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Sunday, August 25, 2013

first knight

first knight
starring sean connery, richard gere, julia ormond
1995

much like king arthur, another big-budget hollywood epic that followed it by about a decade, first knight is an example of a rather curious creature - a movie that takes the arthurian legend and turns it on its ear. though it doesn't do so nearly to the same degree as the later movie.

so where to start? how about with director jerry zucker, better known for movies like airplane, naked gun and ghost, a guy who has come right out and said that he really wasn't the best person to be directing such a movie as this. and indeed he wasn't.

in my recent reviews of excalibur and merlin, i noted that they both make the mistake of trying to pack in too much of the legend into 140 and 182 minutes, respectively. that's one mistake first knight doesn't make. it chooses instead to take one relatively obscure arthurian yarn and spin it off into a movie, along with focusing on the better known antics of lancelot (richard gere) and guinevere (julia ormond).

at the heart of this story is one prince malagant, a scurrilous sort who's straight out of central casting, villain dept. and who's harrying arthur's people by razing villages, obliterating the populace and that sort of thing. when he abducts guinevere, who's recently arrived at camelot and is due to be hitched to arthur, lancelot springs into action and singlehandedly rescues her.

which kidnapping and rescue are quite ludicrously over the top and suited more to an errol flynn-styled swashbuckler than anything else. and what better time than right now to talk about gere's portrayal of lancelot, who is essentially portrayed as a superman with a snotty attitude and hair that's oh so very gq.

guinevere comes off somewhat better here, perhaps because she's an actual human being rather than the cardboard cutouts that feature in so many arthur movies. as for the third member of that infamous love triangle, the first thing that jumps out about sean connery as arthur is that he's certainly no spring chicken. as for whether a scottish accent is really appropriate for arthur, well, probably not.

all of which can be overlooked since connery serves pretty much as the anchor of the movie. arthur is the good guy of the piece, plain and simple, and connery plays him with a level of calm authority that's hard to beat. as for the rest of the actors, well, there aren't really any, aside from ben cross as boris badunev/prince malagant. yes, there were a bunch of guys sitting around the (somewhat impressive) round table in a number of scenes and presumably they were the knights of said round table but you could pretty much categorize most of them as glorified extras.

first knight was panned in many quarters and i wouldn't necessarily disagree, but on the other hand i have a pretty high tolerance for even mediocre arthur movies. this one had a few moments that were actually quite impressive, though more for the staging than anything else. probably the best of these being when guinevere arrives at camelot at night to be welcomed by arthur and all of the knights carrying torches and then gets her first glimpse of camelot itself. arthur and guinevere's wedding ranked quite high on the spectacular meter as well.

i guess the best i can do is to damn this one with faint praise and say that you could probably do worse (no page boy haircuts in sight and no one breaking into song, at least) but you could certainly do a lot better.