I like to think that I’m a connoisseur of movies, and while I certainly have a lot left to see that I never have and should, I have a pretty good grasp of what people have seen and enjoy. Or so I thought, he said like some kind of ’40s mystery novel.
I had seen the title Krull and its accompanying poster on various streaming services and was intrigued, because what the hell is this thing anyway? Is it a sci-fi movie? Is it a high fantasy adventure? Why had I never heard of it? As I mentioned on Twitter (follow me @FunctionalNerd, wink wink) that I was watching Krull, asking what the hell it was, I was met overwhelmingly with cries of people who were upset I hadn’t seen it before and calling it varying forms of “the best movie ever.”
Obviously, it isn’t the best movie ever. But, I was definitely not prepared for it to be as good as it is.
There was a magical time following the success of Star Wars when science fiction adventure films became actual, honest-to-goodness box office draws. Most of them weren’t good, to be fair, but that didn’t stop people from making them and audiences from eating them up. Once the straight-up space opera scripts got made and the public still wasn’t satiated, they decided to make high fantasy movies and infuse them with sci-fi or futuristic elements. This is when we get stuff like the Italian Hercules, like Legend, like Excalibur, Conan the Barbarian, and even Willow to a certain extent. Krull is perhaps the most sci-fi of these sci-fantasy epics, but it’s doubtlessly still fantasy. It doesn’t really need the sci-fi stuff strictly, though that adds a lot of color and fun.
The film was directed by Peter Yates, an odd choice for a science-fantasy movie, having made slick and gritty crime movies in his career like Bullitt, The Hot Rock, and The Friends of Eddie Coyle. But, this guy’s a pro. He got the exact, slightly tongue-in-cheek tone of the script by Stanford Sherman, and was adept at filming the wide, expansive exteriors, shot in the Canary Islands and Italy. Yates did a really smart thing in getting the young composer James Horner to score the film, whose credits include Battle Beyond the Stars in 1980 and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 (the year prior to Krull). Horner’s score is perfectly suited for the content and tone, and the second I heard it starting, I said “I can get behind this movie.”
So, let’s get to the story, shall we? On the alien planet Krull, which is very much like our medieval fantasy world with swords and castles and magic and the like, a young princess named Lyssa is destined to become queen of this world, and that the man she chooses to marry will become king, and their child will become ruler of the galaxy, no pressure.
She chooses to marry Colwyn, the dashing young son of a hostile neighboring kingdom, but hopefully this union will blend everything. However, just as the wedding ceremony is taking place, Krull is invaded by a giant beast called…The Beast, and his army of laser-blasting Slayers. They kidnap the princess for The Beast and leave everyone else for dead. Colwyn is not dead, however, and is nursed back to health by Ynyr, the Old One.
Colwyn at first is, let’s face it, a whimpering pile of useless, but Ynyr convinces him that only he can save both the princess and the world. If he’s to do it, he must find the Glaive, a magical, five-pointed, throwing weapon with retractable blades hidden deep in a cave. When he throws it, this weapon (which can also shoot lasers for some reason) will return to his hand at will, not unlike Mjolnir. Once he has that, Ynyr tells him they must find the Black Fortress, a nigh-impenetrable evil edifice which transports to a completely different location every day at sunrise, so finding it is next to impossible. However, Colwyn and the Old One don’t have to be along too long. They eventually come across a bumbling magician named Ergo who can change into other stuff but has no real control over it, and also a band of nine outlaws (of whom Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane are ones) led by Torquil, who begrudgingly join the quest. They’re also being followed by a large Cyclops, who are a mystical, solitary race of beings, and he eventually joins them as well, along with a kid for some reason.
Much of the film follows a basic Joseph Campbell-style quest narrative, but it does so in a really fun way. It’s enjoyable to see this motley crew get into trouble and fight their way out of it. And it also allows for some impressive (for the time) special and visual effects, like a stop-motion albino spider and all the model shots of the castles and things. The Beast itself is an interesting design, because it’s just a guy in a rubber suit with a fairly articulate headpiece, but he’s shot so that he appears utterly huge, like Galactus-planet-eating sized. Why he needs to, or even wants to, take Princess Lyssa for himself is slightly confusing, other than her being prophesied to birth the galaxy-ruler. Still, as far as evil villains go, a giant fish-faced monster who can transform into people and attempt to entice the heroine into things is up there.
While the movie has pretty good action and decent special effects, and even some fun and interesting characters, I will say it definitely didn’t do its female characters much favor…all two of them. Lyssa is the typical damsel, maybe a little bit more headstrong and brave than most, but she’s still a girl who needs to be rescued by a bunch of boys. The only other female they meet on the way is the Widow of the Web, a woman who once loved Ynyr long ago and who has been banished to the web (where that crystal spider lives) for killing their only child. Ynyr’s love for her (and her name is also Lyssa, you guys) makes her appear young again, because GROSS, who wants to look at an old lady when they can look at a hot young lady. I really am not sure what purpose this character serves beyond giving Ynyr some backstory and telling them where the Black Fortress will be at sunrise.
That being said, I was very pleasantly surprised by Krull. It was a lot more fun than I expected and it’s not nearly as cheesy as I expected. It’s still plenty silly with that lovely, quaint early-80s thing going on. There are some fun characters, great sets (REALLY great), and plenty of action and adventure. It’s such a cool world, I’m sort of sad they didn’t make more. And hey, any movie where we can see young Liam Neeson and young Robbie Coltrane fighting with swords and stuff is gonna be worth a watch in my book. So there; are you happy, millions of people I didn’t realize grew up with this movie?