Power is Fleeting; Love is Eternal – Review of Krull

Poster for Krull1983

Director: Peter Yates

Writer: Stanford Sherman

Some movies are like one of those morally flexible politicians. Where as Bring it On (2000) and Eat Pray Love (2010) fall along the lines of Norm Coleman – “nice” ideas that made a deal with Karl Rove – Krull is clearly the Charlie Crist of early 80s science fiction cinema. It sells out its hardcore fan base to reach across the aisle to chicks, softcell romantics, and arty teens so it can raise your taxes and keep its sexuality ambiguous.

We can blame Star Wars (1977) for the formulaic plot.[1] A young hero, Prince Colwyn (the grinning Ken Marshall), accumulates a motley band of losers and outliers in the course of a stock “Heroic Journey” to rescue his beautiful princess from a hidden fortress.  There is a wise sage (Ynyr, adequately harrumphed by Freddie Jones) to instruct him, both on issues of kingly maturation and in the use of his “special weapon.”  There is an endless horde of fungible minions, the “Slayers,” for Colwyn and his band to mow down.  The Beast (voiced by Trevor Martin) is properly dark and horrifying.

Krull Weapon

This is waaaay more masculine than a sword or a stupid light saber. The guys are going to love this!

But on top of these sensible bare bones is layered an astounding mash-up. The movie begins with the invasion of the planet Krull by the Black Fortress, a flying mountain that The Beast uses to travel between planets. Krull seems to have a generic European Middle Ages sword/sorcery level technology, and is easily overwhelmed by the laser gun-toting armies of The Beast. Every day, the fortress teleports to a new location on Krull and burps out another mob of Slayers to kill/enslave the population. This is a movie that tries to satisfy everyone in the GenCon demographic, right down to the rousing soundtrack by James Horner – a carbon copy of his work for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).

The fun begins when Princess Lyssa (played by Lysette Anthony but secretly dubbed by Lindsay Crouse in a total dick move) is kidnapped by The Beast to be his galactic bride. This is the catalyst for Colwyn’s journey. First stop, a mountain cave to pick up the mysterious Glaive, an ancient weapon of power that is obviously going to come in handy against The Beast.

The appearance of the Glaive is the first moment where your average teenage viewer should begin to suspect that things have gone horribly, horribly wrong. For one thing, it is not a wicked-cool pole arm – because, kiddies, a glaive is a real thing[2] – but instead some kind of gigantic boomerang shuriken. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how important the ninja is to early 80s cinematography, so perhaps Stanford Sherman can be forgiven for trying to buy a ticket on that train, but for your standard heroic journey it’s all wrong. A real hero requires some kind of penis analogue – a sword, a light saber, whatever. Not a flying vagina dentata, which is definitely what the Glaive is. And based on what we see in some of the royal regalia, as a piece of iconography it dominates the entire Krull culture.

Krull Characters in Field

Alright, everyone. We better get going or we won't have time to harvest the organic strawberries before the laser light show at the love-in.

With this clue, the movie gets even more complicated. On the one hand, the Prince Colwyn/Beast dichotomy could represent your standard Oedipal conflict wherein the prince is tasked with rescuing his “mother” bride from the clutches of his beastly “father.” If you’re into the Freud for a penny, you’re in for a pound, and you’re forced to cope with the Glaive as representing some kind of diffused castration anxiety felt by fathers at the ascendant power of their sons when they reach sexual maturity.

On the other hand, when the time comes to recover the princess and figuratively castrate The Beast, the Glaive doesn’t live up to its role as a Weapon of Power. What does Prince Colwyn have left to defeat the monster?  No 13-year-old kid (which is what I was when I saw this movie at a drive-in with my dad and younger brother) could have guessed it would be the flames of true love! That’s right. In a sort of mini re-commitment ceremony, the princess hands a mystical flame to the prince, and he uses it  to torch the beast. Game over. Kiss your Freud and your Jungian archtypes good-fucking-bye. It would be 3 more years before my testicles could overcome their shame and go ahead and drop.

conan james earl jones sword

Now, THIS is how you wield an extension of your penis.

If you have to watch a movie from this era, why not pop Star Wars in again? It hits all the same bases on its way around, but in exploring the classic mythopoetic forms of western culture it doesn’t leave you struggling to decode your gender identity. Conan the Barbarian (1982) is practically the same movie, except everything Krull tries to do with its merry band of ragamuffins, Conan does better. In addition to the current governor of California, it features Mako. Mako! And nudity, which for your standard adolescent is at least 75% of the draw. The presence of James Earl Jones in both of these epics is icing on the cake.

And as long as I’m being a pedant, I’ll say this. Star Wars and Conan both bother to create a cultural context for the plot, which is to say the world in which the stories take place is made manifest through experiences of the characters. Darth Vader is a villain, yeah, but he’s also mindful of the military, economic, and political consequences of his actions. In his regular dealings as a slave, gladiator, thief, and mercenary, Conan depicts the political evolution of Europe from its feudal roots, through mercantilism, to the current crash-era brouhaha – it’s straight-up Adam Smith.

krull climatic scene

Step, pivot, turn, spin, spin, spin, slide.

But Krull the world is even less coherent than Krull the movie. Why does the Beast enslave sparsely- inhabited, pre-tech planets? Is he a malevolent scout for Alcoa?[3] Is he looking for cheap labor to assemble iPhones? How is his far-flung galactic empire organized? Why do the Slayers ride ordinary horses into battle? Why do they turn their laser guns upside down and use them as clunky swords, and come to think of it, why do they kill the population the Beast hopes to use as blue collar labor? Who does the Beast rap with when he’s all alone? Why doesn’t he have a staff like Grand Moff Tarkin or Thulsa Doom?

Some people try to explain all of these objections away by saying that, like Legend (1985) and the Democratic party, Krull is a fairytale for adults.  I’m not buying it.

–Rental Rehab review by Joshua



[1] By now, everyone should know that Star Wars is a blatant rip-off of Aira Kurosawa’s Kakushi-toride no san-akunin [The Hidden Fortress] (1958).  If by some chance you haven’t seen it, you really should – it is a wonderful film. I have a copy you are welcome to borrow if you promise to return it soon.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glaive.  Although, if you spent even a little time playing AD&D, you don’t really need this link and are well aware of the encumbrance issues etc.

[3] 10/8/10 AA: NYSE, closed up 5.66% at $12.89 on a volume of over 72 million shares.


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Filed under Childhood Memories, Guest Review: Joshua

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