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Ron Howard
Val Kilmer, Warwick Davis, Joanne Whalley, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Billy Barty, Pat Roach, Gavan O'Herlihy, David Steinberg
Writing Credits:
George Lucas (story), Bob Dolman

Adventure doesn't come any bigger than this.

Journey to the far corners of your imagination with Willow, for the first time ever on Blu-ray! Now fully digitally restored, this release features a dazzling array of extras, including new, never-before-seen exclusive content. From legendary filmmakers George Lucas and Ron Howard comes a timeless fantasy tale in which heroes comes in all sizes ... and adventure is the greatest magic of all. When young Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) finds an abandoned baby girl, he learns she is destined to end the reign of the wicked Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). In order to protect the child, Willow must team up with a rogue swordsman (Val Kilmer) and overcome the forces of darkness in the ultimate battle of good versus evil!

Box Office:
$35 million.
Domestic Gross
$57.269 million.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Castillian DTS 5.1
German DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 3/12/2013

• Deleted Scenes
• “The Making of an Adventure” Featurette
• “From Morf to Morphing” Featurette
• “Willow: An Unlikely Hero – Personal Video Diary of Warwick Davis”
• Matte Paintings
• DVD Copy


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Willow [Blu-Ray] (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 99, 2013)

Summers are packed with “blockbusters that weren’t”. Every year we encounter highly-touted flicks that are supposed to dominate the box office, and every year some of these fail to do so.

1990’s Dick Tracy was supposed to produce Batman-size profits, but it failed to find a tremendous audience. It may not have been an outright flop, but it lacked much staying power.

1990 was the true year of the underdog, as unheralded efforts like Pretty Woman, Ghost and Dances With Wolves cleaned up at the box office, and a cute little boy took home the big bucks in Home Alone, the year’s top hit.

1988 wasn’t as competitive as 1990, which meant the so-so performance of Willow seemed even more disappointing. Eventually that winter’s Rain Man would be the big moneymaker for the year, while Who Framed Roger Rabbit did best during the summer period.

As for Willow, the much-hyped George Lucas production tried to recapture his Star Wars glory days but his collaboration with director Ron Howard failed to create much of a stir.

Perhaps that’s because the film is so relentlessly ordinary. Willow starts like an outtake from The Ten Commandments, as we learn of a special baby who will eventually cause the destruction of evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). When the ruler finds out that this tot will ruin her, she orders her troops to find the kid - conveniently marked with a symbol on her arm - and give her the boot. However, the child - named Elora Danan - is sent floating down a river, just like Moses, in hopes that some kind soul will rescue her.

Of course, that happens, as the family of Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) locates the baby. Despite Willow’s objections, his wife Kaiya (Julie Peters) and children Ranon (Mark Vande Brake) and Mims (Dawn Downing) rule the day, and eventually Willow talks to the local council. He urges them to send a party to return the tot to her own kind; Willow and his diminutive clan are known as Nelwyn, while taller folk are called Daikini. The leaders agree and Willow gets chosen as the appropriate party. Aided by a few others, he sets out to take Elora Danan back to her normal life.

The Nelwyns are an undiscriminating lot, as they plan to dump her with any Daikini they find. The first one they encounter happens to be imprisoned in a cage, but that doesn’t stop them. They free Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and after he gives his word to take care of Elora Danan, off they go toward home.

However, the baby quickly gets taken from Madmartigan, and Willow again finds himself stuck with her after he rescues her from the really tiny Brownies who stole her. Most of the others just don’t care any more; they figure they did their job and go on their way.

From there, Willow continues his lonely quest to evade Bavmorda’s forces and take Elora Danan to safety, though he’s accompanied by Franjean (Rick Overton) and Rool (Kevin Pollak), two elfin Brownies who come along after a spirit named Cherlindrea (Maria Holvoe) commands them to help him. Willow’s loyal Nelwyn friend Meegosh (David Steinberg) also comes along for a while, but an injury eventually forces him to head for home.

Essentially the rest of the film follows Willow’s quest. They re-encounter Madmartigan, and eventually he and Willow form a grudging alliance. They also recruit a powerful sorceress named Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), though there’s one problem: Bavmorda transformed her into a small rodent, and although he’s an aspiring wizard himself, Willow lacks the confidence to cast the restorative spell.

