The Magic of John Boorman’s “Excalibur”

Hey Creeps, have you recovered from that full year’s supply of cheese I served up last time? Good! For this installment, I’m going to keep it a bit classier as we examine John Boorman’s seminal examination of Arthurian Legend, Excalibur!


Released in 1981, Boorman’s rich adaptation of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur offered viewers a stunning vision of both shocking brutality and glorious fantasy. Magic and religious allegory stood side by side with scenes of epic gore and mythological resonance. While the story follows the traditional beats of the King Arthur story: a young Arthur pulls the sword Excalibur from the stone, he becomes the king of England under the tutelage of the wizard Merlin, he weds Guenevere (who eventually has an affair with Arthur’s trusted friend the knight Lancelot), establishes the Kingdom of Camelot, sends his knights on a quest for the Holy Grail and is finally murdered on the field of battle by his evil son Mordred (conceived when Arthur’s half-sister Morgana takes the form of Guenevere through sorcery…dammit Ator, you’ve started a really nasty trend in these articles) whom the King kills before expiring, the presentation is unlike any other telling of the tale. Magic and religious allegory stood side by side with scenes of epic gore and mythological resonance, filmed with a startling color palette that makes everything seem idyllic regardless of what is transpiring on screen. No attempts are made at strict historical representation (the armor does not match that found during The Dark Ages in which the film is set, magic is excepted as a reality etc.), yet everything seems “right” to the viewer, as if we are imagining the legend brought to life through a filter of fairy tale reality.

While Boorman’s direction is amazing, the acting talent on display is remarkable as well, as the cast includes many famous faces such as Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Helen Mirren. Perhaps the most impressive element of the film itself is that the cost of the film was a mere 11 million dollars…miniscule for this kind of elaborate costumed fantasy.

If you want to experience Excalibur for yourself, please head here to grab yourself a copy!

O.K., next time I promise to blow your minds with a fantasy film unlike any other (especially since you can’t see 90% of it)!

Stay Spooky!

Daniel XIII

Daniel XIII: equally at home at a seance as he is behind the keyboard! Raised on a steady diet of Son of Satan comics, Kaiju flicks and Count Chocula, ol' XIII is a screenwriter, actor, and reviewer of fright flicks! What arcane knowledge lurks behind the preternatural eyes of the Ouija Board Kid?

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6 thoughts on “The Magic of John Boorman’s “Excalibur”

  1. Atari Adventure Square says:

    So glad you’ve hailed this Boorman wonder into the spotlight after slicing through the cheesy Sword & Sorcery thornbush surrounding the genre.
    As I said, I get a kick from *all* of these flicks, but Excalibur truly focused our D&D group’s attention into serious consideration of a knightly playfield for our minds.

    As you mentioned, the gore and lush, meticulous visuals of the film stunned audiences, though not all for better.
    I think the remaining embers of 70s ultra-violence seeped into several early 80s genres where they could, to find that ‘Push The Envelope’ edge.
    Maybe the producers behind this movie and Disney’s surprisingly bloody (and upsetting for many) Dragonslayer thought swords meant more slice than politics.
    I think it was more a critical miss than hit because of this.

    Didn’t matter to us, we were transfixed by the movie on the big screen (in curtain-pulling days) and later on VHS and cable.
    Never missed a chance to rewatch it as growing teens, and increasingly enjoy Merlin’s sorcery and Boorman’s very adult retelling of an oft-told tale.

    Certainly appreciate you giving fans the urge to pull the sword out of the stone…
    Ah…I mean, movie out of the shelf, so this odd-in-its-way marvel can be revisited.

    Yeah, still looks amazing for such a ‘low’ budget movie.

  2. @Atari Adventure Square I definitely can see where you are coming from with your view on the gritty, violence drenched cinema aesthetic of the 70’s still trying to find a foothold in the early 80’s. In Excalibur’s case, I always perceived the violence to be necessary to the tale as the film presented a barbaric age that became idyllic for a time, but was still every bit steeped in violence as the time before. The blood that flowed seemed to be more the blood of the land than the knights it poured from. Now, imagine if Boorman had made his version of Lord of the Rings…

  3. This is the version of the excalibur/arthur story I remember the most.

    …..However, I also remember it very little. Why? Because I couldn’t begin to follow it. I remember seeing this on TV back around 1985 or so (don’t recall if it was on netwoprk TV or HBO), and while I was drawn in & kept in by the action & visuals & other things, I couldn’t begin to follow the story, especially near the end with the big battle & the search for the grail. It’s like the makers of the movie were on an acid trip at the time.

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