First Knight Reviews
With the new King Arthur film just around the corner I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at some of the many adaptions of the lore that we have gotten in film and television. First Knight is an okay film if it were some random medieval story with different settings and characters, but it rarely lives up to the deep mythology it's based on.
In First Knight we find Lancelot, a wanderer who's struggling to find a place in the world for his skills with a sword and with women. After Guinevere, soon-to-be bride of King Arthur, is nearly kidnapped, Lancelot steps in and saves her life. Naturally, he falls in love with Guinevere, and there you have the central plot thread of the film. Richard Gere plays Lancelot about as well as you could imagine he would. It's a similar character to that of Sean Connery's James Bond from the 60's, mostly just showing off his looks and skills, rather than doing something of significance. Of course, I bring that up because Connery plays Arthur, albeit a much, much older King Arthur than we usually get, especially considering Guinevere is around 25 years younger.
A lot of the film's plot is pushed forward by the romance. Not dissimilar to Braveheart being centered around William Wallace's love for two women, First Knight is clearly a romance first and foremost. The main difference is that Braveheart chooses to have the romance inspire a remarkable story, where First Knight is solely focused on Lancelot's strive for Guinevere's heart. It's not necessarily the wrong way to tell a story with Lancelot & Arthur butting heads, but it's certainly not the most interesting one. It's hard not to fall for Richard Gere's charm as Lancelot and Julia Ormond's innocent and beautiful Guinevere, but it's far from a great medieval war film.
There really isn't much war to this film anyway. The main conflict comes by way of Prince Malagant, someone from Arthur's side who went Rogue for reasons that typically influence someone to go Rogue, power, greed, among other things. These battle sequences are trivial at best, even when they try to be big and bold. It all just seems silly in the end. I think to sum it up best is to say that King Arthur doesn't use his sword, not once.
-But there's no reason to have that swallow the story
But what it does have is one of the better love triangles I've seen on film. It is between Arthur, Lancelot and Lady Guinevere. The drama starts with Lancelot. This iteration of his is very different; he is not very noble or holy at all, he's more of a Han Solo type. Moving from town to town with no care in the world, but he falls for Guinevere who has been promised to Arthur. Unlike Twilight or other crap teen romance films, Guinevere is very much her own person. While she does have to be rescued a couple times, she does quite a bit for herself. These people are conflicted between their love, honor, beliefs, their will etc.
While all of this is going on, a rather generic villain is making a fuss of things, burning the countryside and such. But with him comes the conflict of ideals (every man for himself vs brotherhood) and weather Lancelot realizes it or not, he is part of the villains ideology. And that's what this film is about, conflicts between love and ideology. But it's done in a subtle way that's not hitting you over the head with it.
The acting is very solid, but to a modern audience, it can come off as tacky. It's more inspired by theater and as such they all do a great job.
It's fun for the entire family. Check it out.
The story of King Arthur is one that I've seen in many variations of with the best being in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, though that was because it was for comedic value. But when it came down to First Knight, I didn't really care too much about the story. I just wanted a solid medieval action film that wasn't too derivative. The key difference between First Knight and many other tales of the Arthurian legend is the fact that this time the story strips away the tales of magic and sorcery to emphasise the humanity and conflict in it all. This doesn't make its story great, but it makes it different in certain ways.
While First Knight manages to put some effort into characterizing King Arthur, the problem is that the hero of the story is actually Lancelot and the treatment that the story gives to him is slim. He is reduced to being just another star vehicle character for Richard Gere who fits the role without having all that much to work with. Overall, the feature is mostly slim on characterization and practically any story elements regarding characters instead of the bigger picture are little more than melodramatic cliches which are nothing but hollow. First Knight is not a deep film, but there are times where it unnecesarrily tries to be and it fails to be of any benefit to the story or the characters because in the end, it is really all about the spectacle instead of the characters or the narrative. Considering that the film is strictly visual and tries to milk that for 134 minutes without originality, it only really has the power to succeed as a guilty pleasure, yet it takes itself very seriously which may get in the way of that being a potential result for viewers.
While I don't really mind the the story, the problem I find with First Knight is the general tonal issues. When I say that, I mean that the look of the film fails to match the feel of it. Despite the fact that the action in the film wants to be dark and gritty, the film gets too caught up in being a big budget adventure type film to grasp the right atmosphere. The musical score by Jerry Goldsmith is one of the selling points for this because it is lighthearted in nature and fails to match the intended harsh reality of the story. The tone of the film goes along the lines of Kevin Reynolds' Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in the sense that it is light and seems like a commercial adventure tale, but the fact is that First Knight had the potential to be a lot more because of the fact that it had more style and a more direct approach to the harsh reality of the violence that is medieval history. There are some moments where the atmosphere is grasped thanks to the musical score having some brief moments, but the majority of the time it fails to match the aesthetic aspects of the film. Still, the musical score in the film is well composed and the visual elements of First Knight are very satisfying.
While the lighting may occasionally be a bit dark, First Knight benefits from some solid scenery and production design which establishes the timeframe of the story and setting with ease. While the cinematography is of mixed quality because it occasionally films things well for long periods of time and at others is a bit shaky or edited somewhat quickly, the majority of the film is captured well. First Knight doesn't precisely grasp a large scale like it wants to, but the budget is in the correct place. The main thing I wanted out of First Knight was some good action scenes. While they weren't exactly gritty enough to be as dark as the film could have been or didn't follow an adventurous style like the general mood of First Knight did at times, the action in the film is mostly choreographed well and serves as the most entertaining aspect of the feature.
And the cast of First Knight add a decent touch to the film.
Richard Gere is a decent lead. Although the slim characterization of Lancelot leaves him with little to work with, his handsome charm and physical capabilites make him a decent lead. The film is more of a vehicle for him than anything and it doesn't demand his best abilities as an actor, but he engages in solid swordplay in the film. Richard Gere grasps his weapon with confidence in First Knight and engages in battle fearlessly, as well as the fact that he maintains his standard charming demeanour with the other characters.
Sean Connery's performance is a very welcome aspect of First Knight. Taking on the role of King Arthur, Sean Connery makes an easy fit for the role because of his natural sense of charm and sophistication. He stands with a confident stature in the role and delivers his lines with gusto which makes him the finest cast member of the film. There are some moments in First Knight that demand him to step up and deliver some true dramatic strength, and he manages to do that without problem. He easily fits the profile of the part in the physical sense alone, but he manages to actually bring a sense of honour and spirit to the character. With Sean Connery's Academy Award winning talents on board, director Jerry Zucker can walk away from First Knight knowing that he managed to create at least one strong character for First Knight thanks to Sean Connery who interacts with the universe of the film wihthout problem.
So there is good production values, decent action scenes and a strong performance from Sean Connery to boot in First Knight. But the tonal inconsistencies and lack of originality blunt it over the course of its long running time.
Fazit: Gute Darsteller in einem oberflächlichen Film, der mit angezogener Handbremse läuft!