Producer George Lucas and director Ron Howard’s hokey 1988 Tolkien knock-off may pale in the wake of Peter Jackson’s monumental trilogy, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. Built on fantasy stereotypes – friendly little folk, evil witches, misunderstood heroes, guys on horseback with bloody great swords – it nonetheless contains enough epic action, narrative momentum and spit-and-sawdust pre-CGI special effects to hold the attention.
Revisiting the film, a few things stand out. Val Kilmer’s performance as the wisecracking Madmartigan (great name) feels like a true star turn, packed with breezy charisma, in contrast to the more ‘difficult’ persona he now inhabits. The backdrops are a triumph of the matte painter’s art – recognisably fake at times, but beautiful nonetheless. And all of this is undercut by a mile-wide streak of slushy, gushy sentiment – a tendency which mainstream action cinema has mercifully abandoned in the years since.
Cast and crew