate. Thereís this nice
built-in bar on the gates, that you have to wonder if the medieval folks
ever really did have something quite so nifty.
Of course, the bar is kind of small, even if it is steel.
Practical? You decide.
the road-weary nobles finally arrive.
Turold and Eirig argue right away, showing a good reason why
theyíve been at
war for so long. Man, youíd
think they were family, the way they snipe at each other.
Well, actually, considering the traditional marriage practices of
nobility in our own history, it wouldnítí be surprising if they were
family. Heck, it wouldnít
be surprising if they were brothers.
And, quite frankly, that wouldnít mean that Colwyn and Lyssa
couldnít get married, if we go by the historical models.
Might not be the best match, mind you; more distant cousins would
be preferred. On the other
hand, thereís the political expediency issue at work here, as well, so
that would probably be enough to cover it.
What, youíre surprised? Surely
you donít think Charles got those ears and teeth just from being
English, do you? Thankfully, on Krull, they seem to be breeding for looks.
back to the movie. That
Prince Colwyn is a pretty tough talker, despite his funny hat.
I mean, that boyís got a flip answer for everything. Well, at least it shuts up the old men. Then he goes to look for Lyssa.
Man, he knows everything, including the layout of another manís
castle. How does he know
where Lyssa might be? Considering
all that, itís a shame she tries to hide from him, playfully or not;
itís doomed to failure. Thereís
some banter, naturally, but in the long run, it seems evident that,
although the decision was largely a political one, neither of them are
to be disappointed about? Moon-faced,
perfect-skinned Lyssa, with her large blue eyes and long curly red
tresses, paired with sandy-haired, rugged, piercing-eyed Colwyn, with his
scruffy yet manly beard and his striped tights, showing off hisÖ umÖ
never mind there. Nothing to
see, move along.
so we cut to an evening ceremony. Heck,
might be midnight, for all we know. Midnight
weddings; now there was an idea. Have
the reception early, so everyone is good and toasted by the time itís
time to say the vows. Actually,
toasted is a good word; as the two parts of the wedding party walk past
the honor guard, their torches ignite.
One might think there was something magical about this ceremonyÖ In fact, the ceremony does involve fire, and water, and
conscious choice. Fate, one
might say. Thereís no
explanation about how this sort of thing is done, and it appears that,
although itís a ceremonial thing, nobody is surprised by the things that
happen. Iím not sure how
this fits into Clarkeís law, but surely there must be something to it,
whether itís genetic or merely a superior understanding of the universe.
Of course, not everybody seems to be able to do it, and they
donít do it all the time. Actually,
an innate pyrokinetic ability running through the noble bloodline might
explain a lotÖ but Iím getting ahead of myself.
course, troubleís a-brewing. The
Slayers come riding up, like the posse of doom in a supernatural Western.
An old man (Freddie Jones, whose long career includes playing the
missionary in Erik the Viking,
a role in David Lynchís Wild at
Heart, and playing a colonel in the recent The Count of Monte Cristo, and is apparently still going strong)
watches them from what could barely be considered cover; considering how
the Slayers rain death across the world, Iím surprised nobodyís taking
pot-shots at him. But no,
heís just there to watch, and look worried.
the mystical ceremony is progressing nicely when the Slayers arrive.
They come busting in, cracking those cool gates and just
slaughtering whoever they can find. They seem to ride regular horses, for some reason.
They donít even get those cool reptilian horses that all the Moks
got in Thundarr the Barbarian, which would fit their appearance better.
I guess the Beast just wanted them to fit in.
(Note to readers: I know itís a purely budgetary issue on the
part of the producers, thank you very much.)
few notes on the Slayers. Besides
being the Beastís shock troops, who for some reason still ride the local
version of standard transport, they have very distinctive costumes and
weaponry. They have these
scary full-shoulder helmets, with a globe of sorts covering the head, with
projections off each side of the jaw and above the head.
Actually, the helmet looks like kind of a thematic relative to the
Black Tower itself, with its central dome and rock spires.
they carry these kind of long arms with a longish haft, a heavy axe-style
blade at one end (perhaps more like a halberd blade), and a long spike at
the other. They point the
spike at a target, and it turns a glowing electric blue and shoots off to
great destructive effect, a magic/high-tech projectile weapon.
