Friday, 24 February 2017

King Arthur

Ok, so, funny story.
I was supposed to be reviewing Star Wars: Phantom Menace today, but a slight hiccup has occurred. Turns out that the copy I own is too scratched to work with my laptop's DVD player. As such, reviewing it would prove challenging in the least.
So, instead I'm going to review the 2004 cinematic attempt to put the legendary King Arthur back into the public conscious.
"True story."
Spoiler warning: It didn't work.
The film opens with a quote that makes me dislike it already.
And not just because of how pretentious it is to open a movie this way.
Back in the early 2000s there was this annoying trend of retelling old legends, but removing all of the myth and magic from them.
So roughly 60% of what made them interesting in the first place.
However, they at least made no attempt to pretend to be real history.
This movie, however, makes a bold claim as to be the genuine history, while making no attempts to be historically accurate. Just read the TvTropes entry. The Artistic Licence - History section is so large I have to actually scroll down to read it all.
So, in the interests of not being bogged down by pointing them all out, I'm going to ignore the anachronisms and take the movie at face value.
Speaking of, let's start this movie with both a flashback and narration.
'Historical movie opening on a map' is getting pretty cliche too.
The narration talks about how the Romans warred against the Sarmatians. They eventually reached an agreement to prevent further wars, but part of the deal included the Sarmatian Cavalry joining the Romans. This also extended to the firstborn sons, with each being required to serve Rome for 15 years.
As such, we see a group of Romans on a recruitment drive picking up several teenagers, the last of which is a young lad from a small village. His younger sister runs out of the house, yelling his name, in order to hand him a good luck charm, and helpfully inform us that this is Lancelot.
Lancealittle.
Lancelot's father tells him a legend about fallen soldiers being reincarnated as horses, to which he responds that he'll return someday.
So we all know he's never going to see his home again.
But he had so much to return to.
Lancelot and the others are posted in Britain, defending Hadrian's Wall from the Northerners, whom this film decides to refer to as Woads rather than Picts. They serve under their commander, a man named Artorius AKA Arthur.
This guy.
The movie eventually explains that his father was a Roman but his mother was a Briton, which works as an explanation as to why he has two versions of his name.
The 15 years of service are skipped over until the last day, when a man named Bishop Germanius is travelling towards their fortress at Hadrian's Wall with their formal discharge papers.
Just as they're about to meet up with them, the carriage gets attacked by a Woad ambush, so Arthur and his knights charge in to help.
What a reassuring sight.
Despite being heavily outnumbered Arthur and his knights slaughter the Woads, giving us a decent introduction to our main heroes.
This is Bors. He's loud and uncouth.
As the fight goes on Arthur stops a Woad by placing his sword against his throat.
Arthur looks around, noticing that the battle's finished, then lets the guy go.
This is done to contrast the main villain later.
Arthur does ask the Woad why their leader is attacking South of the wall, but gets no answer. It's also now that the movie reveals to us the name of the Woad's leader.
Merlin.
Because the screenwriters didn't want any magic in their movie, but they still wanted a wizard.
Seems legit.
He's the old guy on the right.
During the battle, however, the man inside the carriage was killed. Arthur is unperturbed though, since he knows the real Germanius.
The guy who died was just a decoy in case of ambush.
This is the real Germanius and if he looks like a smug bugger, it's because he is.
The scene also reveals that this movie is set after Rome was converted to Christianity, but the knights haven't. Arthur is the only Christian among them.
The movie spends some time informing us of this, but then it doesn't go anywhere with it.
Germanius and Arthur discuss minor things, with Arthur sending Tristan ahead to scout the roads, something that Tristan will be doing a lot during the film.
This is Tristan. He may not look it, but he's probably the most badass of the knights.
As the knights travel back to their base, they chat about what they'll do after they return home. A knight named Gawain says that he plans to marry a nice Sarmatian woman and have children, but Lancelot jokes that she'll be spending more time with Lancelot.
Lanecelot is a bit of a dick, always making jokes about bedding other people's women.
Oddly enough, he and Guinevere never really interact in this movie.
Far left is Gawain, far right is Galahad.
Despite being the most famous knights in the tales, they're the most forgettable knights in this film.
