Having seen Gladiator and Lord of Some Rings et al, I decided to kick it ol' skool style last night and finally watch John Boorman's 'Excalibur' (1981), starring a young Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Helen Mirren (mrowl) and a big mess o' unknowns. Over the years I've heard many people talk about what a fantastic movie it is.
With that in mind, Reba and I were hoping to have our imaginations whisked off to faraway mystical lands and all that. Instead, we found ourselves being bussed to a town where it's hard to keep from laughing.
I realize the reason for this is because special effects have evolved a helluva lot since 1981, and seeing Excalibur in post-Gladiator mode was quite silly.
Mind you, it's a great movie to play Mystery Science Theater with. There are scenes just begging to have you add your own dialogue. In one scene, both Reba and I simultaneously said (ala Southpark's Chef), "let's all get in the tub".
And there are some great dated optical effects involving the Holy Grail, where you see the grail super-imposed over the interior of a magnificent building, giving it the effect of floating in mid-air in the building. Alas, you also see the black velvet covering the table the grail was shot against, which took this powerful moment and, for me, ruined it.
Then there's a scene where Merlin, the mighty wizard, having been frozen for all eternity by Arthur's evil sister Barbara (I forgot her actual name) comes to Arthur in the form of a vision. Arthur asks Merlin if he is real or a dream. Merlin replies, "a dream to some, but a NIGHTMARE TO OTHERS!!!", at which point he raises his arms dramatically and disappears. Not the kind of disappearance one comes to expect these days, with a blinding flash followed by a rapid fading away accompanied by smoke or something. No, he just completely disappears over the course of one frame of film. He's there...he's gone. I know film makers used to use this simple trick all the time, but again, I now realize how long it's been since I've seen an effect that wasn't computer-generated, or at least computer-enhanced. You could almost hear the director saying, "Just raise your arms and walk out of the picture, we'll edit out the part where you walk away in post".
But I don't mean to sound all snobby and "I could do better"-sounding here. This is all in good fun, and if you can transport yourself back to 1981 expectations, 'Excalibur' IS a smashing film, complete with sex scenes performed in suits of armor, and a fantastic orchestral score consisting of passages from Dicky Wagner's "Der Ring des Nebelungen", completely free of cheesy synthesizer usage! (a major thing for a film made in the 80's, if you axe me).
It also made me wanna watch Braveheart again, dammit.