WILLOW Blu-ray Review

     March 14, 2013

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It’s been 25 years since the diminutive title hero of Ron Howard’s Willow first saved the world from an evil queen; now you can relive the swords-and-sorcery epic on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time.  Warwick Davis (Harry Potter series) stars as an unlikely hero who must rescue an infant destined to overthrow a wicked queen before she can sacrifice the child.  Assisting him in his quest are the roguish swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), the impaired sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes) and two comical creatures known as Brownies (Rick Overton, Kevin Pollak) who are even smaller than Willow himself.  Standing in their way are Princess Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and the vicious General Kael (Pat Roach) who will do anything to deliver the infant to the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh).

While the remastered edition of Willow on Blu-ray is well worth the purchase, there are sufficient extras to please fans of all ages.  Though there is a lack of a feature commentary option, Howard takes viewers through a variety of deleted scenes as well as a retro making-of featurette.  Davis is also on hand to narrate his own personal video diary he captured during the production and there are a variety of special effects artists who explain the then cutting-edge techniques applied to the film.  Plus, find out what happened to the missing acorn!  Hit the jump for my review of Willow on Blu-ray.

willow-posterWillow started as a story idea by George Lucas who brought the project to Ron Howard  during his post-production of 1985’s CoccoonBob Dolman (Far and Away) was brought in to pen the script.  An eighteen-year-old Warwick Davis landed his first major role (and one that wasn’t an Ewok or a goblin) and managed to successfully carry the epic adventure on his shoulders.

Watching Willow 25 years later, it’s great to see the marriage between practical effects and burgeoning digital effects work pioneered by Industrial Light & Magic.  For Willow’s people, the Nelwyns, a cast of 225 Little People were hired and an entire scaled village was built for them on set.  There was little forced perspective (except for the Brownies) as seen in The Lord of the Rings or digitally face-swapped Dwarves, as seen in Snow White and the Huntsman.  The magic, however, was handled by ILM, whose cutting-edge work earned the film a visual effects Oscar nomination and paved the way for films in future years.

Visually, the remastered edition of Willow is gorgeous.  Watching some of the vintage 1988 featurettes and then comparing the quality to the new version of the film on Blu-ray is absolutely night and day.  The scenes are clear and sharp, saturated with a full palette of colors and well-contrasted whether we’re in the Nelwyn village or Nockmaar castle.  While the digital effects appear to have been cleaned up a bit around the edges, they’re still rather obvious; they don’t hold up well compared to modern effects but they also don’t detract from the viewing experience.  With Lucas’ involvement, I was worried we’d be getting totally new digital creatures or effects, but luckily Willow remains virtually pristine.  (Though Willow also earned an Oscar nom for sound effects editing, I don’t have the setup to provide an acceptable critique, but there was certainly nothing obtrusive about the quality.)

Extras:

Willow Deleted Scenes with Ron Howard (~15 minutes)

Howard provides commentary for three deleted scenes (Sorsha’s Father, Bridge Troll Magic and Fish Boy) which give great insight into an additional storyline in the film as well as a little bit of effects work that never made it into the final cut.  Fans who’ve longed to know what happened to the missing acorn will find their answer here!

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The Making of An Adventure with Ron Howard (~25 minutes)

Howard not only provides a contemporary introduction to this featurette, the 1988 version of him is also there to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Willow, along with George Lucas and the actors.  This vintage featurette, narrated by the  late great Don LaFontaine, gives audiences access to the film’s production as seen 25 years ago.  There are some great bits in here about production difficulties, practical effects work and even a bit of romance (Kilmer and Whalley met on the film and were later married!).

From Morf to Morphing with Dennis Muren (ILM’s VFX Supervisor) (~20 minutes)

A 2001 documentary on the history and evolution of the process of digital morphing, which was used to change the sorceress Fin Raziel into a variety of animals and eventually to her human form.  Though the process has its roots in Willow, it was also used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Willow: An Unlikely Hero (~10 minutes)

The personal video diary of Davis, who bought a camera after his work in Return of the Jedi and filmed an early version of a production blog.

Matte Paintings

A look at a few of the matte paintings used to fill in the scenery on some of the wider shots from Willow.

warwick-davis-willowTechnical Specs:

  • Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • DVD Release Date: March 12, 2013
  • Run Time: 126 minutes

For longtime fans and the newly curious alike, Willow on Blu-ray is a definite buy!

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