This section also informs us that Bors has 11 children, whom we learn later he never bothered to name except the first.
Making him possibly one of the worst parents on film.
I find it odd that almost all of his children appear to be roughly the same age.
Arthur also reveals that he wishes to travel to Rome so he can live in a civilised country.
When they get to their base Arthur grants Germanius the use of his private quarters.
Though Germanius is less than pleased to find a piece of crockery with Pelagius's face on it. Turns out that Pelagius helped raise Arthur after the death of his father, and helped pass on his moral compass, something that Germanius doesn't personally share.
Germanius doesn't have any nice guy moments in this movie.
Arthur's manservant arrives to escort them to the meeting room. Germanius's manservant (In the background there) instructs them to be sure to seat Germanius at the head of the table.
If you're familiar with the legend of King Arthur, you'll see the joke coming a mile away.
They're not called the 'Knights of the Round Table' for nothing.
Germanius gives a speech about how Rome is indebted to the knights, but they don't really care. They all collectively just want to be handed their discharge papers so that they can stop fighting.
The man on the far right is Dagonet. He's just as big and strong as Bors, but far more quiet and reserved.
Germanius says that the Pope regularly asks about the knights, but they all refuse to convert to Christianity. It's an interesting way to show their detachment from the Roman Empire, though I think it's a bit unnecessary.
Germanius talks about how Rome is removing itself from what it considers indefensible outposts, such as Britain, and he casually mentions that the Saxons will probably conquer it.
This does not sit well with Arthur.
The others are also annoyed, though more because it means their long war has been for nothing rather than any particular concern for the Britons.
Germanius asks to speak to Arthur privately, but Arthur insists that his men stay, though Lancelot tactfully gets them to leave.
Finally, we come to Lancelot. We spend more time with him than the other knights and he's a pretty decent chap, more-or-less.
Germanius tells Arthur that since their 15 year service doesn't officially end until the next day, he can send them on one last mission. There is a family North of the wall who lie in the path of the Saxons, which includes the Pope's favourite Godson. Arthur and his knights have been ordered to retrieve them. They will receive their discharge papers upon their return.
Yeah, Germanius is a right bugger.
Arthur very carefully breaks the news to his men.
Bors takes it well.
They all argue and shout for a bit, but they eventually settle down and agree.
All except Lancelot, who confronts Arthur in private later.
And he does so in as calm a manner as possible.
Arthur talks Lancelot around by reminding him of how many battles they've survived before. Lancelot doesn't fully buy it, but is willing to fight with one request. If he dies he wants to be cremated and have his ashes scattered on the strongest Easterly wind available.
I suspect he just wants to get away from the weather.
Meanwhile, in the North, we meet our main antagonist for the movie.
Looks like Dr. Erik Selvig has been spending too much time with Thor.
It may seem weird now, but Stellen Skarsgaard is the king of the Saxons.
His introductory scene involves him stopping one of his men from raping a captive Briton woman. Not out of any ethical reason, but because he doesn't want any Saxon blood to be watered down by people he deems inferior.
Did I mention that the Saxons were from Germany? Because they were from Germany.
He kills the man for objecting, then orders the woman to be killed too.
Because we need him to be evil.
He's also a dick to his son.
Because of reasons.
They also get advice about the area from a Roman/Briton traitor (It's not clear which, but I'm leaning towards thinking Briton). He tells them about Arthur and the stories surrounding him, as well as directing them towards the Godson's home.
I'm not sure if they even bothered to tell us his name.
The next day Arthur and his men set out from the wall to retrieve the Godson.
Why the Godson's father chose to live North of the wall is not explained. Especially since the Woads hate all Romans. It really makes no sense.
On their way through a forest they get ambushed by Woads, who shoot barbed rope across their paths.
It's actually a really smart tactic.
The Woads funnel the knights to a specific location where they could easily wipe them out. But after a few moments the Woads leave.
In other words, it was a message, though they can't quite figure out what it meant.
Also, Arthur gets to stare down the very same Woad that he spared earlier.
Maybe he just wanted to say hi?
That night, as the knights make camp, a thunderstorm hits. Galahad complains about the weather, saying that it's either raining, snowing or foggy.
