Anchor Bay // 2011 // 515 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 7th, 2011
This is the story of Camelot that has never been told before.
It's almost axiomatic that Arthurian films are terrible. Sure some might protest -- Richard Gere was hot in First Knight! Robert Bresson uses the camera beautifully in Lancelot Du Lac! -- but by and large, films featuring the Knights of that Round Table are just not good. There's the kiddie fare, like Unidentified Flying Oddball and A Kid in King Arthur's Court, but even that stuff pales in comparison to some of the truly awful adult Arthurian features like the disastrous Sean Connery feature Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Gawain and the Green Knight. The lone exception on which most cinema fans can agree is Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which should tell you volumes about how to treat Arthur successfully on the big screen. The first problem that assails feature film adaptations of the medieval tales is that they have so many characters it's impossible to treat them seriously in a two-hour movie (thus the success of treating them non-seriously in Holy Grail). The second problem is the episodic nature of the original tales, which tend to contain a lot of repetitious action inappropriate to a compressed feature film. A television series doesn't have these problems, and so I held out some hope that Camelot: The Complete First Season could learn from the mistakes of its cinematic brethren and craft an epic adaptation of the courtly adventures of the names we know so well. Fat chance. What we get instead are ten episodes of overwrought story with little direction and so-so acting. Not even the decent DVD release can make up for the underwhelming content.
When King Uther dies, he leaves two children, half-siblings Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower, Sweeney Todd) and Morgan (Eva Green, The Dreamers). Uther's wizard Merlin (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love) installs Arthur on the throne, but Morgan feels it is hers by right. Morgan plots to take the throne while Arthur does his best to unite his shaky kingdom. All ten episodes of the first season are included on three discs:
* "The Sword and the Crown"
* "Lady of the Lake"
* "Three Journeys"
* "The Long Night"
* "The Battle of Bardon Pass"
The back of the DVD boxes tells us to "Forget everything you think you know...this is the story of Camelot that has never been told before." That sounds exciting, but I would guess that most people don't have very many -- if any -- clear stories of Camelot. Sure, most people can name the principal players -- Arthur, Guenivere, Lancelot, maybe Percival or Gawain -- but their exploits are not nearly as famous as the battle between someone like Robin Hood and the Sherriff of Nottingham. So, a blank slate we don't need.
However, that tells us everything we need to know about what Camelot is trying to do. Like other shows (*cough*The Tudors*cough*), Camelot is trying to reinvent its subject in a sexed-up, modern kind of way. So, out with bloodless jousting and courtly love, in with violent intrigues and copious nudity. In fact, we meet Arthur without his clothes, having wooed a young maiden in the woods. The woman is actually attached to one of his friends, and this liaison shows how brash, young, and charming the new king is, or it's an excuse to show naked young people. Take your pick.
There's nothing wrong with this idea; after all it worked just fine for The Tudors. However, those looking for a satisfying costume drama will be disappointed by the execution of this Arthurian reboot. The sets have a cheap feel to them, and the costumes don't look that much more exquisite than one would find at the local Ren Faire. The tone of the show is also a bit hard to pin down. It seems to want to be serious like other shows out there -- including not only The Tudors but Game of Thrones as well -- but there's a certain hammy-ness to the show that can get distracting at times. I don't dislike Joseph Fiennes as an actor, but his Merlin is goofy intense rather than a serious wise wizard. Eva Green is an actor I admire as well, but here she's reduced to mugging for the camera, using her exotic good looks to stand in for effective characterization. Finally, Jamie Campbell Bower's Arthur has the charm that his good looks afford him, but his exuberance makes the character feel underwritten.
This DVD is much more impressive than the show it contains. The ten episodes are spread out on three discs, with four episodes for the first two discs and the special features on Disc Three with the final two episodes. Usually four hour-long episodes is a bit much, but Camelot looks pretty good with these anamorphic transfers. The show's overall look is pretty dark, and as I said before the sets and costumes don't bear much scrutiny. This means that the transfers are never going to be reference quality, but black levels are appropriate and compression artefacts aren't a serious problem. During the brighter outdoor scenes color saturation is excellent and detail is strong. The Dolby 5.1 surround tracks are really dialogue-heavy, but during battle scenes the surround comes alive a bit. They're good but not great tracks.
Featurettes comprise the bulk of the extras for this set. We get a behind-the-scenes peek, as well as looks at the women and knights of Camelot. There's an on-the-set movie, along with a blooper reel, and some character profiles to help you keep everyone straight. They're not in-depth, but for a show of this type the extras are surprisingly extensive.
Perhaps my expectations for Camelot were raised impossibly high considering it came out at the same time as Game of Thrones to which it could not possibly stand up. For those looking for a slightly goofy take on an Arthurian costume drama, Camelot may be worth a rental. Similarly, if you have to see more Joseph Fiennes or Eva Green, then this is the show for you.
Camelot is a so-so Arthurian adaptation, completely unsure of its direction or tone. It could become something really interesting, but for now it's really only worth a rental for Round Table fanatics.
Camelot is guilty of not sending Arthur on enough quests for good stories.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 515 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Blooper Reel
* Official Site