Tag Archives: Willow

It’s hard to know who to trust, isn’t it, Jack? : Remembering Cocoon with Tom Benedek by Kent Hill

49a3bfd8809e753dc238598fcb2bc258_1375120977_l

What’s strange is, for the longest time, I had only ever seen the final scenes of Cocoon. A sea covered in mist, a young boy in the water, a boat loaded with elderly people being chased. Then the sky above lights up. The clouds part majestically as James Horner takes over and the ship ascends into a gigantic spacecraft. Wow, I thought. Cool. Have to see that rest of that! It would be a few days later, but, at last, the whole story was mine to experience.

To talk about films like Cocoon, you need to go back to a different age in cinema. Before most of the popular films were adaptations of characters from the funny papers and franchises and cinematic universes were lined up, as far as the eye can see. It was a time of great risk and invention. When a person with a great idea was king, and the power of Hollywood could make such visions sing.

The era of high concept brought us many of the enduring classics which now appear, in many ways, to be timeless. A young Ron Howard would helm the picture, taking control after another icon of the times, Robert Zemeckis, decided to go off and romance a stone, before heading back in time. Howard had already delivered a fascinating modern day fairy-tale with his magical, romantic, comedy-adventure, Splash. In hindsight this was a fortuitous match, one which would propel Howard’s career to new heights, eventually seeing him become the ideal fit for another 80’s fantasy masterpiece, Willow.cocoon-54a0436aebccd

The men who had produced JAWS, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, brought together a group of impeccable professionals to join Howard behind the camera – at the same time they assembled an extraordinary group of acclaimed Hollywood veterans, cast to fill out the leading roles of the members of a retirement community on the verge of a close encounter of the third kind. Wilford Brimely, Hume Cronyn, Don Ameche, Jack Gilford, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, together with brilliant performances by Brian Dennehy, Steve Guttenberg, Barret Oliver and Tahnee Welch are our guides through a story about youth, and how we find things in life that allow us to hold on to that vital part of our spirit – so that we may live richly, even as the years decline.

This phrase has become a cliché with me, but long have I waited to chat with someone connected with this movie – one of the fantastical cinematic staples of my youth. My guest Tom Benedek was the man tasked with taking an unpublished novel and turning it into a story for us all. A story of how sometimes it takes a stranger to show us what those we share our lives with fail to point out, a story about the wondrous mysteries and possibilities that dance in the sky so full of stars above our heads, and a story about our grandparents and the lessons, indeed the wisdom they try to send us . . . and how when their time comes, how hard it is to let them go.

So, as it has happened so many times for me while writing for PTS, my dreams have come true. I now have a glimpse, and not a mere EPK look behind the scenes. I have my story of the creation of a science fiction and fantasy film-making high water mark, from the man who brought it to life on the humble script page.

Ron Howard’s Willow


Who doesn’t love Ron Howard’s Willow? Hopefully nobody, because it’s a brilliant fantasy classic that’s aged like the finest wine. From a story by George Lucas (vague Ewok vibes abound), it’s just a rollicking picture, oriented towards the little ones whose sense of wonder hasn’t dimmed, yet eager to include a very real sense of danger and darkness, the perfect recipe to make a film like this noteworthy and nostalgic. In a village inhabited solely by dwarf-like creatures, a secret has been unearthed by the family of young would-be sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis). In their little Hobbitsville of a town on the edge of a vast fantastical realm, a human infant has floated down river like Moses, a special child with the power to defeat a nefariously evil witch (Jean Smart) who has terrorized the land for ages. After the baby attracts danger to their village, the council gives Willow the task of bringing the child out into the world so it can fulfill it’s potential and bring goodness back to the realm. So begins a dazzling big budget journey into the heart of sword and sorcery darkness, a well woven blend of humour, heart and magic that is never short of thrills or visual splendour. Val Kilmer steals the show as rambunctious Madmartigan, a fiercely funny rogue of a warrior who protects and guides Willow through a harsh, threatening world, while Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton score comic relief points as two pint size little pixie things with vaguely European accents, which they use to hurl many a colourful insult in Kilmer’s general direction. Val’s real life wife Joanne Whalley plays sultry Sorshia, daughter to the villainous queen and badass beautiful warrior princess with dark sex appeal for days. There’s just so much to love about this film, from the wildly boisterous score by James Horner that gets our pulses up, the gorgeous production design and attention to detail, the story itself full of wondrous magic and peril, to the reliance on practical effects as per the times. It’s adorable that the filmmakers went out of their way to cast hordes of actual little people as opposed to relying on camera trickery, right down to Willow’s tiny, impossibly cute dwarf children. Highlights I will always remember from this one are the impressively staged sled race down a snowy peak using shields as careening vehicles and the surprisingly gory attack from giant worm/gorilla hybrid creatures that seriously disturbed seven year old Nate for years after. You simply can’t go wrong with this one. 

-Nate Hill