Movies for Gamers #14: Excalibur

This is part of a series of reviews of movies particularly interesting or inspiring for role playing. Because of their setting, style, characters, editing or story. Read the introduction here or here if you are new to this series.

Knights in stainless shining armour, with shoulder pieces like football heroes. Flashing blades of silver and gold. The swelling song of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. It's King Arthur from legend. It's John Boorman's Excalibur.

No, it's not realistic. No, it's not historical. No, it's not even true to Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory – although it doesn't stray too far off. But it's magickal. It's mystical. It's dramatic, it's tragedy. You could say it's visionary. It's even somewhat gritty. And bigger than life.

My favorite is Merlin, portrayed by Nicol Williamson, who is scary and funny at the same time. Plotting behind the scenes he both witnesses and steers the land and Arthur from the old time of myth into the time of Christianity. But is it what he wants? He is caught in an inevitable drama like all the others. From the sword in the stone to the search for the Holy Grail. It makes him very intriguing.

In role playing I've not yet dared to impose the same kind of inevitability on the players. Usually it doesn't feel right – and players hate to be railroaded. Usually it doesn't feel right in a movie either, but here it does. Maybe it is because the characters have such a clear sense of purpose and destiny, and they do not care that they direct themselves to their own doom. Maybe that's why it works. All characters have to do what they have to do.

Now that might work in role playing, but the players would need to know. All would need to know beforehand that they will play in a tragedy. All should know that they will push their characters into their own damnation. All would have to know and agree it will not end well. Then it might work. Food for thought. Food for a coming experiment.

On the other hand, if Arthur would just have been cool about Lancelot and Guinevere, there would have been much less of a problem.

Excalibur was finished in 1981, but it feels timeless. Worth viewing and viewing again, different from virtually every other movie in feel. And yet, there is a remake in the works. By Wunderkind Brian Singer, who also did “The Usual Suspects”, “The X-Men” and “Valkyrie”. It's produced by John Boorman himself – who did the 1981 Excalibur – and it's scheduled for release in 2012. Then we'll have the Once and Future King once again.

1 comment:

  1. Excalibur evokes that kind of emotions that only singular classic movies can. It does not just have the characters knowing they are pushing forwards into their own damnation. The viewers know it as well. Somehow, knowing how it ends in this particular case allows for a different point of view and makes the movie work in such ways as to make it timeless.