Willow (1988) dir. Ron Howard


On the surface, Willow is a fantastical journey defined by Warwick Davis’s charm and Val Kilmer’s somehow lasting appeal pre-Batman Forever. When you go deeper, however, it’s somehow one of the weirdest films Ron Howard has ever leant his so-so directing skill to. And let’s be clear: That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Let’s start from the beginning: 1988 was a weird time for our good friend George Lucas. The last major Star Wars film was five years old – but that didn’t stop Lucas from helping out with some Ewok media – and he had just started a pretty solid career as a producer/executive producer of films like Labyrinth (1986) and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985).

Life seemed pretty good.

Unfortunately for George, the success of a film trilogy and the expanding empire of merchandise and Ewok media wasn’t enough to keep him at bay because, believe it or not, this man is a storyteller at heart. He might not be a good one but… he tries.

So he took to writing Willow, a film which follows the beats of Star Wars’ hero’s journey to a T. You’ve got the farmboy turned wizard, the swashbuckling smartass, and a polymorphed sorceress (just like Leia!) who all band together to take on a great evil plaguing the land.

There’s no doubt about it – the core story is abysmally dull – but that’s not really why you come to Willow as an adult. I mean, as a kid, it’s certainly captivating and a good bit of relief from your hunger for more stories akin to Star Wars’ bombastic charm (at least, that was the case in the ’90s). But the real reason you’d come to Howard’s creation is to take in the sights and revel in the strange world this film presents.

There are scenes of characters melting, skin bubbling, and, of course, a character who gets hit in the face with weird shit, all of which tie together a fascinating world. There are moments which will make you say, ‘Oh, that’s just Lord of the Rings, but then there are other moments that will make you say, ‘Oh, this is like Lord of the Rings without a budget.

You’ll find that, tonally, the film is all over the place. Howard tries to craft an upbeat universe led by the never-failing whimsy of Davis, but instead creates a remarkably upbeat presence imprisoned within a terrifying world. People die, people melt, and skeletons are scattered all about.

Kilmer and Davis may never bleed or face harm but, boy howdy, there sure live in a place where that happens.

The reality of this film is that it’s a pretty lopsided endeavor that glistens in its beginning and then falters by the end. The darkness ties up a little too nicely to the point where you’re left asking, ‘How do these people live with themselves?’

I guess what I’m saying is: Willow is like a kid’s story set in some Game of Thrones type reality. And that’s absolutely fascinating to watch unfold when it’s not treading some too hokey ground.

For kids: You have to show them this film. But be wary, because not everyone will enjoy it. Save this for the kids looking for adventure and whimsy; the kids who you’ve just show the original Star Wars films to who may or may not be entirely detached from YouTube culture.

I’m not sure if that kid exists anymore, really.

For adults: Come back to the film and have a good time. It’s funny, it’s weird, and it’s just interesting to look at. It’s the perfect film to watch with a couple of drinks in you.

dir. Ron Howard
126 min.

Screens Saturday 7/1, 11:59PM @Coolidge Corner
Part of the Ongoing Series: After Midnite

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