Excalibur tells the story of King Arthur, from his simple beginnings to his noble ends. War plagues Great Britain, and many countrymen relish at the thought of peace as everyone is making claim to the Kingship. It is told that who ever removes Excalibur from the stone will be declared King. This legend might sound familiar to you as The Sword in the Stone (Excalibur being the sword). It is a mythical sword, which has been said to have magical, and only a noble and worthy man can bear it. Every noble i… the land claims they are worthy enough to remove the sword from the stone but each who tries, fails. Arthur, who has yet to realize who he really is, accidentally removes the sword one day. Being so young, the nobles are divided on whether to follow him as King. Civil war wages on and Arthur quickly defeats and unites the remaining noble leader, forming the fellowship of the Round Table. From here we are taken on the adventures that span most of Arthur’s life, including the search for the Holy Grail.
Excalibur has hit a chord with many people and has its own cult following, unfortunately I could not be completely drawn in to this film. Excalibur has all the elements to make it an enjoyable movie but misses the mark from making it truly memorable. Some scenes seemed really out of place, and overall it failed to captivate my attention with drawn on dialogue and mediocre action scenes.
What I did enjoy about the film was the extended timeline we are taken throughout the picture. From before Arthur was born, until his finals days, the movie does a good job in progressing the story, even when skipping twenty years between some scenes. Excalibur features the acting talents of some greats including Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Patrick Stewart in small but well executed role. As for the main cast, I must give Nigel Terry who played Arthur kudos for his performance in this movie. He made a believable Arthur, as we see him age from a young shy adult to an old broken man, this is one element that is portrayed perfectly.
All this sounds good and works well in some cases but the main problem for me is the how the story is executed. Many scenes just don’t work, with some not making sense, and others just dragging on. Put this along side some rough editing and you get a film that feels poorly put together, it goes to show that fine acting cannot save a movie that is poorly directed and edited.
Excalibur is presented in 1080p 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and doesn’t manage to impress with its visual transfer. For a film that is twenty-five years old I wasn’t expecting a perfect transfer but the inconsistency throughout the entire film is inexcusable. At times the film looks very good, with details and colors showing vibrantly. Blacks for the most part look deep and rich, which is a surprise for a film of this age. However other times the film can really look as soft as a standard definition DVD. There are a few scenes where there is a presence of grain and dirt so great that one would wonder how Warner could have missed these imperfections. I know that these were imperfections from the original source material but they truly look awful, some of the very worst I’ve seen on HD DVD.
Visually I was disappointed with Excalibur presentation. It is this inconsistency that really hurts the films presentation. While some scenes really look good it is marred by the extreme presence of softness and grain throughout.
Encoded in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, Warner managed to give Excalibur a better audio track when compared to its video presentation. Of course when you have a movie this old you will encounter some muffled scenes as well as echoed dialogue. This doesn’t seem to be much of a problem through out the movie though, as the track does hold up well.
Excalibur is a front heavy mix with the occasional rear speaker sound but don’t expect The Last Samurai battle cries. There is also an apparent lack of bass; we are instead welcomed by the “tinny” sound that occurs during some battle scenes.
All this aside the film does still sound good for the majority of the time. You can tell that there was effort put in the audio track. It is not as inconsistent as that video and most dialogue scenes do sound very good.
Excalibur is fitted with no extra features besides a Commentary track and a theatrical trailer. This is disappointing to fans who were expecting a more complete package since the DVD release.
- Commentary by Director John Boorman – If you are a fan of the film this commentary track is worth checking out. We are given some interesting tidbits on the production of the film.
I did not know what to expect when I first sat down to watch Excalibur, but after watching it I come away with mixed feelings. The story itself is interesting enough to keep viewers at the edge of their seats, but the way that it is presented is disappointing.
If you already own the SD DVD version of the film then you can pass on this version. The disappointing video and extras make this hard to recommend to anyone but die hard fans.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary