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The Best Theatrical Re-Telling of the Arthurian Legend--Largely Based on Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (1485)
classicalsteve30 May 2007
Late in the film, King Arthur is about to fight his last battle against his estranged son Mordred. His kingdom of Camelot is falling. The knights of the Round Table are disbanding. Guinevere has entered a convent. In short, Arthur's world is collapsing. He rides to the nunnery to see Guinevere for the last time. And there, she produces the ancient timeless object hidden beneath some linen: the sword Excalibur, still gleaming, still magical, still potent to fight in the battle that Arthur cannot win. He sheathes Excalibur, and, in full knightly regalia rides with his remaining loyal knights through the English countryside, their pennants and banners flying in the wind. The fortissimo chorus of Carmina Burana accompanies their ride in perfect harmony, chanting the lyrics from the medieval poem "O Fortuna". This is the stuff of legend...

Artistic treatments of the Arthurian legends date back to illuminated codices from the Middle Ages. Thereafter the first, and one of the greatest, attempts to bring the stories into a novelistic form was written in the late 1400's by a knight, Sir Thomas Malory, entitled La Morte d'Arthur ("The Death of Arthur") which is probably the most famous work of English letters proceeding Chaucer but before Shakespeare. Even later renditions include T.H. White's "The Once and Future King". By the 20th century, theatrical adaptations began appearing as well, including "Knights of the Round Table" (1953), Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" (1963), and the musical "Camelot" by Lerner and Lowe which was possibly the most popular rendition of the story before "Excalibur". These last renditions, although they have their appeal, cannot measure up to the movie "Excalibur" which was largely based upon Malory's original tome.

Many here have detailed very well the merits of the film, and since most people know the story, I will keep this short. The reason why this is the best of the Arthurian-based films is its imagery and its dedication to the original Arthurian myths. The entire look of the film, which I have not seen in a movie since, reeks of Medieval Legend. The lush forests, the huge castles, and the glittering swords give a visual and dream-like reality. This is NOT how it was in the Middle Ages. This is how people in the Middle Ages would have liked it to have been, which is the entire point of the Arthurian myths. The filmmakers of Excalibur understood that myth is about dreams.

Several moments in the film are inspired directly from Malory and earlier Medieval codices. For example, several Medieval illuminated manuscripts feature the hand of the Lady of the Lake bestowing the sword Excalibur to Arthur. Strangely this episode, which becomes an important theme throughout Excalibur, is lacking from other theatrical versions and yet it is central to the original myth. Another is the strange rhetoric that Arthur and the land are one, and when Arthur becomes ill, the land of his kingdom becomes barren. This concept was a widely held belief in the Middle Ages: that the sovereign was essentially married to the kingdom.

Another aspect that makes this film outstanding is the portrayal of Merlin by Nicol Williamson. This was possibly the best Merlin ever to come to the large screen. Some of the most humorous moments of the film occur with Merlin. Instead of being the absent-minded wizard of "The Sword in the Stone", he is the last of the Druids, a race giving way to Medieval Christians. Worth the price of admission. It is sad that he obtained very little recognition for this portrayal.

The fact is, a viewer either experiences "aesthetic arrest" with Excalibur, or he or she doesn't. If the scenes when the knights go riding through countryside with their pennants flying behind them doesn't give you the shivers, this is not and will never be your kind of movie. If Malory had lived to see this film, he would have been awed and proud. Malory gave Arthur to the world, and Excalibur gave Arthur back to Malory.
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A beautiful translation of a legend into sound and light.
Lloyd-2311 October 1999
Warning: Spoilers
More people telling me their favourite film, have named Excalibur, than have chosen any other film. People tend to feel strongly about this film. I can remember that when it came out, a film magazine reviewed it twice, feeling that it had to do so, since its two reviewers had such contrasting opinions. In short, people who don't adore it, tend to hate it.

Those who hate it have failed to understand something very important: that it is set in the land of dreams. Excalibur makes no attempt to be realistic. It is the film of a legend, and it tries to create a world of legend, and it succeeds. Once one has realised that this is not the real world, then the film is internally consistent and works splendidly. Merlin, towards the end of the film, even says the line "Your love brought me back to where you are: in the land of dreams." If anything, this makes the film even more tragic, because all of Arthur's sufferings have been not for his world, but for ours.

The Arthurian legend is probably the world's best legend. It has been told a thousand different ways, but is so strong, that no retelling can harm it. The story is familiar, but this telling of it is not. The screen starts blank, with the distant drums of Seigfried's Funeral March playing, and after a few captions, the curtain lifts to reveal a stunning opening sequence with horses breathing fire-lit breath into the night air, as Uther's men do battle with those of the Duke of Cornwall. The armour is dark, and greenish, and the movements slow, making this seem like a scene of battling dinosaurs. It is brutal and bloody. These are the dark ages. This is the time of chaos from which Arthur's kingdom must come. Into the scene, in a cloud of swirling fog, comes a figure who will be present throughout the film, ageless and mysterious, Nicol Williamson's Merlin, whose voice carries over the din.

