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248 of 265 found the following review helpful:
Not Perfect, But About as Definitive As It GetsFeb 01, 2000
By Brian Jay Jones
It's tough to compress the 900-some-odd pages of text that Thomas Malory used to tell his story of Le Morte d'Arthur into 140 minutes of film, but director John Boorman and screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg give it a good shot. While it sometimes leaves out important details or compresses events in the interest of time, it can never be accused of playing fast and loose with the legend. However, the film also requires a bit of work on the part of the viewer to fill in some of the details, and it's obvious Boorman expects his viewer to be at least passing familiar with the traditions of the Arthurian legend (anyone unfamiliar with Arthur's fate after his death, for example, will be baffled by the film's final shot). So brush up just a bit before you sit down to this one.
With its darkened, cloud-streaked skies, lonely stone castles, eerie green lighting, (all caught in beautiful widescreen glory on the DVD), and effective use of the music of Richard Wagner, you won't find a moodier, more beautifully shot film. In fact, there are some downright breathtaking cinematic moments in this film, none more so than when Perceval hurls Excalibur back into the water, and Wagner's music swells just in time for the Lady of the Lake to make a dramatic clean catch. Great stuff.
It also helps that Nicol Williamson turns in a very game performance as Merlin, but it's Nigel Terry who carries the film in an underappreciated but wholly believeable interpretation of King Arthur. Terry leaves the scenery-chewing to Williamson, and anchors the film instead with a steady, understated performance. Look also for stars-in-the-making Liam Neeson as the jealous Gawain, and Patrick Stewart as Guenevere's father, Leodegrance.
EXCALIBUR has all the elements one expects in a fantasy, yet, in a sense, Boorman does for the sword-and-sorcery film what Sergio Leone did for the western: whereas prior horse operas showed cowboys riding across the desert and shuffing down dirt streets without a bit of sweat, and firing pistols that never drew blood, Leone made everyone look hot and sweaty, and showed that a Smith & Wesson could rip a real hole through your gut. Boorman does the same for the knight in this film -- knights clunk around clumsily in heavy armor, get skewered on pikes, get their heads bashed in, and cough their guts out in bloody mud puddles. It all lends an air of veracity to the film that makes it all seem like It Could Really Have Happened This Way.
The widescreen format available on DVD gives this film the weight and heft it has long deserved, and there are some real gems lurking among the additional features -- including a surprisingly cheezy, Grade B trailer, and a really great alternate soundtrack in which director John Boorman discusses the action and shares some behind-the-scene goodies (such as the fact that Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren couldn't stand each other, or that the actor playing the grown-up Mordred was actually a first-rate horseman).
Give this one a try.
128 of 137 found the following review helpful:
Visuals and soundtrack will knock your socks offDec 22, 2000
By Joseph Haschka
Within my memory, there've been only a couple films featuring the legend of King Arthur. However, one of them released in 1981, EXCALIBUR, is the standard by which all others, past and future, must be judged. It's positively stunning in its excellence, and a must-see for any devotee of the tale.
In a sense, EXCALIBUR is more a story of Merlin than Arthur since Nicole Williamson's fabulous, unique portrayal of the former overshadows Nigel Terry's role as the latter. However, the film faithfully depicts the Arthurian legend from his conception and birth at Tintagel Castle, to his death at the hands of Mordred. In between are all the other elements of the story one would hope for and expect: Uther Pendragon, the Sword In the Stone, the Battle of Mount Badon, Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Lancelot, Guinevere, Sir Percival, the Quest for the Holy Grail, the Lady of the Lake, and Lady Morgana (a.k.a. Morgan La Fey).
A note of caution for parents of young children. At times, the film is intensely violent, bloody and sexual. (Gee, it sounds like any normal day at the office.) You are warned. And it's not a movie for squeamish adults, either.
The costuming is superb. The brilliant cinematography and film editing, combined with a magnificent soundtrack that includes "Carmina Burana" and "Tristan's Funeral March" at just the right scenes, make EXCALIBUR absolutely awe-inspiring. You'll want to watch it over and over. (I've talked myself into wanting to view it again right now!) The final scene is one you'll wish you could extract from your TV screen and frame, with sound.
Oh, my! What a cinematic achievement!
26 of 28 found the following review helpful:
Excalibur revisited 20 years on by its director John BoormanOct 04, 1999
The transfer to DVD is near perfect. The sound is great. It is wonderful to own this piece of film in the super sharp, super clean DVD format, but the real reason to buy this DVD is to listen to John Boorman talking us through the film upto and including the closing credits.
Boorman looks back 20 years on a project that in itself waited some 20 years before Orion came up with the backing. In the process it saw Gabriel Byrne, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson and others debuting to go on to better things. Not so with Nigel Terry, whose performance was greatly under-rated.
Boorman is modest, pragmatic and realistic. If the water was too cold for the actors, he would use his daughter or son. Production waited for live fish to be put into a submerged ring of stones from which Merlin would pick up one by hand, only for them to be tipped OUTSIDE the ring to swim away. Effectively, filming was done in his back garden and that of a neighbour. Local Irish stuntmen were used who would then continue fighting in the battle scenes, after "cut" was called, to settle old scores. Wilkinson Sword provided Excalibur. Green filtered lights rendered greener the countryside already made green by the incessant rain requiring many hours and days waiting for the right conditions.
