A world light-years beyond your imagination
Pictures ---------- Release Date: 29th July 1983 Columbia
Director: Peter Yates ---------- Starring: Kenneth Marshall, Lysette Anthony
Budget: $26M ---------- 2015 Equivalent: $62M
U.S Box Office: $16.5M ---------- 2015 Equivalent: $39.3M
On the eve of a wedding meant to unite two rivals kingdoms, The Beast's army attacks, slaughtering many and kidnapping the bride to be. Prince Conwyn must join forces with a wise man, a magician, a Cyclops and a band of thieves in order to locate the only weapon capable of destroying the Beast. With time and the many forces against him, can Conwyn save his bride and the kingdom?
Despite being one of the most expensive movies of the time, Krull is seemingly forgotten amongst the releases of the early 1980s. Taking its primary influence from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, it sought to score box office gold in the late summer of 1983. With Return of the Jedi starting to look a little long in the tooth, Krull staked its claim to be the next fantasy epic.
At the helm was Peter Yates, a director of some pedigree. Yates had originally started out as a race driver (something that would influence his later work) before setting his sights on acting. Upon graduating from the Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts he worked in repertory theatre as both an actor and director. During the 1950s he took on a number of different jobs, which would eventually lead to an assistant director credit on The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. This in turn led to him working on The Entertainer and The Guns of Navarone, while making his mark on the small screen with directing credits on both The Saint and Danger Man.
This early work paved the way to his first feature directing credit for Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday, a light-weight musical comedy designed to highlight the singer's talents and help sell records. Yates would follow this up with the surreal One Way Pendulum. It was his third feature, Robbery, that would garner him the attention of Steve McQueen. The picture was a very loose interpretation of The Great Train Robbery, yet what caught the actor's eye was a sequence featuring a high speed car chase through London. So impressed was he that he sought out Yates to direct the action drama, Bullitt. The film would go on to be McQueen's most successful picture and the climactic car chase around San Francisco set the benchmark for movie chase sequences for years to come.
Bullitt essentially made Yates, allowing him to work consistently for the next thirty five years. Not afraid to mix things up, he moved from romantic drama (John and Mary) to crime caper (The Hot Rock) and then black comedy (Mother, Juggs and Speed). From Bullitt in 1968, he would go on to make ten movies in the next thirteen years and work with some of the biggest actors of the time including Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Barbara Streisand and Robert Mitchum. He even found time to ride the Jaws bandwagon in the late 70s when he directed The Deep, an underwater thriller starring Jaqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte. Admittedly, the film had more of a link to Spielberg’s classic than most, having been based on a book by Jaws author Peter Benchley.
He would round out the 1970s with an Oscar nomination for his work on the coming of age picture, Breaking Away. Suffice it to say, when Krull came around, Peter Yates was something of a seasoned veteran.
With Star Wars having taken the world by storm in 1977, science fiction was thrust back into the mainstream. The release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 merely proved how popular the genre had become and studios were quick to cash in with cheap knock-offs, though few were of any substance (or much in the way of box office). Hoping to ride on the bandwagon was Columbia Pictures, who set to work on what would become known as Krull. To craft the screenplay, they hired writer Stanford Sherman, who cut his teeth on Batman and the Man from U.N.C.L.E and had seen recent success with the Clint Eastwood sequel, Every Which Way You Can. Sherman was tasked with combining the hi-tech adventure of Star Wars and the fantastical elements of Lord of the Rings, into a movie that the studio hoped would attract fans of both (along with everyone else). At one point it was rumoured that the producers had been seeking a tie-in with the Dungeons & Dragons brand. Whilst the story persisted for many years after Krull's release, there was never actually an official approach - though a Dungeons & Dragons script was said to be in the works at around the same time (elements of which would make it into the 1983 cartoon series of the same name).
With the script nearing completion, Columbia set about gathering a production team and cast. Hoping to live up to the epic moniker, a huge $27M budget was put in place. To put that into some perspective - Raiders of the Lost Ark had cost $18M to bring to screens, while Return of the Jedi would weigh in at $32.5M. Curiously, Krull's estimated budget may actually have been higher still, with some stating it was closer to the $40M mark. Whatever its final cost ended up being, the studio wanted to ensure it was up on the screen for all to see.
