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Willow
Willow movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ron Howard
Produced by George Lucas
Joe Johnston
Nigel Wooll
Screenplay by Bob Dolman
Story by George Lucas
Starring Val Kilmer
Joanne Whalley
Warwick Davis
Billy Barty
Jean Marsh
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Adrian Biddle
Edited by Daniel P. Hanley
Mike Hill
Richard Hiscott
Production
company
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • May 20, 1988 (1988-05-20)
Running time
126 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $35 million[2]
Box office $57,269,863 (United States)

Willow is a 1988 American fantasy film directed by Ron Howard, produced and with a story by George Lucas, and starring Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Jean Marsh, and Billy Barty. Davis plays the eponymous lead character and hero: a reluctant farmer who plays a critical role in protecting a special baby from a tyrannical queen in a sword and sorcery setting.

Lucas conceived the idea for the film in 1972, approaching Howard to direct during the post-production phase of Cocoon in 1985. Bob Dolman was brought in to write the screenplay, coming up with seven drafts before finishing in late 1986. It was then set up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and principal photography began in April 1987, finishing the following October.

The majority of filming took place at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England, as well as Wales and New Zealand. Industrial Light & Magic created the visual effects sequences, which led to a revolutionary breakthrough with digital morphing technology. The film was released in 1988 to mixed reviews from critics, but was a modest financial success and received two Academy Award nominations.

Plot[edit]

A prophecy that a child with a special birthmark would bring about her downfall; the black sorceress Queen Bavmorda captures all women with child an imprisons them. When the child is born, her mother begs the midwife to take her to safety. She reluctantly accepts and leaves Nockmaar castle unnoticed while the mother is executed. The midwife is eventually tracked down; knowing she cannot escape, she sets the baby on a makeshift raft of grass and sends her down the river, hoping fate to run its course. Enraged by the failure, Bavmorda sends her general Kael and her daughter Sorsha to find the baby and return it so she can destroy her spirit, that the prophecy never be fulfilled.

The baby drifts downriver and encounters a Nelwyn village and comes in the care of Willow Ufgood; a kind farmer and hopeful sorcerer's apprentice, his wife Kiya and his children fall in love with the baby immediately; Willow soon grows to love her as one of his own as well. At a town festival, Willow is not picked for apprenticeship by the High Aldwin, and the village is attacked by Nockmaar dogs. Fearing the baby is the reason their village was attacked, Aldwin selects Willow due to his devotion to the baby and a party of volunteers led by Burglecut to return the baby to the Daikini people. Coming across a warrior named Madmartigan at their destination, who is trapped in a crow's cage the others want to give the baby to him and go home, but Willow and his friend Meegosh refuse. Burglecut and the others leave, after a night on the crossroads, Willow decides to free Madmartigan to take the baby to safety and they make their way back.

Chasing a Brownie who had stolen the baby, the two fall into a pit and are met by Cherlindrea, a queen fairy, who entrusts Willow to the task of helping the baby Elora Danen to fulfil her destiny due to her love for Willow as her guardian. Willow agrees and sends Meegosh home while two Brownies; Franjean and Rool, are tasked to guiding Willow to the sorceress Fin Razel. Caught in a rainstorm, they encounter Madmartigan at a tavern, posing as a woman to hide sleeping with a married woman. Sorsha arrives shortly after and uncovers his identity, leading the vengeful husband to attacking the guards while the others escape. Stuck with them as they are headed he same direction, Madmartigan leads them to a lake and leaves as they cross it to find Razel. They discover she had been transformed into a possum by Bavmorda, and they return to shore, only to be captured by Kael along with Madmartigan. Taken to a snowbound fortress, Willow tries to turn Razel back into a human, but makes her a rook instead. Madmartigan is hit by a love dust carried by the Brownies and ruins their cover by admitting his undying love for Sorsha. They escape and make their way down to a village at the bottom of the mountain. Encountering a friend and rival of Madmartigan's; Airk, Madmartigan proclaims his loyalty to the Nelwyn and promises to protect Willow and Elora on their journey. They escape to the castle of Tir Asleen, but discover that its inhabitants have all been cursed by Bavmorda, and Razel is turned into a goat by Willow. Facing overwhelming odds and trolls that have taken shelter at the castle, Sorsha realizes her love for Madmartigan as well and joins his side. Willow accidentally turns a troll into a massive two-headed monster that turns the tide of the battle, and Airk's army arrives to assist, but ultimately Kael is successful in capturing Elora. He returns to Nockmaar and reports Sorsha's betrayal to Bavmorda.

