Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985) (TV Movie review)

    After “Star Wars 6: Return of the Jedi” first premiered in 1983 and introduced fans to those cute and furry Ewok characters, it immediately ignited a new Star Wars Ewok faze that continued throughout the mid 80’s. In 1985 there was the animated “Star Wars Ewoks” cartoon series that ran for two seasons, and before that the Ewoks got their own live action movie spin off titled “Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure”. But I’ve already reviewed that movie in full, so now I’ll take a look at the 1985 sequel titled “Ewoks: The Battle for Endor”, which is the second and final live action Ewok movie.

    This film takes place shortly after the events of the last film, with Cyndal and her family living among the Ewoks, but they’re not planning on staying much longer as the parents have made their final repairs on the space ship. Unfortunately before they depart, the Ewok village is suddenly attacked by a savage group of aliens called Marauders. The leader of the Marauders learned of the space ship and seeks to control its power of flight and space travel, and he’s whiling to do whatever it takes to seize that power. Soon all the villages are set to flames, the Ewoks are all imprisoned, and Cyndals parents are tragically gunned down in front of her ... yeah, I’ll talk about that again in a moment. Now orphaned, Cyndal escapes the siege with her closest friend Wicket the Ewok, and together they try to survive in the woods, as well as come up with a plan to rescue the imprisoned Ewoks. While trying to stay alive in the forest, Wicket and Cyndal meet an old man named Noah who’s been stranded on the planet and has lost his closest friend, who was the only family he had. Noah’s a grumpy old man who doesn’t want the kids to be around, but as you would expect he begins to love them, and he even begins to look at Cyndal as a doubter. In return, Noah becomes a new father for her, teaches her the values of being strong and comforts her with the knowledge that the ones we love will never really leave us. From there the story continues to build with kidnappings, a big rescue and a full scale war that will determine that fate of the planet Endor. 

     Right off the bat, I want to give this movie some serious Kudos for taking a much darker and livelier approach then its predecessor. Now there are just enough cheerful moments to keep the film from becoming a complete downer, and it never gets too silly the same way I felt the first “Ewok Adventure” did. There’s some mature storytelling here, and like I stated above, there's some really dark moments. The death of Cyndals family was a legitimate shock, especially sense our hero's spent the entire first movie trying to rescue them. Even Cyndals older brother Mace, the main character of the last movie, is killed off in the first three minutes. There’s an especially touching moment just before the father dies, in which he tells Cyndal that she’s going to have to be strong and live like a new bird leaving a nest. It’s a subtly effective moment that immediately gets you wrapped up and invested in the situation. The pacing is also really good, there’s never a dull moment and plenty of action, but there’s also just enough moments for the characters to breathe and play to our emotional sides.

    Cyndal is especially likable in this film and while the actress’s performance is a little hit and miss, she’s certainly likable enough to care for. The old hermit Noah is also a really likable character. I always love it when a grouchy old miser has a change of heart, and it’s done relatively well here. He and Cyndal have good chemistry, and I like their relationship, despite feeling incredibly rushed at times. Noah is played by Wilford Brimley, and he’s just wonderful in the role, supplying the character with a lively personality to balance out his cranky bead side manner.  


    Warwick Davis makes his third and final appearance in the role of Wicket the Ewok and thankfully, he’s given far more screen time and attention in this film than he did before. In a nice twist, Wicket can actually speak English in this film. This admittedly has me questioning the continuity of the series, because this film supposedly takes place before “Return of the Jedi” and the Ewoks clearly couldn’t speak beyond their own dialect in that movie. Then again, who really cares about the continuity between these mostly stand alone Ewok movies and the original Star wars trilogy? Noah also has this pet creature named Teek who kind of looks like an albino Ewok, and can run laps like the road runner. This character has become a small iconic character in the Star Wars universe, and has been featured in other Star Wars memorabilia, including the Disney land attraction “Star Tours”.    

     The villains are something of a mixed bag. They obviously function as a threat to our hero’s, because these guys shoot first and ask questions later, but they just look so silly. Something about their designs makes me think of the monkeys from “Planet of the Apes” if they raided the costumes from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”. Give the Storm Troopers some credit, they at least looked cool. The leader of the Marauders is named Terak, and he’s a serviceable villain at best. The performance is a little exaggerated and his voice is really silly but he at least has some cool moments in which he comes off as intimidating. 

      Much like its predecessor, this film borrows more elements of fantasy, in fact, it looks and feels just like any of those sword and sorcery movies that dominated the 80’s. There’s more exciting encounters with stop motion monsters, and while they look cheesy by today’s standers, there’s still a charm to this craft that never looses it's appeal. There's also a humanoid sorceress that wields a magic ring that can transform her into anything ranging from birds or even a beautiful princess. Yeah, this character definitely feels like a clich├ęd stereotype sorceress that belongs in 80's fantasy films like “Willow” or “Wizards of the lost Kingdome”. It's also wired to think of witches in the Star Wars universe. While I’m aware of other  witch characters like the Night Sisters clan, they at least looked alien, but this sorceress on the other hand looks about as generic as they get.

