Excalibur (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

You know how we guys are. Sometimes we just love things far more that they deserve. How many times have you thrown your energy into a relationship, only to find out that the woman wasn't as interested as she seemed to be. (They could save us a lot of time by telling us these things immediately). It isn't just women. We get unnaturally attached to all sorts of things like baseball mitts, putters, and movies. Excalibur is one of those for me. I can't rationally explain why I think this and Blade Runner are such great movies. If I get too analytical about it, I'll have to admit that they aren't as good as I think, but dammit, I love those two films.

Excalibur is John Boorman's take on Mallory's Morte D'Artur, via White's The Once and Future King, spiced by an eccentric performance by Nicol Williamson as Merlin. The Arthurian legend is probably the greatest romance in English literature, and one of the saddest of all the great literary sagas, encompassing the double betrayal of the naive, idealistic Arthur by his wife and his best friend on the one hand, and by his sister and their incestuous son on the other.

Boorman brought the spectacle to life beautifully. I like the stirring, rhetorical dialogue, the lyrical tone, the idealism, and the tragic finale. Can your heart fail to be moved when Arthur says "there will be another", and persuades Percival to throw the sword back into the lake, so that England may be redeemed.

The visuals are gorgeous and unique. One of the most interesting visual elements is the fact that the knights are always wearing highly polished and reflective armor, making them look like sparkling diamonds in all the daylight scenes. The nighttime battle scenes at the beginning are shot in a very artistic way, so that the horses seem to be black shadows fighting on a deep orange background, as if they were fighting behind a screen, with a light source further behind them, rendering every snort of the horses visible in the cold air.

My favorite scene, however is the "last battle" between Mordred and Arthur, shot in purple darkness amidst the battle dead, with an enlarged orange sun shining through the mist, dominating the background. 


  • Look for some future stars in tiny roles: Gabriel Byrne, Captain Picard, and Liam Neeson, to name three.

  • Merlin and Morgana hated each other in the script, as did the actors who played them, Williamson and Helen Mirren, so the sparks you see are real.


Cheri Lunghi is topless in her forest scene with Lancelot

Katherine Boorman is topless in her love scene with Uther Pendragon

Helen Mirren's breasts are seen beneath a fish-net top

Nicolas Clay shows his buns twice


DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • Full-length director commentary (Boorman)

It is a very good movie. It would be a great movie if not for the Grail Quest, which degenerates into some kind of LSD trip for Percival, and still doesn't make sense to me after a score of viewings. That section is mercifully short, however.  

This story, as it is represented here, encompasses who we are as English-speakers growing up in the English literary tradition. This is how our imaginations are meant to soar, and how our hearts are meant to be touched.  It's a miracle. And if you think it's good on DVD, absolutely do NOT miss it if it ever comes to a revival theater.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.4 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B+. The absolute standard for literacy in sword and sorcery movies. The only one I can think of that I really like!

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