I fear for fantasy films. After Seventh Son and a milieu of other failures, I have become less confident in the abilities of studios to spice in fantasy in large doses. I hope that all movies are good. I can’t imagine anyone who would want movies to flop horribly. Unless it’s an Adam Sandler movie—those people seem to enjoy burning $12. When I sit down in a dark theater all alone with a few other people I hope for two things. The beautiful, unabashed roar of silence from fellow patrons and that the picture will be worth my time. Fantasy of historical reimaginings never cease to sketch me out when I see them in the years release line up.
That’s how I feel about King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword. Watching the trailer, I can imagine a film that really captures the idea of divine providence and heroism. As Led Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” whips forward, that kind of legendary power seems within the grasp of this live action imagining. On the other hand, I can see the film death spiraling into a misguided torrent of farce that attempts to mystify, combining the beloved lore of King Arthur with hapless fantasy nonsense. This could be a Huntsman-stylized garbage fire. I hope not, but it could be.
During several moments of the trailer we see fantasy elements appear for very brief moments. One is a sprite emerging from a tree and another sees a woman, possibly a mermaid, reclaiming Excalibur from the depths of the ocean after Arthur rejects it. If these elements are used supernaturally within the context of the story, in that they are only seen by the audience and not the characters, we could have an enchanting story. For the characters, moments of divine intervention would seem explicit to viewers while remaining innocuous to Arthur and his constituents. This distinction between what we see and what the characters understand would add to that legendary nature of such a famed tale. I rarely see movies with this kind of split diegetically in film. This is the reason moments like those found in Inception are so powerful because we are seeing things that characters are not, leaving us to think, “Wait, is this sequence a dream too?”
Alternatively, the impact of this tale would be considerably sullied if fantasy was actively present in the world. It is uninteresting as it is a fact that we have to accept—fantasy stuff is happening, I guess. That’s the end of analysis. This is not the same as fantasy elements in Lord of the Rings because the intrigue of that piece lies in the relationship between its characters rather than its setting. King Arthur was (debatably) a real guy and a more grounded telling of his “history” would be more welcome in the market inundated (maybe apart from The Hobbit) with by bad fantasy over the last several years.
A lot of stories nowadays try to shoehorn in fantasy to add in layers of costuming and CGI at the detriment to story and intrigue. Films like the Huntsman do this the most heinously and have virtually no redeeming qualities in either department of fantasy or plot. Its classic story is lost on an overly complicated musing into the realms of rather dull reimaginings.
Sometimes the story of a king can be told as is. No embellishment required.
If I have to waste money, my upper echelons of tolerability is $10. If a movie is bad, I waste at least 1$2. Not only is that two dollars over my limit, but it always wastes my time as well. It is moments like this, when I sit the the Schrodinger zone of this film, I am hopeful and fearful.
For King Arthur, let’s hope we will be cheering for him to pull the sword from the stone, rather than fall on it.
Featured Image by Warner Bros.