Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Krull (1983) review

KRULL 1983 aka THE DRAGONS OF KRULL (working title)

Ken Marshall (Colwyn), Lysette Anthony (Lyssa), Freddie Jones (Ynyr), Alun Armstrong (Torquil), Liam Neeson (Kegan), Bernard Bresslaw (Rell), David Battley (Ergo), Francesca Annis (The Widow of the Web), Robbie Coltrane (Rhun)

Evil beings from an unknown galaxy travel in a gigantic, flying rock fortress to enslave planets to conquer. The son and the daughter of two feuding families are to marry to strengthen their forces to combat the alien invaders. As the two are wedded, the young queen-to-be is kidnapped by the Slayers, a race of monsters led by there leader, The Beast. The human army is wiped out and Colwyn is left for dead. Ynyr, a wise old man bestowed with great knowledge, finds the young king and nurses his wounds. He tells Colwyn to save his wife, Lyssa, he must embark on a journey to find an ancient and magical weapon that will enable him to free his world from the evil grip of The Beast and his hellish minions.

A superbly entertaining Columbia Pictures-British fantasy spectacular that was unjustly ignored during its original theatrical release. An ambitious 30 million bomb released around the same time as RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), KRULL was oddly branded a STAR WARS clone. Some critics rather lazily claimed the film couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be. I don't see that any of that matters as KRULL is a wonderful escapist entertainment. Siskel & Ebert tore the film apart and showed just how much attention they paid the film when they erroneously referred to The Beast as 'Krull'.

Krull was in fact the planet The Beast has landed the enormous Black Fortress. The dynamic duo also misinterpreted the Firemares seen near the end of the picture, making light of the flames that are seen emitting from the creatures hooves. The horses run at such a great speed, they take flight at one point leaving a brief trail behind them. The name should have been a giveaway as to the animals function within the film but obviously, the two critical wonders went into the film without knowing that a fantasy film doesn't have to adhere to any set rules of reality as we know it.

Director Peter Yates, best known for helming the Steve McQueen action drama, BULLITT (1968) and the 1977 thriller, THE DEEP, had no experience in the fantasy genre. He set up viewings of swashbucklers to familiarize himself with handling scenes involving lots of action or swordplay. KRULL (1983) was the biggest production Yates had ever worked on. With such a massive undertaking, Yates bicycled from one set to the next to keep up with all aspects of the picture. Sometimes there were four different sequences being shot on four different locations at one time.

American lead, Ken Marshall is fine as the hero, Colwyn. He was a Broadway stage performer before and after this film only occasionally dabbling in features. He looks the part and handles the role capably. Prior to KRULL (1983), he had done the massive, made for tv production, MARCO POLO. Marshall played the role of Colwyn in a fashion befitting Errol Flynn's style of swashbuckling hero. Marshall being a fan of that style of adventure, he had always been athletic and took fencing in college which aided him during the shoot. He also wanted to do all his own stuntwork including the dangerous mountain climbing sequence seen near the beginning of the film. Peter Yates was able to persuade him to use a double (Lorenzo Lorenzi) for those scenes.

As for the predominantly Brit cast, Lysette Anthony (who went on to do many erotic movies and Playboy), continues to hate the film, although her comments are slightly less degrading on the commentary track on the DVD. In her Playboy issue, she talked of how she detests the film because people thought she was just like her character in the movie, weak and fragile. Part of the reason for her dislike for the whole affair is that she had little to do aside from look helpless and in need of rescue. She was also dubbed (much to her chagrin) as it was thought an American womans voice would sell more tickets than a British. Also, most of Anthony's scenes were shot in front of a bluescreen so she had little to act against much of the time.

Freddie Jones is lots of fun to watch as Ynyr, the Old One..."Well...not as old as all that." Jones brings a grandfatherly approach to his role. His bond with Colwyn is more dense than merely being there to guide him to the location of the Glaive and the Black Fortress. Colwyn runs the risk of sharing a similar fate that befell Ynyr and a previous love of his; a woman also named Lyssa. His Lyssa just happens to be the Widow of the Web, the keeper of the Crystal Spider.

