Krull

Climb every mountain
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1983
Director: 
Peter Yates
Starring: 
Ken Marshall, Lystette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Liam Neeson, David Battley
The Setup: 
Giant mountain castle lands on planet, kidnaps queen. Guy goes to save her.
Discussion: 

Oh dear. I have so many other reviews half-finished, and I should probably complete those before I start a new one, right? But those movies are not Krull. In fact, some of them are dull 50s musicals, and writing about this is obviously going to be a lot more fun. So let's go!

This came out when I was fifteen, at that tender age when it appeared to me like something I would love to see and simultaneously like something that was flat-out shit. I never made it, and as part of my series examining the movies I've been curious about since my youth, finally it made it to my home. We open with the famous five-pointed blade from this movie spinning around in space, then whipping by and making the title, which looks like this:

I think that tells you a great deal about what you're in for. We then see this big space thing that looks like a mountain come to this planet, which turns out to be Krull. The mountain/ship passes by the camera for 17 days in the first of many touches lifted fairly shamelessly from Star Wars. While this is going on we have the credits, during which we find out that this film has a major role for Liam Neeson [and although I knew that going in, I must confess I forgot and didn't recognize him through the whole thing], a score [and lots of it] from James Horner, and is directed by Peter Yates of The Deep, Breaking Away, Bullitt, and more! It was written by the same fellow who wrote Any Which Way You Can [I will one day work up the strength to watch those things again] and Ice Pirates, which makes sense in the context of this. While we're slinging out trivia I'll also mention that THIS was apparently supposed to be the Dungeons and Dragons movie [although it features neither dungeons nor dragons], but they lost the license, and it turned into this. Are you finally ready to discuss the movie? Yeesh.

So the spaceship/mountain is also a castle, and it lands on the planet of Krull, where the Beast [not the one in love with Belle], who lives inside sends out his army of slayers [not the ones trained by Buffy] to, you know, maraud n' stuff. Then there's a voice-over that tells us that there's this queen, Lyssa [for the longest time I was sure they were calling her Linda, which I thought rather non-royal], and she's going to marry this guy Colwyn [ditto, I thought he was Owen], and they're going to rule the planet, then drizzle his sperm all over her big bowl o' ova and have a son, who will rule the galaxy. This put me under the apprehension that they'd both soon be dead and the movie would be about their son, but wrong again. So you can see I was coming to this with fresh eyes. I even thought the Krull was the spinny blade-thing, not the planet. But enough about me, despite my extreme sexiness.

So Lyssa is hanging out trying to get the greatest volume from her perm [a field in which she has made great achievements], when Colwyn rides up and rushes to her side. The woman who plays Lyssa, Lysette Anthony, can't really act and has an endless array of vapid expressions [see below]. The actor who plays Colwyn, Ken Marshall, also can't act and throughout seems to be running through his script notes: "Look sad. Have thought. Furrow brow. Laugh heartily." Together they have the chemistry of an old soda can lying next to a rock. But go through the motions they do, as they walk through their marriage ceremony, then—darn those slayers! Why do they always have to attack when you're in the middle of something? They kidnap Lyssa so she can be the bride of the Beast, causing Colwyn to get all swashbuckling.

Okay, so by now it has been unmistakable that the "concept" of this movie is that it's going to be sci-fi medieval. There are castles and swords and armor and maidens and all that, with a few sci-fi themes thrown in, like that the swords shoot lasers, so they can have Star Wars-style shootouts. Among these relics is the fact that Colwyn starts doing all these swashbuckling swordplay moves straight out of an old Erroll Flynn movie. Regardless, he's shot [alas, not killed] and Lyssa abducted. When he wakes he is greeted by Ynyr, clearly a Ben Kenobi figure, who drops the news that his ol' dad is a corpse. Colwyn, who must have some moments of cowardice in order to make it seem like he is rising to courage and overcoming shit, has a simpering fit that his daddy is dead and he's too weak to take on the Beast, he's not really a king [keep in mind that he was made king like three seconds before the attack—if they'd been a tiny bit earlier he'd have been entirely off the hook]. Ynyr storms off, snidely tossing off that Colwyn is "just a boy," causing the new king to respond, "Yeah, well at least I have vowels in my name, bitch!"

