Am I the only one who keeps thinking this must be a film version of the Robert E. Howard stories? (In case you weren’t aware, KULL is basically a precursor to Conan). The appearance of an actual Kull (the Conqueror) film starring Kevin Sorbo has done little to prevent me from continuing to make this error…
Anyway, I had some pretty fond memories of this (along with basically every fantasy film released between 1980 and 1990), and I recently had an opportunity to watch it again. So I did.
I was, for the most part entertained. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that this is a good film. In fact, it is a bad film. A very bad film indeed.
Some points that I can remember thinking as I watched it:
The film has some rather excellent acting talent from the European Archipelago, including young versions of Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson in minor roles. Sadly, the two leads (possessing the only two american accents in the film) did not add to this pool of talent to any great degree.
The female lead is entirely passive (and bears a disturbing similarity to Cillian Murphy in one early scene), while the male lead does a mean dynamic dash but has very little else going for him. The two characters are quite bland, with no charisma and little chemistry.
The loyal bandits. Most of the acting talent comes from a gang of outlaws who surround and are about to execute the prince when he somhow convinces them that, actually their best bet is to join up with (serve under) him and go on a suicidal mission rather than kill him and take his stuffs. Given basic bandit psychology, his complete lack of charisma, and the sheer crapness of this deal, I’m not quite sure how he managed to pull this one off. Needless to say, all but one of the bandits is dead by the end of the film.
The weapon. The weapon is, I suspect, what most people recall from the film. It’s called a glaive, which is terrible misnomer as, rather than a pike-type weapon, it’s actually a large 5-pointed bladed star thingy. This ‘glaive’ is totally cool. The problem, however, is that the hero is cautioned not to use it till he needs it, so we only see it in action at the very end of the film. Storytelling-wise, I can see why the writer went with this approach. The glaive is an omega-weapon. As long as he wields it, the hero is basically undefeatable; he throws it and whatever is troubling him gets obliterated. This wouldn’t lead to very good dramatic negotiation of conflict moments, so the writer has to put the kaibosh on what is essentially the coolest part of the film apart for a few minutes at the end.
The villain. I don’t know why an enormously powerful, size and shape changing, magical alien would come to another world to kidnap a not terribly attractive woman to be his wife. And one who is highly resistant to the idea at that. Sense? Nonsense.
The Star Wars effect. What we should have on our hands is a perfectly decent fantasy film. An evil sorceror emperor seeks to conquer the world (and find true love while doing it). He throws some fireballs, his black knights hack and slash, and, sure, he has a magical teleporting castle. Because of George Lucas, though, science fiction is cool. Hacking and slashing doesn’t cut it anymore. What these black knights need is fricking laser beams! And why have a villain from this world when you can shoehorn in a space travel scene. These touches are just so incongruous and so unnecessary.
The soundtrack. Too. Many. Horns.
The power of love. At one point the villain sends a shape shifting minion to woo the hero. He hopes to show this to his kidnapee to prove to her what a cad her beloved is and that she should just marry him instead. Further, if the minion fails to get the hero in the sack, she’s to kill him. Seems like a pretty foolproof plan, amiright? In fact, rather than the hero falling in love with the assassin, she falls in love with him (over the course of, hmmm, 20 minutes) and when he rejects her, she tells him about everything and dies herself rather than kill him. What a man.
The conclusion, or the power of love 2. To defeat the big bad guy, the hero, who is basically completely impotent at this stage bar his omega-glaive, releases the weapon which then pretty autonomously goes and does its thing. In fact, it gives the villain such a thorough hiding that it gets lodged in his flesh. Uh oh! The hero is, at this stage, well and truly fecked. He has (skill-lessly) sent his glaive to kill the bad guy for him, but it’s now been so foolish as to get stuck before finishing the job. Luckily, the power of love steps in again to save the day. Realising that nothing is more powerful than their love for each other (I think this scene might be the second time the two protagonists have ever met each other in their entire lives, btw), the hero, who has heretofore been entirely unmagical, suddenly develops the ability to fire a mighty blast of flame from his hand. Yes, it is as ludicrous as it sounds. But it seems to do the job…
Pros: The interior of the villain’s teleporting fortress is rather stylish. It has a trippy array of bewildering rooms, textures, and colours, taking inspiration from animal forms and elsewhere.
Also, there’s a fantastic scene where the blind seer (who arbitrarily has to be transported to some other location, because he can’t do his seering effectively in his original location) is killed and replaced by a doppelganger. His hand is on the back of the hero’s shoulder, who is leading the ostensibly blind seer somewhere, when it starts to creep towards the neck and the eyes open — they’re pure glossy black. Welcome to frisson-ville, population: all viewer’s of Krull.