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King Arthur
Reviewed by Shane Ivey, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Antoine Fouqua (director)
Genre:   Quasi-Historical Action
Released:   Released July 9, 2004
Review Date:   July 11, 2004
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)
Don't let the trailer, or the Web site, or the reviews, or the names of the characters, or the opening on-screen text, or the narration, or the title fool you: King Arthur is not about King Arthur. Well, not that King Arthur -- you know, Le Morte D'.

It is about a guy nicknamed Arthur who has a sword he calls Excalibur, and he has some friends from Russia who are named after the knights of the Round Table, and a really hot young Scottish girlfriend named Guinevere whose dad calls himself Merlin, so everybody has this Arthurian naming thing going on. And there's a really forced scene where for some reason they call him a king. But that's about it.

I know, it's ridiculous to geek out about historical inaccuracies in a Hollywood movie, especially when you go into the movie knowing Jerry "That Blew Up Real Good" Bruckheimer is a producer and you paid cash for a ticket anyway. But this movie spends an awful lot of time telling you that it's about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, only it's the real story, like you can see on the History Channel but with better-looking actors.

But it's not. It's a rehash of Braveheart and The Magnificent Seven (OK, The Seven Samurai for you movie geeks; I know it came first), with -- well, with nothing, really. It's like Braveheart meets The Magnificent Seven. And for some reason the characters have names like Tristram and Gawain.

The sooner you can accept that and put all the Arthur stuff out of your head, the more fun you'll have with King Arthur. Because the stuff that makes the King Arthur legends great -- the magic, the prophecy, the tragedy, the betrayal, the Holy Grail, the "my wife and my best friend did WHAT for 20 years?" pathos, the Knights Who Say NIH! -- all that stuff is missing in the action.

What's left is a fairly good action flick with sorta good swordfight scenes, more-or-less OK attention to historical detail, and pretty good acting for the most part. The fight scenes don't have the raw, visceral excitement of Braveheart or The Fellowship of the Ring, but Keira Knightley (dig that last name) seems to relish being in the thick of things as Guinevere, half-naked warrior princess. The historical stuff takes huge liberties such as calling the Picts the Woads, naming them after their blue body paint (the History Channel would be so ashamed); but the Roman politics are interesting and you get a strong sense of the breadth of the Roman Empire in the distant lands the characters all think of as home. And there aren't going to be any Oscars handed out for acting or writing here, but most of the characters are three-dimensional and all seem to have their own priorities, attitudes, and goals. The writers obviously had fun with Bors, the Funny Fat Knight With Lots of Kids and a Saucy Redheaded Woman.

So is it worth seeing? Well, Arthurian it ain't. If you're dead set on a King Arthur story, watch Excalibur or Camelot or Monty Python and the Holy Grail instead. If you're set on a historical treatment of the Arthur legend, there are plenty on basic cable. But it's got lots of popcorn-crunching, sword-swinging, blue-painted, Braveheart-inspired medieval action, and sometime that's good enough. On those terms, King Arthur is lightheaded Hollywood fun.

RevolutionSF producer Shane Ivey is no knight of the Round Table, and he doesn't dance whene'er he's able, but he does routines and chorus scenes and footwork impecc-able.

 
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