Review 68: Krull (4/5)

Krull

Directed by Peter Yates

Starring Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, David Battley, Bernard Bresslaw, Alun Armstrong

Released on July 29, 1983

Running time: 2h 1m

Rated PG

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Well, I certainly reviewed this movie at a convenient time: the release of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

After the bombastic success of the original Star Wars, suddenly epic sci-fi/fantasy movies became immensely profitable. Most of them ranged from really mediocre to absolutely terrible, such as Galaxy of Terror, Saturn 3, Star Odyssey, Message from Space, The Black Hole, Hawk the Slayer, Starcrash, and Battle Beyond the Stars, with the most blatant of these being Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, and the worst of these probably being Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, also known as The Man Who Saved the World or Turkish Star Wars.

But in 1983, the best of these movies came out.

I’d been meaning to watch it for a long while. I don’t know why I had delayed it until now, but I’ve finally watched it.

The movie was known as Krull.

There is a prophecy: A girl of ancient name shall become queen. And she shall choose a king. And together they shall rule our world. And their son shall rule the galaxy.

Cool.

But all is not well on the planet of Krull. From the blackness of space comes the Black Fortress, a spiky mountain-shaped spaceship similar to the Skeksis’ castle from The Dark Crystal. It holds legions of alien soldiers known as Slayers. They are led by a fearsome monster known as the Beast. No one knows what galaxy far, far away they came from or why they came at all. But they have arrived on the planet of Krull, and have begun to quickly conquer the planet. They are dressed like over-armored knights, use similar weapons, and ride horses. Odd, but cool.

Before knowledge of the Slayers’ invasion reached them, the rival kingdoms of King Turold and King Eirig brought themselves together with the marriage of Turold’s son Colwyn (Marshall) to Eirig’s daughter Lyssa (Anthony, but poorly dubbed by someone else). During this wedding, an actually interesting cycle is brought up. Colwyn gives fire to water, and it can only be taken from it by the woman he chooses as his wife. Lyssa takes fire from water, and she shall only give it to the man who she chooses as her husband. By the way, the fire effects in this scene are pretty awful. But before the wedding can be completed, the Slayers attack the castle in which the wedding is being held. Both armies are destroyed, both kings are killed, and Lyssa is kidnapped. Why would they kidnap Lyssa? It will be explained later. And it’s not pleasant.

Also, the fight choreography during the fight is pretty shoddy.

These Slayers look awesome. They are dressed in spiky armor, and they wield cool weapons. One end is used as a rifle that shoots laser bolts, and the other end is a short sword on a long handle. They’re kind of goofy, but they are much more menacing and are significantly better shots than Stormtroopers. While we’re on the subject of how cool the Slayers look, I must mention the fantastic costume design, in particular the Slayers’ costumes. The costumes of them and everyone else fit in perfectly with Krull’s sets and environments.

Speaking of the set design and environments, they look gorgeous. Awe-inspiring. Clearly the budget was utilized well in order to create some of the most beautiful sets, costumes, environments, and practical effects I’ve ever seen. It’s a beautiful landscape of castles, mountains, deserts, forests, canyons, caves, swamps, and fields. It’s as if da Vinci, Monet, Bottecelli, Van Gogh, and Picasso got together and decided to sculpt and paint a wondrous world grounded in reality yet still surreal.

Colwyn, having been incapacitated after the Slayers’ attack, awakens to find himself being tended to by an old man named Ynyr (Jones), and to avoid any confusion, his name is either pronounced “yin-eer” or “yin-yeer”. I heard it pronounced as both during the movie. Ynyr tells Colwyn that Lyssa has been taken to the Black Fortress, and that the only way to destroy the Beast is with a mystical weapon known only as the Glaive. The Black Fortress is incredibly hard to find, as it changes location with every twin sunrise.

