The myth of King Arthur brought once again to the screen. Uthur Pendragon is given the mystical sword Excalibur by the wizard Merlyn. At his death Uthur buries the sword into a stone, and the next man that can pull it out will be King of England.
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Of all the film adaptations that have wrestled with the Arthurian legend, the one that comes closest to capturing its grandeur is John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), a mad, magnificent movie that belongs on any responsible list of modern cult classics.
Unclassifiable: not a children's movie, not a historical epic or a tragedy, this exceptionally aural film (the clanking of armours resonates for years) is a visual triumph in terms of how it blends Teutonic atmosphere, quasi sci-fi flavour and Greek epic, elevating the Excalibur myth to a heighetened, trance-like experience, aesthetically so sumptuous that all flaws can be guiltlessly bypassed. A unique achievement!
Top Ten countdown – #3 Employs the essential Western myth to blend the act of filmmaking with mythmaking. Its unique surreal mise-en-scène both suits the epic of man rising dominant over the old world, and carries the weight he brings along—a belief in utopia but also jealousy, violence, and contempt. Boorman honours JMS's words: "That man is a magnificent thing, and at the same moment he's the curse of the planet."
From the breathless, Wagner-scored prologue that opens John Boorman's "Excalibur," image after ferocious image is seared indelibly onto film, wielding the power of myth yet carrying the weight of history. No doubt you can trace the lineage of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" and TV's "Game of Thrones" back here, but for sheer phantasmagoric spectacle "Excalibur" is virtually without peer in its genre.
This was attacked in its day for bad writing, and not without cause. But that just makes me wish it was still okay in 1981 to make a silent film, so that all the wooden dialogue and mythic characters could be properly reduced to abstract bullet points (where they belong) and leave us to luxuriate in the music and imagery. One of the most visually expressive movies I've seen.
It's difficult for me to watch a film about King Arthur without thinking about 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. It's permanently etched into my brain. That might be because I memorized portions of the script. I took Excalibur seriously the first time I saw it. That scene with Uther saying Igrayne must be his ... I mean, who does that?
Interesting but uneven attempt at a serious take on Arthurian legend. A truly epic and ambitious production, with some strong moments of atmosphere and arresting visuals. But the plot is disjointed, making the characters hard to connect with. Has its flaws, but the visual spectacle makes it something memorable.