Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Recommended!: Krull (1983)

From this desk, the two best reasons to become an actor are Shakespeare and fantasy cinema. These worlds often intersected in the late 70s through the 80s, with many an outlandish fantasy given dramatic heft (and perhaps a dose of grounding realism) by expert, classically trained thespians. Star Wars balanced the work of its talented newcomers with performances by British veterans Alec Guiness & Peter Cushing. Brian Blessed makes the strongest impression in the 1980 Flash Gordon as the bombastic King Vultan, but he's not the only classically-trained actor giving his all to that berserk, colorful fantasy. Even the makers of the gaudy and delirious StarCrash were canny enough to bring in Christopher Plummer for a crucial role. (Props to Max von Sydow, who seems to have accepted every sci-fi role offered him.) And had Jodorowsky's Dune been distributed by someone rich and insane, it too would have married the work of some of its era's finest fantasy artists with a stellar cast able to truly run riot within the world imagined by those artists.

1983's Krull is well-remembered (both fondly and disparagingly) by those who came of age around that year. There was some critical resistance to Krull, which cited both the movie's bloated budget and its busy script as drawbacks. But at least on the two-pronged front being considered here, Krull delivers.

There's something lovely and otherworldly happening in every scene in Krull. The movie reportedly had 23 different sets built in England to create Krull's fanciful, Dark-Ages-yet-sorta-high-tech world, from the richly realized palaces inhabited by its characters to the teleporting fortress housing the Beast, Krull's glistening, evil antagonist. Even the designers of the weaponry went above and beyond, manifesting equally in the the single-shot laser spears wielded by the Beast's army of Slayers to the frankly awesome 5-pronged Glaive tossed about by the heroic Prince Colwyn. Look at this damn thing:

No one actually saw Krull in 1983, but everyone who did wanted a Glaive.

The story is packed, the world is vividly realized, and everyone in the cast just runs with it. Ken Marshall is fleet-footed but earnest as Colwyn, and everyone in the band of adventurers that gels around him during his quest gets at least a moment to shine. Freddie Jones holds the Ben Kenobi role with ease, guiding Colwyn with generous elder wisdom (and holding his own in the movie's most spellbinding sequence, a reunion with a former love presided over by a giant crystal spider). A band of thieves that falls in with Colwyn is led by Alun Armstrong, moonlighting from acting duties at the Royal Shakespeare Company and fully inhabiting the arc of a potentially tertiary character. (You'll recognize youthful Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane among his fellow thieves, and see strong hints of the leading men they'd become.) Beloved stage actor (and Carry On mainstay) Bernard Bresslaw is, naturally, covered in effects makeup as a cyclops, but endows the character with indelible pathos. Even Ergo the Magnificent, a third-rate wizard serving as comic relief, is given a rich character arc, beautifully realized by comic veteran David Battley from inflated egomaniac to a team player, able to sprout teeth when the chips are down. And Lysette Anthony makes the most of what could have been a rote damsel-in-distress, finding real strength within her innocence to survive as captive of the Beast.

Against this blockbuster era in which beloved books are stretched into multi-movie events, a movie like Krull that packs so much detail into a scant two hours seems, unfairly, quaint. The thing's been part of my life for so long that I can hardly be objective about it. And yet I like to think that its charms wouldn't be lost on a generation weaned on digital effects. That we haven't been so blinded by CGI that we can't recognize the abundant imagination of an older movie like Krull, its world beautifully conceived and built by hand, and inhabited by a cast that makes even the smallest roles seem larger than life.

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