Colwyn and Ynyr travel to the mountain where the Glaive is rumored to be located. Colwyn climbs the mountain and enters a cave filled with streams of lava. Yes, ‘80s style lava. Just reddish-orange-colored gel that gives off a bit of a glow. Okay. Colwyn then sees the Glaive at the bottom of a stream of lava, and, surprisingly, just reaches into it and takes the Glaive. Bullhonky.

Nitpick. A glaive is a type of sword on a polearm. But in Krull, the Glaive is essentially a five-pointed shruiken. That’s…weird, but the Glaive itself looks pretty kickass.

In fact, here it is.

Ynyr tells Colwyn that knowledge of where the Black Fortress is can be given to them by a man known as the Emerald Seer. Another traveling sequence later, Colwyn and Ynyr have stopped next to a pond. A red glowing ball flies out of the trees and lands in the pond, transforming into a person. That person is Ergo the Magnificent.

ERGO: Short in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose, and wide of vision!

Ergo is a bumbling magician who’s not very good at what he does, as he temporarily turns himself into a goose. He’s going to be the comedy sidekick of the movie, isn’t he? Surprisingly, Ergo’s comic relief actually isn’t nearly as painful as I expected it to be. Heck, it wasn’t even painful at all, just a little annoying at times.

Ergo starts heading off in the opposite direction of Colwyn and Ynyr, but he sees a cyclops, quickly changes his decision, and goes with Colwyn and Ynyr.

The three travel through a rocky hollow and are ambushed by a group of nine thieves. Colwyn asks them for their help, but they refuse. After Colwyn proves that he is the king now that his father is dead, and promises the thieves their freedom, the thieves agree to help. By the way, this group of thieves includes such names as Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane, and … sigh … Liam Neeson, playing Torquil, Rhun, and Kegan respectively.

By the way, the story so far: A wise old sage is mentoring a young man whose family was just murdered by the forces of an evil Empire. This young man is carrying a weapon of mystical power with him. And he needs to go rescue a princess from a massive enemy fortress. And this man is enlisting the help of a couple of rogue smugglers. I did mention that this was inspired by Star Wars, right?

After another traveling sequence, Ergo stops to do something when a Slayer tries to sneak up on him. The Cyclops from earlier, whose name is Rell (Bresslaw), saves him, and joins the group. The backstory of Cyclopes is revealed: They once lived on another planet, and had two eyes. They made a deal with the Beast to see the future at the cost of one eye. But just like making a deal with the Devil, making a deal with the Beast backfired. Instead of seeing into the future in general, the Cyclopes were allowed to see one particular moment in the future: the moment of their own death. It’s an interesting backstory, and allows us some sympathy for Rell and his kind.

We then see the inside of the Black Fortress, where Lyssa is being held. And it turns out that the inside of the Black Fortress is its own surreal dimension. It’s very off-putting, and is the oddest set of the movie. We now learn the Beast’s motivations for conquering Krull and capturing Lyssa. The Beast knows of the prophecy, and he wishes to be the king Lyssa chooses so that his son will be the one who rules the galaxy. Interesting. Also, eww.

The group reaches the home of the Emerald Seer, and his child apprentice Titch. The Emerald Seer uses his special magic crystal to view where the Black Fortress will appear next, but the Beast doesn’t like being watched, as his hand magically appears and crushes the crystal. The Emerald Seer informs the group of a swamp nearby that cannot be penetrated by the Beast’s magic, and he travels with the group as they seek for said swamp. But as they travel, they are ambushed by Slayers. A small group literally rises out of a pond nearby in a fantastic visual, and others surround our heroes. The group fights them off, but two of the thieves are killed in the process. A third is lost to quicksand as the group makes their way through the swamp. Unbeknownst to the group, the Emerald Seer has also been killed, and a Slayer changeling has replaced him. The “Seer” informs the group that he and Colwyn must go to the center of the swamp alone. Meanwhile, Rell has fallen behind, and he discovers the Seer’s corpse. He runs to catch up with the group, and just as the “Seer” starts to try to kill Colwyn, Rell kills the “Seer”. By the way, the sequence that involves the “Seer” taking Colwyn farther into the swamp is surprisingly creepy. Exhausted and nearly hopeless, the group has no idea what to do next. But Ynyr brings up what could turn out to be their last hope: The Widow of the Web, who can tell the future.

