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Excalibur Movie Review

arthur king boorman land

1981 – John Boorman –

Loosely based on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, this version of the Camelot legend tells the story of Arthur from his conception to his death. Director John Boorman's adaptation is a violent, erotic, stylized tale that maintains a sense of reverence for the story's mythic origins. The film depicts many of the major elements of the Arthur legend, but perhaps the attempt to maintain an atmosphere of veneration weakens the character. At times, Excalibur seems overly self-aware, populated by characters that seem too obviously based in legend to come across as convincingly real people. Characters from a well-known tale, their story is likewise widely familiar. This adaptation has difficulty getting past the legend and making the story more personal and unique.

The title indicates the emphasis of the story on the supernatural-like power entrusted to a good man and warrior whose arrival was foreseen by mystical prophecy. With the coming of the King (Nigel Terry), and his welcome purity and sense of goodness aided by the magical powers of Merlin (Nicol Williamson), the land is healed and prospers in harmony. Evil appears with the betrayal by his wife (Cherie Lunghi) and friend (Nicholas Clay) and the sinister plottings of his half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren). With this corruption, Arthur and the land suffer, rejuvenated only by the recovery of the sacred Grail and the return of the sword Excalibur to the King. The filmmakers endow their adaptations with the mystical and the supernatural. Excalibur represents a supernatural force of goodness that may only be wielded by the right and righteous king, one who is intimately connected with the land. When Arthur weakens and becomes ill, the land deteriorates, and the prosperity that came with his arrival is lost. This connection between the King and the land becomes an intriguing, mythical focus of the film.

Excalibur's weaknesses derive from that same mythical tone. Many of the characters—including Arthur himself—do not emerge as fully rendered, believable people. While the production design is both realistic and visually intriguing, at times the characters are more fantastic than realistic. The film is already long at two hours and twenty minutes, but one may wonder if the characters could have been more fully developed had the movie been longer. Excalibur is in general an interesting film to watch with a unique though relatively insignificant variation on the legend by emphasizing its violent and erotic aspects, but overall it does not offer much to enjoy emotionally.

Cast: Nigel Terry (King Arthur), Helen Mirren (Morgana), Nicholas Clay (Lancelot), Cherie Lunghi (Guenevere), Paul Geoffrey (Percevel), Nicol Williamson (Merlin), Robert Addie (Mordred), Gabriel Byrne (Uther), Keith Buckley (Uryens), Katrine Boorman (Igrayne), Liam Neeson (Gawain), Niall O'Brien (Cornwall), Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance), Clive Swift (Ector), Ciaran Hinds (Lot), Screenwriter: John Boorman, Rospo Pallenberg Cinematographer: Alex Thomson Composer: Trevor Jones Producer: John Boorman for Warner Bros. MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 140 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1981, Nominations: Cinematography (Alex Thomson).

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