Customer Reviews: The Mists of Avalon
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on July 11, 2002
Three hours is not enough for a film adaptation to do justice to a book that is the size and length of a textbook.
The book is massively rich with characters that are diverse and colorful. I'm sure fans of the book will agree with that. The problem with the movie is that if the goal of the movie is to please fans of the book, the series must run for more than 183 minutes.
I was very happy with the adaptation's attention to detail of physical appearances when it came to casting. Morgaine and Viviane are alike in appearance with their faery-like features and dark hair, Igranne and Morgause are the redhead beauties, and Gwenhywfar is the dulcet blonde. The actresses, to say the least, were stunning and dominated the performances, as it should have been, since Mists of Avalon is a retelling through the female perspective.
The movie goes into great length to remain faithful to Morgaine's childhood, up till her reunion with Arthur in Camelot after he is crowned High King. That is where the chopping begins. Bits from the story are cut, then large portions. By the end, it seems altogether rushed. Morgaine goes straight from Wales after Urien's death to the demise of Camelot. There is no Nimue, no Kevin, and she doesn't even assume the position of Lady of the Lake. Sadly, the movie overlooks pretty much the entire last half of the book, which is vital to Morgaine's growth.
In the book, we see Morgaine as a precocious youth filled with much knowledge but lacking in wisdom, as is appropriate for her age. We see she brings about much of her own suffering. She despises Viviane for her wrongdoings, but after ascending to the throne of Avalon, Morgaine does very much the same as her predecessor. Morgaine and Viviane's downfall is their pride and their tragedy is that they did the best they could at the time. The beauty of the story is the overall message, that what we do as individuals affect everybody, and repercussions are felt throughout ones lifetime, and growing and maturing involves sorrow and regret. This beauty is not achieved nor attempted to be portrayed, not even remotely close, in the movie.
What I liked about the book's ending is that Marion Zimmer Bradley didn't leave a feeling of emptiness. Although everybody around her had moved on or died, Morgaine was still of Avalon. After time, Morgaine became synonymous with Avalon. In the movie, however, Avalon has fully retreated into the mist and was cut off, even from Morgaine. The conclusion of the film left a feeling of emptiness and hallowness.
In short, the movie does little to cover the actual growth of the protagonist. You see her grow from child to maiden, but little is shown to help us shift our view of her from maiden to woman. Nothing is portrayed to propel her growth further to the elder wise woman she ultimately became in the novel. Relationships are carried all throughout the novel, and when the story is cropped, much is missing that helps not only Morgaine, but all the characters grow. Like I said, 183 minutes was just not enough to faithfully portray Morgaine's life and the relationships between characters.
There is little negative emotion in the movie aside from Gwenhwyfar's disdain for the old religion and for Morgaine. Morgaine's indignant pride and her jealousy for Gwenhwyfar (and vice versa) aren't shown much at all. Morgaine's only real negative reaction in this film is her fury towards Viviane. Morgaine is stubborn because of her pride and sometimes, jealousy, but without those emotions portrayed to explain her behavior, she comes off sometimes as a comatose pawn, as she often did in the movie (although it was no fault of the actress- Julianna Margulies was superb- but the script).
I was touched by some scenes in the movie- the parting of young Arthur and Morgaine, Morgaine's reunion with her mother in the river, and Viviane's death. The first half of the movie was nicely done, and the rest was so-so.
I think in this case, time constraints did the movie in. Without the additional plot, Morgaine comes off as meek because she observed more than she spoke, and without the story intact you don't get to see what she's done with what she's observed. Morgaine is portrayed as a complete and utter victim of circumstance, when in fact she played people around, as well. There was plenty of court schemes and manipulation rampant in the novel, yet the movie only fully captures the mysticism of the old faith and the religious conflict. Whereas the story consists of characters who fight for a higher cause and for selfish causes, the movie fails to depict the latter.
However, if you're like me and you love period films in part because of costumes and scenery, I'd recommend picking this up. Costumes are beautiful, the music is lovely and very befitting, and if you enjoy Celtic mysticism, you'll like this. If you've also never read the novel but are interested in seeing the King Arthur legend retold through a female perspective, give this movie a go. It might interest you in picking up the novel after you've finished watching it.
All in all, The Mists of Avalon film adaptation gets 3 stars. 2 for content and 1 for imagery. I was left dissatisfied after viewing it, but not wholly disappointed. It would have been lovely if another 2 hours were given to it to more fully explore the richness and cover the growth of the characters. Despite the flaws, I bought the DVD even after seeing it on TNT. Imagery was this movie's strong point, and I still pop the DVD into the player from time to time to look at costumes and scenery. It's quite fun to watch one of your favorite books come to life in such a fantastic way (as far as imagery goes). Regardless of plot, it's still a feast for the eyes.
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Most tellings of the King Arthur story focus on Arthur and Merlin, and perhaps mention Gueneviere as the unfaithful wench that broke up the great friendship of Arthur and Lancelot. Marion Zimmer Bradley took a twist on the story, telling it from the point of view of the 'dark witch' instead of the 'golden haired beauty'.
It's a tale full of the raw power of medieval England, where a belief in nature and natural spirits was vying with the approach of Christianity. It tells not only of women and men's different views of the world, but of love triangles, Christianity ousting the 'old ways', and a changing of culture.
The TNT miniseries version stars Anjelica Huston, Julianna Margulies, and Joan Allen in the girl-power production. Huston is the magestic matriarch of Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, who in most stories is just the giver-of-the-sword to Arthur. Here she's the protector of Avalon, the center of the old power, one that is being replaced slowly by the bells of Christianity. They in fact share the same physical space, but only those with the power to believe can cross into Avalon.
Margulies is Morgaine, Arthur's half-sister. They share a mother, but Arthur is born when Uther Pendragon lusts after Morgaine's mother Igraine and through deception beds her. Igraine and Viviane are sisters, but while Viviane defends the old ways, Igraine turns to the new (Christianity). The third sister, Morgause, is jealous of the other two and causes quite a bit of trouble.
This was always a favorite book of mine, so I was very curious how they would bring it on screen. The locations were gorgeous - it was shot in Czechoslovakia and has the primitive wildness that medieval England would have had. The costumes were also gorgeous, and the actors and actresses were top notch. I really enjoyed the relationship Morgaine has later in her life.
I do understand that certain of the themes are sensitive to a TV viewing audience. After all, Arthur and his half-sister Morgaine sleep together (not realizing they're related) when they're teenagers, and she bears a son from this union. Also, Arthur and Lancelot were attracted to each other in the book. These layers of sexuality added another dimension to the story, but they were a bit too risque for many viewers. The story was altered to change the way a lot of this was presented.
Also, the scene where Morgaine and Gueneviere first meet was supposed to contrast the beautiful-blonde-Christian vs the small-dark-pagan - at least that's how Morgaine saw it. Because the book is told from Morgaine's point of view, it's not always the reality, of course, but her impression of it. But in the miniseries they stripped away a lot of the dialogue so you loose some of that sense.
And then, near the end, it slips completely away, and where at the end of the book I'm thrilled to have gone on the journey, with the miniseries I wonder just exactly was the spot where they went wrong. I think the key is to watch it and think of it as a way to get people to read the book. It's really enjoyable as a good movie to watch, and if it gets more people to read the book, that's fine by me!
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on October 7, 2004
King Arthur movies are a dime a dozen. Not only do we have this, but also Merlin, Excalibur, Lancelot and Guinevere,Knights of the Round Table, Prince Valiant, Merlin of the Crystal Cave, Quest for Camelot, the awful First Knight and the apparently even worse (and imaginatively titled) King Arthur.

