So once again we have survived.

First Knight

tn_firstknight

RELEASE DATE: July 7
RELEASE DATE: July 7

FIRST KNIGHT is a movie I never would’ve watched without an excuse like this series, but it’s not bad. Directed by AIRPLANE!’s Jerry Zucker (his followup to NAKED GUN 2 1/2, but not his first serious movie, having already done GHOST), it’s basically a love triangle between King Arthur (Sean Connery), Sir Lancelot (Richard Gere) and Guinevere (Julia Ormond). Connery and Gere play two different types of handsome while Ormond makes the movie with a more human, layered portrayal.

The story begins with Lancelot, a dreamy, long-haired drifter going from town to town showing off in sword-fighting demos. His path happens to cross young Queen Guinevere’s when her caravan is ambushed on the way to Camelot to marry King Arthur. So he rescues her.

Before he disappears he plants a kiss on her, and she’s got that BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY look of suppressed lust on her face, but she tells him to cool it, she’s engaged. And when she gets to Camelot we see that she’s not just being chaste, she really does love Arthur. Yeah, it’s an arranged marriage, and he’s old enough to be her ancestor, but in his defense he does give her a sincere opportunity to back out, pledging to defend her kingdom of Lyonnesse regardless of marital arrangements. You want him to be a sleazy old bastard so you can root for her to kick him to the medieval equivalent of a curb, but he keeps being a gentleman, god damn it. She tells him she’s not gonna back out, she really wants to marry him, and she seems to know what she’s doing.

But Lancelot comes a courtin’. He impresses Arthur so much with an unpadded conquest of The Gauntlet (basically an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course, except with way more axes swinging at your head) that the King brings him into the castle and considers putting him on the Round Table. So Lancelot’s around and keeps making eyes at Guinevere, who keeps thinking up excuses to get him out of there before she, you know, trips and lands on his dick, or who knows what.

mp_firstknightThere’s this whole plot unfolding about an impending war between Camelot and ex-Round Tabler Malagant (Ben Cross, UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING), who kidnaps Guinevere, so Lancelot has to rescue her again. (Kind of like a second date.) The story is secondarily about this conflict and primarily about the sexual tension between Guinevere and Lancelot. Or actually kissing tension. It’s kinda cool how much lusty passion they squeeze out of one withheld kiss. No boning at all.

It’s interesting that this came out the same summer as BRAVEHEART. There are definitely similarities. Both have an aimless warrior who finds purpose in a war against the troops of a dishonorable imperialist. In both he takes part in large scale battles with horses, swords and arrows, playing clever strategic tricks. In both he’s irresistible to women, and he fucks the king’s lady. Or kisses her at least. I guess in that respect it’s more like POCAHONTAS.

But this king is on his side, so it complicates thing. Then at the end it switches up and the king becomes the braveheart, because he’s the one that goes out in a blaze of proud, manly, stubborn glory in the public square. All he has to do is swallow his pride and bow to Malagant. Instead he’s like “Okay yeah, no problem bud, I am a good bower, let me get ready, do a few bowing stretches here. Okay I am ready to bow to you now, here I go. Actually give me one more moment. In fact, let’s do a count down here actually. Three. Two. One. Begin bowing sequence. Preparing bow. Here goes the bow. I am now PSYCHE I AM NOT BOWING I AM STANDING UP AND WAVING MY SWORD DEFIANTLY TO TELL EVERYONE TO–” [instantly run through by like three swords]

It was bad luck coming out a little after BRAVEHEART, because the battles aren’t as brutal or engaging. A few of those guys look like they have no business swinging a sword, to be honest. Lancelot was much more fun swashing buckles and doing derring to show off to civilians than putting on a helmet and running into a mob of guys who look just like him. But Zucker’s camerawork is pretty energetic and there are some beautiful shots of moonlight reflecting off the armor of an army approaching on horseback.

The character of William Wallace was proud to act like a brute, but these guys see themselves as civilized fancy lads. While BRAVEHEART is about protecting the homeland, FIRST KNIGHT is about protecting ideals. Arthur loves Camelot not just because it’s beautiful at night, and because he built it, but because it really stands for something he believes in. The Round Table, where everybody comes and lays their swords down on the table, and nobody is at the head, is no bullshit. And he goes around telling people, including Lancelot, that he loves them. And he’s a hugger! So when his rage over his protege kissing his woman causes him to betray those ideals, and put on a public treason trial over the passive-aggressive objections of the other knights, it’s genuinely disappointing. Man, just because you pulled a sword out of a rock one time you think you get everything you want.

