Somewhat overshadowed by all of the Doctor Strange and Justice League headlines that came out of the recent Comic-Con was the fact that this past weekend the first trailer for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur movie started circulating. People have known about this project for some time now—it’s expected to be the first in a whopping six-film epic franchise—but the details have largely been hush-hush. So what did we learn from the first trailer? Not much in terms of concrete information, but we got a pretty good feel for the tone of Ritchie’s epic, and suffice it to say it’s pretty surprising.
One thing that really stands out about the trailer is that it seemed to reveal the title of this first movie as King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword. Until now, the expected title was Knights Of The Round Table: King Arthur. It was a strange working title, but one that suggested each of the movies in the planned six-film franchise would focus on a new character within the knights of the round table. For instance, we might get a Knights Of The Round Table: Lancelot and so on, until the full cast of characters was assembled. Given that most of the major knights of Arthurian lore don’t appear to be in Legend Of The Sword, the series may still take this form, but it won’t be spelled out in the titles.
More importantly, the trailer made it exceptionally clear that Guy Ritchie and Co. have no intention whatsoever of following traditional tropes from other Arthurian tales. This is an interesting choice when you consider that a number of popular retellings of the King Arthur tale from over the years still resonate favorably with people today.
The most recent major attempt to bring Arthur and his knights to life on the big screen was 2004’s King Arthur, starring Clive Owen in the titular role and directed by Antoine Fuqua. That film earned a mixed response, but was relatively popular upon its release. It led to a video game that was reviewed by IGN as an “okay” title, but which nevertheless spoke to the way the film resonated as a high-end modern historical action flick. With this movie, Fuqua made an effort to provide the closest thing there is to a “true” Arthurian legend, and in doing so crafted a grittier tale of medieval warfare that was more Gladiator than First Knight or Camelot.
There’s also the lighter side of Arthurian legend, most notably presented by Monty Python in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, arguably one of the most enduring comedies of all time. The film is a total spoof of a King Arthur story, and yet the musical it spawned, “Spamalot,” has remained popular to this day. Gala’s casino platform, which provides various VIP benefits as a way to attract consistent gamers, also makes a habit of hosting games with themes based on popular movies and television. And amid a sea of Marvel- and fairy tale-based games, a “Spamalot” slot still has its place, despite the musical being quite old and the film even older. People still love the idea of a goofy, self-aware take on Camelot and the knights of the round table.
And then, of course, it’s worth considering that not every Arthurian tale is cinematic in nature. There are numerous written versions of the King Arthur story that people still read, though perhaps none is as recognizable to modern readers as The Once And Future King by T.H. White. Viewed by some as the definitive (or at least the best) King Arthur novel, it’s enjoyed some renewed popularity of late thanks to a recommendation from George R.R. Martin, who wrote the Game Of Thrones books. That the trendiest medieval/fantasy writer of today is citing inspiration from an Arthurian book demonstrates the power of this legend in its traditional form better than most anything else.
These are three of many examples of King Arthur tales, but they demonstrate that there are a few popular ways to tell the story. It can be presented realistically, comically, and even traditionally. Yet watching the new trailer for Ritchie’s take on these characters, it’s hard to find a shred of any of these common modes.
That’s not to say there aren’t traditional elements at hand. For instance, much of the trailer revolves around Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) drawing the sword from the stone, as is common in Arthurian origin stories. However, the rest of the trailer is simply so big, and so devoid of the traditional Arthurian imagery, that it almost better resembles some spinoff of the Lord Of The Rings saga than a story of the knights of Camelot. It’s dark, violent, loud, and packed with action. There are no knights hoisting colorful banners, no shining golden crowns or idyllic castles, and no known characters aside from Arthur himself.
It’s just an early teaser, and such trailers are often designed to obscure the true look and feel of the movie. But based on what we’ve seen, this isn’t a project that can be compared to any past Arthur project, or even any type of Arthur project. Whether that’s a disaster or a bold move that will pay off remains to be seen!