Movie Reviews Old School Wednesdays

Old School Wednesdays May Watchalong (Summer Movie Series): Willow

As you probably know by now, Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when we were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past, right?

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In March 2013, we asked YOU for your favorite old school suggestions – and the response was so overwhelmingly awesome, we decided to compile a goodreads shelf, an ongoing database, AND a monthly readalong/book club.

This month OSW kicks off our summer movies watchalong! Summer is amazing for so many reasons, and one of them is the fact that it is movie season. And in addition to all of the awesome blockbusters hitting screens, there are a ton of old school classic showings in parks and theaters to celebrate the warm months. We Book Smugglers are big fans of the summer movie season – so we’ll be hosting our very own Old School Wednesdays Summer Movie Series from May through September.

We’re treating this review as a straight-up, simple review with Ana’s and Thea’s takes. We’ll give our opinions regarding the book, then we’ll ask YOU to join in.

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Title: Willow
Directed by Ron Howard
Screenplay by Bob Dolman
Story by George Lucas
Starring:
Val Kilmer
Joanne Whalley
Warwick Davis

Willow

Review:

Ana’s Take:

Watching old favourites is always a complicated adventure – a quest in itself, if you will – in which a mixture of memories, nostalgia and the not-so-easy to navigate difference between the present!you and past!you have to find common ground.

As it just so happens, Past!Ana LOVED Willow when it first came out in 1988. I was 12 years old and fell hopelessly in love with the movie for very specific reasons: the special effects! The magic! The adventure! The comic moments with the Brownies! The romance!

Above all, teenage me loved Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan – he was in fact, the reason why I went to watch Willow in the first place because I had a super crush on Val Kilmer back then from watching Top Secret, Top Gun and Real Genius, all of which I watched on my brand new VCR, by the way. GOD I AM OLD. Here is a short clip from Top Secret that made teenage Ana super happy:

Anyway, I must have watched Willow four/five times at the movies then rented the video multiple times when it came out. I think I probably watched it in my twenties at some point but I have not watched it within the past ten years or more.

As you can probably guess, I was super nervous about watching a childhood favourite especially since I’d be inevitably watching it with Present!Ana critical glasses.

Surprisingly, Present!Me still loves Willow but for completely different reasons. To start with, I’d say the movie stands the test of time pretty well, apart from the super dated, entertainingly terrible special effects. This is hilarious because I just found Roger Ebert’s contemporary review and he mentions:

What was supposed to make “Willow” special was the quality of the production. This is a sword-and-sorcery epic produced by George Lucas, whose “Star Wars” portrayed the same kind of material in outer space, and directed by Ron Howard, whose human touch made “Cocoon” one of the best recent science-fiction movies. The special effects are by Lucas’s company, Industrial Light and Magic, which has set the standard in such matters. The budget was umpteen million dollars, and Hollywood has been hoping that the Force was definitely with this film.

If Past!Ana loved Willow because it was funny and adventurous and romantic, Present!Me found this movie to be subversive in ways I was not expecting and loved it all the more for it. To my chagrin, my fond memories of it did not include all the powerful women in the story, or the fact that the story was actually built around them. Willow might be a hero, but he is a hero who is a helper – all the real power belong to the ladies specially the sorcerers. Nor did it realise how cool it was to have a couple of guys travelling with a baby and being nurturing babysitters. In fact, one of Willow’s most important characteristics is the fact that he is a good, loving dad. The quest of heroism he undertakes might be utterly familiar, yes, but everything built around said quest is not.

I still love Madmartigan by the way, but this time around I paid more attention to the coolness of warrior Sorcha. A story with mommy issues instead of the regular daddy issues? Yes, please. My one problem in this rewatch was how fast the “romance” progresses and how soon Sorcha completely changes side. Do I get the allure of hot Val Kilmer as Madmartigan with his long, long beaaaaaautiful hair and earrings?

Madmartigan

Yes, Yes I do.

But still. Too fast. And slightly creepy with regards to consent issues and love potions shenanigans.

Like I said, I love the movie to this day and the soundtrack? Still kicks major ass.

Thea’s Take:

Oh man, memory lane. Like Ana, I *loved* Willow very much as a child. It was a beloved film that my family watched and recorded from cable television (I had a LOT of recorded VHS cassettes in my childhood, and the commercials are as dearly loved and remembered as the films themselves), and later a film that was rented over and over again from Blockbuster and various international video rental bastions, domestically and internationally.1

I also own Willow today on old school DVD – a gem I rescued from a $5 Best Buy bucket during my college-going years. As such, I’ve rewatched Willow more recently (and frequently) than Ana. In fact, when I learned that my boyfriend had never seen Willow, into the DVD player the film went.2

The reason I own Willow today is because it is GREAT movie. Not only does it stand the test of time – and I think the special effects are still pretty damn awesome, by the way – it is even better upon rewatching because it is so subversive and diverse and unconventional. It’s better, I would wager, than a lot of the epic fantasy films *cough* The Battle of the Five Armies *cough* that are made today.

