We had travelled beyond the boundaries of our village, all the way across the great river to the Daikini crossroads. Only when we arrived in our new home did we discover that the town had no cinema. Sure they played movies occasionally at the town hall, but it was annoyingly infrequent. The town did boast, however, one of the largest video stores I have ever seen.
I so in many ways I was not cinematically going to starve.
It’s funny I don’t recall Willow playing in many cinemas, in or around where I lived at the time of its release. I do remember the first day I saw it though, on video.
I rode past the video store on my way home from school and the copy I had reserved was waiting for me. I was so jubilant and hurriedly shoved the tape into my school bag and cycled home as fast as my little legs would carry me.
Settling down in my room, I shut all the curtains, closed the door and readied to immerse myself in the experience. That’s, when it all wrong. A friend of my mother’s arrived bringing with her, her two consistently painful children. They stormed in, and of course we were always expected to be generous and courteous to visitors.
“Why don’t you let them watch the movie with you,” said Mum.
“Oh why not,” said I, through gritted teeth.
Now, for the record – I hate it when people talk during a movie. My wife I exclude from this, but every else be forewarned. And these kids were on a mission this particular afternoon; to squeeze any and all enjoyment I might have had watching a movie I and waited fervently to witness since I first saw a short featurette that appeared during James Valentine’s The Afternoon Show which was a kids cartoon extravaganza here in the great Down Under back in the day. And how one could not be excited? From the creator of Star Wars and the director of Cocoon was coming a tale of wizards and warriors, of swords and sorcery. Man, that was all this growing boy was looking for as part of his complete breakfast back in those days, let me tell you.
So my first viewing was trashed, but, thanks to the advent of the VHS, I could watch movie later that evening in my fortress of solitude and really enjoy it, minus the meddlesome harridan and her brood.
And O what bliss, what joy, what rapture. Willow was everything I had hoped it would be. A grand, sweeping adventure carried along by James Horner’s splendid score; my third favourite of his behind Krull and Wraith of Khan. Great direction by future Oscar winner Ron Howard, beautiful photography for Adrian Biddle, top work (and as ever cutting edge wizardry) from the magicians at ILM, stunning locations including New Zealand before all those Hobbits came out of their holes.
Then there was the great ensemble cast lead by the ever delightful Warwick Davis, the enigmatic charisma of Val Kilmer, his future wife Joanne Whalley, the great Billy Barty, Gavan O’Herlihy, Patricia Hayes (who I loved in A Fish Called Wanda and of course, The NeverEnding Story) as well as terrific baddies in Jean Marsh (Return to Oz) and General Kael Pat Roach (named for the notorious film critic and played by the guy who delighted in pummelling Indiana Jones).
There were two other cast members that I enjoyed. The comic relief you might call them. The R2D2 and C3PO of Uncle George’s fantasy offering. They were Rool and Franjean, played by a duo of very funny/talented performers in the form of Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton. He was too early for flapjacks on Groundhog Day and was being abducted by aliens in The High Crusade – but he did make a little time for yours truly the other day to chat about the making of Willow.
KH: How did you come to be cast in Willow, and where does it rate among the films you have done?
RO: On the matter of shooting Willow, I had just worked with Ron Howard on another movie called Gung Ho with Michael Keaton. Ron brought me in because I had shown him my stand-up comedy when we were filming the previous one. He even asked me who I thought I would work well with that I suggested Kevin Pollack. I think I can honestly say that it rates as one of the most fun times I’ve ever had shooting a film. Kevin and I help towards the most amount of special-effects matte shots of little people put into a film since the Disney film, Darby O’Gill And The Little People.
KH: The shoot took place in places like England and New Zealand. As your work had to be enhanced by effects, did you get to go to the locations?
RO: We did not get to go to any locations because the effects shots were all done in postproduction. Those took place in San Rafael California where Industrial Light and Magic used to be before having moved to the Embarcadero in San Francisco later on.
KH: You worked well together with your foil Kevin Pollak, but i suppose he might argue you were his foil?
RO: Often, Kevin Pollack would try to make me laugh right before I take so there lots of outtakes. As you hear the first AD on the set call out “Quiet on the set, rolling…” Kevin would lean in and whisper “Take me home and make me stink…” And I would bust up laughing for the take.
KH: On Warwick Davis’ commentary of the film, he says he is often asked in connection with Willow, what is or was Val Kilmer like. So what was Val Kilmer like if indeed you interacted with him at all?
RO: Because we were in postproduction, we did not get to interact with Val Kilmer. We did get to interact with Warwick Davis briefly.
KH: It must have been something seeing the finished film, are there any amusing anecdotes you can share?
RO: I wonder if it’s still available, I haven’t seen it since it was on cassette.
We might have been the very first to do a fake behind the scenes reel where we use the green screen of us offstage, still dressed as brownies, sitting in tiny folding chairs that fit us but in front of what would be place behind us later as a Barbie dream house with crew people walking past and dropping candy wrappers on us as we get an interview about the importance of our roles in the film.
KH: Have you stayed in contact at all with any of the cast and crew since?
RO: Haven’t been in touch with most of the folks on that film lately. Kevin is perhaps the one I see the most.
KH: Looking back, what are your thoughts on the film and its enduring nature?
RO: There are several morals in the story, but one is to follow your heart and what you know was right even when it isn’t easy or there could be jeopardy. Be brave.
It was the hobbit before the hobbit was committed to a large budget. Another layer of significance is that the process of Morphing was invented for the film and has been used everywhere since. There was lots of innovation to come out from the team that made Willow. It didn’t do as well at the theatres as it deserved, but subsequently has been a perennial favourite for many at Thanksgiving since. And still rents at a healthy rate.
KH: The moral of the story, if you will, is that you can succeed no matter how small you are or how insignificant you believe you are – is that something that you think stayed with viewers?
RO: Willow is about loyalty – loyalty to friends, loyalty to community, loyalty to what is right overall. The part that doesn’t have to do with your size is the size of your will to do what’s right – and Willow’s will was mighty.
Well that was Rick Overton dear readers. If you’ve not watched the glory that is Willow in a while, maybe it’s time to rediscover it. If you have never seen it then please go and check it out, it is a truly grand adventure with a marvellous cast and crew that came together superbly.
Well that’s enough outta me, now, that way, to the lake!