Retro Review: Krull
A fantasy movie that deserves more respect than it gets.
August 8, 2012 8:31 amJames Classey
I probably first saw Krull back in 1992, when I was ten years old. I remember it well. It was at my grandmother’s house in Fairfield, CT, in the Florida Room. The Florida Room was chiefly occupied by my grandfather, as well as several plants, a work bench covered in doodads and ephemera, and a massive late 70’s era CRT television tucked in the corner. It was on this massive old television that I first remember catching a glimpse of Krull. It was at the end, when our heroes our running through the Black Fortress. I saw men scurrying over a massive, cream colored and organic-seeming bridge-like structure, some screaming as they are picked off by laser fire and plummet off and into the abyss. I also see a man slowly punctured by a wall spike, as the camera’s gaze is fixed on every inch of stony protuberance as it enters his body. The final minutes of the movie I especially remember: our surviving heroes laughing giddily outside in a beautiful, flower riddled field. A sharp contrast to the graphic violence that precluded it, as well as a little bewildering.
Though I caught bits and pieces of it during the ensuing years, Krull largely became nothing but a cherished childhood memory. One must always tread carefully when revisiting cherished childhood memories, as I learned upon rewatching old faves such as Legend and The Neverending Story. Though both remain imaginative and a little fun, they also both left a bad taste it my mouth. So imagine my surprise in 2006 when, on a whim, I ride my bike to the Blockbuster Video in Westport, CT, rent their old Krull VHS tape, and am instantly filled with that old childish awe and glee, from the opening theme to closing credits. Krull instantly becomes a part of my personality, as I carry it with me wherever I go, inflicting it on all comers, in my ongoing quest to find anyone who enjoys this film as much as I do. But moving on…
Krull was filmed in 1983 predominantly on the massive Pinewood soundstages, cost a staggering 30 million dollars to make, and was directed by Peter Yates, who at that time was usually associated with action/thriller pictures like Bullitt and The Deep. Krull bombed upon arrival in theatres, and remains infamous to this day, usually appreciated purely ironically or just outright maligned. The basic plot is simple enough: The Beast sends his army of Slayers to capture Princess Alyssa, so Prince Colwyn, armed with a mystical weapon called the Glaive, journeys to save her, assembling a ragtag group of loyal companions in his quest to save the planet Krull.
What stands out are the bizarre details: the film opens to a massive stone structure slowly moving through space. It then lands on Krull, taking root in its soil. We soon learn this is the Black Fortress, home of the Beast, a massive alien possessing what appears to be some form of magic or advanced science. The Black Fortress itself vanishes to a new location every day, requiring the heroes to search for a seer or prophet, as they will not be able to find the Fortress unless they divine where it will be in the future. And then there are the Beast’s troops, the Slayer: superhuman black-suited soldiers with elaborate domelike helmets which house a strange slithery, tentacled organism that shrieks and burrows away after being dispatched. The film is filled to the brim with strange and outlandish ideas and characters, and what’s refreshing to me is the film’s treatment of said characters and concepts, which is reminiscent of an old folktale. One of the concepts for Krull is that it is a planet filled with mystery and legend, so all of the characters and situations are taken at face value. It is a very mystical movie, like old fantasy stories from the early 20th century, where the figurative is made real. For example, the Glaive is an ancient symbol to the people of Krull, but Prince Colwyn is able to pull it out of molten lava with his bare hands and use it as a weapon. There is no explanation offered as to how he can do this, and none is needed, as the entire film is like this! A precedent has been set.
Though I love Krull with all my heart, upon viewing it several times, it doesn’t feel like a complete, finished product. Krull was an extremely ambitious project and a budget that, while enormous, still wasn’t enough for everything that was in the shooting script. One example of this is when the Emerald Seer (in order to determine the future location of the Black Fortress) is leading our heroes to the Emerald Temple, a place we never see because the production staff ran out of the time and money needed to build it (luckily this is explained in the story, as the Seer is murdered and replaced by a Changeling on the way to the Temple, a very startling and unsettling scene). The most glaring example of this happens in the middle of the movie: Alyssa is being taunted by the Beast, who shows her an image of Colwyn, who is being tempted by one of the Beast’s female agents, a changeling woman. He rejects her, so she grows claws and announces that she would have killed Colwyn, but is actually in love with him. Alyssa triumphantly declares that love will always win, and the Beast (who at this point has made himself look like Colwyn but with red eyes) makes a hand gesture, causing the image of the changeling woman to zoom out of the shot, as she emits an inhuman shriek. Next we see Colwyn’s men running to the direction of the screams in order to help, but besides that there is no further reference or explanation as to exactly what transpired, resulting in the whole subplot feeling very muddled and rushed, as if there are a few scenes missing.
Even with these flaws, Krull is a movie that deserves more respect, and in some ways is even better that Return of the Jedi, the mega-blockbuster that trumped Krull in the box office back in 1983. Krull stays true to its core concept, and is able to deliver a sci-fi fantasy adventure filled with archetypal characters and situations without talking down to its audience. Return of the Jedi, though a very well made and entertaining film, largely abandons the raw mystery and intensity of the first movie, embracing instead more typical kiddie fantasy concepts, and focuses on the marketability of its characters.
Though largely considered a failure, I actually see Krull as a shining example of where the big budget mainstream fantasy genre could have gone, if it had found it’s audience, and others had followed its example.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING||5.0|