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Excalibur (1981) Poster

(1981)

Trivia

The Charm of Making spoken by Merlin and Morgana, is an attempt at Old Irish that translates to: "Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making." The phonetic rendering, as spoken in the movie, is: /ana:l nathrakh, u:rth va:s bethud, dokhje:l djenve:/. In Irish, the phrase is: 'Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis bheatha, do thuar dhéanamh', which is pronounced similarly, but not exactly as in the movie.
Helen Mirren and Nicol Williamson were initially reluctant to work with each other. They'd been in a disastrous production of "Macbeth," and were not on speaking terms. John Boorman cast them because their natural animosity would be perfect. According to Mirren, she and Williamson "wound up becoming very good friends" during filming.
The initial fight scene had to be filmed 3 times. It was filmed at night, and all of the film came out underexposed the first 2 times due to a fault in the exposure meter. The cameraman had a nervous breakdown over the issue and quit.
Morgana's breastplate is in John Boorman's home. In his will, it will be given to Helen Mirren.
Igrayne, The Lady of the Lake, and young Mordred were all played by John Boorman's real-life children: Katrine Boorman, Telsche Boorman, and Charley Boorman.
John Boorman was originally aiming at making a movie based on "The Lord of the Rings". However, he did not acquire the rights, and decided to make this movie instead.
The Irish extras fighting each other did not want to stop after John Boorman yelled cut-"to settle old scores," says Boorman.
The cameraman waited with a camera running for several days for the shot of a crow eating an eye. They had to wait for the crow to really eat the sheep's eye.
The names of the 25 knights inscribed on the Winchester Round Table are: Galahad, Lancelot du Lac, Gawain, Percivale, Lionell, Bors de Ganis, Kay, Tristram de Lyones, Gareth, Bedivere, Bleoberis, La Cote Male Taile, Lucan, Palomedes, Lamorak, Safer, Pelleas, Hector de Maris, Dagonet, Degore, Brunor le Noir, Le Bel Desconneu, Alymere, and Mordred.
When Morgana gives birth, Helen Mirren's head is up through a hole in the table while a real pregnant woman lies on the table with her head covered.
Before the final battle, Arthur's knights are camped around a "Stonehenge" like formation on a hill. The rocks were fake and part of the set. According to John Boorman, some American tourists were driving by down below and saw the formation. Thinking they were real, the tourists hiked up the hill, and Boorman had to explain to them that they were not real, but part of a movie set.
John Boorman wanted the film to focus on the story, not the actors, so he cast relative unknowns. At the time, only Nicol Williamson was relatively familiar to American moviegoers.
United Artists told John Boorman that he could cast anyone as Merlin except Nicol Williamson.
The trial by combat set in the woods was originally to be the set for the Rivendel counsel chamber in John Boorman's version of "Lord of the Rings", which failed to get made.
It rained every single day of the shoot, causing most of the movie to be shot in dull light. The constant rain also added to the lushness of the foliage.
All of the armor used in the film was hand made out of aluminium, primarily by British armorer Terry English. English custom-fit the suits of armor for the principal characters, but kept the overall style the same for members of different groups, especially prominent in the nearly "uniform" armor of the Knights of the Round Table. English can be seen in the film during the tourney scenes; he is the blacksmith who looks up at Arthur (Nigel Terry) when the future king is chasing a thief and stops to contemplate filching a sword from the armorers' tent.
The original cut of the film was over three hours long. Among the many scenes that were lost - but was briefly glimpsed in the trailer - was a scene where Lancelot rescued Guenevere from a forest bandit.
Max von Sydow was originally cast as Merlin.
Liam Neeson had never ridden a horse prior to working on this film.
According to John Boorman's DVD commentary, the sword prop of Excalibur and the Holy Grail props, used in the movie, are in his house.
The black smoke in Arthur's first siege on a castle was created by burning tires. It left black flakes on a nearby town.
According to Gabriel Byrne, his sex scene with Katrine Boorman was filmed with the two separated. He performed his close-ups in the scene with a pin cushion.
The love scene between Guinevere and Lancelot was full of mosquitoes, causing even more discomfort.
Polo ponies were used because they are easier to control than regular horses, and could be ridden with one hand while the other held a weapon.
Future director Neil Jordan spent a considerable time on set filming a "making of" documentary.
John Boorman directed Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) to help fund this. When that turned out to be one of the biggest bombs ever made, this became his comeback.
Guinevere's wedding dress was hand made from hundreds of beads. Young brides requested the dress to no avail.
