Thursday, July 24, 2014

Krull Intentions

As a follow-on from my recent synched viewing of Hawk the Slayer with Jamas, I've recently also watched another early 80s fantasy film, 1983's Krull, which Jamas reviews here, and specially-synched fellow reviewer and Krull appreciater Guanolad reviews here!

So then, Krull. I have to confess that, coming as I have from the lands of Hawk to the mediaeval planet of Krull (for 'tis after this world the movie is titled), I was expecting my earlier enthusiasm to be dashed by a bigger, flashier and far more ambitious turn - and in part I was right. Krull IS bigger, it was very much flashier and more expensive (32 million pounds, which seems foolhardy even now) and operates on a far wider scope than its oft-ridiculed predecessor. There were definitely big ambitions behind this, a trans-Atlantic tipping at the recent Star Wars windmill... but despite its good intentions, Krull is regularly consigned to similar ground as Hawk; over-ambitious, under-realised middling sci-fi fantasy tosh.

...which is unfair, as Krull's not really that bad. For one thing, it looks fantastic in places - lots of location shooting, great mountains and deserts when it gets out of the studio, and the production design was one of the first thing that really hit me - very flash for the most part, with some highly imaginative set pieces. Trouble is, I suspect the set pieces are also what damns Krull, because they so obviously work along those lines. It's a frequent misinterpretation that Krull was intended to be a Dungeons and Dragons movie, and you can see why - it's a Quest made up of encounters, traps and obstacles, where each new character is introduced simply to provide directions to the next encounter.

The characters are themselves drawn pretty broadly: the young prince who is orphaned and must find his destiny through a mysterious and legendary weapon; his comely bride with really big hair; the wise old mentor who surely cannot survive to the end of the movie; the rough and shifty thief who finds his mettle in the heat of battle; the hapless conjuror who proves his own mettle protecting a vulnerable companion against insurmountable odds. The - er, tragic and doomed cyclops.  For a kid's movie this is fine and well, but there's some stuff in Krull (as there is in Flash Gordon if memory serves) which is just not for kids. Krull has on occasion a nightmarish, phantasmagoric vision - some of the best set pieces derive their power from the stark bleakness of their imagery - the Seer who is stalked by a jet-eyed doppleganger, the beautiful and deadly Widow of the Web sequence, and of course the interior of the movie's Dark Tower, the literal belly of the Beast. The later comes in a mix of Dali, Gaudi and Frazetta styles, and is arresting even on a small screen.

And yet, at just shy of two hours this is still a lot of light story stretched over a long screentime.  In the end I was thankful for the stunnig visuals, the impressive cast (Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, Lysette Anthony - not to mention small but memorable turns from Bernard Archerd, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, Alun Armstrong and hey! Tucker from Grange Hill!) to get me through it. I confess, I tuned out a few times, the victim of a late night, a busy day, and some slow storytelling. A shame, but perhaps Krull is a magnificent folly, and maybe I'll go back and revisit it some time.

NB: Some images for this post were retrieved from the very insightful and m1uch more positive reading of Krull over on John Kenneth Muir's blog

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