Krull: Swashbuckling Beyond the Stars

A medieval fairy tale set in outer space.

The Star Wars Original Trilogy undoubtedly had an immediate and everlasting impact on modern cinema, but truth be told, it never really affected me all that much. My interests were piqued much more by the Sword & Sorcery tales of the '80s with movies like Excalibur, Clash Of The Titans, The Beast Master, and the mighty Conan The Barbarian. As such, there is one movie with Star Wars influence which remains close to my heart because of its unique mixture of high concept Sci-Fi and ancient tales of swords and spells: 1983's Krull.

This film tells the tale of the far away mystic world of Krull, which comes under attack by an intergalactic entity known as The Beast and his army of terrifying soldiers known as The Slayers. In hopes of finding a way to defend themselves from the invasion, two royal families form an alliance through the marriage of the valiant Prince Colwyn and the lovely Princess Lyssa. The slayers interrupt the wedding and abscond with the princess, leaving Colwyn and all the royal family for dead. The Old Wiseman Ynyr comes to Colwyn's aide and revives him, and the two set out on a journey to defeat the Beast with the help of bandits, wizards, giants, and fortunetellers along the way.

Unlike Star Wars and the sword & sorcery films of the time, Krull appears to be closest in form and function to a pure medieval fairy tale. Compared to its somewhat grittier '80s counterparts, Krull feels much more like a cleaner old school Golden Age Hollywood motion picture. Additionally, whereas Star Wars contains an amalgam of cinematic references that include Akira Kurosawa Samurai films, WWII Fighter Pilot movies, and John Ford Westerns, Krull primarily adheres to the swashbuckling era of films like 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, a film whose DNA continues to permeate within subsequent generations of blockbuster adventures to some degree. In particular, while lightsaber fights contain mixtures of both Hollywood swashbuckling and Samurai sword-fighting, lead actor Ken Marshall with his striped tights, wavy locks, trimmed facial hair, and rapier/dagger fighting style seems to be directly channeling Errol Flynn.

Despite the golden age template to which it adheres, there are still multiple instances throughout Krull where the Star Wars influence is apparent. In the opening credits, we see the gargantuan Black Fortress of The Beast on its course towards Krull, its gigantic form eclipsing the screen very much like the Star Destroyer introduction of A New Hope. The Slayers adhere to a uniform appearance very much like Stormtroopers, complete with blaster weapons which double as their close combat bayonets. They even let out a high pitched shriek when killed that is reminiscent of the famous R2-D2 scream created by sound effects and vocal artist Ben Burtt. Theres also a room trap "trash compactor" sequence near the end, though this one proves more perilous than the one faced by Luke and the gang.

Beyond all that, there are elements of Krull unique unto itself where the film truly shines. The most immediately apparent virtue is that the movie can be downright beautiful at times, with moments of gorgeous scenery mixed with some striking production design. The film takes advantage of on location sequences in Italy, Spain, and some other forest regions of the UK for some beautiful vistas, and the sound stage locations (created in the famous Albert R. Broccoli 007 soundstage in England) such as the insides of the Black Fortress or the massive webs in the den of a giant spider are a sight to behold.

The other great strength of the film is its cast, featuring a broad mix of respected veterans, fresh faces, and actors who would continue to see success long after the film. Screen veterans such as Freddie Jones, John Welsh, and Francesca Annis provide an air of gravitas to the proceedings, with careers reaching as far back as the early '50s. Ken Marshal and Lyssete Anthony play their dashing prince and fair maiden roles to the hilt, and though not nearly as iconic as Luke, Han or Leia, their reflections of the classic fairytale figures is commendable. There's even a few upcoming stars among the band of rogues who share screen time on this film; Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane, and Liam Neeson would go on to have long and respected careers in their own right.

With so much going for it, it's unfortunate that Krull was ultimately a failure at the box office, earning only $16 million during its theatrical run, never being able to recoup its relatively hefty $45-$50 Million budget. For one thing, I suppose that despite the reverence for Golden Age Hollywood, Krull feels quaint and/or boring compared to the blood and guts savagery of Conan or the high speed flashiness of the Death Star trench run. Additionally, though the story is based in traditional fairy tales, there doesn't appear to be any strong thematic backbone or metaphorical underpinnings to really intellectually engage the audience. Its a simple good versus evil story and seemingly nothing more, unlike the black & white heroes versus villains in Star Wars with an Vietnam War allegory underneath it all. Even so, Krull has become somewhat of a cult classic. A noble experiment that proved to be a failure, Krull nonetheless has unique elements of value in its own right that are worth exploring.