Why Excalibur is the best R-rated fantasy movie
By definition, fantasy stories can be as weird and wild as their creators want them to be. It is one of the joys of the genre. Which is why it’s a little disappointing that we’ve had so few fantastic adult movies pushing the envelope over the years. Fast – name a good R-rated fantasy movie. No, Game Of Thrones and The witcher does not count ; these are television shows. I’m talking about feature films made for the big screen. Okay maybe you came up with it Guillermo del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth Where John Milius‘s Conan the Barbarian. Of course, those would qualify. Even if Conan was followed by a toned down PG suite, and Pan’s Labyrinth could be lumped into this category of “horror movies that have a fantastic bent”. (See also: “Action Movies That Have a Fantastic Bend”, where the mountain dweller the franchise largely lives on.)
But pure, unadulterated R-rated fantasy movies, especially high fantasy, sword and sorcery ones, are harder to find, as Hollywood tends to think of these things as family-friendly PG-13 deals. Perhaps this is why people are so excited about the impending release of The green knight – David Lowerythe medieval epic of which has proudly flown its whimsical flag since the release of its first trailer. And I also think that’s why every time one of these movies finds its way around the world, it’s inevitably compared to John boorman‘s Excalibur – the 1981 tale of the legend of King Arthur who stuffs his 141 minutes with as much violence, lust and utter strangeness as Boorman could muster. And yet everything is so beautifully and distinctly designed that 40 years later Excalibur comes across as their own version of Camelot – a brilliant achievement that anyone else who gets an R-rated fantasy movie is trying to beat. Good luck with that.
Just to start, it’s hard to approach Excaliburthe scope of. Boorman’s film is an adaptation of The death of Arthur, Mr. Thomas Malorycompilation of various 15th century Arthurian myths, and it spans decades. The film begins with a 23-minute prologue that chronicles the fall of Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne), who received Excalibur, the mystical sword of kings, by the sorcerer Merlin (Nicol williamson) to unite various warring factions and bring peace to the land. Uther ends up screwing everything up by falling in love with a noble rival’s wife, and before long the world is kingless and in ruins again. Cut to many years later when Uther’s son Arthur (Nigel terry) frees Excalibur from the stone in which he was trapped and sets out to create the utopia his father could not. From there, the movie takes on all the beats you’d expect – Lancelot, Knights of the Round Table, Guinevere, Camelot, and more. Years go by and it looks like a happy ending could come for everyone. But, as Merlin warns, evil lurks “where you never expect it.” An illicit love story takes root, and Arthur Morgana’s half-sister (Helene Mirren) begins to weave around the edges of the film. She uses magic to trick her brother into impregnating her, and the film again advances in time, to stage a battle between an elderly Arthur and his cold-blooded son Mordred (Robert addie), who intends to ascend the throne by force.
That’s a lot, and there are still so many things that I haven’t even mentioned. New and important characters are introduced throughout the duration of the film. The final third of the film, which turns the tale into a macabre nightmare, in part details a haunting quest for the Holy Grail undertaken by Perceval (Paul Geoffroy), a character who doesn’t even get featured until halfway through the movie. It’s truly epic cinema that has no interest in focusing on specific aspects of Arthur’s legend or shrinking it down into an easier-to-digest narrative. You get it all smashed into a mishmash of swords, sex, and witchcraft.
Watching Excalibur today there are a lot of things that stand out. The film is beautiful with Boorman and the director of photography Alex thomson using the natural beauty of Ireland along with bold (and often green in color) lighting to create a lush and vibrant world. Music is a frenetic and triumphant combination of various Richard wagner operas (in particular “Götterdämmerung”), Carl Orffthe 1937 cantata “Carmina Burana” and Trevor Jonesown original score. (Just try not to get goosebumps when, following a battle scene devoid of musical accompaniment, the strings and horns kick in as a rival warrior named Uryans knights a kneeling Arthur who freely gave up his sword.) The battle scenes are brutal, bloody and heavy. Don’t expect flashy sword choreography here. In Excalibur, the armor everyone wears seems unbearably heavy, and the best way to defeat a man in battle is to hit him with a sledgehammer until he can no longer stand.
Performances range from fascinatingly colorful to memorable quirky, though all come with an arched theatricality one would expect from a cast made mostly of British theater actors. Williamson delivers powerful lines such as “A dream for some, a nightmare for others!” without bothering to base yourself in the least. At first, Terry seems a little overwhelmed playing a young Arthur, but he grows up well in the role as the character gets older. Future stars Byrne, Patrick stewart, and Liam neeson are showy in small parts. It all ends up working within the context of the film, which at times feels like a play about a secret story brought to kaleidoscopic life.
ExcaliburThe biggest demerit of is that, with one major exception, he doesn’t think much of his female characters. Igrayne (Katrine Boorman, the director’s own daughter) is introduced into the prologue, raped by a magically disguised Uther, and then rejected once the main plot is launched. Guinevere (Cherie Lunghi) is largely just to drive a wedge between Arthur and Lancelot (Nicolas clay). Thank goodness then for Morgana, who in the second half becomes the film’s main antagonist – an aspiring witch with an ox against Merlin, the man who spent most of the film manipulating his family into serving his own. purposes. Morgana is a complete villain with a legitimate point of view, and Mirren plays her unsurprisingly. This is one of his fiercest performances.
ExcaliburThe influence of has remained constant over the years. You can feel it when you look Peter Jackson‘s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which uses light and natural settings in a similar way. (Fun facts: Boorman had previously planned to shoot his own version of JRR Tolkien, though it eventually collapsed, and the first teaser in Jackson’s trilogy used the same move from “Carmina Burana” that is featured so heavily in Excalibur.) And just this year, Zack Snyder recycled the same Excalibur-used songs from “Götterdämmerung” for his zombie opus, Army of the dead. Not a huge surprise, as Snyder called it Excalibur his favorite movie.
Lowery wasn’t as blatant in letting him down as he is promoting him The green knight. Although a recent profile from Vanity Fair indicates that Excalibur was one of the movies he thought of as he tackled his own adult fantasy epic. Frankly? It should be. Excalibur hovers over the genre as the legendary and universal dragon of Merlin. When fantasy films had a boom in the early ’80s, a few other R-rated films did manage to come out, but you don’t really hear anyone talking about them. Death stalker Where Witch all these years later. It is Excalibur who has stood the test of time, waiting for another movie to arrive and dethrones it just as the sword itself waited in the stone. Good luck to Lowery or anyone else who dares to take on this quest.
KEEP READING: ‘The Green Knight’: New Documentary Reveals The Story Behind The Legend
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