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Showing posts from November, 2021

Arthur and Merlin: Knights of Camelot

I stumbled upon this film while I was looking for Merlin , the previous stop on my Arthurian films tour. It’s very recent (released in 2020) but pretty obscure, starring nobody I’ve ever heard of and bearing an ugly rash of one-star reviews. Most of the one-star reviews rightly point out that it has a clumsy and misleading title: Merlin is not by any definition a Knight of Camelot, and even if he were, he’s only in this film for about five minutes (he’s played rather well by Richard Brake).  I’ve decided to stop blogging about the bad Arthurian films I encounter, and this one certainly isn’t good, but it does have  a couple of interesting things about it that make it worth including here. Of all the films I’ve watched for this blog so far, I think this is the only one which makes use of the story related by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Malory that Arthur led his knights across the Channel on a war against the Roman Empire. Perhaps these stories originated in folk memories of cha

Merlin (1998)

I remember Merlin being shown on TV as a two-part mini-series over a bank holiday weekend. The version I found on YouTube is a single three hour movie, but I think it might work better in two chunks, as originally broadcast. It still works pretty well, though. Director Steve Barron is completely infatuated with video editing tricks and slightly primitive CGI effects that I’m sure were state-of-the-art when it was made, but he uses them quite inventively, and there are some very enjoyable performances. Since First Knight was such a washout, I guess this is the definitive ‘90s Arthurian film. Like Excalibur , the definitive ‘80s Arthurian film, it tries to tell the entirety of the Arthur story, but since it’s main focus is Merlin it covers a lot more too, and Arthur himself ends up being a bit of a side-character, with the rise and fall of Camelot packed into the second half. At first glance, Merlin seems to be aligning itself with what I’m coming to think of as the Low Arthurian tradi

First Knight

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think I’ve reached the point in my survey of Arthurian Films now where I can identify it as a firm rule - the First Law of King Arthur Films: if you leave out the magic, they turn into Westerns. It’s a two-way street, of course: the lonely heroes who ride through Hollywood’s ahistorical version of the Wild West are really just knights errant in a new setting. It makes me wonder if anyone has ever gone the whole hog and just made a Western based on  Le Morte D’Arthur  or  Gawain and the Green Knight  or something. And if not, why not?  In Jerry Zucker’s 1995 film First Knight  the Western element is really quite explicit. Jerry Goldsmith’s lush score sounds like it’s come from a John Ford film, the Knights of the Round Table wear navy blue uniforms and carry yellow pennants like the Seventh Cavalry, and evil Prince Malagant’s riders gallop into town like a gang of outlaws, tossing burning torches into flammable buildings and shooting down hapless bystan

Mortal Engines: Twenty Years On

I got thinking in the night about the early versions of Mortal Engines . I don’t have them any more - they filled an ever-growing stack of notebooks all through the ‘90s and you can’t hang on to that stuff forever - I just keep a few scraps, which I’m reproducing here. So I’m quite vague on a lot of the details now. I remember the world was quite different from the world I eventually ended up with, but I can’t recall how the story worked (or didn’t work) within that. It was called Urbivore or Hungry City in those days, and the most obvious differences were that it wasn’t set in the future and London never crossed the North Sea (which was still a sea, so how could it?). Every version started with some variant in the same first line - it was a nice day and London was chasing a small town of some sort.  The setting was a sort of parallel world where Traction Cities had arisen fairly early in the industrial revolution. I can’t remember if it was set in Victorian times, or in a present da

Twenty Years of Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines is twenty years old today - it was published on 16th November 2001. Above is some celebratory artwork Sarah McIntyre has done for the occasion. And publisher Scholastic are marking it with new editions of the whole quartet featuring a snazzy silver anniversary roundel (but retaining Ian McQue’s cover art, which is one of the best things that’s happened to the series. I don’t talk about Mortal Engines much these days because it was so long ago. (I started working on various early iterations of it sometime in ‘91 or ‘92, so this is mor like the thirtieth anniversary for me - at that time I never really imagined it would get published, let alone that people would still be reading it in 2021.)  Looking through it a few years ago I was struck by how much of a spoof Mortal Engines is - I’d forgotten that it really started out as a kind of parody of action/adventure stories. Sustaining that over 300 pages (more like 700 pages in the early versions) meant that the characters h

