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I watched "Merlin" first when I was about 8 Years old. I tried not to miss an episode but failed at about the half of the story. It was scheduled (AFAIR) one episode a week. What distracted me when I was young, were the changes in the cast to match the age of the role. ("But dad, where is Tommy Ohrner? Who is this tall guy?") First time viewers will perhaps feel the same confusion, even though the actors were selected carefully (they are looking alike) and their acting always shows gestures and mannerisms their predecessors used.
The acting is of mixed quality. Some sound cheesy, some have difficulty with their role, but most of them seem to have performed in a lot of theaters (not cinemas) and play their part very well. The cast also seems to have enjoyed the production and it affects their performance positively. The "devil" sometimes smiles like Errol Flynn. Giving the audience an "I know what this is about no use trying to fool me"-look and makes one forget his silly costume.
By todays standards this is a low budget movie. Props and costumes are a bit better than in a stage play. Castles are not shown from the outside, cities and large crowds are not shown at all. Basically there are only about twelve places in the thirteen episodes. The sets are created with a sense of detail though, but improvisation is sometimes visible.
The music is great. It has just enough of the 80ers Theremin-like sound but also shifts to a real orchestra playing knightly, joyfully and mild in medieval harmony. The melody is not a medieval one to begin with, but it fits in well and is repeated so often, that you will never forget it, if you watched the complete series.
The plot, the story? Oh well, young Merlin is raised as the grandchild of a small unimportant king in England. His closest friends are a witch that is disguised as a nun and "Pascal" an alchemist and astrologer. His father however is the devil in person and he wants his son to become the Antichrist and rule the world (or England for that matter). Merlin does not know all this in the beginning, but has a vision of the later Arthur and devotes himself to making Arthur the "Great King". Now and again witches, evil lords and fairies appear and bring all sorts of difficulties. At a point the devil gets frustrated and casts a spell on Merlin that steals all of Merlins intellectual power. When Merlin is cured (by tricking Morgaine into releasing his spirit, while binding his fate) he frees the imprisoned Arthur and thereby prepares the peace between Saxons and England (Merlin is using a crowd to impersonate pestilence victims and drives the Saxons away from where Arthur is imprisoned).
The story is told in a way that makes you want to see the next episode. Heavy use of cliffhanger moment and a good many of unexpected twists is there. You never know what happens next, even if you know the basic plot. Moreover the dialog will sometimes have ambiguities and will leave you wondering ("Was this magic or an accident? Who was doing that?") .
In my opinion "Merlin" is good family entertainment. It will make you think a bit about Christianity, the concept of "the devil" and the medieval mindset. (Of course it is no movie for people who burn Harry Potter books.) Having watched it that early in my life, I am probably not the best judge, but to me the series has something special. They don't make movies like this anymore.
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