Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Arthur The King...

Some viewers may have found the recent Starz Network series Camelot (which just completed its first season) surprising because it used a fair amount of sex & violence in its retelling of the saga of a young King Arthur. But it's not the first version of the Arthurian legend to do so. 1981's Excalibur relates the often told story with an adult, sexual & violent tone. This visually stunning version of the story was directed by John Boorman (Deliverance). The film was co-written by Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg, based on the 15th century Sir Thomas Malory tale, Le Morte D'Arthur.

The movie relates the classic story of young Arthur (Nigel Terry), as he pulls the sword from the stone and with Merlin's help, becomes king. We see his marriage to Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) the start of his friendship with Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), and the founding of the Knights of The Round Table. All the high points of the legend are here: The Quest for The Holy Grail, Lancelot's affair with Guenevere, and the evil schemes of Arthur's half sister, Morgana, who wants to destroy Camelot.

It's all lushly filmed (on location in Ireland) by Boorman, with great cinematography by Alex Thomson. The effective score by Trevor Jones also makes use of classical music by Richard Wagner and Carl Orff. But it is a violent, R-rated version of the tale, and may not be for all tastes. In fact, when the film was originally in theaters, a PG-rated version of the movie was also released and later shown on some television stations, removing some of the more graphic violence and sex. The unedited, R-rated version is available on DVD & Blu-Ray.

The film is a bit over the top at times, but it all helps to serve the fantastical tone of the story. We've seen so many versions of this tale now (including the classic comedic take on the story, Monty Python & The Holy Grail) that the movie has lost a bit of its freshness. But it's still one of my favorite versions of the legend of Arthur. The cast features a gallery of stars to be in supporting roles, including Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and the excellent Helen Mirren as Morgana, Arthur's evil half sister. Nicol Williamson plays Merlin, and gets many of the film's best lines.

If you're viewing it on DVD or Blu-Ray, the audio commentary by director Boorman is well worth a listen, as you get to find out a lot of interesting facts about the production, including the fact that Nicol Williamson & Helen Mirren didn't get along, and Boorman used that feeling for the antagonism between their characters. I highly recommend Excalibur if you're a fan of fantasy films (and the Arthurian legend). 

Movie Quote of the Day:
Merlin (To Arthur): You brought me back. Your love brought me back. Back to where you are now. In the land of dreams. 
Arthur: Are you a dream, Merlin? 
Merlin: A dream to some.  A nightmare to others!

Arthur (Nigel Terry) and Merlin (Nicol Williamson) in Excalibur (1981)

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