Friday, August 26, 2011

Ode to 'Excalibur'

Updated 2/12/2014.

I rewatched 'Excalibur' again last night. 'Excalibur' is a 1981 fantasy film about the iconic Arthurian tale and is perhaps the best film version. Other films have come before and after. Films like 'King Arthur,' 'The Last Legion,' 'Camelot,' and 'First Knight,' to name a few. In my opinion, none have matched the beautiful moodiness or the magnificent style of 'Excalibur.' Gosh, this movie was so freaking stylish. The set design and production values were shadowy and gorgeous. This movie had it all: the costumes were crazy good, the story was great, the sets were incredible, the music was fitting, and it had an all-star cast. Every time I watch this movie I'm reminded of what Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrnes, Ciaran Hinds, and Helen Mirren looked like 30 years ago.
Helen Mirren as Morgana and Nicol Williamson as Merlin
'Excalibur' starts with Merlin visiting the mysterious lady of the lake for Uther Pendragon. Uther has just secured an alliance with his arch nemesis, the Duke of Cornwall, but when Cornwall's wife Igrayne does her little dance for the menfolk (I say this often enough, but I would not have wanted to be a woman during medieval times), Uther is overcome with lust and his lust starts a war. As the Duke of Cornwall is killed on the battlefield, Merlin charms Uther's face to become the likeness of her husband. Nine months later Arthur is born and Merlin takes him. Uther dies tracking Arthur down, but not before placing his magnificent sword Excalibur into a stone so no one can retrieve it. No one can draw the sword out, except of course Arthur ("he who draws the sword from the stone, shall be made king.")

Arthur eventually becomes king, gets Camelot, the knights of the round table, Lancelot, begets a wicked son with his half-sister Morgana, and loses his grace when he catches Lancelot in an adulterous affair with Guenevere. You know the rest. The storyline is not necessarily unique, but John Boorman's direction and the lavish production values make this film a classic. 
Nigel Terry (King Arthur) and Paul Geoffrey (Perceval)
There is no good reason for this movie to be remade. Yet in the times we live in, every movie that's not tied down will be taken, stripped of it's character, and shamelessly remade.  Admittedly, a few diamonds in the rough have emerged (the most recent being Fright Night), but for the most part the remakes are pale shades of their former selves.  There are way too many egomaniacs in Hollywood that insist "they can do it better."  I'm beginning to think that even The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind are not immune. **UPDATE: There was a recent prequel to 'The Wizard of Oz' in the form of 'Oz the Great and Powerful.'
A very young Liam Neeson (Gawain), Helen Mirren (Morgana), and Ciaran Hinds (Lot) surround the round table.
First Bryan Singer was attached to the Excalibur remake, then Guy Ritchie was making another Arthur film. I don't know why, but I like Bryan Singer less and less as the years go by. Perhaps it's his disregard for comic book canon ('X-Men' and 'Superman'), his poor treatment of Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry, or the overall arrogance that he's shown in his filmmaking: one word, Valkyrie. The only thing Bryan Singer has is my disdain. Whatever the reasons, an Excalibur remake by Bryan Singer is an unwelcome thought.
Gabriel Byrne nearly unrecognizable as Uther.
Thankfully both remakes are dead in the water because someone had the awful idea to make an Arthur and Lancelot movie directed by David Dobkin, director of Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up. The new Arthur and Lancelot movie will be a contemporary, comic, tale, of the knights of the round table.  Think Pysch meets Medieval Times. I'm sure that will be a winner. Arthur and Lancelot releases March 2013. Bring it on. **UPDATE: Thankfully, it looks like this remake never got made, but now Guy Ritchie's remake is gathering steam. In the land of multiple sequels, Ritchie plans to make (count 'em) SIX Arthurian movies, which seems a bit excessive to me. So the question stands. Do we really need an 'Excalibur' remake?
Nigel Terry (King Arthur) and Cheri Lunghi (Guenevere)
Ten things you may not know about 'Excalibur'
  1. Helen Mirren (Morgana) and Nicol Williamson (Merlin) were former flames who had come to hate each other when they were cast opposite one another in 'Excalibur.' This beautiful anti-chemistry definitely came across in the film. Mirren later said that they were able to let bygones be bygones during the filming of 'Excalibur.'
  2. 'Excalibur' was shot on location in Ireland, with primarily Irish actors and crew. It helped launch the careers of Liam NeesonCirian Hands, and former script writer Neil Jordan (future director of 'Interview with the Vampire'). 
  3. Like so many cult films 'Excalibur' was originally panned by critics, including Roger Ebert.
  4. The armor, which was perhaps the best part of the movie, was created by Terry English, who also designed the armor for the space marines in Jim Cameron's 'Aliens.'
  5. The film is based on multiple Arthurian tales, Morte d'Arthur with religious symbolism from 'The Golden Bough,' and 'The Fisher King.'
  6. Max Von Sydow was originally cast as Merlin.
  7. Director John Boorman originally wanted the rights to the 'Lord of the Rings' books, but could not acquire them, so he settled on 'Excalibur' instead.
  8. Liam Neeson had never ridden a horse before this film.
  9. Reflectors were used to give the armor that glistening glow.
  10. Remember the Morgana birth scene? Well that was Helen Mirren's head through a hole in the table with a real pregnant woman on the table with her head covered. 
Enjoy the pretty pictures.
Helen Mirren (Morgana) and Robert Addie (Mordred)
Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance)
Nigel Terry (King Arthur)
Nigel Terry (King Arthur) and Keith Buckley (Uryens)
Nigel Terry (King Arthur)

