Don’t Call it King Arthur

So, Guy Ritchie’s take on the myth/legend of Arthur is out in theaters.

I posted about it few weeks ago on #Facebook… here’s that post:

“King Arthur is primarily a medieval gangster film, and that’s when the movie is at its best.”
And thus the author invalidates the articles title right out of the gate.
**warning – gripe post about something I already griped about. Sue me.**
I’m gonna have see this, the same way I had to see the last Tarzan movie. These are the heroes I spent my childhood with. And these are the heroes that never (almost never) get represented the way I would like them too… I’m not very subjective when it comes to them. So forgive my teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling.
Will this be a well-crafted film? Probably. Will it be King Arthur? No. No it won’t.
Fantasy-based street orphan bests corrupt ruler with the aid of a ‘magic’ sword and prophecies about destiny? Yeah.
But don’t f***ing call it King Arthur.

I also linked to an article from which the quote was taken from, you can read that here: Turns Out King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Is a Lot Better Than Anyone Expected

Having seen the film, I stand by that assessment.

Don’t ****ing call this film King Arthur. As a matter of fact, keep it as far away from the source material as possible. Call it whatever you want, rename the characters to whatever you want, just ****ing remove any reference to the myths and legends of Arthur and his Knights.

The rest of this post is more of the same, so if you are one of those TL/DR types – news flash, I didn’t like it.

Like Zack Snyder, (of 300, Watchmen and BvS fame) Mr. Ritchie is able to paint scenes well. Both men are good, competent directors – and I really kinda wish that it had been Zack Snyder that had been behind the helm of this, rather than Guy Ritchie. I think it would’ve fit better with Mr. Snyder’s style and tone – i mean that as a compliment.

The art direction and cinematography and effects for this film are top notch. In fact they are really well done and consistent… As for the costumes, I have a mixed reaction on those. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. Really, looking back on it, having just sat through it… I couldn’t tell if they were going for a Hugo Boss-meets-REI medieval look or for a post-apocalyptic REI-meets-Hugo Boss kind of look. For the most part the costuming worked, it was medieval/ren-faire chic… all leather and sheepskin and woolen cloaks. Oh, and molded plastic armor plating that didn’t really pass for steel or iron or any kind of metal really.

I honestly couldn’t tell you where or when this story was supposed to be taking place – if it was on the continent of Great Britain or on some world a thousand light years away or in some alternate dimension of Earth. The very opening shot of the move has what looks to be a Mayan pyramid in it… or at least a structure that looks an awful lot like a Mayan pyramid. The only time I heard them mention “England” was at the very end. I guess because they had to include that so – once again – they could remind everyone that this was a King Arthur movie.

The performances from the actors were all adequate. It’s an action/adventure/fantasy flick, so there is a lot of scenery chewing but for the most part, the performances rang true. I didn’t really have a fault with any of them… given that they were all kind of stock and recognizable. Again, all the more reason to disavow itself from the legend of Arthur and just give them other names… Just call it The Legend of the Sword, throw in some nods and hints at the source material, and leave it at that… We could’ve relaxed into it, got caught up in the heroic struggle. But nope. Instead the film has to try and make these folks fit into the molds of characters and therefore are stilted and trapped by the parts they are supposed to play in this “legend”.

But I understand why the name of Arthur was tacked on to this film. I understand its probably a rights issue, that the studio(s) probably own said rights and therefore needs to contractually fulfill a ‘once every decade’ resurrection of the King Arthur tale to maintain the rights to the characters… otherwise, some other studio might steal them away and make their own “alternate take” on the legend and so on and so on.

It’s a fairly decent D&D movie actually. It really is. It’s so much better than any D&D film that’s been produced and it maybe should’ve been marketed as such. It’s a above average fantasy film.

It’s just not ****ing King Arthur.

Names we are familiar with are tacked onto side characters and then dismissed because – I don’t know? Pacing maybe? Merlin and Mordred are part of some “race” called Mages that Uther and his brother Vortigern (even though in history and legend they don’t have this relationship) at war with at the start of the film… Merlin is absent from the film and Modred is not Arthur’s progeny as it is stated in the legend… all liberties taken because, well, why not…

Once again – it’s ****ing King Arthur.

Guy Ritchie has made some really good English gangster/street wise criminal movies. As the i09 article points out, that’s when this movie really works (not really, but we’ll let that go). The snappy dialogue and intercut scenes within scenes that both show and tell to accent the snappy dialogue is something he’s done before in films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and RocknRolla. It’s his use of language and slang in those movies that makes them great, that really endears the characters to you and puts you on the streets with them.

It doesn’t really fly in a medieval setting. Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, looks the part… and when he’s not trying to play the whip-smart English street punk – he actually cuts a heroic figure as the ‘born king’.

But did I believe for a second that he was as witty, scheme-oriented, sharp as a tack criminal gang boss? Not for a second. If the film had been primarily about that … it might have made for an interesting period film… In fact, I’d actually really want to see that… but trying to mash in the street-wise stuff in among the quasi-magic, medieval swords and sorcery stuff, just muddied it. The movie doesn’t really know where or when it is… And again, its a D&D game brought to life on the screen.

All of the characters talk as though they are living in the here and now. I can just see a bunch of D&D players sitting around a table and speaking the lines – it’s how we all did when we would play through an adventure or a campaign… snappy, witty off the cuff but not really investing fully into the characters… all of our 21st century knowledge and mannerisms and inside jokes found their way into the mouths of the characters. And the dialogue in this film has that feel and sound. I’m not saying the film needed to be in iambic pentameter, but it gets tiresome to see ‘period’ films tainted with modern speech.

I found myself in a a row with two gentlemen who felt it necessary to whisper and joke throughout the movie. They probably thought the movie was the shit. they laughed at all the right lines, ooooh-ed and ahhh-ed at all the fights, and munched and slurped their popcorn and drinks during the other parts. I wanted to lean over at some point and tell them to keep it down, but as I wasn’t having a good time during the film, I figured, why ruin theirs? They were the target audience for the film – the guys that just wanted to see some dude with a sword fuck shit up.

They could care less about the legend or how it was being portrayed on the screen – and good for them. I wish I could’ve been that entertained. (They were still rude and idiots for jabbering through the movie – and hopefully karma will smack both of them in the head for that at some point down the road.)

The world of the film – as a said – looked very good. The color palette is your standard fantasy/action tint (that orange-blue tint you see all the time) the shot composition, the special effects – really nice… but the “world” they created was unclear and kinda all over the place. They never really nailed for me the ‘how and why’ of the magic elements. The ‘dark lands’ section was such a muddle of quick cuts and transitions that it wasn’t until it was over did the film make it plain that Arthur hadn’t journeyed there except in his head.

The biggest sin for though was the fact that they used the words “myth” and “legend” when referring to Arthur. This meta-fiction type of stuff in films like this irks me a lot because it doesn’t ring true. Arthur only has mythic and legendary status because of the hundreds of years we’ve been telling those stories. The Arthur in this film has not earned that status. 20-25 years of being in hiding is not mythic or legendary.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is, aside from the look and effects, by far the best thing about the film. It crosses several genres, and has a sort of alt-rock meets new age medieval raga flavor. The mouth harp/rough violin/heavy breathing sections are effective in the quick cut frenetic montages of Arthur’s rough childhood and the run through the streets sections. Its percussive, a-tonal kind of exotic and sometimes works and other times it doesn’t. It sounds exactly like the kind of stuff one would want to underscore your D&D game: quasi-modern and trying to sound medieval and kinda succeeding at both… again, just highlighting how muddy the attempt is at retelling this story we’ve all heard or seen before.

I’ve said this before… making films is an amazingly rough, time consuming and soul-crushing business. The people that work on these types of projects deserve all kinds of praise and kudos for creating these wonderful pieces of art and entertainment that get savaged by critics and others. The film is an achievement in the power of cinematic storytelling in that it made it through the system, was written, shot, edited and released into the wild. I give the filmmakers, the actors the producers, the set builders, the costumers, the artists, the extras and everyone involved in it a round of applause – you got work and you did the best with it hat you could.

It just didn’t work for me.

I’m pretty sure that some ten or eleven year old will see it and think its the best thing they’ve ever seen. They will grow up thinking that King Arthur is a superhero and that Excalibur has the power to slow time (yeah, that happens) so that the ten or eleven year old can swing it to cut down his enemies and stand triumphant once all the carnage is done with.

I’m pretty sure at ten or eleven, I would’ve been wowed by that.

But it’s not ****ing King Arthur.

It’s not.

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