Excalibur (1981)

R | 140 mins | Adventure, Fantasy | 10 April 1981

Director:

John Boorman

Producer:

John Boorman

Cinematographer:

Alex Thomson

Editor:

John Merritt

Production Designer:

Anthony Pratt

Production Company:

Orion Pictures Company
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HISTORY

The following written prologue appears onscreen: “The Dark Ages; The land was divided and without a king; Out of those lost centuries rose a legend… of the sorcerer, Merlin, of the coming of a king, of the sword of power… Excalibur.”
       The following statements appear in end credits: “Thanks to: Board of Works, Robert Childers Esq., The Powerscourt Estate, The Hon. Garech De Brῡn, Mrs. Caroline Hamilton, The Earl of Meath” and “Filmed in The Republic of Ireland in Wicklow, Kerry, Tipperary and, at The National Film Studios.”
       Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that working titles for the film included: Knights, The Knight, Merlin, Merlin and His Wonderful Sword, Merlin and the Knights of King Arthur, and The Knights of King Arthur.
       According to an article in the 27 Mar 1981 LAT, writer-director-producer John Boorman had a lifelong fascination with the legend of King Arthur. In the early 1970s, Boorman wrote an outline for a film based on the Arthurian legend for United Artists, but the studio was not interested in the project. According to the 21 Jun 1979 DV, which announced that Boorman would direct Merlin and the Knights of King Arthur for Orion Pictures, with an anticipated start date of 1 Oct 1979 and a planned release in the summer of 1980, Boorman wrote an earlier screenplay in 1974, and announced plans to make an Arthurian film in 1976, featuring Sean Connery, Lee Marvin and Max Von Sydow as Merlin. In 1977, Boorman and co-writer Rospo Pallenberg wrote a script Merlin ... More Less