The stakes seem high. Luckily he quickly falls into “what have I done?” mode and thinks about the future of Camelot.

Gere is very charismatic as Lancelot at the beginning, but I think as the movie focuses on him less he has a hard time keeping it up. Then there’s a part where he hides behind a bush and cries, and for a second it seems like it’s because he can’t get the girl, and you feel like telling him to man up. But then you realize it’s because he’s remembering his family getting killed. I guess that’s okay. Even though Batman wouldn’t cry like that.

Connery is really good as well. I think I’ve confessed this before, but I don’t have the same love affair with Connery that the world does, especially in this era. When he’s supposed to be wacky, like in INDIANA JONES AND THE HILARIOUS RELATIONSHIP HE HAS WITH HIS OLD MAN he’s like nails on a chalkboard to me, or a bomb on a lead-lined refrigerator. But here he’s charming and inspirational. A rugged man who cleans up well. I wonder if Guinevere ever considered a PAINT YOUR WAGON type marriage scenario?

Ormond really is the highlight. Her Guinevere is glorified as an ideal queen, introduced playing games with kids but stopping to take charge when informed of an emergency. (Draw your own 9-11 parallels.) She’s not a fighter, but frequently goes into danger with the men. But it’s her vulnerability that makes her interesting, and all of it is in her eyes. In scene after scene Ormond conveys many conflicting emotions without saying a word. It’s hard to imagine someone else making such a perfect corner on this love triangle.

Post-script:

FIRST KNIGHT did okay. It opened against SPECIES, which came in above it at the weekend box office, and below the previous week’s APOLLO 13. But of those three only SPECIES got three sequels, so who’s laughing now, knights and astronauts? Not you.

Director Jerry Zucker, of course, started out making spoof movies like THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and AIRPLANE! with his brother David. Remember how David came out as conservative, made that terrible movie AN AMERICAN CAROL and complained about how hard it was for right wingers in Hollywood? That’s funny, because in the last 20 years he got to direct that, BASEKETBALL, MY BOSS’S DAUGHTER, three SCARY MOVIE movies and a TV movie called H.U.D. Jerry has only done 2001’s RAT RACE. He has been a producer on a few things though, including MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING and, weirdly, FAIR GAME, the movie about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Screenwriter William Nicholson, who had been known for SHADOWLANDS, has worked on many classy period pieces since, including GLADIATOR, ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE, THE MISERABLES, MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM and UNBROKEN. Meanwhile his co-story-providers Lorne Cameron & David Hoselton, who had gotten their start on LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, found their way into animation, working on BROTHER BEAR, OVER THE HEDGE and in Hoselton’s case THE NUT JOB.

Connery is primarily known today for turning down THE MATRIX and LORD OF THE RINGS and winning a 1999 Outlaw Award for Inspirational Catch By An Old Dude for his dalliance with Catherine Zeta Jones in ENTRAPMENT (age difference: 39 years), an achievement which unfortunately dwarfed this fine movie where he married a lady only 35 years his junior.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 at 11:11 am and is filed under Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “First Knight”

  1. I’ve always hated Richard Gere so this movie that paints him as the fly in the ointment of one of my all time movie heroes (Connery) always worked for me. One of the better Arthur movies and it was also ahead of it’s time in the sense that it’s one of the first movies I recall that took a “grounded” approach to a romanticized fantasy legend. Like what Ridley Scott’s ROBIN HOOD tried to do not too long ago.

  2. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    July 7th, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I’d have to watch this again. All I remember is it being a giant piece of shit twenty years ago. I doubt it will have aged well.

  3. I mean it’s not exactly EXCALIBUR or anything but considering all the shity King Arthur movies that actually exist out there it’s in the better tier to me. It’s not memorable but it’s also not offensive. It’s something to pass the time with on HBO and an excuse to enjoy one of the last good Connery performances.

  4. I don’t remember much about this one, but I don’t think I would be able to watch it nowadays. I’ve really started disliking Connery the more I’ve heard about him being such an asshole who likes to smack around his women. Maybe it would be best to never learn what actors are like in real life. But, then again you get someone like Chris Pratt, who is so fucking cute and charming in every interview he ever gives, or any story you hear about him, so I guess it’s a mixed bag.

  5. Serious question: Could this movie feasibly be made today? It’s obviously expensive, so the studios would like that. But the actual arc of the movie, as I remember it, is surprisingly small-scale and focused on the character drama between these three people. Would this basic premise survive the gauntlet of demographic focus groups to the point that it could be made? And even if it got released, would it be as a major summer tentpole slot in July?