Forgoing major stars, Krull's cast was made up of relatively unknown actors. Indeed, even the most famous of the crew, Carry-On stalwart Bernard Bresslaw, was hidden behind layers of prosthetics that would turn him into the Cyclops, Rell. Colwyn would be played by Ken Marshall, who had recently gained some attention as Marco Polo in a TV mini-series of the same name. He'd be joined by Lysette Anthony as Lyssa, a model turned actress who was dubbed 'the face of the eighties' by photographer David Bailey and who had made her screen debut in soap opera Crossroads when she was only a year old. Ynyr, essentially the Obi-Wan role, would be portrayed by Freddie Jones, a character actor whose work stretched back to the early 1960s. He had found fame playing Claudius in the TV series, The Ceasars, amongst many other pieces of work on both stage and screen. Perhaps more interesting for a contemporary audience is the supporting cast. Aside from Grange Hill's Todd Carty and David Battley as Ergo The Magnificent, was Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson.
Armstrong had been acting on TV and in films for over ten years by the time he took the role in Krull. He'd scored his first on-screen role by writing to director Mike Hodges when he was looking to cast local actors in Get Carter. From there he would appear in a number of roles throughout the decade, taking in both situation comedy and one-off dramas. In contrast, Robbie Coltrane was still a relative newcomer in 1982, and while Krull was his fifth film role to date, it was arguably his biggest at that point. Like Alun Armstrong, Liam Neeson had been bitten by the acting bug fairly early on in his life, but it would be a number of years before he'd make his screen debut. Instead he took on a number of casual jobs and trained as a teacher before joining a Belfast-based theatre troupe. While performing on stage as Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men he was spotted by John Boorman, who offered Neeson a part in Excalibur, which helped prepare him somewhat for his role of Kegan in Krull.
Columbia spared no expense when it came to the physical production of the film, taking over ten sound stages at Pinewood, including the biggest of them all - the 007 stage. In all, more than 23 sets were created, and further location shooting took place in Italy and the Canary Islands. With construction underway on the enormous swamp set, work began on the Slayer costumes and a self contained animatronics suit for The Beast, the first of its kind according to special effects supervisor Nick Maley. For Krull's score, the studio hired James Horner, who had won acclaim for his work on Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan the previous year. Horner had begun his career scoring movies for Roger Corman, steadily working on bigger productions. After the success the Star Trek sequel bought him, he became one of the most sought after composers of the 1980s, and would go on to provide the score for Aliens, Willow and Field of Dreams, to name but a few.
The shoot itself appears to have been uneventful. Despite this being Peter Yates' first foray into science fiction, he had little problem handling the effects and make up work that many of the scenes required. With shooting coming to a close in late 1982/early 1983, post production work got underway. It was around this time that the decision was made to dub Robbie Coltrane's voice with that of TV star Michael Elphick. Similarly, Lysette Anthony also found her voice was replaced with that of American Lindsay Crouse. The theory put forward for this by Columbia Pictures president Frank Price was that people in the United States were more likely to see a film with an unknown American actress' voice than an unknown English one. It is not clear when Coltrane discovered his dialogue had been replaced, but Anthony was told after the dubbing had already taken place, and had been completely unaware before hand.
Meanwhile the studio looked ahead to the film's marketing and its late summer release. With a huge budget to recoup, and no major stars with which to promote the picture, Columbia knew the story, scale and effects would have to do most of the grunt work to get people into theatres. To help promote the picture and add further revenue streams, they set up marketing deals with Parker Brothers for a Krull board game and sold the videogame rights to Atari. A pinball game was also designed but never went into production. Alan Dean Foster wrote the novelization and Marvel produced a comic book tie in.
The cinematic landscape back then was quite different to the one we know today. While cinema-going was still popular, the boom of the home video market was starting to cut deep into its revenue. Some even predicted the death of movie-going within five years. A wide release back in the early 1980s would grace between 1000 and 1600 locations, and while multiplex theatres did exist, it wasn't in any great number. Re-issues were still incredibly popular and it was not unusual to see last summer's hits being rolled out again twelve months later (Disney movies aside, home video would soon eviscerate that revenue stream). The summer of 1983 promised to be one of the biggest in history thanks to the May 25th release of Return of the Jedi. Even though no studio would go up directly against Episode Six, there were more than enough major releases willing to take a chance both before and after it made its debut.