I remember how suddenly I found myself immersed in this world when I first saw the film, and even now the hairs stand up on the back of my neck thinking about it. Allow yourself to become involved with the film, and you will be rewarded.

The costumes are magnificent. Special mention must go to the shining armour, and Morgana's (Helen Mirren) ever-increasingly impressive series of outfits. The music is stirring (it uses "O Fortuna" from Carima Burana before this had become a cliche). The acting is theatrical and good. Each of these characters is on a stage, to be examined. This is not a film of quiet intimate moments. It is a legend, and legends are public.

Excalibur distills the Arthurian legends into one film of watchable length very cleverly. At several points during it, a clever cut tells the viewer that several years have passed. Single characters represent many things. At one point Sir Percival represents all the questknights, at another Morgana is all that is evil. In telling the story quickly, the film uses simple direct speeches. In one scene, Arthur visits Guinevere, the woman he loved deeply, whom he hasn't seen for many years. He spends just a minute in her company and leaves, and yet the speech he delivers to her is so complete and so moving, that you do not feel robbed. He says his piece and leaves, needing to say no more.

It is true that the film has dated a little. Some of the hair-styles and special effects are not quite what they would be today, and the quality of the dubbing is not first-rate, but this is still stunning. Everything seems to have come together to help this film look and sound good. The skies over the castles are spectacular, the Irish landscape (it was shot there) looks the part. The visual imagination and daring to have Camelot as a castle literally made from silver, and to have Arthur's final battle fought in fog with a huge blood red sunset behind it, makes this a feast for the eye.

I am writing about one of my all-time favourite films. I cry every time I see the land burst into blossom as a reborn Arthur gallops through it, and I feel the heavy warmth of tragedy as he is carried off towards the sunset to the Isle of Avalon. I am spoiling nothing by telling you that Arthur dies in the end. Everyone knows that he dies in the end. The whole film is leading to that moment. When you reach the end of the film, ask yourself this: where did he go wrong? What was it he did to lose his wife, his son, his sister, his best friend, all his questknights, Merlin, his kingdom, his life - everything he held dear?

"The one god of the many comes to drive out the many gods. The spirits of wood and stone grow silent. It is a time for men and their ways." That's it.
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Excalibur. The best of the King Arthur films.
sinicolson16 February 2006
Excalibur is a truly atmospheric film. It has the ability to take you back to the time it depicts, without using sentimentality or rose tinted spectacles. Having seen the film numerous times, I still get more out of it with every viewing. It certainly seemed to start many careers on the right path and many of the actors are very well known now. My only sadness is that Paul Geoffrey and Nigel Terry, two of the main character actors, seem not to have become such household names. They both stand out in the film and to my mind have made it what it is, brilliant. Great direction, production, photography and music. King Arthur himself would have been proud of it.
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Operatic,mythic, retelling of Arthurian legend.
coop-1610 May 1999
At different times in his illustrious career, John Boorman has announced that his intention to make film versions of both The Lord Of The Rings, and Wagners "Ring" cycle.Like Scorsese's plans to do film biographies of Gershwin and Robert Johnson, or Coppola's plans to make versions of Faust and Pinocchio, these grandiose projects have come to nothing. Fortunately, in Excalibur, we have something that comes close..VERY close. Boorman retells the Arthur legend in a way that evokes both the mythic power of Tolkien and the operatic splendor of Wagner.. ( Indeed, the sound track makes frequent use of Wagner.)Some have criticized Boorman for making the story of King Arthur too sexy and violent. Well, in their original , unexpurgated form, the Arthurian legends were just that. Boorman also looks at the Druidic and pagan roots of the arthur story, (" The Land is the King."), and examines the inner conflict between Paganism and Christianity that gave the myth its original power. A great film, and one of my personal favorites. I have not seen Robert Bresson's version of the Arthur myth, Lancelot Du Lac, but I suspect that it may be the only other one by a major film-maker that comes close to the eerie, mythic, glorious heart of Arthurian legend.
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A lavishly designed epic with an inciting mixture of myth, dream and magic...
Nazi_Fighter_David16 November 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Along with Ken Russell, John Boorman can be seen as a key figure in the modern British cinema... His interest in myth, dream, landscape and memory may be compared with that of Resnais, Leone, and Roeg...

Boorman's 'Excalibur' is characterized by his use of jealousy and adultery, sex and sorcery... It is also characterized by fire and fog, shadow and moonlight, creating an air of mystery that is essential element in the Arthurian legend...

Boorman's 'Excalibur' is a mythical presentation leading the viewers to travel with the flow of the legend... It is a magical story with wonderful exotic sets, and interesting camera-work in the lush green scenery of Ireland... (The Cinematography won an Academy Award Nomination).

Boorman's "Excalibur" is both fantasy and philosophy... Love seems to be a destructive force, lyrically beautiful and bravely realistic...

The film brings to life the fateful story of a solitary hero, his ascension to the throne, the love triangle of Camelot, the quest for the Holy Grail, the decline and eventual fall of Arthur and Camelot... Along for the ride are his indispensable Knights of the Round Table, particularly Sir Lancelot...

