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Willow: Special Edition

Released five years after Return of the Jedi, Willow seemed to find executive producer George Lucas in a bit of a narrative rut. By 1988, Lucas' Star Wars trilogy had entered the cultural fabric, and his effects company and THX accreditation arm continued to push moviemaking's technical limits — but Lucas wanted to create another mythological "tent pole" series exploring his pet thematic hobbyhorses. And so, with the rights to Lord of the Rings apparently unavailable, Lucas concocted the story of tiny Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), a "Nelwyn" who's conscripted by a wizard (Billy Barty) to deliver a magical baby named Elora Danan into safe hands. Along the way, Willow gathers together a pack of traveling babysitters, redeems the warrior Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), shifts the allegiance of the warrior princess Sorsha (Joanna Whalley), learns wizardry from a wise old sorceress (Patricia Hayes), and helps overthrow an empire run by the aforementioned Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). To its credit, Willow delivers its story in a coherent, often charming fashion — with an idiosyncratic focus on scale and caste and a leisurely way of gathering its protagonists over the opening 45 minutes. Unfortunately, those idiosyncratic elements had already been worked over in the Star Wars trilogy. Despite a few cool effects and winning characters — particularly Kilmer as the rogue swordsman Madmartigan — there's a certain deja vu to the proceedings, beyond even the obvious Lord of the Rings pilfering. Still, the film may not deserve the unreserved vitriol some people hold for it. It's a mixed bag, but there's some fun to be had, in particular the pre-digital effects, the climactic battle with a two-headed dragon, and a brutal, elderly-sorceress catfight. Fox's DVD release of Willow offers a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include a commentary with Warwick Davis, the 1988 featurette "Willow: The Making of an Adventure" (21 min.), the new featurette "From Morf to Morphing: The Dawn of Digital Filmmaking" (17 min.), the trailer, two teasers, eight TV spots, and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. Keep-case.
—Alexandra DuPont

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