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The International Writers Magazine
: Alt Review of the King Arthur Movie now on DVD

King Arthur
Dan Schneider

If I proffered these four words to you- Keira Knightley in leather- is there any way in hell a reasonable man would think that the film that offered such could be bad? No, no way, no way in hell! But, it is- really bad! And that film is 2004’s King Arthur, and the utterer of those sentiments is me, a well-known Arthuriana buff- in fact, I was once contracted to write an epic poem on that subject.

Ok, for the less inclined out there, surely the tales of Malory, Tennyson, Chretien de Troyes, and such medieval fare as Sir Gawain And The Green Knight or The Mabinogion have some truck? King Arthur, Launcelot, Gwynevere, the love triangle, Tristram and Yseult, Galahad, The Holy Grail, Excalibur, The Lady of the Lake, Merlin? Ring a bell?

No? Well, good news. You too can direct a big budget disaster based upon the myths. Of course, Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day, seems eager to show that the idea that a person can direct only what they know is true- he’s a black American homeboy, and his grasp of the legends is not even slender- is true. In truth, the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are for more entertaining and grand than the déclassé tripe of The Lord Of The Rings saga, but you would not know it in this version. Instead of romance, intrigue, honor, and magic we get ‘realism’- or so the director spouts over and again in his film commentary, and in the assorted extras on the DVD. But, please note the ‘ ’ that I used around the word realism. That’s because there’s not a hint of it in this disaster. First off, the blood and guts fighting is laughably unreal. Ever since Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line in 1998, filmmakers have been trying to be ‘real’ in their violence onscreen. This ‘realistic’ movie, however, eschews that. Yet, the Knights curse and spit, especially a Cockney Sir Bors (Ray Winstone). They also are not British, nor even French. Instead, they are from Sarmatia- a region that never produced knights in the early 5th Century, when this film is set, nor were they ever at war with the Roman Empire, as claimed. In the tales, King Arthur and his Knights are devout Christians, and Rome is little seen. In the film, Arthur is a Roman Christian in service to the Pope, Lancelot is a heathen, and Merlin (Stephen Dillane) the head of a band of forest people called Wodes who, in this ‘realistic’ film, never existed. In short, the film centers around Arthur’s Knights’ rescue of a would-be child church bishop north of Hadrian’s Wall before the terrible Saxons sweep in from the North. Unfortunately, the Saxons never occupied northern Britain, they were defenders of the Isle from Scots, Picts, and Celts, and they were not marauding barbarians in the mold of the Vikings a half an eon later- all, again, in this ‘realistic’ movie.

  Gwynevere (played by the lovelier than words Keira Knightley -or is it Natalie Portman with an accent?) is a wild warrior woman in the Xena mold- possibly a Wode, although this is never definitively made clear- which she and Fuqua claim is historically accurate, although it’s not, but allows the brief notion that the glimpses of her taut, lithe, nacreous bod (and nacreous is a word destined to describe Ms. Knightley’s skin) in skimpy leather, in winter- mind you, will soon give way to a great romantic love scene with Arthur (the petrified Clive Owen). But, alas, the one brief romantic scene is lame, Keira stays far too clothed, and Lancelot (Ioan Gruffydd) is a total pussy who seems utterly impotent in the face of Gwyn’s charms. There’s some attempted dick-waving between Arthur and the Saxon leader Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgaard- wasted in a silly role that should have been given to John Saxon if still alive), the Knights prevail, and Arthur learns that the Roman Catholic Church is evil- and this long before the pedophilia scandal hit!

