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Summer of ‘83 Krull

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Summer of ’83: Krull

ANNIE FRISBIE: I’m not sure if I’m up to the monumental task of discussing Krull, mainly because I have like ZERO objectivity when it comes to this movie. I’ve seen it a zillion times and have it practically memorized.

STEVEN BOONE: I have seen Krull 12,118 times. I have to agree that it wipes out any objectivity on my part. It is a perfect gem. I blame the music. James Horner was on some kind of fire in the 1980’s. The scores to Krull and Star Trek II make me wanna swashbuckle just as badly as Wu Tang’s “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” makes me want to pull a heist in a ninja suit.

JUSTINE ELIAS: Some topics for inquiry:

1. How This Film Ever Got Made

2. The post-Star Wars, post Excalibur explosion of lame-o sword-n-sorcery epic

3. That Dainty Fey Hero: Who Was That Guy? Whatever Happened to Him?

4. Lysette Anthony, The Cleavage, The Inexplicable Enduring Love For said Dainty Fey Hero. That thing she was running around in—what was that?

5. Is Tim Curry In This Movie, or That Other Fantasy Movie With the Same Plot?

6. Random hot men.

7. Horses: Not Enough?

JOHN LICHMAN: Also, can we also have a sub-section on “the hero’s weapon” and how this made something like the glaive incredibly awesome?

SB: The glaive is responsible for the most damaged furniture in my parents’ home circa 1984-86. Every Cinemax screening of Krull provoked a leap from dresser to couch to carpet, fighting off invisible Slayers with my weapon (plastic Hot Wheels racetrack).

AF: I just had a visceral reaction of sheer jealousy to the visual of the Hot Wheels racetrack glaive. I can’t believe my brother and I didn’t think of that.

SB: In my parents’ basement, Krull screened 70 times a day, almost as much as that other Errol Flynn-inflected wonder, Nate and Hayes (Tommy Lee Jones’ signature comic role—funny-ass pirate movie). A perfect summer day for me was lucking out with some kind of outrageous combo cobbled from Showtime, HBO and Cinemax, where you’d get to see Krull, Nate and Hayes, The Dark Crystal, Dragonslayer, Beastmaster, Conan the Destroyer, Clash of the Titans and, I dunno, Enemy Mine back to back. Or overlapping as you surfed.

JL: Well, as the resident youngster, that’s how I got introduced to Krull: midway through a rainy Saturday on Channel 17 in Philadelphia. I was over at my grandparents’ place and bemoaning a lack of electronic entertainment. Flipped through the channels desperate for something to watch while I put my action figures through the ringer and there it was. I got to admit, the glaive was the first thing that caught my eye and it was just at the very end—the dome explodes and Colwyn is battling The Beast.

Of course, that way also introduced me to Bloodsport.

AF: Krull was one of a handful of movies my brother and I seemed to always end up watching, along with Making the Grade, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Conan the Destroyer and an Australian movie called Fortress with Rachel Ward.

JE: One confession: I’d never seen this movie all the way through before last week. It took four attempts to get to the Krull-clusion. and it was hard going. For me, this movie is the fantasy-epic equivalent of C.H.U.D., Eddie and the Cruisers, or Hot Dog… The Movie. If you had cable TV in the 1980s, you absorbed some Krull. Like a cheesy summer song.

JL: So is Krull one of the last great “cheesy” fantasy epics? Compare it a live-action fantasy like Lord of the Rings these days and it seems like it would be. Or am I merely spoiled in how I see these films?

JE: Horses with fiery hooves. Never enough flying Clydesdales in an epic movie.

AF: It seems like epic fantasy is either vaguely Arthurian or vaguely Babylonian (with George RR Martin using both in his series A Song of Ice and Fire).

SB: Anglo-Saxon = epic.

AF: Come to think of it, I find it curious that there are no dragons in Krull.

SB: A dragon in Krull would have been too much for the soul to bear. Some kind of tricked-out space dragon who spit phosphorus. I would have went on up to heaven.

AF: Could you imagine if the Beast actually RODE on a dragon? And then Colwyn would have to kill the dragon with the glaive and then do hand-to-appendage combat with the Beast. I feel like that’s the best movie ever made.

SB: If George Lucas owned the copyright, he would now pixel in the glaive-Beast-dragon action, and it would be SO wack. (Okay, this is the last time I will hijack this discussion to trash neo-Lucas.)

JL: So when we’re dealing with so much fantasy—and thanks for bringing up the inevitable George Lucas—why did this genre drop so quickly into the straight-to-video hell reserved for things like The Barbarians and other such fantasy fare?

AF: In terms of why fantasy isn’t a viable genre, despite the success of LOTR, well, what I hear a lot is that a fantasy story needs to have “pre-awareness” to compete at the box office. Yet some disproportionate number of the top-grossing films of all time have been in the fantasy genre. On the one hand, America loves these movies, but on the other hand, America won’t go see them. And you see the same genre bias in literature. Speculative fiction is only acceptable if someone like Michael Chabon or Philip Roth is taking the piss out of the genre, where superlative storytellers like George RR Martin and Robin Hobb are sent packing to the mass market aisles. It’s like we need a stamp of approval from the cool kids.