The following written prologue appears onscreen: “The Dark Ages; The land was divided and without a king; Out of those lost centuries rose a legend… of the sorcerer, Merlin, of the coming of a king, of the sword of power… Excalibur.”
       The following statements appear in end credits: “Thanks to: Board of Works, Robert Childers Esq., The Powerscourt Estate, The Hon. Garech De Brῡn, Mrs. Caroline Hamilton, The Earl of Meath” and “Filmed in The Republic of Ireland in Wicklow, Kerry, Tipperary and, at The National Film Studios.”
       Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that working titles for the film included: Knights, The Knight, Merlin, Merlin and His Wonderful Sword, Merlin and the Knights of King Arthur, and The Knights of King Arthur.
       According to an article in the 27 Mar 1981 LAT, writer-director-producer John Boorman had a lifelong fascination with the legend of King Arthur. In the early 1970s, Boorman wrote an outline for a film based on the Arthurian legend for United Artists, but the studio was not interested in the project. According to the 21 Jun 1979 DV, which announced that Boorman would direct Merlin and the Knights of King Arthur for Orion Pictures, with an anticipated start date of 1 Oct 1979 and a planned release in the summer of 1980, Boorman wrote an earlier screenplay in 1974, and announced plans to make an Arthurian film in 1976, featuring Sean Connery, Lee Marvin and Max Von Sydow as Merlin. In 1977, Boorman and co-writer Rospo Pallenberg wrote a script Merlin for Warner Bros. That film was not made, however the Orion project would be based on Boorman and Pallenberg’s script. Pallenberg also received onscreen credit for his adaptation of “Malory’s Le Morte Darthur ” [ Le Morte d'Arthur ].
       It was reported that two different actors would portray Arthur, one as a teenager and the other as an adult, who would be gradually aged. However, in the film actor Nigel Terry portrayed the character of “Arthur” from his teenage years into adulthood. The 2 Nov 1979 DV noted that actor Klaus Kinski had been approached to portray “Merlin,” but actor Nicol Williamson was ultimately cast in the role.
       The 3 Oct 1979 Var reported that the start of production had been pushed back from Oct 1979 to Jan or Feb 1980 due to the decision to film continuously through several seasons, rather than have a mid-winter hiatus. The delay also altered the plans to release the film in summer 1980.
       The 19 Feb 1980 HR and 5 Mar 1980 Var stated that principal photography was scheduled to start 31 Mar 1980 on locations in Ireland and at the National Film Studios of Ireland, located in Bray, just south of Dublin. However, the 18 Jun 1980 Var noted that the movie, now titled Knights, began filming 26 Mar 1980. Although principal photography had been expected to be completed in mid-Jun 1980, Var noted that it was behind schedule and principal photography was scheduled to finish in mid-Jul 1980.
       Production notes and the 27 Mar 1981 LAT reported that, although the film was based on a legend from the fifth century, filmmakers deliberately chose to be historically inaccurate and set the film in an “indeterminate” medieval time. The cast and crew, including horses, trained for six months with fight arranger, William Hobbs, in medieval martial arts. Armorer Terry English designed the knights’ suits of armor, which were fitted to each actor, and costume designer Bob Ringwood created more than 1,000 costumes. Boorman wanted a “new and dazzling” look for Arthur’s castle and planned to use a real castle, but discovered most were in ruins or had been modernized, and therefore, the back lot and three sound stages of the National Film Studios were transformed into “Camelot” for the film. Irish locations included the waterfall at Powerscourt, Childers Wood, the Irish sea promontory of Wicklow Head, and, 230 miles west of that, a “tranquil” shoreline in County Kerry. Most of Excalibur was filmed near Boorman’s home in County Wicklow, and members of his family were involved in the production. His daughter, actress Katrine Boorman, played the character “Igrayne,” his son, actor Charley Boorman, portrayed the young “Boy Mordred,” and daughter Telsche Boorman was credited onscreen as a “General Assistant.”
       The 21 Jun 1979 DV noted the film was tentatively budgeted at $10 million, and the 27 Mar 1981 LAT reported the final cost was $11.5 million and would be released on 10 Apr 1981. The 17 Dec 1980 Var announced the film’s title had been changed to Excalibur.
       According to the 14 Apr 1981 HR, the film’s three day opening weekend boxoffice gross was $4,519,706 in 696 theaters. The 21 Apr 1981 DV reported a ten day boxoffice gross of $11,091,435 and the 28 Apr 1981 HR stated the film’s boxoffice gross reached $12,969,952 after two weeks of release. On 20 May 1981, Var announced the film’s thirty-eight day boxoffice take was $25,294,365.
       Director of photography Alex Thomson received an Academy Award nomination for the film’s cinematography.
       An article in the 21 Aug 2009 DV announced that Warner Bros. had made a deal to remake Excalibur with Bryan Singer, who would produce and possibly direct. As of Feb 2014, no such film has been produced.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
21 Jun 1979
p. 1, 15.
Daily Variety
2 Nov 1979
p. 3, 32.
Daily Variety
21 Apr 1981.
---
Daily Variety
21 Aug 2009
p. 1, 8.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 1981
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Apr 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 Mar 1981
pp. 1-2.
Los Angeles Times
5 Apr 1981
p. 28.
New York Times
10 Apr 1981
p. 11.
Variety
3 Oct 1979.
---
Variety
5 Mar 1980.
---
Variety
18 Jun 1980.
---
Variety
17 Dec 1980.
---
Variety
8 Apr 1981
p. 18.
Variety
20 May 1981.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
An Orion Pictures Release
Thru Warner Bros, A Warner Communications Company
DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir/photog
Asst dir
Prod mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam grip
Elec supv
Elec
Standby crew
Standby crew
Standby crew
Standby crew
Standby crew
Stillsman
Cam by
Stills photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Assoc art dir
Assoc art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Prop man
Prop man
Const mgr
Scenic artist
Master plasterer
Armourer
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward master
Armour by
Ward mistress
Armourer
Armourer
Armourer
Ethnic jewellery by
MUSIC
Orig mus comp and cond
Music rec
Mus rec eng
Mus rec eng
Mus coord
Mus rec at
Eng and mixed by, Syco (London)
Eng and mixed by
Eng and mixed by, Paradise
SOUND
Sd ed
Sd mixer
Dial ed
Asst sd ed
Boom op
Sd re-rec
Sd mixing facilities
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Model maker
Spec opt eff
Opt eff and titles
Title des
DANCE
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Creative assoc
Casting
Prod accountant
Continuity
Prod asst
Prod asst
Loc mgr
Prod buyer
Gen asst
Asst accountant
Transport mgr
Unit pub
Unit nurse
Floor runner
Prod runner
Unit runner
Unit runner
Transport supplied by
Catering
Post prod facilities
Action Vehicles
STAND INS
Fight arranger
Horsemaster
Rider
Rider
Rider
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stunts
Of the Irish Film Stunt Squad
Stand-in
Stand-in
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Le morte d'Arthur by Syr Thomas Malory (15th century).
MUSIC
"Prelude to Parsifal" from "The Ring" by Richard Wagner, specially recorded by The London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Norman Del Mar
"Prelude to Tristan and Isolde" from "The Ring" by Richard Wagner, specially recorded by The London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Norman Del Mar
"Siegfried's Funeral March" from "The Ring" by Richard Wagner, specially recorded by The London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Norman Del Mar.
SONGS
"O Fortuna" from "Carmena Burana" by Carl Orff
copyright©1937 by B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz (Germany), Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Herbert Kegel, courtesy Polygram Records.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Knights of King Arthur
Knights
The Knight
Merlin
Merlin and His Wonderful Sword
Merlin and the Knights of King Arthur
Release Date:
10 April 1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 10 April 1981
Production Date:
26 March 1980 -- mid Julyy 1980
Copyright Claimant:
Orion Pictures Company
Copyright Date:
30 June 1981
Copyright Number:
PA106607
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
140
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

