Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An Epic Fail Of A Legendary Knight

Arthurian Legend is just about the best thing I can ever think of. I eat that stuff up. Grew up with it, tried to write my own spin on it, even aced a class on it in college without ever studying for an exam. Arthuriana saturates my pores. That’s not really a secret about me, but it does imply a dark side to it. If I love good King Arthur stuff, might it be possible that I also love BAD King Arthur stuff.

The answer is yes. Oh God yes. With a side of angels. Its like a train wreck. Morbid curiosity keeps me glued on to it, just to see HOW bad someone can get the legends.

Sword Of The Valiant is something that gets the legends horribly, awfully wrong. Released in 1984 and starring Miles O’Keeffe as Gawain, its plot is lifted straight out of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (written in Middle-English by an anonymous poet and translated into modern English by numerous academics including one Professor J.R.R. Tolkien). Okay, I thought, eying the DVD in a Borders. Don’t see that story get turned into a movie often--hey, wait a minute! Sean Connery!

Indeed. Sean Connery is in the movie as the Green Knight himself. Quality be damned, this movie was destined to be mine.

Quality be damned is right. Its awful. It starts off cheesily enough, but faithful to the poem, with Arthur having a New Year’s feast and bitching at his knights about the good old days when they fought monsters and didn’t sit around swilling beer all night. In a vaguely ominous set up, Connery barges into the festivities wearing the most ridiculous armor ever. Ever. I repeat, stressing the past-present-future meaning of EVER. Armor sloppily painted green, a big bushy wig covered in glitter, a shirt that lets you see his midsection for no reason whatsoever, bronze makeup caked onto his face and an unavoidable codpiece. He looks as though he stumbled out a medieval Rocky Horror Picture Show. Anyway, he challenges Arthur’s court to a friendly game. He’ll let a knight strike him on the neck with his own axe if he will be allowed to do the same in turn. Straight out of the poem. And as in the poem, the young Gawain is the one to nut up and accept the challenge.

Once slice later, the Green Knight picks up his animatronic mannequin head and pops it back on and tells Gawain to spend a year growing up discovering what it means to be a man and solving some “riddles” if he can. Then he rides off and so does the faithfulness to the original work.
Gawain gets saddled with a trail-wise squire named Humphrey and rides off into the woods. The meathead gets hungry and didn’t bring anything along to eat. Our heroes spot a unicorn and Gawain decides to shoot it with the logic “You said its magic, that means it’ll taste good.” Savor that for a little bit, I know I did. They inexpertly chase after it and it disappears, having served NO PURPOSE in furthering the plot.

Then they stumble upon Morgan LeFay, fight a Black Knight in the first of many awkwardly choreographed fight scenes, Humphrey gets lost, Gawain rides into the vaguely magical kingdom of Lyonesse, Meathead with the Prince Adam haircut falls in love with a woman called Linet, tries to escape with her, fails and spends most of the rest of the movie finding and losing her again and again until a year passes and Connery comes riding back into the plot for a conclusion that…doesn’t end like the original at all.

The movie’s bad. No question whatsoever. What makes it stunningly bad is the cast. Aside from Sean Connery, it features Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies and Peter Cushing. That’s Dr. Henry Jones, Toht (the guy who got all melty-faced at the end of Raiders), Sallah and Grand Moff Tarkin. It’s an Indiana Jones cast member hat trick. Add to them the aimless meandering plot, lame (as in crippled) dialogue, worse jokes and ludicrous stupidity of the square jawed hero. Its got everything for the bad movie connoisseur. Gawain even bravely sets a blacksmith’s shop on fire in a heroic robbery, nobly leaving the smiths to die in the flames.

And then there’s that little bit of the movie that tells you somebody involved in the writing of the script actually did try. I mentioned that the opening was fairly faithful to the original. The ending almost was as well, before it devolved into a fight scene. (I don’t say pointless because Gawain finally finds a use for Connery’s exposed belly, which is not how the poem ends at all). There are rare moments when a line of dialogue actually sounds pretty good (as when Lacey’s Oswald talks about the nature of the sword. Honestly, it’s a nuanced line of dialogue that adds a little pathos to the scene its in. Also, anything Rhys-Davies says in his brief screen time is hilariously over the top). Someone even took the time to put a gold pentacle on Gawain’s shield. That shield was lifted out of the actual poem. It was only visible on screen for about two seconds, but the fact that somebody went to the effort of including it meant they actually did flip through the book. That futile effort of artistry buried under the gleeful stupidity of the rest of the movie makes me oddly proud that I chanced upon it.

Of course, you could always check out the trailer and save yourself the trouble of buying it.

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