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.|
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.|
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?"|
* 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.|