Thursday, November 7, 2013

Quest for Camelot (Warner Bros. 1998)

When putting together the list for this volume of the blog, I pretty quickly decided that I would arrange it by film studio, rather than chronologically. And which studio to start with was a no-brainer. Warner Bros. and Disney were rivals going back to the short subject days when Warner’s Merrie Melodies  and Looney Tunes began wiping the floor with Disney’s Silly Symphonies (I’m sensing a naming theme). As Fleischer Studios passed into memory, Warner became Disney’s most heated rivals in the cartoon short game. But feature animation was pursued by Warner more cautiously, until the early 1980s, when they started to distribute animated films produced by other studios, and met with modest success. After the smashing victory of The Lion King, Warner kicked up their distribution game into high gear, and started preparing their own animated films. The first of these was Space Jam, a live-action/animation mix that we’ll get into later, but by 1998, they were ready for the first fully animated prong in the Warner Bros. Feature Animation attack.

ACTION!

ADVENTURE!

A GUY WHOSE FACE IS SOMEHOW OFF-MODEL IN EVERY SHOT!

IT’S QUEST FOR CAMELOT!

Who wrote your tagline, Leo Tolstoy?



This is a bad movie. In fact, while I was watching it, I thought it was worse than any of the Disney movies, and while I can see now that was an overreaction, it’s still very very very not good. Let’s start with the most obvious problem, the inconsistent tone. The movie was based on the horribly-titles novel “The King’s Damosel”, which was apparently a fairly serious and sober work of Arthurian legend. I keep reading that the movie was originally intended to be a serious and dramatic movie originally, but I’m not sure they were ever going for much by way of adaptation, as you can see from this list of similarities between the movie and the book:

1 - There is a blind guy in them.

With a goofy-ass face.
That’s pretty much it. The book began with an adaptation of the legend of Lynette and Lyonesse, then continued with Lynette taking a job as a messenger for King Arthur after she is abandoned by her husband. The movie is about a girl named Kayley who wants to be a knight, and has to find Excalibur and return it to Camelot before the evil ex-knight Ruber can invade. Which means it’s not even a quest for Camelot, it’s a quest for Excalibur. Though I suppose it’s “for Camelot” in that it’s on Camelot’s behalf. “Quest undertaken as a representative of Camelot”.

Anyway, changes to the story aside, the intent was still to make a somewhat serious movie, and the plot, while aggressively formulaic, is not bad for that. But somewhere along the line, the studio got cold feet and decided that for the first plank in their assault on Disney, it was best to try to rip them off as much as possible. So the decision was made to “Disney-fy” it, via the following methods:

1 - Make it a musical.
2 - Wacky sidekicks.

GO TO HELL.
Number one is particularly annoying, since as far as I can tell, the film was already cast when that decision was made. The singing voices bear no resemblance to the speaking voices to an extent beyond anything I’ve ever heard. Have you ever listened to Celine Dion and thought “I bet that’s what Jane Seymour would sound like when she sings”? Or perhaps you have heard a Journey song on the radio and mistaken Steve Perry for Pierce Brosnan? Of course not, because you are not an insane person. The same cannot be said for the person who cast the singing voices in this movie. Worse than that is that they clearly also had the movie scripted when they added the songs in, because for the most part, they stick out like poorly-composed sore thumbs. Dion’s dreamy, slow, and dramatic “The Prayer” (which was unaccountably nominated for an Oscar) is used to underscore a dramatic and action-packed escape scene which doesn’t fit it at all. The dragons sing a wacky, anachronism-filled introductory number, a standard trope of post-Aladdin animated films, but the humor doesn’t match anything else in the movie, the random ‘dream sequence’ style comes out of nowhere, and the song is clearly meant to set up their characters… but they’ve already had a very lengthy scene and proper introductions. It’s useless, it gives us nothing, it was clearly just crammed into wherever they found a lull in the script.

