Camelot: The Complete First Season
by Jef Burnham
Available September 13, 2011 on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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Creators Michael Hirst (The Tudors) and Chris Chibnall (Torchwood, Doctor Who) provided Starz with their highest-rated series premiere ever in April 2011 with Camelot, a fresh, character-driven reworking of the legend of King Arthur. This 10-episode series finds Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower), the heir of the Pendragon throne, succeeding King Uther as King of England amidst continuous opposition from his power-hungry half-sister Morgan (Eva Green). With the aid of Merlin (Joseph Fiennes), inspired by disturbing visions of an England in ruin, young Arthur is installed in the overgrown ruins of Camelot where the sorcerer attempts to create in him a king with the might to forge a united Britain.
While the material detailed above is admittedly little more than an amalgamation of numerous versions of the same tale, it’s in the re-imagined, nuanced characters that the series makes its mark. The re-worked characters function perfectly together in allowing the story to develop naturally. Camelot’s Arthur is a decidedly emo one (although with some pretty damn good reasons to sulk), who, of course, spends much of his time pining over Guinevere. And Morgan makes the perfect foil for Merlin, who’s all but given up on sorcery. Fiennes’ Merlin is quite the enigmatic character at first glance, claiming to be acting in the interest of Britain, and yet, his motivations seem somehow sinister. We discover in due course that Merlin has been scarred by sorcery, which drives even the most well-intentioned men toward unspeakable behavior. Still, his interactions with the inexperienced Morgan, who is unquestionably his inferior when it comes to magical abilities, provide him with the constant temptation to utilize his powers once more, despite their high costs. In this way, the characters’ individual problems lead to just enough conflict to sustain the Arthurian legend as a character-driven series.
Now, some viewers have commented to me that they were put off by the vulgarity of the language used by Camelot’s characters at times, asserting that such language has no place in a period piece because that’s simply not how people spoke. However, it has been brought up before with series such as Deadwood and should be noted again here that many of these vulgarities are centuries old. And yes, this includes the “F”-word, which, off the top of my head I recall reading in Lord John Wilmot’s poetry of the 1600’s; and a quick perusal of various etymology websites reveals the word to have appeared in print in its current spelling as early as the 1500’s. Granted, this places the known origins of these words some 1000 years after the origins of the Arthurian legends, but I still maintain the use of such language by the writers to be justified. After all, the cast of characters is primarily composed of men, who are, in addition, primarily soldiers. Thus, it is befitting that the language employed by the characters often be unfit for civilized discourse.
Being shot for HD, the series’ Blu-ray presentation is appropriately rich, crisp, and clear; and nowhere more so, it seems, than in the presentation of the gorgeous rolling hills of the English countryside. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is appropriately dynamic for a BD release, but not so much so that it’ll have you fumbling for your remote with every swell of action. The Blu-ray discs also include a playback feature that works incredibly well, allowing my BD player to recall my place on the disc, even though a number of discs might have been played since my last viewing of Camelot.
The lengthy list of special features on this release includes:
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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