In short: I love Willow. I love it hard.

Why is Willow so awesome? Let’s examine, shall we?

It’s All About The Ladies

Sorsha

How many major epic fantasy Hollywood blockbusters can boast a matriarchal society of Queens, sorcerers, and warriors? I have *always* been drawn to Willow because of Sorsha and her intense mommy issues – she burns to please her powerful Queen, but nothing she ever does is good enough. The scene when her mother calls in General Kael to find the child because of Sorsha’s failure still stings to watch; the scene when Bavmorda discovers that her daughter has betrayed her, that’s even more powerful.

Cherlindrea

The power players here are ALL women – from the evil Bavmorda, to the ephemeral Cherlindrea, to the form-locked Fin Raziel, to the Girl Who Will Change Them All: the baby Elora Danon. The fate of the world rests in Elora Danon’s survival, and those who will fight to protect her. (Including the midwife at the beginning of the film!) Even better – these aren’t all young and beautiful women, obsessed with youth and beauty. They are powerful heroes and villains, obsessed with the fate of the world and with their own power. That’s awesome.

It’s Scary

You’re all PIGS!

I used to watch movies that scared me, when I was kid. Willow is actually scary, people. Queen Bavmorda is terrifying. Her spells (pigs!), her theatrical rage, the way she turns all Dark Emperor from Star Wars at the end of this film in the rain, her spooky iron crown… ALL of it used to scare the bejeezus outta me. The pig spell, in particular. I don’t know why, but the pig transformation scene (above) has always stuck with me. Same goes for the Willow trying to work the spell to return Fin Raziel back to her human form.

…But At The Same Time, It’s Hilarious

willowbrownie1

Madmartigan has always been the plucky comic relief, in my mind, from the time we meet him on the road in a crossroads cage, to the time we see him pretending to be a woman, to the time he’s hit with a love potion and spies Sorsha. The brownies Rool and Franjean are also easy fun, with Rool’s beer bucket drinking shenanigans to the time he accidentally falls in love with a cat. Also… poop jokes!

It’s SO Subversive

Warwick Davis was a staple of my childhood, from his role in the Chronicles of Narnia TV series, to Return of the Jedi (Wickett) to his turn in the Leprechaun films (and eventually, of course, the Harry Potter films). In Willow, he is the eponymous hero of the story, but as Ana says he is a hero whose primary role is to play the nurturing protective surrogate father to a fated child who has chosen him as her protector. He supports others more powerful than him – in terms of magic, ability, or strength – but also learns to believe in himself. It’s a fantastic character arc, really.

And it has the BEST Magical Duel (and resolution) EVER

Queen Bavmorda and Fin Raziel throw down in Willow, and as previously established, Bavmorda is one very scary mother. That last duel in her stone dungeon magic throne room used to scare the bejeezus outta me, because Bavmorda’s twisted Dark Side magic and appearance and dominance is so powerful.

And the best part? It takes a magician – not a real magic magician, but a trick of misdirection! – to save the day.

In Conclusion: Willow Rules
And you should watch it immediately.

And now we turn it over to you! Sound off and let us know what you thought of Willow! We will also take the party/discussion to Twitter on #OSWWatchalong – please join us through the day to talk about this old school favorite and whether it stands the test of time.

  1. I grew up in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Japan and I’m proud to say that Willow was present at every international video store – AREA Club! Tsutaya! – I frequented in my youth.
  2. Date of last rewatch: March 30, 2015.

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3 Comments

  • Octavia
    June 3, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Oh, I LOVED this film when I was a kid! Still love it… I remember my English teacher loving it too. He made us all study it in class, over a lengthy period, and we were all so grateful because it wasn’t bloody Shakespeare…

    And the RANGE of women in it, from the midwife to the queen… old, young, different classes and talents, and all with their own storylines and motivations, none there to be a prop. It’s so easy to imagine Willow gender-flipped, with Madmartigan inserted as the “strong” female character with plunging necklines and Willow typically maternal. Kudos to everyone involved for subverting nearly everything!

    And look at Sorcha, in that picture. Wearing actual armour and everything, not some bizarre shit that wouldn’t stop sunburn.

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    June 7, 2015 at 9:06 am

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  • Felicia
    September 24, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Probably too late to comment but…like Ana, I loved this movie as a 13 year old. Not so many fantasies made back then, so I tended to give them all a lot of love. I particularly loved the humor of it and Mad Mardigan’s, in particular, affection for Elora. “Did you see what he did? He stole our blackroot!”

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I hadn’t thought about how cool it was that there were so many powerful women in it. I guess as a kid I just took it for granted in a, of-course-lots-of-powerful-women-why-not?-shrug kind of way, which I also think is pretty cool. Sort of shame I know different now though. It’s amazed me recently how so much pop culture from my youth was in so many ways more open-minded and less sexist than many now. SOOOO many more female-centric things!

    Just recently stumbled on your site, and I’ve enjoyed it, especially Old School Wednesdays.

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