There's nothing worse, I'm afraid, than a bad movie that isn't amusing when you watch it ironically. Earlier this week, Susan and I saw Jerry Bruckheimer's King Arthur; the movie unintentionally provided us with a few laughs, a couple scenes were almost okay, and the fight scenes were decent, but the movie overall didn't offer much that you couldn't get from the preview. Some thoughts:
Troy and King Arthur are very similar movies, I'd argue: each is an unsuccessful attempt to demythologize (and perhaps historicize) a series of events from legend. I never understood critics who claimed that Troy's producers showed their lack of seriousness when they decided to leave out the Olympian gods; as Mary Renault showed, it's possible to write intellectually sophisticated narratives that attempt to portray ancient legends in historically plausible terms. Similarly, I don't think that movie adaptations of famous legends and myths should necessarily be criticized for every departure from the original story, as long as they remain true to the spirit of their source.
Nevertheless, Troy and King Arthur are impossible to take seriously because they make two crucial mistakes: any attempt to historicize myths and legends has to be appealing on both a historical and a human level, but neither movie seems to realize this. First, neither film seems concerned with the world it's describing or interested in historical plausibility. The film-makers' decision to give the Knights of the Round Table a Sarmatian background seems completely random, for example--I suspect that Jerry Bruckheimer was just desperate to come up with a rationale for yet another Camelot movie. (Compare the world of King Arthur to the carefully realized world of Mary Renault's novels; any plausible attempt to reimagine an ancient level will be as concerned with the world it's describing as it is with the characters we already know.) Second, and just as importantly, both movies depend on viewers' knowledge of the source material: you have to take it on faith that Achilles and Arthur are great warriors before you see the movie, for instance. Ioan Gryffyd's Lancelot is likeable enough, but he's completely forgetable; without the backstory from Arthurian legend, he's just not interesting. To be successful, however, a demythologized adaptation of a legend has to be compelling in its own right. You have to believe that familiar legends could develop from the story as told by the movie--whose makers are cheating if they appeal to viewers' knowledge of myth and legend.Posted by Ed at July 18, 2004 03:04 PM