Rating -

Fantasy (US); 1988; Rated PG; 125 Minutes

Val Kilmer: Madmartigan
Joanne Whalley-Kilmer: Sorsha
Warwick Davis: Willow
Jean Marsh: Queen Bavmorda
Patricia Hayes: Fin Raziel

Produced by Nigel Wooll; Directed by Ron Howard; Screenwritren Bob Dolman; Based on a story by George Lucas

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"Willow is a fearsomely ambitious movie, but it is not fearsome, and it is not wondrous, and it is about a journey too far down a road too well-traveled by other movies. It's a fantasy about the quest of a lovable little person and his heroic newfound friend to return a lost baby to where it belongs, and to outsmart a wicked queen and kill a two-headed dragon in the process. In other words, standard stuff."
-Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Mr. Ebert may have truthfully meant what he said about "Willow," but he obviously didn't understand the film well enough to truly appreciate it. "Willow" is nothing like he said: it's actually a curiously beautiful film, filled with characters and a story that have never been attempted in any other movie. It's unique, down to the core.

I absolutely loved this movie, from beginning to end. And, for some oddly strange reason, I never could really tell why I enjoyed it so much.

Willow belongs to a race of little people called the Nelwyns, and is chosen by his community to take a baby to a far-off crossroads where it can be found by its people, the Daikinis. The baby was carried to Willow's land on a raft that was swept along by river waters. What Willow does not know is that the baby was placed on the raft by a midwife, who had promised to save the baby as the wish of her desperate, imprisoned mother. This was to save it from the decree of death dealt out to the child born with a special birthmark, which proved the child to be the successor to Bavmorda, an evil queen who is not about to give up her crown.

Willow (Warwick Davis) sets off with the baby in arms, and at the crossroads he meets Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a warrior who has been imprisoned in a cage. Madmartigan convinces Willow to free him, and then Willow gives the baby, named Elora Dannon, to Madmartigan, confident that he will care for it. When he sets off for home, he encounters a tiny, little race of ignoramuses called the brownies. These little people are lead by a sorceress named Cherlindrea, who appears in spirit form. She tells Willow of Elora's true power, and that unless he helps her defeat the evil Queen Bavmorda, Willow's entire village (as well as everyone that lived) would be under her spell forever.

Willow accepts the task of taking the child to the only sorceress that can counterattack Bavmorda's magic: Fin Raziel, who lives on a deserted island, and has been turned into a rat. Since in rodent form, she cannot use her given magic, so Willow must master her magic wand and turn her back to her human form. In the attempts to, Raziel goes through several different transformations, all caused by Willow's improper magic. In fact, she doesn't actually become human until they are outside of Bavmorda's castle, and the people around Willow are being turned into pigs by Bavmorda's magic. I guess you can say that Willow's fear of Bavmorda's magic made him nervous enough to get the magic right.

For the benefit of those who haven't seen the film, I won't reveal the end of the plot. You'll have to watch the film itself.

The casting of "Willow" has been done outstandingly: every actor greatly fits their character. Most notably, Val Kilmer as the daredevil Madmartigan and his obsessive love interest, Sorsha, played by Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Val's real-life wife.

Sorsha is obviously not a woman you would want to meet in a dark alley: she's simply a mean little bitch, and Madmartigan seems to be the only one who could get through her wicked mind and make her see that she's a victim of her mother's anger. In one notable sequence, Madmartigan is accidentally sprayed with a love-dust by two members of the tiny browny race. When they escape their imprisonment from Sorsha, he enters her tent, and, due to the love dust, claims his undying love for her. Thinking he is crazy (which he was), Sorsha takes a dagger and places it against his neck, confident that he will stay back. He doesn't. No matter what she does, he forces his love on her, claiming that she is his "starlit sky." She becomes putty in his hands, and turns against her mother, the evil queen Bavmorda. She confesses her love for him later on in the movie, when he's fighting a viscous two-headed dragon.

This relationship was so curiously fun to watch, because it reminded me of Shakespeare's "The Taming Of The Shrew," when Petruchio proved to be the only one who could tame Kate. Instead, it was Madmartigan taming Sorsha, and this provided some of the most memorable moments in the film.

As shocking as it sounds, it's usually violence that provokes nostalgia movies for me. Maybe movies that frighten us are those that become reminiscent in our deepest paralell minds, and "Willow" is one of the most perfect examples of this rule.

Sure, the violence was a bit childish, but who cares when you enjoy it so much? If it wasn't the violence, maybe it was the evil presence I felt from Bavmorda. I'm not sure what it was, but when I am drawn into a movie like this, it has to be somewhere along those lines.

One thing "Willow" doesn't burden itself with is a use of too much action and not enough storyline. We commonly find that in most movies with a sword and sorcery setting, fairies and dragons flying around seem more common than hearing decent dialogue or a fair premise. With the exception of "Ladyhawke," I believe the entire genre has used these traits, and perhaps that is why I really don't like it that much. "Willow" is nothing like this, though. It's an ambitious, powerful entry into the genre, unlike any other entry of it. Perhaps that's what makes "Willow" stand out, because it's simply one of the only original films of the fantasy setting.

Yet, I don't know how I liked this movie so much. I felt maybe it was because of the sorcery setting, and then I felt it was the violence. Then the art direction, and eventually, the characters themselves. Whatever it was, or is, "Willow" is overwhelmingly powerful. I am drawn immensely into the film every time I see it, and I really don't know why. Perhaps it will be better for me never to decide why I liked it so much. Who cares? I still enjoy it, even if I can't pinpoint the reasons.

1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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