Saturday, July 11, 2009


Honestly, I have no particular intention of turning this site into a series of grumblings about movies recently viewed on cable, but while sitting through the fiercely bland 1983 fantasy epic Krull, I had...well, not an epiphany, but a blinding flash of...something. Let me try to explain.

The early eighties will be remembered by many filmgoers as the time of The Great Sword & Sorcery Scare, when studios as one felt the inexplicable need to cram stories of Mighty Warriors, Fair Maidens, Lusty Peasants and Strange Creatures down our throats. It was the time of Conan The Barbarian, Dragonslayer, Beastmaster and...well, okay, those are the only titles I could come up with off the top of my head. But there were more, trust me. Sword & Sorcery epics were as common then as comic book-derived movies are now. It was impossible to go to the multiplex without walking past several bad Frazetta knockoff posters for some upcoming extravaganza showcasing a pec-flexing hero and barely-clad heroine. (Oooh, I just thought of a couple more: The hilarious Lou Ferigno vehicle Hercules and the unimaginitively titled The Sword And The Sorcerer.)

Since this it the type of thing that was being made, people were going to be hired to make them, whether they had any affinity for the genre or not. Which brings us to Krull, a movie as uninteresting as its title, and, like many of its ilk, a pretty transparent Star Wars imitation. (The opening credits even feature an enormous spaceship gliding majestically past the camera, a de rigeur shot at the time.) The by-the-numbers script is credited to Stanford Sherman, who has done nothing else of consequence. But the director was Peter Yates.

Although uneven, Yates has a filmography that included Bullitt, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle and Breaking Away. A sure hand with actors and a guy who knew how to stage a solid action scene, Yates' greatest strength has always been his ability to let each project find its own personality, to let the substance dictate the style. But what could he do with a script that has no substance whatsoever, that barely seems to have been written at all? Krull can't even be bothered to find a variation on its premise: A beautiful princess has been kidnapped by sinister nonhumans, and its up to our white, white hero (the non-legendary Ken Marshall, sporting a can't-commit-to-it beard) to gather a plucky band of followers to rescue her and...You could pretty much write the rest yourself, though likely you'd come up with something more interesting than what the filmmakers did.

The only thing interesting about Krull is the disconnect between the talent involved and the movie that was made. The cast includes Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, Francesca Annis and one of my personal favorites, Freddie Jones. They hired the great Peter Suschitsky to photograph, John Huston mainstay Stephen Grimes to design the quasi-surrealist settings and Ray Lovejoy editor of 2001--2001, for God's sake!--to cut the thing together. Yates, apparently finding nothing to interest him in the script, finds time to reference everything from Cocteau to The Thief Of Bagdad to, incredibly enough, Mario Bava's Planet Of The Vampires. The whole thing is never less than professional, but never remotely interesting.

And the non-epiphany but nonetheless interesting thought that struck me as this thing ground on and on? Krull would be the future of movies: Lots of smart people lavishing huge amounts of time and care on projects they really didn't care about. Even those other sword & sorcery pictures I named earlier had something to recommend them, some slight twist in the formula. Not Krull; it delivers the most basic level of entertainment possible. Its talented director could leave not a single fingerprint to mark its individuality. The floodgates of mediocrity had opened: To survive, the great directors of the sixties and seventies would have to crank out absolute junk: Brian DePalma would jumpstart a franchise for Tom Cruise, Francis Coppola would direct Robin Williams in full-out man-child mode, Walter Hill and Joe Dante would do some of their best work for television.

Like almost every major studio movie cranked out these days, Krull isn't bad, not extravagantly, punishingly bad, not Xanadu bad. It just sits there, something to watch as you eat your popcorn, something to forget as soon as it ends, of no interest whatsoever, except for the little piece of your soul it steals as you watch.