Tuesday, February 16, 2010

MATINEE: Krull (1983)

The Plot:

The Plot (Shortform): The primitive world of Krull is invaded by aliens from a nameless planet. During the marriage of Prince Colwyn and Princess Lyssa, these creatures — called the Slayers — invade the festivities and kill most of the wedding party. They also ride off with Lyssa, leaving Colwyn wounded but alive. Colwyn undertakes a journey to the aliens’ ship to rescue the princess from the Black Fortress.

The Heritage: Krull got a decent rollout from Columbia Pictures in 1983, and is among the last films of its kind (i.e. shameless knock offs of Star Wars.) While Columbia apparently didn’t have enough faith in the film to generate the kinds of toys and trading cards seen with similar films, they did secure an arcade game based on the film (and it was pretty damn good.) There was also a board game and a movie adaptation published by Marvel Comics. If you’re of a certain age, you might have a little undeserved love for Krull.

Response: With a budget of $27 million, the film had a big opening weekend but faded quickly. Ultimately, it took in only $16 million domestically.

But that doesn’t always spell death for a film. The Beastmaster found its fans through television showings, while Eddie and the Cruisers and Highlander picked up followings on video. Considered a flop in 1984 (for reason I’ll get into in another column,) Dune’s fanbase only continues to grow.

More than two decades later, though and Krull has still failed to find a receptive audience. Still, there are a few random Krull tribute pages at MySpace. Tell them I sent you.

Fansite #1 Fansite #2

The Film: Just because a story has been told 1,000 times before doesn’t mean it can’t successfully be told again. Unfortunately, the story to 1983’s Krull’s is essentially “Hero’s Journey 101,” only without any particular thought or attention given to establish it’s own character. All of the basic story structures are there, from the recent death of the hero’s father, to the friends he picks up along his quest, right down to the climax of the movie. The only problem is that these facets are grafted to the movie’s few original ideas without finding an organic way to integrate them into the story.

For example is Ergo, the “wizard” character, who literally drops out of the sky as Colwyn journeys to the Black Fortress. He comes from nowhere, has no stake in the story and joins Colwyn for no obvious reason other than he’s supposed to.

The same can be said for the motley group of criminals who join Colwyn on his trek. These are all prisoners who had presumably escaped his father’s rule and, when learning they have his son captive decide to follow him on his suicide mission to win the freedom they already have.

While the movie fails on the script level, director Peter Yates (who is always confuse with Peter Hyams and, oddly, Mike Badham) fares a little better. There are a lot of great ideas in the film, though their presentation leaves much to be desired. The movie’s concept is like Star Wars in reverse. While Krull’s obvious inspiration was a science-fiction film that used elements of fantasy, Yates creates a world of fantasy with elements of science fiction. “The Black Fortress” is actually a huge spaceship, but it’s never referred to as such because the characters have no vocabulary for such a thing. Someone mentions the Slayers come from another world, but they could very well have been talking about angels or demons.

The photography and special effects are frustrating. Some of the effects are surprisingly good (even by today’s standards) but the photography betrays the film at every turn. Whenever the camera steps away from the action you get some very beautiful work, but anything that deals directly with the characters is overlit and pedestrian. Whenever we get too close to the characters, Krull feels significantly older than it’s age.

The hero’s special weapon is also problematic. By this point we’d already seen Luke Skywalker, King Arthur, Indiana Jones, Perseus and others kick some ass using their special weapons, but you don’t get to see Colwyn use his until the final few minutes of the movie. Called the “glaive,” it’s essentially a dull throwing star with extending knifes at the tip of each point. It’s neat looking, but is a "use once and discard" kind of weapon.

The Music: James Horner rehashes a lot of his ideas from the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan soundtrack, but that’s okay. STII’s score is amazing, so I’ll forgive him. It’s not his best work, but it gets the job done — and constantly tricks me into thinking it’s a better movie than it really is.

The Cast: Better than it’s generally given credit for. Ken Marshall takes a lot of shit for his performance as Colwyn, which I think is unfair. He’s a good-looking guy and falls snugly into the Errol Flynn role the film desperately needed. The script doesn’t require any more from him than that. Besides, Josh Hartnett has spent his entire career coasting on less talent.

The presence of Lysette Anthony and the even lovelier Francesca Annis don’t hurt either (though Annis is buried under some unflattering make-up and Anthony’s voice was re-dubbed by American actress Lindsay Crouse.)

Along for the ride are Freddie Jones (who would re-team with Annis in Dune the following year,) Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson. In 1999, Neeson would appear in another Star Wars knock-off called The Phantom Menace.

End of Line: Krull is not without it’s charms, but I couldn’t really recommend this film to anyone outside of The Geek Generation. It gets extra points for nostalgia (mostly because emotions refuse to listen to reason) and I can’t really separate the film’s weakness from my memories of shoveling quarters into the video game. Krull is a curio you might not like, but you probably won’t regret watching.

And in case you need a cultural marker to understand how old Krull is, here’s a clip of the Atari 2600 version of the arcade game.

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