SB: Krull stands out because it has some of the clunkiness and uncertain production design of a cheapie like Beastmaster, but its visuals fairly pulse like something from the Spielberg-Lucas realm. IMDb says the guy that shot The Empire Strikes Back [ed. note: Cronenberg second Peter Suschitsky] was the cinematographer. Too much geekness even for this conversation: Brian Johnson and other Industrial Light and Magic defectors worked on the f/x. The opticals do have that luminous ILM quality, discernible in flicks like Dragonslayer. Vic “Raiders of the Lost Ark” Armstrong was the stunt coordinator. So, no wonder the film felt so familiar and comfortable, like a flame broiled burger from some random joint other than Burger King.

JE: No way. Unspecial FX. Except for the giant spider. That scared me. The Renaissance Faire reject who kept transforming himself into animals: awful. Even the dullest child would find this unfunny. I pitied Ken Marshall when he was forced to react with hearty ha-ha-has to every crap magic trick. Even Errol Flynn couldn’t dignify this kind of Christmas pantomime gone wrong.

AF: I think that across the board, Krull has every element of a great fantasy film—and yet it’s hollow at the center. It doesn’t make me cry the way I do when I watch The Empire Strikes Back, or the Lord of the Rings films. I attribute this to two things. One, the Beast isn’t anthropomorphized enough/He’s too distant a villain. At least Sauron had Saruman. Second, I think that the script stays way too vague in setting up the central relationship. The dialogue between Colwyn and Lyssa is so generic that it doesn’t come close to achieving that odd blend of universality and intimacy that makes love stories sing.

JE: On the other hand, it’s got James Horner’s score: fabulous, done with a full orchestral arrangement. And the producers obviously spent a mint on locations and huge soundstages (check out the transition from real forests—Wales?—to the “Widow’s Web” and misty marshes that the hero and robbers get sucked into.

JL: The “hollow center” of Krull makes me think of another thing: I can’t remember a fantasy semi-kid’s film that has so many of its main characters dying off or being left for dead. The final raid on the Black Fortress is probably one of the bleakest things I’ve ever seen, and almost made me think that the hero’s journey was going to fail.

So in a sense, that’s perfect. And I’m questioning whether this wasn’t deliberate when [director Peter] Yates and [writer Stanford] Sherman were putting this together. Because by this point, we were used to seeing Han frozen in carbonite and Luke get his hand lobbed off. But Han was alive and Luke never seemed to be in that much danger. This feels like if, at the last second, Boba Fett shoots Han and the Millennium Falcon was five seconds too late to save Luke.

Not to mention it killed Liam Neeson. Only Christian Bale, Ray Park, scores of extras in the Irish countryside, Daniel Day-Lewis and Pierce Brosnan can get away with doing that. In the grand scheme of killing Neeson on screen, The Beast was the first, thus making him the most evil of villains.

JE: Speaking of the Hollow Center of Krull: Ken Marshall.

Kind of a callow youth facing a hero’s journey, but a dainty fey puss who goes waaaaaaaaaa and lies down and cries like total bay-bee, “I lost my father and my KINGDOM in the same daaaaay” and has to have his little scratch on his hairless chest dressed and treated by someone else.

AF: Colwyn’s temper tantrum is such an off-putting moment. He also gives this silly little high-pitched grunt when he’s reaching his arm out in the swamp. He’s like Harry Potter in books 1-3—utterly dependent on others to save him, even at the end. When he’s rescued by a girl.

The leader of the thieves is a much stronger character, both in the writing & in the performance.

JE: “I chose well,” says Lyssa the princess, two minutes after meeting this prime specimen of daintiness. (Different strokes for different folks, but Ken Marshall: not on my menu.)

But Lysette Anthony gives feisty good princess. Underneath her epic shrub of 80s hair (Aqua Net & Henna: been there), behind the dubbed voice, she’s better than the average ingenue. Feisty, rave, ardent. Yes, I did notice her awesome expressive cleavage. When the movie began, I could’ve sworn Lyssa was the protagonist—and the Colwyn character is just an instrument of her princess-American Girl Doll quest (to protect her kingdom by a strategic marriage). Until she basically loiters hangs around at the Beast Castle of the Body for 90 minutes, waiting for Colwyn to show up, so she can unleash her Fire-thing at… whatever that thing was.

SB: I was going to say that the hollow center of Krull is the hollow center of all the ’80s Spielberg-Lucas wannabes—hacky above-the-line creative staff. But, no, the combination of sturdy storyteller Peter Yates and screenwriter Stanford Sherman, who’s responsible for both a Clint Eastwood orangutan movie and (good God) Ice Pirates sounds as inspired as the Kershner-Lucas-Brackett combo on The Empire Strikes Back. (Any revenue generated by this article should be turned over to IMDb).

So I can’t account for why the film is only a superficial thrill. It’s not the work of hacks, but it didn’t steal my pre-adolescent mind and soul in the manner of Star Wars.