       The climax is this massive battle scene, Teraks army is on the move, there’s stop-motion creatures running around, bombs are being thrown, laser cannons are blasting, Noah uses the guns on his ship as weapons, it’s awesome! For a TV made movie, this is a pretty impressive battle sequence, and it really feels like Star Wars. Obviously, it’s not as epic as the two trilogies but it is still exciting and definitely echoes the final battle from “Return of the Jedi”. In traditional Star Wars fashion, the battle concludes with a one on one sword fighting dual between Terak and Noah, however there are no lightsabers in these films, so this is a traditional dual with real swords. To be honest, it’s more impressive than many of the lightsaber duels that would later come in the Prequel trilogy. Those got so over the top with characters jumping all over the place, but this dual shows how an old man can really put up a fight, it’s fantastic! Teraks death is also pretty cool, a little anti climactic I’ll admit but still cool. 

      The ending is great, it’s not a completely happy ending the same way the first film was, but it’s not entirely sad either, it’s a nice little mix of the two emotions and a bitter sweet exit for our hero’s. Warwick Davis once said that there were plans for a third live action Ewok movie but that production never met the light of day. Besides, this film ended on just the perfect note, I couldn’t imagine them topping it with another movie. This small series of live action Ewok movies may not be the best installments released under the Star Wars name, but it’s far from bad and they sit nicely in-between the original trilogy and some of the prequels. I like that these movies are more fantasy based with just a hint of Sci-Fi, as it just makes the universe feel much bigger.

      Overall, “Ewoks: The Battle for Endor” is a surprisingly decent film, it’s no masterpiece or anything but for what it is, it’s simply better than it needed to be. The story is engaging, the characters are fleshed out, the drama is strong enough, and the whole project was just handled with a mature grip. Some of the effects are obvious, but the locations and visuals are still very impressive by TV standards, especially for the time. I love how this film takes risks and doesn’t rely on as many kid tropes as its predecessor. While this obviously isn’t a must see movie, I do still recommend it to young viewers that love Star Wars. Give this one a rental at least, it’s worth that much for any Star Wars junky.

                                        I give “Ewoks: The Battle for Endor” 3 ½ stars out of 5.

The End  

Cavern of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984) (TV Movie Review)


     Star Wars is undeniably one of the greatest franchises of all time and the original “Star Wars” trilogy is simply a classic gem from my youth. However, I didn’t even know about Star Wars until I was about 7 years old (in 1997) when the special edition trilogy was being released in theaters. Seeing those movies on the big screen was the perfect way to be introduced to them for the first time. But surprisingly, I had actually been introduced to the universe of Star Wars before I even knew what Star Wars was. That’s right, before I saw any of the original trilogy, I saw the 1984, live action, made for TV movie titled “Cavern of Courage: An Ewok Adventure”. At the time, I was introduced to several cult favorite fantasy films including “The Never Ending Story”, “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal”, and this film didn’t feel all that different, little did I realize that it was actually part of a series that I’d come to love for years. “Cavern of Courage: An Ewok Adventure” premiered on ABC back in 1984, a full year after “Return of the Jedi”, and as the title would suggest, it stars the furry Ewok characters that were previously featured in that film. Lucas had allowed his Star Wars Universe to be produced for TV 6 years earlier with “The Star Wars Holiday Special” which was a huge embarrassment to him. So Lucas assumed full control over the content and production in “The Ewok Adventure” to ensure that it had good quality. The result is a film that’s far more like a fantasy adventure and aimed more to little kids than any of the theatrical Star Wars movies, and while I adored it as a child, let’s take a look back and see how much of it holds up today.

      The film is supposedly set between the events of the animated “Star Wars Ewoks” TV series and “Return of the Jedi”, however, there really isn’t much continuity between the two. Here’s the set-up, after a family crashes their ship on the forest moon of Endor, two siblings named Cyndal and Mace find themselves separated from their parents, who’ve been captured by a giant monster called the Gorax. The two kids are soon approached by the fun loving Ewoks, who take pity on the two and welcome them into their tribe. After Cyndal and Mace befriend the Ewoks, they set out on a quest across the planet to rescue their missing parents. Along the way they encounter savage beasts, and other magical obstacles. It’s more or less what you’d expect from a fantasy adventure, just with a an unfortunate lack of real epic excitement.   

      It’s interesting that of all the different Star Wars characters that could have gotten a standalone movie, they’d make one staring the Ewoks, who most fans were really annoyed with back in “Return of the Jedi”. Personally, I kind of liked the Ewoks, mostly due to my nostalgia for this film. The most recognizable of them obviously is Wicket (that’s the Ewok who helped Princess Leia) played once again by Warwick Davis. Technically, he’s the closest we get to having an iconic Star Wars character in the film. Surprisingly, Wicket is actually given less attention than some of the other Ewoks. If your one of the few people who liked the Ewok characters, than the film does provide a good incite on their culture, their weapons, magic talismans and life style, which is kind of neat. There’s actually a nice variety of different Ewok characters, most of which were featured in the animated “Star Wars Ewoks” TV series. There’s a warrior Ewok that wealds an ax and there’s actually an Ewok wizard with a magic scepter.  

