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Review: King Arthur (movie)

PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2004 9:48 pm
by Gnaeus Dionysius Draco

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer
Publisher: [coming soon]
Year: 2004

The most immediate question here may be: "what the hell is this supposedly Roman guy doing reviewing a movie like Arthur?" The answer is quite simple. The movie "Arthur" adopts a self-proclaimed historical viewpoint, namely that the legendary king Arthur was not at all a British king, but rather a Romano-Celtic warlord that opposed the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Great Britain, who are the forebears of the modern English and most of the Scottish people. Arthur even has a Roman name, which is Artorius Castus.

Now, being a movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, known for his lavish action spectacles ("The Rock", "Con Air", "Pirates of the Caribbean"), one could expect a pathos-laden epic with cheesy dialogues and unprobabilities adding up so fast that it becomes funny to watch. These expectations are justified. The spectator should not go and watch "Arthur" with the idea of seeing a deep psycho-analysis of the main character, seeing an interesting love story or an original storyline (despite its original take on the Athurian legends). "Arthur" is a lavish, epic and cheesy spectacle. However, it is also top notch entertainment.

What speaks in favour of the movie are, even if you are not a history buff, its magnificent dueling and battle scenes. I won't hesitate to call them superior to those in "Troy". Although actually less in numbers, the soldiers and warriors come across as much more alive, and the battles each have a grim, cold and realistic impression, whereas "Troy" could rarely evoke this grimness. Yes, the amount of spectacle and cheese is expected, but it's continuously present throughout the movie, you get the feeling everything does follow a coherent vision and forms an equally coherent whole.

As far as history goes, although the aforementioned "Troy" was announced a historical-epic movie, "Arthur" is trying less hard and succeeds better while at it. The viewer gets to learn about a Roman tradition that took away foreign noble sons and gave them a Roman education (in this case, the Sarmatians, viewed as the cavalry loyal to Arthur, or his knights of the round table). It also shows scaterred villas with their own farm life, Roman towns as centered inside or around army camps, the power and intolerance of the Catholic Church in the 5th century, the supposed tradition of Celtic tribes to fight (partially) nude, we get a bit of Latin, a smattering of Gaelic and we even hear Saxon war cries. Of course, there are quite some mistakes in the movie. In reality, the Saxon invaders came a good thirty years later than the Romans' official retreat in 410. Also, they came from the South and East, not from the North of Hadrian's wall. But, to the regular spectator, this will matter little.

Most actors in the movie are Europeans. It seems that the combination of American money and know-how with European acting is a fortunate one, and so it is the case here. Many actors are relatively unknown with the general public, and as such, this helps to identify with the character and people present in the movie. Clive Owen (Arthur) does a decent job, and everyone around him seems to realise that this is an epic, not a Shakeaspearean tragedy. I was also pleased not to see the umpteenth explicit repeating of the whole Arthurian love triangle. Mads Mikkelsen (Tristan) was probably intended to be the coolest knight, but he succeeds at that. Keira Knightley (Guinevere) was a little more convincing as an actress this time around. The only actor who seemed a bit lost in the whole epic was the man who played the Saxon warlord Cynric, Stellan Skarsgård. Although he probably intended to come across gruff and battle-weary, he came across rather tired and unhappy with his own clichéd role. Stephen Dillane (Merlin) was also a bit of a letdown. But overall, the acting was okay and consequent.

What struck me the most about this movie, however, are the obvious parallels to World War II. One the one hand, you have the Allies: although Arthur is a Roman, he is most definitely the embodiment of an American hero. His cavalry of knights are Sarmatians -- Russians. This is exemplified by their love of beer, dance and women, and reaches its high point in the character of Bors, a fat, battle-hungry, fun-loving knight with a dozen children he lovingly refers to as his little bastards. Conservative critics may also point out the vaguely communist idea of the round table. No matter; then we have the Woads, the original denizens of Britain. Who else could these noble, nimble and efficient creatures be than the British?

On the other hand, then, we have the Axis: the evil Romans invariably speak with an Italian accent and are represented as weak-hearted at best, or infinitely corrupted at worst, though military completely defecient. The true opposition comes from the Saxons. Sturdy, rough guys with blonde hair and blue eyes. When Cynric has a local woman killed rather than raped, he claims it is because Saxon blood should not mix with British. While there are historical roots to this, of course this reeks of Nazism. The following shot depicts Cynric's son, Cerdic (Til Schweiger), as a typically German guy with gleaming blue eyes, a skinhead and a small blonde beard. Surprise oh surprise, both Saxon leaders are played by a Swede and a German, respectively.

Nonetheless, I found this a highly enjoyable movie. If you don't mind long battle-scenes and epic bombast, this is your movie.


PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2004 11:29 pm
by Quintus Aurelius Orcus
Salve Draco

I wondered how the movie would turn out. I suppose it is similar to Van Helsing, The Mummy, The Mummy Returns which were top notch entertaimnent, although I didn't really enjoy Van Helsing as it was more or less insulting to the whole vampire- werewolve mythology. I just hope Stephen Sommers doesn't plan on making another Van Helsing. That guy is just crazy about formulaic movies, if you have seen his the mummy series, you will probably know what I mean.
Anyway, with Jerry bruckheimer as the producer, I surely didn't expect anything high standard from it, since it is all about action. One might expect the typical bad guys that can be found in every Hollywood movie as to the typical good guy (hero) who is as good as a true champion fighting of the evil enemies that oppose him and trying to destroy his world. Ofcourse were would our movie hero be without a lady by his side.
Do I get it right, qua expectations, Draco?


PostPosted: Sat Aug 28, 2004 12:19 pm
by Gnaeus Dionysius Draco
Salve Orce,

Van Helsing was pretty bad. King Arthur is much better, because Van Helsing couldn't decide whether it was an all-out action movie, an adventure à la Indiana Jones or a tribute/spoof to vampire and other occult movies.

Vale bene,

PostPosted: Sat Aug 28, 2004 12:24 pm
by Quintus Aurelius Orcus
Salve draco

That's true, but than again that also counts for the Mummy series. If you have seen it, and I'm pretty sure everyone has probably seen it by now.