It is about a tiny man who has to bring something precious a very long way to save the world, and is aided by a normal sized swordsman. Why does everyone think this is a rip-off of Lord of the Rings?

It might be hard to imagine, but there was a time, long before the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones made the concept laughable, where fantasy and sword and sorcery movies were a cheap, easy way for a movie studio to make a movie, that may or may not break even. Films like Conan, Beastmaster and Cave Dwellers (don't ask, don't look, don't bother), were made on shoe-string budgets, in an attempt to make a little bit of money to bankroll more ambitious projects, projects with Yahoo Serious in them, or Drop Dead Fred.

And why wouldn't the studios do this? Fantasy films were notoriously cheap to make, pick up a buff looking star, throw a few C-list celebrates in as villains, and give them a fur mankini and some leather belts to complement their swords and you were good to go. With the advent of VHS and late-night cable television, they could make these movies on the quick, and make back all their money in licensing fees alone. Easy money.

Willow almost looks like it could fall into this category at first blush. Especially if that first blush isn't the beautiful movie poster above, but rather the Photoshop disaster that is the North American DVD cover. Tell me this thing doesn't look like a made for TV - Hallmark exclusive...

Warwick Davis, or a tiny lesbian who just nailed her job interview at Trader Joe's? You decide.

The story starts with a bit of back story, there is an evil queen who runs the land, you know she is evil because she lives in a scary castle, and also wants to kill all the babies. All of them. Not just one or two, but every baby. Short of calling her Satin "Hitler" Aidsandcancertogether, wanting to kill babies is the quickest way to establish a character as "bad" you can have. Evil queen is about to kill a baby with the Monster logo on her arm, because a prophecy says that such a branded babe would end her terrible reign of terror, but luckily the baby escapes and find her way to a village full of that tiny guy from Game of Thrones.

This, except ALL the people.

So one of the Hob-er-Nelwyn peoples, Willow, takes the baby to dump off with the first Normal sized person he can find. You see the Nelwyn are a group of tiny folk that work the land, enjoy eating and drinking, live in tiny homes, and don't care for adventure...seriously George Lucas, the hell man?

Whether for good or for bad, the first person Willow stumbles upon is Val Kilmer, who is, as he is in every film he stars in not called Real Genius, really terrible and really great in this, often in the same scene. It is almost like he gives just enough of a fuck to show up, learn the lines and try his best some of the time, but not enough to do it with any regularity. Which is why he truly was the best Batsman Forever, superhero of the city. So Willow and Val Kilmer set off on an amazing adventure, with the dragons and the trolls and the what nots, to save a baby and save the world, like if there had been a Heros spinoff like Muppet Babies, which you can't tell me you wouldn't watch with crazy regularity.

The film has some great moments along the way, with action and chase scenes that are lifted from movies set in modern times (think car chances where people are dragged behind, and a car flips after ramping on something, but with wagons). The special effects hold up moderately well, especially when you consider that this was the debut of ILM's new morphing technology, which looks surprisingly good in this (it would later get used in Michael Jackson's "Black and White" video, which garnered far more attention).
While it would be easy to dismiss Willow as nothing more than a Lord of the Rings knock off (which it totally is, don't get me wrong), it would be at a tremendous disservice to the film itself. Born in the deep recesses of the money machine known as George Lucas' brain, Willow seamlessly blends the best parts of Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for the amazingly fast fall from grace Lucas would have with his fans. When the film is good, it is damn good, and, lucky for the film itself, good scenes are plentiful. When the film is bad, however, it is Episode 1 bad.

The child actors in this movie are just plain awful. I mean Jake Lloyd was bad, but at least able to deliver lines, Willow's kids are sub terrible, a level of bad that must have taken work to achieve. Also, much like later Lucas, the film uses special effects when physical effects could be used on more than one occasion. The aforementioned "morphing scene" for one. We had seen the morph achieved earlier in the film with a physical effect, and it looked more magical than the morph later. While it would have taken far more work for poor Ronnie Howard, I do believe that a properly shot transformation scene using physical effects, and assisted with CGI would have made for a more memorable moment. Also, fuck the Brownies. FUCK. THEM. They are the Jar Jar Binks of Willow, and that is not an exaggeration at all. While comic relief is ok at the beginning of the movie, and often necessary while the story is being set up, we get these little screechy men at random intervals thru the whole movie, and we don't need them. Whenever they pop up it simply distracts from the narrative, which pulls you out from the film, the Brownies distract from the whole film. The only example I can think of is if the little Bruce Campbells from "Army of Darkness" followed Ash around the whole movie. Think of how odd that would be. This happens in Willow, and shouldn't have. Someone needed to say no at some point.


Despite the moments of wrongness, that perfectly foreshadow the Lucas that would come in later years, Willow remains a wholly enjoyable fantasy world. Sure it is a shameless ripoff, but unlike other Tolkien copies, it is a "FUN" shapeless ripoff. The brownies need to be squashed, but other than that, you will enjoy it.

Rating - B

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