The characters in Boorman's "Excalibur" are extremely well developed... Arthur is seen as a naive squire, who develops into an idealistic king... Arthur tries to use Might for the establishment of Right, and according to his own laws, he puts reason over love...

A prominent figure in the film is Merlin... He lives backwards, which makes him "a dream to some, a nightmare to others." He defines the cave of the dragon as a place where all things meet their opposite: "The future and the past, desire and regret, knowledge and oblivion". But when Morgana pronounces "love", one would expect Merlin to answer "hate", but he just says: "O yes."

Morgana knows that Uther and Merlin are responsible for the death of her father... She dedicates her life to revenge.. Her scenes with Merlin are full of fire and poison... When she steals the "charm of making" from Merlin, Morgana gets stronger... We feared her lines when she affirmed: "I can ease your loneliness."

Lancelot looks at himself as a sinful person who has betrayed a friend... He stays lonely in the forest, haunted by sorrow and pain... He dreams of a fight with himself... And when he wakes up naked, he sees his own sword stuck in his side... The film endures and inspires because it embodies mankind's deepest yearnings...

Among the many elements that make the movie work is the cast: Nigel Terry, the rightful King who, accidentally, removes the sword of power easily, not once, but twice; Helen Mirren, the enchantress Morgana, Merlin's nemesis and Arthur's treacherous half-sister, who seduces Merlin, and then encircles him in a stream of vengeance; Nicholas Clay, persuasively ardent and athletic as the First Knight; Cherie Lunghi, the damsel in distress who loves her husband with her mind and Lancelot with her heart; Nicol Williamson, the wily Merlin who would see that the young Arthur receive the necessary training and guidance to fulfill his unlikely destiny; Gabriel Byrne, the hot-blooded Uther Pendragon, who plunges 'Excalibur' deep into a stone rock in one last act of defiance; Katrine Boorman, the woman taken as by a fully armored King; Liam Neeson, the knight who dares to accuse the Queen; and Robert Addie, the 'unholy child' who comes to Camelot to demand the throne of his father...

One of the more fascinating aspects of the film (and there are many...) are the differences between Uther and Arthur... King Uther is unable to master his instincts... His world is confusion, disorder, and unlimited passion... The characteristic developments of Arthur occur as he faces the trials of his life... The knowledge of the affair yet his love for his beautiful wife and best friend wage war inside of his mind... When he sees Guinevere in the arms of Lancelot, he stuck 'Excalibur' between them loosing his connection to the extraordinary powers of Merlin and the Lady of the Lake...

John Boorman's films frequently concern contradictions and polarities, tensions between nature and civilization, dream and reality... Equally, his career as a whole swings violently between success and failure, intelligent ambition and pretentiousness...
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The quintessential King Arthur movie!
Borboletta31 July 2001
This movie is absolutely tremendous. Held my attention the entire time. I have seen the others, from the 1950s Knights of the Round Table, to First Knight, even the recent Mists of Avalon, and this is the best of the bunch. Brutal at times, then again, the story takes place during the Dark Ages. Anthropologists don't know too much about the historical Arthur, except from early English and Welsh texts based on oral legends of a Celtic chieftain named Arthur, who lived around 600 AD, and who fought a famous battle.

This story delivers great performances, sets and battle scenes. In the scene in the beginning where Uther becomes king, as witnessed by Merlin, we can see the look of disgust and pity on his face as knights get their arms chopped off! Merlin has worked for years to arrange peace in the kingdom and the moment is at hand, the dawn of a new Golden Age...although it will be Arthur, not Uther, who ushers this in, and it lasts all too briefly. Merlin is played by Nicol Williamson in an outstanding performance! He is comic, wise, and very, very, deadly if you cross his path. The best on-screen Merlin I have ever seen. Arthur is the true hero whose all too human capacity for love gets the best of him and threatens to leave the kingdom in the clutches of the vile Mordred. Morgana, as played by Helen Mirren, is a stunning combination of beauty and evil. The other cast members round out this great film: Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne. The sets are astounding, dark foreboding man-made castles contrasted against lush green forests reflecting a lost time when the forces of nature, not man, dominated the earth. See this film! Easily John Boorman's best picture to date.
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A Great Film
baronalbany3817 November 2003
I am an Arthurian buff and a film fan (aspiring to be a novelist and a screenwriter). EXCALIBUR is a great, great film that holds up very well after more than 20 years. It is an expert distillation of the essential Arthurian legend (this from someone who has read and re-read Malory's original work, Le Morte D'Arthur, on which the movie was based, as well as Tennyson, White, Steinbeck, and many of the other modern fictional treatments, as well as a lot of the secondary literature on the history and meaning of the Arthur myth). The film is wonderful on many, many levels, from Boorman's masterful direction and writing (along with Pallenberg, his screenwriter), to the cinematography, the armor and costumes, the sets and production design, and the acting (with a great cast too numerous to mention). The film has violence, sex, myth, drama, intrigue, heroics, pathos, and aspirations to art, all in the best senses of those terms. The film probably works best if you already have some sort of sense of the Arthur legends, but I would recommend it to anyone. Also, listen to Boorman's director's commentary on the DVD. Perhaps the best and most lucid DVD commentary that I have heard on video; interesting and sharp comments throughout the entire film, and well worth replaying if you aspire to filmmaking in any way, or just want to hear a smart filmmaker talk about his work. I have tried to write Arthurian stories and an Arthurian script, but all have so far paled in comparison to Boorman and Pallenberg's work. Long live Boorman and long live EXCALIBUR!
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nomercy12 May 1999
Having read "the knights of the round table" as a child, and "Le Morte D'Artur" in old English as an adult, I have always been profoundly touched by this story of rise, fall, love, hate, betrayal and hope. As a result, I have developed an intense dislike for most pathetic attempts to put this story on film.

