King Arthur

Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Running time: 130 minutes
Language: English
Opens July 24
[See Japan Times movie listings]

Just as Homer's "Illiad" wasn't good enough for the makers of "Troy," director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") has made his blockbuster "King Arthur" with nary a trace of the legend as passed on by Malory in his 1483 epic "Le Morte d'Arthur."

Fuqua, no doubt guided by the mall-multiplex aesthetic of hands-on producer Jerry Bruckheimer, has opted to give us a look at the "historical" King Arthur, the man behind the legend, all swords and no sorcery. Like Achilles and Hector before him, the "real" king. Arthur, if he existed, is shrouded in the mists of time. Historians vaguely place him as a local warlord in Northern England in the fifth century, carving out his own fiefdom amid the collapse of the Roman Empire and the oncoming Saxon invasions. It's this hypothesis that "King Arthur" embraces, with Clive Owen ("Bent") playing an Arthur who's a Celt-born Roman commander stationed on Hadrian's Wall, protecting the empire against marauding barbarian "Woads" from the North. His legendary Knights of the Round Table including Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot and Ray Winstone as Bors are imagined as warriors from Sarmatia, on the far side of the empire, forced to fight in the service of Rome for 15 years.

It's an interesting premise, but historical accuracy only goes so far when you have Keira Knightley as Arthur's queen, Guinevere show up as a sort of pagan Xena, decking ax-wielding savages twice her size and wearing a leather bikini in the dead of winter. Then again, a bit of sexiness isn't a bad thing in an otherwise dour battle flick, one that's ditched all the romance of the Arthurian legend.