During the Dark Ages, England is divided. A legend arises about Merlin, the sorcerer, and a king, who will wield Excalibur, “the sword of power,” to unite the kingdom. When Uther Pendragon wins multiple victories, Merlin orders him to negotiate a truce with the Duke of Cornwall. Prior to the meeting, Merlin conjures the Lady of the Lake, who rises from the watery depths with Excalibur. Brandishing Excalibur, Uther demands Cornwall yield to him as king and, in return, promises Cornwall the land from his castle to the shore. Cornwall accepts and holds a banquet, but when Cornwall’s wife, Igrayne, dances, Uther’s lust for her ends the truce. As Cornwall rides into battle, Uther demands that Merlin cast a spell allowing him to make love to Igrayne, and agrees to give Merlin the child conceived during the encounter. Merlin’s spell changes Uther’s countenance to Cornwall’s, and the ruse fools Igrayne, although her young daughter, Morgana, sees the truth. Igrayne learns Cornwall was killed during the night, and when she gives birth to Arthur Pendragon, Merlin takes the child. Uther chases Merlin, but is ambushed by Cornwall’s men. As Uther dies, he rams Excalibur into a stone, and Merlin declares that the man who draws the sword from the stone shall be the true king. Years later, knights joust for the opportunity to pull the sword from the stone, and the teenaged Arthur is squire to his older brother, Kay. Leondegrance wins the first joust, but cannot free the sword. When Kay’s sword is stolen, Arthur chases the thief, and, needing a sword, pulls Excalibur from the ... +