  6. caruso_stalker217

    July 7th, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Actually it was David Zucker not Jerry who directed NAKED GUN 22 1/2, as evidenced by this teaser trailer which is easily the best ever made.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUOV5wKLTFs

  7. Don’t sweat it Maggie, Connery’s sex appeal seems to be more appreciated by my mother’s and grandmother’s generation, from a time when closeted wife-beating was the unspoken norm.

  8. Also, Pratt is the classic ugly duckling who turned into a swan. He developed his personality when he was just some funny chubby guy. You get the feeling Connery always knew he was the bee’s knees.

  9. AnimalRamirez1976

    July 7th, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    This discussion reminds me of a Connery movie A Fine Madness where his taking swings at his wife is played for maximum laffs. One more reason to hate the 60s.

    I missed First Knight when it came out and completely forgot that it existed. Maybe I’ll check it out sometime.

  10. The Original Paul

    July 7th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I saw this when it came out, didn’t think it was any good, promptly forgot about it.

    If they make a Robin Hood movie where he doesn’t end up fucking his sister, I’ll be A-OK. (CASABLANCA is still the best live-action Robin Hood movie ever produced.)

  11. I also remember watching this film in the theater. I was a little too young to get all that excited about the chaste romance, but I remember thinking the sword fighting was well done. I think my chief complaint was that the film seemed too shiny and optimistic for the middle ages. At the time, I wanted something along the lines of Braveheart where everyone is covered with dirt all the time. Still, I think Broddie is right. Compared to most King Arthur adaptations, First Knight is pretty good.

  12. This may have been the only movie of Summer 1995 that I didn’t see until it was on video. And then it was so forgettable I watched it again on cable and I still don’t remember it. I remember the gauntlet thing and rescuing Guinevere from that bottomless pit or something, so I guess remembering two scenes is pretty good. Glad to hear it’s all right.

  13. grimgrinningchris

    July 7th, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Wow… this one is unexpected. I actually really like this movie. It was a favorite of my girlfriend of 20 years ago and we watched it together a few times- so maybe it is just that I have a comforting association- but even on a recent watch, I still really enjoyed it. It looks great- the leads are all charismatic and engaging (including the Malignant guy) and like Vern, I always appreciated that they didn’t go the easy way of making Guineverre’s choice an obvious one. And though the battle scenes are a pretty mixed bag, I always enjoyed the two rescue scenes and the Ninja Warrior gauntlet.

  14. My gears have always been grinded watching Richard in the schmaltzy dreamy-woozy handsome man romantic lead films. To me, he’s most interesting when playing morally-ambigous or sly, like in Mike Figgis’ INTERNAL AFFAIRS, where he looks and acts not much higher than The Serpent in the Garden Of Eden. And I always liked him in PRIMAL FEAR, where he made a statement I’ve never forgotten, and which I’ve found to be of a truth – “I made a vow to never make the same mistakes as my father. But then I went out and made a whole lot of new ones.”

  15. I agree, Poeface. I rewatched PRETTY WOMAN recently with a female friend (“What should we watch?” “Let’s watch a horror movie.” “Cool. I’ve got JOY RIDE, YOU’RE NEXT… Huh.” “What?” “Well, I’ve also got PRETTY WOMAN,.” “PRETTY WOMAN?” “Yeah, if you’re into that.” “I mean, I’d watch it if you…” “Yeah, sure, if you want to…”) and we were both struck by what a dick Gere is in that movie. Yet she had to admit that she got swept up in the romance all the same. The fact that he’s considered some kind of Prince Charming made me wonder if I’ll ever figure out this whole birds and bees thing.

    That and the fact that I slept on the couch.

  16. I reckon you dodged a bullet there Majestyk. Getting laid after watching PRETTY WOMAN is a sign of trouble ahead, a potholed road where delusion and danger await the unsuspecting man. Be glad.

  17. I would ride that road eternal, shiny and chrome.

  18. And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again.

  19. Witty banter notwithstanding, PRETTY WOMAN leads me to a comparison with a better Gere performance, his character Eddie in Fuquas BROOKLYN’S FINEST, strangely named like Gere’s Edward Lewis in PW. To continue the utter bullshit fantasy of PW, I might suggest Edward Lewis went tits up in the GFC, got dumped by Pretty Woman, decided to give back to society (stay with me) by becoming a cop, Eddie (the working class name equivalent of the mega rich wanker Edward) fell under the spell of yet another prostitute, this one way more realistic. My last interpretation of a sex worker – they sleep with a client, take a bath, then say “Who’s next?” I don’t think that’s changed in the last few thousand years.

