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From the Back Cover
The most magical adventure of all time. Imagine a world where dreams come true and magic is real. In a time long past, when magic was fading from the world of men, the malevolent sorceress Mab (Miranda Richardson) summoned forth a mighty wizard to keep the power of the Old Ways alive. The wizard's name was Merlin (Sam Neill). But when his heart is touched by the love of the beautiful Nimue (Isabella Rossellini), Merlin turns away from Mab's dark enchantments. Allying himself with the young warrior who will rise to become the legendary King Arthur, Merlin pledges his mystic skills to Arthur's visionary cause: bringing peace and justice to the realm haunted by monsters and ravaged by warand setting the stage for the ultimate dash of Good versus Evil. With spellbinding performances from the stellar international cast and spectacular special effects from Jim Henson's Creature Shop, Merlin conjures up and epic Golden Age of wondrous magic, supernatural passions and unforgettable adventure!
- Making-of featurette
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STORY: Not phenomenal, not abysmal. I don't feel that this version does anything hugely innovative, but it does have some interesting interplay between humans and fey, the old ways and the new, how change can be good but it comes at a substantial cost.
CHARACTERS: This is probably my favorite role I've seen Helena Bonham Carter in. I really enjoyed Rutger Hauer as well. Sam Neill was fine. Martin Short was extraordinary (is he ever not?). I can even forgive his painful 'Asian' moment. Miranda Richardson's performances as Mab and the Lady of the Lake were dull, but I blame that on the direction. Isabella Rossellini mostly just annoyed me, but I guess you can't have everything in life. Jason Done was hilariously fun to watch; you could tell he was having a good time with his part.
The characters seemed very split between 'serious' characters (Merlin, Nimue, Mab, the Lady of the Lake, Morgan le Faye) and the kind of goofy caricatures you cook up for an improv skit (Frik, Vortigern, Mordred, various minor characters). It did have me wondering sometimes whether the movie actually wanted us to take it seriously. The blend was a little jarring at times, but it did make for some great one-liners and laughs.
SPECIAL EFFECTS: Oft-lauded, and they are creative, but they're also pretty campy and over-the-top. I love the dragon. The design was fantastic. The execution is hilariously bad by today's standards.
Overall, it's a decent flick. I've watched it many times over the years, and I'm glad I finally bought it. I actually did a research paper on this miniseries-- on Mab, Morgan, Nimue, and the Lady of the Lake, specifically-- and putting that amount of work into it has made me realize that the makers of this show actually really did know what they were doing. Give it the time of day. Give it a shot.
I see the other reviews are really polarized between gushing adoration and hateful condemnation. The comparison that the haters keep bringing up is John Boorman's Excalibur, which is without a doubt, the quintessential Arthurian film to date. I love Excalibur, and I understand the passion people have for it. I also agree that telling, based on La Morte De Arthur, is the best version.
However, there are other facets to the fantasy genre. I would conjure the memory of another such fantasy film, Ridley Scott's Legend, with Tim Curry as the Devil. I love that film as well, but many people despise it. It's a matter of expectations. If you are the fantasy fan that thinks everything should be dark and morose, this is not for you. If you love the whole wide spectrum of fantasy, from dark to light, this is a charming and entertaining film, with a fun cast.
Don't get me wrong, I get mad about terrible fantasy movies too, the other film conjured was First Knight... that I agree, was horrible. But the key difference was this, First Knight was trying to be another Excalibur, which it utterly failed to be. Merlin is not trying to best Excalibur, but rather it is a more lighthearted fairytale that simply entertains.
I will agree with one point the haters posted, rent it first, off Netflix or whatever, then decide if you want to own it.