DVD Review: First Knight

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
SRP $19.94

Director: Jerry Zucker
Stars: Sean Connery Richard Gere Julia Ormond, Ben Cross

To quote Vanessa Redgrave, “It’s May, It’s May…. The glorious month of May.” And I celebrated by inserting a much loved movie into the DVD player, popping a little popcorn and getting to work for Crimespree Cinema.

First Knight has risen again. This 1995 retelling of the Arthurian Tale of a king, his bride and the knight who loves them both has been rereleased by Columbia Pictures on DVD and Blu-Ray. Originally conceived to be a reunion between star Sean Connery and his Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton one can only imagine what might have been had Hamilton not died.

I still remember reading in the paper that Sean Connery had signed on to play Arthur and I would have paid for my tickets right then and there. Sean Connery/King Arthur; we have a winner folks. Add to that Richard Gere as Lancelot. Age, Smage. Lancelot is about sexy and swashbuckling and Gere has those. Julia Ormond as Guinevere made perfect sense as well. Fresh off of the movie, Legends of the Fall a better piece of casting could not have happened. Throw in Sir John Gielgud as Guinevere’s advisor and Ben Cross as the evil Prince Malagant and roll picture.

Jerry Zucker stepped in for the deceased Hamilton and has brought a lushness to the film that befits what has to be the most universal legend of them all. This retelling of the tale of Camelot is about the end of the story. You will find no mention of Merlin, Morgana or Excalibur here although at a climactic moment within the final fight scene you will remember as surely as Zucker did, just what Excalibur is.

First Knight is a medieval parable for the thoroughly modern citizen. We’re introduced to Lancelot, talented swordsman with no thought of a future. He is a drifter. Lady Guinevere is first seen on screen in a playful game of ball, a young Queen with responsibilities and naiveté, who knows there is no better man than Arthur, King of Camelot. Evil has come to her borders and she needs Arthur’s help. The bridal journey to Camelot begins and the procession is attacked. Lancelot to the rescue. Guinevere to her groom. And then in a wonderful homage to all the screen tellings of Arthur before, a glorious take of torches, pomp and circumstance gives us our first glimpse of Arthur/Sean. And with the players we ascend to Camelot. Camelot is breathtaking. A collaboration between all behind the scene talent on what their imaginations have envisioned Camelot to be. Our attention is held firm for the remaining hour and three quarters of play.

There are moments aplenty in this flick to add to the “Camelot by Hollywood” arsenal and the movie is a very satisfying view. The Gauntlet scene, Malagant returning to the Round Table, The death scene, the scenery and costuming in every scene. There are two big battle scenes that rank right up there with all pre cgi battle scenes. For myself and many others the very best of the movie is when Lancelot takes off his helmet, jumps from his horse, and starts kicking ass.

There are problems too. Not within the movie itself , which will hold your attention admirably from beginning to end but in the aftermath. The “I wonder why they didn’t….” syndrome. For the legend of Arthur is so large and has so many facets everyone is bound to miss a favorite part of the story upon reflection.

The triangle between our three protagonists is not as developed as I would have liked although the final scenes between the three are masterful. And now that I’ve seen the movie again (time three), I have a theory. Although the heartfelt speeches are there for the taking, the moments of shared joy are never present. The giddy happiness that is the idea of Camelot, makes way for lushness and sincerity every time. And that is why I will forever wonder what might have been if Hamilton who loved to add humor to drama would have been the director. For while Zucker embraces the ideology of Camelot whole heartedly he was also at this point in time trying to move away from his early career (Airplane). Unfortunately he checked the humor at the door. Which is why, one to five I give this movie a three despite its visual glory. But Arthur/Connery… come on…. it could be a one and still be must see. And if, like myself, you want more after viewing, I highly recommend Lancelot and Guinevere a 1963 movie starring Cornell Wilde as the Knight, which is my favorite of all the screens telling of this universal story.

Special Features are engaging but aside from the Arthurian Legend running commentary nothing we, the greedy viewer haven’t come to expect. And although there is some commentary from Ormond and Connery, Gere and Cross are sadly missing.

Order First Knight from Amazon.

Ruth Jordan
Ruth is co-publisher of Crimespree magazine as well as being the co-chair for the 2008 Bouchercon in Baltimore. Here is the blog for Bouchercon 2008. She is also a fine lady in every sense of the word.

For more reviews from Ruth and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.