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Willow on DVD

Epic Fantasy a la Lucas/Howard

George Lucas and Ron Howard movies are always worth watching, so when the two team up it's an event.

It first happened with American Graffiti, with Lucas directing and Howard starring, but Ron Howard then went on to carve out an honored career for himself as a director of such films as Apollo 13, EdTV, Backdraft, Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas and others, and Lucas generally turned the directing reins over to others while he contented himself with the Big Picture of producing. So bringing the two of them together as producer (Lucas) and Director (Howard) should be, if nothing else, highly interesting.

And it is. Willow is an epic fairy tale in the vein of Lord of the Rings, a family-suitable fantasy adventure full of magic, monsters, evil, and the triumph of good over such.

Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis, who earlier played the main Ewok in Lucas' Return of the Jedi and appears in a very brief cameo in The Phantom Menace) is a Nelwyn farmer with a family. Nelwyns are a race of dwarfs whose main "elite" is the local sorcerer. Willow is an aspiring sorcerer himself, and after discovering a baby floating Moses-like in the river he is appointed to deliver what turns out to be an infant princess to safety from the evil queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) who wants to destroy the child before she can grow up to defeat her.

The child is also a Daikini, the other dominant race, which are normal sized humans. On the journey to return the child to the Daikini, Willow and his entourage come upon the adventurous Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a Han Solo-like rogue and scoundrel who eventually finds his calling serving Willow and the forces of good. The two pair up to take the baby to safety, which amounts to finding and saving a good sorceress under a spell of Bavmorda.

There's action galore, plenty of special effects, gorgeous locations and beautiful production values, great opportunities for a wonderful surround sound experience. In other words, this is Lucasfilm production at its best, in the grand tradition, though not as good as, the Star Wars movies. The cast deliver marvelous performances and it's amazing the producers could find so many little people who can hold their own acting in a major Hollywood production.

The Special Edition 20th Century Fox DVD has been given the deluxe THX treatment (no surprise for a Lucas film, either) and features a beautiful anamorphic video transfer (though at places it's a tad soft) with rich Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound that rumbles appropriately when the forces of darkness (or just plain thunderclaps) command. The colors are rich and textured, as is the sound.

As you'd expect, there are plenty of extras to whet the videophile's appetite. Chief among them is a running commentary from star Davis. You also get documentary featurettes, one of which details the overall production while the other focuses on the special effects and the groundbreaking, for the day though they're a bit dated now, computer-generated morphing technology.

There's also a photo gallery, teasers/trailers, TV spots, and the THX Optimizer feature that helps you calibrate your audio/video system to best take advantage of the DVD format.

A fine film, well worth owning.

Willow, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
126 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Starring Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Jean Marsh, Billy Barty
Produced by Nigel Wooll
Written by Bob Dolman, Directed by Ron Howard.


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Updated May 13, 2006