Excalibur (Blu-ray)(Warner Home Video, 3.8.2011)
While many films from the eighties haven’t held up as well as might be expected, John Boorman’s Excalibur is still a rousing adventure, compressing most of the essentials of the Arthurian legend into 141 minutes. The most surprising choice by Boorman (and co-writer Rospo Pallenberg) is devoting almost as much time to the background preceding the hero’s birth, the quest for the Holy Grail by Percival (Paul Geoffrey) and the magical machinations of Merlin (Nicol Williamson) and Morgana (Helen Mirren) as they do to the doomed love triangle between Arthur (Nigel Terry), Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay). While some might quibble with the casting -- Clay is particularly limp -- the story itself, the action sequences, the beautiful cinematography of Alex Thomson and the use of Carl Orff’s “Camina Burana” and several pieces by Richard Wagner carry the film. Mirren and the deliciously hammy Williamson are terrific, while Gabriel Byrne, Ciarán Hinds, Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart are all memorable in small roles.
This Blu-ray offers much crisper images than the 1999 DVD did. There is some graininess -- especially early in the film -- that might be traced to the occasional use of rather primitive special effects and some shots are soft, though this appears to be deliberate. Yet there are many striking images, as when Arthur’s knights ride through a shower of white flower petals. The sole extra is a surprisingly dull commentary by Boorman (from the old DVD), who too often merely describes what is happening onscreen and remains silent for minutes at a time. -- Michael Adams