Trying to count all of the times that the King Arthur legend has been brought to the screen would probably be akin to trying to count up the number of times “Romeo & Juliet” has been adapted. From classic adaptations to a musical to TV shows to more modern fare, it’s fair to say that the story has been taken around the block, and then some. However, most will be more familiar with the bigger theatrical takes on the story, such as the fun and exciting “First Knight” with Sean Connery and Richard Gere, or the more somber, gritty “King Arthur” with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley. Just like with “King Kong,” it seems like it’s been a while since we’ve seen a big-budget adaptation of the story, so in an effort to fill that void, here comes director Guy Ritchie to deliver his own take on the oft-trod tale entitled “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.”
The film begins with King Uther (Eric Bana) bravely defeating the evil mage Mordred and his army as they attempt to invade Camelot. Shortly after, Uther’s brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), rebels against the King and takes the crown for himself, but fails to stop Uther’s son Arthur from escaping on a small boat. As the years go by, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is raised in a brothel, never knowing his true heritage, that is, until he is forced by Vortigern’s men to attempt to pull the infamous sword from the stone. Once he does this, he finds himself in mortal danger as Vortigern means to kill him, and thus remove all threats to his power. However, thanks to a mage and a rag-tag group of outlaws, he manages to escape his execution and go into hiding. As he learns more about his past and trains with mighty Excalibur, he discovers that it’s his duty and his birthright to help stop Vortigern from achieving full power, and in the process, reclaim the throne that is rightfully his.
To put it succinctly, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is what you get when you suck all of the fun and excitement out of the classic Arthurian legend and attempt to replace it with a multitude of messy, garbled CGI action scenes, while draping the entire production in an ugly brownish-gray hue that really wants you to believe that this is a realistic interpretation of the tale (even with all of the special effects). Needless to say, there is no replacement for the thrills that the classic stories offer up, where Arthur bravely fights his enemies with Excalibur (as opposed to blowing them away with super powers contained in the sword, as seen in many of the laughable fight scenes in this latest iteration).
Even putting aside the CGI overload, the film still has a really big issue with it being overly-morose in its design, even to the point of it being rather depressing to look at. The 2004 version with Clive Owen had a similar problem (among others), so it’s rather strange that Ritchie didn’t learn from the mistakes that past adaptations made. If you’re planning on making a version of King Arthur that lacks joy and charm, in addition to having no visual appeal, then what’s the point? The King Arthur legend is meant to be a rousing adventure, one that has you on the edge of your seat as these heroic knights go on their daring quests. Instead, Ritchie has delivered a version that traps several talented actors (Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, and Djimon Hounsou) in a dark, stale interpretation that doesn’t take advantage of any of the legend’s enchanting elements.
Ritchie should have taken a page (or several) from Jerry Zucker’s outstanding “First Knight,” a grounded, realistic adaptation that provides excitement, thrills, drama, and even some romance, all of which combine into a thoroughly engrossing take on the characters. As to why he would choose to drown his version in CGI spectacle instead of concentrating on the characters and narrative is anyone’s guess, but surely he could have foreseen that such an approach would have major consequences.
Whatever the reasoning was, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” simply doesn’t work thanks to misplaced priorities that put the film’s flashy effects above its more fundamental and critical elements. Including some of the magic of the legend is fine (there is, after all, a fair amount in the classic stories), but it shouldn’t have been allowed to take over, and thus subvert what was more important. In many ways, it appears as though a page-one rewrite would have been the best way to go, scaling back the more fantastical elements and bringing the crucial ones forward, for only then could such an adaptation have a chance of doing justice to the classic source material by capitalizing on what made these stories so incredible in the first place.
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. As mentioned, the film has a rather dark, grungy look to it, but the picture remains as sharp as can be throughout the entire two-hour presentation. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos-TrueHD audio is top-notch, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in fantastic quality. Overall, there’s no denying that the film has been given outstanding treatment, leaving you with as good an experience as you could hope to get.
Arthur with Swagger (10 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on Charlie Hunnam and Guy Ritchie.
Sword from the Stone (19 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the Arthurian legend.
Parry and Bleed (6 Minutes): A behind the scenes look at the film’s extensive fight choreography.
Building on the Past (14 Minutes): A featurette that explores the film’s grand production design.
Inside the Cut: The Action of Arthur (6 Minutes): A short featurette that focuses on the film’s stunts and action sequences.
Camelot in 93 Days (10 Minutes): A general look behind the scenes at the three-month production.
Legend of Excalibur (6 Minutes): A brief featurette focusing on the design of the film’s Excalibur.
Scenic Scotland (6 Minutes): A featurette that goes behind the scenes of filming on location in Scotland.
Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a woefully misguided take on the Arthurian legend that sucks all of the fun and excitement out of the original tale and replaces it with a barrage of messy, garbled CGI action scenes, leaving us with an overly-morose and drab adaptation that even its talented cast can’t save. This marks three duds in a row for Ritchie, who is ironically usually known for making movies that are pretty entertaining (“Snatch,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “RocknRolla,” just to name a few), so we can only hope that he gets over this funk pretty soon and returns to making the fun flicks he used to.