"And that's just during Summer."
As a resident of the very island they're talking about, I feel compelled to defend it. We get at least 3 days a year without any of those things.
Sometimes it's just overcast.
In Britain, this kind of weather is referred to as 'Mild'.
The nest day they reach the Godson's home, but are not impressed by what they see. Sure, the house is big and the Godson's father is a man of the cloth, but the villagers are treated like slaves. Seeing the village elder in chains for the crime of asking if his people could have more bread gets Arthur angry.
So angry he draws his sword.
Then waves it at the villagers.
Arthur cuts the elder down and tells the villagers to get packed, since he's taking them with him.
He also takes note of a bricked up building attached to the main house, which he investigates later.
For now though, he's approached by a young villager named Ganis, who asks to serve him as a knight. You'd expect Arthur to argue, but instead he just accepts him as a new recruit and starts giving him orders.
Welcome to the military son.
As the villagers prepare their things, Tristan returns from a scouting mission. He's sighted the Saxons, who've cut off any route South. This leaves them a small mountain trail to the East, which is undesirable due to the snow that's starting to fall.
Arthur decides to take everyone East, but gets distracted when he spots people working on the bricked up building.
Arthur wants to know what's in there. Dagonet makes a door.
Inside the building is a torture dungeon, with several Woad corpses. Only two prisoners have avoided starving to death, a young boy and a pretty lady, though neither are in healthy condition.
She's played by Keira Knightley, so she's still gorgeous.
Arthur gets very angry at the Godson's father, though he stops short of killing him due to his orders. He does order the priests to be sealed in the chamber though.
Wait, when did Germanius's aide get here?
As the villagers travel across the mountains, Arthur checks in on the victims. The boy's arm was broken, but Dagonet looks after him and praises his strength. The woman's fingers have been dislocated, so Arthur relocates them.
It's not something that can be done in a gentle manner.
She manages to tell him her name before falling unconscious.
Yeah, no surprises for guessing that she plays Guinevere, since she's on the cover.
She also reveals that she knows who he is, calling him 'The famous Briton who kills his own people'.
Meanwhile, the Saxons have reached the Godson's home. The traitorous Brit informs the king that he found tracks leading from the South, but none returning, meaning they've headed East.
The king orders his son to take his men and chase after them.
They also find the monks. Whom they seal back up. Oh well.
As Arthur and his men continue to travel across the mountains, Guinevere has a chat with him.
And by chat I mean she essentially calls him a traitor. He tries to defend himself but she doesn't buy it, giving a mini speech about living free.
She then asks him where his heart lives, in Britain or Rome.
He doesn't answer.
They make camp beneath the cover of some trees, where Lancelot gets a glimpse of Guinevere as she undresses.
It doesn't lead anywhere and exists more to show us that yes, the screenwriters do know of their legendary affair but no, they won't be including it in this movie.
Though they don't explain why she chooses to sit in the only exposed spot in the carriage.
That night Arthur wakes up to spot Guinevere walking away from the camp. He follows her, only to find Merlin appearing from the trees.
He reacts by drawing his sword, but Merlin just wants to talk to him.
Merlin says that with the Romans leaving and the Saxons invading, Britain needs a new leader.
Guess who Merlin thinks would be a good choice?
He responds in a calm manner.
He's not actually angry about being asked to lead. He's angry because he blames Merlin for the death of his mother.
Flashback time.
Yay.
Basically, during a Woad attack on the village he grew up in his mother was trapped in their home as it was burning. Arthur grabbed his father's sword in an attempt to save her but failed. This is why he feels a stronger connection to Rome than to Britain.
It also gives the screenwriters a chance to have a 'Drawing the sword from the stone' scene without having it be all magical and stuff.
And adding to the list of retellings that mix up The Sword In The Stone with Excalibur.
Before morning the Godson's father orders his men to attack Dagonet, but he manages to fight them all off.
He's outnumbered, armed with only a dagger and has just woken up.
He's still more badass than all of them combined.
The Godson's father grabs the boy and holds a knife to his throat, threatening to kill him.
As he stands there ordering his men to kill Dagonet, an arrow suddenly hits him in the chest, killing him outright.
