Willow: Special Edition (1988)

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Released 10-Sep-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Main Menu Audio & Animation
THX Trailer-Liquid Metal
THX Optimizer
Featurette-Willow: The Making Of An Adventure
Featurette-From Morf To Morphing: The Dawn Of Digital Filmmaking
TV Spots-8
Teaser Trailer-2
Theatrical Trailer
Audio Commentary
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 120:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:49) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Ron Howard

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Warwick Davis
Val Kilmer
Joanne Whalley
Billy Barty
Jean Marsh
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music James Horner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Audio Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, the credits roll over the final shot of the movie.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Willow is somewhat of a curious film, both in terms of the film itself, and the story that surrounds it. Ostensibly the work of director Ron Howard, Willow was one of the other Lucasfilm productions. Everyone knows of their successes (Star Wars and Indiana Jones - heard of them?), but many forget that they had motion picture output that did not star Harrison Ford (and yes, I know that the two Star Wars prequels do not either). Released between the last two Indy films, Willow was very much the baby of George Lucas, as is evidenced by the fact that he returned to the world of Willow to co-pen a novel trilogy. He may not have physically been sitting in the director's chair, but in every other way this was his film.

    The story of Willow follows the fortunes of Nelwyn farmer and would-be mage Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), who finds a baby floating down a river. The Nelwyn are a race of short people. The trouble for Willow is that the child is the princess Elora Danan - the person prophesied to bring down the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean March). As in any good fantasy, the Evil Queen is obsessed with finding and destroying the girl, and sends her best general, along with her daughter - Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) - to find the child and bring her back for a dark ritual that will obliterate the child's essence. Meanwhile, Willow has left his village to give the child back to the world of the Daikini (a race of normal-sized people), and it is on this quest that he meets Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) - the greatest swordsman who ever lived. Shortly thereafter, Willow finds out that he has been chosen by the child to be her protector, and he sets off on an adventure filled with talking animals, fairies, brownies, magic and swordsmanship, in his efforts to save the child and bring down the Evil Queen.

    While Willow is certainly a fun movie, it has its share of problems. While it does not place its world in the context of an "alternate" universe, or feature a person being pulled from the present day to this medieval world to try and justify its existence, it still seems to be trying too hard. It is as if George Lucas had been waiting so long to make a fantasy movie that he threw in everything that he ever wanted to use for the genre into the one film. This has the effect of continually adding new and strange ways to interact with the world, and generally creates a feeling as if you are on a course studying the world of Willow and not enjoying a rollicking adventure. Additionally, the level of the movie seems to be at odds with its content. While it seems pitched at children even more so than George Lucas' own Star Wars, the level of violence and gore contained within is certainly not suitable to that younger audience. It is not that there is nothing in this movie for an older audience, it is just that the majesty and magic of the world seem somehow diminished when one views from a mature perspective.

    In the end, Willow is a good fun film, but is really "running on empty" in terms of its reputation. While it does not look out-dated, it has been out-grown by current storytelling trends. Harry Potter this is not, and the only thing it has in common with Lord Of The Rings is that it was filmed in New Zealand. It will always remain an important film for a number of reasons (it was the first film on which digital film-making techniques were used), but it will never attain the legendary status it is so desperately seeking. Maybe it was an omen that it was the project on which Joanne Whalley met husband-to-be Val Kilmer (now divorced, of course).

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Transfer Quality


    The transfer presented for Willow is nothing short of beautiful. It is doubly impressive when it is considered that this movie is almost fifteen years old.

    Presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

    The sharpness of this transfer is very good - certainly sharper transfers exist, but this one is right up there with the leaders. Detail is evident across the entire screen, and there are never any occasions where greater sharpness may have been desired. Shadow detail is not quite as impressive, and the drop-off from well detailed to blobs of murk is surprisingly quick. Despite this, the shadow detail is still good enough to never really detract from the action, only affecting the periphery of the image in darker scenes. There is no low level noise present.

    Colours are excellent. The lush greens of the New Zealand forest are perfectly represented, as are the dour greys of Queen Bavmorda's castle. Colour highlights also stand out impressively, always being bright and easy to see. The only real downside is that the New Zealand locations are more often than not covered by cloud - it is only when the clouds pull back and the sun comes out that the scenery becomes truly impressive.

    There are almost no compression artefacts, being restricted to a few instances of pixelization on some of the tougher scenes (such as the snow-filled image from 2:36 to 2:41). Aliasing is almost totally non-existent, with only a very few obvious instances, such as on the catapult basket at 83:56, or the rock pattern on the ground at 100:52. Most impressively, there are no film artefacts at all - whether the print used for the transfer was immaculately clean, or there was some digital cleaning applied is a matter for conjecture, but the results are impressive.

