In an alternate universe, this movie is probably revered as their Citizen Kane. Here, it's the sci-fi equivalent of Ishtar. Read Judge Erick Harper's less than glowing review. Don't forget that if you don't agree with him, it's perfectly okay to mind your own business.
"This it was given me to know, that many worlds have been enslaved by the Beast and his army, the Slayers. And this too was given me to know, that the Beast would come to our world, the world of Krull, and his Black Fortress would be seen in the land…But one thing I cannot know—whether the prophecy be true, that a girl of ancient name shall become queen, that she shall choose a king, and that together they shall rule our world, and that their son shall rule the galaxy."
Shamelessly clichéd and unabashedly cheesy, Krull hit theaters in the summer of 1983, in a weak attempt by Columbia to counter-program and/or exploit the Return of the Jedi box office juggernaut.
Facts of the Case
There is trouble brewing on the ancient planet of Krull. The Beast and his army of biomechanical Slayers have landed and intend to subjugate the population. More importantly, the Beast intends to force Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony—The Pleasure Principle, Look Who's Talking Now) to marry him. Lyssa appears to be the girl mentioned in an ancient prophecy about ruling the galaxy, and the Beast wants the future ruler to be his son.
Lyssa has other plans, and has chosen Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall—The Gods Must Be Crazy II, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") to be her king. Colwyn is the son of Lyssa's father's fiercest rival for the control of Krull, but they have set aside old hostilities to unite the planet in the face of the Beast's aggression. Colwyn and his entourage arrive at Lyssa's castle for the wedding, which is promptly interrupted by the Slayers. When the smoke clears both kings are dead, Colwyn has been wounded and knocked cold, and Lyssa has been captured and spirited away to the Black Fortress.
Into the aftermath of the raid appears Ynyr (Freddie Jones—Dune, Time After Time, Erik the Viking), an "ancient one," who heals Colwyn and gives him a requisite pep talk. Together they set out on a quest to rescue Lyssa and defend the future of Krull and the galaxy. Along the way Colwyn stops to retrieve the Glaive, an ancient and powerful weapon. He also meets up with a colorful group of wanderers that join his quest. There is Ergo (David Battley), a magician of questionable proficiency. There is Torquil (Alun Armstrong—Braveheart) and his band of outlaws, including a very young Liam Neeson (Schindler's List) and Robbie Coltrane (Goldeneye, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone); each of them has a few nice moments. They are also joined by the mysterious Rell the Cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw—Follow That Camel). Together they set out to find the Black Fortress and do battle with the Beast's forces.
Krull, perhaps more than any movie in recent memory, follows the conventions of fantasy and fairy tales with slavish devotion. It follows the Joseph Campbell "hero's journey" formula as if it were a blueprint. Whether this happens intentionally or from long-ingrained exposure to the clichés of the genre is open to debate. We have a hero, a princess in distress, a wise old man to guide our hero, and a number of interesting magical and mythological flourishes. These flourishes provide a sort of texture, and some of the most interesting ideas in the whole movie. I liked the backstory for the race of Cyclopes, that they had traded one eye for the ability to see the future, but it turned out to be a bad bargain when they were tricked; each one can see only the moment of his own death. I also enjoyed the mythological gloss to the personal history surrounding Ynyr and his long-ago acquaintance with the Widow of the Web. Indeed, these details are far more interesting than the movie itself; I found myself wishing I could see a movie based on the backstories instead.
Columbia TriStar has created another excellent Special Edition DVD for Krull, with an anamorphic transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, and more special features than you can shake a Glaive at. The picture is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It is far from perfect, but most of the problems appear to be caused by the source material rather than any sort of inattention to the transfer. The film shows a number of nicks and scratches. Interior scenes seem a bit darker than they should be. Dark scenes in general are quite grainy. Shadow detail is poor, with shadowed areas looking dark and murky. Fine textures tend to look soft and indistinct. Through much of the movie most colors appear to be slightly faded and undersaturated. Blacks often do not go quite all the way to black. On the other hand, scenes shot on location outdoors looked quite good with great definition and color fidelity. The orange glow in the lava cave where Colwyn retrieves the Glaive is rich and brilliant. Given the great look of some parts of the movie, I think that the weaknesses in other parts can be mostly attributed to cinematography, condition of the print, or both.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix is a nice touch, but is limited in its effectiveness. The audio lacks dynamic range. It sounds thin, muffled, and a bit tinny. Even this new remix is mostly front-centered, with very sparing use of surround effects, even in battle scenes. Dialogue is clearly understandable, but overall the audio is just not very impressive and it seems a shame that Columbia went to all the trouble of creating a Dolby 5.1 audio mix if the results are this underwhelming.
On this disc, as with so many other recent releases, Columbia TriStar really shines in the area of extra content. The fun begins with the 22-minute featurette "Journey to Krull," an original making-of special from 1983. It is full frame, of course, and is very grainy due to its age and a poor transfer. There is a lot of digital artifacting and blurring, along with the more normal nicks and scratches. It is very yellowed and the colors are flat. That being said, it is an interesting trip back to a time not so long ago when the average moviegoer didn't have the level of behind the scenes knowledge that we do today. The featurette is really more of an overview of how movies are made. It follows the actors and others through the process from their first reading of the script to the final product—the whole process of taking words on a page and making a movie. It also gives a sketchy retelling of Krull's plot. It is fairly interesting, and it is narrated by Tom Bosley to boot.
