Willow 25th Anniversary Blu-ray

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: 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

Blu-ray Disc:

  • Willow (Feature film) in High Definition
  • Deleted Scenes with Ron Howard Commentary
  • Making of an Adventure with Ron Howard Introduction
  • Morf to Morphing with Dennis Muren Introduction and Closing
  • Willow: An Unlikely Hero — Personal Video Diary of Warwick Davis
  • Matte Paintings Gallery

DVD Disc:

  • Willow (Feature film) in Standard Definition




“It looks kind of quaint now,” director Ron Howard says in one of the supplemental pieces to his fantasy epic Willow.

Back in 1988, it was as big-budget as they came, but now – with 25 years of special effect technology and infinitely more sophisticated stories available even in its day – “quaint” is the right term. “Hokey” is another one. So is “unduly earnest.” And yet in this hip and cynical age, all those qualities actually serve as an asset. Willow will never be The Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars movies (with which it shares a creator/producer in George Lucas). It’s kinder than those films. Gentler. A little easier going down. And if you can forgive it its complete lack of snark, another appropriate term crops up: “charming.”

As fantasy epics go, it definitely appeals to young ‘uns and indulgent parents more than those in search of something edgy. It also wears its Campbellian credentials firmly on its sleeve. You can almost hear it screaming “look at the symbolism!” when its Baby of Destiny is cast into a river on a raft built of reeds. She’s been spirited away from an evil queen (Jean Marsh) who doesn’t want the baby to grow up and depose her kingdom, and is discovered by a diminutive “peck” named Willow (Warwick Davis) who aspires to be a mighty sorcerer. Reluctantly at first, but with increasing conviction, he sets out to save the baby and by extension all good-hearted folk in the world.

Naturally, he’s joined by a variety of oddball sidekicks on his quest, notably Val Kilmer as a roguish swordsman straight out of the Han Solo playbook. Willow suffers most when it draws such comparisons: very natural considering its pedigree and the era in which it arrived. Its straightforward tone and overall lack of bite evoke easy dismissal and the once-cutting edge visual effects now pale in the shadow of today’s larger-than-life entertainment.

The secret lies in divorcing the film from all that . . . not just other movies, but from the then-enormous marketing machine that tried to cram it down our throat in 1988. That apparatus no longer exists, and Willow’s fellow fantasy marvels have either taken their place in history or been cast onto the ash-heap. Thanks to its creators, and its own plucky attributes, it sits at a comfortable place between the classics and the crap. For those who can discover it there – particular young viewers, less burdened by expectations or the specter of improved alternatives – it can prove quite lovely.

Davis, still quite a young man when he made this, proves an adept and sympathetic hero, aided by Howard’s signature warmth and Kilmer’s willingness to dive headlong into his character. The threats they face carry a rather routine feel, but also a great deal of energy and excitement that wouldn’t be possible with a more cynical production. Howard may be following the Hero’s Journey page by page, but he gives it his all in every step, and as Willow slowly discovers his own self-worth, we feel that he’s truly earned it, rather than getting a free pass by a lazy filmmaker.

There’s a sunny feeling here that’s impossible to deny: a warm, inviting tone unseen in more recent fare. For kids, that equation proves surprisingly sturdy: a lovely prep course for more mature fantasy fare as they age. For adults, Willow has become a pleasant exercise in nostalgia, evoking a time when movies were more innocent and their wonders more heartfelt. Just as it lacks the sophistication of Peter Jackson’s work, so too does it shed Lord of the Rings’ weariness and weight. It’s a simpler, more buoyant tale, and in its own strange way, as easier tale to enjoy. We shouldn’t expect and miracles from it: it remains a work of minor note at best. But, as one of its more prominent cousins reminds us, even little people can do amazing things sometimes.

THE DISC: For a comparatively minor release, Fox still brings a solid package to the table. Lucas oversaw the transfer himself and the technical specifications are spot-on. Willow last saw a DVD release when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and the difference in sound and video quality makes this version a superior viewing experience.

The extra features are limited, but make up for in bang what they lose in numbers. The best is a making-of documentary from its original release, cementing the Blu-ray’s throwback charms. Dennis Muren introduces a second piece about the film’s innovative use of morphing technology and its place in effects history. Deleted scenes, matte shots and a fun video diary from Davis on the set round out the Blu-ray.

WORTH IT? Absolutely, especially for those who came of age on the film, and for children as yet unaccustomed to rougher fare. The rest of us may snicker at its clunkiness . . . but I’m betting most of them will leave it running and maybe play it again just a few days later.

RECOMMENDATION: The new Blu-ray is a superb update for fans suffering under inferior versions. Those less interested should check their cynicism at the door; they may find a nice surprise here as a result.

- Rob Vaux



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