The group travels some more. On the way, Ergo notices Titch’s state of mourning for the Emerald Seer, and so he transforms himself into a puppy to comfort him. How kind.

The group rests in a forest. Kegan goes to a nearby village, bringing back his wife Merith and her helper, as well as some food. Another Slayer changeling has taken the place of Merith’s helper, and she tries but is ultimately unwilling to seduce Colwyn, and so the Beast magically kills her. By the way, this attempted seduction was being shown to Lyssa by the Beast.

The group travels to the mountain where the Widow of the Web is located. Ynyr says that he must go alone, as he happens to know the Widow’s true name. He does so, and he finds the large opening that the Widow is located at the center of. The opening is filled with spider webs, and there is in fact a very cool-looking giant spider who patrols the web. This was still in the age of practical effects, and so the spider is animated very decently through stop-motion. Ynyr makes it to the center, and confronts the Widow, who for some reason is also named Lyssa. Ynyr and the Widow are revealed to be former lovers, and that the Widow had been exiled to the Web because she killed her and Ynyr’s child. Ynyr and the Widow toss aside their grievances and forgive one another, and the Widow provides Ynyr with tomorrow’s location of the Black Fortress: in the Iron Desert. The Widow gives Ynyr the sands from her hourglass, and tells him that as the sands slip through his fingers, so shall his life, and when he runs out of sand, he will die. That’s a pretty cool idea. Ynyr escapes from the Web and makes it back to the group just in time to tell them that the Black Fortress will be in the Iron Desert tomorrow. He then runs out of sand and dies. The group loses hope, as the Iron Desert is a thousand leagues from their current location. But Rell informs them of another Deus ex Machina:

RELL: Fire Mares! Fire Mares can travel a thousand leagues in a day!

Frankly, I don’t mind reliance on one too many Deus ex Machinas in a movie. At least, I don’t mind them if the movie is good. And Krull is.

After another traveling sequence, the group comes across a herd of wild Fire Mares, which are just a group of beautiful Clydesdale horses. Titch informs the group that Rell’s time to die has come, and that he must stay in his current location to accept his fate. Also, if Rell opposes his fate, his death will be painful. After capturing enough of the Fire Mares, the group sans Rell sets off toward the Iron Desert, and the Black Fortress.

The reason that these creatures are called Fire Mares is this: they gallop so fast that they leave fire in their tracks as they gallop. And they can fly. And another beautiful visual is given: the Fire Mares leap over a canyon, leaving fire in their tracks, and it is all set against a lovely sunset. Wow. I mean, wow.

The group makes it to the Black Fortress before the twin suns rise. They try to climb up the side amidst a hail of laser fire from the Slayers, and Robbie Coltrane’s character is killed. When hope seems lost, Rell appears on a Fire Mare, and quickly scales the Black Fortress’s walls. Rell makes a break for the door, sustaining a few hits, and gets to the door. The door starts to close, but Rell holds it open long enough for the group to make it inside. Rell is trapped in the closing door and is crushed. Yikes. Well, that’s an incentive to not oppose Fate. She will exact her revenge. The group has now made it inside, and the Black Fortress teleports to a new location: a lovely meadow. Okay.

Two more thieves are killed, and Kegan sacrifices himself to save Torquil. Ergo and Titch are separated from the others and are accosted by Slayers. Ergo turns himself into a tiger, and despite some injuries, saves himself and Titch.

Torquil and two other thieves are trapped in a room in which walls studded with spikes begin to close in. One of the thieves is killed.

