Saturday, April 17, 2010

Medieval Movies

So I decided to do a little movie review post. I will keep my opinions limited to those movies I actually possess. My ratings will be based on the quality of the movie itself (primary) and, if it is based on a book, how good an adaptation thereof the movie is. Of course, these are not actual movie-critic quality reviews, just my thoughts on various movies.

The 13th Warrior (1999) * * * * *
This is one of my absolute, all-time favorite movies! Based on the Michael Crichton book Eaters of the Dead, this movie is a Beowulf-esque story about an Arab diplomat (Anotnio Banderas)who embarks on a mission with a band of Viking warriors to save a village terrorized by an ancient evil. While the armour and weapons carried by the various characters looks like some production assistant raided a storeroom somewhere and just grabbed whatever they could carry, and there are some gaping plot holes (like how an Arab manages to learn the language of his companions so quickly) this is still one damn good story.

Kingdom of Heaven (2005) * * *
This movie really was saved, in my opinion, by the cinematography and the acting skills of Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, and Edward Norton (because he portrays King Baldwin, you never actually see his face, but he still owns his scenes). Ridley Scott over does it a bit, making the Evil Templars and the Good Saracens into cartoonish caricatures, not compelling characters. The funny part about this movie is that the best and worst scene are the same. In the beginning, there is a scene where Liam Neeson's character, a Hospitler knight, is training his son, Orlando Bloom, how to fight with a sword. First he tells him to "never adopt a low guard; hold your sword like this" and grips his arming sword above his head, blade upright, and gripped in both hands; a position, he claims, "the Italians call Posta di Falcone". Well first off, the Italians will call it that when Vadi calls it that. In 1490-ish. (That one had me actually slap my own forehead in the theatre!) So, it is the worst scene because the information they dole out is horribly incorrect, but it is the best because it shows that Hollywood is actually starting to realize that knight's did have organized training. No if we can only get them to get it to within the proper century.

Timeline (2003) *
This one was a HUGE disappointment. I loved the book, which dealt with all the problems associated with time-travel - which the movie completely glosses over. To be frank, the acting sucks, the editing sucks and the "historical accuracy" really sucks. The fictional battle of Castlegard takes place in 1357, which makes some characters walking around in 15th century full plate really damn funny! Or when the knights are "sparring" by simply swinging their swords at each other while they are still in the scabbards! But, by far, the best piece of trash in this steaming pile is the night-time seige, when the attacking force ceases loosing flaming arrows (a Hollywood favorite) and looses a non-flaming flight - in response to which a defender cries "Night arrows!" >.< All in all, read the book, skip the movie.

A Knight's Tale (2001) * * * *
Funny story about this movie - when I first went to see it in theatres, I went with a good friend of mine. As soon as Queen's "We Will Rock You" come on, he got so disgusted he got up and left while I got excited and sat forward in my seat. This movie is under no circumstances historically accurate, but it doesn't claim to be. Maybe it's because it combines two of my favorite things (Classic rock and knights), but I really enjoy this one. Once again, it shows knights actually training (although not very systematically) and brings the proper attitude to late Medieval tournaments as a pure sporting event. Also, the inclusion of Geoffery Chaucer in the main characters is just too cool! In fact, in the deleted scenes there is a great one involving Chaucer and his wife.

First Knight (1995) * *
Oh boy! This Arthurian movie, starring Sean Connery as King Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot, is...interesting at best. From the American Gladiator's-esque obstacle course, completing which allows Lancelot to join the Knight's of the Round Table, to the mini shoulder-shields worn by Arthur's knights, to the bad-guy's pistol crossbows, to Prince Malagant's (the bad guy) giant, half-serrated sword (I shit you not), this is one random movie. Not even the normally compelling Arthurian story-line can save this one. But, I admit, I still watch it occasionally. Why? Because it stars Sean Freaking Connery, that's why.

Excalibur (1981) * * * *
Even though this film features some of the absolute best sword-piercing-breastplate, after having previously bounced off helms, etc., scenes in all film history, it is a wonderful film. Beautiful cinematography combined with the Arthurian story, presented in such a way that you know it is a myth (lots of sparkles) make this a must-own, must-see movie. Oh, BTW, keep your eye out for a very young Liam Neeson.

King Arthur (2004) * * *
This is a rather disappointing attempt to tell "the real" story of King Arthur. It's a good flick to watch, but there isn't much real content behind it. Tristan uses what is essentially a Chinese Dao and Lancelot uses two gladii. Could have been really great, but ends up so-so.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03) * * * *
Had these been more faithful to the books, I would have given them five stars. Still, this trilogy makes almost as big an impression as the book trilogy does. I can, and have, watch these over and over. Pretty cool tid-bit is that Tony Wolf (of Bartitsu fame) designed the various fighting styles for the races of Middle Earth. SO, in the "Return of the King" when Aragorn rushes the Orcs and holds his sword in what looks like Vom Tag, it probably actually is.

HBO's "Rome" (2005)
* * * * *
No, not medieval, but one of the absolute best historical tv shows I've ever seen! Sadly, it only lasted two seasons. The thing I love the most about the show is a comment made by the producer during a "Behind the Scenes" featurette - "We did not strive for historical accuracy because too many of our viewers wouldn't have gotten it. Instead, we strove for historical authenticity; keeping it as accurate as possible, but where we had to change something, we tried to keep the feel of it." And you know what? It works. I think Hollywood could take a page from the producers of "Rome" and learn that lesson - it is not about historical accuracy as much as historical authenticity.

1 comment:

redknight38 said...

One other reason why I like "A Knight's Tale" is that it makes references to the lives or works of Chretien du Troyes, William the Marshall and Ulrich von Lichtenstein (other than the name). People dismissed it as fluff, but there it is, medieval literary and historical references.