Willow Blu-ray Review
Twenty-five years ago, my parents took me to a mesmerizing epic adventure full of trolls, fairies, swordsmen and sorcery. At the time, outside of STAR WARS, WILLOW was the grandest story I’d ever seen on the big screen. Granted, I was only eight years old, but it had all the elements a boy could ask for walking that nice line of humor, action, and scary while still being a family film.
Much like LORD OF THE RINGS, WILLOW follows a hobbit-sized person named Willow (Warwick Davis) who has been chosen by the very thing he is meant to protect. But instead of a deadly magical ring, the object is a cute cuddly baby with adorable expressions. The evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) is a wicked sorcerer who wants the child dead in fear of a prophecy that claims the child will be her demise. Willow must find and rescue the cursed Fin Raziel who will help protect the baby and defeat the evil queen. Willow finds some reluctant help on his journey from a rogue master swordsman named Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and a couple of tiny 6-inch wacky woodsman called Brownies.
The picture looks great and in 1988 WILLOW was nominated for Academy Awards in Sound Editing and Visual Effects. However, even director Ron Howard admits in the special features that the effects are obviously dated. What may have been ground breaking at the time is almost comical to today’s hi-tech standard. Nonetheless, WILLOW is an extremely fun ride with multiple characters full of rich personalities. Val Kilmer (REAL GENIUS, TOP GUN, TOMBSTONE) is especially strong in a Han Solo esque role providing much of the films charisma and entertainment. Warwick Davis (HARRY POTTER, LEPRECHAUN) does a fine job with one of the few leading roles for someone diagnosed with dwarfism. The moments with his family are among some of the most emotional.
Clearly, I’m being influenced somewhat by nostalgia, but I think WILLOW holds up for young kids on the cusp of yearning for more adult-geared films with action, danger and death. However, I was surprised by my deceivingly fond memories for the Brownies who I believed were the funniest characters in the film. In retrospect, the Brownies are pointless Jar Jar Binks characters that only provide utter annoyance. George Lucas helped create the story and produce the film and his meddling hand is shown throughout the process with wipe transitions and over explanatory dialogue.
As an adult, my critical eye has trouble looking past some of the flimsy character arcs, rushed story lines, and the forced love story between Madmartigan and the evil Queen’s commander and daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley). But WILLOW has a surprising amount of charm and likability, easily overcoming these flaws with fun characters and grand story-telling. The score by James Horner energizes the already entertaining film. Overall, WILLOW might be dated but still holds strong as an enjoyably fantasy adventure movie for all ages. Although nostalgia may help it more than I realize.
Video: (MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p, 2.40:1) 20th Century Fox releases another excellent transfer from a 1980’s film, looking better than ever despite the dated special effects.
Audio: (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) An excellent sound capturing all the levels of elements backed by James Horner’s wonderful score.
Willow: Deleted Scenes with Ron Howard (12:32): This might be the best deleted scenes feature I’ve ever seen. Ron Howard explains the reasons for cutting a whole subplot about Sorsha’s father due to length and an elaborate attacking fish boy scene rightfully cut due to the uncooperative and fake looking machine built. The scenes are extremely fun to watch and explain some moments that only an observant audience member may have caught.
The Making of an Adventure with Ron Howard (23:39): An excellent making of feature that gives a lot of insightful details about the behind the scenes production across three continents. It’s fun to see Val Kilmer, Ron Howard and George Lucas at a much younger age talking about the movie. Ron Howard gives a nice introduction about how the then advanced special effects have now become quite dated.
From Morf to Morphing with Dennis Muren (17:24): Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren looks back at the special effects metamorphosis scene of Raziel changing from animal to animal before turning back to her human self. WILLOW is the first film to really create and implement the morphing software that so many film in the next few years perfected like THE ABYSS and TERMINATOR 2.
Willow: An Unlikely Hero – Personal Video Diary of Warwick Davis (10:53): Warwick Davis today, explains his experience on WILLOW as scenes from his personal home video of the shoot is intercut. Another very fascinating and interesting featurette.
Matte Paintings (1:09): An impressive mix of matte paintings and live action to give many scenes an epic look.