Plot: What’s it about?
The telling of the legend of King Arthur and the founding of Camelot has been filmed and refilmed, but not to the extent of Excalibur. John Boorman’s masterpiece based upon Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory is brought to DVD for the first time While most of the King Arthur movies touch on the basics about the legend, Excalibur expands on that premise and goes in-depth. The movie opens in the Dark Ages with Britain divided without a king and two factions fighting for control. The first faction lead by Uther (Gabriel Byrne) and the other lead by Lord Cornwall (Corin Redgrave). Uther calls upon the grand wizard Merlin (Nicol Williamson) to grant him the sword Excalibur and is proclaimed king. While at the victory party, Uther becomes infatuated with Lord Cornwall’s young wife, Igrayne (Katrine Boorman). Uther asks Merlin for assistance in the matter. Merlin cast a spell allowing Uther to seduce Igranye. While this is occurring, Cornwall is killed.
Nine months later, a child is born to Igrayne and as part of the deal with Merlin, Merlin takes the child from Igrayne and runs off. Uther finds out and pursues Merlin only to die and on his death bed he thrusts Excalibur into a stone. Sixteen years later the movie picks up again and the land is without a leader and knights are fighting over the right to take a chance to draw out Excalibur from the stone. We are now introduced to Arthur (Nigel Terry) who along with Merlin show up at a jousting event with the aforementioned knights fighting it out and trying to pull Excalibur out of the stone. Arthur accidentally pulls Excalibur out of the stone and is proclaimed king. Arthur’s courageous and mature demeanor gain popularity with the knights and gains a quick following. At this point of the movie, Excalibur moves on with the basics of the Arthur legend with the introduction of Sir Lancelot (Nicholas Clay). We also are introduced to Arthur’s half sister Morganna (Helen Mirren) who has it out for Arthur as she plots to deal with her half brother.
The movie works in several aspects. First, the density of the story. The director made a point to go in-depth about the story of King Arthur and develops the characters quite well. Most movies dabble while Excalibur digs deep into the legend and the result is a masterpiece. Second, the music is very powerful and envelops the listener in the story. The Wagner inspired soundtrack is powerful and placed quite well in the movie, although a bit brighter of a transfer than the laserdisc version.
Third and finally, Its realism. The movie showed that life at that time was very rough and that King Arthur wasn’t always a popular leader. The fight sequences were very bloody and realistic as close combat was all they had at the time. The acting was as well very first rate with name actors like Patrick Stewart playing Leondegrance, Gabriel Byrne playing Uther, and Liam Neeson as Gaiwain. The acting is quite believable and astonishing.
Video: How does it look?
While Warner Bros. could have given us a rehash of the laserdisc for video, they didn’t and delivered a beautifully stunning Anamorphic 1.85 X1 transfer. The picture had some grain in it, although not very noticeable especially since the viewer is engulfed by the story at that point. Early part of the movie is dark and shows a few artifacts but overall a nice transfer and much nicer than the laserdisc.
Audio: How does it sound?
The movie was presented in DD 5.1, but didn’t sound like it. The focus was on the center with a wide soundstage only evident a couple of times. Split surrounds were hardly used at all. Excalibur sounded mono at times as well. As mentioned above, the music was a bit brighter than the original laserdisc as was a disappointment. I have heard better from older titles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The extras featured a full 140 minute commentary by director John Boorman who expands on the movie with details on how he made it and why. If you listen to all 140 minutes of his commentary, you will find out Excalibur was his passion and he wanted it to come out right. Personally, I think he did. Also included is a full 2 1/2 minute long trailer of the movie.