Then they flip the hafts around and use the blade in hand-to-hand
combat. The weapons are
somehow energized or something, because upon striking another weapon, they
produce a red lightning-like discharge, which isnít an entirely crappy
naturally, but not as bad as Iíve seen in movies a lot more recent.
They attack in complete silence, until and unless they are
ďkilled.Ē Upon receiving
a deathblow, they fall to the ground with an unnatural piercing scream,
their helmet dome shatters, and this hairy-segmented worm-like
thing slithers out from the aperture and burrows into the ground.
Returning to the Beast? Maybe,
but regardless, itís very alien and disturbing. A relatively small detail, yes, but nice.
the Slayers attack, and the Emperorís Guard tries to fight them off, but
theyíre only human. The
wedding ceremony is interrupted, and all the menfolk must head off to
fight off the attackers. Though
she doesnít want them to be separated, Lyssa is sent off, presumably to
safety, while Colwyn and the two fathers must join the fray.
The Slayers donít make any distinction, shooting soldiers and
wedding guests alike. The
fight scene is actually not so bad, pretty good for the time period.
After all, look at Escape
From New York, and what passes for action there (particularly compared
to the clone, Escape from L.A.).
there are some scenes of the battle which arenít bad at all. Thereís a couple of shots of two-handed swordsmanship, with
a long sword and fighting knife (often called a main gauche in the fencing
tradition, I believe), and the fights donít play as too choreographed.
Believe me, weíve all seen enough movies with wretched, obviously
orchestrated weapon play, but this one doesnít suffer from that
particular flaw. Actually,
almost all the fights have a certain verisimilitude, a sense of realism,
regardless of the red lightning and the freakish outfits. However,
this one does have a kind of perfunctory sense to it.
I mean, itís good, as far as fight scenes go, but it really does
just bridge the gap between the initial set-up and the quest structure.
A special ops group of Slayers cuts off Lyssaís escape, taking
out her honor guard and snatching her away in their knobby, clawed
gauntlets. They snatch her
out of the castle, and ride off. Colwyn
has a chance to see her, and respond to her cried, just before heís shot
in the shoulder. Pretty much
the first non-lethal shot theyíve made, I believe, but then again,
without Colwyn, the rest of the movie really doesnít happen.
And you have to take him down so that you can start working on
introducing the rest of the motley crew.
light of dawn is shining as the old man, the one who escaped destruction
on the initial ride of the Slayers, tends Colwyn.
Through dialogue, heís revealed as Ynir, the Old One.
ďWell, not as old as all that,Ē he says wryly. Heís the sage of the group, as much knowledge is given him
to know. Yes, he was
responsible for the opening voice-over.
Seems heís spent a great deal of time gathering knowledge,
bringing him into contact with a wide variety of people, and basically
making him the Explanation Man of the story.
Though he does not have magical powers of his own, not in the way
that others in the story do, he does make use of his knowledge, in that he
has medicines for every occasion, and knows where pretty much everything
and everybody can be found.
Ynir has to break the news that Colwynís lost his father, which the
young man takes hard. On the
other hand, he also knows what to do to get him moving.
Nothing like an old-fashioned kick in the pants, and reminding him
of what Colwyn does have left. Thatís
right, Ynir knows Lyssaís been kidnapped, and knows that the Beast has
taken her for a reason. Before
they can go get her, they have to get something that can battle the beast:
a legendary super-weapon, the source of Colwynís kingdomís royal
symbol, a thing called the Glaive. Colwyn
thinks it doesnít exist, but he hasnít had time to learn that Ynir is
basically Yoda: heís never wrong.
any case, Ynir takes them to the Granite Mountains, his legendary
residence, and sends Colwyn up the side of a mountain.
No, itís not to get rid of the kid, because heís not as
annoying as many movie heroes (ďBut I was going to go to Toshi Station
to pick up some power converters!Ē), but itís the first of the
required lame challenges the hero must face.
this is where the movie rather excels.
The scenery is gorgeous, and itís shot in a manner that
wouldnít be out of place in an Omnimax film.
The scope and grandeur of the setting seems to be a reflection of
the quest itself. Itís
primal and vast, and doesnít look familiar at all, and thatís good.
Helps drive home the idea of the medieval magical world. Point being, itís something that many similar films donít
manage to pull off. Heck,
many films donít even get out of the state parks of California.
Not that state parks canít give an adequate feel, but after a
point, youíve seen similar imagery.
