If you bring up Krull to fantasy film fans, you will get a pretty strong reaction. Some say it’s an underrated classic. Others say it’s a derivative mess. I think I would fall somewhere in between. The film is visually stunning with a number of unique ideas but its cliched story and paint by number characters make it a pretty average experience.
On the planet Krull, the marriage of Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) is interrputed by the Slayers, creatures who serve The Beast. Massacring everyone and gravely wounding Colwyn, the Slayers take Lyssa to the Black Fortress. Ynyr The Old One (Freddie Jones) nurses Colwyn back to health and he sets off on a quest to save the Princess while wielding the magical weapon simply known as the Glaive.
Krull is shot beautifully. The medieval fantasy setting includes huge green valleys, forests and lakes. The Fire Mares, magical Clydesdale horses that can cover a thousand leagues in a day, are shot beautifully even though the obvious green screen effects are somewhat dated.
However, Krull also has some of the more unique visuals of any fantasy film. The Beast and his Black Fortress are monstrously beautiful. While the Slayers seem to be a bit derivative of the creature from Alien, the Beast’s design is suitably frightening. But the stand out is the Black Fortress.
Is the Fortress a castle? A spaceship? It’s a a little unclear, but it oddly works. Contrast this semi-futuristic structure with the traditionally medieval setting and you get one of the more unique sets to ever grace a fantasy film.
The jagged and blackened exterior conceals a surreal and shockingly beautiful interior. Smooth porcelain-like passages, walkways and rooms are the reverse. They hide ugly, organic spikes that can skewer our heroes. It’s a truly nightmarish place…but you can’t help but admire its odd beauty.
And of course there is the infamous Glaive. The five-pointed throwing weapon is something of an icon for fantasy film fans. It’s so iconic that many believe the title refers to the Glaive. It’s design is truly unique, blending the troubling beauty of the Beast’s Black Fortress with the medieval aesthetic.
The supporting cast is actually pretty solid. Freddie Jones completely commits to Ynyr, and goes way over the top in many scenes but it fits the character. Bernard Bresslaw brings a mysterious stoicism to Rell the Cyclops and Alun Armstrong does a lot with very little as the bandit leader Torquil. Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane famously have bit roles in the film, portraying members of Torquil’s band. But there’s nothing special about their characters.
But the film’s leads are the film’s greatest weakness. Ken Marshall and Lysette Anthony aren’t bad acting wise, the roles themselves are boring. Colwyn does have an arc, starting out selfish but becoming a brave leader, but it’s an arc we’ve seen thousands of times before. He’s a dashing guy, but it’s a weirdly empty dashing. Lyssa is basically a damsel in distress and a bland one at that.
Their relationship is never truly developed and relies too heavily on the “love at first sight” trope. Remember the relationship between Faramir and Eowyn in the film version of The Return of the King? Literally just one scene of one look to establish a relationship between two minor characters? That’s basically what happens with Colwyn and Lyssa.
If we can’t buy into the main characters, the whole film can collapse. Torquil and his band of bandits…Rell the Cyclops…Hell, even the Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley) are more interesting to follow than Colwyn and Lyssa. In the end, Krull is simply a “Prince rescues the Princess from the Tower” that other films have honestly done better.
*THIS NEXT SECTION CONCERNS SPOILERS*
The only time Krull brings character, compelling storytelling and unique visuals together is when we meet the “Widow in the Web”. Ynyr seeks the guidance of the infamous Widow (Francesa Annis), an enchantress with a deadly reputation. The “Web” is guarded by a giant spider and everyone who goes to see the Widow never returns.
But this is not why Ynyr is hesitant to see the Widow. The two were once lovers, until she killed their only child. As punishment, The Widow is doomed to be a prisoner in the web. Freddie Jones and Francesca Annis do some solid work, as Jones tones it down a bit. The visuals are amazing to look at. The lair is an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare, covered with webs that could draw the spider, which is designed in a frightening way. The see through design is off putting and makes the spider seem more supernatural.
Honestly, I would have liked to have seen a movie about Ynyr and the Widow. It’s a unique angle that deserves more than a single scene.
*END OF SPOILERS*
I remember absolutely loving Krull when I was young. The Widow in the Web scene influenced my own creative writing, inspiring a film idea I held onto for several years. But sometimes you have to acknowledge the flaws of the things you love. This film will always have a special place in my heart and I think its visual style is something every fantasy film fan should check out. But the writer in me can’t ignore the lack of compelling characters.
SCORE: 6 out of 10