Tuesday, May 11, 2010

“Ahhh, finally, a man worth killing.”

Well this is going to be weird. Its definitely high time for another King Arthur movie. Yay! Except this time around its one from the 2000s that purports to demystify the myths from the facts. Boo! Well, regardless, since I’ve got a mania where I end up buying Arthurian films regardless of their overall quality, we might as well sit down with 2004’s King Arthur, the Director’s Cut!

We start off with blah blah blah Roman Britain, blah blah blah, Sarmatian cavalry stationed in Britain even though Rome itself is really half-assing its support of the floundering colony. Turns out the Romans there are having trouble with the Saxons as well as the Woads…waitaminute. The Romano-British are having trouble with a flowering plant most famous for the indigo dyes it can be used to make? True story of King Arthur my ass. If you want to have local tribes that don’t bow to the Romans, you can call them Celts, or more accurately Picts. Well, anyway its 467 AD and Rome needs to consolidate its…Wait. Rome withdrew from Britain around 410 AD. You know what, fuck you movie for insulting my intelligence. Okay, so its neither a fantastical take on the legend or a historical take. Good to know. Excuse me while I turn my medievalist’s brain off.

So the soldiers get sent on one last mission before being given their release papers. They have to go up into *shudder* “Woad” territory to evacuate a Roman Villa because-- Wait. That makes no fucking sense. WHY WOULD YOU BUILD A ROMAN VILLA OUTSIDE OF ROMAN TERRITORY???

Anyway, we get some blah blah blah about how Arthur is a Romano-Britain (which is actually rather likely) who’s commander of a group of Sarmatian cavalrymen (look, the term “Knight” didn’t come about until later if we’re playing the historicity card) who are generally grumpy since their term of service is ending and most want to go home. And then there’s fighting. Yay, swords! And Keira Knightly in little more than leather straps. Yay T&A!

Arthur/Artorius: Clive Owen is a Roman Britain who was a big fan of Pelagius, a fairly obscure 5th century ascetic and heretic who died around 440 (not necessarily under shadowy circumstances), a full ten years before Arthur was to have met him. Anyway…., Owen’s Arthur is actually pretty cool, stupid plot notwithstanding. He’s an idealist, and merciful in his command who has the absolute loyalty of his men (no matter how much the movie makes them bitch about it). He believes in Rome the ideal, but he’s also got the stones to back up his vision but he‘s also conflicted. And you know, Owen makes a pretty damn good Arthur, so there you go: badass of the film.

Lancelot: Ioan Gruffudd is Arthur’s number 2, a Sarmatian who’s extremely grumpy. I mean, that’s his dominant character trait. He’s grumpy about everything. Oh, and he’s vaguely pagan, which I suppose would be acceptable since he’s supposed to be from a tribe of steppe horsemen. Oh, and he fights with two swords, because that’s a practical fighting style for a horseman.

Tristram: Mads Mikkelsen is the most “barbarian” looking of the horsemen. He’s actually really good in the role, just underutilized a lot and with not a whole lot of characterization. He’s a falconer, is apparently the scout of the squad, seems to sort of, kind of have a death wish and fights with a curved blade which gives him a cool looking two handed “katana-esque” fighting style but isn’t all that practical for a horseman. Also, there is no Isolde, so that’s automatic points off.

Gawain: Joel Edgerton (who was the young Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels though I can’t blame you for forgetting). Gawain’s all right. He’s got long hair, seems pretty laid back about most everything and is a trooper who’s got Arthur’s back. He’s not Arthur’s cousin, which sucks, but its clear the writer had a cursory knowledge of Gawain and the Green Knight because he’s got green-ish armor and uses a handaxe, which…is actually a very practical weapon for a horseman.

Galahad: Hugh Dancy is probably the least defined member of the team. He’s the young one who doesn’t like fighting. And that’s about it. And he’s sort of an archer. Definitely not the “Warrior of Justice and Purity” that Galahad is synonymous with.

