Thursday, April 16, 2009

Where Are We?

So that’s the short but sweet interlude that was Easter over with. Shame really, because I was rather enjoying sitting in my folks’ garden surrounded by the blazing slashes of colour in the flower beds, the pear tree in full blossom, and even buds appearing on the recently planted apricot tree, listening to the melodic chirruping birdsong.

When that proved too taxing there were always strolls along the promenade beneath the wheeling Herring Gulls, first in the home town and then up the coast in the company of the Lovely Actress where a couple of overly optimistic sunbathers were stretched out on the beach. After theatre on the Saturday night she came over for lunch on Easter Sunday. Served up in the kitchen we retired to the patio table to eat in the sunshine.

Far too soon I was pried out of the lawn chair and on my way back to the city where the clear blue sky was smeared with a dirty grey smudge of cloud and the muted drone of traffic seeped through the double-glazing. If there was one tiny glitch in the four days of bliss it was that as Easter Monday drew to a close I watched the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced King Arthur, dropped into BBC One’s schedule like one last steaming turd before they flushed the bank holiday weekend away.

As someone who has been enamored with the Arthurian legends since childhood it was obvious that this pile of baloney, meant to show a “historically accurate” version of the events, would be anathema to me so it was my own fault for watching it. Ignoring how the legends were totally skewed, it was at least entertaining to see Ray Stevenson audition for the role of Titus Pullo in HBO’s Rome, even if Dagonet was Arthur's court jester rather than the steely-eyed warrior, and Ray Winstone raise his profile in Hollywood as the lusty, rather than pure of heart, Bors.

On the downside Clive Owen’s “Artorius Castus” was an empty suit of armour and Keira Knightley portrayed Guinevere as a vapid pout, which pretty much sums up every role she plays. Even worse, the first clash with the Saxons was a piss-poor rip on the battle of the ice climax from Alexander Nevsky – although the short term memory mopes would probably point toward the climactic battle in Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain, not knowing it was a homage to Eisenstein – made worse by the typically overblown Hans Zimmer score in place of the original Prokofiev.

As for the supposed historical accuracies, we could ask why the fuck the Saxons were coming down through Caledonia to attack Hardian’s Wall from the north? Or where the Picts (or “Woads”) got their trebuchets? Or more especially, what were the Romans that Arthur and his “knights” had to rescue before gaining their freedom from Rome’s service doing north of the Wall to begin with? While I could pick at this nasty scab of a film all day and all night, there was one thing that utterly spoiled it for me, and that was its utterly misplaced sense of geography.

I don’t mean daft geography, like Robin Hood riding from Dover to Nottingham via Hadrian’s Wall (and all in one day) in Kevin Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, another of Hollywood’s attempts at making a complete dog’s breakfast of English myths in the name of popular entertainment. While I’m sure I was paying attention to King Arthur, for most of the time I simply had no idea where the characters were supposed to be at any given time.

Obviously it was set around the north of England’s border region but I was at a loss to where the initial garrison was in relation to Hadrian’s Wall, in relation to Ken Stott’s character’s northern estate. Why the hell did the Arthur and his men from the Sarmatian auxiliary cavalry have to travel through the Pict-infested forest? Or was that simply to shoehorn the natives into the narrative by way of introduction?

It may have been that Antoine Fuqua, King Arthur’s director, simply forgot to shoot any brief establishing shots to drop into the edit. That utter failure to put things in context reminded me of Renny Harlin’s abominable studio-destroying Cutthroat Island. Obviously it has been a long time since it washed up on the box, giving me the opportunity to see which particular godawful, redundant stream of spew made by Carolco brought down the company, so I may not have the details right, but the one sequence that stood head and shoulders above the rest in terms of slack-jawed ineptitude was the chase through the island town.

Which island, I can’t rightly say, because I’m sure there was more than one. Either way, it involved Genna Davis’ gormless dough ball-faced pirate escaping from somewhere, taking off on a cart and being chased by soldiers on horseback. Down the mean cobbled streets everyone went at a gallop, probably ending up at the quay, but at no time was there a proper idea of where the escapee was in relation to her pursuers or where either party was in the town itself.

Maybe budgetary restrictions precluded the use of wide shots or maybe it was simply a combination of directorial and editorial incompetence, but any tension or excitement the narrative was trying to pull out of the bag fell on its arse simply because nobody was keeping track of where anyone was. Then again, even if King Arthur had the necessary slivers of connective tissue I doubt it would have made it any better.

Fuqua, Bruckheimer and writer David Franzoni, whose script shows how vital John Logan and William Nicholson’s contributions obviously were to Gladiator, should have heeded the words of Carleton Young’s character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance when they set out to make this “historically accurate” version of Arthur:

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”


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