Airk's army, along with Willow and the others arrive at Nockmaar, and Bavmorda turns everyone into pigs with the exception of Willow; protecting himself with a spell. He succeeds in turning Razel into a human again, and she breaks the spell on all the others. Using a farming tactic suggested by Willow, the group manages to trick their way into the castle and lay siege to it. Airk is killed by Kael and Madmartigan goes after him for vengeance, while Sorsha leads Willow and Razel to the ritual chamber where they interrupt Bavmorda. She and Razel have a magical duel, which ends in Razel being pinned down and unable to fight. Meanwhile, Madmartigan manages to kill Kael and avenge Airk. Willow uses a "disappearing pig trick" he'd performed earlier to trick Bavmorda into thinking that Elora was sent someplace safe from her reach. Outraged, Bavmorda disrupts her own ritual and accidentally banishes her own soul into oblivion as she planned to do with Elora. Afterward, Willow is rewarded with a magic book to aid him in becoming a sorcerer, while Sorsha and Madmartigan remain in Tir Asleen to look after Elora. Willow returns home to a hero's welcome, and he shows Aldwin that he's learned real magic before being happily reunited with his family.

Cast[edit]

  • Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood, a reluctant Nelwyn dwarf and aspiring sorcerer who plays a critical role in protecting infant Elora Danan from the evil queen Bavmorda. He has a fatherly love for Elora as much as his own children and is a devoted family man. Often forsaking risk for safety he is a hesitant adventurer, but is endlessly optimistic.
  • Val Kilmer as Madmartigan, a boasting mercenary swordsman who helps Willow on his quest. In the film (further explained in the film's novelization) it is partly revealed that he is a disgraced knight from the kingdom of Galladoorn. He is crude and crass, and a bit of a womanizer; his lust gets him into trouble on more than one occasion, but he becomes as equally devoted to saving Elora as Willow and eventually falls in love with Sorsha, Bavmorda's daughter.
  • Kate and Ruth Greenfield/Rebecca Bearman as Elora Danan, an infant princess that prophecy says will bring about Queen Bavmorda's downfall.
  • Joanne Whalley as Sorsha, Bavmorda's warrior daughter. In the film's novelization, her father is revealed as the king of Tir Asleen, which becomes a further factor for Sorsha to turn against her mother. Independent and strong, Sorsha proves to be a powerful warrior on the battlefield, and eventually falls in love with Madmartigan during a battle between him, Willow and the Nockmaar army.
  • Jean Marsh as Queen Bavmorda, villainous ruler of Nockmaar and mother of Sorsha. Evil and bent on conquest, she seeks Elora Danan; whose prophesied to end her rule, by banishing her into another realm and excising her spirit to prevent her from being reborn. She is a powerful sorceress whose magic is often deadly, as well as a source of amusement when she turns the heroes (save Willow) into pigs.
  • Patricia Hayes as Fin Raziel, the aging sorceress who is turned into a possum[3][4] due to a curse by Bavmorda. She is the guide that Willow is sent to find and to protect Elora, but having changed into a possum, she is unable to use her magic until Willow successfully changes her back into her human form.
  • Billy Barty as The High Aldwin, the Nelwyn wizard who commissions Willow to go on his journey. He sees the potential that Willow possesses in magic, and regrets rejecting him for apprenticeship due to Willow's own misgivings about the answer to a riddle. He is also quick to provide a solution when his magic will not do.
  • Pat Roach as General Kael, the villainous associate to Queen Bavmorda and high commander of her army.
  • Gavan O'Herlihy as Airk Thaughbaer, the military commander of the (destroyed) kingdom of Galladoorn who shares a mixed friendship with Madmartigan. A proud warrior, Airk makes his final stand with Kael, going down in the heat of battle opposing all odds.
  • Maria Holvöe as Cherlindrea, the fairy queen who resides in the forest and updates Willow on the importance of his quest.
  • Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton as Rool and Franjean, a Brownie duo who also serve as comic reliefs in Willow's journey. Franjean is the more level headed of the two, but often gives into Rool's more roudy nature, often providing sarcastic commentary when needed. Rool is more of a drunkard, and often finds his way through dumb luck. Both are committed to Cherlindrea's cause and do their best to help when they can.
  • David J. Steinberg as Meegosh, Willow's closest friend who accompanies Willow partway on his journey. He leaves Willow, only hesitantly after he is given his mission and promises to return home and care for his family.
  • Mark Northover as Burglekutt, the leader of the Nelwyn village council who maintains a running enmity with Willow. Loud, obnoxious and a know-it-all, Burglekutt is inserted as leader of Willow's expedition by the High Aldwin in order to facilitate Vohnkar's request to volunteer (which would leave the village without its strongest warrior).
  • Phil Fondacaro as Vohnkar, a Nelwyn warrior who also accompanies Willow partway on his journey. Burglekutt claims that he is the best warrior in the village, and refuses to let him accompany Willow and Meegosh on their journey to return Elora to the Daikini. The cowardly Burglekutt changes his mind, however, when the High Aldwin makes him the leader of the expedition, and he insists that Vohnkar join them.
  • Julie Peters as Kaiya Ufgood, Willow's wife; a loving mother and enthusiastic in caring for Elora.
  • Tony Cox as a Nelwyn warrior.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

