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Marilyn and I went to see "King Arthur" yesterday afternoon. It was....ehhhhhh, okay. The costuming was excellent, and the stage fighting was very good (though I question the choice of having Lancelot and the Saxon leader using a fencing fighting style circa 425 AD). We discussed it afterward, and I found that I analyzed it far more than Marilyn had - indeed, I found myself analyzing every scene. I can say that I went into it with higher expectations than I should have had, perhaps - I haven't read any reviews on it yet (though I'll probably bounce over to RottenTomatoes after I finish this entry), so I spent some time trying to put my finger on what went wrong, and why it bothered me so much.

Either I'm getting very tired of Hollywood conventions, I'm getting more perceptive in spotting them, and/or I'm becoming paranoid of making the same mistakes in my own work. Here are a few complaints about the movie:

- Arthur has a 21st century mindset, justified in the script by his admiration for the teachings of the historical heretic Pelagius. According to what little I've read about Pelagianism, he stressed the power of free will and denied original sin and the need for Christ's saving grace and sacrifice (he was one of the "Jesus was a good teacher" school). A portion of Arthur's mindset in the movie - and his opposition to the Roman church - can be justified this way in a historical context, but unfortunately, the responsible party takes this WAY too far, making Arthur into a proponent for the absolute equality of all humanity, freeing peasants and telling them to do what they wish with their lives. Arthur is painted as the Great Emancipator, railing against slavery at every turn (that is, Roman slavery - he never addresses the slavery inherent in any other culture, which, if I'm not mistaken, would include pretty much every culture back then). I kept wanting one of Arthur's knights to turn to him and ask, "Um, who's going to harvest our food for us? 'Cuz we're certainly not going to give up our arms and horses and do it ourselves..." At one point he even appoints Joe Peasant to act as leader of a group of refugees fleeing Saxon warriors, ignoring the fact that there are four or five soldiers in the group who might have a slight edge in martial matters over the dirt farmer.

As I read somewhere else, if you're going to write historical fiction, "Let the past be the past." This is one of those points I struggle with myself. We, as authors, often have something to say, and we're telling stories intended for modern people, so there is a question of relevance; but you can easily go too far in putting your philosophies into the mouths of your historical characters.

- On a similar note, there is no positive portrayal to be found of the Catholic Church. Every clergyman is shown to be either manipulative, selfish, or insane, interested in little more than self-preservation and physical punishment of sinners. Arthur is the Church's only proponent, but he's a heretic...unless you count Pelagius himself, who is treated in absentia as a saint, but again, a heretic.

I was pleased, however, to find that all of the Romans had Italian accents. Too bad they couldn't pull off this unified front for any of the other groups (Sarmatians, Saxons, "Woads" - some of them speak in British accents, some in American accents, and occasionally there's one who uses the right accent, like the #2 villain, the Saxon leader's son).

- I recently read in an article about women in horror movies that most often, when a woman is presented as a "Strong Woman," she's actually just an ersatz man. She acts like a male in a female body most of the time: fighting, being sexually aggressive, showing she can keep up with the guys - UNTIL the script requires her to be a woman, by falling for the male lead character, or needing to be saved. Guenevere's depiction in this movie was a pretty blatant presentation of this syndrome. Guenevere has no personality whatsoever - she's the wide-eyed hero-worshipper when Arthur first rescues her (from the clutches of the evil/insane Roman Catholic monks, if you were keeping count), the sexual aggressor when she gets Arthur alone, and the tough-talking fighter when they're facing the Saxons. However, when she goes up against the #2 Villain, just when I was about to be pleased that the authors were going to let her kill him, she suddenly becomes weak and "feminine" and falls down, needing to be rescued by Lancelot.

I asked Marilyn after the film was over if she could describe Guenevere's personality, and she couldn't. Neither could I. I asked her to keep me accountable and prevent me from writing female characters that way - I've detected a definite tendency in my own writing to do the same thing!

I probably have other complaints - like the fact that the Arthurian names are all used, but, aside from Arthur himself, there seems to be very little connection to their legendary namesakes. I understand that the authors wanted to present the characters of the Arthurian romances in a raw, "historical" form, but the names given seem haphazard - "Here's a bunch of guys, my fellow Sarmatians (!?), Lancelot, Bors, Gawaine, Tristam, and, uh, I dunno, Galahad I guess." Now, from that, you might think that Lancelot's the best warrior of the bunch. You'd be wrong - he's on the same level as the others, and in fact, seems to be the whiniest and most conservative of the lot. Gawaine would be the swaggering womanizer, right? Nope. Bors is. He has a lot of kids, anyway. Galahad's the pure-hearted, pious one, right? Nope. He's the...um, I don't know. Galahad's just kind of there, one of the guys. He's not Lancelot's son, either, in case you were wondering.

There was another guy in Arthur's group whose name I never caught. Too bad, because he was kind of an interesting character. For a while, anyway.

On a different subject, I went over to the school library today and read two graphic novels: I Never Liked You by Chester Brown and Tiny Bubbles by James Kochalka. In both cases, I had a kneejerk reaction, and then a different reaction upon thinking about it, which means that the artist's done his job well, I think. I don't know if I'd necessarily recommend either of them, but I can say that they provoked thought and made me look into someone else's mind for a while, a mind that I wouldn't necessarily agree with on, oh, most anything, probably.

That could still just be my kneejerk reaction talking, though.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 09, 2004 at Monday, August 09, 2004 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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