Friday, September 24, 2004

The Curse of King Arthur on Film

I'm loving this blogging business (even if I can't figure out how to post pictures or links....grrr....), and tonight I decided to click on those lovely links in my profile and see who shares my interests. Tattoos? Four pages. Which surprised me, as I quite frankly expected a lot more, lol. Freaks like me and so forth. So I moved on to music. Mojo Nixon? A few people. But my main hobby and obsession....Arthuriana? None. Not one. So I re-worded my profile. Still zippo. Goose egg.

This surprised me a bit. After all, Arthurian books such as "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley have been best-sellers. "Le Morte d'Arthur" is considered a classic. There are tons of websites devoted to the study and enjoyment of Arthurian themes. So why hast not mine fellow bloggers joined suit?

I had hoped, when first I learned of the movie "King Arthur," that this film would inspire more people to be interested in all things Camelot. That hope was dashed by the simple fact that the movie was a steaming pile of hamster vomit. Some of the actors did a nice job, don't get me wrong....but you can only do so much with a shitpile script and a director who is hell-bent on battlescenes and none too interested in character development. That explanation does not, however, explain what I refer to as The Curse of King Arthur on Film.

The Arthurian legend is beloved by thousands of people in dozens of countries over hundreds of years. Books, plays, poems, operas, great works of art have all been inspired by the likes of Lancelot, Galahad and Merlin. But for some reason, you put them on film...and they suck. Royally.

Take the film "First Knight," for example. I had high hopes for this film, folks. After all, it was Sean Connery playing the King! How could it go wrong! Four words....Richard Gere as Lancelot. I cannot stand Richard Gere. He looks---and acts---exactly the same, regardless of the storyline. He always, without exception, looks like he just read the script yesterday. Richard Gere has simply got to be the most asexual screen actor since
Pee Wee Herman went looking for his stolen bicycle. Never, ever have I seen anything even remotely approaching chemistry between him and any actress. "Lukewarm" is probably the nicest word I can come up with to describe him. And lukewarm he was, in "First Knight." Good gravy, man...you're playing one of history's greatest romantics! Put a little feeling into it! He's supposed to be torn apart by love and loyalty, unable to decide between his desire for Guinevere and his devotion to Arthur...and instead, he looks like he can't decide if he wants turkey or pastrami for lunch. Like I said, lukewarm.

Next up we have the animated Disney film, "The Sword in the Stone." Now, this was based on a great book, "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White. But the movie makes me think that whoever 'adapted" the book didn't actually read it...they just skimmed the Cliff Notes for a few minutes. Tops. The songs were bad...whenever Disney has to come up with a song from the movie for a compilation (such as the ever-growing "Sing-Along Songs" videos), they always choose THATS WHAT MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND simply because it's less painful than the other, completely forgettable tunes in the film. The best element in the book---Merlin's travelling backwards in time---is barely approached; Arthur's life after he pulls the sword out from the anvil isn't mentioned at all. Kay, Bedivere, Ector and Ygern are pretty much non-characters, and the battle with Merlin changing into animals is just silly.

Television has had its share of stinky Arthurian movies, too. Take "Merlin," for example. The only redeemable aspects of this movie are the great talents of Miranda Richardson and Martin Short. The storyline is weak, Arthur seems to be a sidebar for Merlin instead of the focalpoint, and the potrayal of Nimue is just ridiculous. Some of the special-effects were interesting...but all in all, a rerun of ER is more amusing.

Speaking of ER...that brings me to another fetid made-for-tv piece of tripe, "Guinevere," starring Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) as a young, over-eager and immature Lancelot. This film starts with a good premise---that Lancelot and Guinevere knew and loved each other before her marriage to Arthur---but just ruins it entirely by making Guinevere this obnoxious, tantrum-throwing twit. Noah Wyle doesn't look anywhere near strong enough to be Lancelot (he's cute, yes...but a great warrior? Unless Lancelot was a confirmed metrosexual, I ain't buying it), and the depiction of the Lady of the Lake as this evil, conniving, blood-letting vengeful bitch didn't sit well with me. I don't think I ever finished watching this movie...and I doubt I'm missing much.

