Willow: When Lucas tries to rewrite fantasy

Willow: When Lucas tries to rewrite fantasy


Probably, to the viewers who met the wizard Willow Ufgood on May 20, 1988, it did not seem possible that behind this fantasy adventure there was the same mind that a few years earlier had shocked science fiction cinema with Star Wars. Yet, it was George Lucas who conceived the story of Willow, a fantastic film that went alongside other films that in those years were offering viewers a new idea of ​​fantasy. Looking back at the great productions of the period, in fact, it does not escape that the 80s were not only the decade of the consecration of action heroes, but also allowed the public to be given a new interpretation of the fantastic.

Subscribe now to Disney + for € 8.99 a month or € 89.90 a year For most viewers, the fantastic, or rather fantasy, was still a theme linked to the name of Tolkien and the his The Lord of the Rings. The idea of ​​a fantasy setting was almost dogmatic, almost considered an axiom that could hardly find space on the big screen. There was no lack of experiments that drew on a conception of the fantastic closer to the epic, such as Excalibur (1982), but at the same time, productions began to appear which, turning to an adolescent registry, tended to show new fantastic worlds, turning increasingly to genre literature. From this momentum came to life cult titles such as The Neverending Story (1984, from the novel of the same name by Michael Ende), The Fantastic Story (1987, based on William Goldman's The Princess Bride), or visually more dreamlike experiments such as The Bandits of Time ( 1981), Labyrinth - Where everything is possible (1986) and The Adventures of the Baron of Munchausen (1988). The fil rouge of these films was the desire to create a new imaginary, capable of exploiting the new potential of the nascent digital technology to create fantastic worlds that were theaters of great adventure, of a new epic. And oper a dreamer like George Luca, this was too tempting a lure to back down.

From Munchinks to Willow

As with Star Wars, even with Willow Lucas went through several ideas . In the early 1970s, his first intuition was Munchkins, a film based on the folklore figures made famous by Baum with his The Wizard of Oz. However, Lucas intended to create a world in which epic-flavored adventures could be experienced that were easily experienced by a young audience, which is why he relied on the tradition of the hero's journey, the narrative concept that was the basis of his Star Wars. Although he had a clear understanding of what his story should have been about him, Lucas decided to wait to make it, intending to perfect the technology of visual effects, aware of how they would have been an essential element of his creature. On the other hand, starting from the 80s with the processing of A New Hope first and of L'Impero strikes again then, the intuitions and discoveries used to give life to the adventures of Luke Skywalker proved to be an important test bed for the effects. specials of the cinema of the period. With his Industrial Light & Magic, Lucas was leading a technological revolution in the creation of special effects, bringing the digital world closer to what had always been considered an almost artisanal aspect of cinema.

It was while Howard was a guest of his friend Lucas for the post-production of the special effects of his Cocoon that he was proposed to direct by Willow. Lucas, after his experiences as a director with Star Wars, seemed to be less and less interested in the direction, preferring to entrust it to people he trusted, such as Steven Spielberg. Reason why the idea of ​​Lucas was entrusted to the care of Bob Dolman, screenwriter with whom Lucas had previously worked on some proposals for television series, which were unsuccessful and never went beyond the realization of a pilot.
| : th_culturapop_d_mh3 "); } What made Willow's making complicated, however, was the lack of enthusiasm of the studios. Although the offer of fantastic stories in those years was quite substantial, the perception of the insiders was that the fantasy genre did not have the right appeal to motivate important budgets, a feeling confirmed by some failures such as Krull, Legend or Dragonslayer. This vision of the sector resulted in a complicated search for a production, so much so that after several attempts Luca decided to submit his project to Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, better known as MGM, whose head was at the time Alan Ladd Jr., an old acquaintance of Lucas and his supporter at the time of his management of 20th Century Fox, when he approved a previous Lucas project, Star Wars. Ladd was a staunch supporter of Lucas 'insights, to the point that when MGM, which was financially fragile, was about to decline Lucas' offer, Ladd decided to finance half of the budget, estimated at $ 35 million, in exchange for television and film rights, leaving Lucas those on the home video and television broadcasting circuit.