As the young Arthur is taken away from his mother he tugs her hair dramatically across the film screen. Unscripted it came free. The bird pecking out the eye of a strung-up knight took many day's filming.
Very tight scheduling, ensured seasons exactly consonant with the three parts of the film - the Coming of Arthur and Camelot, The Wasteland and the Passing of Arthur. To the extent of using Oxford Films Natural History Unit to devise a small element of flowers blossoming in the foreground to demonstrate the re-awakening of the land with the renewed kingship of Arthur. Bluebell groves and the avenue of apple trees were constantly inspected before filming began - in one case this did not prevent some technician trampling down some bluebells.
Inevitably, comparisons are made between this attention to detail and getting it right on camera rather than the ever increasing postproduction work using digital effects. The lament is fair and reasonable because Boorman. although he would be too modest to claim such, is the director as auteur. He does not look at his work after filming ceases and, if he does, it is only to see the flaws. However he does look at Excalibur because the story is so good and means so much. What he does not say is that it is his presentation of Arthur through Mallory, von Eschenbach and Wagner at Bayreuth that will make us look at it again and again and again. Unlike VHS, the DVD will mean that each look wil be as good as the first. Buy it and enjoy!
46 of 54 found the following review helpful:
The greatest Arthurian movie ever madeSep 09, 1999
By D. Roberts
This movie comes the closest of any theatrical rendition to capturing the grandeur and pageantry of Mallory's Le Mortre De Arthur. From opening scene to closing credits, this is one of the most well-done movies ever made. Boorman is at his best in its direction & the soundtrack is all Wagner. Who could ask for anything more? Also, unlike many other Arthur films (Such as First Knight) Excalibur addresses the entire scope of the legend instead of just one aspect. Fans will furthermore delight in seeing a young Liam Neason and a performance of Patrick Stewart from his mid-life years. This film is, quite simply, excellent.
21 of 23 found the following review helpful:
The Best Theatrical Re-Telling of the Arthurian Legend--Largely Based on Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (1485)May 30, 2011
By Stephen B. Whitehead
Late in the film, King Arthur is about to fight his last battle against his estranged son Mordred. His kingdom of Camelot is falling; the knights of the Round Table are disbanding; and Guinevere has entered a convent. In short, Arthur's world is collapsing. He rides to the nunnery to see Guinevere for the last time. And there, she produces the ancient timeless object hidden beneath some linen: the sword Excalibur, still gleaming, still magical, still potent to fight in the battle that Arthur cannot win. He sheathes Excalibur, and, in full knightly regalia rides with his remaining loyal knights through the English countryside, their pennants and banners flying in the wind. The fortissimo chorus of Carmina Burana accompanies their ride in perfect harmony, chanting the lyrics from the medieval poem "O Fortuna". This is the stuff of legend...
Artistic treatments of the Arthurian legends date back to illuminated codices from the Middle Ages. Thereafter the first, and one of the greatest, attempts to bring the stories into a novelistic form was written in the late 1400's by a knight, Sir Thomas Malory, entitled Le Morte d'Arthur ("The Death of Arthur") which is probably the most famous work of English letters proceeding Chaucer but before Shakespeare. Even later renditions include T.H. White's "The Once and Future King". By the 20th century, theatrical adaptations began appearing as well, including "Knights of the Round Table" (1953), Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" (1963), and the musical "Camelot" by Lerner and Lowe which was possibly the most popular rendition of the story before "Excalibur". These last renditions, although they have their appeal, cannot measure up to the movie "Excalibur" which was largely based upon Malory's original tome.
Many here have detailed very well the merits of the film, and since most people know the story, I will keep this short. The reason why this is the best of the Arthurian-based films is its imagery and its dedication to the original Arthurian myths. The entire look of the film, which I have not seen in a movie since, reeks of Medieval Legend. The lush forests, the huge castles, and the glittering swords give a visual and dream-like reality. This is NOT how it was in the Middle Ages. This is how people in the Middle Ages would have liked it to have been, which is the entire point of the Arthurian myths. The filmmakers of Excalibur understood that myth is about dreams.
Several moments in the film are inspired directly from Malory and earlier Medieval codices. For example, several Medieval illuminated manuscripts feature the hand of the Lady of the Lake bestowing the sword Excalibur to Arthur. Strangely this episode, which becomes an important theme throughout Excalibur, is lacking from other theatrical versions and yet it is central to the original myth. Another is the strange rhetoric that Arthur and the land are one, and when Arthur becomes ill, the land of his kingdom becomes barren. This concept was a widely held belief in the Middle Ages: that the sovereign was essentially married to the kingdom.
Another aspect that makes this film outstanding is the portrayal of Merlin by Nicol Williamson. This was possibly the best Merlin ever to come to the large screen. Some of the most humorous moments of the film occur with Merlin. Instead of being the absent-minded wizard of "The Sword in the Stone", he is the last of the Druids, a race giving way to Medieval Christians. Worth the price of admission. It is sad that he obtained very little recognition for this portrayal.
The fact is, a viewer either experiences "aesthetic arrest" with Excalibur, or he or she doesn't. If the scenes when the knights go riding through countryside with their pennants flying behind them doesn't give you the shivers, this is not and will never be your kind of movie. If Malory had lived to see this film, he would have been awed and proud. Malory gave Arthur to the world, and Excalibur gave Arthur back to Malory.
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