    The subtitles are word-for-word accurate, and are well paced, large and easy to read, while still being rendered in a fairly attractive font - a very good job indeed.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc, with the layer change occurring at 60:49 between Chapters 18 and 19. The change is quite obvious, and is easily marked by the break in ambient audio. It does not, however, break any dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    As with the video, this is an extremely impressive effort, completely belying the age of the soundtrack.

    There are three audio tracks present on this disc, being the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (at 192 Kbps), and Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448 Kbps), and an English audio commentary track in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (at 192 Kbps).

    Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. The aggressive sound effects never interfere with the spoken lines in the movie. There is one drawback to the dialogue however, and that is that it seems to have been boosted in level somewhat, with the side effect that it sounds slightly "harsh". The effect resulted in the need to turn the volume down to make the dialogue bearable.

    Audio sync is generally good, however there are a few occasions, such as at 103:42, or more obviously on the slap at 35:14, where sync is ever so slightly out. In general this will only be spotted by those who notice sync problems, or are specifically looking for it, and regardless they are infrequent enough that they cause no real problem.

    The score for Willow was provided by James Horner, and in his typical style is a little heavy-handed for the material, not coming anywhere close to subtle. Despite this, it still works well enough, it is just that there are times as the orchestra is blazing away that would have been far better suited to some more restraint.

    The surround channels are very heavily used throughout the transfer for both carrying the score, and for ambient noise. There are only a few directional sound effects, but these are quite well designed, and certainly add to the atmosphere of the film without detracting from the immersion. This is an impressively well integrated use of surround sound, and really helps the movie come alive.

    The subwoofer gets a decent amount of work during this transfer, coming to life to support not only the score, but many of the bigger action set pieces. While it is nothing compared to a modern action movie, what the subwoofer does is more than enough.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extras presented here are quite good, but they do seem a little lacking in real depth of content.


    The menu is animated, themed around the movie, 16x9 enhanced, and features Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio accompaniment. It is easy to navigate, and well laid out.

Featurette - Willow: The Making Of An Adventure (21:40)

    This is the making of featurette created for the movie's release in 1988. Presented at 1.33:1 (not 16x9 enhanced) and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio, this is quite well preserved, but certainly betrays its video origins. The quality of the image is quite low, and the quality of the content is not much better, being mostly limited to standard marketing-type speeches.

Featurette - From Morf To Morphing: The Dawn Of Digital Filmmaking (17:01)

    Presented at 1.33:1 (not 16x9 enhanced), and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio, this is a new featurette produced for the DVD. It is quite interesting, and focuses on the genesis of what was probably the first digital film effect - morphing. It also has a quick look at how digital effects took off from there.

TV Spots and Trailers

    This section presents a collection of eight TV spots, and three trailers. The TV spots are arranged into 15 and 30 second spots as follows:
15 second spots
30 second spots
    All are presented at 1.33:1 (not 16x9 enhanced), and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio. They are of relatively low quality.

    The trailers section contains the following:

    All are presented at 1.33:1 (not 16x9 enhanced), and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio. In terms of quality they do not compare to the main feature at all well.

Audio Commentary - Warwick Davis (Actor)

    Warwick Davis talks at length and enthusiastically about this movie, and it is clear from the track that he very much enjoyed making it. The effort of carrying an entire commentary solo does show on occasions, but for the most part this is an interesting commentary, and well worth a listen.

Photo Gallery

    This section consists of 46 behind the scenes photos. For those who appreciate this, they will find them interesting. For the rest of us, this menu option will forever sit there unused.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Excluding the Spanish audio track, and the spiffy new "bubble" THX trailer, the discs are identical. Grab it from wherever you find it cheapest.


    Willow is a fun fantasy movie that has not stood the test of time as well as some others. It is presented on a technically excellent DVD that contains a good selection of extras.

    The video is superb, really showing of the fantasy world of Willow to full measure.

    The audio quality is just as good as the video, providing a very active soundtrack that is very subtle in its use of surround channels.

    The extras are good, although for a movie held in as high regard as Willow it would have been nice to see some more new features, rather than the selection of old TV spots, trailers, and features.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Sunday, July 28, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersAll matching Vifa Drivers: centre 2x6.5" + 1" tweeter (d'appolito); fronts and rears 6.5" + 1" tweeter; centre rear 5" + 1" tweeter; sub 10" (150WRMS)

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Comments (Add)
Table at top of review credits Ron Howard as the composer... *nt* - REPLY POSTED
Thank god it is nothing like harry potter -