Let's start with the good. This film is a fascinating dive into the ins and outs of Arthurian Legend, starting with the mystical sword, Excalibur. Sometimes the most interesting way to tell a story isn't through your characters but a representation of their strengths and weaknesses. Excalibur is just that for Arthur. He relies on the sword for strength and wisdom, which in turn is his weakness. The power the sword yields him is bigger than Arthur himself, which is where he can sometimes fall victim to the temptations of greed and self-value. At the same time, the sword is easily the films coolest asset.
For the first hour or so, it gets increasingly harder to root for Arthur as a character. Here's a guy who stumbles upon power and acts like he's worked his whole life to get it, and he's hardly humble about his circumstances. It isn't until we realize where the story is going and who the main antagonist is that our protagonist (being Arthur) really hits the right note. All of a sudden, a whiny and largely unworthy King, feels noble and brave through the faults of the villain. It is then that the film takes off to an exciting, but equally strange place.
This version of the King Arthur story isn't afraid of embracing the fantasy elements and downright weirdness of the source material. Not only do you have Merlin, the great wizard, manipulating certain situations in the background, but you have plenty of other mystical elements enhanced to fit the story that director John Boorman was trying to tell. With that said, when the film does tackle the mystical side of the story it doesn't always feel in place with the rest of the grounded war film that's in its place. So in that regard, I have mixed feelings on it.
However, in all, this is about as good as you can tell the proper Arthurian story. It has everything from a brilliant focus on the sword, Lancelot's jealousy and betrayal, a twisted backstory, Merlin pulling the strings, bloody battles, to an overall epic journey for the King. If there was a film that epitomizes all that is good (and strange) about the mythology, Excalibur is probably it.
+Crazy mythology embraced
+Even dives into the strangeness
-Which is where it sometimes takes the film off the rails
Like Robin Hood there are many stories of the legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the round table but this film is probably the most accurate in terms of an adaptation from original period text. This film is based around the tales from [i]Le Morte d'Arthur[/i] and seems to follow each 'segment' quite closely (haven't read it so I'm not sure).
The overall essence of this film is like a fairytale of sorts, a kind of slightly cheesy shiny armoured fantasy with glittery sets, soft colours, strong religious/iconic imagery and a [i]Clannad[/i] vibe running through it. The film reminded me of the classic British TV series 'Robin of Sherwood' (which also starred the dastardly Robert Addie) and the classic British fantasy film 'Krull'. I think the latter took inspiration from the visual aspect of 'Excalibur', possibly.
The design and look of this film is really very good, its clearly rather dated but it still has a high polish to it and looks quite epic. The locations really give an authentic feel, an solid impression of old medieval England complete with excellent costumes. Of course this being the 80's the armour does look a bit fake, a bit plastic, flimsy and too shiny in places. There is also a kind of music video feel to the proceedings in places. Some sets look a bit too sparkly, some characters have some dubious haircuts and to be utterly honest the acting and dialog is pretty hilarious in places, but you can't deny the effort and scope of this historical fantasy.
This being in the days before CGI when historical epics were all the rage, the battle sequences are small with some blood and minimal gore. You can easily tell they didn't have a big crew to make such grand battles so clever editing is used with lots of darkness and fog. Luckily old England was a foggy place...or so I've been led to believe. The other slightly amusing thing was the soundtrack, there is original work here but the use of classical pieces slapped on top of key sequences didn't really work (for me at least). The combination of certain scenes and certain pieces of music felt very rickety and really did seem crowbarred in badly. You can see what the director was going for but it comes off more like a parody of sorts, something not too dissimilar from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'.
The plot is straight forward and it doesn't become dull despite the heavy romance involved. The film is layered and rich, vivid imagery and beautiful design giving the whole production much flare and class. It all works pretty flawlessly because you know these were the days when everything was hand crafted.
The film is a cult classic with a bitchin' powerful poster that demands your attention (it draws you in). On a final note, the acting in general may be acceptable but Nicol Williamson's Merlin is also another good reason to see this film. A truly unique quirky take on the character spouting some glorious lines, 'oh that's grand'.
Watched this on 28/11/16
Who would have guessed that the Arthurian tale was so sorroful and tragic? This is by far the most intriguing take on the legend that I have ever seen. It benefits from terrific visuals, cinematography, infuriating music and much more.Though it has a lot of Irish actors who would become famous in the years that followed, the acting department is generally week barring Nicol Williamson as Merlin. There is enough magic, dread and heart in this tale to make it memorable. The sword could be seen as the real hero here or more accurately it's writer director John Boorman himself as the film neither tries to focus too much on any of its characters nor does it try and glorify.
Some reports are that Boorman had actually intended to shoot Lord of the Rings, but Ralph Bakshi secured the rights instead (and later released his animated version.) So Boorman simply repurposed the design and pre-production intended for Tolkien. I think it's interesting that in Excalibur we may also be getting a glimmer into an alternate universe how Boorman's Lord of the Rings might have looked.
Adventures of a King in a time of turmoil.