George Lucas conceived the idea for the film (originally titled Munchkins) in 1972. His desire for it was similar to Star Wars, and created "a number of well-known mythological situations for a young audience".[5][6] During the production of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in 1982, Lucas approached Warwick Davis, who was portraying Wicket the Ewok, about playing Willow Ufgood. Five years passed before he was actually cast in the role. 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."[5]

Lucas explained that he had to wait until the mid-1980s to make the film because visual effects technology was finally advanced enough to execute his vision.[6] Meanwhile, actor-turned-director Ron Howard was looking to do a fantasy film. He was at Industrial Light & Magic during the post-production phase of Cocoon, when he was first approached by Lucas to direct Willow. He had previously starred in Lucas' American Graffiti,[7] and Lucas felt that he and Howard shared a symbiotic relationship similar to the one he enjoyed with Steven Spielberg. Howard nominated Bob Dolman to write the screenplay based on Lucas' story. Dolman had worked with him on a 1983 television pilot called Little Shots that had not resulted in a series, and Lucas admired Dolman's work on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.[8]

Dolman joined Howard and Lucas at Skywalker Ranch for a series of lengthy story conferences, and wrote seven drafts of his script between the spring and fall of 1986.[8] Pre-production began in late 1986. Various major film studios turned down the chance to distribute and co-finance it with Lucasfilm because they believed the fantasy genre was unsuccessful. This was largely due to films such as Krull, Legend, Dragonslayer, and Labyrinth.[9] Lucas took it to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), which was headed by Alan Ladd, Jr. Ladd and Lucas shared a relationship as far back as the mid-1970s, when Ladd, running 20th Century Fox, greenlighted Lucas' idea for Star Wars.[10] However, in 1986, MGM was facing financial troubles, and major investment in a fantasy film was perceived as a risk. Ladd advanced half the $35 million budget for it in return for theatrical and television rights, leaving Lucasfilm with home video and pay television rights to offer in exchange for the other half.[10]

Lucas based the character of General Kael (Pat Roach) on the film critic Pauline Kael, a fact that was not lost on Kael in her printed interview of the film. She referred to General Kael as an "homage a moi".[11] On a similar route, the two-headed dragon was named "Sispert" ("Eborsisk" in the novelization) after film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.[2]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began on April 2, 1987 and ended that following October. Interior footage took place at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England, while location shooting took place in Wales and New Zealand.[10] Lucas initially visualized shooting the film similar to Return of the Jedi, with studio scenes at Elstree and locations in Northern California, but the idea eventually faded. However, some exteriors were done around Skywalker Ranch and on location at Burney Falls, near Mount Shasta.[12] The Chinese government refused Lucas the chance for a brief location shoot. He then sent a group of photographers to South China to photograph specific scenery, which was then used for background blue screen footage. Tongariro National Park in New Zealand was chosen to house Bavmorda's castle.[12]

Visual effects[edit]

A little man in a hooded cloak with his back to the camera holds a lightening wand toward a two-legged animal that appears to be part goat and part ostrich.
Willow attempts to restore Fin Raziel into human form.

Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) created the visual effects sequences. The script called for Willow to restore Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes) from a goat to her human form. Willow recites what he thinks is the appropriate spell, but turns the goat into an ostrich, a peacock, a tortoise, and finally a tiger, before returning her to normal. ILM supervisor Dennis Muren considered using stop motion animation for the scene.[13] He also explained that another traditional and practical way in the late-1980s to execute this sequence would have been through the use of an optical dissolve with cutaways at various stages.[10]

Muren found both stop motion and optical effects to be too technically challenging and decided that the transformation scene would be a perfect opportunity for ILM to create advances with digital morphing technology. He proposed filming each animal, and the actress doubling for Hayes, and then feeding the images into a computer program developed by Doug Smythe (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Iron Man).[10] The program would then create a smooth transition from one stage to another before outputting the result back onto film. Smythe began development of the necessary software in September 1987. By March 1988, the impressive result Muren and fellow designer David Allen (Young Sherlock Holmes, Ghostbusters II) achieved what would represent a breakthrough for computer-generated imagery (CGI).[10]

Soundtrack[edit]

Willow
Soundtrack album by James Horner
Released 1988
Genre Film music
Length 69:23
Label Virgin
Producer James Horner, Shawn Murphy

The film score was written by James Horner and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.[14]

"I am a musicologist, a doctor of music. Therefore I listened to, studied and analysed a lot of music. I also enjoy metaphors, the art of quoting and of cycles. The harmonic draft of the Willow score, and most particularly its spiritual side, came from such a cycle, from such mythology and music history that I was taught, and that I myself convey with my own emotions and compositions."[15]

Eclectic influences on the score include Leos Janacek's "Glagolitic Mass", Mozart's "Requiem", "The Nine Splendid Stags" from Béla Bartók, Edvard Grieg's "Arabian Dance" for the theater play Peer Gynt, and compositions by Sergei Prokofiev.[15]

"Willow's Theme" purposefully (see Horner's quote above) contains a reworking/alteration of part of the theme of the first movement ("Lebhaft") of Robert Schumann's Symphony No 3 referencing it, while "Elora Danan's Theme" shows a reference to the Bulgarian folk song "Mir Stanke Le" (Мир Станке ле), also known as the "Harvest Song from Thrace".

Track listing[14]
  1. "Elora Danan" – 9:45
  2. "Escape from the Tavern" – 5:04
  3. "Willow's Journey Begins" – 5:26
  4. "Canyon of Mazes" – 7:52
  5. "Tir Asleen" – 10:47
  6. "Willow's Theme" – 3:54
  7. "Bavmorda's Spell is Cast" – 18:11
  8. "Willow the Sorcerer" – 11:55

Reception[edit]

Commercial analysis[edit]

The film was shown and promoted at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival.[16][17] It was released on May 20, 1988 in 1,209 theaters, earning $8,300,169 in its opening weekend opening at #1. Making over $57 million at the North American box office,[18] It was not the blockbuster hit insiders had anticipated.[19] Lucas had hoped it would earn as much money as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,[17] but the film faced early competition with Crocodile Dundee II, Big and Rambo III.[20] However, it was not a financial flop; with strong foreign, home video, and television sales, it did make a profit.[21]

Critical analysis[edit]

The film was released to mixed reviews from critics.[17] Based on 29 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 48% of the critics enjoyed it with an average score of 5.6/10.[22]

Janet Maslin from The New York Times praised Lucas' storytelling, but was critical of Ron Howard's direction. "Howard appears to have had his hands full in simply harnessing the special effects," Maslin said.[23]

Desson Thomson, writing in The Washington Post, explained "Rob Reiner's similar fairytale adventure The Princess Bride (which the cinematographer Adrian Biddle also shot) managed to evoke volumes more without razzle-dazzle. It's a sad thing to be faulting Lucas, maker of the Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark, for forgetting the tricks of entertainment."[24] Mike Clark in USA Today wrote that "the rainstorm wrap-up, in which Good edges Evil is like Led Zeppelin Meets The Wild Bunch. The film is probably too much for young children and possibly too much of the same for cynics. But any 6–13-year-old who sees this may be bitten by the "movie bug" for life."[10]

