Customer Reviews: First Knight
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on February 13, 1999
I am 15 years old, and I just love this movie. "First Knight" ranks up on the list with the musical "Camelot" and Disney's "The Sword and the Stone" as a magnificent telling of the Camelot legend, and may in fact surpass these other two movies in excellance. Creative license was taken so that the "accurate" legend is not portrayed, but the charcters stay true to the story and the affect is nothing short of amazing. Lady Guinevere of Leonesse (sic?) is on her way to marry King Arthur of Camelot when she inadvertantly meets Lancelot, a very cocky mersonary whose arrogant ways hide a dark childhood. Although attempting to stay loyal to her King, Guinevere is twice saved by Lancelot (although she did a good deal of the work to escape herself) and finds herself falling in love with him. To complicate the problem, the evil Prince Malagant is determined to take over both Leonesse and Camelot. Tension builds to a stunning climax, a shocking ending, and a glorious conclusion. ----- This movie is filled with both heart-pounding action cues of suspense and heart-rending conversations of real people. Richard Gere portrays Lancelot beautifully, giving him a self-assured pride and arrogance that later reveal to be merely a cover-up to the pain he experienced as a child. Although I have heard complaints that Gere is too American for the part, he added a dimension to Lancelot's personality that few others could top. There is a chiling reason for his cockiness, and it makes him seem more human. Julia Ormond gives Guinevere beauty, but also independance. She is quite able to handle herself, and is one of the few "damsels-in-distress" that haven't gotten on my nerves by their helplessness. Because this Guinevere is anything but helpless! Guinevere is torn apart by her love for two men, and Ormond portrays it excellently, allowing you to see into Guinevere's soul and find the pain she is going through. Ben Cross as the terrible Malagant is perfect. He is wicked, cruel, selfish, and disgusting; the perfect villian! Not every actor/actress can play a villian so well. Great job! And what can I say about Sean Connery as King Arthur? This was the first movie I saw him in after I saw the film "DragonHeart", in which Connery played the voice of the dragon. Perfectly cast in that movie, perfectly cast in this, Connery gives King Arthur boundless dignity, wisdom, and heart, but he also gives him a human side; vulnerable and not always quite sure what to do next. This is probably the most realistic portrayal of Arthur, and you can't help but have your heart go out to him. ----- The music, the diolodge, and the wonderful acting make "First Knight" such a great movie. For anyone who loves the Arthurian Legend, or simply a story of regular people with lots of heart, see this movie. As the song goes, "It will not be forgot that once there was a spot for once brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot!"
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The '95 film `First Knight' is a romantic and adventurous reinventing of the timeless tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. As already mentioned in several previous reviews, the script takes a very different approach to the subject matter than one would expect. There are no personal appearances nor mention of Merlin, Morgan le Fay, or Mordred. Even more unexpected is the manner in which the identities of the 'Knights of the Round Table' remain anonymous.

As if that wasn't enough to send the Arthurian purist screaming into the night there are more surprises ahead. You will find no Holy Grail, no pagan deities or prophetic utterances and no mention whatsoever of the sword Excalibur in this film. When all is said and done the movie resembles the '38 classic `The Adventures of Robin Hood" more than anything else.

Oddly enough, in eliminating the usual esoteric elements long associated with Gnostic Christianity and Celtic paganism the developers of the film saw fit to replace the time honored storyline and symbols with a strong, more traditional Christian allegorical subtext. Relying heavily on the vivid, literary themes and imagery found in John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' and Dante Aligheri's 'Divine Comedy' the film centers on the ages old battle waged between good and evil, the war between God and the rebellious Lucifer, once the greatest of all the heavenly host.

