Produced by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, "Willow" did manage to connect fairly well with audiences upon its 1988 release, but it was met with mixed reviews from critics. Although the box office didn't manage to meet expectations, the film has gained somewhat of a cult following over the years since. Personally, while I found this film moderately enjoyable in the years after its release, seeing it today, the film seems more ordinary and less involving.
The film revolves around Willow (Warwick Davis), a little fellow who finds himself the new parent of a small baby that he has plucked out of the river as it passed by in a crumbling little boat. Unsure of what to do with it, he eventually decides, along with other members of the town, to take the baby to a crossroads. Unknown to the characters, Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) also has her signs on the child, who barely escaped from her clutches thanks to a quick-thinking young woman, who sent it down the river.
Once Willow gets to the crossroads, he runs into Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a swordsman who decides to join Willow on his quest after he lets Madmartigan out of the cage he's currently in. The remainder of the film has Willow, Madmartigan and the little kid journeying far and wide, facing monsters and other obstacles to save the kingdom. There's really nothing here that hasn't been done in other, similar pictures. "Willow" often walks across the same path as many other films - and there's some stretches where the 126 minute running time feels rather slow.
Yet, the performance by Warwick Davis as Willow is fun and engaging, as is Kilmer's. The film's New Zeland locations are interesting visually and the cinematography captures them nicely. There's also a few very nice (if definitely not up to today's standards) special effects and the occasional well-staged action sequence. I didn't mind watching "Willow" again, but I still don't think it's that entertaining a picture and I'm a bit confused as to what all the fuss over it is about.
VIDEO: "Willow" is presented in a new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is THX approved. Although the film has a rather dark and murky look to it (which must have looked terrible on previous home video releases), the New Zeland locations and Adrian Biddle (the "Mummy" movies)'s cinematography often make for some impressive visuals. Sharpness and detail are generally very good, except for a few dimly-lit moments here and there.
Flaws are noticable, but minor, and likely won't cause much distraction for viewers. Slight dirt and grain are visible in a few moments here and there, but these moments are brief. Otherwise, I saw suprisingly little in the way of wear on the image quality, as the picture displayed a speck or two, but nothing more than that. No pixelation was seen, but I did notice some very light edge enhancement during a couple of scenes.
The film's color palette is generally quite subdued, but appears accurate and nicely presented here. Flesh tones looked natural, as well. Overall, this is a very nice presentation from Lucasfilm.
SOUND: "Willow" is presented in newly remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. While this new presentation is not terribly agressive, I found that it was consistently a bit more active than I'd expected, providing pleasing envelopment even in the quieter sequences and some occasional surround use of more respectable intensity during the more action-driven moments. Surrounds also are used fairly well to extend the score out into the listening space.
Given that this is a George Lucas production, some big names were involved with the original soundtrack production, including famed sound designer Gary Rydstrom ("The Haunting", "Jurassic Park"), who served as foley artist for this film, Shawn Murphy ("A.I.") who served as score mixer, Ben Burtt ("Star Wars"), who served as sound designer and Ivan Sharrock ("U-571", the upcoming "Gangs of New York") who served as production sound mixer. Overall, the soundtrack for "Willow" is a top-notch effort, with strong audio quality for the crisp, distinct effects, the warm, vibrant score and clear dialogue.
MENUS: Nicely animated main menu, with music and images from the movie. Nicely laid out and easily navigated.
Commentary: This is a commentary from actor Warwick Davis, who plays "Willow" in the picture. I was suprised by how detailed and informative this track is, as Davis is able to not only discuss stories and conditions on the set, but also is able to point out some of the technical and effects work over the course of the picture. It's an intelligent and insightful discussion, as Davis is able to recall quite a great deal about the making of the movie and what happened during the production.
Willow: The Making of an Adventure: This is a 20-minute documentary that was originally produced in 1988. Following a hilariously cheesy voice-over that introduces the documentary and a somewhat embarassingly silly little clip from Ron Howard selling the picture, we get some decent production footage. There's quite a few interesting behind-the-scenes clips, as we watch many of the sequences being filmed, as well as how some of the early, rather primitve effects were staged. Interviews with Ron Howard, Warwick Davis, producer Lucas any others are also included. The full-frame presentation looks as if it was taken from a video.
From Morf To Morphing: This is a newly produced 23 minute documentary that takes a look back at the revolutionary special effects that "Willow" offered. ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) members, George Lucas and Ron Howard discuss their thoughts in interviews and some clips show further how these effects were completed.
TV Spots/Trailers: The first of the menus offers 8 TV Spots. If you go down to "More" on the TV spots menu and click right, a little graphic will appear on-screen. Clicking will offer another short (8 minute) featurette on the visual effects that was made around the time of production. If you actually click on "more", you'll be lead to another screen with 3 trailers.
Also: Photo gallery.
Final Thoughts: "Willow" has it's moments, but I don't think it's aged that well or remains as entertaining as I may have once thought it was. Still, the DVD is recommended for fans of the film, as Fox/Lucasfilm offers a fine presentation of the film itself as well as some decent supplements.