Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How not to make a movie

They reran "King Arthur" on cable TV the other night. I watched it, (again) and decided it was a turkey (again). I had vaguely hoped that re seeing this flick would expose some hidden beauty that I missed watching it in the theatre some years ago.
The King Arthur legend is a natural for a movie. It's old, it has been a best seller for a thousand years, it's still current. Just the title is enough to sell tickets. But, somehow Jerry Bruckheimer, despite a couple of decent movies in his background, blows this one, big time.
Arthur, played by Clive Owen, fails to make the movie go. Movies are powered by the protagonist (we used to say hero, but that's sexist in these later days). The hero, a decent man, is faced with some great evil that he resolves to conquer. The movie shows us how he accomplishes this, with the climax, the vanquishing of the evil, being reserved for the last reel. The audience has to know, early on, just what the hero is attempting to accomplish. The movie only makes sense to the viewer if they understand where the hero is attempting to go. The hero's goal has to resonate with the audience, a hero attempting to become the world's nerdiest nerd won't cut it.
In the opening scenes we learn that Arthur's goal is merely to resign his Roman Army commission and retire to a comfortable estate near Rome. Not a world changing goal. Plus Clive Owens depicts Arthur as a mature man at his prime, way too young to be thinking of retirement, unless he is the ultimate slacker. Then a slimy papal legate demands Arthur accept a suicide mission for him and his men. Instead of telling His Holiness to take a hike, Arthur tamely accepts, even though the enlistment of his men is up, and they all expect honorable discharge from the army that very day. After some confused shouting matches, we see Arthur and his six knights set off on horseback. No where do we see Arthur saying anything to convince his men to go into the valley of death with him, he ends the last shouting match with a curt order, and off they go.
So, the hero is off on a quest, north into the darkness beyond Hadrian's Wall, with his knights, that makes no sense emotionally either for them or for the audience. Hardly something to put us on the edge of our seats.
On the quest, Arthur rescues the very cute Guenevere (Keira Knightley) from a dungeon. Arthur begins the relationship by setting Guenevere's broken fingers, by hand, no anesthetic. Guenevere gives forth the expected scream of pain. For the rest of the movie Guenevere throws herself at the uncaring Arthur with little visible effect. Guenevere has to slip into Arthur's one man tent after dark and drop her robe to the floor before Arthur so much as kisses her. The movie ends with Arthur and Guenevere's wedding, but we don't see Arthur propose to her. How can the audience relate to a man with so little passion?
Arthur suffers from too few armed men following him. In a proper movie, the cavalry arrives in enough strength to save the day. We, the audience, have seen enough westerns to understand how many cavalry men it takes to drive off the Indians. Arthur's six knights ain't enough to maintain order on a high school playground, let alone drive off Saxon armies numbering in the thousands.
So, we have a hero with no goal, no leadership skills, no interest in women, and few followers. Camera men who can't properly light a scene, knights of the Round Table wearing black motorcycle leathers instead of shining armor, and unconvincing props. And script writers who discard all the well known Arthur legend in favor of their own inferior imaginings. No wonder Hollywood is dying.

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