Ludicrously lavish and, by turns, lavishly ludicrous, “Krull” is a wonderfully wasteful, overindulgent high fantasy misfire that still manages to entertain even as it baffles and frustrates in equal measure.
When The Beast’s star-travelling space fortress crashes onto the planet Krull, it interrupts the wedding of Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Princess Lysse (Lysette Anthony – at least visually) and, like the most literal wedding crasher in history he sends his shock troopers to kidnap the bride and destroy the venue. Nursed back to health by the wise Old One, Ynyr (Freddie Jones), Colwyn sets out to retrieve the Glaive – a magical weapon – to defeat the Beast, reclaim his bride and fulfil the prophecy.
Although it largely brings us a remix of “The Lord Of The Rings” by way of “Star Wars” and “Excalibur”, “Krull” is so derivative of nearly every fantasy trope that it’s impossible to sort out which influence comes from where definitively. What it does have is a truly spectacular combination of location shooting – many a scene is padded out by beautiful scenery – and some astonishingly grand set design (at the time it was one of the most expensive movie productions of all time and took up ten sound stages at Pinewood Studios, including the largest one, the historic 007 stage.
It’s packed full of spectacle and great ideas but they don’t all hang together in a coherent fashion. The Beast’s motivations are vague and ill-defined and the storytelling all too often falls prey to a repetitive cycle of there being only one way to achieve the next step of the journey, a way fraught with peril only for there to be, at the last minute, an alternative way which may or may not contain as much peril. While much of the mythology is left unexplained in a refreshingly exposition-free way, it errs too often on the side of circumspection and a bit more explanation may have helped the stakes feel higher than they ever do.
Another problem is that its central characters – Colwyn, Lyssa and The Beast – are generic and uninteresting, which contrasts with the more colourful and quirky supporting characters and wonderfully designed henchmen. Freddie Jones makes for an appealing Yoda surrogate and the likes of Francesca Annis, Robbie Coltrane, Liam Neeson, Bernard Bresslaw Alun Armstrong and even Tucker Jenkins himself Todd Carty lend the film some much-needed texture and spark.
But despite its problems, its visuals are a treat (although the special effects leave a lot to be desired) and its action sequences are pretty darned good. All of the money ends up on-screen even if, arguably, it’s not all well spent. Gleefully willing to whittle its cast of characters down through regular tragic and occasionally stupid deaths, it’s nonsense of course but crucially it’s enjoyable nonsense. It’s also – to date – the closest thing in tone to a live-action adaptation of the “Dungeons & Dragons” TV cartoon series.
Less than the sum of its parts and let down by a fumbled, underwhelmingly blurry and soft-focus showdown with the beast, it manages to linger longer in the memories of the kids who grew up watching it than it would to contemporary audiences thanks to the extravagant production values, some choice macabre fantasy sequences, James Horner’s classic all-purpose early 1980s score and that laughably impractical but undeniable cool looking killer frisbee The Glaive.