Ah, the early 80s…. In the cinemas, the hot trend was “sword and sorcery” movies. Swashbuckling heroes, damsels in distress, special effects making magic and monsters….. The stuff of legends, brought to life. They were coming out on a virtually monthly basis. To rise above the crowd, you needed something special.
A combined British and American production team thought about it and said, “Let’s add a little science fiction into the mix! And then throw a heck of a lot of money at it!” The result is our subject du jour.
The sci-fi elements in Krull are there at the start. As ponderous narration informs us, the asteroid we are seeing is actually a spaceship, and it’s setting out to conquer hapless worlds. Its next target is the planet Krull, a rather peaceful place consisting of various modest kingdoms. The conquest is well underway as the plot begins.
Right away, we can tell we’re in for something a little different. Since the planet is divided into kingdoms, we can obviously expect castles and knights and swords and all that. But the art direction team have created designs that aren’t your standard medievalistic items. It’s all given a slightly stylized, futuristic touch.
Oh, and you know the old trope of a princess being forced into a diplomatic marriage to cement an alliance between two kingdoms, and the hero has to rescue her? In a wonderful breath of fresh air, it’s actually Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) who’s the one insisting on getting married to Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) so as to unite their two kingdoms against the invaders.
Unfortunately, the wedding is crashed by the Slayers, the Imperial Stormtroopers of “The Beast”, the alien in command of that conquering “Black Fortress” spaceship we saw land in the beginning. Lyssa is abducted and everyone is killed – except for Colwyn, who is merely wounded and left for dead. He is rescued by an Old Wise Man named Ynyr (Freddie Jones), who tells him that he is now the king, and gives him the “medallion of office”.
Together, they set out to find the Black Fortress – it relocates with every sunrise – and rescue Lyssa.
After that, the movie is a mixed bag.
Our two leads, Marshall and Anthony, while pleasant to look at, are very wooden when it comes to acting. The plot is fairly standard: Our Hero must recover a magic weapon, collect a band of allies, find the secret of the villain’s lair, rescue the Princess, and live happily ever after.
It’s all fairly predictable, and wouldn’t be worth your time – except for a number of important things.
The cinematography is excellent. A lot of the outdoor location work was done in the Dolomitic Alps of northern Italy and on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands – two regions that are rugged and exotic locales, and perfect for a sword and sorcery adventure. The score is by James Horner, and is one of his better works (and since he’s one of the better film composers…..)
While the story is in general uninspired, the script has its moments, Other than the opening narration, screenwriter Stanford Sherman avoids a lot of the usual exposition dumping. Instead, he lets the background information come out in dialogue. Someone asks a good leading question, and it is succinctly answered. Sometimes, he doesn’t even need to state the obvious, as in this scene where Colwyn confronts Torquil (Alun Armstrong), a bandit leader who, along with the rest of the band, is still wearing the manacles they wore in prison:
(Colwyn slips a little key out of his “Medallion of Office” and starts unlocking one of the bandit’s manacles)
Torquil: Only the king and his Lord Marshall have the keys to these manacles. You don’t look like the Lord Marshall.
Torquil: You look about the right age to be [King] Turold’s son.
Colwyn: The exact age….
There’s also a deeply moving scene with Ynyr and “The Widow of the Web”, an old crone who is confined at the center of giant spider web (both the web and the spider qualify as giant). It should also be pointed out that the Comic Relief character is NOT odious – and is actually useful!
The movie was met with mixed reviews, and didn’t make back its budget on the initial release. But over the years, it’s acquired a cult status. While dated, the effects even at their worst aren’t so bad as to be irritating. And the good parts have held up very well. It might not have much to offer younger viewers these days, who are looking for something more sophisticated or “spectacular”. But for older viewers who are still a little young at heart…..