During the scene when Ynyr makes the arduous journey to the Web, you learn a bit more about his background and also a bit about the Widow, whom could just as easily have been another plot device to move the story along. You learn that while Ynyr was away in the army, Lyssa had his son. Unknown to him that he even had a child, she killed the boy in a jealous rage. For that act of cruelty, she was banished to the cave of the gigantic Crystal Spider to live out her days in shame. Bearing the visage of a woman with a great deal of age, Ynyr is given a brief time to see Lyssa as beautiful as she once was.

For Ynyr to be able to escape the web alive, he must carry the sands of time with him. The sand is what protects the Widow from the spider and by breaking the hourglass, it puts her life in danger. It also ensures the demise of Ynyr as once the sand has dispersed, his life is over, too. The Widow, overcome with grief, gives her life for her former lover and Ynyr gives his life for the others; their doomed romance comes full circle. Francesca Annis is memorable as the Widow of the Web. Both Annis and Jones would feature in another Brit-US fantasy the following year, David Lynch's DUNE.

The myriad cast of others are memorable in their own right-- Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley), the clumsy magician who always ends up turning himself into an animal instead of his intended target, Torquil (Alun Armstrong), the leader of the gang that Colwyn leads to the fortress, Kegan (Neeson), the thug with nearly 30 wives whose always looking out for a new addition and Rell, the Cyclops are some of the characters in the film. The character of Ergo is one of special interest. Upon first meeting him, he fancies himself a magician of some repute, even giving himself a very lengthy title-- "I am Ergo the Magnificent, short in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose and wide of vision." By removing the letter 'r' in his name sums up the impression you get from his persona.

However, it is soon discovered he is quite the protector, most especially to the little boy, Titch. During the swamp sequence, Ergo talks about making wishes. He asks Titch who says he wants a puppy. Ergo, says it's a foolish wish and that he should wish for a hundred. Titch then says, "I only want one." A short time afterwards, Ergo ducks behind some reeds and transforms himself into a puppy for the benefit of the little boy.

The creatures are an interesting design. The Slayers are almost Gigeresque in conception and execution. When one of them is stabbed, there heads pop open and reptilian monsters erupt and burrow into the ground or simply disappear into the floor. It's not explained just what these creatures are, but it looks cool just the same. It is to be assumed that the Slayers body is simply a shell and the smaller, slithery creature within is manipulating the body. The Slayers also have a spear weapon that fires lasers like something out of STAR WARS.

The film melds the futuristic with the medieval. The ultramodern oldeworld motif suits the fantasy atmosphere considering the world of Krull is unlike anything seen before. Although the bulk of the protagonists are human, the setting is clearly not on Earth nor any particular time period. The film is its own world, its own reality.

The Beast, the main antagonist, is an odd creation. You never get a really good and clear look at him. There are a few scenes at the end where you see him but the camera lens has a bend in it to distort his appearance, or he is partially obscured by a mist or fog. It's a good, and foreboding effect nonetheless. The Beast resembles something of an organic creature not too far removed from the texture and look of the Black Fortress itself. The Cyclops seems to be near invulnerable and is extremely strong and the effects utilizing him are well done. The giant spider in the cave is a beautifully crafted piece of stop motion magic and the scene itself is quite suspenseful.

There are also magical horses called Firemares that run so fast, they leave trails of flame beneath them. Sixteen Clydesdale horses were used for this scene near the conclusion when the heroes have a short amount of time to make it to the Black Fortress before daybreak when it would disappear, transporting to another location. It was stunt co-ordinator, Vic Armstrong's idea to utilize Clydesdale horses for the film. Armstrong personally trained all of them to jump and got them used to fire. He also trained all the untrained actors in the basics needed for riding the horses.

The bombastic and thrilling score from James Horner is his most personable and one of the best film scores ever. The complete 2 disc soundtrack is a collectors item now. Nearly two hours of music, Horner exhausted himself working on this massive, opulent work of art. Every piece is memorable. Considering the rushed schedule to complete the score, some cues are remotely similar to Horner's work on another great score he did for the previous years excellent STAR TREK 2. 'Ride of the Firemares' is one of the most exciting and magnificent pieces of Horner's repertoir and perfectly encapsulates the sense of adventure permeating the movie.

