Monday, February 6, 2012

Excalibur remake dead? Good

I came across this old story while surfing the web after the recent news of Nicol Williamson’s passing: Bryan Singer Excalibur Remake Is Dead (file this one under news to me, and therefore new).

In a word: Good. Excalibur does not need to be remade. There’s no way a remake would take the same risks as the original, which practically demanded that its viewers understood at least the basic myths of the Fisher King and the symbolic nature of the grail. I’m sure the new version would look great, but even then, would it surpass the falling petals with “O Fortuna” from the Carmina Burana playing in the background, or would it merely ape what has gone before?

The King Arthur story has been told again and again over the generations, and that mythic dimension—version upon version, each different than the one that came before but with the same broadly depicted characters and themes—is part of its allure and appeal. If Alfred Lord Tennyson didn’t have the courage to retell Malory’s LeMorte D’Arthur we wouldn’t have Idylls of the King; if T.H. White didn’t pick up where Tennyson left off we wouldn’t have The Once and Future King, and so on. The world would be a much poorer place.

But the difference of course is that Tennyson,White, Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Trilogy, et al., are retellings, not remakes. There’s a big difference. While I welcome new Arthurian retellings, we don’t need a remake of Excalibur. I couldn’t agree more with this paragraph from the linked article (bold emphasis mine):

Directed by John Boorman and starring Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, and Nicol Williamson, Excalibur is the definitive version of Arthurian legend for many of us who grew up in the '80s, a dark and bloody affair that has often been imitated but never equaled in the years since. Maybe this is a good thing. At this point, we've seen the story of King Arthur told just about every way it can be. If we're going to sit through yet another retelling, let's wait until somebody comes up with a brilliant new spin on the legend rather than just remaking the already-good ones.

14 comments:

Falze said...

But...but...but....


IT COULD HAVE BEEN IN 3-DEEEEEEEE!!!!


There have been enough feeble attempts to make pretty boy Camelot movies in recent years, no sense trying to turn the mud and blood vision of Excalibur into a vehicle for Justin Bieber or a looking-for-work Harry Potter minor character.

Ryan Harvey said...

When I first heard about an Excalibur re-make, I thought, "Gee, has anyone told the production company that King Arthur is in the public domain?"

David J. West said...

Agreed, this remake concept - especially with movies where all the main participants are still living has to stop.

I can almost understand the want/need to remake something that is 60+ years old, but as Ryan mentioned WHY even do an Excalibur remake? Why not a bold new Arthur?

And I haven't yet brought myself to watch the new Merlin incarnations.

Brian Murphy said...

IT COULD HAVE BEEN IN 3-DEEEEEEEE!!!!

The sword is coming RIGHT AT ME... this is so much better than Boorman!

When I first heard about an Excalibur re-make, I thought, "Gee, has anyone told the production company that King Arthur is in the public domain?"

Exactly :).

Agreed, this remake concept - especially with movies where all the main participants are still living has to stop.

Except for Nicol Williamson, sadly, but I also think that there should be some minimum criteria of elapsed time for remakes. 30 years is not enough.

Ted Cross said...

Hmm, I vaguely recalled seeing that movie when I was a little kid. I just rewatched it, and I can't believe you are defending it. It's one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The acting was beyond terrible, and the fight scenes were complete jokes. I'd love to see a new version made that tried to do it right, with a proper cast and a director who could do it justice.

Brian Murphy said...

Ted... ouch, that hurts. But seriously, bad acting? Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Nigel Terry, and Liam Neeson? It's definitely different acting, I'll grant you, very Shakespearian, as these guys were all veterans of the stage. But I certainly wouldn't call it "beyond terrible." I reserve that for 2004's King Arthur.

Ted Cross said...

I agree that there haven't been any decent movies about King Arthur. When I watch something historical, what I want to see is a serious, realistic portrayal, and that absolutely didn't happen in Excalibur. It was almost farcical how bad the action scenes were, and I was watching people like 'Merlin' and thinking 'seriously?', because it was so far from decent. I had just finished reading A Once and Future King last week, which is part of what prompted me to watch Excalibur again (along with your blog post).

Brian Murphy said...

When I watch something historical, what I want to see is a serious, realistic portrayal, and that absolutely didn't happen in Excalibur.

I think you might enjoy Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Trilogy (highly recommended, then; I wrote a review of it here: http://thesilverkey.blogspot.com/2008/03/bernard-cornwell-mans-writer.html). It feels very much like the late 5th century, shortly after the fall of Rome. It's graphic and historical and quite good.

But here's the thing about Excalibur: It's mythical, deliberately a-historical. The arms and armor aren't supposed to match up with any real period in human history. The fight scenes serve a purpose other than spectacle (Arthur's duel with Lancelot teaches us about the folly of pride and the value of humility) and so on. If you come to it looking for realism you're out of luck, but it is a very serious treatment of the Arthurian themes.

Ted Cross said...

I had already put those books on my Amazon wish list, as I've enjoyed many of his books already. I still believe that a gritty, realistic version of King Arthur done with the panache of LOTR would be a smash hit.

Andy said...

I do think the fight scenes in Excalibur tend to be clunky. I don't think the fight choreography is very good.

Martin said...

The Excalibur remake was canceled because Warner Bros. decided to make another Arthurian project instead, called Arthur and Lancelot.

If I'm not mistaken this also resulted in the shelving of two other Arthurian projects, called Pendragon and oddly enough, Excalibur (not a remake). There are two movies about Snow White coming up though.

However, Arthur and Lancelot itself has been shelved at the moment because of studio budget issues. And they'd cast the guy playing Jon Snow on Game of Thrones as Arthur, and were approaching Gary Oldman for Merlin...

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks for the info, Martin. Always worth keeping an eye on the next Arthurian projects...

I wonder how a Gary Oldman Merlin would play out?

Taranaich said...

I don't know what I'm happier about: that this or the proposed Robocop remake (with a "faster" Robocop, which is as stupidly wrong-headed from a thematic standpoint as fast zombies) was shelved.

francisco said...

Ted Cross can see The first knight with Richard Gere sure is more interesting for him... Excalibur is one of the best films I have seen, dark, psychological and absolutely epic

by the way what about the tv series Camelot?