You’d have to be a total misery not to be entertained by this exuberant adventure
The early 80s were a boom-time for fantasy flicks, and despite the fact that nobody really bothered to see them, most offerings have gone on to attain a devoted following.With 1983’s Krull, Peter (Bullitt) Yates tackled an epic quest saga that boasted it could marry up the pyrotechnics of Star Wars with the rousing appeal of the classic swashbuckler. Rarely, however, does the gamble pay off. Lavishly mounted with terrific sets, colourful valour and a fine roster of stalwart English thesps, including Liam Neeson, Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, Alun Armstrong and Robbie Coltrane, Krull sees floppy-haired Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) leading a motley crew of D&D recruits on a rescue mission to wrestle back his new bride (Lysette Anthony) from the big bad Beast, a super-powerful, world-conquering entity who is typically wicked to the core and backed-up by an army of lumbering, medieval Cylon-like Slayers. There is the trademark mystical weapon in the form of the Glaive, a spinning-star that, whilst no lightsabre, is still pretty cool.Krull is a frustrating experience that only manages to get by on sheer good will. The concept had well and truly missed the boat by the time of its theatrical debut, and although this hardly seems relevant when viewed today, post-LOTR, there is still an undeniable sense of fatigue and futility about the whole affair. The potential was huge, and there had indeed been incredibly high hopes for the British-led and unmistakably pedigree production, but such noble aspirations and genre expectations were sadly squandered by a screenplay and characters that were, ultimately, tired and clichéd, and, despite the whole shebang being pretty enjoyable, audiences knew that they had seen this sort of thing done many times before, and done much better. Thus, Yates’ fantasy romp feels like a noisy, and frequently shoddy also-ran blundering haphazardly along in the wake of far superior stallions.
A stilted turn from the blank-faced Marshall, terrible comedy support from the appalling David Battley as a sidekick sorcerer, an embarrassing performance from Carry On’s Bernard Bresslaw under pitiful prosthetics as a melancholic Cyclops, very hit ‘n’ miss visual effects and a rather clumsy collision of fairytale and violence hardly provide Krull with the ingredients to win over legions of spectacle-craving youngsters. But then Yates (who initially rejected the project and was only coerced into doing it by his wife) and writer Stanford Sherman weren’t exactly going for just the kids.
To this end, there are hints of sophistication and surrealism at play here that provide a tantalising glimpse at a darker, more mature story. So it is all the more unfortunate that the overall show tends to engulf them with whimsy and increasingly lacklustre returns. Seemingly to reinforce this law of diminishing returns, each new action set-piece comes across as being determined to be less wowing than the last.
However, right in the middle of this stands a fantastic mini-movie that totally dwarfs and mocks all that comes before and after. The glorious Widow of the Web sequence is the pure standout of the film, and testament to what could have been. Sadly now it just serves to show what a whopper of ineptitude the rest of Krull really is.
But, I have to say there is definitely something about this SF/Fantasy smash ‘n’ grab that is very appealing. For me, personally, it is great to see Freddie Jones impatiently grumbling of prophecies as his soothsayer dawdles about breezy mountaintops and grungy sets and the acutely classy Francesca Annis in the thrall of a huge crystal spider… but the single most impressive element in this smorgasbord of ripened panto silliness is the rip-roaring score from James Horner who, at this time, was knocking out gem after gem, and truly had the power and desire to rescue any movie from mediocrity.
Lower-echelon fantasy through and through, Krull, by a war of likeable attrition, is able to bring a nostalgic smile… perhaps against all odds. Excalibur meets Star Wars? Erm. Nope. Think Hawk The Slayer, but with a HUGE budget, or The Dark Crystal with considerably less appealing characters.
James Horner’s score is phenomenal however, and you’d have to be a total misery not to be entertained by Yates’ exuberant adventure.
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