Also included in the mission is sexy warrior babe Sorsha (Joanne Whalley). She’s Bavmorda’s daughter, and she appears to want to betray her mother. However, she ends up doing this in an unanticipated manner, as she allies with our heroes for one “winner takes all” battle to settle matters.

At best, Willow is moderately entertaining and enjoyable. At worst, Willow is moderately entertaining and enjoyable. That’s its problem: the film lacks the personality and character to make it stand out from the crowd.

On the positive side, I like the fact it includes a vertically challenged hero. The number of films that place a little person in the lead can be counted on one hand, and Willow seems especially unusual since he’s regarded as a true hero and isn’t not just there for comic value. Willow differentiates between the height of the different people, but not in an openly disparaging manner; some of the Daikini refer to him in a mean way as a “peck” - apparently a common slur against the Nelwyns - but this just makes them seem nastier and isn’t there to mock the little folk.

In addition, Kilmer offers a nicely vivid and charismatic performance as Madmartigan. Despite the character’s obvious Han Solo connection, Kilmer provides enough charm and spark to make the part seem reasonably distinctive. Madmartigan will never be seen as a classic role, but at least Kilmer adds life to the part.

Nonetheless, Madmartigan’s roots do show, and Willow displays many other elements that seemed pilfered from various flicks, especially the Star Wars series. I wouldn’t mind that so much if Howard gave the package more flair and pizzazz, but as it stands, the film seems competent but bland. Nothing about it appears unique or particularly well executed. No, it never comes across with any terrible weaknesses, but it lacks the panache that would create something memorable.

Actually, I do find two aspects of Willow that stand out as particular negatives. For one, I absolutely hate the Brownies. With their exaggerated French accents, they seem like outcasts from a Monty Python skit, and they offer nothing of value to the movie.

Indeed, they appear to exist just to create comic sidekicks akin to R2-D2 and C-3PO, but at least those two had a positive impact on the Star Wars movies; Franjean and Rool are just there to annoy.

And annoying they are, as they harm virtually every scene in which they appear. Willow would be much more enjoyable without these obnoxious characters.

In addition, the special effects of Willow have not aged well. The Brownies show the gravest weaknesses, as the superimposed actors blend poorly with their surroundings. Not only do the Brownies act like they came from another movie, but also they look like it too.

A two-headed dragon offers another example of weak effects, and Willow often seems surprisingly cheesy for a big-budget production that involved a slew of respected effects personnel.

However, even if it sported spiffier visuals and lost the annoying Brownies, Willow still would be only moderately entertaining. The movie provides a reasonably enjoyable experience, but so much of it appears rehashed and stale that it never overcomes its borrowed origins. Most elements are executed with reasonable skill, but nothing shows much flair or personality. Ultimately, Willow is a watchable but lackluster fantasy.

Important note to filmmakers: if you want your summer blockbuster to live up to expectations, don’t openly mock movie critics in your work! Willow includes a couple of pokes at noted reviewers. Most obvious is General Kael (Pat Roach), Queen Bavmorda’s Darth Vader-esque henchman, but the film also includes a two-headed dragon called the Eborsisk. Siskel and Ebert also got jabbed in another summer disappointment, 1998’s Godzilla.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio A/ Bonus C+

Willow appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not totally flawless, I thought Willow consistently looked fine, especially for an aging film.

Sharpness appeared fairly good most of the time. Some wide shots could be a bit soft, but those weren’t a substantial concern. Instead, the majority of the flick appeared pretty concise and accurate. I witnessed no issues with jaggies or shimmering.

Both edge haloes and print flaws remained absent, but I suspect a bit of noise reduction came along for the ride. While we still got a decent layer of grain, some scenes felt a bit too smooth and polished; those weren’t a major issue, but they could give the movie a little too “clean” a feel.

Colors always appeared warm and rich. The movie featured a rather naturalistic palette, and the disc imparted them with a fine glow and depth. Black levels also seemed dark and dense, and shadow detail was clear and appropriately heavy. Firelight sequences looked especially attractive, as they displayed clean and accurate lighting. This wasn’t a killer transfer, but it was a good “B” presentation.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Willow fared very well, especially given its age. The soundscape managed to open up the material in a satisfying manner. At times, the elements could be a little too localized, but they usually blended together nicely.’

