½*/**** Image B Sound D+ Extras C+
starring Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Nicol Williamson
screenplay by Rospo Pallenberg and John Boorman, adapted from Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur by Pallenberg
directed by John Boorman
by Walter Chaw Anyone with an answer for what the good fuck is going on in John Boorman's Excalibur is the forgiving sort who already has a working conversation with the Arthur mythos--who's already read T.H. White or at the minimum watched The Sword in the Stone. Maybe said scholar was also a fan of Winston Churchill and likes to think that the great British PM was the very reincarnation of the 1st-century figure; maybe in a fit of frustration at the film, WIKIPEDIA was consulted. But most likely, the person who finds not only coherence in but also affection for Excalibur was nine or ten when they first saw it, enjoyed the tits and swordplay, didn't notice the acting and the screenplay and the green light "special effect," and was probably just as happy with any other contemporary fantasy that provided the same (Ladyhawke, Clash of the Titans, Legend, Conan the Barbarian, Dragonslayer). Really, the picture Excalibur most resembles is legendary stinker Krull (which likewise features an embarrassed-looking Liam Neeson in a tiny secondary role), complete with deplorable special effects, identical central plot, incomprehensible execution, and from-outer-space choices everywhere else. It probably shouldn't be as big a surprise as it seems, given that Boorman has been obsessed with, and essentially retelling, the Arthur myth for the bulk of his career and, at the point at which Excalibur was made, had been working on the project in some form for nearly two decades. The film meant the world to him--and that romance with it appears to have drowned out the warnings of his better nature.