Film: Excalibur

Of all the film adaptations that have wrestled with the Arthurian legend, the one that comes closest to capturing its grandeur is John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), a mad, magnificent movie that belongs on any responsible list of modern cult classics. It’s also easily the most ambitious and bizarre entry in a cycle of elaborate, expensive fantasy pictures commissioned in the early ’80s in the aftermath of Star Wars, a list that also includes Dragonslayer, Legend, and Conan the Barbarian. The industry’s thinking was that George Lucas’s blockbuster was basically just the Knights of the Round Table in Space, so why not swap out the lightsabers for broadswords and give the people what they really wanted?

Boorman was perhaps the most talented and eccentric of the new guard of British filmmakers that sprung up in the 1960s. He was quickly recruited to Hollywood for the magnificent pop-art hitman thriller Point Blank before scoring multiple Oscar nominations for Deliverance. Nobody made weirder, more audacious genre movies in the 1970s than Boorman: Both the science-fiction satire Zardoz, featuring a beefy, diaper-wearing Sean Connery as the last sexually potent man on earth, and the critically reviled Exorcist II: The Heretic were deluxe, delirious, all-out follies that left audiences wondering what the hell they had just seen.


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