Hoping to distance itself from Jedi, but still capture the summer market, Columbia opted for a July 29th release date for Krull, where it would be up against the Chevy Chase comedy, National Lampoon's Vacation and Private School, an Animal House/Porky's knock off. Competition from the week before consisted of the Rob Lowe comedy Class, and Jaws 3D. While on paper Krull had a lot going for it, its lack of a major star hurt the picture, especially going up against a Chevy Chase vehicle. Furthermore, reviews weren't positive, with a number citing the picture's downbeat tone as something of a stumbling block. It certainly looked the epic that had been promised but few felt it added up to much of anything.
Out at 1,281 locations, Krull stalled and never really got chance to recover. It made $5.4M during its opening weekend and had to settle for a fifth place finish. The studio were right to be fearful of Return of the Jedi - even in its tenth weekend on general release, it was still very real competition and actually finished higher. As expected, National Lampoon's Vacation took the top spot, making $8.3M, while Jaws 3D dropped 45% from its opening weekend, earning $7.2M. Krull held quite well in its second frame up against Risky Business, but surprisingly, had already begun to shed its location count. It managed one more weekend in the top ten before vanishing completely.
All up the picture made $16.5M, some way short of its $26M budget, and became one of the costliest failures of the year (and an even bigger flop if the rumoured higher budgetary figure was true). The lack of star power, strong competition and poor reviews were all contributing factors to its downfall. However, while the home video market was seen by some as the death knell for cinema, for studios it became a second chance at making money. Krull enjoyed success on VHS, and over the intervening years gained a cult following. It rarely makes it into the top films of the 1980s, but is often cited as an unappreciated gem, with a new generation discovering the movie on DVD and again on Blu-Ray. As for Columbia Pictures, one imagines their disappointment was short lived when Ghostbusters opened the following summer and became one of the biggest releases of all time.
Post-Krull, Peter Yates never made another science fiction based picture, but continued to enjoy success for many years. Indeed, he won great critical acclaim (and another Oscar nomination) for his adaptation of The Dresser, which was also released in 1983. In an interesting twist, Ynyr actor Freddie Jones had made the role of 'Sir' famous in the original stage production. Like Yates, Jones would continue to work for many years, teaming up a number of times with David Lynch (with whom he had worked on The Elephant Man), along with a memorable turn in Young Sherlock Holmes. Robbie Coltrane made waves with the role of Danny McGlone in Tutti Frutti, and again as Eddie Fitzgerald in Cracker. To a whole new generation of fans, he will always be Hagrid from the Harry Potter series. On the other hand, Liam Neeson stuck it out in Hollywood, making a name for himself in a number of pictures. It was his role as Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg's 1993 drama, Schindler's List that bought him international recognition. The actor would later reinvent himself as a modern action hero in the movie Taken and continues to be a popular draw today.
Lysette Anthony would go on to become a household name by the mid-1980s, and combined a successful TV career with movie and theatre roles. She appeared opposite Michael Elphick in the sitcom Three Up, Two Down, and alongside Michael Caine in Jack The Ripper and Without a Clue. She would also attract acclaim for her role in Woody Allen's 1992 movie, Husbands and Wives. Sadly, Krull's failure all but ended Ken Marshall's career before it had got going. He wasn't seen on screen again until 1987 and is remembered more nowadays for the role of Michael Eddington in Deep Space Nine.
Had Krull been a success, one imagines a sequel would have been forthcoming - a prophecy central to the film tells of Colwyn and Lyssa ruling the planet, and their son ruling the galaxy. Instead it became a minor footnote in cinema history. Like many movies of the era, time has not been kind to Krull, but there is still much to enjoy. The sets still impress, and the script introduces enough adventure to keep the pace brisk yet entertaining. It's also not afraid to utilize a number of darker elements, including a somewhat downbeat final third. Krull may not be remembered in the same way as Return of the Jedi, but it is still worth seeking out or rediscovering.