Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Cast and crew
Exaclibur was directed by John Boorman and stars Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as his half-sister Morgana, Nicol Williamson as Merlin and Nicholas Clay as Lancelot. Liam Neeson, in one of his first film roles, plays Gawain, and Patrick Stewart plays King Leodegrance. Cherie Lunghi plays Guinevere. Several members of the Boorman family appeared in the picture. Igraine (Arthur's mother), the Lady of the Lake, Mordred as a boy, and the infant Arthur were played by Boorman's children.
The cinematography is by Alex Thomson and emphasises the gray skies, stone and bracken, waterfalls and tarns of the film's Irish locations in Wicklow, Tipperary, and County Kerry. The armour was designed by Bob Ringwood . The screenplay is by Rospo Pallenberg with Martin Boorman . The soundtrack is by Trevor Jones, with sound bites and samples drawn from Orff's Carmina Burana and Wagnerian motifs, of fate (Ring) and fatal attraction (Tristan und Isolde).
Adaptation of the myth
The film is based on Malory's Morte d'Arthur. However, in order to recast the Arthur legend as a myth of the cycle of birth, life and decay, the text was stripped of decorative or insignificant details— and also stripped of Malory's Christian piety. The resulting film is seen through the lens of mythographic works such as Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough and Jessie Weston 's From Ritual to Romance. 'The film has to do with mythical truth, not historical truth,' Boorman remarked to a journalist during filming.
Merlin states the film's central theme:
- You will be the land,
- And the land will be you.
- If you fail, the land will perish;
- If you thrive, the land will blossom.
Pallenberg and Boorman's screenplay touches the heroic themes with directness: "Any man that would be a Knight... and follow a King: follow me!"
Excalibur has received extremely divergent responses from audiences. When it was originally released, many reviewers praised its 'magical realist' tone, which combines sorcery and mysticism with gritty and violent realism. However, others lambasted it, seeing only exaggerated acting, garish colours and clumsy dialogue. Today, many of those who love the film respect it as an unusually serious, poetic and faithful adaptation of the myth. But others enjoy the heroics as a camp classic, revelling in its absurdity.
Excalibur's unsentimental depiction of a 'fantasy' setting was an influence on many subsequent films and television series, most recently Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Indeed, Excalibur grew from Boorman's attempt to film Tolkien's trilogy; in the mid-1970s, Boorman had collaborated with film rights holder and producer Saul Zaentz on a treatment of the Tolkien epic, but the project proved too expensive to finance at that time.
- Excalibur, King Arthur's sword, the central symbol of kingship for Malory and the film.
- The IMDb entry on Excalibur
- Darren Withers, "The Quest for the Hollywood Grail" analyzes Boorman's Excalibur
- Michael Everson's analysis of Merlin's "Charm of Making"
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