What earned my enduring love, though, were the Slayers. One thing that really gets the kids is an evil army that has its shit together. The fetishistic thrill of the Storm Troopers, the original Pong-eyed Cylons, the Planet of the Apes apes in their leather Black Panther vests. The Slayers belong in that company. Contrast them with the ineffectual, lightfooted Droid Army in the Star Wars prequels to see what I mean. Every little sci-fi fantasy geek has a fascism jones.

AF: One thing that has always intrigued me about Krull is its status as hybrid. It’s a medieval epic set in space, where battle is done with lasers AND hand weapons. I can’t think of another film like it.

JL: But that’s the beauty of the 80s: everyone was so goddamn coked out of their minds that a space western castle fantasy where Liam Neeson bites it was acceptable.

JE: Maybe the Rock Star Robbers asked to die early, so they could sleep off their hangovers? Anyway, I submit that the House Next Door Award for Best Costume Design goes to… whoever decided to outfit the helpful highwaymen in heavy metal leather, fur and studded collars. Liam Neeson making out with a rock chick who looks like a Jazzercise instructor: eternally fresh. And who knew that Alun Armstrong was, in his prime, the lead guitarist of the Scorpions?

SB: Justine, you’re right: This flick could have been cut up into at least a dozen metal videos, thanks to the robber gang. But where Annie disagreed with me over the production design, I have to defend the special effects as… special. Those firehorses are every bit as cool as a rollerblading Decepticon, blotchy composites and all. The Renaissance Fairy’s transformations and the blind wizard’s freaky talons (“Here is the knowledge you SEEEK!”) thrilled/spooked me at 11 years old.

AF: So is Krull due for a remake/sequel/prequel?

JL: If you made a Krull today, it would be on Saturday night at 9pm as a Sci-Fi Channel Original feature. These days, fantasy films demand they must be either kid friendly, marketable or a video game tie-in. They can’t ever exist on their own universe or without a pre-set fanbase, otherwise studios won’t go near them. That’s part of the fascination I have with a film like Krull: you literally couldn’t make it today.

Even the crappiest “Sci-Fi Original,” which is their fun way of saying they acquired a Direct To Video product, has a tie to something else. Either it is D-level shlock (Rock Monster, which is pretty funny) or one of the countless giant animal films. Or that one coming up which is about tornadoes in New York.

SB: Annie, I’m starting to doubt whether you truly love Krull with all your heart. How could you, with a question like, “Is Krull due for a remake/sequel/prequel?” Next you’ll be asking for a re-imagining of Critters or The Last Dragon (“Nick Cannon as Bruce Leroy”).

But I’ll bet Krull: Reloaded is on the way. In that case, I’d prefer an unpretentious pop culture junkie like Brett Ratner at the helm rather than the inevitable Michael Bay (Slayers with sweaty biceps) or Paul W.S. Anderson (Slayers with rotary machine guns).

AF: I think the biggest unanswered question Krull raises for me is this: “Where have all the badgood movies gone?”

SB: Your question has produced the answer to another: Uwe Boll. That’s who should direct a Krull remake, and that’s who is making the new badgood movies you crave. Alone in the Dark and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale are but two flicks by Toilet Boll that convince me he’d do Krull justice.

JL: As you all probably know, I am the #2 Boll Fan Supporter since he is the Anti-Director. And with Krull’s status as hybrid fantasy justice creature from flaming Clydesdale hell, it is only fitting he helm it.

Of course, it’d star Michael Madsen.

AF: I can’t believe you all are degrading my precious Krull with Uwe Boll enthusiasm. I ought to dump you all in the fires of Mordor for that.

But can we get Tracy Morgan to play the Renaissance Fairy?

SB: Tracy Morgan, of course. I want to get started on a petition campaign with John Lichman, for an Uwe Boll Krull remake produced by the Sci-Fi network. I joked a lot in here, but on this matter I am dead serious.

JE: Does that guy get paid every time someone mentions his name, or is it: say his name 100,000 times and one idiot buys a ticket to his movie?

Okay, I’ll say his silly name: Uwe Boll cannot direct a remake of Krull because he’s afraid to. Uwe Boll is a wee, trembling madchen-boy who prances around a boxing ring wearing lederhosen, looking at himself in the mirror, dreaming up sales pitches for his movies instead of re-writing and storyboarding and generally making them suck less. And I, Justine Elias, challenge Uwe Boll to a Fire-Mare (draught-horse) riding competition because Boll—if he recalls—refused to box female critics. The puss. If he wins, he has to direct Krull: The Remake. And if he loses, he has to buy me a real, live horse.

Steven Boone is a New York-based critic and filmmaker, a contributor to Vinyl Is Heavy and the publisher of Big Media Vandalism.

Justine Elias is a legal assistant for a non-profit public health organization, and writes about film and television for the Boston Phoenix and other publications.

Annie Frisbie defends genre on a regular basis at Reading is My Superpower. She is a screenwriter living in Queens with husband John and daughter Beatrice.

John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E [print only] and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.