The Real Legend
I have read an abundance of negative reviews for this film. It isn't frequent I let that prevent me from seeing a film for myself, to form my own opinion. Yesterday, to sate my cinema withdrawals, I chose to give King Arthur its due.
The casting was rather good. Clive Owen's Arthur, Ioan Gruffudd's Lancelot, Joel Edgerton's Gawain, and Ray Winstone's Bors were all substantial reasons for why I lasted the distance of this movie. The relationships created between these 'knights' has little to do with the script and much to do with the acting chops of the afore mentioned. Though Arthur was a little too dry in patches, Owen portrayed a man of his word burdened with the fates of his 'knights'.
Visually stunning, I liked how it was a dirty world. The 'knights' were rarely not covered in a layer of grime, nor were many other characters. Those that were, mostly turned out to be bad in some way. I actually felt rather unclean after leaving the cinema, showing how visual images can have a lasting effect. Bors states it well, that the weather is either raining, snowing or fog and that is the way the film looks, there is always some sort of atmospheric event happening. Some scenes must have been filmed too low in contrast, because there were a number of shots that went rather grainy and the action was only barely visible.
Minimal use of CGI meant there were no bad blurry wide shots nor horribly out of focus backgrounds behind characters. They did dominate the ice breaking sequence, but not to it's detriment.
The ice breaking sequence was, for me, the highlight of the film. The inherent danger of crossing a frozen lake really made the job easy for director Antoine Fuqua. The 'knights' all lined up with arrows nocked was rather impressive.
I was impressed with some of the war tactics and weapons that were used, fire bombs and cool backward blades.
I was sort of stumped at where to start. So as the famous line goes, I'll start at the very beginning.
A very good place to start.
The opening title shows and we get text on screen explaining this is the 'real' story of Atorious (long for Ator, or Arthur), and that it really happened in the 5th century. So I am presented with a claim that this will be a historically accurate film. I noticed that Jerry Bruckheimer was the executive producer and my doubts were instantly established.
The claim in all of the publicity was this was the 'real' Arthur story and that you should forget the myth. I am fine with that concept, I appreciate the notion of trying to discover the truth. What I was presented with was a film where the truth was very mangled with the myth. Mangled, yes the right word.
My first beef is in the word 'knight'. According to my book about Knights, the very earliest historical base for the concept of a knight was in the mid 8th century. 400 years after this film is set. So the word knight really shouldn't have been used.
Second beef is with the Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot love triangle. It wasn't a love triangle, it was more like a wire coat hanger, neither corner is particularly strong and even if you get hooked by it, chances are, it will still won't hold. I felt little chemistry between Arthur and Guinevere. Few of Guinevere's actions made sense within context of her character. She is the daughter of Merlin, leader of the Woads. She is important, one assumes. Yet, she constantly throws herself into battle, with encouragement from her father. I don't think it likely that any woman in the 5th century was likely to be as free as she is. Guinevere was also the only woman in any of the battle sequences. I felt no reason why she should have gotten groiny with Arthur that night, it felt like a service call.
Now, Lancelot, he brings me to beef three. If they were abandoning the myth for the 'real', then why make a half-arsed attempt to make Lancelot as a temptation for Guinevere? There were several sidelong glances but no actual, well, anything. I would have accepted the embracing of that part of the myth if they tried to make it worth embracing. Instead, we were presented with
Beef four. I mistook Cerdic for Merlin for the first quarter of the film. I blame the trailer. As the main adversary to Arthur, Cerdic wasn't the least bit fearful, in fact, his Russell Crowe inspired voiced irritated me endlessly.
Beef five. It was simplistically clear that the 'knights' were sick of England, sick of Rome, and sick of being lapdogs, but I felt confused at their will to up and leave. I know they wanted to go back to the lands they called home but it was clear that's where they belonged. Other than the emotional song Bors' woman sang, I spent a lot of time confused about why he was going to up and move away from everything he knew. Only one woman was the focus, but apparently he had 3 women on the go. It was all rather messy. A failure of the scriptwriter.
Beef five and a half is not worth a whole beef, because it is me being pedantic. The score during the final battle veered into the syncopated Pirates of the Caribbean theme for a time.
Not a beef at all. During the final battle where they had large pyres of straw and tar, created an immense smoke cloud that had me thinking of any poor souls who lived nearby where they were filming. Cough cough.
There a enough holes in this story to start a post office, and even with the parts I enjoyed, I left this film feeling slightly cheated. My first thought as I left were 'that was rather forgettable'.
I forgot to mention blood when I wrote this yesterday. There wasn't any! I am not a fan of blood at all, but for realism's sake, I accept that I need to see some. Nothing along the lines of Braveheart, but an indication that when someone gets slashed by a big hunking blade, blood is going to splatter. I watch CSI, I know how it's meant to project out of an artery.