December 16, 2012

RETRO ACTIVE: Krull (1983)

by Nick Schager


[This week's "Retro Active" is inspired by the heroic fantasy questing of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit.]

For those who thought that Star Wars was awesome but could have used more elements from Greek mythology, the legend of King Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings, true satisfaction came in the form of Krull, a shamelessly unoriginal attempt to piggyback on the success of George Lucas' iconic sci-fi franchise. Peter Yates' 1983 film makes plain its derivation from its opening moments, in which a star cruiser passes by the camera, and then table-setting narration lays out the narrative groundwork: on the planet of Krull, an evil race of world-conquering aliens known as Slayers, and led by The Beast, have taken over, but a prophesy foretells that a princess will choose a husband and together they will rule the land, and their son in turn will rule the galaxy. No need to worry about said offspring, however—that's just set-up for a potential sequel that never occurred, because Yates' saga is far too absurd to warrant a follow-up. Not that it doesn't have its pleasures, however, since the accomplished director (Bullitt, The Hot Rock) has enough visual sense to at least provide a few gorgeous fantasy-world sights, lending some aesthetic splendor to what's otherwise a rote save-the-princess tale overflowing with components borrowed from superior sources.


On Krull, no sooner has princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) agreed to wed Colwyn (Ken Marshall)—a blandly cheery stud with a perfectly manicured beard who admits that he won't be a subservient husband because he's a "warrior" (i.e. a manly man!)—then the Slayers have attacked the castle. Why these villains walk like the Tin Man is unknown, as is the reason why they primarily choose to swordfight when their weapons also function as laser blasters. Then again, for intergalactic conquerors with such fancy weaponry, it's unclear why the Slayers ride horses as well, rather than some high-tech vehicle. Nonetheless, after a round of combat in which clashing blades let off red sparks in lightsaber-y fashion, the Slayers make off with Lyssa, and Colwyn is forced to embark on a quest to retrieve her from the Black Fortress. He does so with the help of Ynyr (Freddie Jones), an aged, white-bearded sage who's come down from the mountains to aid Colwyn by helping him retrieve the legendary Glaive, a five-pronged gold-and-jeweled boomerang weapon that, like Excalibur, can only be retrieved by a chosen one. Ynyr is the laughable Obi-Wan Kenobi to Colwyn's bland Luke Skywalker, and soon they're joined by a C-3PO wisecracker in the form of shapeshifting Ergo (David Battley), who sports a British accent and, at a later point, turns himself into a basset hound, because apparently Krull has the exact same animal species as Earth.


After also teaming up with a group of escaped criminals led by Torquil (Alun Armstrong) and featuring a young Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane, and later still joined by a thoughtful Cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw), the merry band of heroes wend their way to a blind oracle known as the Seer (John Welsh), who joins them through a misty swamp that proves to be Krull's signature set piece, both because the locale itself is so evocatively crafted, and because there's delicious creepiness to the black eyes sported by a doppelganger fiend that takes the shape of the Seer. The juxtaposition of this clearly artificial set and earlier, real mountain ranges (which Colwyn scales) create an exciting real/phony aesthetic dynamic that's aided by Yates' beautiful widescreen panoramas. The Beast's lair, in which Lyssa is imprisoned, is strangely beautiful, a surrealistic place fashioned like the expressionistic inside of the Beast's body, all rib cages, eyeballs, and teeth. Even the Cyclops himself proves a memorable otherworldly figure, courtesy of inexpressive latex facial features that are uniquely and unforgettably eerie.


Alas, the rest of Krull is a far more embarrassing creation, from the Beast himself—played by a guy in a rubber suit that's clearly so awful-looking, Yates habitually hides him in shadows—to a finale in which the Glaive boomerangs around with magical accuracy, felling the Slayers with an ease that negates any suspense. More Star Wars rip-offery continues throughout, from Obi-Wan—er, I mean Ynyr—sacrificing himself for the good of the mission, to a late scene in which the crew becomes trapped in a ship corridor where protruding spikes threaten to impale them (shades of Lucas' garbage-compactor scene). There's almost nothing that ultimately distinguishes Krull except its dull use of other myths' building blocks, which here form a whole that's not only uninspired, but—worse still—arbitrary, with the film ultimately coming across as an endeavor that was made up on the fly by a screenwriter and director blindly picking parts from their favorite books and movies and slapping them together with ridiculous randomness.

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Posted by ahillis at December 16, 2012 10:10 AM