Music showed solid stereo imaging, and effects broadened the settings in a compelling manner. Of course, the flick’s action sequences did the most damage, as they showed lively, involving material, but even quieter scenes still provided a good sense of place. This became an active, impressive soundscape, with lots of information all around the room.

Audio quality seemed good. Dialogue sounded fairly natural and distinct, without any problems related to intelligibility or edginess. The score appeared rich and robust, while effects sounded clear and crisp throughout the film. I discerned very few signs of distortion and low-end response was deep and full as well. This was a terrific auditory presentation.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD release from 2001? The visuals were cleaner and tighter, while the audio was more dynamic and involving. Even with some minor picture-related qualms, I thought this was an obvious improvement from the DVD.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. From 1988, Willow: The Making of an Adventure lasts 23 minutes and 29 seconds and it mixes the usual components. We see some movie clips and shots from the set along with interviews from principals such as director Ron Howard, producer George Lucas, visual effects supervisors Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett, actors Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, and Joanne Whalley, casting director Jeremy Zimmerman, make-up creature designer Nick Dudman, producer Nigel Wooll, location manager John Bernard, as well as in-character comments from actors Rick Overton and Kevin Pollak as Franjean and Rool.

I definitely could live without the latter moments, especially toward the end of the program, when it degenerates into an excessively cutesy discussion of the Brownies. In addition, “Adventure” existed mainly to promote the film, so it lacks much depth.

Nonetheless, the show has some good moments, most of which stem from the consistently interesting material from the set. The interviews are periodically interesting, but it’s the behind the scenes footage that offers the most useful information. Overall, this is a pretty mediocre featurette, but fans will enjoy the candid shots of the production.

(Note that the Blu-ray’s version of “Adventure” comes with a new Ron Howard intro absent from the DVD’s featurette. He talks for about two minutes and gives us quick but useful thoughts.)

A more modern-day featurette also appears. Titled From Morf to Morphing: The Dawn of Digital Filmmaking, this 17-minute and 24-second piece looks at that subject. We find a few film clips but mostly watch behind the scenes material as well as circa 2001 interviews with Lucas, Muren, Howard, ILM Senior VP of Production Patricia Blau, associate visual effects supervisor Doug Smythe, and Terminator 2 director James Cameron.

In addition, a few of these folks and some others appear via 1988 interviews. The program gives us a nice little look at the history of computer-generated effects, with an obvious emphasis on morphing. It covers the topic pretty well as it goes through the work on Willow and also discusses uses in later films like Ghostbusters 2 and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It isn’t a terrific program, but it merits a look.

(Another new intro appears here, as Muren chats for about 25 seconds at the start. He doesn’t tell us much.)

A new addition, Willow: An Unlikely Hero – Personal Video Diary of Warwick Davis lasts 10 minutes, 53 seconds. Davis gives us some modern-day comments about his experiences and we see his video material from the set. Davis’s remarks tend to be more interesting than the footage, but this nonetheless becomes a nice addition.

Deleted Scenes occupy a total of 12 minutes, 32 seconds. Introduced by Ron Howard, we find three sequences: “Sorsha’s Father”, “Bridge Troll Magic” and “Fish Boy”. I think “Father” adds some impact to Sorsha’s narrative and probably should’ve made the final film, but the other two fare less well. Indeed, both seem pretty silly – especially the goofy trolls. Howard made the right choice when he left out “Magic” and “Fish”.

The one-minute, nine-second Matte Paintings gives us a running montage. It shows the original paintings, the live action footage, and their final integration. It becomes a good examination of this art.

The package also includes a DVD copy of Willow. This is a basic disc without any extras.

What does the Blu-ray lose from the DVD? It drops trailers, a photo gallery and an audio commentary from Warwick Davis. The first two omissions don’t surprise me – trailers and stills have become an endangered species on home video – but I have no clue why the commentary goes missing.

25 years after it first hit theaters, Willow remains a fairly mediocre film. While it offers some fun and modest enchantment, it shows its roots too strongly, as it seems awfully derivative of other flicks. It can be reasonably entertaining, but it never rises above that level. The Blu-ray delivers excellent audio, generally good visuals and a decent roster of bonus materials. Fans will want to hold onto the old DVD for its now-absent commentary, but for film presentation, the Blu-ray becomes the way to go.

To rate this film visit Collector's Edition review of WILLOW

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main