Sunday, April 26, 2015

Krull (1983)

The Beast, evil ruler of the galaxy, is aiming to add the low-tech, still clinging to the tenets of monarchism, world of Krull to his domain (and probably to push an old, vague prophecy into going his way, which, as pop culture tells us, never ends well). To achieve this lofty goal, our Beast has transported himself and his mobile teleporting fortress of Evil to Krull, and, for all we know, is kicking the planet’s ass.

The planet’s only chance to escape beastly domination is the unification of two – one presumes the biggest? – kingdoms via the marriage of strapping young Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) of Whatever and Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) of the other Whatever. Of course, the Beast’s soldiers interrupt the couple’s wedding, kill most everyone except for Colwyn, and abduct Lyssa so the Beast can marry her, and we don’t have to suffer from the possibility of a) an un-kidnapped princess and b) a woman potentially doing anything of import.

You know the rest: older guy instructing our hero, ragtag band of misfits (including Alun Armstrung and Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson before they were famous but doing pretty hilarious death scenes), various dangers, triumph of Good over Evil thanks to the actual flamethrower-like powers of Love.

Ah, for the heady days of the early 80s, when everyone and their mother was trying to follow the success of the first two Star Wars movies by trying their luck at various doomed big budget Science Fantasy productions in the spirit of the kind of tale you’d have found in Planet Stories decades earlier. Now, unlike that gentleman around the corner who’d poo-poo this choice of spiritual source because he only likes serious Science Fiction (don’t ask him about Stalker), I think that’s a perfectly reasonable approach to the genre if you have money to burn for spectacle. Unfortunately, most of the producers, writers and directors making these movies really had no business making them, showing little to no sense of what’s important in this sort of film, what’s bound to be successful, and what’s just stupid.

Case in point is the UK-lead Krull, directed by Peter Yates who made some fine crime films in the 70s but shows no flair for Krull’s material at all, leading to a film that often gets surprisingly little out of pretty awesome set-ups, and drags terribly in between. Of course, Stanford Sherman’s script doesn’t help there either, confusing the quest approach to a plot the film probably is supposed to take - you know the sort, where every seemingly disconnected encounter on the road actually leads the hero to wisdom and/or talks to us about the thematic concerns of a story and the world it takes place in – with a one damned thing after another approach that could only be really effective when directed with a sense of fun and swashbuckling flair. Both not things Yates shows here at all.

It’s a bit of a shame for Krull, too, because the production’s random and slightly confused approach to science fantasy and all things fantastic also leads to quite a bit of the sort of Weirdness I’d usually be all over. And it’s true, if you take some of the film’s random assemblages of episodes independently, there are worthwhile moments in it at least on the level of a very entertaining and dream-like peplum, like the Changeling attack or the Widow of the Web sequence. Unfortunately, they are also, even when they are supposedly the culmination of character arcs, never used with an eye on their connection to the rest of the film, and stay interesting but isolated from everything else that’s going on here. How badly is Krull disconnected? Why, it doesn’t even get the Evil conquered by the Power of Love stuff right, not because the Love as an actual lance of flame shooting out of somebody’s hand is inherently ridiculous (though it most certainly is) but because the film couldn’t be bothered to even establish the love between the Corwyn and Lyssa properly, in part because these two are as lacking in personality as the romantic leads in a classic Hammer horror film, in part because it just doesn’t seem to do the work necessary. See also Corwyn’s super weapon, the Glaive (confusingly enough, not an actual glaive but a star fish shaped throwing weapon), that is of use for about thirty seconds.

The production design in the spirit of European comics and a bit of the inevitable H.R. Giger when it comes to the Beast’s fortress is worth a look though, and when you’re in the mood for two hours of disconnected, sometimes weird, sometimes boring quest science fantasy that never coheres into an actual movie, you might not be too annoyed by Krull. Plus, if you have a bad memory like me, you’ll watch this thing every five years or so because you remembered the film’s weirdness but not how little it does with it.

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