Of course Colwyn snaps out of his little fit and they decide that what they must do is go get the Glaive from some big mountain or whatnot. The glaive is the five-pointed knife that is like five fancy gold switchblades joined at the base. They try to pull this whole 'Sword in the Stone' thing with the idea that only the chosen one will be allowed to go get the glaive, and if you're not the chosen one, you die. Okay, sweet. The first test is a minor rockslide that—wait a minute, that was IT? THAT was the test of the chosen one? Yep. Colwyn climbs up the rest of the way, seemingly in real time, while the bombastic score pounds majestically. Around now you start to get the idea that if he is going to climb a mountain, he is going to cllllliiiiiimmmmmmb the mountain, and we're going to have to sit through nearly every moment of it. Anyway, he walks in, reaches into this magma pit, and pulls out the glaive, easy as that. I guess this whole glaive thing was no big deal. Climbing the mountain was the hardest part. He also picks up a free set of Ginsu knives on the way out.

While relaxing by some mid-forest pond the comic-relief-buddy-sidekick flies in. This is Ergo the Magnificent, who looks somewhat like Emo Phillips the Magnificent, and is our oft-seen [although perhaps not by that point] bumbling magician who tries to turn others into pigs—but ends up turning HIMSELF into a pig! Oh my God is that funny. Every. Single. Time. It happens. He's obviously our C-3PO, and he's about to go wandering off in a huff when he spots a Cyclops hangin' in the forest, and comes running back to join them. So then they realize they're going to need men, and no sooner has this thought been uttered than about 100 "thieves" come out of the rocks, led by Liam Neeson and also featuring Robbie Coltrane, now well known for being Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies. His appearance cracked me up here, because he has spiky black hair and a mustache, and is plopped into this sci-fi medieval tale while looking VERY much like that putz from the local gym in Westland, Michigan, circa 1982—a bit like Danny McBride in The Foot-Fist Way. I am now ANNOYED I did not get that pic of him for you. Anyway, they all decide to hook up with Colwyn and help him defeat the Beast, for no discernable reason. I don't think they were promised any great payout or anything. I think it's just, story-wise, so it's like they put together this rogue band of scoundrels and thieves, but they can be heroic too, ho-HO! There are even some youth-appealing 10-year-old boys amongst the thieves, and soon enough the friendly Cyclops joins the team! This is a ragtag coalition.

Then they have to go find the Blind Emerald Seer [BES], who is surrounded by emeralds and is blind, but has visions and shit. By now you're beginning to notice that—perhaps due to its Dungeons and Dragons origins—it's all go here, get that, meet this person, meet that person, get this other thing, go there…. I can't even remember what the BES tells them—OH, he's going to tell them where the Black Fortress is going to be, because it transports to different place every day, which was actually somewhat cool. Someone on the IMDb asked why, if the Beast knows that this guy who has been prophesized to kill him is on the way, why doesn't he just leave the planet and, well... good question. Perhaps he knows that he can't outrun his fate. He does send someone in to replace the BES and try to kill Colwyn, but they end up saving him and killing the bad BES, and the real BES is already dead. I was a little concerned that the BES was actually played by John Guilgud, and was relieved to find out that it wasn't him. Anyway, now how will they find out where the Black Fortress is going to be? On-Star? They ain't got it. Surely there must be someone ELSE they an quest to see to get that. Of course, they can just pop over and call on the Widow of the Web.

Around this time you start to think: WHERE is the Glaive? It's just sticking in Colwyn's underpants? Because I thought we were going to see a LOT more of that thing. Certainly when Colwyn was trying to recruit the thieves I was sure we'd see it, seeing as it does confer "chosen one" status on him, but no. Also in here, we finally see the Beast—he's a big lizardy thing, and Ergo transforms himself into an adorable puppy, so that the 10yo kid will carry him. It's obviously meant for the 10yo's in the audience. Then Ynyr goes in to see the Widow of the Web [WotW], who is this woman in black widow's weeds [black widow, get it?] who lives at the center of this huge web that is guarded by a big white stop-motion animated crystal spider. There's this whole big long deal, but I'm getting bored. Anyway, they find out where the Black Fortress is going to be and leave.