Ben Cross does a superb job of exploring the persona of Lucifer in the role of Malagant, the "first knight" (hence the title of the film). Now banished from the hallowed walls of Arthur's realm, Malagant (i.e.: malignant, maligned) is definitely the embodiment of the "Great Adversary" bent on overthrowing the ideals of Camelot (Heaven) and its fatherly ruler King Arthur (God). As he waits impatiently for the right moment to attack, this black armored knight dwells with his followers in a dark, dank fortress appearing more cavern than castle. The passageways within his abode are poorly lit with an occasional torch here and there. This nocturnal environment was most certainly designed to conjure images of a Dantesque Hell.

This suggested association of Malagant with the Luciferian archetype is made crystal clear when he makes a dramatic appearance before King Arthur and his knights during a Round Table gathering. In true Milton fashion his arrogant demeanor and boastful rhetoric are straight out of `Paradise Lost'.

While `First Knight' lacks the depth and substance the more mythical Grail elements would have supplied, the loss is more than made up for with a tender romance acted out beautifully by Richard Gere (Lancelot) and Julia Ormond (Guinivere). The two forlorn lovers are perfectly matched. Gere is at his best, delivering in my estimation his most memorable film performance and Julia is mezmerizing as the strong-willed, yet hesitant Queen of Camelot. Not one to miss the obvious, Julia looks absolutely beautiful which always helps to maintain the complete, undivided attention of the males in the audience.

I certainly wouldn't consider this to be the definitive Arthurian film, but it's certainly an enjoyable one. I could watch 'First Knight' over and over again and when all is said and done isn't the repeatability factor the litmus test for any movie?

My Rating: -4 ½ Stars-.
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on December 19, 2004
As I watched First Knight, I couldn't help but think that if this film had been freed of the constraints of the original Arthurian tales, it would have been a complete success.

But for the original Arthurian tales, the casting of Richard Gere probably wouldn't be as problematic. But for the original tales, the final siege of Camelot would be more believable.

Instead, we do feel a tinge of oddness at Gere's attempt to play Lancelot du Lac, who in Arthurian legend is very much a French aristocrat trained in all the chivalric ways, not the ranger-like, orphaned free spirit he is here. It's too bad we do get distracted by the mismatch between character and actor, because he has some truly great moments with Julia Ormond (strong and pleasingly complex as Guinevere), hot looks, internal torment and emotional cat-and-mouse in that classic Hollywood tradition. No need for Keira Knightley-style bared stomachs and bow and arrows here. The conspicuous absence of important Arthurian characters like Gawain, Gareth and Mordred, of course, also distances this film from Arthurian legend so much that the Camelot setting becomes pretty much cosmetic, with only the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle being the intact element. And even then, the film treats this relationship far differently from the original tales (the complete opposite of what happens in the legends, in fact).

If you're a purist for Arthurian legends, you will definitely be distracted by these elements. However, distance yourself from the original tales and you'll find a classic Hollywood love story with unusually effective emotional layers, good performances, and absolutely stunning cinematography coupled with impeccable editing, the work of two masters -- director of photography Adam Greenberg (cinematographer for Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Ghost, among others) and editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now). The group shots in this film are eye-popping, recalling Akira Kurosawa's style, and director Jerry Zucker keeps the narrative flowing with nary a wasted moment.

I duck one star because of the King Arthur baggage. To a certain extent, I feel that if you're going to change the story so much, you may as well call it something new, rename your characters and so on. That is a small criticism, however. First Knight, viewed on its own merit, is a highly well constructed, old-fashioned romance adventure with balanced strengths and, again, a beautifully light touch in the emotional and acting departments. It's really something to watch the familiar story of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle come into life this satisfyingly, and just for that, First Knight would already deserve high marks.
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on October 12, 2006
There were three medieval/British Isle films released in 1995 -- "Braveheart," "Rob Roy" and "First Knight." Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" is certainly the most epic of the three, but I found it overrated; which isn't to say I don't like it, I just don't feel that it's as great as the hype would suggest. I liked "Rob Roy" slightly better than "Braveheart;" it's very adult-oriented, violent and grim, however.

I feel the best of the three, believe it or not, was "First Knight," a believable take on the King Arthur/Camelot legend starring Sean Connery as Arthur, Richard Gere as Lancelot and Julia Ormond as Guinevere. They get tangled up in a bit of a love triangle.

As I said, this is a realistic portrayal of the story so, thankfully, you won't see any of that silly magical jive with Merlin, Excalibur, etc. This explains why so many panned the film, but I don't get their beef, aren't there enough cinematic depictions of the Camelot tale for them to enjoy, like "Excalibur"? I'll put it this way, "First Knight" is to the Arthor/Lancelot legend what the film "Troy" is to the "Helen of Troy" chronicle.

The film caught my fascination right away with the character of Lancelot. He is portrayed as an expert swordsman, drifter, loner and all-around lost soul. The beginning of the picture reveals something integral to understanding his character: Lancelot takes on an intimidating dude in a swordfight contest at a village he just drifted into. After Lancelot prevails, the big guy asks him for advice on how to be as skilled a swordsman as Lancelot. Lancelot tells him that he needs a couple of obvious sword-fighting skills, to which the man confidently replies, "I can do that." Then Lancelot tells him the last quality he needs: "And you must not care whether you live or die."

This is a powerful scene; Gere plays the character very convincingly (in fact, if you hate Gere, this film will give you a new-found respect for him). This character-defining episode reveals HOW Lancelot is the only one able to prevail against an incredible and decidedly deadly weapons gauntlet later in the story. And, speaking of that gauntlet sequence, it's fabulous.

The rest of the film is just a solid medieval/British Isle adventure, with the requisite forest scenes and all.

One small criticism would be that, although I enjoyed the heroic episode wherein Lancelot rescues Guinevere in Malagant's cave fortress, its pretty implausible. But these are larger-than-life figures, right?

Fellow Amazon reviewer Craig Connell pointed out another notable aspect of the film (just below my review): It stresses character nobility and even the importance of prayer.

"First Knight" more than satisfied my hunger for a medieval British isles flick and surprised me with the intriguing character of the suicidally brave Lancelot.

