'Excalibur' Review: Talk is for Lovers
For my next film of Page to Screen month, I was assigned the 1981 movie Excalibur. When director John Boorman failed to get the rights to Lord of the Rings, he chose instead to tell the story of King Arthur. Many of the locations in the feature were originally intended to be locations in the telling of J.R.R. Tolkein's most famous work. Excalibur stars Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana, Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere, and Nicholas Clay as Lancelot. Patrick Stewart has a role that is both awesome and important to the formation of Arthur as the new king. Liam Neeson is also in the film, performing the role of a drunken, sweaty, easily manipulated knight.
It's a more fucked-up version of the tale of King Arthur. Merlin is the tactician, willing to murder and trick his way through entire armies of men to make Arthur the king. The film is filled with sex, death, incest, and betrayal. It is the full story of King Arthur, without the polish and refinement that other versions have used when telling the tale.
The feaure begins with Arthur's father, Uthur, murdering his way through the countryside and impregnating another lord's wife. The spawn of that union is taken by Merlin and put in another castle, and Uthur is killed, placing Excalibur in the famous stone. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, starting a civil war between Patrick Stewart and the other knights of the realm. Arthur stops the siege and becomes king. He fights through the wars to unite the kingdoms, then marries Guenevere. The rest is pretty much common knowledge, with Lancelot falling for his friend's wife, betraying his king, and bringing about the ruin of the greatest kingdom of myth and legend. The film's two and a half hour run time also covers the quest for the Holy Grail, which turns out to simply be a knight convincing Arthur to stop moping about.
All things considered, Excalibur is an interesting film, and a feat of movie-making considering it's length, scale, and age. The issue with my ability to enjoy the film comes primarily from the pervasiveness of the myth of King Arthur. I have heard this story so many times, not only in books, but also in film and television; I've even played games based off the story. Despite the fact that this film is likely the most true to the original myth of Arthur, watching a two and a half hour movie depicting a story I already know by heart felt more like work than entertainment. It seemed to drag, and with the old school style of film-making, in which the action scenes are shot with short close ups of the blows instead of smoothly choreographed combats, the fighting is barely engrossing to the eyes of modern movie-goers. If you're a huge medieval buff, a die hard fan of the story of King Arthur, or have miraculously made it through life without hearing the legend, check out Excalibur. Otherwise give it a pass, as it's dated style, over exposed story, and lengthy time span create a feeling of boredom as one looks on.
Final Say: Skip It