Not here; it seems unfamiliar and strange, and it should.
one thing about this sequence I really donít get is how the craggy
mountaintop has a flow of lava within it.
Itís not like itís a volcano, really, itís just a high peak,
and one that can be climbed in an afternoon, yet concealed inside a cave
is an oozing lava flow. This,
naturally, is where the noble pyrokinetic ability really comes into its
own, as Colwyn
uses it to grab a five-armed switchblade.
Hey, itís the weapon from the opening credits!
How about that. Looks
pretty good, now that we get a nice solid look at it.
we get to see whatís happened to Lyssa.
Sheís in the Black Fortress, the very lair of the Beast, which is
a disturbing realm with curved, organic surfaces and dimensions that just
arenít quite right. Sheís
running around, and the Beastís booming voice talks to her.
We get a hint of what heís looking for from her; apparently,
heís finally fallen in love with a native girl.
Well, lust, at least. From
the fragmentary glimpses we get to see of him, here at the start of the
movie, heís most evidently non-human, and quite monstrous.
However, like so many humanoid aliens that deal with humans, he has
inexplicably formed an attraction to one of our females, despite having no
real resemblance to his own species.
Now, mind you, I find Lyssa attractive, but then again, Iím not a
freaking monster. I know we
want a reason to keep the human female alive, but come on, how likely is
it? I mean, do human males go
around wanting to have sex withÖ okay, bad example.
Still, you see my point: itís much more reasonable for the Beast
to go back and get a female of his own species than it is for him to
fixate on one of the horribly alien, soft, non-spiky creatures heís so
intent on conquering. I donít know why this kind of thing comes up so often in
these sorts of films. But
there it is. At least now we
know what the Beast wants, and why itís so important for Lyssa to stay
true. Then again, the Beast isnít even as appealing as big-horned
Tim Curry was in Legend, so
heís got his seduction work cut out for him.
at the Granite Mountains, Colwyn meets back up with Ynir, and he
apparently already knows how to use the Glaive.
Heís a knife man, heíll cut ya!
But seriously, heís like a giddy little kid with a new toy, and
it takes Ynir to tell him to hold off, donít waste the power.
Save it for when you need it.
Boy, if only everybody would hold to that philosophy.
Now we got a big problem; he canít get to fight the Beast if he
canít find out where the Beast is hiding, and the Black Fortress shifts
location randomly every dawn. Where
it shifts to is not really described, nor if thereís any sort of
pattern. As itís a
defensive mechanism, I can understand how randomness would be in the
Beastís best interests, and it also would allow the Slayers to pretty
much range out and terrorize whatever countryside they happen to be in for
that particular day. However,
there is a question as to the practicality of the timing, specifically the
requirement for ďdawn.Ē
dawn hits it at 6 a.m. in, oh, Fresno, and it shifts over to, say, Munich.
Thatís a significant time shift, and itís going to sit in
Munich for considerably less than 24 hours before the next dawn.
Then where does it go? If
it pops up in Rio De Janeiro, then it has to sit there either just a
handful of hours or so (until local dawn happens) or for more than a day,
while popping over to Bombay will shorten its sitting time.
Bear in mind, time spent sitting is time the Slayers can be out
conquering, so itís in the Beastís interests to allow a fair amount of
time in any given location. Mind you, this whole question of timing and location is
further complicated by the fact that Krull has two suns! Oh, and incidentally, there is some doubt among cosmologists
as to whether or not a binary system can produce planetary masses that are
at all compatible with terrestrial life.
This kind of question would impact on Tattooine, as well. Come to think of it, with two suns, why isnít Krull a baked
cinder, or at least a desert? In
a case like this, strangely, Star
Wars is actually MORE scientifically probable.
giving myself a headache, here, and that last observation just blew my
suspension of disbelief. After
a short lie-down, I can continue.
any case, Ynir is not one to give up hope.
Heís got a plan. Heís
the Hannibal Smith of the group. And
he supports Colwynís passion for the quest, as he, himself, had a lost
love, something that ended badly. Have
to give the movie credit, it does foreshadow pretty well, and not all that
heavy-handedly. I mean, being
experienced and discriminating viewers as we are, we can guess that such a
comment will come back to mean something later, but itís not
particularly stressed by music or dramatic camera angles, itís just
slipped in as dialogue, as such things really should be.
