Sometimes a film pierces your subconscious at exactly the right age, in exactly the right way, so that you absolutely cannot be objective about it and therefore you are cursed to defend the movie against people who universally despise it. We all have at least one, a movie motion picture that has an awful rep that you just can’t understand to this day; for example my wife somehow un-ironically thinks David Lynch’s Dune is perfect – come on now, I’ll agree it’s uniquely memorable, but perfect? – and I also know of someone who just can’t let go of Dolph Lundgren’s turn as He-Man in Masters Of The Universe. As for me…? My personal poison is Krull, an ignored, underappreciated 1983 fantasy epic that baffles me every time I watch it as to how it’s not more warmly regarded.
It’s also a film I’m horribly unable to be impartial about; I know something’s wrong with it, I’ve just never been able to put my finger on it in all the years since my child-like brain absorbed it after watching it on TV; but I’m going to be a professional about it and try to get to the bottom of why the world didn’t embrace Krull as much as I did.
Krull is a planet in distant space (like all planets, I guess) that has a medieval culture to it along with seers, magic and the occasional weird creature. However, it has been invaded by the genocidal Beast in his space-worthy castle known by the bitchin’ title of The Black Fortess and his hordes of Storm Trooper-esque troops, The Slayers, who have been laying waste to the lands of Krull for an indeterminate amount of time. To counter this, two warring kingdoms have resided to allow their respective heirs Prince Colwyn and Princess Lyssa to marry so they can merge their armies and fight the Beast. Conveniently skipping over exactly how the son and daughter of two warring kingdoms are somehow already in love, their union is interrupted when the Slayers crash the wedding like a drunken stag party and kill everyone while making off with Lyssa. The next day, Colwyn is revived by Ynyr who is known around the place as “The Old One” (life expectancy in Krull can’t be great if that nickname sticks) who wants the newly defaulted king to fulfil his destiny, defeat the beast and save Krull, but first they have to obtain an ancient weapon known as a lightsabre – whoops, nope… that’s the other one, I mean The Glave, an ornate cross between a giant shuriken and a hideously dangerous looking fidgit spinner. Claiming the thing suprisingly easily and somehow recruiting the nicest, most rational band of thieves and murders I’ve ever seen to his cause, Colwyn and his new fellowship head across Krull to seek out various seers in order to pin down the Black Fortress and save Lyssa but that’s not going to be so easy considering that the Beast’s ominous bachelor pad teleports to a new location every sunrise. Racking up other bedraggled followers such as Ergo the shitty magician, a bowl-haired orphan and Rell the monosyllabic Cyclops, the group forges toward their goal despite many of their members dropping like flies with worrying regularity. Can they rescue Lyssa before the Beast manages to corrupt her with promises of riches and power, or will the multiple threats of giant spiders, quicksand and evil doppelgangers cull their numbers before they even reach their goal?
So… if I’m actually going to have to be impartial about Krull in order to review it, I guess I’m going to have to face some tough facts and be honest with myself and accept that maybe it’s not as awesome as my inner eight year keeps shrilly demanding it is. For a start, it’s fairly derivative of Star Wars and Tolkien with it’s young, aryan lead being led on a quest by an old dude (fantasy films were always telling us to wander off with elderly strangers in the 80’s…), obtaining a kickass, yet oddly impractical weapon and heading off to rescue a princess, but while this basic plot line is fairly standard in the genre, Krull gets a little cheeky by going as far as to having it’s villain’s mahoosive spacecraft rumble past the camera as an early shot.
The acting is also fairly standard fantasy movie fair with American accents duelling mercilessly with the booming voices of British character actors (Use that diaphragm Freddie Jones! Use it!) but the cast manages to boast some future famous faces with disturbingly young incarnations of Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane desperately trying to stay alive as the suprisingly cruel script culls their number down to the bare minimum. Ken Marshall does fine in inhumanly tight pantaloons while Lysette Anthony is endearingly loaded with puppy fat cheeks but stripped of her original voice thanks to a merciless overdub that makes her sound 45 and has nothing much to do except run aimlessly around the Beast’s art-deco interior design and bang on about the power of love.
The film has an odd sense of priorities when it comes to it’s quests too. Colwyn manages to nab the ancient and legendary Glave with a minimum of fuss, but keeps running into continuous brick walls when faced with the side quest of actually trying to find out where the hell he’s got to go to; however the moment he finally manages to get a lock on the Black Fortress (Google Maps hasn’t reached Krull yet), he manages to get there and infiltrate it in double quick time. It’s weird that a film would chew up so much runtime on a task that in a video game would barely warrant being a side quest, and it does make the film a little middle heavy. Also as the film progresses, the already overtaxed special effects crew start to falter as the final battle with The Beast finally starts to break conventions but in all the wrong ways; after a genuinely tense scene where the heroes try to scale the Fortess while being picked off by Slayer snipers, they enter the thing to find it mostly deserted; and when the massively over-hyped Glave is finally utilised, it proves to be utterly useless and as stubborn as a hungry toddler.
So if the film is so ordinary, why the Hell do I hold it in such personal high regard? Well, mainly because of the powerhouse score by James Horner, which seriously should consider seeing a chiropractor after carrying the whole film on it’s back for two hours; it’s fantastic and is possibly the best score for a wonky movie I’ve still heard to this day. Crammed full of piss, vinegar and a fuck-ton of daring do, it manages to hold the whole thing together by sheer force of will, papering over the cracks of stilted scenes or dated effects (the movie contains more than it’s fair share of thick-ass bluescreen lines and the Beast looks like a human-shaped hemorrhoid designed by H.R. Giger).
Something else that’s also drawn me to the film like a fly to shit is the aforementioned body count which deals out numerous hideous deaths to it’s cast with maximum prejudice; the poor various bastards drown in quicksand, get crushed alive, stabbed in a room of stabby things or are just usually shot in the chest by the Slayer’s nifty laser-shooting spears and usually all manage to cough out some poignant final words before they croak.
Yet despite all the melodrama and sorcery stuff, surely the film’s biggest suprise is that this story of alien worlds and magical powers was directed by Peter Yates, the man behind (arguably) cinema’s greatest car chase in the aggressively gritty Bullitt!
That being said, this is a standard 80’s fantasy with as much legitimately cool shit in it (awesome, translucent, stop-motion, giant spider FTW, not to mention fucking bugs come out of the heads of the Slayer’s heads when they snuff it) as there is odd, cheesy stuff (Carry On’s Bernard Bresslaw as the mightily mono-browed Cyclops is caked in so much latex it’s obvious the actor is as blind as a bat) and I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that Krull is nowhere close to being the flawless epic I was utterly convinced it was when I was an idiotic child – and yet it is a legitimate kick for me to revisit every now and then.
Krull: it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t wanna stay there…
Derivative of Star Wars and Tolkein? Kickass but impractical weapon? You say this like they are bad things!
If you aren’t into cheesy sci-fi/fantasy junk from the 70’s/80’s, Krull just isn’t your thing. But if you like those kinds of things, this is one of the greatest examples of the genre in history.