Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #16 – Krull

Posted: April 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Yet another movie that my inner cinema douche-snob doesn’t like that I remember so fondly…yup, that’s 80s fantasy classic Krull in a nutshell. Fortunately, after decades of yelling, slammed doors and long angry silences, my inner douche left for a Reno Divorce. I think deciding to like Last Jedi, the actual film in front of me instead of waxing craptological on any kind of hagiography about the real Luke Skywalker, finally did it.

When contemplating the story of Colwyn and Lyssa, scions of two warring kingdoms on the faraway world of Krull who must unite against the Beast, the douche isn’t far wrong. It is a silly movie for which serious analysis should be banned. And as often happens in movies like this, none of this actually matters.

I could point to the Glaive, the golden starfish-like Excalibur stand-in, that Colwyn (Ken Marshall) must wield against the Beast and his army of stormtroopers…er Slayers. In of itself, the Glaive represents interesting work on the part of the prop shop (lethal starfish shuriken? Need I say more?) and it should be just the thing for a bit of discreet wet-work on the person of the Beast.

But, like any magical super-weapon that will either destroy the Dark Lord directly or must be fried in Mount Doom in a high stakes game of Keepaway, there is much buildup about not using the Glaive lightly. However, Tolkien made sure to include moments where both Bilbo and Frodo were tempted by the call of the Ring and/or really desperate circumstances to use the Ring in a way that exposes the Ringbearer to Sauron. By contrast, we never really get to see Colwyn tempted to use his nuclear option and then go back to the longsword in his other hand.

This omission, speaking from an Edit Without Mercy mindset, works against the narrative when it should’ve acted more like a flying buttress holding up a Gothic cathedral wall. When most of the Beast’s foul plot revolves around toying with the captive Princess Lyssa (Lyssette Anthony) in his nightmare inspired Black Fortress intending to wear her down and accept his marriage proposal instead of Colwyn’s, having a moment where the good guy nearly blows the big game making a rash decision to reach for the big revolver at his belt could deepen the story.

As it is, the one thing the Beast well in his pursuit of the Princess was to aim a desperate widow at Prince Colwyn in camp with his bandit army. But, yes, 1980s fantasy movies not going there aside, the thread of aiming this woman at the Prince resolved itself with a too quick resort to the expected variation on the stalwart hero – “my heart belongs to another.” And maybe the Beast temporarily empowers this woman strong enough to force the usage of the Glaive (so we can tie these threads together)?

Speaking three decades later, another way to get more out of this scene where the woman relents from killing Prince Colwyn is to have the sex happen. Lyssa sees it as intended in the Beast’s magic mirror or crystal ball and…she forgives her future husband. The movie specifically told us that the marriage-alliance between Lyssa and Colwyn was her idea (possibly to avoid the ugly underbelly of fantasy and medieval woman used as pawns on the chessboard even in the less PC 1980s). Yes, they fall in love for reals when they briefly meet during their interrupted wedding ceremony. Tumbling the camp widow would hurt, but if Lyssa remembers that she offered herself up to save her world she can shrug and say something like – “obviously we have to talk, but he gets this one free.”

And bringing the bash-bash portion of this review back around to the not well thought out logic of the movie represented by the Glaive, I have an interesting nitpick observation. The golden starfish is an ancient weapon that represents kingship and good leadership on Krull. But, the Beast is an interstellar bad guy who lands his personal dark tower, The Black Fortress, on the planet intending the next phase in his galactic conquest. So other than the movie telling us so in a manner much like – “hey, look over there! A prophesy!” – how do we know that the Glaive will do anything remotely useful against the Beast?

I could go on bashing a movie, I’ve already said I like. But, it’s time to talk about has been continuously awesome about this movie since they made it. There are two or three major set pieces that do much to carry this movie. You tell me that the Gandalf stand-in, Ynyr (Freddie Jones), has to enter a giant spider web to confront his old tragic love, The Widow in the Web (Francesca Annis), for the location of the teleporting Black Fortress? Yeah, I’m in, especially since the stop motion white spider puppet was massively cool. And if you tell me that the adventuring party must saddle Fire Mares (super fast horses) in order to ride all night across a couple thousand miles of British and Italian exteriors doubling as the lush grasslands of Krull? Had me at hello.

But, while the fan of fantasy movies might come to expect such big moments, it is in the interactions between the party members where this movie almost breaks out from the strictures of a script that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. First off in roleplaying terms, it’s an odd party construction. There are, like, four variations of the wizard character class with Ynyr, The Green Seer (John Welsh), Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley) and youthful apprentice, Titch (Graham McGrath). Rounding out the party we have an army of bandits featuring before they were famous parts for Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane and Alun Armstrong as the leader Torquil.

As you may guess from the presence of this many wizards, not many survive the movie possibly causing complaints from the Fantasy Wizard Union. In the meantime, the bandits have a lot of fun looking cool and being warmhearted even towards the budding mentor relationship between Ergo and Titch. And it is this gentility in the slow moments that does much for the experience of watching this movie.

Operating in parallel to the Ergo-Stitch relationship, we have a friendship between Ergo and Rell the Cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw). Initially, Ergo doesn’t like new things like tall one-eyed beings, but comes to see the man with the oversized shrimp fork as a friend and ally. It’s a pity that the film actually kind of left Rell on the table where he could’ve been more relevant in more scenes, but when he was there things worked better.

Director Peter Yates also gets some specific recognition for overseeing key aspects like production design and cinematography that do much to elevate the movie. Usually, a movie like this (1980s modest budget) would have highly noticeable shifts in how the brilliantly photographed grasslands, hills and mountains interact with the interior sets conducted on various Pinewood stages. Here the shifts land within the band for not so glaring, just go with it. It doesn’t matter whether Colwyn pulls the Glaive from lava or Ynyr carefully edges his way across structural support webbing going to see the Widow, great sets equal almost great scenes that just needed better writing.

That said Krull has a lot of charm and nostalgia to it that carries the day. And the real reason I won’t fully bash this movie into the realm of regretting buying the disk, is that I’ve already looted elements for my own work. In a book that doesn’t really exist anymore, a dragon attacks the city. The protagonist rides her own dragon home. The king and love interest and his retinue make use of a one time only rule that their horses will break the sound barrier to cross hundreds of miles before the dragon gets snippy. I can’t bash cool things to borrow. And now we close.

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