There is a massive photo gallery with well over 200 pictures. These are broken down into four categories: Cast Portraits, Behind-the-Scenes, Design and Concept, and Vintage Advertising. While static photo galleries are usually an unimpressive feature for a DVD, someone at Columbia worked hard to assemble these. Talent files are provided for Peter Yates, Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, and Freddie Jones. Also included are trailers for Krull, Jason and the Argonauts, and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. All of these show their age pretty badly, but are interesting to have nevertheless.
One piece of extra content that could have been interesting was the video presentation of the Marvel Comics version of Krull. However, rather than letting the audience get a good look at the artwork, the camera is zoomed in so close that the individual dots of ink from the printing process are clearly visible. Those in charge of the presentation did their best to crop out any dialogue bubbles or captions, and only focus on those portions of frames that they want the viewer to see. This is presented with an audio track made up of sounds and dialogue from the movie. This is an interesting idea, but it would have been preferable to let the comic book artists' work stand on its own to a greater degree.
There are two audio commentaries. The first one is a full feature-length commentary, which primarily features Yates and editor Ray Lovejoy, with comments from Marshall and Anthony that appear to have been edited in later. Yates clearly has a great affection for the fantasy genre, and this film in particular. He is also proud to have had the chance to work with actors like Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane before they became famous. He comes across as very gracious throughout, and as someone who really values his role as a storyteller. Slightly less gracious, and not altogether without reason, is Anthony. Making Krull was a trying experience for her, with lots of solo work in claustrophobic sets with only bluescreens for company. One of her biggest disappointments in making the movie was the decision by Columbia executives that she sounded too British and should be dubbed with a more American-sounding voice. This seems a pity, as her voice on the commentary track was quite pleasant, certainly much more so than the generic American voice they dubbed in.
The second commentary track is actually an article from the November 1982 issue of Cinefantastique magazine. It is quite a long article, and fills one hour and thirteen minutes of screen time. It reveals a lot of very interesting information about the making of Krull, including the fact that the original title of the movie was Dragons of Krull. The dragons were dropped and the title changed after Paramount's Drangonslayer bombed at the box office in 1981.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I watched Krull, many questions came to mind. First, if the location of the Glaive was that well-known, and Colwyn could get to it as easily as he did, how come no one else grabbed it a long time ago? Ynyr warns Colwyn that he must wait until the right time to use the Glaive. Presumably this didn't include all the times that Colwyn's men, armed only with swords and axes, were getting picked off by squads of Slayers armed with laser rifles. If Rell knew it was "his time" and couldn't fight it, what made him change his mind ten minutes later? Did we really need as many minutes as we got of Colwyn climbing mountains or of various groups of characters riding horses from one place to another? If the Black Fortress could magically teleport itself around the surface of the planet Krull, did we really need the all-too-familiar opening shot of its massive bulk flying slowly past the camera? (En route to a planet with two suns, no less.)
As I noted above, this is a movie assembled out of a collection of clich"s as old as fantasy literature itself. As a result, the plot grinds along in predictable fashion, never really creating any sort of suspense or drama. The characters also behave in ways that are relentlessly predictable. While there are some indications early in the script that Lyssa might be a fairly strong, capable leader, she soon turns into the worst possible female character: the helpless pawn whose only value is in her marriagability, and whose only ability is to scream "Colwyyyyn! Colwyyyyyyn!" at the top of her lungs as she is captured and carried away like a limp rag doll. I'm not suggesting that every female character needs to be an Ellen Ripley or a Princess Leia or an Aeryn Sun, especially in a medieval-style fantasy movie like this one, but Lyssa is a particularly pathetic and unappealing excuse for a character.
While the supporting actors turned in respectable performances, the leads were a big weakness in this movie. Lysette Anthony has some excuse, being both young at the time and dubbed out. Ken Marshall has no such excuses, and is probably the blandest action hero that has ever appeared on the silver screen. He has all the charisma and star appeal of Gray Davis, and is almost as convincing.
Composer James Horner's "work" on this picture is quite disappointing. It becomes clear very early on that he merely dusted off his excellent score from 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, made a few minor modifications, and called it a day. Anyone who has seen Star Trek II will find this music very familiar and distracting; Krull is not an easy movie to get into in any case, and it doesn't help matters much when all the musical cues have the viewer looking around for Ricardo Montalban. Beyond those complaints, the score is simply wrong for this movie. It is far too bright and upbeat, and does not do its part to help communicate a sense of drama or danger.
While the edges and textures of Krull are quite interesting, the center is hollow and unsatisfying. It has a few good moments, but sinks under its cookie-cutter plot and cardboard characters.
Krull is found by this court to be guilty, and is sentenced to an eternity of obscurity on the back shelves at Blockbuster. Columbia TriStar is fully acquitted on the strength of an excellent DVD presentation. Someone at the studio must have a real soft spot for this movie, because this Special Edition is probably better than it really deserved.
We stand adjourned.
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