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When young Willow Ufgood finds an abandoned baby, he is suddenly thrust into an adventure filled with magic and danger. According to an ancient prophecy, the sacred child is destined to end the reign of the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda. Now, with only a single swordsman at his side, Willow must overcome the forces of darkness that threaten to destroy anyone who stands in the Queen's way!
For more about Willow and the Willow Blu-ray release, see Willow Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on March 7, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Billy Barty
Director: Ron Howard
» See full cast & crew
Willow Blu-ray Review
"Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, March 7, 2013
Before Peter Jackson's take on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the closest J.R.R. Tolkien fans ever got to a live-action film adaptation of Middle Earth was 1988's Willow, which borrows heavily from the writer's alternate medieval universe. Besides dueling sorcerers, castle sieges, and trolls, both works feature diminutive heroes who heed the call of adventure, set out on uncertain quests to save the world, and return home as changed men. This is the archetypal hero's journey, of course, the dramatic arc favored by executive producer George Lucas, who devised Willow's story, having previously applied Joseph Campbell's monomyth theories to Star Wars.
Instead of directing the project himself, Lucas farmed it out to actor-turned-filmmaker Ron Howard, who was then coming off his success with Splash and Cocoon. The two worked with screenwriter Bob Dolman (How to Eat Fried Worms) to flesh out the script, and together they created a film that wasn't hugely successful in its own day, but has since become one of the most memorable cult kids' movies of the 1980s. Although it's not without its flaws—glacial pacing, some obnoxious side characters—Willow is one of those films that, if you grew up with it, always sticks with you. It's enveloping, sweet, and like a lot of kids movies from the era, surprisingly dark and violent.
Short-statured actor Warwick Davis—who got his acting start as Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi—stars as Willow, a member of a hobbit- like race called the Nelwyns, who live in a shire-like hamlet far from the strife of the bellicose average-sized humans, or Daikini. Willow is a lowly farmer who dreams of becoming a sorcerer's apprentice, and his destiny arrives when he discovers a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, floating down the river Moses-like on a grassy clod. His wife and two kids convince Willow to keep the child, Elora Danan, who—unbeknownst to them—is a Daikini princess, prophesied to one day ensure the downfall of the wicked Queen Bavmorda of Nockmaar (Jean Marsh), who's recently been on a Herod-like baby killing spree in a desperate attempt to keep the prediction unfulfilled.
When one of Bavmorda's snarling dog/boar hybrids descends on the town looking for the baby, village elder The High Aldwin (Billy Barty) orders Willow to travel with a band of fellow Nelwyns to the Daikini Crossroads and give Elora to the first human they meet. What Aldwin doesn't anticipate is that the first Daikini they come across will be the serves-no-master scoundrel Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a disgraced swordsman and thief who's equal parts Aragorn and Han Solo. Madmartigan joins the quest reluctantly after the fairy goddess of the forest—a Galadriel-like Maria Holvöe—bestows upon Willow a magic wand and tells the pint-sized protagonist to 1.) find the white sorcerer Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes) and 2.) deliver Elora into the safe- keeping of the good king and queen of Castle Tir Asleen. To act as guides, the fairy sends along two of her "Brownies," 8-inch warrior nymphs who speak in bad French accents and, combined, are essentially the Jar-Jar Binks of the film. That is, you'll be glad when they're off-screen, because they're generally cringe-inducing and unfunny.
Fortunately, the rest of the film has held up rather well. If Willow is a good fifteen minutes too long, it's at least the kind of slow, epic adventure movie you can get lost in, simply because the world is so charmingly wrought and the characters—barring the Brownies, anyway—are so likable. The scene where Willow's wife bids him farewell at the start of his journey, handing him a braid of her hair? Chokes me up every time. Val Kilmer swashbuckling like a latter-day Errol Flynn, winning the heart of Bavmorda's daughter, Sorsha (Joanne Whalley)? Yes, please. The fact that Bavmorda's minion General Kael (Pat Roach) not only looks like He-Man's nemesis, Skeletor, but is also intentionally named after caustic film critic Pauline Kael? Priceless. The set design and matte paintings, the fun action sequences, the sense of real danger and evil—Willow is that rare children's movie from the '80s you can re-watch as an adult and not be disappointed. More than anything, though, it's Warwick Davis who carries the film as the meek little soul who goes up against some big, powerful adversaries and prevails.
