Not too long ago I saw a movie that had been recommended to me many a time. At first I figured they were just mispronouncing “Kull the Conqueror” (and forgetting the “the Conqueror” part) since I’d sincerely never heard about this film. However, a cult following has built up around this film, so I decided to finally see the movie Krull….a movie that might actually seem a bit out of the way for my column here. FUN FACT: “S&M” stands for Swords & Magic, as this is all about sword & sorcery fantasy movies and whatnot.
Why does this movie seem outside the sword & sorcery realm? Well, is part of a strange small subset of sword & sorcery cinema, specifically, the sword & sorcery & science subset. (Alliteration!) Krull is the name of the planet, the main antagonist is an alien whose soldiers use laser guns, and the child of Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) apparently will rule the whole galaxy. This movie isn’t alone amongst fantasy movies for having science fiction thrown into heroic fantasy settings. Examples are all He-Man/Masters of the Universe shows, comics and the movie, Thundarr the Barbarian, Kamandi the Last Boy On Earth, Dune, Highlander (which subverts the trend by being set in modern & futuristic times) as well as some lesser known properties like Reb Brown’s Yor, Hunter of the Future, and Galtar and the Golden Lance. One may also make the argument that Star Wars is essentially a fantasy movie set in space, what with the sword fights and the
magic Force, which allows wizards Jedi to do great feats. So anyone complaining that there’s science fiction in their fantasy is a silly billy.
The first thing anyone should notice about this movie is that the visuals are mostly amazing and ingenious. Granted, there are a few very dated post-production effects (like Prince Colwyn’s flaming hand) but most of what we see is pure brilliance. The set design of the Black Fortress is positively inspired, and for its time, the crystal spider looks absolutely marvelous (contrast it to the hideous giant spider seen a few times in Gehdren’s chamber in last week’s movie, Red Sonja, which came out a few years after Krull), and I’m certain the Cyclops Rell’s facemask was revolutionary. If they ever make a live action Futurama, whoever does Leela’s makeup would do well to copy this movie. On top of that, the Beast featured the first fully animatronic suit ever, which in and of itself is an achievement. The music was also quite excellent, and the action was well paced, never too dull, but it did allow the audience time to catch its breath.
So, the movie was well made, and certainly has a lot of style. What of the substance? Well…many critics have claimed this to be a derivative, cliché movie, and they’d be right. This was apparently supposed to be a Dungeons & Dragons adaptation, and it shows. The plot is quite generic, something a DM might use as a template. On the day of the wedding of Lyssa and Colwyn (Ken Marshall), a wedding which would unite two kingdoms, the ultimate evil, the alien known as the Beast, attacks and kidnaps Lyssa. Colwyn then sets off to seek the council of Ynyr the Old One, who tells him to find the Glaive. Note that “glaive” is an archaic word for “sword” and a semi-common word for a blade on top of spear, but in this movie, it’s a magical shuriken/boomerang hybrid. Either they didn’t do the research or they just didn’t care. He goes forth towards the place where the Glaive is with Ynyr in tow, and meets several friends and allies along the way. Amongst them is a blind seer, his ward, a magician (Ergo the Magnificent, Short In Stature, Large In Power, Narrow Of Purpose And Wide Of Vision) Rell the Cyclops and a band of brigands that includes Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid from Harry Potter). Together they storm the Black Fortress, vanquish evil, save the world and learn the true meaning of love. It might sound like that last one was a joke, but it actually wasn’t. In fact, the reason that Colwyn won was through the power of love. I’m serious. It’s pretty silly.
However, while the story is weak, the cast more than makes up for it with their energetic performances that rarely, if ever, verge on overacting. Bright spots include the late Dave Battley as Ergo, Freddie Jones as Ynyr and Ken Marshall as Colwyn, perhaps the most believable “well loved prince” ever. The man just oozes charm, and when one of the Beast’s servants fell in love with him after a few moments together, I didn’t question that for a second. (I must point out that I did admit to a crush on Brigitte Nielsen in my last review, so I don’t need to reaffirm my sexuality, thankyouverymuch) I found myself actually caring about the characters and their quest, despite knowing in advance that they’d succeed since, well, it’s a very predictable story.
All in all, this is one of the most triumphant examples of a movie where style-over-substance works. This is a very enjoyable spectacle of a movie, one that just about everyone can enjoy despite the cliché story.
8 Glaives out of 10
- S&M: Conan the Barbarian (1982) (mibreviews.com)