Thatís a mark of subtlety, the same kind of thing that can make
exposition seem to be necessary and natural, not shoe-horned in.
me, thereís a lot of exposition in this movie, but most of it just comes
in as conversation, people asking questions and getting them answered,
people responding to a statement, etc.
This is opposed to, say, Perfect Tommy going ďThatís an action
that the Kremlin would surely misinterpret as an American first strike!Ē
in Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.
Sometimes, the delivery reveals it as exposition, sometimes itís
the blocking (just sitting there talking, for example), but if it seems
natural and interesting, then itís done well.
In general, Krull does
it pretty well, overall, especially compared to many more modern
the watch, we see that itís time to meet another companion for the
journey. This takes the form
of a blowhard jerk that mixes up his transformation spells with his
recipes. This is Ergo the Magnificent: short in stature, tall in
power, narrow of purpose and wide of vision (David Battley, who hasnít
been doing too much lately). Heís
obviously going to be important later, but at the moment, heís merely
comic relief. Needless to
say, once heís introduced, he doesnít intend to travel with Colwyn or
Ynir, but he glimpses a half-shadowed form, a hulking brute with a single
eye (played by Bernard Bresslaw, who died in 1993, but started his career
in 1954, and played Gort in the film Hawk
the Slayer, which makes him quite scary enough), and immediately
decides travelling with a group is the better part of valor.
next morning, we see the Black Fortress teleport from the desert to the
snowy Arctic wastes. Inside,
the Beast wishes to marry Lyssa. Why?
Is he also offering to convert to her religion?
I can understand falling for a native girl; my man Kirk did it all
the time. However, why bother with ceremony? I mean, your name is The Beast, for goodnessí sake; might
as well act like it. But no,
heís on the seduction kick, and he doesnít even have the fireplace
whispering ďWoo herĒ as his excuse.
amidst the natives, the travelling party enters a rocky canyon, almost
completely closed in. Itís
the perfect setting for an ambush, and of course, Ergo takes pains to
point out the presence of robbers to Colwyn, who almost certainly knew
they were there back when they first entered the soundstageÖ canyon!
I mean canyon, of course. In
any case, the trio is subsequently jumped, and lo and behold, one of the
guys is Liam Neeson! And
another is Robbie Coltrane! A
Jedi and a giant both in one movie, so, hey, all the better, then.
Or, I suppose Liam would also qualify as a psychotic super-hero,
based on his Rami experience. Wow.
the bandits make their challenge, and Colwyn immediately turns it into a
recruitment drive. Now,
setting aside the fact that these guys are all escaped convicts, and
driven to haunt the wilds, accosting travelers for their valuables, these
donít seem to be entirely bad guys.
Mind you, they must have done something to get thrown into prison
in the first place, but the movie doesnít dwell on that.
Indeed, from the conversation, it seems they get the most mundane
criminals in the clink; was it truly that draconian a legal system?
any case, Colwyn gets the leader of the outlaws, Torquil (Alun Armstrong,
recently in The Mummy Returns
as Baltus Hafez, the British Museum Curator who gets his hand stuck in a
statue near the end), talking, and it seems like theyíre all starved for
some urbane conversation, as it goes from a stick-up situation to a
kick-back situation pretty swiftly. Torquilís
not a half-bad layman philosopher in his own right, but although heís
good with a weapon, heís still unprepared when Ynir whips out his badass
Knowledge skeelz. Colwynís rhetorical expertise and Ynirís preternatural
knowing of things (the less said about Ergoís contribution, the better)
is enough to sway the mind of one young bandit.
When Colwyn takes a key out of his kingly amulet and begins to
unlock the kidís manacles, everybody suddenly gets interested.
Itís like when Steve Buscemi mentions ďBuchoĒ in the cantina
in Desperado. Torquil sums it up nicely when he steps up to get a closer
the King and his Lord Marshall have the keys to these manacles.Ē
know,Ē says Colwyn, rather too flippantly.
donít look like the Lord Marshall.Ē
shakes his head, smiling. ďNo.Ē
this point, you can hear the gears turning in Torquilís head, and smell
the familiar scent of burning wood. ďYouíre
about the right age to be Turoldís son,Ē he finally says in a quieter
pauses again to look at him. ďExact
it turns out, this is enough. They
join up, and now some of the comic relief duties are taken off Ergoís
back. Mind you, heís still
the primary supplier, but there are secondary providers as well, at this
point. Hey, the more
characters you have, the more you can spread the jokes around.
the road, greedy Ergo stops for some gooseberries, manufacturing an
opportunity for the huge Cyclops guy to save his damnfool life.
