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Arthurian blockbusters: Three movies changing the rules

Hellboy

Feature by Jack Foley

THERE are a few UK trademarks automatically associated with the country, but none have made the same impact as the Arthurian legend.

Despite the lack of evidence that King Arthur and the round table ever existed, storytellers have continued to amuse the masses with their versions. Today, we’ve moved far beyond T.H. White’s, Once and Future King, to the imaginative re-tellings of film-makers.

Three blockbusters stand out from the past three years for their producers’ grand, if criticised, poetic license…

3. Hellboy (2019)

Neil Marshall went for a far more hellish angle to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2004 and 2008 adaptations, while drawing on the connection between Hellboy and King Arthur as the superhero fights against Nimue, the Blood Queen.

Gore, humour and overwhelming CGI action sprinkled with ancient legends and moral contemplations sum up what this film entails. The overall production, as supported by the reviews on Metacritic, is too rushed and confused to be fully appreciated, especially compared to the high standards of its predecessor.

However, the fantastical horror its special effects bring to life, from Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged hut to gigantic monsters from hell, deserves commendation.

2. Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

Transformers: The Last Knight

The creator of Armageddon and The Rock put his own spin to Arthur’s story by placing Transformer knights at his side. Michael Bay outshines Marshall in CGI extravagance, not to mention signing on Anthony Hopkins as an eccentric Earl and Transformer historian, as well as Stanley Tucci in the brief role of a shady Merlin.

The Telegraph offers an opinion in defence, highlighting an important fact: you watch Transformers for fun and laughs, not meaningful depth.

This film should be enjoyed as the next step up in the action-packed franchise’s exploration of how far special effects can go to tell – or retell – stories.

1. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Guy Ritchie’s adaptation, released a month before The Last Knight, was also met with mixed reviews. 6.8 is an admirable IMDB score, but earning it has been a battle in itself. Fans praise the gritty pace, full of banter and subplots, the CGI-heavy action and, of course, Daniel Pemberton’s unforgettable music.

On the other hand, critics condemn the director for a jumbled and unsatisfying interpretation of the legend, excluding many characters and reducing Arthur’s origin story to a less regal one.

Ritchie’s signature tricks, like quick jump sequences and fights, vivid characters and settings, was a modern shock to the system of sweet, straightforward fairy tales. And messing with beloved folklore is clearly not for the faint-hearted.

A silver lining

King Arthur has inspired more elements in popular culture than just cinema, elements that are perhaps better received. Video gamers, accustomed to developers mixing and matching mythology for the fun of it, are more welcoming of creative re-imaginings of this particular legend.

The Order PS4

So, it’s hardly surprising to come across titles like Sonic and the Black Knight on Wii or The Sword and The Grail among the slot games available through casino promotions at MagicalVegas.com.

Play’n Go uses the popular faces of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere and Lancelot on its 5-reel game as easily as Ready At Dawn borrows their names and whole background for its steampunk third-person shooter title, The Order: 1886.

These latest Arthurian film adaptations may have missed the mark in one way or another, but comparing audiences across the entertainment industry, from video games and beyond, shows that their appeal is a subjective matter. At the end of the day, the legend of King Arthur has plenty of upright representations. Directors as artists should now be allowed to have their fun.