Turns out that Guinevere knows how to use a bow, which comes as quite the surprise to anybody who didn't look at the DVD cover.
Does still look cool though.
Arthur offers the soldiers a choice, help or die.
They choose to help.
Tristan interrupts, throwing a Saxon crossbow on the ground to warn them that they have little time.
As they start moving again, Arthur finds the Godson and apologises for the death of his father. The Godson is sad, but blames only his father. He and Arthur chat about Rome, with Arthur speaking of a country where no-one is a slave and everybody is treated with respect.
Spartacus might disagree.
Arthur tells him about Pelagius, but the Godson reveals that Pelagius was excommunicated and executed, something Germanius neglected to mention.
Because, as it turns out, Germanius was the one who ordered it.
Uh-oh.
Later, the convoy comes across an ice field, with no way around. Realising that they don't have enough time to get across before the Saxons catch up, Arthur orders the villagers to go on ahead. He leaves Ganis in charge of the soldiers.
Something the soldiers don't look too happy about.
Guinevere chooses to stay and fight alongside them, since they need as many bows as they can spare.
And so, over an hour into the movie, the knights finally get to stand off against the Saxons.
8 vs 200? Seems fair.
The Saxons try to fire an arrow, but it falls pathetically short. Guinevere laments that if the Saxons are out of range, then that means they are too. Bors and Tristan calmly prove her wrong.
British Longbws, amirite?
The Saxons charge, but thanks to the creaking ice they're slowed to barely more than a crawl, giving the knights ample time to start picking them off.
Arthur orders the shots be aimed at the flanks in order to make them bunch up and put a greater strain on the ice, but Arthur realises that it won't break in time.
So Dagonet decides to break it himself.
The Saxons notice.
The Saxons attempt to shoot Dagonet, but Arthur's knights provide cover for him. Just as he starts getting hit Arthur and Bors break ranks to retrieve him, but they don't get there in time. He smashes the ice, taking a large portion of the Saxon army with it, but he falls in. Arthur and Bors drag him out again, but he's already died.
I'm surprised they didn't get Sean Bean to play him.
The plan works though, with the Saxons losing all of their archers and being forced to withdraw, allowing the knights to escape.
The Saxon prince even gets a cut along his face for his troubles.
It adds character.
The knights return to their base, though none of them are in a good mood. Germanius fawns all over the Godson, giving us even more reason to dislike him.
Meanwhile, the small child runs to Dagonet's corpse and takes his ring, which we'll later see him wearing on a necklace.
The scene was a bit awkward, since the kid doesn't really say anything (Or show much emotion), he just takes it. It would probably have been better if Bors had removed the ring for him, making it more obvious that it was a keepsake.
"Mine."
Germanius sticks to his word and hands out the discharge papers, though Bors is characteristically angry.
And Tristan straight up steals the box the papers were in.
"Mine."
Guinever and Arthur have a talk, where Arthur reveals that he's having a bit of a crisis. He basically feels that he's spent his life fighting for a Rome that doesn't exist. Guinevere counters by pointing out that he did his duty for Rome, but he's been fighting for the people.
That night, Arthur's peace is disturbed by the Saxon army camping on the other side of the wall.
It's almost like they want them to know they're there.
It doesn't take Arthur long to make up his mind. Despite Lancelot trying to talk him out of it, he makes it clear that he's going to stand and fight.
Though he does get a very good night's rest.
The next morning, the Roman army leaves. Th knights go with them, with Ganis presumably charged with getting the villagers further South.
Leaving just Arthur, in full battle armour, standing on top of the hill.
Well, he does have the high ground at least.
He's not completely alone though. The villagers have doused parts of the ground with oil and we see lots of Woad warriors hiding in the trees.
And I must say that I love this version of Guinevere.
It's worth pointing out that the poster for this film made a few... Alterations... To Keira Knightley. When she posed for the photos she wasn't wearing the blue warpaint, but that's not the problem.
The real problem is that her breasts were made noticeably bigger.
Which apparently exasperated Keira to no end.
Meanwhile, North of the wall, the traitor has finished a scouting mission and is reporting his findings to the king. He hasn't spotted the Woads, leading him to believe that they will have little opposition.
