Excalibur

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The sorcerer Merlin retrieves Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake for Uther Pendragon, who secures a brief alliance with Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall. Uther’s lust for Cornwall’s wife Igrayne soon ruins the truce, and Merlin agrees to help Uther to seduce Igrayne on the condition that he gives Merlin whatever results from his lust. Merlin transforms Uther into Cornwall’s likeness with the Charm of Making. Cornwall’s daughter Morgana senses her father’s mortal injury during his assault on Uther’s camp and, while Igrayne is fooled by the disguise and Uther impregnates her, Morgana sees through it, watching Uther as Cornwall dies in battle. Nine months later, Merlin takes Uther’s son Arthur. Uther pursues but is mortally wounded by Gorlois’ knights. Uther thrusts Excalibur into a stone, and Merlin proclaims that “he who draws the sword from the stone, he shall be king.”

Years later Sir Ector and his sons, Kay and Arthur, attend a jousting tournament. Sir Leondegrance wins the chance to try pulling Excalibur from the stone, but fails. Kay’s sword is later stolen, and Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone while trying to stop the thief. Word spreads, and Merlin announces to the crowd that Arthur is Uther’s son and hence the rightful ruler. Leondegrance immediately proclaims his support for the new king, but not all are willing to accept. While the others argue, Merlin and Arthur enter the forest, where he tells Arthur that he is the rightful king, and that the king and the land are one. Overwhelmed, Arthur falls into a long sleep. When he wakes, Arthur goes to aid Leondegrance, whose castle is under siege by Arthur’s enemies, led by Sir Uryens. During the battle, Arthur defeats Uryens and then demands Uryens knight him, handing him Excalibur to do so. Uryens is tempted to kill him but is deeply moved by Arthur’s display of faith and decides to knight him. Uryens falls to his knees to declare his loyalty, which leads the others to follow suit. Arthur meets Leondegrance’s daughter Guenevere soon afterwards and is smitten, but Merlin foresees this leading to future problems.

Years later, the undefeated knight Lancelot blocks a bridge and will not move until he is defeated in single combat, seeking a king worthy of his sword. Lancelot defeats Arthur and his knights, so Arthur summons Excalibur’s magic and defeats Lancelot, but Excalibur breaks. Arthur is ashamed of abusing the sword’s power to serve his own vanity and throws the sword’s remains into the lake, while admitting his mistake. The Lady of the Lake offers a restored Excalibur to the king, Lancelot is revived, and Arthur and his knights unify the land. Arthur creates the Round Table, builds Camelot, and marries Guenevere while Lancelot confesses that he has also fallen in love with her. Arthur’s half-sister Morgana, a budding sorceress and still bitter towards Arthur, becomes apprenticed to Merlin in hopes of learning the Charm of Making from him.

Lancelot stays away from the Round Table to avoid Guenevere. He meets Perceval, a peasant boy, and takes him to Camelot to become a squire. Sir Gawain, under Morgana’s influence, accuses Guenevere of driving Lancelot away, “driven from us by a woman’s desire”, forcing Lancelot to duel Gawain to defend his and Guenevere’s honour. The preceding night, Lancelot duels himself in a nightmare and awakens to find himself wounded by his own sword. Arthur hastily knights Perceval when Lancelot is late to the duel, but Lancelot appears just in time and defeats Gawain while nearly dying from his wounds. Merlin heals him, and he rides out to the forest to rest. Guenevere realises her feelings for Lancelot and they consummate their love in the forest; meanwhile, Merlin lures Morgana to his lair to trap her, suspecting that she is plotting against Arthur.

Arthur finds Guenevere and Lancelot asleep together. Heartbroken at their betrayal, he thrusts Excalibur into the ground between the sleeping couple. Merlin’s magical link to the land impales him on the sword, and Morgana seizes the opportunity to trap him in a crystal with the Charm of Making. Morgana takes the form of Guenevere and seduces Arthur. On awakening to the sight of Excalibur, Lancelot flees in shame and Guenevere lies weeping.

Morgana bears a son, Mordred, and a curse, caused by Mordred’s unnatural, incestuous origin, strikes the land with famine and sickness. A broken Arthur sends his knights on a quest for the Holy Grail in hopes of restoring the land. Many of his knights die or are bewitched by Morgana. Morgana captures Perceval, who narrowly escapes. Perceval encounters an ugly bearded old man with armour under his tattered robes who preaches to followers that the kingdom has fallen because of “the sin of Pride”. A shocked Perceval recognises the man as Lancelot. After Perceval fails to convince Lancelot to come to Arthur’s aid, Lancelot and his followers throw Perceval into a river. Perceval has a vision of the Grail during which he realises that Arthur and the land are one. Upon answering the riddle he gains the Grail and takes it to Arthur, who drinks from it and is revitalised—as is the land, which springs into blossom.

