KRULL (1983) is one of those big budget 1980's science fiction /fantasy films that I managed to avoid until the 21st century. About 10 years ago I finally decided to see this picture, rented the DVD and discovered that my instincts had been correct about it all along - It wasn't very good. And it was also not very memorable as is easily seen by the fact that 10 years later I realized I needed to see it again because it had almost completely faded from my memory. And I had bought a Blu-Ray of the damned thing for $5. I'm a loon!
This is an odd film in numerous ways but I'll divide up my impressions into two columns. First, the things that I can praise about the film.
1. This is an absolutely gorgeously photographed movie. It is wonderful to just gaze at the widescreen photography by the great Peter Suschitzky. His work here is stunning and the equal of his fine efforts on the films of David Cronenberg.
2. The movie is shot on breathtakingly beautiful locations in
Italy and the Canary Islands. The valley's, mountains and plains provide a travelogue of this fictional planet that makes me wish it was a place I could visit.
3. The sets are very well constructed and realistic. They are all quite detailed and very visually interesting. Each of these artificial locations has a different feel and look that adds color and detail to scenes that often need them. Whoever was in charge of the set design and the construction of these pieces should be commended for doing excellent work.
4. The cast, for the most part, does an excellent job the entire way through. In my opinion, veteran character actor Freddie Jones takes top honors. He's lucky in that the screenplay actually gives his character the opportunity to stretch out and cover a lot of emotional ground. I'm used to Freddie Jones being very good (often better than the material that he's working with) and he really shines here giving a nuanced and sympathetic performance in a role that allows him play against a number of different types of characters. Alun Armstrong is also very good and is one of the few characters in the movie that actually has some kind of story arc. He does a great job and is clearly giving this role 100% from beginning to end. In a better world (or at least in the film with a better script) this performance would have gotten him dozens of similar rolls in movies. There are also fun turns by other young actors at the beginning of their film careers. Liam Neeson makes a good impression in one of his earliest feature film roles and actually has some good scenes as we run across one of the his wives in an amusing sequence. The excellent Robbie Coltrane has all of about four lines of dialog. He does what he can with the role but one suspects that most of his performance that left on the cutting room floor. Lysette Anthony playing the lead heroine, is beautiful and does a fairly confident job with the rather limited role but it is obvious that she was dubbed by someone else. The film has several moments of out-of-sync dialog when she is speaking her lines and it appears that actress Lindsey Crouse was tapped to 'Americanize' the role. I suppose that it was decided that having only the hunky star sound American was a little odd but it's sad to have Miss Anthony's voice taken from her.
5. The special effects in the movie are very good throughout with only a couple of instances of FX that have poorly aged. That's one of the benefits of non-CGI work - it still looks good decades later! The miniature work is impressive as well and are very well matched to the various sets. Indeed, all the practical on-set FX are very well realized. Plus, any movie that sports a stop-motion animated giant spider has got me on its side to a certain extent, or at least has my respect. I do suspect, though, that the actors in the scenes with the giant spider were unaware that those sequences were going to have a giant spider in them.
And now for the things that I did not like. Woo boy!
Unfortunately, the things I dislike about the film can be summed up as 'pretty much the most important part' - the script! It is weak, weak, weak! And in the areas where it's weakness could be forgiven the direction doubles down on the flimsier aspects every time. Sadly, the filmmakers of KRULL were convinced that they were making an EPIC. You can sympathize with them to a degree since the story has all the surface details of an epic fantasy story - heroic prince, lovely and brave princess, vast evil army aligned against their happiness, big bad villain attempting to possess the princess and destroy her world, etc. But the narrative is not strong enough to hold up these classic mythological tropes. It mostly comes off as thin and stretched with the first half of the film having long periods of ponderous boredom. The prince played by Ken Marshall is given very little character beyond being the hero. He has no growth in the story, learns nothing and is simply a cipher in place to lead the fights. The script has him grinning like a boy on an adventure right after the death of his father and kidnapping of his bride making him seem a little oblivious to the supposed deadliness of the situation. Let's just say 'tone' is not something the script gets right. Also, I could never figure out how the villains decided to use swords rather than their powerful firearms. Why didn't they just blast everyone?
Of course, some of the film's dullness may be down to the clear fact that some of story was hacked away to get the running time to two hours. There are several characters that get nearly no time onscreen after being introduced which becomes very silly later when we're supposed to care that they are in danger or get killed. It points even more to the fact that this was shot as an epic tale but chopped down. It might be interesting to see the deleted scenes for this film just to discover if it might have been slightly better. But, as I think the movie is too long to sustain it's slight story as it is, I suspect a longer cut would be even more dull.
KRULL is a pretty film but completely forgettable. Maybe I should read the Alan Dean Foster novelization?