Throwback Thirty – Willow (1988)

films, reviews, TBT

willow-movie-poster-1988-10204689425_star_rating_system_2_stars So, I’m having a bit of a Ron Howard moment right now thanks to Solo and the newest series of Arrested Development. He’s the kind of director who has done more films than I remember. I know his Dan Brown films, Apollo 13American Grafitti etc but he’s done a lot more that I always forget about. It was only after the character of Ron Howard brought up the film Willow on an episode of Arrested Development that I was reminded that he directed that film. I think I just get stuck on the George Lucas part that I just ignore anyone else that actually had a hand in making it. In my head, this is a film that was made by George Lucas, Val Kilmer, and Warwick Davis. But no. The ginger kid from Happy Days, obviously, had a hand in it too. So how much of this film have I forgotten over the years? It seemed like a good time to revisit it so, ignoring the rules of my TBT jar, I went ahead and watched it for today’s review.


Willow is a strange film. It never quite made the impression that a post-Star Wars George Lucas story really should. Especially one that so closely resembled The Lord of the Rings well before Peter Jackson got his hands on the story of a small person undertaking a big task. It has received somewhat middling reviews since its release but has gained a small cult following over the years. I mean, it’s not a huge cult following but there are clearly some people out there who see something great in this Val Kilmer and Warwick Davies buddy movie.

Davies stars as the titular hero, Willow, who is a member of the Nelwyn and a farmer who dreams of being a conjurer. When an abandoned baby drifts into Willow’s village he quickly finds his life being turned upside down when it is revealed the baby is being hunted by an evil queen. According to legend, the girl will cause the downfall of the queen. Willow, and a small band of his fellow villagers, are tasked with taking the baby away from the village to keep the resident’s safe. Along the way, they meet a Daikini (Val Kilmer) who has been locked in a crow’s cage. He offers to take the baby if Willow frees him. A series of unforeseen circumstances leaves the two working together to help the baby find a safe place to hide.

It’s not that Willow isn’t a good film. The special effects, for the time at least, are really impressive. There is a lot of fun and silliness going on and it’s entertaining enough. The only thing is, it feels very mediocre. Ron Howard just doesn’t seem to know what to do with the story and nothing ever really pops on screen. It never feels very exciting or engaging in the way you want it to be. Maybe I’ve been spoilt with contemporary fantasy films but nothing here feels very fresh or stand-out. The story itself is just very boring and slow. It feels like a composite of smaller ideas that have been reworked to fit together instead of a cohesive narrative.

And it all feels a bit too silly really. I know fantasy is a dangerous genre where you can quickly go from being credible to being farcical. It’s just Willow all too often falls nearer the farcical end of the spectrum. It’s the kind of film that, if you didn’t know what it was, you could easily mistake it for a parody. Remember a few years ago when parody books were all the rage and popping up all over the place? They sold loads of copies because people loved the originals but the actual books were cringe-worthy references and bad word play. Willow feels like one of the those books. As if this is all just a play on another story that nobody has ever seen.

It’s not as if the cast isn’t good either. Okay, I’ll never really see Val Kilmer as anything important but Warwick Davies has a lot of potential to be great. However, he is always forced to do stupid things and is never given the freedom to get to grips with the character. Willow isn’t a terrible film. It’s just a film that could be a lot better. It’s a forgettable film. Hell, I’ve already forgotten how it ends and I only watched it last night!

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