Cast & Crew info:
Produced by Jerry
Bruckheimer, Ned Dowd, James Flynn, Bruce Moriarty, Morgan
O'Sullivan, Chad Oman, Selwyn Roberts and Mike Stenson; Directed
by Antoine Fuqua; Written by David Franzoni
Drama/Action (US); 2004; Rated PG-13 for intense battle
sequences, a scene of sensuality and some language; Running
Time: 130 Minutes
Domestic Release Date:
July 7, 2004
by DAVID KEYES
opening credits of "King Arthur" suggest that
the filmmakers are utilizing "recently discovered archaeological
evidence" as grounds for a contemporary interpretation
of the story, a claim that leaves almost as much doubt in
mind as the relevance of yet another retelling of the famous
legend. Let's be honest here: do we really need to see another
version of this material? Consider the fact that John Boorman
perfected the narrative when he did "Excalibur"
all those years ago, or the notion that "The Mists
of Avalon" has already successfully tweaked that perspective
via a famous novel and miniseries. Director Antoine Fuqua
should have known better than to insist on pursuing a project
in which the appeal of the concept lacks the very basic
of purposes, especially considering his mediocre past endeavors
("Tears of the Sun" and "Training Day").
But then again, to second-guess anyone who succeeds Michael
Bay as the primary choice for directing a movie is likely
as pointless as the premise itself.
the movie opens, there is an air in the theater that suggests
one of two things: either the viewers only showed up because
"Spider-Man 2" was sold out down the hall, or
they were invited by someone else with the promise of not
having to pay the admission price. Audiences are simply
not interested anymore in retellings of King Arthur and
his Knights of the Round Table. Surprisingly (and thankfully),
however, what they get here is not anything resembling a
conventional interpretation. Fuqua's "King Arthur,"
in fact, plays so unlike its source material that only the
film's title is an indication of where the groundwork comes
from. There is a slight awareness to characters and places
here, but watching the plot unfold is like wandering through
an old tunnel that has undergone enough maintenance to emerge
may perhaps create the impression for some, especially purists,
that Fuqua's direction and writer David Franzoni's script
have botched the material, but surprisingly enough their
revisions succeed. "King Arthur" isn't just entertaining
popcorn fluff, but a thoroughly polished endeavor that is
skillful, intriguing and complex in the way it reinvents
the essence of legend and tries to view it as tangible history.
Gone are the wizards and witches and all their spell-driven
trickery; in their place is a concept that sees Arthur and
his knights as participants in a cataclysmic religious war
between Romans, Pagans and Saxons. The movie isn't about
taking sides, though; keeping in line with what history
itself has taught us about religion, intentions are blurred
between protagonists and antagonists -- their personal convictions
come down to themselves and not necessarily the sides they
follow. In either case, though, they didn't call it the
Dark Ages for nothing.
Owen plays the title role, a guy who, contrary to the title
of the picture, is not so much a king as he is a puppet.
At his time of power, he and his comrades are commanders
of an army instituted by the Roman Empire, and the round
table that he and his knights are supposed to gather at
becomes a background distraction; everyone in the film is
too busy elsewhere to find time to sit at it. The empire,
of course, is regarded by the British populace as an invasive
force, on their soil simply to try and convert Pagans to
their Christian faith, but the knights are less concerned
with that prospect. Why? Because both groups are threatened
in the north by a growing resistance of Saxons, who are
coming down into the south and wiping out any colonies and
villages in their path (the movie foreshadows the seriousness
of their conviction early on when it reveals that the country
is divided by a wall, and later when the commander of the
resistance insists that his men not rape the village women
because it might taint their race's purity if they were
to carry children).
a man whose moral code is continuously in a tug-of-war,
Owen does a nice job of giving dimension to his persona.
We like King Arthur (that is only a natural reaction), but
we also see that he is flawed, sometimes illogical, and
even clumsy in the way he stands at the command of others
(hey, if you were a Pagan defending the mark of Christianity
against your peers, you'd be a little confused about yourself
too). His closest comrade, Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), sees
these flaws and does not hesitate to point them out, often
leading the two to engage in heated verbal argument that
lifts the tension between them gradually as the film unfolds.
Thomas Mallory's "Le Morte d'Arthur" would be
happy to point out that the primary cause of friction between
Arthur and Lancelot comes from both of their relationships
with the fetching Guinevere, but in this movie she is portrayed
with such independence and fearsomeness that neither man
seems to have enough courage to let that be the case. Instead,
what we get is a series of well-acted scenes in which the
isolated characters pull off the masks and reveal their
true humanity. The acting is neither forced nor pretentious
as it usually is in highly-stylized costume epics like this.
battle scenes are also noteworthy. Picture, for instance,
a show-stopping sequence in which Arthur's men attempt to
drive away an organized offense of Saxons by trying to trap
them on a frozen lake and forcing them to crack the ice
beneath them. David Franzoni's script gives scenes like
this such skill and enthusiasm that they stand out in contrast
to the battle scenes of the recent "Troy" and
"The Alamo." Here, the camera isn't just moving
in a fast-paced manner and trying to blur the action into
incoherent nonsense; the conviction is smooth and dynamic,
and the film doesn't demand background players to stop all
that they're doing just so they can see the main stars fight
in a battle to the death. It is a wall-to-wall effort that
doesn't confuse or disorient in the process.
Arthur" is such an impressive effort all-around, in
fact, that it comes as a major letdown when the movie makes
some serious errors. In terms of expository information,
the movie doesn't actually give many of its characters enough
back-story to make them stand out as much as they should.
Merlin (Stephen Dillane) is the primary victim here; in
whatever interpretation we have seen him in, this is a character
whose wisdom and dedication have allowed him to emerge as
a highlight in the narrative; in this film, the movie gives
him little to do but command an angry resistance of Pagans,
and not even giving him an established motive in the process.
That comes as a major letdown, especially considering how
much the writer works to give some previously minor characters
such a biting edge (Franzoni's Guinevere, a rebel who was
trapped and then freed from a Christian prison, probably
has more backbone and spirit here than we have ever seen).
go on about the movie's other flaws -- it is too short for
the broad premise, for instance -- but several of these
quibbles are relatively minor compared to the merits that
both Fuqua and Franzoni offer here. The movie looks and
feels its times period, the imagery is attractive, the characters
are neatly utilized and the narrative takes us on a journey
that is exciting, thought-provoking and memorable all at
the same time. Purists to the legend of Arthur and Camelot
will see a film here that pushes too many buttons to be
admired; those of us who embrace the chutzpah of filmmakers
who enjoy tinkering with establishment, however, will instead
see a brave and admirable little endeavor that creates a
whole lot of grand chaos in just a little over two hours.
© 2004, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.