After Ynir brings him around, and he says what heís seen, the Old
One has the opportunity to relate the tale of the race of Cyclopes.
Seems they did a deal with the Beast, trading in an eye for the
ability to see the future. However, the only future they can see is their own death.
What the Beast has done with all the eyes he received in trade,
Iíve got no idea. We
donítí see piles of them in the Black FortressÖ perhaps the ugly
little worms who escape from the dead Slayers might be some kind of alien
eyeball, with trailing nerve chords.
anyway, Ynirís plan on finding the Black Fortress is to check in with
the Emerald Seer (John Welsh, whose career is almost as long as
Bresslawís), apparently an old buddy from the old lore-gathering days.
He takes Corwin, Torquil, and Ergo with him when he walks through
the cliff face. Itís a
rather simple optical effect, seen in many, many movies, but itís still
effective. Inside the cave,
they meet the Seer himself, an old blind man with a young apprentice,
Titch (Graham McGrath, who is still working today, mostly in British TV).
Ynir and Corwin speak to the seer, while Torquil nicks some
gemstones and Ergo scores some candy from the naÔve young Titch.
Poor kid. All the
same, we do get a bit of a look into Ergoís Napoleon-complex
Emerald Seer produces a pretty good hologram of the Black Fortress with
the help of a spinning emerald, naturally, but before they can get the
camera to pull back, the Beastís ghostly, horned paw appears and crushes
the gemstone. Turns out the
Beast has anti-surveillance countermeasures, which is only to be expected,
as, you know, heís this planetary conqueror with magical powers.
I mean, duh. Still,
thereís an out: if he were to try the same thing with an overwhelming
power source, such as could be found in the Emerald Temple, deep in the
heart of the Great Swamp, he could break through the Beastís jamming
a sad dearth of places that truly deserve capitalization these days.
I mean, itís not like we can go down to the Super Market to visit
the Teller Machine of Limited Wealth before we hit the Theater of the
Moving Picture. Granted, we
could, but none of those places deserve the capitals.
I guess the closest we have is the names of towns, but it sounds
lame to go just go to Minneapolis/St. Paul when you could be going to the
Twin Cities of the Icy North. Problem
is, nobody else would really know what you were talking about.
I mean, I could say I was going to visit my in-laws in the River
City, Mercantile Star of the Tri-State Area, but nobody would
know I was talking about Evansville. We do have a few exceptions (The Big Apple, The Motor City,
The Big Potato, etc.), but theyíre few and far between. And thatís just a pity.
everybody travels into the Great Swamp, an awful place that nobody really
wants to enter, but hey, if oneís got to go, theyíve all got to go. All is going pretty well, until thereís a sudden Apocalypse
Now moment, with Slayers rising silently up from the murky water, and
others coming from behind. This
is the next big fight scene, and itís pretty cool, showing how well the
band of tough outlaws acquits itself against the Beastís crack troops.
Thereís also a further development, as the Cyclops, Rell, finally
joins the group. Titch knows
him; heís visited with the Seer in the past.
He, Titch, and Ergo pretty much hang together, as the non-royal,
non-outlaw kids. As it turns
out, Rell is quite well spoken, in his laconic, bass-voiced manner, and is
also quite meditative. I
suppose it proves the old adage, still waters run deep.
An illustrative exchange:
(after waxing rhapsodic about huge gooseberry pies): What would you wish
Iíd wish for a puppy!
Just one? As long as youíre
wishing, why not wish for a hundred puppies?
I only want one.
Thatís a foolish wish. You,
in the Black Fortress, Lyssa is still being terrorized by the Beast and
his constantly changing, quasi-organic floor plan.
Iím not sure what sort of courtship ritual this really comprises;
it seems more counterproductive to me, but then again, Iím not a
planetary conqueror with magical powers.
I suppose this does make for a certain degree of practical realism:
the Beast is, after all, an alien being, and his thought processes
arenít going to match those of a humanís, even if youíre an inbred
pyrokinetic noble. Itís possible that in the Beastís view of things, heís
engaging in a little light foreplay.
If only heíd listened to the talking fireÖ no, wait, wrong
in the swamp, thereís a sudden natural disaster, which is surprisingly
intense, all things considered. While
this is going on, the Beast is taking further steps to ensure Colwynís
downfall. There are some
definite tense moments, as a result of this.
