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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Arthur the King (1985)

(aka: Merlin and the Sword)



Reviews and Comments

Quite possibly the worst adaptation of the legend of King Arthur and Camelot ever to be recorded on film, Merlin and the Sword is an absurd, overacted mess. The framing story is this: a woman visits Stonehenge with a tour group, inadvertently falls into the underground cave and eternal prison of Merlin and his love, Niniane. How'd they get there? Niniane wanted to save her father from the clutches of Morgan Le Fay by learning a powerful spell from Merlin and using it against him. (Niniane asked why Morgan Le Fay didn't cast a spell to rid her of him herself, but Morgan replies that Merlin is more powerful. Later, after Niniane betrays Merlin, he asks why she didn't just ask him to cast a spell to get rid of Morgan, for after all, he was more powerful than she. Niniane replies that she didn't know Merlin was that powerful. You figure it out.) After Niniane betrays Merlin and then learns the spell would trap her too, she exclaims, "How could you do this to me??" Not a bad line for a badguy to utter, but Niniane is supposed to be a sympathetic character in spite of this misdeed. You figure it out.

At any rate, the tourist is a big Camelot junkie who knows exactly who Merlin and Niniane are (it's lucky she subscribes to the same variation of the legend that the movie does). So naturally Merlin starts relating the entire story to her in numbing detail. You figure it out.

Most of the film is told in flashback. There's Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Gawain, Mordred, and -- who could forget? -- Grak. They stumble through a series of the clumsiest swordfights I have ever seen (the one between Arthur and an undead knight is of particular note -- Arthur trips and falls all over the place and deliberately throws himself into vulnerable positions), and there's a lot of inept dialogue. It culminates in the immortal last words of Morgan Le Fay: "I'll die!!!!!"

There's one part that I'm still puzzled about. During Merlin's telling of the story of Camelot to the tourist, one thousand years later, the tourist suddenly makes the desperate plea for Merlin to go save somebody in the story. And he does! But didn't these events occur one thousand years in the past? You figure it out.

The stupidity of this inexplicable plot twist is matched moments later by the cheesiest ending imaginable -- the tourist hits upon the way to escape the cave prison: love each other, and the rock they're standing on will spin around and carry them back to Camelot at the exact moment they left it.

The amazing thing about this is the number of names in the cast: Malcolm McDowell, Candice Bergen, Edward Woodward, Dyan Cannon, Rupert Everett, and Liam Neeson (as "Grak") are some of the cast members. And they all make utter fools of themselves. I can only hope they're not proud of it. If I were in this movie, I'd keel over in deep mortification every time someone mentioned it.