Derek Meddings was the Visual Effects Supervisor. His plan was to top every effects scene that had ever been done up to that time. He handled visual effects duties on several of the Bond films including THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and MOONRAKER (1979) among them. He also worked on SUPERMAN (1978) and SUPERMAN 2 (1980). Realizing the Widow of the Web sequence was going to be a difficult one, the use of stop motion animation was decided as the only realistic method to achieve the desired effect.

Steven Archer, an apprentice on CLASH OF THE TITANS, (under the recommendation of Ray Harryhausen himself) was hired by Meddings to do the stop motion work on the Spider sequence among other things. It took two to three days to get one shot which amounted to about 5 seconds of film because of the difficulty working with the web and supporting the model atop the web.

The Glaive weapon Colwyn finds inside a molten lava cave atop a massive precipice is an impressive work of cutlery. The user can throw the multi bladed armament and control its trajectory by way of some form of extra sensory perception. Originally, the Glaive resembled a cross but was later changed. Derek Meddings was burdened with the task of making the weapon a workable one. Compressed air was used in an effort to get the blades to release. When this proved cumbersome, the simple method of utilizing rubber bands attached to a spring hidden inside the Glaive was initiated. An interesting bit of karma occurs during the finale.

At the end, the Glaive is thrust into the body of The Beast. Colwyn can't retrieve it. Realizing that his love for his wife is what The Beast cannot conquer, the two recite and complete their vows which involved the exchanging of a magical flame between the husband and wife. This gives Colwyn the ability to use the magical force against the monster emitting a great gust of flame from his hand. Burning The Beast to a cinder, the Glaive returns to fire from which it was taken earlier in the picture.

The blueprint for the castle designs were not based on medieval constructs but an ultra modern styling. The idea was to create something that was unlike anything from any particular time period or any identifiable setting. Again, the world of KRULL was it's own universe unto itself The White Palace seen at the beginning where Colwyn and Lyssa have their brief wedding ceremony was actually a model. The model was 20 feet high at the tallest peak. The scenes of Colwyn and his riders approaching it near the beginning were done live. The model was taken to Cortina and shot on location. The model of the Black Fortress was a similar construct standing 12 feet high.

The exterior of the Black Fortress was based on rock formations seen in New Mexico. The inside was a surreal, nightmarish design. Many of the bizarre and strangely organic sets give the impression that you are seeing things from inside The Beast. One of the most peculiar is a gigantic eye that is seen during a scene in which the captive princess Lyssa makes her way throughout the Black Fortress. During all of these scenes in which the vast number of the inexplicably opaque sets are showcased, you see a glimpse of the Beast's form but never revealing what he looks like till the end. Even then, his form is slightly obscured by curvature in the camera lens presumably to preserve the otherworldliness of the creature itself.

The script was originally turned down but finally greenlit in March of 1981. The actual production started in February of 1982 and lasted for five months. The bulk of the film was shot on Pinewood Soundstages with the remainder being shot in Italy and Spain; two weeks in Abruzzi, Cortina and Lanzarote. The '007' stage at Pinewood, one of the largest in the world, was completely transformed into a vast and elaborate swampland for the lengthy sequence where the good guys traverse a treacherous bog encountering one danger after the other.

Initially, the film was to be called THE DRAGONS OF KRULL but since Disney's bloody and violent 16 million fantasy film, DRAGONSLAYER bombed while this film was beginning production, the script was altered to remove any references to dragons whatsoever despite there not being any actual dragons in the script itself. It didn't really matter because the film bombed anyway. A toy line was also planned during the early stages but was seemingly dropped at some point.

The competition was big considering the juggernaut, RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983; at the time it was still called REVENGE OF THE JEDI) was guaranteed to maul any competitors. JAWS 3-D's (1983) release hurt the film, but even PORKY'S 2: THE NEXT DAY (1983), released about a month prior, made more money than KRULL (1983). Columbia launched an all out publicity campaign as they wholeheartedly believed in the film and that it would most assuredly stand on its own against any takers.