And that gives me the perfect segue into the movie’s second failing, the wacky sidekick characters, of which the dragons, Devon and Cornwall, are the worst offenders. While they never warp reality or demonstrate magical abilities after their song is over, they do keep making anachronistic jokes that don’t work at all in the context of the film, and aren’t funny anyway. At least it’s a relief from the warmed-over Odd Couple comedy that they rely on for the rest of the movie. They’re conjoined, you see, and one of them - I have no idea which is Devon and which is Cornwall - loves fancy things like theater, and the other one likes… Well, it’s very vaguely defined. Fancy Dragon likes culture, and Other Dragon doesn’t, but he also doesn’t have any well-defined interests of his own. When they sing about what they’d do if they were separated, Other Dragon just sings about how happy he’d be to not be attached to Fancy Dragon. He does express attraction to human women at several points. Is the joke that he’s a straight guy attached to a gay guy? Wasn’t that a Farrelly brothers movie?  (Wait for it.) They are played by Eric Idle and Don Rickles, and you get no points for guessing which is which. Idle is a MUCH better singer than Rickles, which really hurts their duet.

Oh yeah, great idea, put a reference to a good movie in the middle of your bad movie. 

The other comic relief characters fare similarly. Ruber’s pet griffin is serious, sinister, and silent in the fight scenes, but in between makes snaky comments in the voice of Bronson Pinchot. Ruber’s henchmen have all been magically merged with their weapons to make a badass cyborg army, which is almost a cool idea, except that he tested it by merging a chicken and a hatchet, resulting in the whimsical underling Bladebeak, voiced by Jaleel White. I have no idea how merging a chicken and a hatchet results in an intelligent creature who can speak English. Actually, it seems to make the rest of his men stupider. And prevents them from dropping their weapons if need be, which leads to some serious issues later. I’m pretty sure it was a terrible plan all around. Ruber himself is somewhat comedic, but in an interesting “crazy villain” way. He’s really violent and unhinged, he punches a dragon to death at one point, and is voiced in a series of strange lurching screams by Gary Oldman. I feel like if the exact same character was in a better movie, I’d really like him. At least Oldman does his own singing. Well, I say “singing”.

Actually, the one thing I can say for this movie without reservation is that - singing voices aside - the casting is very good. The charming, sarcastic hero is Cary Elwes, Pierce Brosnan is a suitably dignified King Arthur, White and Pinchot use creative and funny voices that don’t just copy their famous goofy sitcom accents, Idle and Rickles are consummate pros as ever. The only disappointments in the cast are Kayley, played by an actress I don’t recognize and am too lazy to look up, who plays the role very bland and flat, and John Gielgud as Merlin. Not that Gielgud’s a bad actor, obviously, but he’s got like two lines. I probably wouldn’t have remembered Merlin was even in this movie if I hadn’t noticed that they wasted maybe the greatest actor ever. That helps it stick in the memory.

Speaking of the greatest actors ever, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Gary Oldman.

The animation is… Well, it’s underwhelming, but I’m just now coming off 50+ Disney movies, so maybe my standards are a bit too high? This obviously wasn’t Warner’s first foray into animation, nor even the first feature film they produced on their own, but it was the first they put a lot of effort into, the former one being based on a television show and animated by the same folks that did the show, and for considerably less money. This was big-budget feature animation with all-new character designs, and I’ll forgive a lot of the technical screw-ups for that reason, but I have a sneaking suspicion I’m being too generous. There is one CGI troll in the movie that is just gob-smackingly awful. Poorly integrated mid-90s CGI is going to be a trend this year, just so you know.

I can’t be as kind to the designs. Garret, the blind forest person, is particularly bad to me, since every time I paused the movie to make a note or get a snack or beat my head against the wall in frustration, it would pause on his face, and it always looked horribly goofy, but in a different way every time. Most of the human characters looked too stiff and sort of washed out, and the creature characters looked rickety and awkward. Ruber gets both ends of that, as well as raising the question of why Arthur decided the gray-skinned, eight-foot, jagged-nailed monster psychopath would fit in well at the Round Table.

