Starring Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Alun Armstrong
Directed by Peter Yates
Distributed by Umbrella Entertainment
For every good fantasy film, there are at least a dozen imitators that turned in some cheap sword-and-sandal mockery, shot out in the deserts of Spain or Italy, with actors wearing ridiculous get-ups to convince audiences they’re in another world. Few have the budget required to properly sell the illusion. Krull (1983) had a sizable chunk of change in the bank, plus the directing prowess of famed British helmer Peter Yates, along with a stellar art department, and the use of Pinewood’s largest stages – including the fabled 007 stage. But the film still fizzled out at the box office all the same, with critics blasting it for being poorly written and too derivative. Truthfully, yes, Krull treads well-worn plot ground, offering nothing new to the old standard story of a man trying to rescue his damsel from evil. Where it excels is in piecing together a patchwork of strong scenes to create a visually compelling picture. If you can look past a trite story and revel in the awesomeness of watching a cyclops archer shoot medieval beasts in a sketchy swamp to save his swashbuckling bros then, buddy, this is your movie.
A narrator tells viewers of the Black Fortress, an abstract castle that is able to traverse the cosmos and appear anywhere at will, and it just landed on Krull. Colwyn (Ken Marshall, looking like the love child of Patrick Swayze and Benedict Cumberbatch) is set to marry his bride, Lyssa (Lysette Anthony), when the wedding party is attacked by Slayers (sadly, not playing their namesake band during the melee). The spiky bandits kill many of Colwyn and Lyssa’s family before stealing the bride and leaving Colwyn for dead. He is revived by Ynyr (Freddie Jones), who tells Colwyn he can defeat the Slayers and their master, Lord of the Black Fortress, The Beast, if he obtains a special weapon known as the Glaive.
Colwyn retrieves the Glaive (which seems way easier than I was expecting) and rides out toward the Black Fortress – the only problem is, the place reappears somewhere new each morning. During the travels, he meets Ergo (David Battley), a magician with a nine-man wrecking crew (two of whom are Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane). Later, a watchful cyclops, Rell (Bernard Bresslaw), joins the company. Along the way, the group has to contend with quicksand swamps, shapeshifting demons, giant spiders, Slayers, and the influence of The Beast, which is felt far & wide. Colwyn is firm in his resolve and a battle between the forces of good and evil at the Black Fortress is imminent.
This is a film best experienced when viewers are young enough to forgive the myriad dead horse plot points and pedestrian writing. I do find the unique elements of the story are novel since very few space-fantasy medieval films are in existence. This is the legend of King Arthur by way of “The Lord of the Rings” and if you see this film at the right age literally everything in it is awesome. Corwyn finds a badass five-pointed flying blade… that kinda barely gets used. But it’s awesome during the Big Boss battle! There’s a demon that kills a wizard and takes over his body. The cyclops rules. The Slayers are heavily armored and savage, but when they die a giant black slug oozes out of their helmets and back into the earth. It’s pretty metal.
Then there’s The Beast. I used to find him scary and imposing when I was a kid and, you know what, he’s just as effective all these years later. Scenes that showcase The Beast in his full creature suit glory are less convincing, but for the most part, he seems to exist in some abstract state, where only portions of his hulking physique are visible. It certainly lends an otherworldly quality where the standard man-in-suit scenario likely would’ve added too much cheese to a film already laden.
What the film might lack in story, it makes up for by casting actors fully committed to their roles. Ken Marshall might not be the most compelling leading man but he does have this certain exuberance about him that comes off as noble. Anthony is a reluctant captive, constantly at war with The Beast. Neeson and Coltrane are among a group of marauders, nearly all of whom get enough character moments to feel like real people with real concerns. I’ve always been partial to Alun Armstrong’s Torquil, a tough, scarred man who leads the group and proves to be fair and loyal. Jones is great as Ynyr, too, especially during his big scene with the Widow of the Web. It’s an ensemble cast and everyone pulls their weight, leaving no truly bad acting among the bunch.
Krull has gotten a release before in America, first by Sony and then later by Mill Creek, both of which featured the exact same 2.35:1 1080p transfer seen here. Umbrella has stated this is an “all-new scan”, though that likely means just for Australia. No matter, because Sony tends to keep their catalog titles in good shape and Krull is no exception. The anamorphic image allows for plenty of depth and definition, with fine detail remaining high even during nighttime scenes. There are plenty of optical effects, so expect to see the usual spike in film grain. Clarity is strong throughout and the print used here is generally free from damage and debris.
Audio comes via an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. The effort is front-heavy, with clear dialogue and solid delivery among the sound effects. The real treat here is James Horner’s score, one of his earliest efforts, is filled with swashbuckling cues and sweeping tracks. It sounds robust and weighty without being brash. Subtitles are available in English.
The disc retains the bonus features found on Sony’s Special Edition DVD – but not their Blu-ray or Mill Creek’s – making this currently the best buy for fans of the movie. Included is an audio commentary with the cast & crew, a behind-the-scenes commentary, the film’s trailer, “Journey to Krull”, a comprehensive featurette on the making of the movie, and “Krull: Marvel Comic Adaptation”, featuring the full story via animated pages.
Additionally, Umbrella’s release features reversible cover art, allowing buyers to flip around the retail art for something with fewer labels and more classic artwork.
NOTE: This is a Region B disc, meaning you need either a Region B or multi-region player to watch this disc.
- Audio commentary with cast & crew
- Behind-the-Scenes commentary
- Theatrical trailer
- Journey to Krull
- Krull: Marvel Comics Adaptation
Although not close to the top of the fantasy film heap, Krull is nevertheless a damn fun adventure with a rowdy bunch of lads who just want to fight Slayers and defeat the omniscient Beast. The story has been seen plenty of times before but don’t let that stop you from enjoying one of the better fantasy films from the ’80s. Umbrella’s release is just what fans have waited for, finally putting the few bonus features Sony had afforded on a disc with the HD picture.