Willow (1988)


George Lucas produces and Ron Howard directs this fantasy adventure about an unlikely band of heroes who protect a ┬áprophetic baby against an evil queen who seeks to destroy them all. Willow is its producer’s baby and has a lot in common with the Star Wars movies. It’s characters are broadly drawn, the drama never scrapes below surface level, and it’s full of visual effects and action set-pieces. It borrows liberally from Tolkien, Joseph Campbell, and even The Bible, but it’s not a piecemeal effort. Willow creates a compelling and cogent fantasy world that I enjoy returning to every now and then.

It may not be an ideal showcase for acting talent, but Val Kilmer is certainly charismatic in the role of the rogue swordsman, Madmartigan. Jean Marsh also delivers a memorably wicked performance as Queen Bavmorda. What I enjoy most about Willow is its aesthetics, from Adrian Biddle’s color-saturated cinematography and conceptual designs by Moebius, to James Horner’s rousing music and ILM’s visual effects. It’s simply a beautiful world and an adventure I find worth re-experiencing every couple of years.

On a historical timeline, Willow bridges the gap between the height of old school special effects and the dawn of the digital era. It was one of the last movie to feature optical effects, hand-painted matte backgrounds, and stop-motion animation on such a grand scale, while also introducing one of the earliest forms of computer generated imagery (morphing) to the public.

Willow is a gorgeous film and a fun ride, and whenever I rewatch it, I’m fourteen again.

Oscar Nominations: Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing