Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
As a youngster, "Willow" was one of my absolute favorites, but with the critical perspective granted by a distance of more than 25 years, I am disappointed to find that it does not hold up in many important respects. Foremost among them, the plot bears clumsily obvious similarities to "The Lord of the Rings" but does not remotely approach the dimensions of its scale or sophistication. I count myself fortunate to have owned the accompanying novel (and, yes, video game) which smoothed over the film's narrative gaps and inconsistencies, highlighted details that were barely touched upon, and clarified various aspects that simply defied sense or understanding. For all those who do not benefit in like fashion, however, "Willow" might not make for pleasurable viewing. Though easier said than done, it probably would not have required a great deal of effort to instill the film with elements of the unique atmosphere that were present in the source material not the "concept" handed down by George Lucas, but the story as detailed and elaborated upon by the actual screenwriter, Bob Dolman, and adapted into book form by Wayland Drew thereby making it into something that could stand on its own throughout the years.
I imagine Warwick Davis was grateful for the chance to shed the ratty pelt of Wicket the Ewok in his first major role. Yet the primary arc of Willow Ufgood's development gaining confidence through the mastery of magic is not altogether convincing, let alone substantial, enough to make for a dynamic, engaging, or ultimately satisfying character. His fundamental passivity, intractable aversion to risk, and persistent lack of self-determination hardly recommends him as a figure worthy of respect, all of which necessarily interferes with the sort of personal identification that would otherwise result in catharsis by journey's end. In general, the Nelwyns are rendered in a manner that is rather precious and patronizing for my taste inviting comparisons to the Munchkins in "The Wizard of Oz": "They're people, too... but aren't they just the dearest little things?" This works against them being taken seriously, and even goes so far as to undermine their dignity.
Val Kilmer's portrayal of Madmartigan is often stilted, artificial, and smirkingly insincere. I had trouble detecting any trace of authentic nobility at his core. As a consequence, the path of redemption he travels from dissolute scoundrel to manifest hero does not feel organic, let alone honest. To say that I loathe Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton as the Brownies is an understatement of the most egregious sort. Not unlike the Ewoks in "Return of the Jedi", the leaden hijinks of these vile faeries are a heavy-handed means of providing "comic relief" in order to keep the kiddies distracted. I recall their nauseating banter induced me to eye-rolling contempt at ten years of age, and it has not acquired any charm with the passage of time. In a similar respect, the talent of Patricia Hayes (while hardly evident here) as Fin Raziel is squandered in a series of animal voices that are perhaps intended to be "cute" but instead come across as shrill, particularly on those numerous occasions when she upbraids Willow for his shortcomings (pun intended) as a sorcerer. This inevitably detracts from Raziel's one-note authority to say nothing of her simple likability in human form. Jean Marsh, on the other hand, is a genuine delight in her campy but nonetheless menacing turn as Queen Bavmorda. Nobody would begrudge the inimitable Billy Barty the fun he is clearly having in his brief appearances as the crotchety High Aldwin. And even without displaying much range, Pat Roach is well-used as the brutish General Kael; at least here he is given a chance to talk, as opposed to his high-profile though mute role in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom".
By far, the most outstanding performances, in my opinion, are given by characters with mere minutes of screen time, one of whom almost has no speaking lines to her credit, which makes her accomplishment in this regard all the more impressive: Zulema Dene as Ethna, the nursemaid who spirits the newborn child of prophecy, Elora Danan, out of Bavmorda's grasp and sets the events of our story in motion; and Julie Peters as Kiaya, Willow's wife (the touching scene in which she gives him a braided lock of her hair always brings a tear to my eye).
The actors' accents are literally all over the map. Fight scenes are risible in their staged fakery. Production design is stylistically chaotic (e.g., the Nockmaar army looks more like a rag-tag band of mercenaries than an unstoppable kingdom-conquering force). The special effects, innovative if not ground-breaking for their time, now seem antiquated, and so the film, being heavily dependent upon them, loses some of its appeal as a result. Conversely, the beautiful score by James Horner unfairly burdened by having to compensate for the frequent inadequacy of script, direction, and performance to heft their share of the film's emotional weight retains the full measure of its stirring quality after more than two decades of repeated viewing, and has become one of the main reasons I continue to watch "Willow".
Although formulating this thought feels like an act of betrayal to the child I once was and, to an extent, still am I have at last determined that "Willow" fails to meet the most fundamental objective of all such work in the category to which it purportedly belongs: providing a rich, immersive, self-contained, internally coherent, personally relevant and meaningful fantasy-adventure experience. This is not to say the film is entirely without merit; indeed, in the final analysis, perhaps it is better than it has any right to be. Any enjoyment I derive from watching it, however, is propelled in no small part at this late remove by the momentum of nostalgia. Insofar as I am concerned, "Willow" is entertaining, but nothing more profound than that.
Starter for 10 (2006)
Leaves a smile on your face - plain and simple.
Surveying the wreckage of numerous other such films - burdened at their outset with flimsy premises, one-dimensional characters, stale gimmicks that coast on the fumes of pop cultural trends, and implausible "meet-cute" situations - which could not be sustained even with big-name talent, inestimable budgets, and plague-like advertising campaigns, I was understandably sceptical as to how the "romantic comedy" aspect of this film might play out when I first sat down to watch it. In retrospect, I honestly couldn't have been more pleased. Rare indeed is the occasion when I have walked out of a theatre feeling unambiguously good about what I saw, believing that it was well worth the time and money I spent to watch it.
The story forming the basis of "Starter for 10" is handled with a great deal of humour, sensitivity, and intelligence. At no time did any part of it feel forced or contrived, nor was it condescending. Testament to this film's openness and accessibility, the emotional connection that I formed with the primary character (James MacEvoy - may he have a long and distinguished career ahead of him) was subtly cultivated throughout, reinforced by simple - yet heartachingly truthful - moments of confusion, awkwardness, uncertainty, and disappointment of the kind anyone might experience (and probably has) in similar circumstances. "Starter for 10" masterfully captures the spirit of that time in one's life wherein a person fully enters the world and begins to establish her- or himself as an individual.
So often, and unfortunately, it is the case that I see people on the screen with whom I cannot identify, in situations to which I cannot relate (this is typically due in part to the performers' overblown celebrity status and the general "Hollywood" gloss that is spread thickly over the top of everything). Not so where "Starter for 10" is concerned.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that "Starter for 10" references "The Graduate," since I believe it shall, in time, prove itself a worthy descendant of that film's legacy and subsequently receive the higher profile that it deserves.