Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Krull: Special Edition (1983)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - A world light-years beyond your imagination.

Journey into a mystical time and place that belongs to neither the past nor the present, where extraordinary creatures of myth work their incredible magic, and where a horrific, omnipotent Beast is the ruler. This is the planet of Krull!

Prince Colwyn sets out on a daring mission to rescue his young bride who is held captive by the Beast. But slayers and alien beings under the command of the Beast oppose him at every turn. Colwyn must first reach a faraway cavern to recover the legendary Glaive, a flying blade capable of phenomenal powers.

Starring Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis and Liam Neeson in one of his earliest screen roles, Krull is a spectacular fantasy-adventure beyond your wildest imagination.

Director: Peter Yates
Cast: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, Alun Armstrong, David Battley, Bernard Brewsslaw, Liam Neeson
DVD: Widescreen 2.35;1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround, Spanish, French & Portuguese Digital Stereo; subtitles English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 28 chapters; rated PG; 121 min.; $24.95; street date 4/3/01.
Supplements: Commentary With Director Peter Yates, Actors Ken Marshall & Lysette Anthony; Behind-the-Scenes Commentary; Marvel Comics Video Adaptation; Original Featurette "Journey To Krull"; Four Photo Galleries; Theatrical Trailers; Talent Files; Production Notes.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B/B

“Isn’t it ironic - don’t you think?” moment for the day: during the audio commentary found on this DVD, director Peter Yates repeatedly asserts that Krull is not a “sword and sorcery” story. In the notes I took while I watched the movie, I wrote “ordinary sword and sorcery fare”. Bizarre but true!

While Krull indeed makes a few attempts to deviate from the normal clichés of the genre, it does little in that regard, and it fails more than it succeeds. Not only was Krull nothing more than a very typical example of the “S&S” domain, but it wasn’t a terribly interesting retelling of that kind of tale.

At the start of Krull, we witness the wedding of Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony). Both represent opposing communities on the planet Krull, and their marriage intends to unify the various elements. Unfortunately, a nasty thing creatively called the Beast has minions called Slayers attack the wedding and kidnap Lyssa. From there, Colwyn attempts to rescue his ladylove and set everything right.

A prince battles evil monsters to save his honey - wow, now I understand why Yates thought he offered such a unique experience! Honestly, I don’t mind films that feature predictable plots as long as their execution offers something different and enjoyable; whether a movie provides solid acting or slick production or just some fun action scenes, a few well-done elements can make the tired and shop-worn exciting again.

Unfortunately, none of those factors make an appearance in Krull. This film was as bland and plodding as any I’ve seen from the genre. On the surface, it appears that Krull will integrate a variety of science-fiction elements; after all, the flick starts with shots of an ominous spacecraft as it approaches a planet. However, other than those images and some swords that shoot laser beams, I detected nothing that fit into the science-fiction genre; the rest of the story relies entirely on the usual magic and bravery elements typical of sword and sorcery movies.

Had Krull offered anything really exciting and spiffy, it might have been more compelling, but what I found was dishwater dull. As our dashing lead, Marshall looked decent in the part but he displayed absolutely no charisma or presence. His Colwyn made for one of the least compelling heroes I’ve seen in a while, as he offered no distinguishing characteristics. Poor Anthony looked cute despite poofy Eighties hair, but she has almost nothing to do in the film. She spends most of the movie in the clutches of the Beast, and all she needs to do is look scared and act modestly defiant.

Worst of all, her voice has been dubbed! According to the audio commentary, the producers thought an American sound for Lyssa would help sell tickets, so Lindsey Crouse re-recorded all of Anthony’s lines. The result seems very incongruous, as Crouse had too deep and mature a voice for this young princess, and the words often integrate poorly with the action.

Not that the lack of original dialogue from Anthony really made much of a difference; the movie doesn’t actually suffer because it already was so bland. The supporting characters are all uninventive variations on the typical themes; you have your rogues who become heroes and your cowards who become heroes and your fearsome dudes who turn out to be heroes. I half-expected that the villains would become heroes as well, but that didn’t happen. Too bad - it might have made Krull more interesting.

