‘King Arthur’ tries to turn famed Camelot tale into true story

[rating=2]Starring: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd, Stellan Skarsgard, Stephen Dillane, Ray Winstone, Hugh Dancy, Til Schweiger
Director(s): Antoine Fuqua
Writer(s): David Franzoni

Clive Owen and Keira Knightly in 'King Arthur'
Clive Owen and Keira Knightly in ‘King Arthur’

There have been a lot of interpretations of the legend of King Arthur. The mythology is widely known, the names if not all the specific details. The idea of exploring the real story of the Arthurian story sounded like a good idea, and while this interpretation is entertaining with a few colorful characters, it doesn’t really feel all that realistic.

King Arthur is a half Roman, half British military commander who is only days from returning to Rome, a land has dreamed of seeing. Believing it to be the utopia he’s imagined, he is forced to lead his drafted knights on one last mission before they can all gain their freedom.

These Knights of the Round Table aren’t exactly the polished and noble men we’ve known through fairy tales. They are a rag-tag group of native Britons who have been forced into military service when they were young teenagers. They are supposed to be given their freedom, when the surprise last mission sends them deep into territory conquered by the Saxons to rescue an important bishop.

As the Romans prepare to abandon England to the Saxons, Arthur is forced to choose between turning his back on the land he lived in all his life, or escape to a Rome that may not be the utopia he believes it to be.

There were several elements to this film that I liked. Two of the supporting players were interesting, such as Bors, portrayed perfectly by Ray Winstone. He’s really the only knight given any real depth, as we learn he has a wife and several children. Ray Stevenson comes a close second as the gentle giant, Dagonet. The others all have distinct looks, but very little is learned about any of them.

Some of the actions scenes are exciting, but none of them really had much of a pulse to them. Even with the “extended unrated” version, the additional blood and lobbed heads appeared more comical than gritty. The violence actually felt a little over the top.

I think in the end while this film had a good concept, it fell victim to the same thing that ultimately doomed another King Arthur film that attempted to put a new spin on the old tales, First Knight. That horrible film starring Sean Connery and Richard Gere took the legend of Arthur and his knights and gave them a polished, serious look. No magic, no fantasy.

To an extent, King Arthur does the same thing (although even with its flaws it is vastly superior in comparison). But where First Knight completely disregarded the fantasy elements of the legend, King Arthur suggests a level of magic that is more folklore than reality.

The problem is what makes the King Arthur story interesting are all the elements these films seem to want to leave out. The love affair between Arthur and Guinevere, and the subsequent passionate affair between Guinevere and Lancelot, are what draws people to these stories. These soap opera elements, along with the magical characters of the wise Merlin and the famous Excalibur, are what people love. Yet these film versions seem obsessed with excising them.

While King Arthur does retain some sense of these legends, as it is supposed to serve as a story that explains where these myths came from, it leaves you with very thin characters and very little development. With Arthur’s journey pretty well known, there is nothing surprising in where he ends up. And while there is a twist or two here, none of them really make the film that much more interesting.

The DVD has some good features, including a fun by all-too-short roundtable featuring Antoine Fuqua, Clive Owen, Keira Knightly, Jerry Bruckheimer and others. They discuss the movie in detail, and while some of it seems a little too “nice”, my real complaint is that its so short. Some comments seem cut off, and I would have liked it if they’d let them hammer it out a little longer.

The alternate ending, with good comments by Fuqua, doesn’t feature a wedding but also doesn’t feel all that different from the one seen in the film. I suppose you can make your own determination. The commentary is also probably one of the best I’ve heard in a while. I’d never heard or seen Fuqua before, and it was intersting to listen to him discuss the movie.

King Arthur isn’t a bad film. As epic, dark age adventures go it is better than most. However, I’m not sure it really lives up to its potential.

Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 2 hrs., 6 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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