    I’m getting distracted…I like Gere a lot in these type of roles. Fuck PRETTY WOMAN, is what I mean.

  20. Comic book idea: First Knight Vs The Last Samurai

  21. I really thought Gere’s casting in BROOKLYN’S FINEST was brilliant, because he gets pulled into a really fucked up human trafficking scene and it makes it feel like a commentary on PRETTY WOMAN and other idealized views of prostitution.

  22. I liked him a lot in I’M NOT THERE. TIME OUT OF MIND looks really good, too. Ben Vereen showing up in a movie in 2015 is kind of out of nowhere.

  23. I remember renting this on VHS as a kid and disliking how artificial it looked. Even then, I felt that Gere was horribly miscast. I’m still not 100% convinced that Zucker didn’t mean for this to be a spoof after all. I recently caught part of it on TV again and I still hate the thing.

    BTW, has anybody seen LAST KNIGHTS? I’m assuming it’s kind of a 47 Ronin retread in quasi-European middle ages garb, but the trailer didn’t really look all that bad. Went straight to DVD, here, though.

  24. I may have to finally watch this one since I’m kind of obsessed with American Ninja Warrior and I have a newfound appreciation with Julia Ormond. I remember as a kid there was a backlash, like “who is this lady that came out of nowhere and now she’s everywhere and she’s in THREE movies in a row where the plot is two guys fighting over her and she doesn’t look as pretty as I wanted and WAAAA”. Anyways, I was an idiot because she’s absolutely gorgeous and she’s been great in a ton of movies since (she’s especially great AND gorgeous in this con-man movie called The Prime Gig with Vince Vaughn that I never heard of till I saw it on HBO).

    I think this was the last movie my mom saw in the theatre. My sister took her to see it and they both made the same joke that alot of people made – “what woman would even considering choosing Richard Gere over Sean Connery?”

  25. I think one of the most realistic (what would I know about it? But it seemed real to me) portrayals of prostitution was in MONSTERS BALL. I don’t even remember if it was Heath Ledger or Billy Bob Thornton, because I think she fucks them both at separate times, but the scene where she asks him to be gentle because she’s sore and it takes mere minutes and seems like a business transaction turned my stomach. It was one of those, “why the fuck would men want to do that?!” moments.

  26. Man, I saw way too many movies in the theater in 1995. I remember this was one of those “meh” flicks that seemed exciting (the trailer even used Basil Paledouris’ Conan the Barbarian score and that’s always going to get my blood up) because they got Sean Connery as King Arthur! How perfect is that, right?! Richard Gere? Ugh, okay. Julia Ormond was pretty sexy and did a good job, but the whole thing just wasn’t gritty enough for a grounded take on Arthurian legend. If it’s going to be kind of fake-looking (I remember thinking that it felt more like a TV movie than SEAN CONNERY AS KING FUCKING ARTHUR, which was the previews made it feel like.)

    I haven’t even wanted to see this again in the twenty years since. Ben Cross (who I remembered from the TV reboot of Dark Shadows as a pretty badass Barnabas Collins) was a decent bad guy, the performances were good, and the action was competent if underwhelming. This movie was undermined because it was supposed to be epic and it just wasn’t.

  27. @ MaggieMayPie
    If you’re interested, cracked has done a couple of life experience pieces talking to prostutues about what it’s like to be a prostitute, one for street walkers and one for ladies working in a brothel. It’s pretty interesting.

    I’m in the ‘more I learn about Sean connory the less I want to watch him’ pile. I went back and watched the old James Bond movies with him in and jesus… he straight up rapes people in those films. It’s… fucking weird.

  28. I didn’t like that EVERYTHING in Camelot was the color blue.

  29. Yeah Vern, I also enjoyed the irony of Gere’s cop in BROOKLYN receiving a tacky gold watch from his hooker lady friend (which also served to underline the lack of appreciation he got after he officially retired from the force – that was a painful scene, handing in his gun and badge, which was tossed in a box like a piece of dirty laundry with a hundred other ones), as opposed to Edward in PW giving lavish gifts to Julia. Then he thanks her for it, and she says something like “Well honey, I bought it with all the money you gave me”. And then she rejects the offer to start a normal life with him. Based on her demeanor I’m guessing she instinctively didn’t trust the whole fairytale dream. Maybe she never saw PRETTY WOMAN? Damn pessimists.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>