In Robert Altman’s brilliant piss-take on Hollywood, “The Player” (1992), the lead characters unremittingly referenced inexplicably ham-fisted movies – that no one in their right mind would really make – that their fictional studio reportedly had in production. Cut to some twelve years later and ideas just as bad -which previously would’ve seen a studio exec sent to a sanatarium because of their psychosis – are actually being signed off on.
For starters, there’s been a comatose comedy remake of 70s thriller (yes, thriller) The Stepford Wives, a computer-generated concoction based on the cartoon-strip Garfield, a script-less feature version of kids book The Cat in the Hat, even a greenlight for a “Back to School” – the unexceptional 1986 comedy starring Rodney Dangerfield – rework. And that’s only a handful of the hundreds of harebrained ideas that have been given the thumbs up of late. Now, some studio mastermind has ordered a fresh take on the ‘King Arthur’ legend.
This time, the filmmakers have been forced to expunge engaging fluff and virtuoso for ‘the real story’ which essentially consists of little more than folks with the same names as those in the ‘Camelot’ tale, a skirmish on ice, and grog guzzling ogres with axes. It’s hard to believe that such an idea even read well on paper…
The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, Antoine Fuqua-directed, “King Arthur” is – according to the press kit – “the definitive story” of the shining Knight in Armor we’ve been reading about and watching in the movies for all these years. Seems Arthur was more than fodder of fable, he was a real guy (played by Clive Owen, the guy they’re talking up as a potential future-James Bond), someone who was torn between his private ambitions and a public sense of duty.
Arthur wants to leave Britain and return to the peaceful surroundings of Rome. Before he can do that though, he and his men (The Knights of the Round Table), have to go on a final mission in which they ultimately realise that when Rome is gone, the Brits are going to need a new leader. With the assistance of former enemy Merlin and a beautiful, gutsy girl-with-bow-and-arrow named Guinevere (Keira Knightley), the dashing knights go head-to-head in a final battle with the iniquitous Saxons. All this, without even a mention of a place called Camelot…
Bruckin’ Jerry is right at home when it comes to producing films that are all about razzle-dazzle and fantasy (see Pirates of the Caribbean for a top example), but if Disney wanted audiences to swallow a real-take on the Arthur legend, they’ve made a crucial mistake by hiring someone who wouldn’t know accuracy if it hit him right between the goolies. “King Arthur” might look like a historical epic, but how on earth can anyone take it acutely, what with its zooms, the ‘arrow cam’, the cheesy dialogue, and naive performances?
Also, not adding anything to its level-headedness is the total extraction of anything bloody or pragmatically violent from the film. Had the filmmakers aimed for an R-rating and not PG, audiences would’ve at least have had some realistic, bloody, action scenes to soak in. You’ll be hard pressed spotting an ounce of blood here, it’s all covered up – now that’s the “fantasy” version.
As for the cast, the three leads might currently be marketed as three of the biggest rising players in Tinseltown, but there’s nothing in this that’s even fitting for a soupcon of their show reels. Owen effectively ruins his chance of headlining any future major blockbuster (including 007) by serving up a tired apathetic performance of an apparently gallant Knight, Keira Knightley does little more than look pretty and leave her bottom-lip hanging open – which gives the impression that she’s much more ready to ride Arty’s bones than fight another horde of enemy militia – and new ‘it boy’ Ioan Gruffudd (who has recently nabbed the high-profile role of ‘Mr Fantastic’ in Fox’s “Fantastic Four” blockbuster-to-be) might get a fair bit of screen-time in the film, but he’s clearly only given about three or four lines. In short, he makes a far less impression than any of the cast; even Australia’s Joel Edgerton carries himself better in the role of Gawain. Thankfully, the dependable Ray Winstone (“Sexy Beast”) is in the film too and gives a droll, slightly-more realistic take of an uncultured abet to Arthur’s side.
There’s obviously been a lot of work put into the film – the locations are exquisite, and a sequence involving cracking ice and opposing armies is a highlight, possibly the only highlight – but if this is the real take on King Arthur, I’d personally prefer more of the bullshit myth-version they’ve been serving up since film begun.