Excalibur is the first, and so far, the only film, in my opinion, to come very close to the brass ring.

First some ranting.

The early film with Cornel Wilde was a swashbuckling story, no more.

The Disney cartoon "sword in the stone" was one of the first in a long series of extremely offensive attempts to take inspirational and tragic stories and turn them into something banal.(Anastasia, The hunch Back of Notre Dame to name a couple)

First knight was perfect for displaying Richard Geere's lack of talent, and wasting a perfectly good actor (Connery). This ranks up there with "Plan nine from outer space"

Excalibur has put faces to the characters I read about. It infused them with personalities, and gave them life beyond the pages.

I was transposed by Merlin's magic on the mountain top, awakening the dragon. I felt a strange elation when Arthur drew the sword, one of the most meaningful and defining moments in literary, and now movie, history. I trembled and rejoiced when Arthur handed Excalibur to Uriens and was knighted. And my eyes welled up with tears when the ship took his body away to Avalon

And the music... That glorious music, never intrusive, but always suggestive and underlining the drama subtly.

After seeing this movie, anyone hearing Carl Orff Carmina Burana's Deres Luna will forever associate it with courage, rebirth sacrifice and redemption.

Anyone seeing this movie will be moved to believing that one day Arthur may indeed return to redeem us all. It tells us that hope never dies.
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This Arthurian legend is special
Denver532 August 1999
I first saw this film back when it came out and I was an usher at a local theatre (I was in high school). I have seen many films based on King Arthur, and for some reason this one always causes a stronger reaction in me. I think it is because it is so dark as well as intense. Merlin is borderline looney yet powerful; Arthur starts off as a good-hearted child and then before your eyes self-destructs under his self-imposed weight of leadership; Modred is mocking and disgusting. The fight scenes and the costumes/armor are disturbing; this is no desensitized movie! I own the VHS and sometimes I like to watch up to the point where Guin's deceit with Lancelot takes place, and then stop. After that point, until the very end, the movie is about the fall of a legend, and I like my legends on their pedestals.
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The Arthurian Epic Gloriously Brought To Life
FloatingOpera711 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Excalibur, Starring Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Cheri Lunghi, Nicholas Clay, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, Robert Addie, Katrine Boorman, Paul Geoffrey, Clive Swift Director John Boorman, 1981 Director John Boorman and screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg worked on adapting the centuries old Thomas Malory epic "Le Morte D'Arthur" into a stunning, intensely dramatic movie masterpiece the likes of which had never been seen before. This is, for me, the most definitive version of the Arthurian saga. There is so much to admire about this film and so much to analyze but for lack of time on IMDb I can only offer portions of my praise. Boorman masterfully captures the grandiosity as well as the humanity of the fantasy legend about a young innocent who draws a sword from a stone and inherits the right of kingship, establishes the beautiful city of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table, who protect the innocent and rid the world of evil, and search endlessly for that most elusive religious artifact - the Holy Grail. First of all, we must look beyond the fantasy elements and the special effects which everyone enjoys - the magic sword Excalibur, itself a symbol of strength and kingship (in the film the Lady of the Lake who gives the sword to Arthur and who receives it again in the finale is played by one of Boorman's daughter Telsche Boorman), the elaborate details of the medieval, Celtic-Christian England from the clothing, to the fortresses, to the armor and weapons, and we must see into the heart of the long epic. First off, Nigel Terry and Nicol Williamson as Arthur and Merlin carry the movie. Their relationship as mentor and protégé has never been most wonderfully portrayed, their friendship as two men who try desperately to fulfill the ideals of brotherhood and who fail has never been more poignantly captured. The most moving part for me is still the climatic finale, in which, after the death of Arthur, and the world seems to have ended, Excalibur is brought back to the Lake and Three mysterious queens take Arthur away on a barge, all this while the dramatic music to Wagner's Siegfried's Funeral March blares triumphantly. Boorman used the music of Wagner's operas most effectively in the relevant spots in the film- the sensual Prelude to Tristan and Isolde plays as Lancelot and Guenevere have their tryst in the forest, the spiritual, ethereal strains of the Good Friday/Holy Grail music from Parsifal plays as Parsifal himself encounters the Holy Grail and Siegfried's Funeral March from Gotterdammerung opens and closes the film as both the Sword Theme and the tragic motif of Arthur's heroic death. The relationship between King Arthur, Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Lancelot (Nick Clay) is also well-developed. For once, we realize how the Queen loved her husband as a king, but because he was so consumed by his duties, she could not love him as a husband. Instead, she finds romantic-sexual gratification in an affair