Itís the old nail-biting situation where you know somethingís
going to happen, but you donít know when or what.
However, once again, Rell comes through in the end.
Naturally. Still, at
the end of it all, the team is still up a creek without a paddle.
it happens, Ynir has a backup plan. This
guyís like Batman, but without the physical conditioning and cool toys,
unless you count an endless supply of poultices and ointments as
ďtoys.Ē Of course, they
have to travel a ways, and then he has to go it alone to see the Widow of
the Web. Oh, yes, with a name
like that, it canít be good. As
Torquil is quick to point out, no one who goes there survives to tell the
tale. Still, itís possible that Ynir the Master Networker may
have some personal link. Imagine
incidentally, itís time to start humanizing Ergo, so at least one of the
characters undergoes some fundamental change.
Actually, all of the majors do alter, somewhat, but most of the
time itís more a matter of polishing rough-cut gems.
While they grow in experience and show their true mettle, the main
characters who survive are basically the same brave, skilled, determined
men they started off as. With
Ergo, however, the transformation from utterly selfish, egotistical fool
to occasionally useful blowhard with a heart of gold is quite noticeable,
and in fact is the most clearly drawn personality shift in the movie.
Mind you, itís not a drama like The
English Patient; itís a sword and sorcery epic action flick.
Still, the needs of any good story remain the same, and itís good
that there are some changes.
in the forest again. Now, the
people may have a chance to actually sleep, though thatís never shown. For all we can tell, they donít sleep a wink for several
days; must be that mutant royal pyrokinetic genetics at work, there.
Meanwhile, Ynir splits off to go it alone, hiking up to the Widow
of the Webís hangout. Itís
his chance to be all heroic in the face of a giant crystalline stop-motion
spider. Back at camp, they
call on one of Liamís wives (heís a traveling man, you know) to bring
them supplies, and they put Ergo in charge of cooking for them.
Turns out he is quite the gourmand, actually, and is probably
better at that than magic. There is another new character, who starts to hit on Colwyn
pretty heavily, a fact which, not coincidentally, the Beast shows to Lyssa.
The Beast is now trying to win her with his shapechanging skills,
as we know everybody loves a tyrannical archmage despot who can shift
shapes. But, of course, the
questing hero proves too good for the Beastís trap, and the villain is
defeated once again.
and the Widow (Francesca Annis, who played Lady Jessica the next year in
Lynchís Dune) reveal their
back-story, some of which has been foreshadowed, but much of which is new.
In a classic example of
burning bridges, Ynir gets the information he needs, where the Black
Fortress will rise the next day (the Iron Desert, apparently Ė
Detroit?), but at the cost of lives.
So, with a dramatic collapse, Ynir exits, and the group is left a
thousand leagues from their destination and planless.
not quite. There is one way
they can cross a thousand leagues in a day, or at least in a quick
montage, and thatís to use Firemares.
Who knows if there are any Firestallions; perhaps the Firemares
simply use parthenogenesis to reproduce, or perhaps thereís some sort of
Artificial Fireimplantation Service or something.
Still, I mean, if the name of a species indicates itís a single
gender, you have to wonder how they survive.
Point being, apparently Firemares can cross the distance in that
time. So they have to find
some Firemares and catch them and ride them.
they do. It takes some
teamwork, some hastily woven nets and ropes, and apparently a lot of
whip-cracking, but they pull it off.
At first, youíre not sure what the big deal is, but then you find
out why they earn their name. Still
not sure if theyíre supposed to be going unusually fast or theyíve
just got excellent all-terrain skills (distance shots show a higher
velocity than close-ups indicate, and POV shots show very little
difficulty with the irregularity of the land), but apparently the group
makes it to the Black Fortress in time.
these heroes, these leaders of men and the sole resistance to the
planet-crushing tyranny that is the Beastís, what do they do when faced
with the huge walls of the fortress, now that theyíre finally here after
all that searching and sacrifice?
admittedly, thereís not time for anything else, really, but you folks
donít have air cover! No
artillery! You donít even
have bows or large stones! Okay,
you do have a couple of distance weapons available, like spears and
throwing axes, but still, if you use them, youíre defenseless.