Bors: Ray Winstone is actually pretty damn awesome here as one of the team’s “big guys.” He’s an old soldier and pretty much planning on settling down with his woman and 11 or so illegitimate children. Big, boisterous and jolly, he also happens to fight with two funky daggers because THAT’S a practical weapon for a horseman.

Dagonet: Ray Stevenson is the other big guy on the team. Doesn’t talk much, always has Arthur’s back and is treated like Bors’ little brother. He’s also the first one to die in the film, but he does get a pretty badass death scene. He uses a very big axe because that’s a practical for a-- You know what, never mind.

Guinevere: Keira Knightley is a Pictish woman rescued by Arthur during the “last mission.” She’s okay, I guess, despite being yet another preachy action girl shoehorned into a historical movie. I guess I’d complain more, but she just looks so damn good doing it.

Merlin: Stephen Dillane is the creepy Celtic mystic who more or less rules the “Woads.” Arthur hates him because years ago his mother was killed in a raid led by Merlin. Merlin’s is not actually a wizard in this movie, so all the crazy looks he gives here are, well, just crazy looks that make him simply a creepy dude in the woods.

Cerdic: Stellan Skarsgård is our Saxon villain. A very, very, very obvious villain. Murderous, psychotic and racist against the Britons (which is hilarious, since the Saxons settled permanently in Britain and forever changed both the language and demography), he’d be on the level of moustache-twirling cartoon if it weren’t for just how laid back he is about it. He’s a barbarian warlord who’s possessed by ennui, which is both hilarious and awesome, and Skarsgård seems to be having a lot of fun with it.

Cynric: Til Schweiger is Cerdic’s son and second in command. He’s there to get yelled at a lot by dad and glower.

Bishop Germannus: Ivano Marescotti is the Roman bishop sent to the island to serve Arthur & his men their discharge papers (which…why would the Empire send a bishop to do such a menial task??). He’s just kind of a jerk.

Antoine Fuqua (who directed Training Day, which I’ve heard good things about) brings some interesting things to the table. The movie is certainly well shot and the battle scenes are legitimately interesting to watch. It definitely looks good. Pacing is a definite issue though, and I don’t just mean that as a comment on the director’s cut (never seen the theatrical version and from what I’ve read, that’s for the best).

David Franzoni (who worked on the entertaining but historical clusterfuck Gladiator) is the sole scripter here and… there’s a lot wrong with it. I mean, why do these “Sarmatian knights” have names like Lancelot (French in origin) or Gawain (which is British)? Why do the Saxons have crossbows? Trebuchets? “WOADS?” Why is the Pope considered the highest authority in the Western Roman Empire? The Senate and the Emperor (however useless he may have been) were still the authorities. The Pope was still only considered Bishop of Rome. And speaking of Rome, it was sacked in 410 by the Goths and the capital of the Western Empire (and the Emperor) moved to the more defensible Ravenna. I mean, is it really all that hard to check this stuff in Wikipedia? Or a book? I mean…FUCK! So much of this story doesn’t make any goddamn sense. And if it sounds like I’m being overly critical of the script when I might let other movies slide, well, I am. You can’t have the marketing campaign be all like “based on the TRUE story of King Arthur” and have so many goddamn glaring GLARBHHHGUYAJGHKJHASFKJHKLJHASFDLK:LIUO*&

About the only really interesting thing done with the characters is that the Lancelot/Arthur/Guinevere love triangle is downplayed.

Hans Zimmer’s music is a totally serviceable score for the film that rises to very solid percussive beats during the action scenes. Its solid, but not something that really can stand alongside the true greats of film music.

Right, so I’ve really ragged on King Arthur here quite a bit. Do I hate it? Surprisingly no. Franzoni’s script is pretty damn bad, but the movie looks good, the battles entertain and the cast largely manages to elevate the mediocre material they’re dealing with. I mean, its way more entertaining than First Knight. I just kind of wish every single period film like this of the last ten years didn’t try to ape Braveheart so much.

And by no means is this the worst Arthurian movie I’ve seen…

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