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How do you pack together centuries of legends about the great King Arthur?
It might seem like an impossible task, but Merlin finds a way to make it
work: they change the focus.
I have always been a huge fan of the King Arthur legends, and I am familiar with most of them. Some films only cover portions of the legends, such as the disappointing "First Knight" and the stomach-churning Disney crud "Sword and the Stone." I was really wanting a film to come out that would cover all the important legends of the epic story, yet I realized it was a nearly impossible task. An excellent early eighties film did it, which was called "Excalibur," and I was hoping that they could do it again, with a more nineties zing to it, what with the new special effects coming out nowadays that could no doubt enhance the legends onscreen. Before "Merlin" came out, the only real films to come out in the nineties featuring Arthur were "First Knight" (which eradicated all myth and magic and put the legends on the status of Chick Flick) and "A Kid in King Arthur's Court" (which I won't even bring up).
Enter "Merlin." It covers everything, from the affair of Lancelot and Guinevere, to the Lady at the Lake, to the birth of the sword Excalibur, to Morgan la Fay and Mordred, and they even throw in the Lady of Shallot. And the cool thing is, they make it work so that it doesn't seem overplotted. Merlin is also given a side story which is beautiful and well-constructed, about his birth and his love life. It all is webbed together well, and the climax and characters are wonderfully painted.
Before this film, I saw Merlin only as a secondhand character, who is Arthur's mentor and friend, kind of like the world's first Obe Wan Kinobe. But now, I see him in an all new light, and to say the least, it is very effective, and I can say that it is the finest Arthur film ever made (though "Excalibur" is so close, it's barely worth a comparison). If you are interesting in Arthur, or if you are an Arthur fan who was discouraged that there were no good films about his awesome, thought-provoking legends, I urge you to watch this film. It will move you in a way few films can!
10 out of 10!
An old Merlin (Sam Neill) tells his saga, since his conception through the magic of the evil Queen Mab (the outstanding Miranda Richardson). His love for Nimue (Isabella Rossellini), the discovery of his power, the lessons of Frik (Martin Short), his fight against Mab, his association with Lord Vortigen (Rutger Hauer) and King Uther Pendragon (Mark Jax), the birth of Arthur (Paul Curran), the romance with his sister Morgan Le Fey (Helena Bonham Carter) and the birth and creation of Mordred (Jason Done), the marriage with Guinevere (Lena Headley), Excalibur, the betrayal of Lancelot (Jeremy Sheffield), the fall of Camelot, all of this presented in an environment of magic, action, romance, drama betrayal. For me, one of the best movies ever made. I have watched this magnificent film at least three times on VHS and yesterday on DVD. This overwhelming and wonderful tale of the old ways is unforgettable. My vote of course is ten.
This is one of the best made for TV movies I've ever seen - surprisingly
good, in fact. What made it so entertaining was the script. Some people have
gone on about the special effects, but they're no big deal - impressive for
television, perhaps, but cheesy by any other standard. No, what makes this
movie work so well is the unique way in which the familiar elements of the
Camelot story have been reconfigured. Using Merlin as a point of departure
and actually delving into *his* backstory - rather than Arthur's - I don't
think I've seen this done anywhere else (admittedly, I'm no Arthurian
scholar, but I have read some of the seminal works, such as Mallory's "Morte
d'Arthur," Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," and T.H. White's "The Once and
Future King"). "Merlin," from what I can see, tells a story that's totally
new, and provides a fresh take on the events and meanings of the Camelot
tale. Basically, Merlin's lifelong struggle with Queen Mab here represents
the struggle of Christianity to take hold in Britain, versus the influence
of the "ancient" ways, such as witchcraft, superstition and local custom. No
matter what you think of this as allegory, it provides a useful and
intriguing "spine" on which to hang all the other familiar stories from the
Arthurian legend, which are well told and presented. Naturally, time
constraints prevent the movie from going into detail on any single story -
but the piece certainly whets one's appetite for more, and that's perhaps
the surest indication of the movie's success.
