Monday, September 17, 2012

KRULL (1983)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, metaphysical*

KRULL, debuting a few months after the concluding chapter of George Lucas' STAR WARS, shows its creators struggling to assimilate the demands of the science-fantasy genre.  Director Peter Yates, best known for the Steve McQueen thriller BULLITT, directed no metaphenomenal films before or after KRULL, suggesting that he had no great interest in such genres.  Writer Stanford Sherman had done various teleseries episodes for BATMAN and THE MAN FROM UNCLE, so he at least had some prior acquaintance with writing fantasy-fiction.  Still, KRULL, though a fairly enjoyable fantasy-film, feels like an effort on its creators' parts to cash in on STAR WARS and/or the emerging Dungeons and Dragons subculture.

"Krull" is the name of a fantasy-planet inhabited primarily by humans, though there are various fantasy-beings who live there as well.  The film opens on a world where feudal-style kingdoms have been at war with each other for some time, but an alien threat has arise, as armored soldiers called "Slayers" have invaded, under the command of a monstrous creature called "the Beast."

Two formerly warring city-states-- that of King Eirig and that of King Turold-- attempt to patch up their differences and form a permanent alliance against the Beast's forces. To this end they arrange a marriage between Prince Colwyn and Princess Lyssa, who are already romantically involved prior to the arrangement.  Interestingly, Lyssa's father Eirig is more than a little reluctant to see his little girl married to Colwyn, as he dourly predicts that "good warriors make bad husbands." 

The alliance is foiled when a contingent of Slayers invade Turold's castle.  The evil drones carry off Lyssa and murder everyone in the castle, missing only Colwyn.  A wise old man named Ynyr seeks out the surviving warrior and guides him in his quest to recover Lyssa.  His first goal is to direct Colwyn to claim a mystic weapon called "the Glaive", which, as seen above, looks like a metallic throwing-star.  Colwyn claims this without much trouble, but the next step proves difficult. Colwyn can only find the hideout of his enemies, the "Iron Fortress," with the help of seers, for the fortress teleports from one location to another on a daily basis.

In approved D&D tradition, Colwyn and Ynyr collect a number of allies as they progress toward their goal.  Most of these allies belong to a gang of bandits whom Colwyn manages (not very convincingly) to talk into being his honor guard.  Others include a comic-relief magician who keeps accidentally turning himself into animals, a bland little boy, and a cyclops who can foresee his own death.  However, the Beast becomes aware of Colwyn's effort and sends forces to harry him.  The villain also uses magic to block most ordinary seers from finding his fortress, forcing Ynyr to seek out the one being whom the evil one can't block: the "Widow of the Web."  Once Ynyr acquires and conveys the information-- at the cost of his own life-- Colwyn and his followers invade the Iron Fortress.  Aided by the steadfast love of Lyssa, Colwyn manages to use the power of the Glaive and defeat the monster, so that Krull will endure in a happy-ever-after future.

Despite the many fairy-tale touches, KRULL is, in contrast with the work of George Lucas, very preoccupied with themes of death.  One of the bandit-followers remarks that all they're getting for their efforts are "rocks in our pockets and gravestones over our heads."  One of the other bandits dies slowly in quicksand despite his friends' attempts to save him, and an old blind seer who joins the company is slain by a demon so that she can take the seer's place and spy on the group.  And, as noted before, Rell the Cyclops belongs to a race that had once been two-eyed, but as a group sacrificed an eye apiece to the Beast, who promised them knowledge of the future-- though all the Cyclopses ever know is the hour of their own individual deaths.

Similarly, the sequence in which Ynyr must venture alone into the dwelling-place of the "Widow of the Web," a giant white web guarded by a giant white spider, is haunted with death-imagery. Ynyr only gets through by appealing to the Widow on the basis of a previous romance they shared, and she admits him by using a magic hourglass to temporarily suspend the giant spider's activities.  Before Ynyr can get the needed information, the old woman-- who for some unexplained reason shares the same proper name as the hostage princess-- reminds him that because he left her after their time together, she took out her anger at him by killing their child-- which seems to have something to do with her lonely vigil in the web.  Ynyr forgives her, though, so she gives him the information he needs, as well as passage out of the web, although the necessary magic costs both her life and Ynyr's.  It's easily the best sequence in KRULL, but it's certainly far more depressing than anything in George Lucas.

Speaking of Lucas, though there's some decent design-work in the film, one can't help but think Lucas every time one sees an animated ray-blast or looks at the Slayers in their dark version of Storm Trooper duds.  Worst of all, when Slayers perish they make a high-pitched screechng sound strongly reminiscent of R2D2's scream at the end of STAR WARS.  One source claims that the sound-effect was recycled from the earlier film AT THE EARTH'S CORE, but even so I suspect it might have been chosen on the basis of its resemblance to a sound from the Lucas oeuvre.

The Beast, who spends most of the film trying to talk Princess Lyssa into marrying him instead of Colwyn, isn't a terribly compelling villain.  He's essentially a retread of familiar devil-motifs, ranging from "the devil as trickster" (cf. the bad deal he gives the Cyclops race) to "the devil as tempter," trying to convince Lyssa that Power is more important than Love.  The Beast makes one paltry attempt to convince Lyssa that Colwyn will cheat on her by showing her a "crystal ball" scene in which his female demon attempts to seduce the Prince.  However, even the Beast's own lackey betrays him by falling for noble Colwyn, accidentally reaffirming Lyssa's belief in Love.  Yates never manages to make these scenes of highflown sentiment as interesting as the ones involving death and loss.

There are some minor references to the sexual alchemy of male and female, particularly at the climax, where Colwyn loses the Glaive but can still use its power thanks to being empowered by Lyssa's willing assent to his love.  But few of the characters come alive even to the extent that the Star Wars characters do, not even the death-haunted Cyclops Rell.  None of the principal cast-members became strong headliners, though one of the minor bandit-characters was essayed by a very young Liam Neeson.

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