Arthur finds Guenevere at a convent and they reconcile. She gives him Excalibur, which she has kept safe since the day she fled. Frustrated in preparation for battle against Morgana’s allies, Arthur calls to Merlin, unknowingly awakening the wizard from his enchanted slumber. Merlin and Arthur have one final conversation before Merlin vanishes. The wizard then appears to Morgana as a shadow and tricks her into uttering the Charm of Making, producing a fog from the breath of the Dragon, and exhausting her own magical powers which had kept her young. She rapidly ages and her own son kills her, repulsed by the sight of his once beautiful mother now reduced to a decrepit old crone.

Arthur and Mordred’s forces meet in battle, with Arthur’s army benefiting from the fog that conceals their small size. Lancelot arrives unexpectedly and turns the tide of battle, later collapsing from his old, self-inflicted wound, which had never healed. Arthur and Lancelot reconcile, and Lancelot dies with honor. Mordred stabs Arthur with a spear, but Arthur further impales himself to get closer and kills Mordred with Excalibur. Perceval refuses to carry out Arthur’s dying wish, that he throw Excalibur into a pool of calm water, reasoning that the sword is too valuable to be lost. Arthur tells him to do as he commands, and reassures him that one day a new king will come and the sword will return again. Perceval throws Excalibur into the pool, where the Lady of the Lake catches it. Perceval returns to see Arthur lying on a ship, attended by three ladies clad in white, sailing into the sun toward the Isle of Avalon.

REVIEW:

I guess this is just a medieval type of weekend for me. Last night I watched A Knight’s Tale for the gazillionth time, tomorrow I’ll watch a few episodes of Merlin, per usual, and this evening it was time to give Excalibur a shot. Having heard mixed things about this film, I didn’t have any idea what to expect and now that it is over, I’m still pondering what to think.

What is this about?

After humble squire Arthur pulls the sword Excalibur from the stone, his actions beget Guenevere and Lancelot’s adultery, the changing balance of power between Merlin and Morgana, and the valiant quest for the Holy Grail.

What did I like?

Merlin. For most iterations, at least the ones that I am familiar with, Merlin is portrayed as a bit of comic relief. In the Dark Ages, this is very much needed. What I really like is how that the film takes lets him be the token funny guy, but not without being more of a jester than a wizard, even the Disney version is The Sword in the Stone takes him that far, but I’m sure there is a version out there somewhere that does. Say what will about the guy, it cannot be denied that he was a great man, and should be treated as such. Which begs to question, what is that thing on his head?!?

Early 80s. There is a shiny element to this film that you only see in early 80s films. For instance the knights all are wearing shiny armor reminiscent of the gods in Clash of the Titans and adult Mordred might as well have come straight from dancing at Xanadu! This is something that could be considered cheesy these days, but as someone who loves nostalgia, I was loving it, even if it may have been a bit much for this time period, especially since I highly doubt the knights’ armor was that shiny and chrome plated.

Lady in the Lake. I seem to recall the Lady of the Lake being featured in a Saturday morning cartoon. I’m sure she has been used in other movies and TV shows, but not many. It would seem that she is a very underutilized character in the Arthurian legend in other media. While she isn’t really used much here, either, it is nice to actually see her as more than a hand popping up out of the water for once.

What didn’t I like?

A little too much. Much like the origin and backstory of many of our superheroes today, there are many versions, spinoffs, etc. of the legend of King Arthur. This film tries to fit everything they can into one 2 hr film, and not successfully, I might add. The major issue I have is that nothing really gets the time it deserves, other than Merlin and, to a lesser extent Lancelot. Excalibur, Morgana, Uther, the Holy Grail, and parts of the legend that were left out all are shortchanged in favor of time. I think this film would have been better served focusing on one or two of the stories and going with that, rather than making an attempt to tell them all.

Green light. There is a mysterious green light that is in many of the scenes. At first I thought maybe it was Merlin’s “dragon”, something in the forest, or just low-budget lighting that didn’t get picked up. At any rate, it was distracting, especially for a film that was so much more on the dark side of things. This green light might as well have been the kind of lights you see in amusement park rides.

Pacing. Slow and steady wins the race, right? Well, not in the case of action flicks. This film seemed to drag in parts, right at the point where it seemed as if it was going to pick up. For me, I like films that keep it moving, so this wasn’t to my liking. Is it too much to ask for a film to keep things moving? I guess this is why I like those mindless action films so much. At least they don’t have long stretches of uninteresting material.

Excalibur is a decent enough film, but I couldn’t help but find my mind wandering to Monty Python & the Holy Grail as I was watching and holding back the laughter, especially in a scenes where Uther cuts off one of the limbs of an opposing knight with Excalibur and it is reminiscent of the Black Knight scene. So, as I sit her pondering what it is that I ultimately thought about this film, I can’t say that I can fully recommend it at this time, unless you’re just into second-rate Arthurian lore. If you are, give it a shot, otherwise pass on by.

3 out of 5 stars

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