     The main human characters unfortunately are nothing special, and become really annoying, mostly because of the performances. The parents act like stage actors, and half the time they don’t even look invested in what they’re doing. The child actress playing Cyndal is kind of generic, but she really isn’t horrible by child actor standards. On the other hand, the actor playing her older brother Mace is really obnoxious. He’s admittedly tying to emote, and kudos to him for keeping it together while surrounded by actors dressed in teddy bear costumes, but he just goes way too over the top on his delivery and his voice isn’t the most pleasing to listen to. Now there are a few little nods to Star Wars that are welcome little additions. Maces gun for example makes the same sound effect the storm trooper weapons made, and his outfit is an obvious nod to Luke Skywalker's X-Wing uniform.   

      The movie itself moves at a slow and simple pace which can be really boring if you’re not in the right mind set. The film was shot on location in the California Red Woods, which dose provide some nice scenery, and I do like that we see more of the Endor planet, including a barren desert, caves and a mountain range, as opposed to just the woods. As for the actual adventure that our hero’s impark on, well, don’t expect “Lord of the Rings”. To be fair, some of the locations and obstacles they encounter are pretty inventive. There’s a lake that traps people under water, they have to cross a giant spider’s web, and a lot of the creatures they encounter are a lot of fun, in that cheap B movie fashion. We have saber-tooth wolves, an Eel living in a tree, a little flying Pixie creature that reminds me of Tinkerbell, and some of these creature effects are actually quite impressive by TV standards. But there’s plenty of silly monsters too, including these giant spiders that look unbelievably fake. These spiders actually have cool alien designs but their so cheap looking, and they move like marionettes.

       The highlight of the whole movie by far is the climax, when our hero’s battle the giant cave creature called the Gorax, who’s holding the parents captive. This monster is awesome, in fact he’s easily one of the coolest creatures to come from the Star Wars franchise. I love the design, the creature makeup is fantastic, and it effectively looks and feels like a giant monster. While most of the monsters in this film look obviously fake, this Gorax still holds up very well, and it’s a legitimate thrill whenever it’s on screen.

     So that’s “Cavern of Courage: An Ewok Adventure”, and while I honestly have a soft, little nostalgic spot for it, I can’t really call it a great movie either. A lot of it is dated, with its silly overtone, standard story, mediocre impressive effects and less then stealer acting. It’s not a film that that I’d highly recommend, but it’s still a perfectly harmless family film all the same. I think kids can still enjoy it on some level, I know I loved this when I was younger, and it’s not without some highlights. It can get a little imaginative, the creatures are still cool and it conveys some genuinely good words of wisdom at the end. Not a bad movie by any means, but certainly not a great one, good for nostalgic reasons, but not that re-watchable either. 

                               I give “Cavern of Courage: An Ewok Adventure” 3 stars out of 5. 

    Stay Tuned because next I'll review the 1985 squeal titled "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor".  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Character Fusion (When a character looks like a mix between two different Characters)

    Okay, time for something different, something fun, something unique, it’s character fusion. How often have you noticed a character in a film and said “hey, he looks like cross between two other characters I’ve seen before”. Well, I’ve said it many times and here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

The Slimmer Ghost (from “Ghost Busters”) looks like a cross between Jabba the Hut (“Star Wars” series) and Flubber (“Flubber”).

Jet Jaguar (from “Godzilla vs Megalon”) looks like a mix between Captain Planet (“Captain Planet” TV series) and The Green Goblin (first “Spider-Man”).

Master Shifu (from “Kung Fu Panda”) looks like a cross between Yoda (“Star Wars” series) and Gizmo (“Gremlins”).

Maleficent (from “Sleeping Beauty”) looks like a mix between two other Disney villains, Lady Tremaine (from “Cinderella”) and Chernabog (from “Fantasia”).

Voldemort (from the Harry Potter series) looks like a mix between Michael Jackson and the turtle guy (from “The Master of Disguise”).

The Shredder (from the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies) looks like a cross between Darth Vader (“Star Wars” series) and the Silver Samurai (from the “X-Men” series).

Menya (from the Godzilla series) looks likes a mix between Yoshi (Super Mario video games) and the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Mr. Freeze (from “Batman and Robin”) looks like a cross between the Borg ("Star Trek: The Next Generation") and Jack Frost (“Jack Frost” 1979).

Finally, The Emperor (“Star Wars” series) always looked like a mix between the Grim Reaper and a very old Bill Murray.  
(No offence intended, Bill Murray is awesome, I’m just trying to be humorous).

                                                                                                               The End