Reviewer: Charity Bishop
George Lucas has made it no secret he's an avid fan of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Willow is his humble attempts to aspire to similar heights of imagination. The film, while being quite impressive for the late eighties, now falls behind where special effects are concerned, and pales in the face of later productions by Hallmark and Hollywood. The story is rather good, but after the first half begins to pale and falls prey to the same problem that frequents his Star Wars films -- overly long and drawn-out battle scenes.
In a prison dungeon, a woman cries in vain for her child, who has been found with the arm-mark of the One chosen to relieve the empire of the evil sorceress Bavmorda. But while the queen is called forth to perform the ritual which will kill the child and prevent her own demise, the midwife is persuaded to smuggle the little girl out of the castle into the surrounding countryside. Fleeing for many days, she is at last captured by the queen's dogs -- but not before placing the baby in a reed basket and sending him downriver. The child is found by the children of Willow Ufgood, a midget yeoman farmer training to become a wizard. Ignoring his protests that they can't take in a human baby, his wife immediately falls in love with the little girl.
But circumstances beyond their control raise suspicion -- the queen's evil black hounds have invaded the village, searching for a baby. Taking the orphaned child before the council, it's determined that it should be taken beyond their borders and given into the care of the first human they see. Chosen for this task is Willow, accompanied by a few prominent members of the town and good friends. They encounter dangers along the way, and eventually encamp on the edge of their lands within sight of Madmartigan, a human imprisoned for thievery. He's more than eager to take the child, provided they release him... but Willow is against it.
When persuaded there's no other way, he reluctantly turns little Elora Danan into the care of the warrior. But halfway home they're accosted by a group of fairies and little people -- who have stolen the baby! The queen of the fairies informs Willow the child has chosen him to be her protector and keeper, and he must take her to safety beyond the mountains. Giving him a wand and instructions to find a great sorceress who will aid them in defeating Bavmorda, she sends him on his way. Eventually they meet up with Madmartigan again, and also encounter Bavmorda's daughter Sorsha, who's determined to prove herself by bringing home the missing child. If you're thinking by this time it bears a lot of resemblance in many ways to Tolkien's hobbit Frodo and the enormous task of bearing the One Ring to the Mountains of Mordor, you would be right. The links between Middle-earth and Lucas' imaginary world abound not only with characters but situations, plights, and even occasionally dialogue.
There's also a lot of biblical allegory and parallels, particularly during the first half. The baby being sent downriver in a reed basket is obviously a reference to Moses; not to mention an evil ruler seeking to kill off all children which pose a threat, which remains a nod toward Jesus and King Herod. But the grotesque transformations and witchcraft in the second half will be a little more difficult for the common viewer to swallow than Tolkien is. The characters are really one-sided and not well developed. Willow is a charming main character, but his companions either turn out annoying or just plain dull. The climax is exciting but overly long, lacks motivation, and incorporates some dated but still disgusting special effects... like Willow hitting a "troll" (a hairy monkey-like creature) with a spell, and having its hair curl off and something like an enormous pink brain emerge. He kicks it into the lake, where it becomes an enormous two-headed dragon. Later Bavmorda curses an army threatening to defeat her, and they all grow pig snouts, ears, and hooves. A battle against sorceresses turns nasty as they completely destroy the place. Preparations are made for a bloodthirsty exorcism of the child, but never carried to completion.
Aside from the magical elements (which also include the town "magician" making predictions and casting spells -- all of which humorously go wrong), there's quite a lot of violence but nothing overly gory. Men are hit with swords and arrows, thrown to the ground, kicked around, and punched. There's some mild profanity. Sexual content is absent, but there is some innuendo and mild implications. Madmartigan is hit with fairy dust and develops a passionate love for Sorsha, asking her to spend the night with him and quoting poetry. Since the two loathe each other, she responds by threatening to deprive him of his manhood with a knife. He's also immoral, as intimated through mild dialogue and the fact that Willow comes on him in a married woman's house, dressed like a woman to avoid being found out by her husband. The man comes home and makes advances toward his wife's "friend" who makes a run for it. The fairies are obviously naked, but too small and blurry to be made out in much detail. Willow finally perfects the spell which will transform a sorceress back into human form, and she comes back naked. We briefly see her back as he throws a cloak around her.
It's not a horrible movie by any means, but orcs are about as ugly as I can get, and Willow doesn't present enough golden moments to overrule the long battles and touchy elements of magic. The one bright aspect about the film is little Elora Danan -- who's the most beautiful baby I've ever seen. Her large eyes and red hair never fail to induce a smile.