When Uryens knights Arthur with Excalibur, he's visibly trembling from emotion. In reality, Nigel Terry was shivering from the cold, as they were filming in a castle moat.
Most of the forest scenes and Excalibur (the sword) were back lit by green lights, giving it a magical quality.
The hand that holds Excalibur belongs to John Boorman's daughter Telsche Boorman, lying under water.
Helen Mirren's breakout movie role. She was already a renowned Shakespearean stage actress.
Some of the crew agreed that Gabriel Byrne's Irish accent made "One night with Igrayne" sound like "One night with your granny".
The scene in the woods at night, where Merlin is with the young Arthur, was shot on a set, so the animals featured could be controlled.
The flowers on the forest floor and the apple blossoms on the trees are natural. The forests were blocked off so the vegetation could not be trampled down.
John Boorman didn't like how the balance was off, on Dolby sound mixes at various test screenings, so he changed the mix to mono.
All the forests shown in this movie are a mile away from John Boorman's house in Ireland.
Camelot shown from afar is a model reflected into camera with a mirror.
Katrine Boorman and Cherie Lunghi did the nude scenes themselves, without the use of a body double.
Sir Sean Connery was briefly attached to play King Arthur in the early stages of the project. He would later play Arthur in First Knight (1995).
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John Boorman had planned a film adaptation of the Merlin legend as early as 1969. United Artists rejected his concept, offering him The Lord of the Rings instead. When that fell through, he went back to this film.
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Baby Arthur grabbing a hold of Igrayne's hair was a coincidence.
John Boorman had wanted to call this "Merlin", but CBS had a show called Mr. Merlin (1981), so they had exclusive usage of the "Merlin" name. It began shooting as "Knights", but Ridley Scott had registered "Knight" for a medieval epic, he was planning with Walter Hill, as his follow-up to Alien (1979). They were already shooting before they decided on "Excalibur".
To make it easier to do visual effects, the film was shot in 1.85:1.
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According to Helen Mirren, John Boorman sacked dogs from the film for not acting to his satisfaction. While they looked threatening, they didn't act as such.
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The fight between Arthur and Lancelot was filmed on the Powerscourt estate. The battle scenes in Sir Laurence Olivier's film version of Henry V (1944) were also filmed there due to wartime restrictions in England.
Reflectors were used to give the armor its glow, and they kept having a problem with camera reflections. Every time it rained, the armor had to be rubbed down so it wouldn't leave a residue.
During the making of The Tailor of Panama (2001), Pierce Brosnan told John Boorman that his "Excalibur" audition had been a disaster. After it ended, he couldn't get his battered old car to start, and that he had to abandon it, and walk home on a dismally wet day. When he got back to his small bedsit flat, he felt that the day had gone so badly, that he had considered quitting acting altogether.
The Camelot sets were usually bigger than the stage itself. Walls had to be cut out to accommodate it.
The roast rabbit, with which Perceval tempts Lancelot, is real.
The red sun at the end was created with reflective disc with a lamp shining on it through a mirror. It was then superimposed.
John Boorman revealed on the DVD commentary for The Tailor of Panama (2001) that Pierce Brosnan auditioned the role of King Lot.
John Boorman used many of the same locations that he had used for Zardoz (1974). In fact, most of these are quite close to his house in Annamoe, County Wicklow, Ireland.
This is the same director, and much of the same creative team, that put together Deliverance (1972).
A pipe was used to create the mist coming out of Morgana's mouth, in the scene were Merlin creates a fog.
Many actors had been mentioned for the part of Merlin, including Max von Sydow, Sir Sean Connery and oddest of all, Lee Marvin. The actor who John Boorman wanted most, was Donald Sutherland, but he was scheduled to do Ordinary People (1980).
When Merlin is trying to catch a fish, it was trapped underwater by blocking it off with stones.
The corridors of Camelot were extended by the use of a matte painting.
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A remake, directed by Bryan Singer, spent years in development hell, until it was cancelled.
Zack Snyder has named Excalibur (1981) as a big influence on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), to the point of making it the film Bruce Wayne saw with his parents on the night of their deaths. He would later cast Ciarán Hinds as the main villain Steppenwolf in its follow-up film, Justice League (2017).
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The location for the Duke of Cornwall's castle is now a housing estate.
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A fake crane shot was done during the discussion about creating the round table. It was achieved by walking backwards on a raised platform.
Nigel Terry was 35 when playing Arthur from a teenager to a 20-to-30-something king, and then finally as an old man. Similarly, 29-year old Cherie Lunghi played Guinevere from teenager to full adult queen to an old woman living out the rest of her life in quiet misery as a nun.
