Forged by a god. Foretold by a wizard. Found by a king.
I've been a fan of knights, swords and steel, armor and wizards since I was a young kid and have just never grown out of it. A coworker I had at one of my past jobs actually recommended this movie to me (unsurprisingly, I find out about many movies from before I was born in this manner), being a man of similar interests (I bought a physical Excalibur off of him to give it a good home), and so I took it upon myself to get it. I've always felt it was a rather long movie (a tad over 2 hours) and in turn it's taken me a long time to get through all of it, but I figured with the Battle of the Nations starting up today, what better time to watch something associated with armor and Arthurian legend? Can this rendition of a well known tale be named king, or is it just a sword stuck in a stone?
Most everyone is at least partially familiar with the tale of Excalibur or King Arthur, but for those who aren't this movie will tell you the entirety of it from it's fantasy legend roots (back when Arthur was a knight, and not a roman soldier). It's formatted much like a play in the sense that there is the feeling of distinct acts - that of Arthur's father; that of Arthur the boy; that of Arthur the King; that of the Betrayal and downfall; that of the ending of our story. It crams a lot into a 140 minute screen time, so I'm not going to hope to go into all of it, but I'll try laying down the foundations here where the plot synopsis usually would go.
We start with Arthur's father (Uther), in the times before Arthur is born where war is rampant. Having selected him as the one who should be able to unite all the lands, the mystical Merlin bequeaths him with the sword of kings: Excalibur. Things seem to go well, until the first instance of successful peace talks goes south after Uther falls for the wife of the man he just formed an alliance for. This prompts a battle between their two forces, a pact with Merlin to allow Uther to don the appearance of his rival, and what is essentially a magic-aided rape scene that brings Arthur into the world (at which point Merlin gains custody, as agreed upon in the pact with Uther. Uther has a change of heart at the last minute, and it doesn't go well for him - but as his last living act, he plunges Excalibur into a stone, proclaiming no one but he shall ever pull it from its prison.
The next act is essentially Arthur as a squire discovering and drawing Excalibur, which then causes a rift between the various knights - those who recognize a boy as the king, and those who refuse to do so. After some acts of courage on Arthur's part, they band together and set forth uniting the lands. Arthur falls for the daughter of the first knight (outside of his adopted family) who stands by his side, and along the way Merlin spills some words of wisdom that are generally lost on the love-struck Arthur. As they continue uniting the kingdom, they run across a single knight who single-handedly bests all of Arthur's knights (and Arthur himself). After some rage-induced conflict, Arthur has an epiphany about his wrongs, and the two become friends. The last bit chronicles the downfall of camelot (essentially), but I'll let you watch to see how that all goes down.
In one of the happiest moments of my life, I get to talk about awesome armor in a review section on wardrobe. Why so happy? Because the range of available armors is incredible - and we are talking full on plate suits here, not just a bunch of dudes running around in tabards with plate gloves - no, glorious full on steel. Olden scenes, such as those of Uther, has armor taking on an absolute brutal and dark vibe - much of it having a very dark almost pitch black appearance, adorned with spikes and scary helmets that look as though they were meant to cause nightmares. As the movie progresses, we slowly start seeing the armor shift into a more "shining" armor design - sleek, fluted, spikeless and colored to an absurd polish one would expect in a collectors box.
Acting isn't bad here either - although at times some of it can be a little cheesy or come off as being very much done in a play-type manner (even when talking to themselves, characters are often moving or doing something rather than standing still). FIght choreography, while certainly better than most anything you'll see watching Game of Thrones, isn't the most elaborate stuff you've ever seen either. This could be a downside for some folks looking for epic action, but it does help add a depth of realism to the battles that helps make it more easy to get drawn into the action on screen.
Musically, there isn't much anything to stand out and grasp you by the ear-holes beyond the ever enjoyable Dies Irae. Sound effects are done well enough in that classical sense (shing!), and character audio generally comes through just fine (although Merlin can be a bit soft spoken at times). Effects wise it's all back in the practical days, and nothing is so overdone that it seems out of place when executed. Magic is mostly done in a manner of flames and smoke, and when it comes to the violent side of things, blood shows up on a few occasions, as does some severing of limbs - but considering the amount of screen we get with battles, it's actually relatively slim in comparison to how much one would expect to see.
Do I recommend it? If you are a fan of the Arthurian legend, it's probably one of the most complete tellings out there. If your a fan of knights, you'll be drooling over the armor on screen. If you have the time to invest sitting through it, it's pretty good for what it is - user be warned that there are some naked folks of both genders and a few sex scenes (although nothing graphic about them outside of the contextual nature). It's a hefty flick, worth at least a rent for those interested in it, at which point you may decide it's a buy or not depending on your disposition.