Awards[edit]

At the Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Sound Editing and Visual Effects, but lost both to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was similarly done by Industrial Light & Magic.[25] It won Best Costume Design at the Saturn Awards, where it was also nominated for Warwick Davis for Best Performance by a Younger Actor (lost to Fred Savage for Vice Versa) and Jean Marsh for Best Supporting Actress (lost to Sylvia Sidney for Beetlejuice). It also lost Best Fantasy Film[26] and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation to Who Framed Roger Rabbit.[27] It was also nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Screenplay, which lost to Cocktail and Worst Supporting Actor for Billy Barty, who lost to Dan Aykroyd for Caddyshack II.[28]

Legacy[edit]

The film was released on DVD as a "special edition" in November 2001 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The release included an audio commentary by Warwick Davis and two "making of" featurettes. In the commentary, Davis confirms that there were a number of "lost scenes" previously rumored to have been deleted from it including a battle in the valley, Willow battling a boy who transforms into a shark in a lake while retrieving Fin Raziel, and an extended sorceress duel at the climax.[29] (Though removed from the theatrical version, the battle with the lake monster was retained for both Marvel Comics' adaptation and Wayland Drew's novelization of the film.)[30] It made its Blu-ray debut on March 12, 2013, with an all-new transfer supervised by George Lucas.[31]

Board game[edit]

In 1988, Tor Books released The Willow Game,[32] a two to six player adventure board game based on the film designed by Greg Costikyan.

Video games[edit]

Main article: Willow (video game)

Three video games based on the film were released. Mindscape published an action game in 1988 for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and DOS.[33] Capcom published two different games in 1989, a platform game for the arcades and a role-playing game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.[34][35]

Novels[edit]

Lucas outlined the Chronicles of the Shadow War trilogy to follow the film and hired comic book writer/novelist Chris Claremont to adapt them into a series of books. They take place about fifteen years after the original film and feature the now teenage Elora Danan as a central character.

  1. Shadow Moon (1995) ISBN 0-553-57285-7
  2. Shadow Dawn (1996) ISBN 0-553-57289-X
  3. Shadow Star (2000) ISBN 0-553-57288-1

Sequel[edit]

In April 2005, Lucas and Davis commented that a television series acting as a sequel was under consideration.[36] In June 2008, Davis reiterated his hopes to return for a theatrically-released second installment of the film.[37] On February 15, 2013 Val Kilmer posted a photo via Twitter implying that it was "Right around the corner!".[38] However, this coincided with a Life's Too Short mockumentary featuring Davis and Kilmer, and is likely to have been a hoax. In March 2013, Davis indicated an interest in seeing a sequel (perhaps as a TV series), but gave no indication that any development was ongoing.[39]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The film (and its reputed commercial failure) is widely referenced in the 2011 BBC Two TV comedy, Life's Too Short, which also stars Warwick Davis.
  • In Eastbound and Down Series 3 Episode 2 the belligerent Kenny Powers sets his infant son afloat on a creek and directly compares him to "The baby in Willow".
  • In a third series episode of An Idiot Abroad that costarred Warwick Davis, a seemingly irritated Karl Pilkington states in an on-camera interview that people on the street recognized Davis and would reference his movies, saying "Somebody shouted 'Willow!' at him...I don't know what he played in that!"
  • The Spanish rapper Tote King mentioned in his song "1 contra 20 Mc's" the film, saying: ¿Qué tiene El Señor de los Anillos que no tenga Willow?. The translation is, approximately: What does The Lord of the Rings have that Willow does not?.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "WILLOW (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. November 17, 1988. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Gray, Beverly. Ron Howard: from Mayberry to the moon-and beyond, page 134. Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee (2003). ISBN 1-55853-970-0.
  3. ^ Shannon, Jody Duncan (August 1988). "Willow". Cinefex, p. 178
  4. ^ Vinge, Joan D.; & Lucas, George (1988). Willow: The Novel Based on the Motion Picture. London: Piper. ISBN 0-330-30631-6
  5. ^ a b Hearn, Marcus (2005). The Cinema of George Lucas. New York City: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 153. ISBN 0-8109-4968-7. 
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  38. ^ https://twitter.com/ValEKilmer/status/302418561392070656/photo/1
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