with Lancelot. The Quest for the Holy Grail could have been further elaborated but this is a minor quibble. The film builds up to a fiery finale. The character of the wicked sorceress Morgana (Helen Mirren) is also a strong point, and one everyone misses. She was only a small child (played by Barbara Byrne) when she witnessed the rape of her mother Igrayne (played by Boormans' daughter Katrine) by Uther. This single moment of deception and witchcraft triggered her mistrust of all men and ruins her innocence. She becomes a corrupt, greedy, power-hungry witch who even manages to trap Merlin in an icy cave. Her vengeance against Arthur brings about the final destruction as her evil son Mordred and Arthur fight to their own deaths. Well-known British actors live up to their own possible Arthurian/Brittanic heritage. Patrick Stewart (Captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek) is doing a superb performance as is Liam Neeson even though their roles are minor as knights of the Table. Clive Swift, Sir Kay, is better known as a comic actor in the British series "Keeping Up Appearances" he plays Hyancinth's husband Richard. The look of the film is a tapestry of moods. Green is magic, silver-metallic is mankind's power, the forest is a place where Lancelo and Guenvere revel in their primitive essence. It's a world of dark and light, spring and winter, happiness and despair, illusion, but other than its good versus evil themes there are many layers. Humanity is flawed, the end of the world is coming, but the world may still be renewed again. There is no greater truth than this.
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No Richard Gere, guaranteed
KGersen22 April 2002
This is by far the best Arthurian film offering - sure, sure it gets a bit loopy with the Quest for the Grail, but I'm pretty sure such a Quest would involve some loopiness. The acting is v. good given the material, the atmosphere is strong and the use of Wagner is, at times, inspired. Oh, and there's no Richard Gere looking purty...
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fildapimp6 December 1999
I have seen the movie Excalibur many times, and I believe it is an excellant movie. Many people say that it was cheezy looking (Yes, Excalibur the sword does get a tad flexible at points.) However, was not The Day the Earth Stood Still cheezy too, yet it is one of the greatest movies of all times, most people agree. And if anyone tries to down the movie by claiming it was not true to the legends, I have read many Arthurian texts, and the legend is not true to the legends. John Boorman picked through the haystack, and found his needle. Another excellant thing about this movie is for the most part, the acting is underscored. Not like in many modern movies, I believe Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, all the actors from the round table, and Mrs. Boorman did excellant jobs. The only complaints I had were so minor they practically do not exist. So go, see the movie, and be swept away.
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Excellent battle scenes. Well worth seeing.
Mike Astill13 September 2001
John Boorman's semi-adaptation of La Morte D'Arthur may come as something of a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, as the usually glamorised and fanciful tale is furnished in grimly realistic fashion. The armour, weapons and castles all look very authentic, and indeed it is in the battle sequences that the film excels, especially due to the stirring music selected to accompany each pivotal scene.

Purists will doubtless find plenty to frown and ‘tut' about, but doing justice to the Arthurian legends in film is a monumental task and Boorman delivers a true classic. Acting is fine, although dialogue is shouted more than spoke, and delivered with all the subtlety of a flanged mace. Nicol Williamson stands out in particular as the creepy Merlin, but it's fun to see Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson paving their ways to future stardom.

Of course, if the film has any reputation at all it is with its vicious battle scenes, which are still gory even today. They are, it has to be said, very welcome, because without the depictions of desperate, hand-to-hand battle, you might start comparing it with First Knight – which would be something close to sacrilege.

My older DVD copy looks fine but sounds a bit tinny, so it's with some annoyance I see there's a special edition out now, which presumably has had the full restoration work done on it. If you haven't seen Excalibur but have an interest in the subject (and hated First Knight), you should certainly give it a try.
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Unique in good and bad way simultaneously
Bored_Dragon14 November 2017
Movie that succeeds to be at the same time bad movie and the best adaptation of legend of King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table. For 1981. it's visually fascinating and deserves Best Cinematography Oscar it's nominated for. But however magical and hypnotizing it may be, it's also full of flaws. It's poorly written, story is undeveloped, things just happen without explanation and movie makes rough time jumps without transition. Characters are two-dimensional and occasional attempts to add them some depth are tragicomic. With few exceptions, acting is better left uncommented. When I was a child I was stunned with this movie, but from current perspective, changed by few decades of movie experience, this movie is so hollow that I simply can not turn the blind eye to all its flaws, but still so beautiful that I can not rate it low either.