Actually, the most intriguing aspect of the film was to see some now-famous faces in the smaller roles. Robby Coltrane and Liam Neeson both appear as part of the band of scoundrels recruited by Colwyn to aid in his quest. Neither gets much screentime, but it’s still fun to spot them in the crowds. By the way, I thought it was quite cheesy of Columbia-Tristar to prominently feature Neeson among the pictures on the back of the DVD case; this might make you believe that he plays a substantial role in the film, which is most definitely not the case.

What else is there to say about Krull? I thought it offered a thoroughly boring and bland telling of the usual sword and sorcery nonsense. I have no objection to that kind of story, but I would like to see something inventive or clever. Alas, no such excitement appears during Krull. The heroes are flat, the villains are dull, and the tale is insanely ordinary and predictable. In short, Krull was a dud.

The DVD:

Krull appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although it occasionally betrayed its age, for the most part I thought that Krull provided a very satisfying picture.

Sharpness looked consistently fine. Throughout the movie I found it to appear crisp and well-defined, with very few examples of any soft or fuzzy images. Even though the high level of special effects potentially may have degraded the picture, the film stayed accurate and focused at all times. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, but print flaws were a minor problem. I saw periodic examples of grain, grit and speckles during the movie. These never seemed excessive, but they did show up more frequently than I’d like, and they caused the greatest weaknesses I found.

Colors looked quite rich and vivid, and they actually came across as very lush at times. Krull boasted a nicely varied palette, and the hues seemed accurate and vibrant with no signs of bleeding, noise or other concerns. Black levels also appeared deep and dense, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not excessively opaque. Ultimately, I found Krull to offer a solid visual experience.

Also fairly good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of Krull, though this mix lacked the strengths of the picture. The soundfield mainly stayed in the forward channels, where I heard erratic but decent realism. Sounds seemed a little ill-defined at times, as they didn’t appear to come from very specific locations within the spectrum. Sometimes I detected appropriate localization, and the track could boast some relatively smooth panning as well, but the mix didn’t excel in these areas. As for the surrounds, they generally appeared to be monaural in nature, and most of the time they simply reinforced music and ambience from the front. However, they did come to life fairly nicely during battle scenes, during which occasions they could be fairly immersive. Ultimately, the soundfield was pretty good for its era.

Audio quality also was erratic but relatively positive. Dialogue could sound somewhat rough and edgy at times, and I thought the dubbing performed for Princess Lyssa always seemed very obvious. However, speech generally appeared acceptably accurate and natural, and I detected no problems related to the intelligibility of any lines. Effects also displayed some harsh qualities at times, but these concerns weren’t major, and most of the elements appeared relatively clean and distinct. Music was within the same range. It showed no overt flaws but the score largely seemed a bit restricted; dynamics were decent but unexceptional. The track as a whole offered a modicum of bass at times but for the most part, I thought the mid-range dominated. In any case, the soundtrack may have had some flaws, but it appeared relatively positive for its era.

Krull packs in a nice mix of extras, starting with an audio commentary from director Peter Yates, editor Ray Lovejoy, and actors Lysette Anthony and Ken Marshall. Yates and Lovejoy were recorded together while Anthony and Marshall were taped separately; the results of the three sessions have been combined for this edited track.

The commentary for Krull offered a fairly interesting experience, though it lacked a great deal of scintillating information. For me, the remarks from Anthony were clearly the highlights. She seemed quite vibrant and spunky, and she provided some wittily catty statements about her experience. Anthony didn’t really dish any dirt, and her attitude remains slyly chipper, but she makes some of her disdain clear; her last words are “I hope you’ve had fun with this film. I didn’t, but I’m sure you did!” I’m not sure if her sentiments relate to the quality of the movie or her experience making it, but I think the latter is the case. Anyway, her parts of the commentary were consistently frothy and fun.

As for the others, they were less exciting. Yates and Lovejoy do a decent job of covering various technical aspects of creating the movie, but the creative areas don’t receive much attention. Frankly, I never really understood who came up with the Krull universe and all of its elements, and I didn’t learn much about that side of the equation here. I also tired of Yates’ frequent declamations about the film’s alleged uniqueness. Still, the two added a solid technical discussion of the challenges faced in an effects-intensive film such as this. Marshall also provides a little insight into his work, though his efforts seemed fairly bland and unmemorable, kind of like Krull itself. In any case, I thought this was a good but unspectacular audio commentary.