Just less than a dozen guys (including a shrimp and a kid) running
up to the walls. We know
itís got to work, because this is a movie and all, but the question is,
how many losses are they going to take?
death starts coming pretty freely here; by the time the final conflict
comes, theyíve lost every unnamed character and most of the named
ones. And thereís a hitch to the final conflict: the Beast uses
the Level Boss Fake Death Maneuverô!
Of course, it continues to be unclear exactly how large the Beast
really is, but with a shape-changer, I suppose thatís not as relevant.
Plus, the realization of the final conflict is hampered, in
todayís viewing climate, by the comparatively primitive special effects
that were possible at that time. I
can see what they were trying to do, and given the limitations of the time
(as evidenced in movies like Beastmaster
and Dragonslayer), they were
probably considered exciting and grand.
Of course, today we have Attack
of the Clones to compare it to. Little
flipping Yoda versus matted-in fireballs Ė thereís no competition.
But still, even given that, you can get an impression of the
intention, the grandeur and wonder we were supposed to be feeling.
The final effects shot actually does make you think ďWow,
thatís pretty cool,Ē so there are some things that good old primitive
model work can still pull off.
then the survivors get rewarded, and we get our moral, and all is well
bothers me that the film doesnít ever seem to get credit for being a
much better movie than expected. Given
the limits of its special effects technology, it did a good job conveying
much of the magic scenes, and the acting is all pretty solid.
It does suffer from the same thing most early Ď80s action films
seem to suffer from: to the modern sensibility, informed by Hong Kong, it
seems slow. Deadly slow, some
would say, but itís not so much of an action movie as a traditional
quest adventure. Not all the
challenges are going to be particularly active in a quest.
fault does not lie with the director, certainly, who, previous to this,
had directed Bullitt, Mother, Jugs and Speed, The
Deep, and Breaking Away.
Heís taken more of a break in recent years, but he recently did Don
Quixote for TV, so heís still going strong.
He knew the demands of the narrative, so Iím sure he did the best
with what he was given.
incidentally, brings us to the writer.
Stanford Sherman had done some TV, and wrote Any Which Way You Can just a few years before, and went on to do The
Man Who Wasnít There (the apparently awful 1983 film, not the 2001
Cohen Brothers film), and Ice Pirates. Ah, Robert
Urich. You know, why build a
kick-butt black robot, whoís apparently the best fighter, and then never
show him fighting? What,
knocking over boxes is supposed to be something exciting?
Sorry, off-topic. Point
being, Stanford Sherman did a decent job here, more or less, which isnít
really reflected in his other work. Perhaps
he was meant to be a classicist, and since thereís not that much call
for fairy tales in todayís cinema, heís done.
The IMDb doesnít say whether or not heís dead, but his latest
credit is 1984, so at the very least, it seems heís left the business.
it is certainly no Lord of the
Rings, any part, it is a kindly enough fable with lush settings and
decent action for its time. The
leads are attractive, the dialogue occasionally clever, and by todayís
standards, itís innocuous enough for the entire family, if you can
handle the gory eyeball things sliding into the ground when the Slayers
--- Copyright 2003, Skip Mitchell
The fab romantic leads. While
Colwynís striped tights might strike me asÖ impractical, I did have an
excellent time watching Lyssa. Then
again, Iíve always had a weakness for redheads.
Ynir and his pack full oí poultices and creams.
I swear, the manís the medieval equivalent of Batman, but more
social, and without the same survival instinct, in the end.
Still, youíve got to love the way, whenever thereís a problem,
he whips out that Knowledge and comes up with a plan, right on the spot.
Of course, if heís so smart, why didnít he see some of the
Torquilís forward-somersault oí evasion.
Mind you, the fighting was pretty fierce and semi-realistic (given
the setting), but once theyíre inside the Black Fortress, and Torquil
does his little Shatner-esque forward somersault, the least they could
have done was rotoscoped some shots in that suggested the roll actually
meant something, actually did some good.
Otherwise itís justÖ wellÖ pointless.
Two moments when you realize Ergoís actually good for something: once
when theyíre at camp, and he takes command of the cooking fire, and once
inside the Black Fortress when his Odious Comic Technique of magically
shape-shifting actually gets turned to effective use.
Though if you count that, I suppose his earlier shifting into a
shape that reinforces his characterís internal change would have to
count, as well. So, three
Rellís wicked-looking spear. Though
how he can throw it so accurately when he has no depth perception, Iíve
got no idea.