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Creates utter believability--easy to suspend disbelief
opinionated065 November 2006
This is the only movie I know of to make the attempt to take the events of the Arthurian legend as seriously as possible, portraying them as realistically as possible, thereby making this the best film version of the legend to date. That's what is captivating about this movie. The events are approached with total emotional reality. The film creates a world in which these events really happen, there's no jarring pull back to reality while watching it. The special effects hold up fairly well because there isn't an over-reliance on them to begin with. Knowing that CGI techniques are so prevalent tends to make me hyper aware of them in movies that use them, creating friction that makes it harder to suspend my disbelief. I don't want to sit there spotting the special effects, I want to live in the film for the time I am watching it. Excalibur achieves this in spades. Excellent casting. Excellent acting, really appropriate and gorgeous costume design. One of my all time very best movies ever, especially viewed through the lens of Jungian psychology.
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I SAW what I SAW!!!
gritfrombray-125 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Have seen this film quite a few times and never tire of it as it is a brilliant depiction of the Arthurian legend and Camelot. The sets were fantastic and WHAT a cast! I've seen a lot of films that involve knights on horseback and guys fighting each other with swords dressed in armor but this is the only one with hugely over the top acting and way too out of this world grossly exaggerated dialog. Merlin, played by Nichol Williamson is incredible in this and put in one hell of a performance, much to the surprise of the directors who, as rumor had it, wanted to recast him!! Patrick Stewart puts that booming voice of his to good use too on more than one occasion!! This is by far the best film made in Ireland in the '80s. It also covered the story of King Arthur better than any other film before or since.
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A Song of Ice and Fire
adrongardner28 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Why drink from the cup of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings when you can go directly to the well and get John Boorman's Excalibur? If you're tired of computer generated monsters, trolls or light swords, look no further than this. As Arthur puts it, "We'll use the old ways."

Excalibur is a dense, bombastic, aural, noble and spectacular telling of the Arthurian legend. So what if it's not exactly in line with accepted texts? I can't quite hold too much against the script since Arthur may never have existed to begin with. To put it short, I love this film. It's a fantastic companion piece to the Disney Sword in the Stone telling - itself one of my favorite all-time films.

There are those who would laugh at the effort here of Boorman and his massive cast, but Excalibur has proved exceptionally influential. Coppola's Dracula production owes more than wink to the style and execution to this film. For good reason. The home spun quality, practical effects and dense physical drama are a prize in the sea of computer fakery these days. There's some magic far beyond Merlin's hand that you will never forget. When "Oh Fortuna" booms away as Arthur is showered by cherry blossoms, you're ready to grab the chain mail and ride.

A good number of the players in this film went on to bigger and better things. But there was hardly a star during the production. There's no Oscar winning special effects and the film is riddled with rough edges, particularly the extremely poor ADR sync, it's nonetheless hard to fault the overall spectacle. There's a genuinely epic tale told with the care of a handmade sword to command your attention from beginning to end. The trough of sword and sorcery has gone dry of late and if you are looking for a rollicking good time, it's time to return to the well of Excalibur.
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Kirpianuscus9 February 2017
it is not easy to say why.and the explanation is the last detail for look for. maybe because it remains the most inspired adaptation of a story to well known.but the cause remains always a must define. and it could be, maybe , the mix of Wagner, kitsch and late romanticism. for acting. and for tension. for the great poetry of image. or , only, for the memories about a fresco about a time as fruit of myths. Excalibur remains unique. and this is the only important thing for define it. as a seductive show. maybe, as an experience. about fascination for an ambiguous past. and refuge in a world who seems out of each form of illusion. or reality.
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What a fine piece of art.
Haplo-49 February 1999
This must be one of the best movies ever made. Boorman shows with this movie what a great director he is, and I can't wait to see his new movie with Brendan Gleeson and Jon Voigt. Boorman has an excelent eye for how to make art-work of a movie and Excalibur is no exception. He has put together some not-so-famous actors, and yet he managed to make them more trustworthy than most of the more famous actors. It is just sad that it doesn't seem to be Boorman who will be making the saga "Lord of the Rings" into an epic movie. My recommendation to all is: watch this movie and forget about the newly shot mini-tele movie with Sam Neill.
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paulappleyard1730 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know much about the King Arthur legend, but I can say that this film is brilliant. John Boorman made a string of great movies in the 70s to early 80s, and this is one of them. On a cinematic level, the script/story is superb, the acting is splendidly theatrical, the cinematography is stunning, the sets and costumes are breathtaking and the music suitably epic. The scene where Arthur hands Excalibur to a combatant Knight and asks to be is knighted is simply wonderful.

The close shot of Arthur's face as he rides through the blossom shedding trees with his Knights in tow and the Carmina Burana score playing is, IMO, one of the greatest in modern cinema. I wonder how many takes it took to do!

It is a pure fantasy made fantastically! They don't make 'em like this any more!
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The Dream Is Realized - On Screen
movie-enthusiast30 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
It is the best film ever made about The Arthurian Legend and is likely to remain so. Sir Thomas Malory would love this film.

This fantasy spectacle is extremely well done. The picturesque renaissance-style armor is very romantic and Pre-Raphaelite. Though the armor is not of "Arthur's time", one could not imagine these knights wearing anything else.

