I am thrilled that at last an expanded edition of James Horner’s magnificent score for the movie Willow has at last been released, and just want to say thank you Intrada. Released in 1988 the movie was produced by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, it’s a rip roaring, swashbuckling fantasy adventure, that I adored when I first saw it. I am not however saying it’s the best of George Lucas or indeed Ron Howard, but it’s an entertaining romp for kids of all ages, that is exciting, action packed and also has numerous emotional interludes, filled with mystical and magical moments it was and still is a movie that many count as one of their favourites. And from a film music fans point of view it has one of the most powerful and thematic scores that was penned in the 1980’s. I think alongside Horner’s Krull it is one of my most listened to Horner soundtracks.
Released on Virgin Music on LP originally then released later onto compact disc this is a score that has for many years been crying out for a re-issue in an expanded form. For me this is probably the best of James Horner, although saying that I don’t think anyone could say that the composer ever penned a bad score. On listening to this latest incarnation of Horner’s classic soundtrack I felt quite emotional, the opening flourishes of the first cue on disc 1 Elora Danan straight away taking me back to the late 1980’s. It is a magnificent and enthralling track which has a running time of nearly ten minutes, and it is this cue in which we hear many of Horner’s luxurious and action led central themes for the score, I suppose one could say that this is similar to an Overture as it successfully sets the scene for an array of musical delights that are waiting to be discovered as we the listener progresses through the score. I was at the time of first hearing the score struck but the sheer scale of the music, with the mighty London Symphony Orchestra and choir working their magic and performing Horner’s excellent musical compositions to perfection.
I also loved the way in which the composer utilised pan pipes and other woods within the score, at times they were lilting and effecting but also had the capacity to generate shrill terrifying moments and dramatic otherworldly sounds. But I think it was the central theme that I was affected by more than any other, like with most Horner scores there seems to be a warmth and even a familiarity to this glorious theme and one that not only mesmerises but totally captivates any listener. The composer utilising strings and pan pipes to purvey a mysterious yet romantic and melancholy persona. In many ways, (and this is just a personal opinion )I felt that Horner’s music was superior to the movie itself, the score purveying an epic feel and also having to it an affecting and haunting aura. I do not think that a track-by-track analysis is really necessary for this score as the majority of film music fans will already be familiar with it, and Horner fans will certainly be.
It is I think sufficient to say that this is classic movie music and an iconic work by the late James Horner. It is a grandiose and all-consuming work written in the same year as Red Heat, Vibes, Cocoon The Return and The Land Before Time, and it as do these other scores show the versatility and wonderful talent of the composer who is so sorely missed in film scoring today. The grandiose and powerful sound and style of Willow also reflects many of Horner’s other cinematic works as heard in Krull, Star Trek ll The Wrath of Khan, Aliens, etc and was a pre-cursor to the delights and commanding energy that he purveyedin laterscores such as Glory, The Rocketeer, The Pagemaster, Braveheart and Apollo 13 to name but a handful, the list is literally endless. Intrada have done a marvellous job on this expanded 2 disc set release, which is not surprising as their standards are very high and encompass both quantity and quality.
Extra cues (the original CD release contained 8 tracks, this double CD release boasts 18) and eye-catching artwork are accompanied by informative notes, and wonderfully clear and pristine sound, it is soundtrack connoisseur’s heaven and hopefully the Horner re-issue program will not stop here. Highly recommended.
An evil Queen Bavmorda portrayed by British actress Jean Marsh uses black magic to conquer and dominate the land and holds in her power its people who become like slaves to her evil commands. She dreads the birth of a child with an unusual birthmark a prophesies foretell that the child will bring about her downfall. Bavmorda imprisons all the pregnant women in the land and the child of the prophecy is born. But before Bavmorda has a chance to kill the baby a midwife makes her escape with her. She sends the baby downstream on a raft in very much the way Moses was placed in the river because Bavmorda’s henchmen are nearly upon them.
The child washes up near a village inhabited by a race of dwarf-like people called Nelwyns. Willow Ufgood played by Warrick Davies, is a farmer and amateur magician finds the baby and is subsequently chosen by the town council to return the child to the world of the “large people,” or Daikini as they are known to the Nelwyns. Against their better judgment,
Willow and his friend Meegosh entrust the baby to the first Daikini they meet, a renegade warrior named Madmartigan played by Val Kilmer. On their way home, Willow and Meegosh are attacked by a clan of Brownies who even smaller than the Nelwyns, who have stolen the baby from Madmartigan.
The Brownie fairy queen of the forest, Cherlindrea, tells Willow that he has been chosen to protect the baby, whose name is Elora Danan. Cherlindrea gives Willow a magic wand and directs him to ask the sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes) for assistance.
Cherlindrea sends along two brownies as guides, Willow’s party on their journey again encounters Madmartigan, who helps them to escape the clutches of Sorsha portrayed by Joanne Whalley who is Bavmorda’s daughter. Willow and the rest of the group finally meet Fin Raziel, only to find that the sorceress has been turned into a rodent by Bavmorda.
Sorsha captures Willow and his party and they start a long trek to Nockmaar castle, Bavmorda’s stronghold. Willow attempts to use magic to return Fin Raziel to her human form but fails. Meanwhile,
Madmartigan and the Brownies manage to escape, while Madmartigan, under the influence of the Brownies’ love potion, becomes temporarily infatuated with Sorsha. Willow and the group escape from Sorsha’s control and make a hasty retreat with stolen horses. The group eventually finds the castle of Tir Asleen, where Cherlindrea told them they would find protection from Bavmorda, but the castle is under Bavmorda’s spell; all its inhabitants are frozen in ice. Madmartigan, refusing to give up hope, prepares for Sorsha’s attack while Willow once again fails to transform Raziel into human form.
Sorsha and her army arrive, but so does the Army of Galladoorn, led by Madmartigan’s old friend Airk Thaughbaer. During the ensuing battle, Sorsha falls in love with Madmartigan and changes sides. Nockmaar’s General Kael played by Pat Roach captures Elora and takes her to Nockmaar. Willow, Madmartigan, Sorsha, the Brownies, the sorceress Fin Raziel (now in the shape of a goat), and what is left of Airk’s army set up camp, preparing to storm Nockmaar castle to rescue Elora. Willow finally returns Raziel to her true form, and the sorceress puts a spell on the camp to protect them from Bavmorda’s magic.
The battle at Nockmaar begins the next day. Willow manages to save Elora at the last moment from Bavmorda’s murderous ritual, and Bavmorda is destroyed, in part by her own magic. He leaves the baby in the caring arms of Madmartigan and Sorsha. Willow returns happily to his village and his family with a gift from Raziel: a book of magic to study. It is an action-packed adventure with many twists, turns, chases, and fights. And is a movie that you should see, also watch out for Willow the series coming to Disney + soon.