If one doesn't have hang-ups regarding the absence of Merlin, Excalibur and the magical baggage that goes with 'em this is a quite entertaining film.
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on April 16, 2005
The casting of Connery as an old Arthur was not bad. He was at least effective in the role the script provided him. Julia Ormand was a wonderful Guenivere. And Cross as Maliagaunt was especially great as the villain. I consider him to have stolen the movie outright from the others. I thought Gere was not the right pick for Lancelot, and further, it seemed he merely gave a pay-the-rent type performance.
The movie does get points at least for using as inspiration a source other than Sir Thomas, for a change, in favour of one of Chretien de Troye's tales. The whole of the Maliagaunt kidnaps Guenivere plot was right out of Chretien. It is not without some irony that where it is closest to Chretien, it is best. It does take things in different directions with different characters which seems more whim than artistic decision. The other Arthurian characters are either minimized, or not utilized at all. Maliagaunt is used most effectively, Arthur and Guenivere work fairly well, while Lancelot is just too card-board tragic as scripted. Those are the only characters that get the film time, really.
One of the oddest things about the movie was that they sent Arthur off in a pyre, burned up like a viking! No way the king will "return" after that, thereby killing the nationalistic resonance of the legend.
The visual look of the film is more of a pristine sort of, fantasy look. It isn't very gritty at all, with all the bright costumes, and bright architecture. There seems nothing dirty in the realm. And apparently, in some cases they didn't use real swords, that is, real prop swords even. If one pays attention there is a moment in the climactic battle where Lancelot is holding a sword, then merely a hilt, then his sword reappears again!
This film as far as I know is the only English language film that seems to have taken any inspiration from Chretien (there is a much better adapted French language one, script-wise). It is fairly acceptable for family viewing, (something which, generally, can not be said about EXCALIBUR) the good are fairly good, and the bad are really bad.
Judging from younger relatives, if they can sit through and enjoy Harry Potter, this might not be a bad introduction at least to other realms of fantasy.
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on October 18, 2001
The approach to this movie is an interesting one, for clearly the director tries to 'humanise' the entire Arthurian legend. Gone is Excalibur as a magical blade. Lancelot is a travelling loner, rather than having been sent by the Lady of the Lake. Merlin is nowhere to be seen, and there is no hint of magic or mysticism in sight. Many viewers will automatically be deterred by this approach.
This approach provides an interesting perspective on the movie - trying to get behind the true story upon which the Arthur legends are based. The idea is good, the execution lacking.
Geer provides a very modern portrayal of Lancelot. The American accent for an English hero was proven not to work by Costner in Robin Hood : prince of thieves. His portrayal of Lancelot is very contemporary which creates discord with the setting of the film. A classic approach was maintained by Ormond and Connery, and so Geer's portrayal goes against the grain.
The plot and villian are very run-of-the-mill in all regards. The only stand out features of this film are: Connery, Ormond and the cinematography. Connery and Ormond, and the lovely sweeping scenes of the lanscape, keep this film above a rating of 1.
While not a terrible film, it is mediocre at best.
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Okay, first off park everything you know about Grail Lore at the door and enjoying Connery the King!! This one is more style than substances, but what STYLE!!! Beautifully filmed, with a good eye to period, and well acted,
this film visually assults the senses.
So pull kick back with a bowl of popcorn and JUST ENJOY!!! For a film so long, it does has the feel of being rushes in places, but just don't question, experience!!
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on March 19, 2002
First Knight probably has the best look to it out of all the other movies about the charcters of Camelot. The score by Jerry Goldsmith is superb. Sean Connery and Julia Ormond are probably the best Kind Arthur and Guinevere ever as well. Richard Gere however just doesn't work as Lancelot. He looks clumsy with a sword, he's sort of laughable too. He lacks the edge of Viggo Mortenson in Lord of the Rings or even the charm of Heath Ledger in a Knight's Tale. Even just looking at the cover of the dvd, it's obvious that something is wrong with the picture and it's not Connery or Ormond. Gere lacks the heroic look that is needed for Lancelot. I can't say that he at least doesn't have some chemestry with Ormond though.

The film still wouldn't of been great without him as Lancelot I must admit because the movie still has it's problems. It's predictibale for one thing, everyime Guinevere is in trouble you just know Lancelot is gonna come to rescue. Meanwhile it would of been nice to see Arthur get some action instead of being smothered with the predictability that something is gonna happen between Lancelot and Guinevere that will betray Athur's trust in them.
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on May 6, 2003
I usually enjoy the talents of Sean Connery and Richard Gere very much, but this movie needs more than their names on the marquee to make it good. I know there are different versions of Arthurian Legend, but this story doesn't come close to telling the Arthur story. Other than naming characters Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, this movie bears very little resemblance to the known stories of King Arthur. While I know screenwriters are allowed to be creative with their ideas, why name the characters Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere if they are going to completely change the story? This movie is all right if you are in the mood to watch a romance set in medieval times (or if you are a HUGE fan of Sean Connery or Richard Gere). But if you are wanting the story of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Guinevere, this movie is absurd and not worth watching.
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on September 2, 2014
Awesome. Perfect, a feat. Julia Ormond, Richard Gere, Sean Connery and others. Knights of the Round Table, Romance, Action, Taboo, I hate movie theatres, when this came out I went 4 times. It was that great (3 were different dates, one, by myself)/ Then I bought the VHS, because it was a damn good movie. Never lags for a second.. the characters are so strong. The stunts were awesome. Camelot was awesome. And almost two decades later, its still awesome. I remember readin in an interview that Gere worked out harder for that role than even American Gigalo, and he said "never again. " Gere plays in roles that if you dig, teach us a lesson about humanity. Ormaond was really young and super hot. Sean Connery was the was older man who was going to marry the super hot Ormond. Till Gere's athleticly skilled and charming character stole her heart. He was faithful to both her, and the King. Action packed, feel good story; and timeless!
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