The best example of The Curse of King Arthur on Film is "The Mists of Avalon." Now, there were some very good things about this movie. Anjelica Huston as Vivienne was fantastic...but let's face it, Anjelica Huston is fantastic in just about ANY role. The sets and costumes were great, and the music was passable. The problem was, the movie bore little resemblance to the excellent book is was based on. One of the most compelling things about the book was its exploration of the clash of Christian and Celtic religions in that time period. That was hardly addressed in the movie. Mordred was wrong, and the death of Vivienne was completely different from the book (I don't think Balan and Balin were even mentioned in the film). Morgaine's inner conflicts and outer struggles just didn't shine through on film the way they did on print. That miniseries had a chance to be truly wonderful---great cast, exquisite material from which to work---and it just fell flat.

Now, there are some exceptions to the Curse. Two of which I am a personal fan; the first being "Excalibur." This is generally considered to be the best of all Arthurian movies. It's wonderfully directed, the cast is superb (including a pre-Star Trek Patrick Stewart as Leodegrance), and action scenes are breathtaking. It's a bit gorey, so be warned if you've never seen it before (and rush right out to the video store and get it. Now.) I didn't expect to like it as much as I did, seeing as it is so very focused on the Holy Grail aspect of the legend, while I tend to gravitate more towards the pre-Grail Camelot period. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy this movie so intently.

The second film isn't dramatic. It's not romantic. And it's not worried about being accurate at all. It's "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Monty Python is a lot like gouda cheese....some people love it, and some can't stand the sight of it. I'm in the former group. Holy Grail is just plain hilarious...from the Frenchmen with their "outrageous accents!" to the "killer rabbit," this film magically and expertly pokes fun at one of history's favorite tales. Graham Chapman is in rare form as King Arthur, and the songs (such as CAMELOT and BALLAD OF SIR ROBIN) are side-splittingly funny. There's no Guinevere here, no Merlin, no sword in the stone. But believe me---you won't miss them one bit.

So there is hope, everyone....good Arthurian films can be made (even if it's rarely done). There are still great books to tackle...is there any director out there, anywhere, ready to step up to the challenge of Mary Stewart's "The Wicked Day," Catherine Christian's "The Pendragon" or T.A. Barron's "The Lost Years of Merlin"? Step forward...if you dare. Like any worthy Arthurian quest, it's full of knights who have gone before and failed.

3 Comments:

At 2:33 AM, Blogger Zen Angel said...

Just a note....I changed my profile (once more) to include the words "King Arthur." FINALLY a few of my fellow bloggers showed up! My faith is restored anew.

 
At 3:30 AM, Blogger Diana Gallagher said...

To post pictures you need to sign up with a picture host, like 'Hello' from Picasa (it's owned by blogger). Follow the instructions to link it to your blog. It will post pictures for you as blog posts and you can edit them the same way you write a post. As for links, the code can be found in blogger help, which is accessible from blogger dashboard, that page just befor you have signed right into your blog. If you want links on your actual page, you need to go to your template and mess about there, which can prove frustrating yet is rewarding when you work out what all the shit means. The best idea is to meander around blogger help, which covers most topics.
And yes, 'King Arthur' was a shit of a film, except for the iced-over lake scene, which was vaugly origional and well shot.

 
At 2:24 AM, Blogger Zen Angel said...

THANK YOU! I'm having a lot of fun with links now. :)

My only question remains: where can I get good pictures to put on my blog? My personal cache is, I fear, quite scanty. Any suggestions?

I agree...the lake shot was nice. But it wasn't worth the price of admission to sit through the rest of the dreck, lol.

And thanks for reading my blog!

 

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