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Little people, a swordsman, and a great quest to stop an ancient evil. No, it’s not Lord of the Rings!

Written by on Mar 9, 2021

1988’s Willow is a fantastic fantasy film from the mind of one of the greatest (albeit now more infamous) names in Sci-fi when he was at the height of his powers.

Written by George Lucas (he did a little movie you might know called Star Wars) and directed by Ron Howard, best known for directing films like Apollo 13, Splash, Cocoon, and the Dan Brown movies, Willow is an epic adventure and a battle between good and evil.

Willow follows the adventure of the titular character, played by then 18-year-old Warwick Davis (Leprechaun, Harry Potter, Star Wars) a farmer and aspiring sorcerer. His life gets turned upside down when his children find a Daikini (human) baby in the river. Willow’s family decide to keep the baby in secret, not telling the elders of their Nelwyn (little people) village.

However, the baby, Elora Dannan is a child of prophecy, destined to destroy the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) and it isn’t long before her forces disrupt a Nelwyn festival in search of the missing baby. This forces Willow to reveal that he found the baby and go on a quest to give the baby to the first Daikini he meets. The first person Willow and the other Nelwyn meet is Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a swordsman with a big mouth and a penchant for the ladies who just so happens to be locked up in a crow’s cage at that moment.

Along with a host of other characters such as Queen Bavmorda’s daughter, Sorsha, brownies, trolls, and more, Willow is a classic fantasy adventure in the vein of stories such as The Hobbit. However, since it was written by George Lucas, the script is not only filled with high adventure, but also with romance, great comedy, some truly terrifying scenes (well they were to me when I was a kid), and what is arguably the worst pickup line in history. (For those of you wondering, the line is “Wanna breed!?”)

Willow also gives Val Kilmer one of (arguably) his greatest film roles in the form of Madmartigan, the wise-cracking, irresponsible, frequently bare-chested, swordsman. From his first appearance on screen, his interactions with the other characters are all memorable. Whether it is his feigned disappointment that they’re travelling in the same direction to his love potion induced declarations of love for villain Sorsha (played by Joanne Whalley who would later that year marry Kilmer), to his numerous pratfalls, Kilmer shines in every scene. In fact, the scenes between Sorsha and Madmartigan are some of the most entertaining in the film.

There are also a host of surprising faces that appear throughout the film. Not only will you spot the likes of Tony Cox (Bad Santa, Beetlejuice, Spaceballs) but a surprising appearance by Kevin Pollak (Usual Suspects, A Few Good Men, The Whole Nine Yards) as Rool, a 9-inch tall, mouse-head hat-wearing, beer-loving brownie. Rool and fellow brownie, the bossy Franjean, have a wonderful Laurel and Hardy-esque dynamic, providing plenty of comic relief throughout the film.

In many ways, Willow feels almost like a fantasy version of an Indiana Jones film. From the action set pieces, many of which wouldn’t look too out of place in an Indy movie, to the smart-alec attitude of Madmartigan, Willow always manages to balance the fantasy, comedy, and action that goes into it. In fact, you would even be forgiven for thinking that the film’s strident score, which is very reminiscent of the Indiana Jones score, was written by frequent Lucas collaborator John Williams. However, it is in fact written by the late James Horner, best known for his work on films such as Titanic, Avatar, Beautiful Mind and The Devil’s Own.

Being a fantasy epic, Willow naturally also employed the use of many visual effects which have (mostly) aged quite well. While the greenscreen effects seem pretty obvious through modern eyes, they have aged far better than most other films of the era, and it is far less distracting than most films. And this was also made before Lucas relied on an overabundance of CGI. As a result, the visual and practical effects in Willow are still remarkable. The film also makes use of some stop motion animation which is fitted fairly seamlessly into most scenes.

All of this has managed to blend together in a fantastic film and while there are some rather dark and scary scenes in the film, it is very much a great family adventure movie. A definite must-watch for the whole family.

-H

You can see a trailer for the film below

Willow film trailer

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