SPOILERS > BUT NOT REALLY > > >
Then they capture these magical steeds whose feet create flames when they run and who can fly. The sequence in which they ride the steeds to the soaring accompaniment of the bombastic music is the real nadir of that particular trait of the movie, as we watch—I am not kidding, I timed this—TWO MINUTES AND FORTY SECONDS of just STRAIGHT majestic riding footage. Then they climb up the side of the Black Fortress, and again we have long sequences of them just clllllimbing. Poor Cyclops gets crushed by these rocks, although no blood or anything seeps out. Then they have one of those looong bridges over a chasm, a la Star Wars or The Black Hole—they were just de rigueur for the time. Eventually Colwyn finds that Lyssa is imprisoned in this giant Jell-o mold and sets the Glaive [remember that thing?] to cut through the wall. It really is the all-purpose tool. You KNOW what would happen if you needed to slice some zucchini or dice some tomatoes. And I'm sure it would be sharp enough to slice a sheet of paper—EVEN after chopping through a tin can! So he finally gets in, rescues Lyssa, and then the Beast shows up. This is where we get some close-ups of the Beast, and can see that he bears a STRONG resemblance to Howard the Duck [above]. He and Colwyn have a fight, and it looks like the Glaive isn't going to be enough to defeat the big slimy one, but then Colwyn takes fire from his bride [in a call-out to their wedding, way back] and makes a sort of impromptu flamethrower that incinerates the Beast. Then the whole place starts to come apart—as convention dictates that it MUST—and everybody runs out. There is a cool effect where they take this big eye set that Lyssa was standing in earlier and put it on the ceiling and shoot sparks though it—so it looks like the sparks are shooting out of it. Unfortunately they don't cut away until AFTER these gobs of slop from the explosion hit the camera. Once outside, there is another cool effect as the Black Fortress crumbles apart and is sucked up into the sky, then after some epilogue, it's over!
< < < SPOILERS END

I can see loving this movie if you were 14 when you saw it, or are under 14 now. Other than that, I think we all have to just come out and admit that this is wholly dreadful. The entire thing has entire elements lifted directly lifted intact from Star Wars, although I guess we have to admit that they did make at least a tiny effort to combine some of the characters up a bit, so it's not entirely like "OK, this is Yoda, this is Darth Vader…" Well, alright it's a little like that, but not as bad as it could be. The real problem is that the lead actors, by and large, are absolutely horrid. Lyssa is the mistress of the idiotically dopey face, and—I was saving this little trivia tidbit—it turns out the producers didn't think she should have a British accent, so her entire performance was dubbed by Lindsay Crouse—that's right, Professor Walsh from Buffy and also from Communion. Ken Marshall as Colwyn can be handsome from certain angles, but projects all the depth of a puddle and thus just can't get across anything his character is supposed to go through—we just watch him strike poses. Ergo the Magnificent is best not mentioned. The other problem is the story. It's dumb. The Beast abducts Lyssa—what, there's no other women on the planet? Some more available, perhaps? And WHY? Is that the whole reason he came to the planet? It's all just thrown together so they can have some kind of quest. I've already mentioned the go-here, get-that pattern to the story, as well as the numerous LONG scenes of climbing mountains or riding mythical steeds that are all supposed to be majestic and inspiring but are instead just long and boring.

The one thing this movie made me think was how much better Dragonslayer did it. For one, Dragonslayer had a better story with the hero's coming of age inherent in the action, it had a whole social setting and sociology that made sense, vivid characters [can't really go wrong with Ralph Richardson on board], and it wasn't jam-packed with comic relief or cute puppies to appeal to the kids. It also had a whole sense of loss and melancholy which gave it all some depth and made it seem like there was something in danger of being lost, as opposed to Lyssa, who you could take away without much loss whatsoever. Even the Glaive wasn't NEARY as cool as I'd hoped it would be. I didn't hate sitting through this [although there is NO POSSIBLE reason it should ever be 120 minutes], but it wasn't at all as fun as I'd hoped it would be. What a bummer.

Should you watch it: 

If you liked it as a kid, or are a kid, or have a high tolerance for any fantasy movie.