Krull is the kind of movie you see when you’re ten and become convinced is the apex of the medium. There’s giant spiders and cyclopses and a wacky guy who turns into a goose and a hero who wields a star-shaped death Frisbee called The Glaive. It’s. Just. Too. Cool.
Then fifteen years later, you give it another look and see it for the second-tier by-the-numbers fantasy filler that it is. You snicker at the overacting, groan at the corny lines and shudder at the naked Star Wars envy gleaming in the producers’ eyes.
Then ten years after that, you look at it again and still see the flaws… only now they seem quaint and charming. “Well it really was goofy,” you say to yourself, “but damn it was fun to be ten!”
That puts it in a very weird place as far as critical analysis goes. You can’t call it good – because it really isn’t and its appeal lies only in that select group of pre-pubescents whose world it rocked so long ago – and yet it still has some elements that are truly, genuinely worth praising. It’s not quite a guilty pleasure, because who can feel guilty about the child-like innocence it wants to evoke? You can’t call it a cult classic, because, um, what cult? You can’t even recommend it unreservedly because chances are that even geeks in the know treat it with the sort of casual indifference reserved for truly forgettable fare. But somewhere in there lie the echoes of a younger, simpler time… when we looked at movies like this for what they could be, instead of what they were.
And as I said, some of its elements remain immune to criticism, even for adults. For starters, the production design is fucking gorgeous. DP Peter Suschitzky brings an exquisite eye to the Italian Alps, the English sets and the fairy tale frosting coating them both. The costumes match his sensibilities perfectly: so nice to look at that we openly embrace the sight of our hero in striped tights. Though the producers spent a truly ridiculous amount of money on what turned out to be a financial bomb, you can see every cent of it up on the screen. Some of it goes overboard (James Horner’s score basically grabs you by the coat lapels and screams “SWASHBUCKLE, DAMN YOU!!!” into your spittle-coated ear), but the dedication to technical quality never wavers.
And that translates into an upbeat tone which helps fight through the toxic amounts of cheese on display. This is a refreshingly un-cynical movie, where the villains are black as midnight and the heroes carry on because they know they’re doing the right thing. The cast consists largely of classically trained actors – including several then-unknowns like Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane – who ham their way through scene after scene, but have a great time doing it. You can condemn it very easily (and with serious evidence in your corner to boot), but just try to do it without a good-natured smile on your face.
On the other hand… about that evidence… Krull aims for a Lucas-esque blend of fantasy and science fiction, only with a bit more emphasis on the fantasy. A monstrous overlord called The Beast lands on a planet full of magic and monsters, then sets about laying waste to everything he can touch. That forces an alliance between two ancient enemies, followed by the mother of all ruined weddings in which The Beast kidnaps the lovely Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) to be his bride. Her betrothed Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) sets out to rescue her, acquiring the usual band of rag-tag misfits in the bargain. Oh yeah, and he also gets ahold of the Glaive, which he’s destined to wield because of some damn prophecy about ruling the galaxy or something.
It’s complete gobbledygook, though it keeps the rules clear, and if we can anticipate the beats, at least they merely feel routine instead of actively insulting. The cast remains earnest and enthusiastic about the material even though they have no right to be, and while the villain is clearly unstoppable, we somehow suspect that he’s going to be stopped anyway. Krull struggles most when trying to parley its understanding and energy into reasonable drama. It clearly knows the tropes of Campbellian storytelling: the power of names, for instance, and the symbolism of heroic tests. It just can’t put those pieces together in a convincingly organic manner, leaving us to hunt and peck for the goodies.
Of course, you can’t tell that to viewers of a certain age: an age when you can laugh at the jokes, thrill to the danger, and cheer our square-jawed hero on to victory without once stopping to realize how achingly goofy it all is. Its trick lies not in convincing us that it’s any good, but of reminding us of a time in life when that didn’t matter a bit. The nostalgia factor looms large in its appeal, aiding by its technical polish and a few scenes of actual drama that pop up here and there. (Freddie Jones has a particularly good bit as the resident Obi-Wan clone, voicing his regrets to the women he left behind.) You enjoy it for that long-ago ten-year-old who remembers how great it seemed: a ten-year-old in need of something buoyant and upbeat in our era of grim, gritty summer epics. Krull never found the fan base it deserved, and as for mainstream success… well, that was probably a pipe dream from the start. But thirty years later, it doesn’t look so bad, especially with those rose-colored glasses for which it was clearly tailor-made. Remove them at your peril; Krull lives and dies by their presence alone.