Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We Need to Talk About Willow

Hello everyone. Sit down, please. Would you like a drink? Something to eat, perhaps? Everyone comfortable? Good. Look, I'm sorry to bring you all here like this, but we need to discuss something. It's serious. It's something no one wants to talk about, but we have to. I'm sorry. Please everyone, promise not to get angry, but - (sigh).

We need to talk about Willow.

Now I hear what you're saying. "Thalius," you say, "We don't have time to talk about Willow now! E3 is going on! Games are being announced! News is everywhere! Naomi Kyle is broadcasting live and I can't take my eyes off of her for a second!" But the fact is, we have to talk about it. If we don't take care of this now, we may never get around to it. So let's just do this.

Willow (1988) was a sword-and-sorcery adventure film from Lucasfilm. It was directed by Ron Howard and starred Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer. It was recommended to me by many, many friends who swore by it, along with Netflix itself. So I put it on my queue and the DVD arrived in the mail yesterday. The results were not pretty.
The story was allegedly conceived by George Lucas in 1972. Lucas gathered Warwick Davis and Ron Howard during the 1980s following the success of Return of the Jedi and made the whole thing happen. Lucas said he wanted to create "a number of well-known mythological situations for a young audience," like he had with Star Wars. Watching the movie, however, I could see what had really happened. The Lord of the Rings novels had been released years before in 1954 and Lucas had clearly been reading them.

Willow, as it turns out, is a beat-for-beat rip-off of The Lord of the Rings.

Okay now hang on a second. Sit down everyone, stop shouting. I can hear you just fine. Let's use our inside voices. Now I know perfectly well that Star Wars also borrowed heavily from the LOTR playbook. My argument is simply that with Willow, Lucas borrowed far more flagrantly and with far less of his own creativity. Star Wars at least had the presence of mind to be set in a sci-fi setting instead of a blatant Middle Earth stand-in world. Star Wars also built its own mythology of bloodlines and lore. Here the whole movie absolutely reeks of LOTR, top to bottom.

Lucas claimed that he "thought it would be great to use a little person in a lead role. A lot of my movies are about a little guy against the system, and this was just a more literal interpretation of that idea." Really? He called them Nelwyns, but we all know what they really were. They were Hobbits. So the Nelwyn known as Willow (Frodo), who lives in a peaceful farming village (the shire) is entrusted with a magical baby (one ring) that could save the world from the evil queen Bavmorda (Sauron/Saruman). So a bunch of Nelwyns set out to get rid of it as soon as possible (fellowship).

What's that? Death star plans? Shut up.

So the Nelwyn fellowship sets out on their journey and meets with a great but disgraced swordsman and warrior (ranger) named Madmartigan (Aragorn), played by Val Kilmer. After Willow is abandoned by the rest of the Nelwyns (breaking of the fellowship) except for his friend Meegosh (Sam), Madmartigan reluctantly agrees to help Willow on his journey. I'll pause here for a moment and acknowledge that Kilmer is the best thing in the movie, hands down. He's absolutely hilarious.

Seriously, put your hands down. Don't talk to me about Kevin Pollak.

While Willow is negotiating with Madmartigan about getting involved, they are passed by the retreating army of the kingdom of Galladoorn (Rohan), which was recently destroyed by Bavmorda. Getting no help from the army, Willow entrusts the baby to Madmartigan, who promptly loses it to forest fairies. Willow retrieves the baby and encounters the fairy queen of the forest, Cherlindrea (Galadriel), who tells him he must find the sorceress Fin Raziel (Gandalf) and sends him on his way.

The group eventually makes their way to the settlement Tir Asleen (Helm's Deep), which they then have to defend from attack by the armies of Nockmaar Castle (Isengard). Luckily, they are saved by the aforementioned army of Galladoorn (Riders of Rohan). The baby is taken to Nockmaar, however, forcing Fin Raziel to battle Bavmorda directly (Gandalf vs. Saruman) with Willow caught in the middle. Victorious, Willow returns to his village and his loving family (return to the Shire).

I'll admit that watching this movie after having seen Peter Jackson's interpretation of LOTR might cause the similarities to stick out a bit more. But the books were around. Even the Rankin/Bass animated version was around. And everything, right down to some of the visuals, was ripped straight from LOTR. Watch the Nelwyns huddle in the woods and hide from the passing Nockmaar soldiers. Watch Madmartigan fight at the battle of Tir Asleen. Watch the two old ladies throw each other around the room when Fin Raziel and Bavmorda fight. Good lord, Fin Raziel's outfit is a dead-on match for Gandalf!

No my friends, Willow is not good. It is not a classic. It is a cheap knock-off of a celebrated fantasy series that wouldn't see a proper interpretation for another eleven years. You want to watch great fantasy from the late 80's? Watch The Princess Bride. Nowthat's a classic, I mean it.

Anybody want a peanut?