Directed by: Ron Howard | 121 minutes | action, comedy, adventure, fantasy | Actors: Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Rick Overton, Kevin Pollak, David Steinberg, Maria Holvoe, Mark Northover
Join a group of young people in their twenties and shout, “Willow,” and it is guaranteed that many young people will have a big smile on their faces. “Willow” is youth sentiment and pure cult! In 1988, director Ron Howard made an unforgettable fairy tale that unfortunately did not appeal to a very large audience. But thanks to the DVD medium, no one has to miss this print anymore.
The film starts when a baby is born in the castle of the evil sorceress Bavmorda (Marsch). The young girl was predicted to grow into a woman who will dethrone Bavmorda in order to restore peace to the land. Of course the sorceress does not want that and she orders to kill the baby. However, the child’s midwife manages to hide her to save her life. By coincidence, the child falls into the hands of the agricultural dwarf Willow (Davis). Willow’s life suddenly changes when he realizes who this baby is. Soon the brave Willow sets out on an adventure, meeting wonderful characters, including the arrogant, but brave, swordsman Madmartigan (Kilmer).
The story behind this production was created by George Lucas. Yes, the man who wrote the “Star Wars” saga. It’s not surprising, then, that “Willow” has a lot in common with Lucas’s famous sci-fi epic. This film is also told through the vision of the anti-hero / underdog. In “Star Wars” there were two robots, C-3PO and R2-D2, in “Willow” the story unfolds through the experiences of the forest fairies Rool (Pollak) and Franjean (Overton). The way in which farmer Willow turns out to be a hero has also been told by Lucas before. In addition, the character of the broad-shouldered and dressed in black General Kael (Roach) is strongly reminiscent of the legendary villain Darth Vader. But the comparisons don’t stop there. The grumpy and money-hungry mercenary, Madmartigan (Kilmer) has many similarities with the selfish pilot Han Solo. Indeed, those figures are both known from “Star Wars”! In fact, you can also see “Willow” as a carefully executed copy of the films from “a galaxy far far away”, but in a different setting.
Yet you are doing this print short if you dismiss “Willow” as a simple formula film. Howard’s production has a soul: a beating heart in the form of the appealing protagonist. The character of the gentle, insecure Willow is portrayed in a very engaging way by the Englishman Warwick Davis. The best man’s name will not ring a bell that quickly. Davis is best known for his role as the Ewok Wicket in, again, the “Star Wars” series. The Englishman is a very gifted actor who never really managed to break through. There is a reason for this: Davis is a midget who, unfortunately, will never reach the Hollywood elite due to his short height.
In “Willow”, the English actor shows his worth. The loving way Davis portrays his character leaves no doubt how talented he really is. Willow is a stubborn, stubborn young man who is constantly in doubt about his quest and his own ability. But the determination and charming way in which he selflessly devotes himself to others evokes sympathy. Davis portrays a real person, with whom you like to identify.
Val Kilmer is also on a roll in his role as the selfish Madmartigan. Kilmer’s swearing playing is often just on the verge of irritation, but fortunately the actor still remains below that offending limit. Besides Kilmer, Marsch, Whalley and Roach are also very enjoyable. The actors do a good job. And it is the portrayals of Marsch as an evil sorceress and Roach as a cruel general that provide some very tense moments. The rest of the cast does a decent, but not worth mentioning job. What certainly benefits the film is the obvious fun that splashes off it. Obviously everyone had a good time on set and that enthusiasm radiates from “Willow”.
The print looks well cared for, full of sweeping panoramas of vast meadows and castles that provide a pleasant medieval atmosphere. From the costumes to the sets, the film looks beautiful. The special effects are beautiful, but look a bit dated. It is clear that technology has not stood still since 1988. Some action scenes seem rather poor by contemporary standards. But that never gets annoying. Howard Shore’s beautiful, bombastic music gives the film that little bit extra, further boosting the tension factor.
“Willow” is an unfairly underexposed film that never got the success it deserved. The lackluster success at the box office meant that Lucas’s original plan to create a trilogy around the title character fell through. And that’s a shame, because Howard has produced a successful and exciting adventure film with this production, which deserves more than the obscure cult status that the print now enjoys.