Saturday, February 10, 2007

Overlooked Movies: Excalibur





"The film has to do with mythical truth, not historical truth." ~John Boorman (so no comments about the historical innacuracies of the plate armor are allowed)


Uthur Pendragon is given the mystical sword Excalibur by the wizard Merlyn. At his death Uthur buries the sword into a stone, and the next man that can pull it out will be King of England. Years later Arthur, Uthur's bastard son draws Excalibur and becomes king. Guided by Merlyn, Arthur marries Guenivere and gathers the Knights of the Round Table until Arthur's evil half-sister Morgana sires a son with him, which may prove to be his downfall.

Click here to watch the trailer:


Taglines:
No mortal could possess it! No kingdom could command it!
Forged by a god. Foretold by a wizard. Found by a king.

Fun Trivia:
Boorman's original intention was to make a adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In the script, written by Boorman and his colleague Rospo Pallenberg, many new elements were inserted or were modified. The first half is largely based on The Fellowship of the Ring. Following the intermission, the writers “dropped things out” and “invented as they went along”. Among other things, Frodo and the Lady Galadriel have sexual intercourse (her husband Celeborn is omitted), the Lord of the Nazgûl rides a bleeding, skinless horse in lieu of a flying pterodactylic creature, Gimli is put in a hole and beaten so he can retrieve the password to Moria from his ancestral memory, and Arwen is made into a spiritual guide for the Fellowship and her role as Aragorn's love interest is wholly transferred to Éowyn, who becomes the latter's queen.


The project ultimately proved too expensive to finance at that time. Boorman ended up making the Arthurian epic Excalibur instead, also with Pallenberg's help - where in a draft for that movie’s script they use similar concepts; a "duel of words" originally planned between Gandalf and Saruman becomes a duel between Merlin and Morgana, albeit rephrased. This duel as written does not appear in the final film. Also the trial by combat set in the woods was originally to be the set for the Rivendel counsel chamber. A copy of the script is stored in the Tolkien papers collection of Marquette University.

Igrayne, The Lady of the Lake, and young Mordred were all played by director John Boorman's real-life children: Katrine Boorman, Telsche Boorman, and Charley Boorman.

The initial fight scene in the movie had to be filmed three times. It was filmed at night and the first two times, all the film came out underexposed due to a fault in the exposure meter. The cameraman had a nervous breakdown over the issue and quit.

United Artists told John Boorman that he could cast anyone as Merlin except Nicol Williamson who was never-the-less cast as Merlin.


The Charm of Making spoken by Merlin & Morgana is an attempt at Old Irish that translates to: "Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making." The phonetic rendering, as spoken in the movie, is: /ana:l nathrakh, u:rth va:s bethud, dokhje:l djenve:/. In Irish, the phrase is: 'An?il nathrach, ortha bh?is bheatha, do thuar dhéanamh', which is pronounced similarly but not exactly as in the movie.

John Boorman wanted the story to be the focus of the movie rather than the actors. Therefore, he cast actors that were relatively unknown at the time to American audiences. Among them were Gabriel Byrne (Uther), Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance), Liam Neeson (Gawain), Helen Mirren (Morgana), and Nicholas Clay (Launcelot). Only Nicol Williamson (Merlin) was relatively familiar to American moviegoers.


Fun Quotes:
Merlin: STAND BACK! Be silent! Be still! (he pauses) That's it... and look upon this moment. Savor it! Rejoice with great gladness! Great gladness! Remember it always, for you are joined by it. You are One, under the stars. Remember it well, then... this night, this great victory. So that in the years ahead, you can say, 'I was there that night, with Arthur, the King!' For it is the doom of men that they forget.

Merlin: Remember, there's always something cleverer than yourself.

Merlin: When a man lies, he murders some part of the world.

Arthur: Now, once more, I must ride with my knights to defend what was, and the dream of what could be.


Arthur: Swear faith to me, and you shall have mercy! I need battle lords such as you!
Uryenes: A noble knight swear faith to a squire?
Mador: NEVER... NEVER!
Arthur: You are right.
Arthur: (Hands Excalibur to Uyrenes and kneels) I'm not yet a knight. You, Uryenes, will knight me. Then as knight to knight... I can offer you mercy!
Merlin: What's this? What's this?
Mador: Keep it, Uryenes!
Uryenes: (hesitates and then touches Excalibur to Arthur's shoulder) In the name of God, St Michael and St George, I give you the right to bear arms and the power to meet justice!
Arthur: That duty I will solemnly obey, as knight and king.
Merlin: I never saw this.
Uryenes: Rise... King Arthur.
(Uryenes kneels before Arthur)
Uryenes: I am your humble knight, and I swear allegiance to the courage in your veins. So strong it is, its source must be Uther Pendragon's. I doubt you no more!

11 comments:

sparkylulu said...