We also find a second track, one that is more unusual. On the alternate audio channel you can listen to a Behind the Scenes Commentary. What this means is that a November 1982 article by Dan Scaparoti from Cinefantastique magazine has been dictated, and you can listen to it as you watch the film. Although the piece seems a bit puffy and buys into the hype generated for Krull, it still provided some interesting details, mainly about the technical elements of the movie.

Actually, I thought the article was also useful because it shed a little more light about the picture’s origins. It sounds as though Krull was created by studio heads simply to exist as movie product. They decided they wanted a fantasy blockbuster and started the ball rolling from there. Krull doesn’t exist because someone had an idea for a story or any form of fantastic imagery; some money-men simply figured this kind of movie might sell tickets, so they then got a writer to create a tale and went from there. Based on that start, I’m not the least bit surprised with this unoriginal and bland story, though I continue to wonder why Yates felt - and still feels - Krull was a seminal flick.

Next we get some video options. The first is a conventional documentary about the film. Called Journey to Krull , this show comes from the same period as the movie itself and it lasts for 22 minutes and five seconds. Narrated by Tom Bosley, the program emphasizes behind the scenes footage from the set; we also see some film clips and interviews with participants, but the main focus was definitely on raw material.

The topics jump about without any consistency, as it appears that no attempt was made to create a coherent look at the production. Instead, various aspects of the shoot crop up in a random fashion and we learn more about them at those times. While the approach may be a bit haphazard, I still enjoyed the glimpses at the action on the set. Really, it strongly reminded me of similar pieces created for The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, two other fantasy flicks from the Eighties; the Krull documentary featured the same raw but interesting kinds of material.

More unusual was the Marvel Comics Video Adaptation. In this area - accessible via the magazine cover shown on both pages of the Special Features section - you can watch a filmed version of the comic book edition of Krull; backed by the movie’s score, effects and dialogue, this piece lasts for 38 minutes and 25 seconds. While it’s a neat addition to the DVD, I thought the execution was rather annoying. I’d have preferred a simple stillframe presentation instead of this obnoxiously kinetic affair. We can’t really see the comic images clearly, as they’re blown up too heavily, and the film’s dialogue is imposed on top of the whole package, which means they don’t let us see the speech bubbles. Oftentimes comic adaptations differed from released movies, which makes them more interesting. I don’t know if this was the case with the comic of Krull because I can’t tell from this terrible translation of the magazine. It’s an irritating and fairly useless adaptation.

Four Photo Galleries appear. Here we find “Cast Portraits” (32 shots), “Behind-the-Scenes” (93 pictures), “Design and Concept” (114 pieces of art), and “Vintage Advertising” (8 stills). Though the material itself can be interesting - especially in the “BTS” area - the execution is poor. As is also the case on many other Columbia-Tristar DVDs, only a portion of the screen is made available for the actual pictures. Bizarrely, these shots are stuck inside a letterbox-like frame, which means that most of the screen went unused; not only are the top and bottom 20 percent or so blocked off, but there’s a lot of dead space on each side of the pictures. It’s a terribly inefficient way to show these images, and it often renders the shots fuzzy and indistinct. CTS really need to present their stillframe galleries in a more viewable manner; packages like the one found on Krull look terrible. Speaking of traditional CTS flaws, we next find the typically useless Talent Files. This area offers listings for director Yates and actors Marshall, Anthony, and Freddie Jones. These provide very few details and are pretty uninteresting. Lastly, we find some brief but decent production notes within the DVD’s booklet, and there are also trailers for Krull, Jason and the Argonauts, and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Krull includes a few nice supplements, and the DVD itself looks and sounds fairly good, but none of these elements can overcome the essential blandness of the film itself. During the extras, I was often told how special and groundbreaking Krull was, but I remain absolutely mystified as to what in the world those commentators meant. Krull offers a tremendously dull and unimaginative experience devoid of any life or spark. This is movie product at its most ordinary and drab.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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