King Arthur Review
July 5th, 2004
Behold the Legend of Arthur, King of the Britons.
And let's try really hard not to giggle, okay?
After all, what we're looking at is a $100 million+ spectacle that is steeped in heavy-osity. It is chock full of flying fireballs and blood blisters and lots and lots of Dark Ages weather, so you'd expect to see some straight-faced storytelling. But when you're presented with, say, a horde of savages coming over the hill chanting "Saxon! Saxon! Saxon!" -- these being the Saxons -- my tendency is to laugh.
Who knew medieval history could be such a hoote?
The makers of King Arthur started with a serious idea: re-do Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. And true to Hollywood's prime directive to "make it fresh" what they've done is throw everything away that makes the story work. In the opening minutes we are given one of those history lessons with maps and arrows to show how Arthur et al were originally from Eurasia and brought to Britain by the Romans because they were such great fighters. But in the back of my mind I kept hearing John Cleese as Basil Fawlty saying: "Fascinating... FASCINATING!" And really at thee ende of thee daye what does that get us? It might even be historically accurate but all I want to know is: 1. Is it a good story? And 2. Do I care?
After laying all that pipe, we are now in the present, 436 A.D., and like the Magnificent Seven, Arthur and his knights appear, riding their steeds through the British fog. Somewhere in this pack of Ninja Turtles is Lancelot and Gawain and Gallahad and some others who are doomed to die (we know so because they don't have famous names.) And though they didn't have breath mints in the Dark Ages, Vidal Saxoone is obviously nearby because their hairstyles are all just fabulous. Some of Arthur's knights talk like Liverpool dockworkers, some like Oxford scholars. But they all have one thing in common: lots and lots of slash marks on their faces and shoulders, presumably where broad swords left cosmetically pleasing ow-ee marks. These, imply their make-up, are tough guys.
Tough guys, albeit, with great hair.
The one with the Royal accent is Arthur, (Clive Owen) who at certain angles bears a striking resemblance to Richard Burton. Lancelot (played by a guy who should change his name) is Arthur's right hand man, and the best dressed of the bunch. He must have seen The Matrix somewhere in his travels, as some of his swordsmanship is right out of the Keanu Reeves School. And lurking on the periphery, in the woods with a lot of blue-faced yahoos, is Merlin (Stephen Dillane) who seems to be some kind of zany street person.
And cutting in between all this, trying to maneuver amid his Roman bosses and the marauding Saxon horde, Arthur and the guys have a mission. In order to finalize their duty to the empire, they must rescue a Roman Wilderness family and bring 'em back to Hadrian's Wall (home of Hadrian's Marriott). And whaddya know? When they get there, they find a certain pouty-lipped gal named Guinevere (Kiera Knightly). And here's the twist: she is pretty good with a sword herself. I don't rember this from the legend, but at least it's new.
There is some big battle at the end in which everyone faces down and slays one another as expected. There are moments that nod to Braveheart, and some to Saving Private Ryan for the brutal depiction of warfare. But it's really just one long, drawn-out fistfight in the middle of a soggy, green field. Yet as the sun sets on this early British Empire, we haven't learned much or been much entertained. All we've really done is use the brand name of King Arthur, made a passing swipe at some of his legend -- love triangle with Lancelot, Excalibur, Roundish table -- and dipped it all in some kind of speculative research to make it feel fresh. This I could see better on The History Channel.
Coming soon the real story of the Earl of Sandwich.
I hear they've got a great tie-in with Subway.