Firstly,I am shocked at how much we disagree on flixster and yet,I love everything you talk about here....weird.
Secondlhy, I haven't seen Excaliber in 20 years.In fact, I completely forgot about it. I wonder if I would like it more now than then.It was a little slow paced for me and I found the editing disagreeable,in a Baz Luhrmann sort of way. But I love Boorman.
Have you seen The Lion in Winter? I think you should, if you loved this.

Becca said...

Excalibur is a crazy but great movie. That's John Boorman for you though.

And yes I have seen The Lion in Winter, what a great movie with so many great actors! Peter O'Toole and Anthony Hopkins are just amazing in it.

Dr. Zaius said...

Excalibur and The Lion in Winter are sort of different kinds of movies, really. The origins, or even the existence of king Arthur are cloudy. The story is fraught with magic and mysticism.

The Lion in Winter is a recreation of an actual series events that took place King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

I have to admit that I liked the The Lion in Winter better than Excalibur, but the competition is pretty stiff. it is not a fair comparison, with stars like Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, etc. For period pieces, Becket was also a remarkable film, with an equally imressive cast.

It has been so long since I have seen Excalibur that I hardly remember it. Your article has piqued my interest, I will have to see it again - I don't remember Helen Mirren in a stainless steel push-up bra. Interesting!

SamuraiFrog said...

Helen Mirren in a stainless steel push-up bra is the thing I remember the most. Other than my darling Helen and a fun (if hammy) performance by Williamson, I fucking hate this stupid, stupid movie.

Dr. Zaius said...

Perhaps not as titilating, but a very impressive Masterpiece Theatre miniseries series was the BBC drama with Helen Mirren, Prime Suspect. That was a very interesting show. I loved the interplay between Mirren (DCI Jane Tennison) and her co-workers.

Becca said...

Dr. Zaius-
You are right Excalibur and The Lion in Winter are VERY different kinds of movies. Lion is an excellent, mostly straight forward piece of drama and Excalibur is more of a operatic fantasy piece with John Boorman's philisophical leanings thrown in for good measure.

and I know almost as many people who love this movie as loathe it...I'd be interested to see what you and Sparkylulu think of it if you happen to catch it again.

I've never been able to decide what I liked more about the movie, Nicol Williamson's Obi Won role or sexy Helen Mirren as Morgan LeFay. Those two roles had a huge influence on me as a child and I can remember wanting to grow up and be just like Helen Mirren in this movie...instead I work in a bookstore and have pink hair. My past self would be so dissapointed.

I haven't seen Becket or any of the Prime Suspects, they are on the list though.

Frog-
At least it's not as bad as Zardoz you have to at least give me that.

Becca said...

Dr. Zaius-
You are right Excalibur and The Lion in Winter are VERY different kinds of movies. Lion is an excellent, mostly straight forward piece of drama and Excalibur is more of a operatic fantasy piece with John Boorman's philisophical leanings thrown in for good measure.

and I know almost as many people who love this movie as loathe it...I'd be interested to see what you and Sparkylulu think of it if you happen to catch it again.

I've never been able to decide what I liked more about the movie, Nicol Williamson's Obi Won role or sexy Helen Mirren as Morgan LeFay. Those two roles had a huge influence on me as a child and I can remember wanting to grow up and be just like Helen Mirren in this movie...instead I work in a bookstore and have pink hair. My past self would be so dissapointed.

I haven't seen Becket or any of the Prime Suspects, they are on the list though.

Frog-
At least it's not as bad as Zardoz you have to at least give me that.

sparkylulu said...

I was not, for one moment, suggesting that Lion and Ex are similar. Just that if you enjoyed the latter, you will, more than likely, love the former.
Now, Zardoz....that's nearly impossible to get through.

Dr. Zaius said...

Sparkylulu is right, both films do have a lot in common, I had only meant that there are major differences as well. The biggest difference is the cast - it is next to impossible to top Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn.

And I will stick my head in the lion's mouth - I liked Zardoz. The pace of the film is so slow as to be nearly unwatchable, but the idea and world that they created is fascinating.

Also, how can you possibly go wrong watching a film with Charlotte Rampling in it?

Blackwing Rose said...

I love the actors in this film, especially Helen Mirren, whom I worship to this day because of her turn as Morgana. The problems I ever had with the movie is that the middle part drags horribly and I hate both actors who play Mordred, the boy especially crawls under my skin.

What amazes me most about this film is that Boorman directed his own daughter in one of the most explicit and uncomfortable sex scenes ever filmed in a non-porn film. I can only wonder how wierd that day of filming was.

I probably remember this scene the most because I was very young when I saw the movie in the theater and my mother's friend told her we were seeing the version without the scene. When it started up, her hand slammed over my eyes and I proceeded to struggle with my mom through the whole scene,trying to get her hand off my eyes. I totally confused because my mom had never censored me before and I couldn't understand why she wasn't letting me watch the movie. I can still hear her venomously whispering to our companion, "I'm going to kill you Christopher." :-)

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