The king responds by telling him to climb a nearby tree so that he can have a good view of his people being slaughtered.
The king is a dick to literally everybody.
They spot Arthur standing on the hill, so the king decides to have a chat. He takes the traitor with him to hold a flag calling for parley, and he finally comes face-to-face with Arthur.
It's quite the contrast.
They chat for a bit, with Arthur declaring that he plans to kill the king personally when they meet on the battlefield.
This actually pleases the king, who declares that he's finally found somebody worth killing.
Meanwhile, as they travel South, the knight's horses all stop moving at the same time and try to turn around. This reminds Lancelot of the legend his father told him right at the beginning of the movie, which changes his mind about leaving.
Well, six are better than one I suppose.
The Saxons watch in surprise as the gates open in front of them. The king realises that it's a trap, so he sends in the remains of his son's men.
Because he's a dick.
The men enter the fort, only to be engulfed by the fog.
Remember what Gawain said earlier about the British weather?
The Woads fire into the fog, killing many Saxons, stopping only to give the knights time to charge before firing again. This happens a few times, causing the Saxons to panic and start firing blindly, killing even more of their men.
And, since the gates have been closed again, the prince can only stand and listen to his men being killed.
Have I mentioned that he's a dick?
After the screams die down, the king moves the rest of his army forward. Merlin watches them spill through the gates, before revealing his secret weapons.
Trebuchets.
No wonder they called him a wizard, those things didn't even exist yet.
As the Saxons spread out, the Woads fire flaming arrows and barrels of oil at them, setting a trench of oil on fire and splitting them up. The Woads attack from one flank, pushing the smaller segment back onto the flames whilst the knights attack from the other, supported by more Woads.
The Saxon king has made a slight tactical error.
The mistake the king made was to allow his opponent time to prepare the battlefield to his liking.
As such, the Woads and the knights are able to easily defeat the Saxon warriors standing in their way.
However, it's not all plain sailing.
The Saxon prince faces off against Guinevere and gets the upper hand, until Lancelot comes in to save her.
What is it about movies turning even the most badass barbarian warrior chick into a damsel in distress?
This fight ends with the prince killing Lancelot with a crossbow, but getting killed in return when Lancelot uses his last moments to throw his sword at him.
So yeah, this version of King Arthur takes the unusual approach of killing Lancelot before Arthur even becomes king.
You can see why this movie didn't rate highly with fans of the Arthurian myths.
This calls for a Picard facepalm.
Meanwhile, Tristan comes face-to-face with the king on the battlefield. They fight for a little while, with the king recognising how badass Tristan is.
Before the king breaks both of his arms and kills him in full view of Arthur.
That's the three coolest knights dead.
This enrages Arthur, who charges the king. Their fight is pretty decent, though the king gets the upper hand.
Before getting stabbed by Arthur, because even this movie wouldn't kill Arthur before he gets to be king.
But how will King Cernic found Wessex now?
Yeah, I didn't mention it until now, but that's supposed to have been King Cernic, a genuine historical figure who's credited for founding Wessex.
Which is nowhere near Hadrian's Wall.
Hadrian's Wall is just below the word Bernicia.
With the battle over, Arthur holds a funeral for Lancelot and Tristan, making sure to honour Lancelot's wish to be cremated.
Then, a wedding.
Because the exciting bit's finished and they need to wrap this movie up quickly to prevent people from losing interest.
I looked into it and this is actually the most historically accurate part of the film.
Arthur gives a short speech about Britons being united under one common cause, and the film comes to an end.
This was not a good King Arthur movie.
But it was not a bad movie.
Oddly enough, if it weren't for it being saddled with the Arthurian names and the weight that comes with them, this could have been a pretty decent film.
In fact, this would have made for a really good King Uther movie.
If you don't know the legends, Uther Pendragon was Arthur's father. He founded the kingdom that Arthur would later come to rule and instilled in Arthur a very focused moral compass.
And then it could have altered the myths as much as it wanted, without getting on the bad side of anyone who does love the Arthurian stuff.

Next week we'll be sticking with a fantasy setting, with a movie that also includes an actor from the Thor movies.
It also includes a princess and a whole bunch of Dwarfs.

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