There is clanking and banging of sword against sword, sword against armor, and men wearing armor riding around on horses wearing armor. There is armor everywhere! Perhaps hundreds of suits of armor were made for the film.

And the costumes are beautiful... Flowing gowns and dazzling jewelry (Why don't women dress like this all the time?). The Lady of the Lake is perfectly depicted in the Pre-Raphaelite style.

By the way, if you are a Helen Mirren fan, she has never looked better and believe me she is dressed to kill.

One cannot imagine a Merlin that is not Nicol Williamson nor a Morgana that is not Helen Mirren after seeing this. They were terrific. (Their chemistry on screen was aided by a personal feud going on in real life at the time, according to Boorman.)

I'm sure it was a labor of love for the cast. Some other impressive performances were: Paul Geoffrey as Percival, Gabriel Byrne as Uther Pendragon, and Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance.

The music in the film is remarkable. Dark and moody classical passages, ethereal vocals, brass fanfares -- all enhance the fantasy.

--Personal footnote: This story is basically a pagan myth. Malory's version adds Christian aspects to the story. The saints among the magic and potions of the Druids doesn't really make sense. To take a sword that is empowered by a Druid spell and knight someone in the name of St. George, St. Michael, and God isn't logical. It seems that Christian aspects were imposed on the original story. Some think that Malory was commissioned to Christianize the Arthurian Legend, though there is no proof. I only mention this as an explanation why these things are mixed together.

J.R.R. Tolkien stated in an interview that he believed the whole story to be a prank by the French. He also stated that it was one reason why he wrote The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

In closing, I want to say that no facts will ever get in the way of this story. This is a wonderful story and a wonderful film.
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Fantastic Tale
dorotka2426 October 2007
Most certainly among the best tellings of the timeless legend. It's visually stunning, with an undeniably grandiose and epic quality, no doubt fueled by the superb performances.

In fact, this is among the finest fantasy adventures created, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Conan the Barbarian and the Lord of the Rings (which was ironically what John Boorman initially intended to make). Some early and even a few debut performances grace the film, such as Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Helen Mirren.

Some have argued that the full plate armor donned by the knights is not "historically accurate." Seeing as King Arthur is a legendary and/or mythical figure who may not have existed at all, this is not a terribly valid criticism. Furthermore, much of the myth surrounding King Arthur that many are familiar with comes from a work published in 1485 (Thomas Mallory's Le Mort D'Arthur), a time when armor design was at its zenith and plate armor was common amongst those who could afford it, i.e. knights and other nobility.

I really don't have much criticism. I was not in the least bothered by the depiction of Arthur and his knights in full plate armor when engaged in battle. But it was more than a bit silly to see everything else from feasting to sex also portrayed in full armor.

Such small issues did not detract from the splendor of the film. It is passionate, violent, with a mystical aura that enhanced the settings. Highly recommended.
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Holy god, what a weirdly awful movie
formiddominatus20 September 2007
What an impotent film. Oh man. I strive to find an outlet for the impending rant that bubbles inside me, and I strive to find words to express how strange and terrible and weird and awesome and awful 'Excalibur' is...but nothing comes forth save an incomprehensible rant. I'll start with some formal analysis....

The film should have been two hours longer. The temporal pacing is so terrible and confusing that it eventually becomes funny, much like everything else in the film. The Grail quest for instance, could be its own film, but instead gets caught in a terrible twist in the timing of the film, and Boorman uses shots that are almost incomprehensible when compared with others in the rest of the film. Ten years pass in five minutes - and suddenly Lancelot, who I just saw two minutes ago as a dashing young lad - is bearded and reminds me of that one hobo who talked to himself in the Cousins on Oakland Avenue. You can't put your mind around that kind of senseless and terribly thought-out leap.

The acting....the acting! How awful. Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren turn in the low points of their professional careers - although Stewart and Neeson have about four lines put together, and you can just *tell* Stewart regards it as a joke - he just has that tone of voice that illustrates he's doing it for fun to have a story for the grandkids - "Did I ever tell you about that *awful* Camelot movie I was in? Jesus, you kids should see it. Wait, nevermind, no you shouldn't." And Nicol Williamson's Merlin puts that same kind of inflection into every line - it sounds like he's doing the voice-over for a kid's TV show instead of a serious cinematic effort. And what was with that helmet? Was he a medieval amateur boxer? And when he falls into the river - good god almighty. That much camp should never be taken seriously, and obviously wasn't intended to be.

And speaking of acting - someone please explain to me how the absolute WORST actor in the entire film ends up with the lead role? Nigel Terry, whose film acting is so bad he doesn't even have a photo on IMDb, can't deliver one single line right in the entire film - he blabbers through them all, and when he's required to put some bravado into a line he screams it at the top of his lungs like Arthur was on fire.

All the scenes are so unintentionally funny - through terrible acting, ridiculous staging, Merlin (Merlin!), and verbal bastardization of what is actually a quality script. The film is devoid of emotion for all but three minutes, sapped of the stuff by the incompetent acting best demonstrated by newborns and hamsters. When Mordred beat Morgana to death - that was *funny*. I know the beating to death of a haggard old woman really shouldn't be, but...Christ, it never occurred to me in that scene that it was anything but a joke; it was carried out and acted so god awfully.

