Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “King Arthur”

Blockbusters can be difficult to create. Even with a stellar cast, a talented director, and a new take on a classic tale sometimes they fall flat at the box office. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer thought he had another epic series on his hands with the 2004 film King Arthur, but it’s cost outweighed the profits and shuddered the franchise potential leaving this film to age in the movie vault, until now.

The Plot

Arthur (Clive Owen) and his fellow Sarmatian Knights: Lancelot (Ioan Gruffud), Tristan (Madds Mikkelsen), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Bors (Ray Winstone), and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson), are on the cusp of freedom from service to the Roman Empire. For fifteen years they served Rome in Britain, and now they must complete one last mission to be free. Arthur and his men are tasked with rescuing a Roman citizen, the Pope’s favorite godson, from the invading Saxon army led by Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgard).

During the mission Arthur also rescues Guinevere (Keira Knightley) and before he knows it, Arthur is placed into a difficult position. While the Knights have survived their last mission and have obtained their freedom to leave with the rest of the Roman army, the invasion by Cerdic’s Saxon army is a threat to the people of Britain the Woads, who are led by Merlin (Stephen Dillane).

With Guinevere’s urging, Arthur stays to defend Britain, and unites with Merlin’s army to lead them into battle against the Saxon horde. One last battle for freedom is needed and before the first bit of blood is shed, his Sarmatian Knights return to join Arthur as the Battle of Badon Hill begins.

Cinematic Compliments

Clive Owen is brilliant as Arthur. I like the fact that Arthur has been stripped from the role of a king and placed as the head of an elite calvary unit. This role allows Owen to shine and bring his physical presence to a role that he inhabits so well. Not only does Owen give off the impression of being a supreme warrior, but his physical presence towers over an impressive supporting cast.

The supporting cast is supreme. The Sarmatian Knights is a who’s who of incredible talent that I feel like that when the film was released in 2004, people didn’t realize how talented these supporting actors were. Clive Owen is an excellent Arthur, but when the Knights cast consists of Hugh Dancy, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson, Joel Edgerton, Madds Mikkelsen, and Ioan Gruffud, one could not ask for a better group of talented actors to play the legendary knights of the roundtable. Plus, Stellan Skarsgard is the villain, the proverbial cherry on the top.

Keira Knightley is a fine Guinevere, and probably a better version of the legendary character than most film portrayals. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the usual love triangle that is played out in other King Arthur movies was scrapped for this film.

Cinematic Complaints

The film was supposed to be an R rated picture and was filmed and edited to be an R rated movie. Disney executives scrapped that idea and called for a recut to PG-13 which removed a lot of the reality from the film for bloodless scenes of battle. King Arthur would benefit from the blood and gore of the battlefield. The world of Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable was a bloody place, and this story was too clean for the reality of this supposed truer tale of the Arthurian legend.

Fun Film Facts

  • Stellan Skarsgard turned down the role of Cerdic numerous times, but director Antoine Fuqua wanted no one else for the role, so he kept approaching the actor until Skarsgard accepted the role.
  • Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, and Hugh Jackman turned down the role of Arthur.
  • Clive Owen got the role over then unknown Daniel Craig because Bruckheimer believed that Owen was going to be the next James Bond and this would give the movie more financial value on the DVD market.
  • It was director Antoine Fuqua who scrapped the Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot love triangle which was supposed to be in the original script. During his research for the film, Fuqua came to believe that there was no truth to the relationship between the three.
  • A director’s cut that shows more blood and violence was released on DVD but according to Fuqua even the directors cut pales in comparison to what he wanted to show in the film.
  • The ratings battle for the film was a bone of contention between the director, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and Disney executives. Both fought against Disney pushback for an R rating but lost the battle to the executive pressure.
  • One of the major criticisms of the film at the time of the release was the bloodless battle scenes.
  • The film crew had to build a replica of the Hadrian Wall because director Antoine Fuqua was focused on using practical effects that the actors could see and interact with.
  • Michael Bay was the original director attached to the film, and reportedly developed the film over a five-year period. He left the project over budget concerns.
  • The film was supposed to end after the funeral for Lancelot, but test screening audiences wanted a more upbeat ending. Antoine Fuqua reportedly prefers the bleaker ending.
  • Historians have great criticism for the film. While the film was marketed as a true story of the legend of Arthur, historical inaccuracies in the movie had multiple Arthurian scholars flummoxed when the movie was released.

The Golden Popcorn Bucket Award

I loved King Arthur when it came out in theatres and cannot understand why people disliked the film so much. The cast is perfect in their performances, and the world building done in the film could have established a lengthy film franchise. Even Roger Ebert gave the movie three out of four stars mostly for the production quality and the charisma of the actors.

King Arthur gets 4 Golden Popcorn Buckets for being an outstanding action film with a supreme cast of talented actors.

Coming Attractions

Blockbuster destruction continues next week with another Jerry Bruckheimer miss, 2002’s Anthony Hopkins/Chris Rock action pic, Bad Company.

Production Credits

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Touchstone Pictures / Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Starring:

  • Clive Owen as Arthur
  • Keira Knightley as Guinevere
  • Ioan Gruffud from Lancelot
  • Madds Mikkelsen as Tristan
  • Joel Edgerton as Gawain
  • Hugh Dancy as Galahad
  • Ray Winstone as Bors
  • Ray Stevenson as Dagonet
  • Stellan Skarsgard as Cerdic
  • Stephen Dillane as Merlin

Release Date: July 7, 2004

Budget: $120 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $51,882,244

Worldwide Total: $203,567,857