18 comments:

  1. Never seen it, but this is a fantastic story.

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  2. Jeez, haven't seen this in years.

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  3. I cringed when you said Arthur & Lancelot is going to be a contemporary, comic? tale of the knights of the round table!

    < < > >??

    Coming to a screeching halt. And a shudder at the thought of Bryan Singer doing Excalibur.

    Good grief. You're so right. For the most part the remakes are pale shades of the originals, and there are way too many ego-maniacs in Hollywood who think they can do a classic better.

    Wizard of Oz has already been done... and, maird, was The Wiz a mess.

    BTW, I love Rapture by Blondie. I have that in my iPod, and the video is in my favorites. "Go out at night and eat up cars..."

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  4. I haven't seen "Excalibur". I should get around to it.

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  5. A remake of Excalibur? Now that just sucks.

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  6. Oh but I liked the original Excalibur. I can still recite Morgana Lafeys chant that turns her into the smoke thing. The remake better be good. :)

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  7. I feel the same way about the new "Conan" movie.

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  8. Great movie, I have seen many times.

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  9. Looks pretty good but you're right, Hollywood will eventually make a crappy remake given enough time.

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  10. i'll have to see this then. ;)

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  11. @Nowaysj-- You should watch it. It's great.

    @Bonjour-- Wasn't it a great cast? Every time I watch it I'm amazed.

    @Angry Lurker-- Seriously!

    @Ting-- Me too, but surprisingly it still stands the test of time.

    @Come at me Bro-- Me too!

    @Doralynn-- Yes, King Arthur and contemporary don't seem to go together do they? Ha, I posted a blondie video in honor of the alleged May 21st rapture.

    @Film Geek-- You really should see it. There are portions of the film that don't make sense but it's one of those films that is so crazy it's good.

    @Laila-- Helen Mirren was incredible as Morgana wasn't she?

    @Natural One-- Ha, I still haven't seen Conan. I still can't believe they remade that one.

    @Jammer-- Me too!

    @DWei-- Yep, hollywood has no shame when it comes to remakes.

    @Jay-- I think you'd like the visual aspects of this film. The film is visually stunning.

    @Sylar-- Thanks a bunch!

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  12. @Nowaysj-- You should watch it. It's great.

    @Bonjour-- Wasn't it a great cast? Every time I watch it I'm amazed.

    @Angry Lurker-- Seriously!

    @Ting-- Me too, but surprisingly it still stands the test of time.

    @Come at me Bro-- Me too!

    @Doralynn-- Yes, King Arthur and contemporary don't seem to go together do they? Ha, I posted a blondie video in honor of the alleged May 21st rapture.

    @Film Geek-- You really should see it. There are portions of the film that don't make sense but it's one of those films that is so crazy it's good.

    @Laila-- Helen Mirren was incredible as Morgana wasn't she?

    @Natural One-- Ha, I still haven't seen Conan. I still can't believe they remade that one.

    @Jammer-- Me too!

    @DWei-- Yep, hollywood has no shame when it comes to remakes.

    @Jay-- I think you'd like the visual aspects of this film. The film is visually stunning.

    @Sylar-- Thanks a bunch!

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  13. I've seen it a couple of times, although not for several years. There's one scene that made me laugh each time, though, and it's not supposed to be funny. It's where the knight (Uther?) makes love to a woman without even taking his armor off. I remember thinking "that's got to hurt." I just couldn't take the scene seriously.

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  14. @Chip-- I totally agree. That part was a little unrealistic. I would have hated to be poor Ingraine.

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