During the Dark Ages, England is divided. A legend arises about Merlin, the sorcerer, and a king, who will wield Excalibur, “the sword of power,” to unite the kingdom. When Uther Pendragon wins multiple victories, Merlin orders him to negotiate a truce with the Duke of Cornwall. Prior to the meeting, Merlin conjures the Lady of the Lake, who rises from the watery depths with Excalibur. Brandishing Excalibur, Uther demands Cornwall yield to him as king and, in return, promises Cornwall the land from his castle to the shore. Cornwall accepts and holds a banquet, but when Cornwall’s wife, Igrayne, dances, Uther’s lust for her ends the truce. As Cornwall rides into battle, Uther demands that Merlin cast a spell allowing him to make love to Igrayne, and agrees to give Merlin the child conceived during the encounter. Merlin’s spell changes Uther’s countenance to Cornwall’s, and the ruse fools Igrayne, although her young daughter, Morgana, sees the truth. Igrayne learns Cornwall was killed during the night, and when she gives birth to Arthur Pendragon, Merlin takes the child. Uther chases Merlin, but is ambushed by Cornwall’s men. As Uther dies, he rams Excalibur into a stone, and Merlin declares that the man who draws the sword from the stone shall be the true king. Years later, knights joust for the opportunity to pull the sword from the stone, and the teenaged Arthur is squire to his older brother, Kay. Leondegrance wins the first joust, but cannot free the sword. When Kay’s sword is stolen, Arthur chases the thief, and, needing a sword, pulls Excalibur from the stone. His father orders him to put it back, but no one else can free it. When Arthur retrieves the sword again, Leondegrance declares allegiance, but other knights suspect trickery. Merlin arrives and, as Arthur follows the sorcerer into the woods, he learns of his true parentage and his destiny. The next day, Arthur and Merlin travel to Leondegrance’s castle where Arthur’s supporters are under siege. Leondegrance’s daughter, Guenevere, observes Arthur fight his way onto the castle’s walls, then leap from the castle onto Uryens, demanding the knight’s allegiance. Everyone watches as Uryens declares that he will not yield to a squire, and, to their surprise, Arthur hands Excalibur to Uryens and asks to be knighted. Impressed by Arthur’s courage, Uryen’s knights him and kneels to his king. Later, at a celebratory banquet, Arthur is attracted to Guenevere and listens to Merlin’s prediction that the two will marry, while ignoring the caution that she will betray him with a trusted friend. Arthur’s knights win many battles in their fight to unite the kingdom. Later, they are stopped by Lancelot, a knight seeking a king worth serving, who refuses to let them pass. Arthur’s knights fail against Lancelot, so Arthur challenges him. Arthur is knocked down, but refuses to yield and demands a fight to the death. Arthur calls upon Excalibur’s power and knocks Lancelot down, breaking Excalibur on the knight’s lance. Realizing his pride destroyed Excalibur, a despondent Arthur throws the sword into the water, but the Lady of the Lake rises, and offers the restored sword to Arthur. Lancelot swears allegiance to Arthur, and they are victorious in uniting the land under one king. When Merlin gathers the knights in a circle to commemorate the occasion, Arthur declares they will always join in fellowship at a round table, and announces his upcoming marriage to Guenevere. As Lancelot escorts Guenevere to the wedding, their mutual attraction is evident. He admits he loves her as his queen and the wife of his best friend, and will never love anyone else. At the wedding, Arthur’s half-sister, Morgana, asks Merlin to teach her the secrets of a necromancer; she is excited by the power, but Merlin claims the days of their kind are ending. Later, Lancelot meets Perceval, a young man who desires to be a knight. Lancelot leads Perceval to Camelot, Arthur’s grand castle, and places him in training to be a squire. When Lancelot sees Guenevere walking with Morgana, he leaves again, and Morgana notes Guenevere’s disappointment. At dinner, Morgana whispers to Gawain that Guenevere and Lancelot are in love. Gawain is furious at Lancelot’s continual absence from the round table, and announces that Lancelot is driven away by Guenevere’s desires. The queen immediately protests her innocence, and although Arthur is furious, he cannot champion Guenevere because he