directed by John Boorman
(Warner, 1982)

This retelling of the Arthur legend, based loosely on Le Morte D'Arthur, is a spectacle of fantasy and magic. The armor is unbelievably shiny, the ladies incredibly beautiful, and the music hauntingly familiar. (Yes, that is the "Carmina Burana" played at the climactic points of the film.) Some of the faces in minor roles are also very familiar, including Gabriel Byrne as Uther Pendragon, Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance, father of Guenevere, and in his first sword-wielding movie role, Liam Neeson as Gawain.

The tale begins when Merlin, played mischievously by Nicol Williamson, procures Excalibur, the sword of kings, for Uther Pendragon. Rebellious Cornwall (Corin Redgrave) is won over by Uther, but the peace is brief; Uther's lust for the beautiful Igraine, wife of Cornwall (Katrine Boorman, daughter of the director), sows the seeds of further dissention in England, as well as the land's eventual redemption.

The movie focuses on three characters throughout, with Merlin as the uniting feature. The beginning emphasizes Uther as the strong king for whom might makes right -- and it destroys him. The main part, the middle, concentrates upon Arthur (a regal Nigel Terry), his rise to power and the infamous love triangle that leads to his illness, which causes a blight upon the land. The final section follows Lancelot's protege Percival (Paul Geoffrey) in his quest for the Holy Grail. His quest leads him to face dangers both physical and spiritual, until he must shed the very symbols of knighthood in order to fulfill his goal.

Helen Mirren is beautiful and seductive as Morgana, the instigator of troubles at Camelot, the whispering voice in Gawain's ear that brings about the eventual tryst between Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) and Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi). She also is the one who imprisons Merlin after stealing his most powerful magic, and seduces Arthur in order to create the arrogant and angry Mordred, the knight of golden armor (Robert Addie).

This is a film of pageantry and spectacle, which we see in the wedding scene of Arthur and Guenevere, and the charge to the final battle after Arthur has been healed by the fruits of Percival's quest. The costumes are beautiful, especially Morgana's dresses.

The battle scenes in Excalibur should be particularly noted for their exceptional choreography and graphic nature. Limbs are hacked off, blood spatters once-shining armor, and knights perservere beyond death. Perhaps most exceptional is the climactic battle between Arthur and Mordred, which ends a grand, large-scale melee and brings the movie nearly to its conclusion.

(Note: This movie, like cult classics such as The Princess Bride and pretty much anything by Monty Python, does lend itself to silly comments from those who have watched it more than three times. This may be annoying if the movie is new to you, but after a while it is worth joining in on the fun.)

Excalibur is easily rented, but depending on the video store, may need to be ordered.

[ by Beth Derochea ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.