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot

The last Arthurian film I looked at wa s a bit of a washout, and I wasn’t expecting anything much better from The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, a British TV show from 1956. But to my surprise, it turns out to be rather good! It shows fairly regularly on Talking Pictures TV I believe, but the first ten episodes (of a total thirty) are easily found on YouTube. It was made at Nettlefold Studios, Walton-on-Thames, by the same production company responsible for that Robin Hood series with the annoying theme song (‘Rubb’n Hood, Rubb’n Hood, ridin’ through the glen’ etc. Sir Lancelot has its own annoying theme song in the same style (‘In days of o-old, When knights were bo-old…’) but it doesn’t come in until the end credits of each episode, so that’s all right.) It apparently re-uses some sets and costumes from Robin Hood too. It’s very much in that classic Hollywood-Merrie England style I’ve talked about before, but it’s probably the best example of it I’ve watched so far for these blogs: it’

Here Lies Arthur

With this blog currently mostly concerned with Arthurian Cinema for some reason, I thought I should do a post about my own contribution to the legends, my 2007 novel Here Lies Arthur.   Cover art by Ian McQue   I thought of this book around the same time I started work on Mortal Engines , and started writing it pretty much the moment I finished A Darkling Plain . My thinking was that, having written so much about the future, it would be nice to write about the past for a change. Actually it wasn't as radical a change as I'd imagined - post-Roman Britain, with its grubby inhabitants living among the ruins of a lost civilization, felt just as post-apocalyptic as the Traction Era. The background is largely based on I stuff I read back in the 'eighties when Arthur was my big obsession. It's set at some unspecified point in the late 5th Century, when the former Roman province of Britannia is facing raids by Irish, Pictish, and Saxon invaders, while local warlords carve out t

The Spaceman and King Arthur

Mark Twain’s book A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur was published in 1889 and has been filmed several times - I’ll be looking at some of the other versions soon. This attempt, directed by Russ Mayberry, dates from 1979, and tries to bring the story bang up to date by making the hero an astronaut. When I went looking for it on the Disney channel I found it hiding out under an assumed name, like a snitch in the witness protection programme. It’s alternative title is Unidentified Flying Oddball, which is an absolutely terrible name for a film, and a completely inappropriate one for this film, but it does give the viewer some idea of what they can expect… Our hero is a horribly chipper NASA robotics expert called Tom Trimble (Dennis Dugan). Accompanied by his android double (?) he’s piloting an experimental space shuttle-y thing that somehow ends up going back in time the way experimental space shuttle-y things do (??) and landing in Arthurian times. Then things develop al

The Kid Who Would Be King

The Kid Who Would Be King is a 2019 film from writer-director Joe Cornish  which imagines 21st Century school kids taking on the mantle of Arthur and his knights. A ny synopsis will make it sound like a rather generic children’s story, and I suppose that’s because it is ,  but for the most part it’s a likeable one and bounces along pretty entertainingly. Alex  (Louis George Serkis) is our Once and Future Tween. He finds Excalibur embedded in a lump of concrete in a building site like enchanted rebar and, having pulled it out, is contacted by an eccentric teen Merlin (Angus Imrie) who explains that the ancient evil once harnessed by the sorceress Morgana is on the rise again because the world is so divided and conflict-ridden. (I must confess, I had some trouble with this - is the world really more divided and conflict-ridden than it was in the Cold War? Or the 1930s? Or 1914? Where was Morgana in 1939? Loafing about in her cave I suppose… I do wonder about the wisdom of constantly tel