is king and, therefore, the judge. Since Lancelot also stands accused, Arthur insists that he must champion Guenevere in two days. That evening, Guenevere argues that Arthur should defend his wife, but he insists his role as king is the first priority. Elsewhere, Lancelot prays to be purged of his love for Guenevere so that he can defend her. During the night, he battles with himself and is stabbed. At the appointed time, Lancelot is missing and Gawain demands justice. When no knight will champion Guenevere, Perceval steps forward and Arthur knights him. Perceval prepares to joust with Gawain, but Lancelot arrives. Although blood flows from Lancelot’s wound, he prevails over Gawain, and then collapses. Arthur orders Merlin to use his magic to save the knight, and Lancelot joins them for dinner at the round table. When he leaves to rest in the forest, Guenevere joins him. Arthur asks Merlin’s advice about Lancelot and Guenevere, but the sorcerer offers no counsel, claiming that his days in this world are over. Morgana follows Merlin into a deep cave, insisting that he promised to teach her the powerful “charm of making.” Merlin hopes to trap Morgana with a spell, but in the cave they see the image of Arthur approach Lancelot and Guenevere in the forest, and, as Arthur thrusts Excalibur between the sleeping couple, it simultaneously wounds Merlin in the cave. Weakened, Merlin reveals the charm of making to Morgana and she traps him with magic. In the woods, Guenevere and Lancelot awaken and are horrified to discover Excalibur between them. In the castle, Morgana uses her newfound power to transform herself into the image of Guenevere, makes love to Arthur, and conceives a son, Mordred. Later, when Arthur prays to be saved from Morgana, he is struck by lightning and seriously wounded. As famine sweeps the land, a weakened Arthur orders his knights to find the Holy Grail for redemption. Years pass, and several knights perish on the quest, including Gawain. Perceval meets Mordred, now a young boy, who leads the knight to Morgana’s lair. Perceval is hung within a forest of dead knights and, as he slips into unconsciousness, the spurs of the knight hanging above him rub against Perceval’s rope. In his delirium, Perceval has a vision of the grail floating toward him at Camelot as a voice asks for the secret of the grail, but the knight is jarred back to consciousness when the rope breaks, and he believes he failed the quest. For years, Morgana grooms Mordred to become king, and casts a spell that no weapon forged by man can harm him. Mordred arrives at Camelot, but Arthur cannot give him the land, only a father’s love. Mordred announces the quest knights have failed and that he intends to take Camelot by force. As Mordred and his men leave, they attack Uryens. When Perceval reaches the dying knight, Uryens orders him to continue the quest. Perceval finds a disheveled, crazy Lancelot, but is pushed into a stream and swept away before he can speak with his friend. As Perceval sinks beneath the water, he has another vision of the grail. Perceval acknowledges that the grail serves Arthur, who is one with the land, and obtains the chalice. When Arthur drinks from the grail, his strength returns and the land rejuvenates. As the knights prepare to fight Mordred’s army, Arthur visits Guenevere at a nunnery, asks for her forgiveness and learns she has kept Excalibur safe for him. Arthur prays for Merlin’s help, freeing the sorcerer to reach Arthur in dreams. Merlin also appears to Morgana in her sleep, questions if she spent her stolen magic to keep herself looking young, and tricks her into casting a heavy mist into Mordred’s camp, putting them at a disadvantage. Mordred rushes into Morgana’s tent, discovers she has transformed into an old crone, and murders his mother. During the battle, Lancelot joins Arthur’s knights as they prevail over Mordred’s army. Lancelot receives Arthur’s forgiveness and dies as a knight of the round table. As the fog lifts, Mordred stabs Arthur, who slides himself closer on Mordred’s sword, and kills his son with Excalibur. A dying Arthur orders Perceval to throw Excalibur into calm water, and Perceval reluctantly obeys. The Lady of the Lake catches the sword and descends beneath the surface to await the time when another true king appears and Excalibur rises again. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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