In the legend, when King Arthur died in his final battle. His body was taken to his final resting place in the Isle of Avalon, where he was buried.
John Boorman bought the horse that Percival rides to champion Guinevere.
The film was referred to as "The Boorman Family Project".
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Nicholas Clay, Nicol Williamson, Corin Redgrave, Robert Addie, and Niall O'Brien all died from cancer. Charley Boorman was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010, and survived.
The graphic scene, in which Arthur is impaled with Mordred's spear, and then pulls himself towards Mordred, was mirrored in Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), when Shinzon, who is impaled with a pole, pulls himself toward Captain Picard. Sir Patrick Stewart plays Leondegrance.
The scene where Uther crosses in the mist, they used dry ice on a studio set.
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Sir Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance) is only twelve years older than his on-screen daughter Cherie Lunghi (Guinevere).
This was shot so close to John Boorman's house, that it is the only time that he was able to sleep in his own bed throughout the entire shoot of a movie.
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Nicholas Clay also appeared, albeit in a very small role, in Merlin (1998).
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According to John Boorman, the love scene between Lancelot and Guinevere in the forest, was filmed on a very cold night, but Nicholas Clay and Cherie Lunghi performed the scene nude anyway.
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The shot with the Grail filling itself was achieved by pumping wine through a tube stuck through the bottom of the cup.
Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren met on set of Excalibur (1981) and went on to live together for the next four years.
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During the discussion about creating the round table, the stars in the sky are superimposed.
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Gold light was reflected on to the walls in Camelot.
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In the Doctor Who (1963) serial "Battlefield", The Doctor, and his companion Ace, encountered Morgana and Mordred from another dimension, where The Doctor is mistaken for Merlin. Nigel Terry would appear in Doctor Who (2005), and Cherie Lunghi would star opposite Billie Piper in Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007).
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Michael Beck auditioned for Lancelot.
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Peter Benson had a featured role, that was removed in post-production.
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The round table was built in sections.
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The score with its dramatic Gregorian chant background was undeniably influenced by The Omen (1976). It uses Carl Orff's 'O Fortuna' from Carmina Burana.
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The Powerscourt Estate location was also used for King Arthur (2004).
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Liam Neeson went on to play Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999). The legend of King Arthur was one of George Lucas' influences behind the "Star Wars" film franchise. Charley Boorman's best friend Ewan McGregor played young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, and is Qui-Gon's Jinn's apprentice, before becoming Anakin Skywalker's Master.
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Knightriders (1981), a movie that mixes motorbikes with Mediaeval customs, was released in the same year as this Morte d'Arthur legend film Excalibur (1981).
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Director of Photography Alex Thomson was a a last minute addition. The original DOP left the project at a very early stage.
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Katrine Boorman was widely felt to be miscast as Igrayne.
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Liam Neeson, Helen Mirren and Ciaran Hinds would all later star in adaptations of DC Comics properties: Liam Neeson in Batman Begins (2005), Helen Mirren in Red (2010) and Red 2 (2013) and Ciaran Hinds in Justice League (2017). Patrick Stewart would play Charles Xavier/Professor X in the X-Men films, based on the comics created by DC's rival publication, Marvel Comics.
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In the final battle scene before Arthur is saved by Lancelot, one of the other knights rears back-to strike a foe and hits Arthur (Nigel Terry) on the back of the head with his sword. You can see it caused pain to Terry, who grabbed the back of his head, but continued fighting.
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Zack Snyder has said that this is his favorite film.
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The film has a Star Wars connection: Creator George Lucas had cited the legend of King Arthur as one of his inspirations behind Star Wars. Charley Boorman's best friend Ewan McGregor played young Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999). Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). Liam Neeson played Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) and actress Keira Knightley whom played Sabe in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) would go on to play Guinevere in King Arthur (2004).
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Nicol Williamson would later play an almost similar role in Spawn (1997) which he played Cogliostro, mentor of Al Simmons/Spawn (Michael Jai White).
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Zack Snyder, whom is a fan of the film, referenced the film in Batman VS. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which in the opening credits sequence Excalibur (1981) is the marquee at the cinema which young Bruce Wayne and his parents moments before they are murdered by an armed mugger.
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Liam Neeson and Ciaran Hinds would both play villains in films featuring Bruce Wayne/Batman: Liam Neeson would play Ra's Al Ghul in Batman Begins (2005) and Ciaran Hinds would play Steppenwolf in Justice League (2017).
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