January 02, 2005

King Arthur

Clive Owen and Nicholas Cage must have the same mother. Every time I look at Clive, at least in this picture, I think I'm looking at Nick. Clive makes a better King Arthur than Cage would have been though -- in fact Mr. Owen is pretty darned good as the legendary leader.

Overall you could certainly say this movie is flawed, and you may have used stronger terms than that if you did see it, but my wife and I agreed that it was worth the watch. I found it compelling enough due largely to the untraditional take on the legend. Antoine Fuqua used an actual historical figure, on whom King Arthur may have been based.

In this version of the roundtable armor-wearers (and there is a round table) Arthur and his boys; Galahad, Lancelot, Tristan, etc. are actually Sarmatian knights, Polacks from eastern Europe. Their warriorness was so good that the Romans, when they pillaged there, let them live -- so they could indenture them of course. And bind them they did, sending the knights to an island that at the time was an outpost of the Roman Empire, known as Britain. All they say in this film is Britain so I guess it wasn't Great yet.

The warriors in this story are not the usual "knights in shining armor." These boys are a little dirty, and the armor is tarnished. But man can they fight. Excalibur is not a magical sword in this story, but just one wielded well by a man who knows how to use it.

When proscribed into service to the Pope, they were told that after 15 years, if they were good boys, they would be freed and they could go back to Sarmatia. This story picks up at that very time, and the knights are giddy at the prospect of what they might do after release. Ah, but of course there are complications. Rome is deciding that Britain isn't so great so they're withdrawing their occupation. However there is some Roman aristocrat and his son in the north, where coincidentally Saxon invaders are working their way south, who needs to be brought home. Since Arthur's men are handy, and handy with their swords, they get drafted into doing one last big favor for the Vatican -- and if they refuse they can cross Europe as hunted fugitives instead of heroes.

The Saxons are a snarling lot, and Cerdic their king is a strong character here. He looks like Leon Russell with all his long blond hair. Cerdic's son has a braided beard but his head is nearly shaved. Indeed, everybody on both sides is either a hippy or a skinhead.

I knew that King Arthur did not do well at the box office, and I didn't see it tearing it up with great reviews, but I was a little stunned to see that it got a very paltry 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This film is not great but it's better than that.

The final battle scene is pretty drawn out and the knights aren't that distinct from each other, except for Bors. He's a roughrider if ever there was one. A stark difference in this take from the original is best expressed by this reviewer quoted on RT: "'The untold true story that inspired the legend' -- you know, the version in which ... Guinevere is a half-naked post-feminist warrior hottie." -- Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDWIRE

Kieran Knightly is way hot as the pagan version of Guinevere.

If you read this blog you remember that my wife set out to get this on Christmas Eve and didn't find it. When we took Hero back we were looking for something else and I found out that Lucy had been looking for "Arthur" rather than King Arthur, and came to Hero before finding what she was truly looking for, which was in the very next rack.

A weird aspect here, is that Antoine Fugua is black. And from viewing the accompanying documentary material, he is the only black guy remotely involved with this film. I have to wonder how he felt during production. He did a good job of directing. He did Training Day if you're wondering about his history, and from the info on the disk, got some notoriety from a video he did for Coolio.

The production of King Arthur was surely fueled by the success of the Lord of the Rings films. The swords and the battle scenes are quite similar. If you really have a jones for another such adventure, this film might defer your withdrawal for an evening, but that's all.

Posted by Wayne at January 2, 2005 02:02 PM

I haven't seen the DVD version of 'King Arthur', but for my money the theatrical release was one of the worst films of the year. Battle scenes were choppy because they were re-edited to take the film down an MPAA rating. Merlin, while not the disaster he was in the Disney version, was boring. And the very idea of taking the legend out of the story of King Arthur doesn't make sense to me. King Arthur is universal, 'King Arthur' is generic. Of course, Keira Knightley really doesn't do anything for me either.

Posted by: Quack Corleone at January 3, 2005 01:22 AM

Perhaps the DVD version is better, because I wouldn't describe the battle scenes as choppy. I wouldn't describe them as particularly good either, but we still enjoyed the film as a whole. For some reason I like the knights better as feral streetfighters. Regarding the legend, it's just a matter of whether you prefer a fairy tale, or something more real and believable. I found the different take refreshing.

Posted by: Wayne at January 3, 2005 10:51 PM

I loved "King Arthur", the Director Cut even more.
So much so, that I have started a Yahoo Group based on Arthurian Ideals, "Sarmatian Knights".
It is mainly for charity work, but many of us are also into costuming and I myself am working on my own Sarmatian armour.



Posted by: Michael Duryea at February 4, 2005 09:36 AM
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