"Did anyone check this guy's references?"
This was a pretty dire first effort for a studio with such a history. While there was clearly talent involved in the making of it, the plot was nonsense, the script was lousy, the animation was shoddy, the songs were dreadful, and the entire movie was just plain unpleasant to watch. I’ll admit, there was the occasional joke that made me laugh, but they were few and far between, and there were far more that made me… Not just not laugh, but whatever the opposite of laugh it. Hgual, I suppose. While I was watching it, I was sure it was the worst movie I’d ever seen for this blog. It’s not, but when that’s the main instinct it evokes, that’s not a good thing.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

* In the climax of the movie, Ruber uses his potion to merge himself with Excalibur. I was interested to see what sort of magic sword-monster he turned into, but it turns out it’s just Ruber with a sword for a hand.

* Kayley eventually defeats him by tricking him into stabbing the famous “In The” Stone with Excalibur, which for some reason kills Ruber and separates the sword from him, then sends a wave of healing energy out that separates the weapons from his soldiers without destroying them, and heals some strategically dramatic wounds on good guy characters. What’s really weird is that the healing wave also separates Devon and Cornwall, despite the fact that they were born conjoined, but doesn’t heal Garret’s eyes, despite him not being born blind. I’m glad they avoided the nasty implications that arise whenever a disabled character is magically healed, but it causes something that already makes no sense to make even less sense.

* Oh! And Devon and Cornwall embrace each other while the healing wave is still going out, thereby rejoining their bodies! Maybe it’s not healing magic, just some loose plot threads.

"Hey, how many rocks in Stonehenge?" "I don't know. Just draw one of the things, the audience'll get it."

* Much of the movie takes place in the Forbidden Forest (no, not that one), where all the grass and trees and stuff are apparently alive. No one ever mentions this and it never becomes relevant. I guess the background animators were just bored.

* I am somewhat heartened to learn that WB lost quite a bit of money on this, due in part to releasing it in the middle of a crowded summer, surrounded by Deep Impact the week before, The Horse Whisperer (which, incidentally, features the actress who played Kayley) the same week, and the massively hyped Godzilla the week after. While none of those movies (well, maybe Godzilla) were in direct competition, the advertising for all three was intense, and Q4C got lost in the shuffle.

* Seriously, Godzilla was INCREDIBLY hyped. I don’t recall when I’ve ever seen a movie so aggressively advertised, except maybe The Phantom Menace. And it worked, because that’s the movie that got 14-year-old Brian’s allowance added to it‘s receipts. Sure wasn‘t Quest for Camelot. Or the Horse Whisperer, for that matter, though I did see that on VHS a year or so later and quite enjoyed it.

Seriously, these things were everywhere.
* There was a good side to Quest for Camelot’s failure, apart from artistic justice, and we’ll see that next week.

5 comments:

  1. This blog offers Expert reviews by a giant faggot who doesn't know how to enjoy himself.

    Go fuck your mother. You stupid, sad, simple, elitist fuck. only disney movies are great? really? I'm amazed by your inability to enjoy yourself, you fucking meek pebble of shit.

    Are you retarded or were you just beaten as a child? Probably both. Go back to begging your mother for blowjobs, you sad, retarded, cunt. and Gay blog btw lol. -Someone takes themselves too seriously -you really should change your name to "Brian Bitch". and hey thanks for reading this whole thing you fucking idiot.

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    1. Oh thank goodness, for the longest time the only angry comment I've ever gotten was that one from the weirdly intense Julian Sands fan.

      My favorite part is "only disney movies are great? really?" as if that's something I said and not something they imagined. They posted this just a couple of weeks ago; my Iron Giant and Cats Don't Dance reviews are super easy to find from here. Hell, I even mostly liked Thumbelina, that's how big a dumbass elitist I am.

      My second favorite part is the grammar.

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    3. I'm extremely amused at this level of anger in response to you not liking Quest for Camelot.

      Also that someone so deeply offended by your dislike of Quest for Camelot is calling you out for taking yourself too seriously.

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