Peter Yates’ 1983 summer fantasy “Krull” is an odd one, a 10-ton box office flop that went on to become an affectionately recalled pop footnote.
On the planet Krull, Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) eagerly awaits his marriage to the lovely Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony). Their matrimonial bond is interrupted by an abduction from Slayers, the laser-gun bearing warriors who serve The Beast. While the Slayers take the princess away in their flying, mountainous Black Fortress, Colwyn puts together a crew to rescue the princess, save his kingdom and reinstate the peace on his planet.
Here’s a rare example of a hybrid film that blends two pre-existing genres in a way that is messy and at war with itself: rather than combining the category of science fiction into a fantasy tale of knights, princesses and warriors, you have an on-the-nose combo that never fully gels.
Unlike “Star Wars,” an obvious prime example of what this movie aimed to be, you have something like “Cowboys and Aliens” where the disproportionate genres nearly cancel one another out.
Remember when you were a child and playing cops n’ robbers with the neighborhood kids, and there was always that one child who would weirdly show up dressed like He-Man? “Krull” is kind of like that, an amusing if not always workable amalgam of two genres which would normally mix seamlessly.
How strange is “Krull”? There are battle scenes where some are wielding swords, while others fire laser guns. Speaking of He-Man, it actually made more sense and worked better in, of all things, “Masters of the Universe: The Motion Picture.”
“Krull” is visually arresting nonsense, made with an epic budget that serves a story that makes little sense. Aside from a striking princess and a striking Beast, none of the characters create any rooting interest. Russell and Anthony are appealing and good sports, but their characters fall in love simply because they’re the best- looking people in the movie; there isn’t much more to their attraction.
The crossbreeding of sci-fi and Arthurian legend has potential but always feels at odds with itself. There are enough isolated sequences to keep it from turning into a total disaster. In particular, the chapter involving “The Widow of the Web,” with a game Francesca Annis, is especially memorable and well done.
James Horner’s score adds wonder and excitement, even as it’s a clear recycling of his rousing theme from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Horner even punches up scenes that lack much interest, though the special effects are better than just being “good for their time.”
That said, there isn’t a single sustained sequence that could compete with any five minutes of “Return of the Jedi” (released the same summer). However, the sets, specifically the lair of the Beast, are wonderful. There’s enough onscreen to keep the audience engaged, even if a pivotal emotional connection never occurs.
Co-stars Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane, in their debuts, would both survive this experience, but the estimable Freddie Jones looks miserable to be in this. The screenplay somehow seems both over-plotted and half-baked.
The point of contention for even the film’s fanbase is that The Glaive, the weapon of Choice that Colwyn pulls out of the boiling pit within a treacherous mountainside, is barely used. In fact, Colwyn only uses it during the big climax, where it’s especially helpful at battling The Beast.
In fact, The Glaive is so bewitching an item, it actually creates the film’s one genuinely suspenseful, emotionally charged moment: when it’s stuck in one of its victims and Colwyn can’t make it fly back to him, I felt a pang of sadness. Losing Lassie in a field of dandelions and a bear trap has nothing on getting your Glaive stuck and forever out of your reach.
FAST FACT: “Avengers: Endgame” co-director Joe Russo claims he saw “Krull” in the theater four times as a lad.
Clearly Columbia Pictures believed they had a potential franchise, as the merchandising bonanza (an Atari video game, coloring books, a comic book adaptation and an arcade game, to name a few) aimed for “Star Wars”-level awareness.
“Krull” opened decently then crashed and burned. Today, it’s remembered primarily for The Glaive but is better than a mere curiosity item.
Yates directed “Bullitt” (1968), arguably the definitive Steve McQueen vehicle, as well as “The Deep” (one of the few summer of 1977 movies that didn’t get buried by “Star Wars”) and “Breaking Away.” To say the least, his body of work, dealing mostly with working class men torn by their obsessions, made him an odd pick for “Krull.”
Considering the film’s screwy take on blending sci-fi and Arthurian legend, no less than someone like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas or even John Boorman would have made more sense.
Overall, “Krull” left me impressed and bemused, as it’s hard to believe so much money and talent went into such a cracked vision.