The lead roles are all well-handled. Sam Neill brings a kind of weary dignity to Merlin; he's champion of the good, but he's tired of it all, longs for the battle to just be over. As Mab, Miranda Richardson camps it up wonderfully, and is truly creepy besides. Martin Short and Helena Bonham Carter have one of the most affecting scenes I've ever seen in a TV movie (if you see it, you'll know which one I mean).
Overall there's a lack of humor, and it sometimes feels as if the piece is rushing ahead just to get everything in, but these are very minor quibbles. The wonderful script holds everything together and keeps you wondering - no matter how well you might know the Camelot story - just what is going to happen next.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The way Merlin is portrayed here is the best I have ever seen (and
believe me, I have seen a lot, if not all).
Of course the story is great and so are the co-actors but Sam Neill BECOMES Merlin. What someone here described as "dull" is only the result of crawling into the skin of who he thinks Merlin is. Not a great magician that will solve everything(as the king would like), not a vengeful Old-Religion priest(as Mab would have him be) but simply Merlin. We know this man, have seen what happens in his life and it follows he chose the path of wisdom. He was tested by life and sorrow but came out whole and, in the end, wise. And in this calm, for all his wiseness, you still see him fall madly in love, losing this love and then ('nough said...) ...and you believe it! I think only 3 films in my life rated a 10, this is one of them. All because of Sam Neills performance.
This movie rules! I don't know how many times I've seen it, but it has to be over 30. I think all of us fans should get together and start a cult like Rocky Horror, for this film! I love the graphics for this movie, and Miranda Richardson, who I normally try to avoid when it comes to movies, was absolutely wonderful, and Martin Short was cool. Anyone who is in to fantasy movies should see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
''Merlin'' is one of my favorite fantasy movies of all times, and one
of the first movies about Arthurian legends I watched! It's just a sad
thing to notice how underrated this fabulous movie is, as well as not
very well know.(I think I don't know a single person who have watched
this movie) Being more focused in Merlin's life instead of Lancelot's
life, Arthur's life, or even Morgana's life(like Mists of Avalon), this
movie shows how magic was losing it's popularity and power with the
time. Sam Neill,Helena Bonham Carter,Miranda Richardson,Martin
Short,Rutger Haue(who I first saw in Ladyhawk) and Isabella
Rossellini(who is always doing epic movies)are great in their roles.
From the epic movies, I guess this one has the bigger amount of
beautiful people in the screen,specially women. The scenarios are
beautiful, and I also like the special effects and the clothes.
I think this movie should be watched for anyone who likes a great fantasy genre!
Merlin is an epic story of the legendary merlin set in the knights of
the round table era. I believe that the movie is great and I have no
idea how Merlin has a 6.7 rating when "The 10th Kingdom" has an 8.1,
"The 10th Kingdom" was completely terrible in every way.
Directing 7/10:Merlin is directed by Steve Barron (I believe its his best work) and I think he did an amazing job with the materials he had.
Plot 8/10: The plot is good for people who like fantasy movies. I thought there was nothing wrong with the story at all. Not one of the best plots but still great.
Acting 7.5/10: The acting in this movie has nothing left to be desired. Sam Neill is amazing as the lead role of merlin. Many other great performances are also in this movie.
Art Direction 7/10: All of the costumes and sets in this movie are good, nothing great but for a made for t.v. movie one of the best.
Score 9/10: The music in this movie by Trevor Jones is AMAZING! One of my favorite parts of the movie.
Special Effects 7.5/10(for its time 9/10): This movie even now doesn't look very old. The cgi is extremely good for its time. The only time that the graphics really look bad is the scene with the dragon, all the other times it is great, and subtle. The same digital effects compositor as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Please don't complain about the special effects in this movie when no one complains about the effects in "The 10th Kingdom" which had SOME OF THE WORST SPECIAL EFFECTS I HAVE EVER SEEN! "The 10th Kingdom" was also made in 2000 not 1988!!!
Overall 9/10: My favorite t.v. movie of all time!
