Excalibur

Although many have tried, none have succeeded in capturing King Arthur’s Camelot better than director John Boorman, whose “Excalibur” is the quintessential telling of the myth. Produced and directed by Boorman from a bold, bright script by Rospo Pallenberg and Boorman, “Excalibur” is both dazzling and dark, filled with memorable images and characters that stay with you long after the film has come to an end.


excaliburAdapted from Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur,” Boorman’s film was the first to present Arthur’s world without apologies. The action was tough and brutal, the romance adult and powerful. Shot on a modest budget, “Excalibur” is a marvel of ingenuity and visual design. Every frame is filled with eye candy, from gorgeous scenery to marvelous performances that bring the characters to life.

I appreciate Boorman’s acknowledgment that these were the Dark Ages. He doesn’t pretend he’s making yet another Hollywood period piece. He strives for something more realistic, more mythical. The film feels like a dream, much more so than “Camelot.” Even at its most honest moments the film still maintains an ethereal tone. Nigel Terry is excellent as the boy king who learns of life and love the hard way.

Terry does an incredible job of going from naive knave to noble King Arthur without skipping a beat. These transitions are usually difficult for an actor to pull off, and yet Terry does it with such assurance. Cherie Lunghi makes a lovely Guenevere, and it is easy to see why she would come between Arthur and his best friend and knight, Lancelot (Nicholas Clay). Nicol Williamson is excellent as Merlin, the mystical magician who guides Arthur through life, while Helen Mirren is wicked fun as Morgana, Arthur’s half-sister and sorceress in her own right. The cast also includes early appearances by Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson. Boorman doesn’t skimp on the story, either.

Most of the Arthur legend is kept intact, including the quest for the Holy Grail and the rise and fall of the Knights of the Round Table. Using minimalist settings, Boorman creates vivid images that say so much more than something on an epic scale. Indeed, there are epic moments in “Excalibur,” but Boorman seems more interested in the personal side of the story, and it is here where the film excels.

Those familiar with the legend will appreciate the way Boorman and Pallenberg handle the material with respect while making it their own. Those who come to the well without knowledge will discover a film that is both adventurous and admirable. “Excalibur” looks and sounds great thanks to Alex Thompson’s dynamic cinematography and Trevor Jones moody music. I dare you to watch “Excalibur” and not be affected by the characters and their emotional journey.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Outstanding 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions. I was highly impressed with the quality of the original negative, which is virtually free of age issues. There was a minor amount of flecking, but overall the images are sharp and vivid. Excellent color rendering, with absolutely no bleeding or fading. Blacks are strong and impressive, while whites and shadows are clean. Most impressive is the DVD’s depth of field, which goes on forever, while never losing detail. Flesh tones are realistic and warm. No noticeable compression artifacts or noise. I was truly in awe of every frame of this magnificent experience.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Thunderous, multi-dimensional remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack puts you right in the middle of the spectacle while never losing its intimacy. Gripping basses, strong middle and high ends, plus surround effects that literally engulf you are just the highlights. The dialogue mix is vivid, while the left-to-right stereo effects are effective. Rear speakers are constantly fed a steady stream of surround effects, realistic ambient noise and musical cues. All sound fields sound accurate and strong. There is real depth in the sound mix, which pumps through the speakers with assurance. The DVD also features a mono French language soundtrack.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing, subtitles in French.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Handsome main and scene access menus, plus the film’s original theatrical trailer. There is also a splendid audio commentary with director John Boorman who navigates us through the process of making the film. At first Boorman sounds halting, almost as if his remarks were recorded elsewhere and then edited into the track. Then it becomes apparent this is the way the guy talks, and soon you find yourself totally immersed in his interesting remembrances. You’ll learn a lot about the film, especially how the director overcame a minuscule budget for such an effort, and how the original cinematographer has a mental breakdown two days into filming. Boorman’s comments make watching the DVD twice a necessity.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

An excellent presentation of a splendid motion picture experience.

VITALS: $24.98/Rated R/140 Minutes/Color/45 Chapter Stops/Snapcase/#22018

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: EXCALIBUR

BIRTH DATE: 1981

HMO: Warner Home Video



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