Well, not yet. The historicity is absurd, the screenplay ludicrously bad, the acting wooden, the effects cheesy- think 1970s Logan’s Run-level, and, worst of all, no nude Keira Knightley!- although she claims the fictive tribe Gwynevere belonged to were naked warrior priestess types. Yet, here, they damn their ‘realism’! I mean, it’s silly enough to see petite, frail, little 105 pound Keira kicking ass on big, bad Saxons, but do you really expect me to swallow that in all that action she, garbed only in leather brassiere and bottom (the original bikini, I guess) a) survives without a real injury, while Lancelot- the big, strong, armored knight dies to at the hand of  wimpy, craven Saxon Cynric (Til Schweiger- whom Fuqua calls The German Tom Cruise- and he’s finally right, for he- like the original- has all the acting range of a cucumber), and b) doesn’t have a single ‘wardrobe malfunction’? Come on, Jerry Bruckheimer (the awful film’s producer)!

Now, there was a battle of Badon Hill, as in the film, on which the fictive showdown between Arthur and his son Modred was based upon, but there was no Arthur. Why? Because, as recent research has shown, the word Arthur (meaning bear) was not a word, but a title, like Captain, and the fictive King Arthur was probably based upon one of a few Arthurs that served under King Ambrosius Aurelianus. That’s the historically accurate truth- and as boring as that is, it’s far more interesting than this ‘realistic’ film. This is like forsaking the legendary Otello story, which inspired Shakespeare’s Othello, in favor of the truth that Big O was just another Moorish pimp daddy. Why in the hell would anyone want to do that?

Well, Fuqua tells us he sees great similarities between the plights of the Sarmatian knights and modern African-Americans. Except- THERE WERE NO SARMATIAN KNIGHTS- in England or Sarmatia, which was no more by the 5th Century! So, is Fuqua saying that African-Americans, and there woes, are fictive? No, but he does say that he put his faith in Joseph Campbell’s ideas of mythology. Campbell, for those not in the know, was last century’s greatest Academic charlatan, and complicit in inspiring the egregiously dull Star Wars films upon us all. This may also be where Arthur gets his decidedly postmodern ideas about free will and choice. I mean, to have Arthur- whether the fictive or reality-based one- babble on about freedom and democracy makes as much historical sense as George W. Bush’s claims, and both men’s actions utterly contradict their claims! This was the Dark Ages, not the Enlightenment! 

Of course, this is what PC has wrought, in its evil alliance with Hollywood- could the Barbarian Right that plunders Iraq be right about them, after all? The allusions to Vietnam and Iraq are stretched to absurdity, historical accuracy is meaningless- for both Edward Gibbon and the Venerable Bede, claim that Rome totally left Britain by at least 410, yet they’re still there in 452, the film’s nominal setting, andworst of all, in the film commentary the clueless Fuqua says that, for historical accuracy and ‘realism’, he wanted to get ethic Russians to play the Sarmatians- the tribe from the Caspian Sea. Now, I’ve stated that this ‘realistic’ film ignores the fact that the Sarmatians were toast centuries before the film’s setting, were never Knights, and were thorns in the side to the Byzantines, not the Romans, but ethnic Russians could not be Sarmatians (aside from the fact that a Russian Galahad seems absurd) because the ethnic Rus did not exist till half a millennium later, when the Vikings interbred with the Slavs. The Sarmatians were a Turkic-Cossack peoples- never Russians! The rest of Fuqua’s commentary is standard fellatio- filled with comments about great ideas that were intended, yet none of it made it onscreen- not a dram! He also tells us he considers the romantic triangle at the center of Arthuriana dull- and even sick! Huh?

Now, none of these failings would matter in the least were the tale a damned good one, but the only way this script could have been passable on celluloid were someone like a Roger Corman brought in to camp it up. But, humor and camp are totally absent in this hermetically dry waste of time. So, the claims of ‘realism’ and historical accuracy’ are the only thing this monstrosity had going for it- along with the anticipated delight of Keira Knightly in and out of leather, yet it fails miserably on both scores. And the editing is atrocious- with at least three major discontinuities in scenes where snow is seen on the ground, them mysteriously replaced by green grass a second later. Avoid this film, burn the DVD, and read Thomas Malory. To sum up- I still look forward to the day when I can ogle Ms. Knightley’s tautform in the way it entered this world, but the hopes that this film would be entertaining or even passable, well- to quote Mistah Kurtz- ‘He dead!’

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