Columbia had planned to open KRULL on May 6th in limited engagements and wide on May 28th. Apparently, the studio brass wanted to move their picture as far away from JEDI as possible, deciding to move the film to July 29th of 1983. Other films opening around that time were--PSYCHO 2, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, JAWS 3-D, SUPERMAN 3, TWILIGHT ZONE, OCTOPUSSY, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN PORKY'S 2, SMOKEY & THE BANDIT 3 and RETURN OF THE JEDI (Then still REVENGE OF THE JEDI). Pushing the films release up didn't matter as already mentioned. The film did pick up lots of viewership when it was aired on cable and on video.

There were a great number of omissions and alterations to the script of KRULL, one being the aforementioned title change. The Slayers were a completely different interpretation from their monstrous embodiment as seen in the completed version. In the script, the Slayers are humans who have been entranced by wealth and power to fight for The Beast and his minions, referred to as 'the Dark Ones'. The character of Lyssa as well as the female characters in the original script were all fighters. Lysette Anthony had complained that her character had nothing to do being left out of all the action. The original plan was that she could use a sword as good as any of the other characters.

Originally, Colwyn and his team were to find the Emerald Temple where the Blind Seer would designate the next location of the Black Fortress. Since this scene would have required additional days and visual effects to an already enormous workload, the Temple is never reached as the Beast instead uses his power of the Changeling to kill the Seer. The Temple "...where three trees grow as one", is only mentioned in the dialog during the swamp scene and Colwyn and the Seer never reach it. Another sequence that was dropped was a Snake Woman monster. Fearing comparisons with Harryhausen's Medusa creation from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), this sequence was also dropped, but a miniature model had been created of the female creature.

An alteration was the scene in which The Beast was to demonstrate his power by freezing and flinging a white leopard against a wall shattering it. Instead, The Beast adorns Lyssa with a golden dress and crown as a gigantic claw erupts through the floor, catches afire then changes into a huge rose. Also dropped is an early appearance by the Glaive in which Colwyn destroys the giant spider with the magical weapon. Instead, it is Ynyr who makes the journey to the Widow of the Web.

Another omission was that there were to be several Glaive's. Ynyr has one and Lyssa, at the end of the third draft of the script, fashions one out of her bracelets(!) in an effort to magically lead Colwyn to her location as The Beast pursues her. The weapon itself is used only at the end of the movie but in the script, it was used on multiple occasions as well as a device with which Colwyn would contact his betrothed.

Also, Ynyr does not die after exiting the cave of the Widow of the Web in the script. In the film, the dissipating sand exasperates the last breath of life from him after he reveals the next locale of the Black Fortress upon returning to Colwyn and the others. In the script, Ynyr survives long enough to partake in a totally different finale from the one that was filmed. The end takes place in the Arctic location seen earlier in the finished film. The methods the Slayers use to combat Colwyn and the others from entering the Fortress is also different. The use of the laser weapons isn't mentioned anywhere, but the Slayers are equipped with swords, crossbows and utilize cauldrons of boiling oil to pour down on the heroes as they attempt to get inside the Fortress.

In addition, Rell, the cyclops, meets a different end as does Kegan, played by Liam Neeson in the picture. Once inside the Fortress, the small group enter the 'Cavern of Age', a grotto replete with beautiful female spirits that beckon those who enter to drink a multicolored liquid that will keep them eternally young. After several failed attempts on various characters, Kegan is enticed by one of the stunning apparitions and upon so doing suffers a cruel death; aging rapidly till he's nothing but a crumpled skeleton. Some of the other characters die differently and at different times in the story. Thankfully, I couldn't imagine the film being seen any other way than it is now.

One of my all time favorites, I saw this in a predominantly empty theater back in 1983. Still, KRULL holds up well as an intriguing, if over-stylized time-waster and a great Saturday afternoon movie to watch with your kids or by yourself.

This review is representative of the Columbia/Tri-Star DVD

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