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Krull

Director: Peter Yates

UK - 1983

       Hoff! Hoff!       

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First 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.

The 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 highly underrated.

Krull is a heroic fantasy quest movie with a sci-fi twist.  The medieval/renaissance setting is a foreign world, Before the fedora became the ultimate cool hat, tough guys had to resort to whatever they could find.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 that concept.

Anyway, 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.

We 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.

Back 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 aKrull never bothered to develop Zippo technology.ccompanies 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 landscape.

A stentorian British voice-over cranks up:

ďThis, 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

While 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 whitewashed castle.

The 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.

Actually, 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.  Thatís nice.

Actually, 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 look at.

About 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.

So, the road-weary nobles finally arrive.  Turold and Eirig argue right away, showing a good reason why theyíve been a"That Slayer is one bad mother..." "Shut your mouth!" "I'm just talking about the Slayer." "We can dig it."t 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.

Anyway, 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 particularly disappointed.

Whatís 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.

Okay, 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.

Of 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.

Okay, 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.)

A 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.  Interesting.

Anyway, 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 effect.  Simplistic, 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"Rock climbing, eh?  I've got the perfect outfit!"-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.

Anyway, 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.).

Actually, 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.

The 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.

So 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.

In 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.

Actually, 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.

The 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 ColWelcome to the Chamber of Geological Impossibilities!wyn 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.

Now 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.

Back 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

Say 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.

Iím giving myself a headache, here, and that last observation just blew my suspension of disbelief.  After a short lie-down, I can continue.

In 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.

Believe 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 offerings.

Checking 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.

The 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.

Back 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.

So 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 systeKrull Cereal comes with a chocolate-covered Glaive in every box!m?

In 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 look.

 ďOnly the King and his Lord Marshall have the keys to these manacles.Ē

ďI know,Ē says Colwyn, rather too flippantly.

ďYou donít look like the Lord Marshall.Ē

Colwyn shakes his head, smiling.  ďNo.Ē

At 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 voice.

Colwyn pauses again to look at him.  ďExact age.Ē

As 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.

On 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.  Itís possible.

So, 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 personality.

The 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 field.

Thereís 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 Men of Krull Calendar: Marchwould 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.

Well, 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:

Ergo (after waxing rhapsodic about huge gooseberry pies): What would you wish for, Titch?

Titch: Iíd wish for a puppy!

Ergo: Just one?  As long as youíre wishing, why not wish for a hundred puppies?

Titch: I only want one.

Ergo: Thatís a foolish wish.  You, Rell?

Rell: Ignorance.

Back 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 flick.

Back 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.

As 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 that.

Oh, 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.

Deep 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.

Ynir 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"I taught you how to Cyclops Rock, and then you go and turn around and break my heart." 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.

Well, 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.

Which 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.  If barely.

So 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?

Frontal assault!

Okay, 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?

The death starts coming pretty freely here; by the time the final conflict comes, theyíve lost every unnamed character and most of the nMorgan Freeman meets his nemesis in Along Came A Spider 2: Arachnid Boogalooamed 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.

And then the survivors get rewarded, and we get our moral, and all is well with Krull.

It 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.

The 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.

Which, 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.

Though 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 die.



 

--- Copyright 2003, Skip Mitchell

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- 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 difficulties coming?

- 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 moments.

- Rellís wicked-looking spear.  Though how he can throw it so accurately when he has no depth perception, Iíve got no idea.

 

 

 

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