Colwyn knows that the time to use the Glaive is now, and he extremely slowly breaches a dome in which Lyssa is held and the Beast is located. After reuniting with Lyssa, Colwyn injures the Beast with the Glaive, and attempts to retrieve it. But the Glaive is now embedded within the Beast’s body. Unable to defend themselves from the Beast’s counterattack, this exchange happens:

LYSSA: Colwyn, it’s not the Glaive. It’s you.

COLWYN: No. Lyssa, it’s us. (Beat.) I give fire to water. It shall not return except in the hands of the woman I choose as my wife.

LYSSA: (Realizes what she and COLWYN must do.) I take fire from water. I give it only to the man I choose as my husband.

Lyssa gives the much-better-looking fire effects to Colwyn, who shoots a blast of fire out of his hand at the Beast. He continues to do so until the Beast is dead.

Yes. Lyssa and Colwyn defeated the Beast with the power of Love. It’s a very silly plot device, and I am totally okay with that.

With the Beast’s death, Torquil and the other thief are released from the spike room. They as well as Ergo and Titch reunite with Colwyn and Lyssa, and the group escapes from the self-destructing Black Fortress. They get outside and well away from it, and continue to get away as the Black Fortress crumbles into the sky.

The group realizes their victory. Colwyn names Torquil his Lord Marshal. Our heroes depart from the movie across the field, and the prophecy is restated.

NARRATOR: A girl of ancient name shall become queen. And she shall choose a king. And together, they shall rule our world. And their son shall rule the galaxy.

But that story unfortunately will not be told, as Krull bombed badly at the box office, losing over thirty million dollars. Ouch.

It’s a pity that it bombed so hard, because this movie is both awesomely stupid, and stupidly awesome.

If you want joyfully silly ‘80s sci-fi/fantasy fare, this is the film for you.

Obviously, the story makes little sense, was clearly inspired by Star Wars. The characters are pretty bland, especially Colwyn and Lyssa, the acting is very mediocre, and the dialogue is really clunky.

But there’s undoubtedly something surprisingly charming about the whole debacle.

Apart from some story elements being drawn from Star Wars, the mythos of Krull and Krull is surprisingly original.

Its casting was pretty decent. Each actor is clearly very enthusiastic about his or her role, and Ken Marshall as Colwyn in particular is really trying earnestly to do well. It’s like the full motion videos in the beginning of the Magic: The Gathering RPG. The actors are clearly trying to be serious, but they know full well the silliness of the situation, so they juxtapose their seriousness with hamminess. The best execution of this was Jeremy Irons’s performance as Profion in Dungeons and Dragons. Thankfully, such over-the-top acting was absent from Krull.

The cinematography is damn near perfect. I presume that this is because Krull’s cameraman was Peter Suschitzky, who also shot The Empire Strikes Back.

While the characters are pretty bland, they are still memorable, especially the Slayers and the Beast, who are surprisingly intimidating and threatening, perhaps even rivaling Darth Vader.

While Star Wars was undoubtedly the better movie, I found Krull to be much more kickass.

The overall set design and look in general of the movie is absolutely gorgeous. It has some of the best sets I’ve ever seen.

The soundtrack by James Horner is beautiful, and kicks serious ass. I’m serious – James Horner can make pretty much anything sound awesome. It screams epic adventure and rapturous beauty. He drew a little less from “The Planets” than John Williams did. God rest Mr. Horner’s soul.

The movie as a whole is simply a fun, nostalgic experience in which you sit back and enjoy it without thinking. It may not make much sense, but if you bring popcorn and beer into the mix, you’ll have the time of your life.

My initial reaction at the end of the movie was this: I thought that it was one of those movies that needed to be remade. A talented team could make a fantastic three-and-a-half-hour-long epic out of this.

It’s a guilty pleasure.  It’s lively. It’s hokey. It’s corny. It’s cheesy. It’s goofy. It’s fun. It’s fantastic.

Final verdict: 4 out of 5 stars.

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