Krull is one of those films that just has such a uniquely awesome concept to it. I mean, come on, aliens invading a knights of the round table esque world? There’s no way this isn’t good action cheesy fun. Then I watched it and was…not quite sure what to think. I certainly liked things about it, but the film was way more serious than I expected. However, as mentioned before, I have a policy that I must see a movie at least two times before reviewing it. At the second viewing, knowing what to expect, I enjoyed Krull much more for what it was trying it be, and not for what I wanted it to be. It’s not perfect, but has enough merit to warrant fans of 80s fantasy checking it out.
What is Krull?
In the early 1980s, Star Wars was all the rage, and studios did anything they could to get some of the sweet cash flowing into it. However, unlike the myriad of rip offs and cash ins circulating at the time, Krull was actually intended to compete with Star Wars and replace it as head honcho at the box office.
In order to help Krull stand out and catch the anticipated fantasy film wave (which, sadly, never really materialized until Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy) Colombia Pictures decided to make the film an epic fantasy, but with sci fi elements to help it pull in audiences. After a bare bones script and several rewrites, Peter Yates was put on as director and Ken Marshall was cast as the film’s lead in anticipation of his coming rise to stardom (which also, sadly, never really materialized).
From the start, Krull’s production was beset with problems. The sheer amount of sets, actors and effects and a massive promotional campaign made for an astonishing budget of nearly $47 million (more than Return of the Jedi that same year) and delayed the film’s completion. The original plan was to release the film prior to Star Wars VI but, due to the aforementioned delays the film wasn’t released until 3 days after the finale to George Lucas’s massively popular saga. As would be expected, Krull was solidly trounced at the box office, only barely managing to recoup a third of it’s budget back.
As a result, Krull quickly fell into obscurity, making the occasional circulation on cable or a budget home video release. Unlike other films reviewed on this site, Krull remains pretty obscure today, but has a gradually growing and dedicated fan base.
What is Krull About?
On the planet of Krull, which is in a technological state resembling the medieval era Europe of our world, has an ancient prophecy. That one day, a girl of ancient name shall become queen, and shall chose a queen. Together, they will rule the world of Krull and their son shall rule the galaxy.
On one fateful day, Krull is invaded by a race of beings known only as the Slayers, under the leadership of their fearsome leader, a powerful being called the Beast who rules from a monstrous Black Fortress. The slayers ravage the land, burning and pillaging wherever they go in an effort to enslave the whole planet as they have done for the Beast on many other worlds.
In order to combat this evil, two long time rival kingdoms decide to unite against the slayers through the marriage of the two king’s children. In spite of losing much of their caravan on the way, Prince Corwyn and his father manage to reach the palace for the marriage ceremony and, though this is the first time they have met, Corwyn and Princess Lyssa fall quickly in love. However, before the ceremony can finish, the palace is attacked by the slayers who proceed to badly wound Corwyn, capture the princess and slaughter everyone else.
Ynyr, the ancient one, arrives after the slayers depart and nurses Corwyn back to health, recounting everything that has happened. Together, they set out to recover the mighty glaive, a mystical weapon of legend, and to gather an army to raid the Black Fortress, save Lyssa and save their world.
What Happens in Krull?
At its heart, Krull is a pretty simple story. That’s both its appeal and its main problem. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some interesting and unique ideas in Krull, like the cyclops’s backstory or the fact that, every day, the Black Fortress moves to a completely new location somewhere else on the planet. However, when you get down to it, Krull is really just a story about a prince saving the damsel in distress after finding out where she’s being kept.
Krull’s biggest problem is the fact that the overarching story isn’t terribly engaging. For what really amounts to a very simple story, the movie just runs to long and slow and tries to treat itself like something grand and epic without really feeling grand and epic. It feels like, if the producers wanted something epic, they should have gone through a few more rewrites before throwing so much money on a pretty bland script.
Krull also suffers from a lack of balance in its story. There are segments like the Widow of the Web which are just fantastically well done in every way. Then there are scenes, like one with a changeling trying to seduce Corwyn, that just feel so underdeveloped and rush that they might as well have been tossed out. Fortunately, the weaker segments don’t last too long and are pretty few and far between.
It’s not all bad though. Again, some of the lore they come up with is actually pretty interesting and unique. I like the cyclops’s backstory. I like the stuff about the Widow of the Web. I like some of the ideas behind the Beast and his army of slayers (even though they’re woefully underdeveloped). I just wish the movie could have had more of it.
The acting and casting were pretty solid too. It’s a shame that this movie bombed so badly and tanked Ken Marshall’s career, because he really does have all of the makings of a star. He did his own stunts and was charismatic enough to carry the whole picture. Outside of him, all of the other actors in Krull turn out great performances that manage to be likable in spite of a general lack of development for their characters.
How are the Special Effects in Krull?
Krull had a massive budget ad lengthy production schedule that, wisely, was most dedicated to the visual department. However, like the script and story, the effects seem….unbalanced.
There are just a few effects that feel stiff and awkward, like the changeling’s nails growing in the swamp (which is, by far, the worst offender in my opinion) and the fire mare’s running, which uses a really awkward bluscreen effect.
However, the majority of the effects in Krull look anywhere from decent to stellar. The makeup on the cyclops looks fantastic, as do the slayers and the Beast himself. However, the Giant Spider during the Widow of the Web sequence really steals the show. I’ve always had a soft spot for stop-motion animation, and the effect is just used so well for this scene. It’s a shame that no other stop motion occurs in the film but, apparently, intermixing it with the live film and all of the webbing everywhere was absolutely grueling. Still, it’s a stunning visual feat that easily competes with anything that Star Wars or Indiana Jones have to offer.
Another area where Krull is strong is just in its visual design. The sets are all massive and manage to look appealing. However, the interior of the Black Fortress, again, steals the show here, with its abstract style artwork and almost organic design. It’s a marvel to look at. It’s also, probably, part of what drove production costs to be so high but, dang, it looks fantastic.
How is the Soundtrack in Krull?
Krull has a really solid soundtrack by none other than the late Jack Horner. The main theme successfully manages to capture the feeling of a grand, classic, adventure and hearkens back to the epic adventure films of the 1950s and 1960s, while also feeling like its own thing. It’s also generally pleasant to listen to on its own (unlike, say, Dragonslayer). The only real problem with it is that, sometimes, the music doesn’t seem to fit what’s happening on screen, like when the Black Fortress first lands on the earth in the opening. However, these problems really are few and far between and, as a whole, Krull benefits from a fantastic score that both compliments and elevates the type of film they were trying to make.
Is Krull a Good Movie?
Krull is a good movie that’s held back by too much ambition being poured into too hollow of a plot. For those who enjoy 80s style fantasy films (Legend, The Dark Crystal, Neverending Story) and/or a lot of visual variety and creativity, there’s a lot to like about Krull. However, if your coming in hoping for a deep and epic fantasy yarn, you’ll probably be disappointed.
At its heart, Krull is a cross between Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is both an interesting and an unusual cross of genres in film. If the idea of aliens invading a fantasy movie seems interesting to you, check Krull out, by all means. However, if you’re on the fence about it, I think it’s worth seeing at least once anyway. Because the movie bombed so badly, and has remained somewhat obscure, it’s not very expensive to find on DVD or BluRay these days (I got it on a $5 double pack with Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone…review pending).
Krull has really grown on me. I like it a lot. But that doesn’t mean I’m blind to its flaws, nor do I discredit why someone else might dislike it. Give it a go, and decide for yourself.