There was a time in the early-to-mid 80s when young men postponed, or cancelled altogether, interaction with similarly aged women and instead found company in fantasy/sci-fi encompassing Dungeons And Dragons, Fighting Fantasy and a large number of films of which Krull is one of the more fondly remembered.
The film starts with the arrival on the planet Krull of the Beast in his Black Fortress, a castle/spacecraft which travels from planet to planet to enslave the local population using enforcers called the Slayers. Lysette Anthony stars as Princess Lyssa, daughter of King Eirig, enemy of King Turold and his son, Prince Colwyn, played by Ken Marshall. Lyssa and Colwyn are due to get married to unite their fathers' kingdoms and armies who will then fight together to defeat the Slayers and destroy the Black Fortress. Just as the marriage is to be declared, the Slayers invade King Eirig's castle, kidnapping Lyssa, killing everyone but for Colwyn who lies injured and unconscious. On waking, Colwyn is nursed back to health by Ynyr - "the old one" - who prepares Colwyn for battle and arms him with the Glaive, a weapon which is considered to be little more than a symbol but which Ynyr knows exists and which Colwyn must find and retrieve before he can begin to rescue Lyssa.
And so begins a typical fantasy film, the structure of which Krull faithfully follows. As he journeys to face the Beast in the Black Fortress, Colwyn meets Ergo, a hopeless magician who provides almost all the comedy moments, a group of outlaws (Alun Armstrong as Torquil, Todd Carty, Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane), a cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw) and a Seer with his young assistant, Titch. Together, this group face great danger, death and the rekindling of old love - everything you would expect from a fantasy film, present and correct, episodic in nature and neatly divided into chapter stops on the DVD. Colwyn gets the Glaive in chapter 6, Ergo appears in chapter 7, Torquil in chapter 8 and the bit with the quicksand is in chapter 14. No episode really adds much to the story but they move Krull along at a fair pace.
The two exceptions to this are the explanation of how cyclops came to have only one eye - involving a deal to see the future on which they were tricked and can now only see the moment of their death - and the relationship between Ynyr and the Widow of the Web, played by Francesca Annis which allows for a touching moment - as emotional as Krull gets - when the two recall a relationship before both are required to sacrifice themselves. Neither section is necessary but Krull would have been improved were there more such moments, taking a break from the forward movement of the plot to involve a story away from Colwyn's quest.
However, being honest, that wasn't really the intention. Krull is, at heart, a fantasy retelling of Star Wars with a nod towards sci-fi, something George Lucas tried himself with Willow in 1988, five years after Krull - Slayers are Stormtroppers by another name, born with the same inability to shoot straight and a willingness to march constantly onwards to their own death. The Glaive is Krull's Lightsaber, Ynyr is Obi-Wan brought to another time and place, Torquil and his men are Han Solo expanded to a group with his personality now spread so thinly as to be barely there and Ergo and Titch take up the C3-P0 and R2-D2 roles faithfully.
Krull was mostly filmed in studio sets at Pinewood giving the film an oddly artificial look. To be fair, it is a fantasy film and studio sets were the best option when the locations were being developed. The swampland built at Pinewood out of shredded cork, hand painted and blow dried, with jagged trees, quicksand and a horizon obscured by fog looks eerily effective where a location shoot would have slightly too real for what the world of Krull is supposed to be. However, the studio sets make those sections of the film look soft where the short sections of the film shot on location in Italy look sharp with greater range of colour.
The transfer suffers from a little grain during the sequences shot in Italy but these are not so apparent during the softer studio sequences. This has more to do with the original print rather than the transfer which would indicate this is as good as it's going to get. The film is bright with a good colour depth and the picture is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and runs for 116 minutes.
This has been remixed from the original Dolby stereo to a 5.1 mix in English and German with a French surround sound mix. The 5.1 remix is unnecessary as it adds little to the audio depth of the film. The subwoofer is rarely used and there's little coming from the rear channels even in the few examples in which they could have been used well. The sound is, however, clear and with good front-channel separation.
It's a Columbia Tristar DVD which means that what's available is on the disc, even for a film such as Krull which many other distributors would have pushed out without extras, possibly in a pan-and-scan version, aimed strictly at kids.
Audio Commentaries: The first is feature-length and features the director Peter Yates (Bullitt) with comments from Ken Marshall and Lysette Anthony. The commentary is dry, Yates, Marshall and Anthony were not together at the time but have been edited together quite well but there is noticeable fading in and out during the commentary track. Yates, in particular, is gracious about everyone who worked on the film and for the chance he had to direct it.
The second commentary track is a narrated article from an issue of Cinefantastique magazine written when Krull was first released. It is quite a long article, and fills 1hr10m of screen time. It details a lot of information about the making of Krull but the text of the article does not match onscreen events and it is recommended that you listen to it without viewing the film at the same time if you have a separate audio system.
Trailer: A very grainy picture that runs for 1m24s and presented in 1.77:1 widescreen
Featurette: A similarly grainy featurette Journey To Krull (22m10s) narrated by Tom Bosley and presented in 1.33:1 is slight, initially attempting to link Krull back to Georges Melies' A Trip to the Moon but improves quickly showing behind the scenes footage, interviews and, being a fantasy film, details much of the production design, special effects and make-up. A nice touch is intercutting a script read-through with the final film.
Talent profiles: For Peter Yates, Lysette Anthony and Liam Neeson that are brief
Gallery: Divided into Cast Portraits, Behind The Scenes, Design And Concept and Vintage Advertising with a total of 237 photos.
Marvel Comics Video Adaptation: Basically, the Krull comic has been filmed in close-up, dubbed and in synch with sound effects and dialogue from the film. Due to the length of the comic, this only runs at 38m29s, presented at 1.33:1 and in stereo. It's interesting once, I've never watched it again but indicates an imaginative approach to Krull on DVD, archiving all extra features available on the disc.
The menus are well animated using the Glaive as their major theme.
Krull is a good film, comforting, amusing and it still looks good thanks in part to it only being twenty years old and filmed well at the time but also due to a great transfer. If you're not into fantasy, it won't do anything to convince you otherwise, but if you have an interest in the fantasy genre of the early-80s, you'll already know of Krull and in this version, you have a copy that is as good as any retail version is going to get. But like the reissue of the Warlock of Firetop Mountain this year, it will be picked up on by the late-20s, early-30s generation who would have seen it in the cinema when first released. It is, however, perfect Sunday afternoon fodder reflected in its being scheduled in that slot when last shown on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Someone at Columbia Tristar clearly has a soft spot for this film and undoubtedly most of the owners of this disc do too.