As for Mordred, he was the only character who actually convinced me of his role, let alone of his portrayal. The golden armor was actually quite creepy and weird and scary, and the "Come father, let us embrace at last" line is delivered with such evil and venom that for a second I forgot about the other 99% of the movie - almost. Jesus, did I mention that toothless old lady got smacked around? Oh right, I did. And she vomited SMOKE. Good god, I'm rambling.

And then there's the serious misuse of classical music, which could encompass an entire rant on its own - you never, NEVER fade out of a classical piece. Why? Because it was impossible to write them that way. And they fade out of 'O Fortuna' three or four times - god it makes me angry.

But on the whole, no matter how awful and terrible and strange (at the risk of repeating myself) 'Excalibur' is, it is an absolute Camp masterpiece - every scene is unintentionally hilarious in some way, the lighting is consistently and rampantly awful, the sound is abbreviated and often poor, the acting (o god the acting), the staging, the pacing - it's all FUNNY. It's a movie that you watch and laugh and are embarrassed like you were seeing an episode of 'I Love Lucy,' but at least on 'ILL' the humor was intentional - here it's just...odd. And the scene where he finds the Holy Grail...well, you'll just have to witness it yourself. But not after you see the Grail scenes from 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' - just to put things in perspective. He was wearing a loin cloth. How the hell did that happen? God, I have to stop, I'm rambling again...
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A strange mix of bad acting, murky fantasy, disconnected narrative, and cutesy whims
totot5721 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Sorry to say it right from the start: this movie is not just a disappointment, it simply turned me off, and I gave it the benefit of the doubt by watching it 3 times over the span of 10 years. Reaction: the same, every time. As much as I like "knights-in-shining-armor" movies and fantasy films, there has to be a certain narrative logic to the stories and a certain reality to the characters. Not to mention likability.

The knights run around in their heavy duty armor (60-80 pounds plus in reality) as if they wear them as business suits to the office (and don't even take them off in the bedroom). The plate metal armor is so extravagant that even the richest of rich in the late middle ages couldn't have afforded more than one "outfit". And that was the only time, knights' armor became so elaborate. King Arthur mythology places him in the early 6th century, weapons technology was that of the dark ages, not that of the early Renaissance. Why not add some early handguns or canon to the movie, just for effect, because any sense of historicity obviously did not matter in this movie. (Did it even occur to the director?)

The dance one female performed in the knight's hall early in the movie could have been inspired by Martha Graham and the modern dance movement. Fight scenes in creeks, moats and ponds, can you imagine? Wearing all that armor, which incidentally rusts easily, and wading into pools of water to fight for your life? Fake celtic music that drifts off into modern harmonies at a whim, Wagner opera pieces when the director tries to instill serenity into the scenes and audiences, because the acting sure doesn't accomplish that. Helen Mirren, an accomplished actress, is made to float around Merlin like an evil witch wind up toy, rather than a real person. Merlin himself makes his contribution to the story as seer, wise man, conspirator and occasional wise crack commentator, even court jester. (I take Gandalf the "White Wizard" and his twinkling eyes any day over this joke of a wizard's character. There, I did it: I mentioned LotR, and I really wanted to avoid that).

Lancelot appears out of nowhere, and when he is indisposed, Percival appears out of the director's magic hat. Where did they come from, what led them to King Arthur?

In conclusion, this movie does not do justice to the story, the mythology of King Arthur and his roundtable, movie storytelling in general, and the many great actors that happened to appear in this sad version of a great story of western culture (Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, and many more).
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Historical context for Arthur
guajolotl26 December 2006
All legends are rooted in some sort of fact. The fascinating thing about Arthur is that he spans the time from 100AD to about 700AD, that is to say, the fall of Rome and the proselytizing by the new Christians into England, where they found witches and rituals as ancient as anything in Persia or Sumer. The first arrivals, according to the 6th-century British writer Gildas, were invited by a British king to defend his kingdom against the Picts and Scots. A tradition reached Bede that the first mercenaries were from three tribes--the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes--which he locates on the Cimbric Peninsula, and by implication the coastlands of northwestern Germany. Archaeology, however, suggests a more complex picture showing many tribal elements, Frankish leadership in the first waves, and Frisian contacts. Revolt by these mercenaries against their British employers in the southeast of England led to large-scale Germanic settlements near the coasts and along the river valleys. Their advance was halted for a generation by native resistance, which tradition associates with the names of AmbrosiusAurelianus and Arthur, culminating in victory about 500 by the Britons at the Battle of Mons Badonicus at an unidentified location. Add to this the psychosexual elements, incest, homosexuality (I am convinced Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot were a menage a trois, although not at the same time) the economic and moral crisis of a system that had played itself out, an almost Christ-like feeling of betrayal, death and resurrection, and you have a story as compelling as anything told by Homer.
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