The latest film from the fantasy factory of producer George Lucas, Willow, loudly advertises the effort and expense that went into making it. In the tradition of the Star Wars films for which Lucas is famous,
Willow boasts a megabudget ($50 million), massive deployment of human and animal resources (200 dwarfs, 400 extras, 78 stunt men, 200 pigs, 150 horses, to name a few), and stunning scenic locations (remote mountain regions of New Zealand and Wales). At his movie studio-ranch in California, the fiercely independent Lucas commands a sophisticated special-effects division that, for one sequence of Willow, made a 30-foot, two-headed monster rise out of a castle moat and, for another, transformed a goat to an ostrich to a peacock to a turtle to a lion and, finally, to an old woman with no clothes.
But what the vast Lucas fortune could not buy, it seems, is a single fresh idea or even a straightforward plot line.
Based on a story by Lucas and directed by Ron Howard (Splash, Cocoon)—the former child actor (Opie in Andy of Mayberry)—Willow borrows shamelessly from sources as varied as the Bible, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Wizard of Oz and even from Star Wars itself, plastering it all together in a witless, muddled pastiche. It offers plenty of gee-whiz footage for the kids, but parents should consider bringing sleeping shades to block the picture and a Walkman to drown out the oppressive, string-laden sound track.
Willow opens to music thundering ominously in the background and a written prologue that reads, “It is a time of dread.” Those are early omens of the clichéd dreadfulness of what is to come. An evil sorceress, Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), is causing havoc in
her kingdom as she searches for a baby whom she has learned will eventually overthrow her. Bavmorda has imprisoned all pregnant women in order to destroy the child, who will be recognizable by a special mark on one arm. But a midwife steals the new-
born and takes her to the land of the dwarfs, one of whom, Willow (Warwick Davis), agrees to transport her to safety. Willow, a humble farmer and aspiring sorcerer, is rather simpleminded, but at least he is sweet-
natured. Along the way, however, he picks up a surly rebel soldier, Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), and a pair of pocket-sized, obnoxious pranksters called brownies.
What exactly the motley company is doing as it lurches from forest to tavern, from island to snowy mountain camp— with Bavmorda’s dim-witted army in hot pursuit— is often irritatingly unclear. The proliferation of quaintly named people (Airk, Vohnkar, Meegosh and Burglekutt) and places (Nelwyn, Nockmaar and Tir Asleen) adds to the confusion. There are numerous chase and battle scenes, each one gorier than the last, culminating in a massive confrontation that seems to sum up the foolish extravagance of the entire enterprise. The only bright spot is watching two old sorceresses, Bavmorda and Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), engaged in an old-fashioned catfight between good and evil. But the fact that the evil witch is finally destroyed by an apparently arbitrary bolt of lightning, rather than by any of the protagonists, illustrates the movie’s failure to make a satisfying point about anything.
By the end Willow gains a faith in himself that enables him to become a sorcerer, and Madmartigan is redeemed by his noble efforts on behalf of the baby. But even the heartwarming message about the power of positive thinking is lost in the general clutter. The best thing that can be said about the movie is that it has a hero who is three feet, four inches tall, a heroine still in diapers and a good, grey-haired witch who appears in the nude—and thereby defies a few stereotypes of Hollywood casting. The sad irony is that George Lucas, having realized his early aim to become independent of the major studios, has produced an orgy of conspicuous consumption that reflects Hollywood at its worst.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.