If you are deciding whether to watch "Merlin", my advice would be to
ignore all the extreme comments in this section; some would have you
believe that this is the worst movie ever and others that it is a film
masterpiece. The fact is that it is a well executed but philosophically
shallow (family friendly) telling of the traditional version of the
Arthurian legends; with some alterations. As you can probably tell from
the title, this story is more focused on Merlin than on Camelot and
King Arthur. If you ever wondered what it would be like to see William
Shatner play a medieval wizard, you can find a close approximation in
the way Sam Neill plays Merlin. This is not as bad as it sounds because
Neill is intrinsically more likable than Shatner and because ham acting
is necessary in his scenes with Miranda Richardson, who gives her usual
dominating performance as both Queen Mab and her sister-the Lady of the
Lake. Isabella Rossellini plays Neill's love interest, she looks
amazingly young considering her high mileage and the viewer has a lot
of time to reflect on her age/appearance because her character is
Martin Short and Helena Bonham Carter are very effective in comic relief. And comic relief is the real strength of this production as the dialogue of the villains is often intentionally very amusing (don't want to scare the family too much). Unfortunately this makes Mab and her two allies far more likable than any of the other characters.
While "Merlin" is far superior to 2004's "King Arthur", it is not even remotely in the class of John Boorman's "Excalibur". "Excalibur" is obviously a much better looking film but it is also a much more ambitious film philosophically. And "Excalibur" does not have the plot holes that draw attention to "Merlin's" moronically contrived storyline. Basically "Merlin" is dumbed down enough to make good family viewing but has enough intentionally funny performances and subtly humorous dialogue to entertain more sophisticated viewers.
Growing up watching the "Hallmark Hall Of Fame" TV movies, I was very surprised by the time and expense that obviously went into this Hallmark production. Odd camera angles, wonderful effects, brilliant color all add to this magical story. Any director facing such a lush story as this with just a limited amount of time has to make cuts here and adjustments there to make the story have some sense. The first half of the movie concerns the birth and growth of Merlin, ther second half with the birth and growth of Arthur. The friendship between Merlin and Arthur really does come across in a way that few "King Arthur" movies have shown. The casting of major celebrities in this movie were all on the money, Martin Short is surprisingly good in his role as Flick, Queen Mab's servant, a creature that lives outside of time. You see him suddenly switching costumes and accents as he does various things. The role reminde me loosely of Tony Randall in "Seven Faces Of Dr. Lao". Very much recommended if you are a fan of Arthurian fantasy or just like a good epic.
MERLIN finally makes some sense of the Arthurian Legend.
Certainly the liberties taken here answer many of the questions
wrought by other tellings of the tale (EXCALIBUR, in particular).
Effects, cinematography and sound are outstanding for a TV production.
However, key casting weaknesses seriously undercut the effectiveness of the
tale. Sam Neil is simply dull as Merlin. It is hard to believe this is the
same actor who did
such a memorable job in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Equally
(in a small but pivotal role) is Jeffrey Sheffield as Lancelot.
Where is the charm and inspiring goodness of other Lancelots?
Those qualities are necessary to lend tragedy to the events of
There ARE indeed outstanding performances on display. Miranda Richardson is simply fantastic in a dual role (Queen Mab, The Lady of the Lake). Her Mab suffers less from evil than arrested adolescence. Her powers allow her to DO evil rather than BE evil. On the other hand, the actor that plays the adult Modred is deliciously evil. Even when his ethical arguements are reasoned, his evil intent slides through, enabling us to root for Arthur. Billie Whitelaw as Auntie Ambrosia is touching and powerful. Best, perhaps of all is Martin Short, as Frick. His wonderful scenes with the equally capable Helen Bonham Carter (as Morgan Le Fay) are the best of the film. Despite the logical development of the story, I do have one small quibble. From the time of the birth of Merlin to the time of the birth of Arthur is at least 21 years. From the time of the Birth of Arthur to the time of the birth of Modred is at least 17 years. Although Modred is reputed to grow astonishingly quickly, he must have been at least 16 years to challenge Arthur. So Merlin and Nimue must have been at least 54 by the time of the battle between Arthur and Modred. Nevertheless, neither Merlin nor his love Nimue have aged since Neil and Isabella Rosselini took over the parts. Hmmm...
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