It's a very George Lucas-y tale in this regard, and you tend to see his fingerprints on the film perhaps more so than Ron Howard's, from the iris dissolves and screen-wipes to the simple, mythic storytelling. This was Lucas before the endless Star Wars tinkering and prequel disappointments, back when he still commanded audience awe through unadulterated moviemaking magic. And there's plenty of it here thanks to Lucas' effects company, ILM, which provided some pioneering visual trickery. Willow was made at an interesting point in movie history, when practical and photo-chemical effects were beginning to give way to digital imagery and compositing. Both old and new-school approaches were used for the film, which is probably best known for it's innovative CGI morphing during the scene where Willow attempts to transform Fin Raziel from a goat back to a human. It looks quaint now—primitive, even—but looking at it through 1980s glasses, it's damn impressive. And, really, that's a good way to view Willow in general—with nostalgia for what was arguably the golden age of kids' movies.
Willow Blu-ray, Video Quality
Making its Blu-ray debut for its 25th anniversary, Willow features a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer overseen by George Lucas himself. In a word, the picture is gorgeous, especially if you've grown accustomed to the now-ancient DVD. To start, there's not a scratch, speck, stain, or hair on this print —it's immaculate. The only evidence of age is some slight, barely perceivable brightness fluctuation in certain scenes, but you'd have to go out of your way to look for it. And while it does appear that there is some measure of noise reduction in a few scenes, grain is still readily apparent in the image, and there's none of that ugly DNR smearing that accompanies the most careless restorations. Quite the contrary. Willow seems to have been treated with kid gloves. No edge enhancement. No compression issues. No artificial-looking contrast or saturation boosting. The image is natural, filmic, and—on top of that—often wickedly sharp in high definition for a kids' movie from the mid-1980s. Just look at the screenshots of Elora's nappy swaddling clothes. Or the detail in Bavmorda's witchy facial features. Color is well-adjusted too, with consistent skin tones, good density, and a balanced contrast curve. If you've been waiting for years to finally have Willow in high definition, you certainly won't be disappointed. This is a Grade-A catalog restoration.
Willow Blu-ray, Audio Quality
If George Lucas and THX are involved, you know the sound design is going to be thoughtfully engineered for immersion and clarity. That's certainly the case with Willow's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which is engaging from the prologue's crackling thunder to the pouring rain and arcs of electricity that accompany the climactic wizard battle. In nearly every scene, the full soundfield is being utilized, blending clear dialogue up front with rear channel ambience—birds, insects, wind, village festival sounds—and pinpoint directional noises, like dog snarls or the baby's cries. The track is unrelenting in a good way, and it's always clean and full-sounding, with no tinniness or crackling or harsh highs. The film's magical score comes from prolific composer James Horner—Avatar, A Beautiful Mind, Aliens, Cocoon—and it too swells out from every speaker with presence and strength. The disc also includes several dub and subtitle options; see above for complete details.
Willow Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Willow Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you grew up with it, you're probably able to look past Willow's flaws and get sucked back into the adventure anew. For those of a certain age, this film is a sugar rush of nostalgia. But here's the thing—I think kids today would likely respond to it just as positively. It may not have the sleek effects of The Hobbit, but Willow a warm-hearted movie with characters you can't help but love. (Once again, excepting those obnoxious "Brownies.") 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray remaster is itself the stuff of legend—a near-perfect transfer of a 1980s release—and the disc includes lots of fun special features, including some rarely seen deleted scenes and Warwick Davis' charming video diaries. Highly recommended for '80s kids and their kids too.
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Willow Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Willow Blu-ray (Pre-order Up) - December 13, 2012
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has officially announced and detailed its upcoming combo pack release of Ron Howard's Willow (1988), starring Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley and Warwick Davis. The release will be available for purchase on March 12th.
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