Excalibur features a laughable script as well as some of the most hammy acting this side of the Carry On films. The legend of King Arthur, Merlin, the sword of power and the bravery of Lancelot receive a firm Hollywood re-write here. The story, even at its most grotesque or baroque, represents a messy writer’s mind. In fact, make that two writers, for John Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg shamelessly ignore tradition in favour of self-indulgence.
Where did it all go wrong in this adaptation? Quite simply, the tone fluctuates in a skewwhiff fashion much like the tragedy of Macbeth in the hands of director Roman Polanski. Even with the highly talented Gabriel Byrne and Helen Mirren, the picture goes astray.
Cinematographer Alex Thomson received his only Oscar nomination for this confection. He would go on to photograph Hamlet, the crown jewel in his work. By comparison, Excalibur gives him very little to do, except play it safe. The lighting merely replicates a soft overcast look from beginning to end. Even the darker scenes are too bright.
Each battle sequence looks under-rehearsed with only a gentle sprinkling of authenticity. Pacing matters little to Boorman, who fails to find his groove amidst too much exposition and poorly designed interior situations.
Equally weird and a tad uneven, Excalibur offers scant entertainment value for those already familiar with this story of knights and the round table.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" by MPAA.)