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KING ARTHUR (PG-13) (2004)

Touchstone Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Official Site

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer

Written by: David Franzoni

Cast: Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffudd, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgard, Stephen Dillane, Ray Winstone


In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, screenwriter David Franzoni of Disney’s latest big budget flop, King Arthur, had this to say of well-known Arthurian legend and myth: “Guys in shiny tin cans, cranking around the countryside and carrying on quests—didn’t do anything for me… None of it made any sense.” Franzoni also stated, “Take away the myth and you get King Arthur as The Wild Bunch.” Well having seen King Arthur, the film that Disney released was not The Wild Bunch. What is the point of stripping away the myth, the magic, the mysticism, and the romance of the story when it is those very aspects that have made the legend of Arthur so appealing and interesting to people around the world?

This film sees the half-Roman, half British Arthur Castus (Owen) and his rag-tag group of Sarmatian Knights running errands for the Roman army outside Hadrian’s Wall, and Rome’s claim over the land. Seems his reluctant yet skillful crew, consisting of the likes of Lancelot (Gruffudd) and the crude Bors (Winstone) are rather eager to finish their tasks for their imperial employers so they can finally go home. They are charged with a final task of going into hostile territory being invaded by an army of blood-thirsty, tyrannical Saxons led by Cerdic (Skarsgard) in order to retrieve a Roman family that are sitting ducks. Watching this plot unfold, I couldn’t feeling a tad bit of nostalgia for another lame military-esque film, director Antoine Fuqua’s prior effort, Tears Of The Sun. After retrieving the family and freeing some Woad prisoners including the one and only “Warrior Princess” Guinevere, (Knightley, whose character is as paper-thin as her body), the Knights return to the Roman territory, which the empire is abandoning for good. Now Arthur is torn between his duty as a Roman soldier, and his obligation as a Briton to become the leader who reigns in the chaotic territory.

This film is so sanitized and disjointed it’s not even funny. There are so many things implied that I can’t help wondering what was lost on the cutting room floor in order. Fuqua had to appease his producer and the studio to make what should’ve been a hard R-rated winter picture into a family-friendly summer film. Some of the performances—Owen and Winstone in particular—show hints of greatness and entertainment but it’s all for naught in this murky, drab-looking picture and narrative. Skarsgard’s Saxon villain is quite possibly the worst and most one-dimensional antagonist in the history of cinema. He constantly grunts and hunches around as if he were a gorilla or possibly a DUI Nick Nolte, mumbling every one of his lines so they are hardly understandable.

The battle scenes, while somewhat impressive, look like they were trying to emulate sequences from Braveheart but without any of the bloodshed. It’s also very hard to get excited about the battles when you don’t really care what happens to the characters, especially the barbaric Woads, led by Merlin (Dillane), who’s a “magician some say.” It just makes me sad that well over $150 million was put into making a sanitized “true story” version of a great legend like this. But it failed with audiences just as the similar Troy did, so maybe Hollywood will get a clue this time. But then again they rarely do.

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

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