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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Movie Review: King Arthur 

Like its fellow Summer blockbuster Troy, King Arthur takes an established legend and attepmts to play it with a realistic spin. Also like Troy, Arthur delivers.

Make no mistake, these are not Malory's romanticized knights in shining armor. You won't see the boy who would be king, pull Excalibur from the stone (though it does have a similar scene), nor will you have to endure Sean Connery's Arthur and Richard Gere's Lancelot reducing the majesty of Arthurian lore into a Days of Our Lives-esque soap opera.

This tale focuses not on the Middle Ages' Arthur Pendragon, but rather on Artorius Castus, a Roman soldier in the 4th Century. He leads a band of Samatian Knights (non-Romans, famous for their riding abilities), who earn their freedom after 15 years of service to Rome. Their task is to defend the Northern borders of the Empire, along Hadrian's Wall on the British Isle, not the legendary Camelot.

King Arthur is a gritty look at the origin of European literature's most well-known myth. Its trailers tout the film as "the true story that inspired the legend." Now if that's what you go in expecting to see, then you'll probably leave disappointed. There's no doubt an individual -- or more likely, a collective group of individuals -- served as the basis for the Arthurian story that we've all studied at some point. But this is not a documentary, and shouldn't be treated as such.

If you view the film, however, expecting to see a glimpse at a story -- one that could have served as a basis for that legend, but is mostly fictional in nature -- solely meant to entertain, then expect to enjoy it. I'll admit that it's by no means a cinematic triumph. Arthur's rushed pace devotes little time to character development, and it forces certain themes on you, almost out of left field. The plot -- when it's not painfully predictable -- might also leave you scratching your head, wondering what's happening.

But for all of it's negatives, Arthur still packs a punch. The battle sequences offer a bevy of brutal hand-to-hand combat; call it "Braveheart Lite." Clive Owens' Arthur and Kiera Knightly's Guinevere mesh well, despite the flawed script. And the ensemble of no-name (at least in America) actors that comprise Arthur's Samatians add a dash of color to a bleak era. It's easy for individuals to blend together in films such as this, but each of the knights portrays a distinct personality to their respective roles.

If nothing else, King Arthur is ambitious. Sure, we all know the legend, but this is the legend beyond the legend, and we get to see something a little different here. If it doesn't cling to the "facts," then so be it. Get your history from a book.



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