Willow's plot

In the kingdom of Nockmar, the wicked stega Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) discovers from a prophecy that the birth of a child with a strange desire that will have the power to defeat her is imminent, prompting her to kill all the newborns that bear such a mark. To save her daughter, the mother of Elora Danan, the predestined identified by the prophecy, manages to make her escape from her kingdom, but her little girl, after being placed on a raft, arrives at a nelwyn village. people. Here she is saved by the children of Willoow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), an aspiring magician, who after discovering the little story following an attack by warriors sent by Bamorda, decides to rescue the little girl and allow her to fulfill her destiny. br>

How to create a company of adventurers

Having found the economic situation, Lucas did not have the slightest doubt about his protagonist: Warwick Davis. Davis's name is dear to Star Wars fans, who remember him as Wicket, the tender Ewok taken to heart by Leila in Return of the Jedi. After the final chapter of the Original Star Wars Trilogy, Davies was called back again to play his character in an Ewoks movie (The Adventure of the Ewoks), at which time, according to the actor, Lucas confessed to his mother that have a project designed especially for him:

George simply said he had this idea, and he was turning it into a story especially for me. At the time she didn't tell me it was called Willow, and said “It's not ready yet, it will be in a few years, when Warwick is a little older”

Who behaved like a professional anyway , contrary to the much acclaimed star. According to the crew, in fact, working with Kilmer was a far from pleasant experience, considering that the actor was more interested in wooing his colleague Joanne Whalley (who he eventually married, for the record) than in taking the part seriously. to the point that most of Madmartigan's lines were improvised by Kilmer, who still managed to infuse his character with flawless charisma.

Magic and special effects

To bring his magical world to life Lucas, as mentioned, expected the special effects technology to be such as to be able to give life to the fantastic world he had imagined. A wait that, despite marrying with an 'artisanal' management in the creation of some creatures, has nevertheless allowed us to mark an incredible step forward in the digital sector, considering that Willow was the forerunner in morphing, a technique that in the following years would have been widely used.

Before 1988, it was difficult to create effects that showed transformation on stage, as An American Werewolf in London or the Manimal series had demonstrated, but for Willow Lucas she wanted to go further, enough to push hard on this technique, as revealed by the special effects supervisor of Industrial Light & Magic of the period, Dennis Muren:

As things had been up to that moment, if a character had to transform into a dog or something, it had to be done with a set of mechanical props. You had to shift the focus from the person by cutting it, then move on to the first prorp in which the ears appeared, trying not to make it look fake ... we shot five different scenes of the film, with a goat, an ostrich, a tiger, a tortoise and a woman, managing to perform all these transformations without any cuts. The technique is even more realistic because the only cuts were made for reasons of pathos, not to hide any critical issues.

Willow's achievement in morphing is probably her most important aspect.

Willow's legacy

Despite the great commitment and passion of Lucas and Ron Howard in making Willow, the film did not have the desired success. Lucas' inside joke of naming two of the film's monsters with the name of famous American film critics was of little use, the critics were quite ruthless with the film, arguing that it was only a reinterpretation of Star Wars in a fantasy key, even though recognizing the incredible level of special effects. The comparison with other films of the genre released in the same years, especially The Fantastic Story, always saw Willow succumb to the accusation of not having a compelling and curated writing, but of trying to cover this flaw with a sumptuous visual spectacle.

The theatrical release was also complicated by the presence in the same period of other highly anticipated films, such as Rambo III, which took away the visibility of Luca's fantasy. Still, Willow managed to remain one of the references of the fantastic cinema of the period, thanks to the expansion of the setting within a saga of books, which could be a trait d'union with the long-awaited series that Lucas would have for years wanted to create, and which will finally arrive on Disney + at the end of 2022, joining the original film already available in the Disney streaming service catalog.

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