Mists of Avalon is the best I've seen so far. After the rather childish Merlin and the just plain weird Excalibur I was pleased that this film was more grown-up and with better characters who you can actually connect with.

I've not seen Julianna Margulies in anything else aside from Out for Justice (yay!) and Ghost Ship. But damn, she was totally gorgeous as Morgaine, a character previously portrayed as a villain.

Though I have the book by Marion Zimmer Bradley, I have not yet read it (I'll get round to it). But I can tell you now that her version of events tells it from the point of view of the women and how their conspiring and unloyalty brought about the end of Camelot. For a legend with so many incarnations this angle was quite refreshing.

It's far from a woman's film though. It does, however, a lot of love story in it. But it's the kind of love story where you know what the characters are thinking and what they feel rather than just something rudely stapled on to appeal to the women.

Mists of Avalon is also wonderfully shot and has many scenes of unique atmosphere. All of this, obviously, is backed up by Lee Holdridge's utterly beautiful score. A dozen great themes and moods played out to various emotions. Definitely one of the best scores ever, methinks.

Like I have said, there are loads of movies to choose from regarding this legend. But Mists of Avalon is the best I have seen so far. So I recommend that you choose this 'un.

The DVD is in great-looking 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound. Some slight extras, including deleted scenes, are on there too.
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on December 18, 2004
I dearly love this movie. The atmosphere, the scenery, the music, the cast, and the sense of romance have led me to watch it many times. I have plenty of other DVDs and tapes I cannot say that about, and wish I had just rented.

Comparisons to the book abound, but I read the book too long ago to be able to do a detailed one fairly. I will just say that as movie adaptations go, it is not all that awful.

As retellings of the Matter of Britain, the book and the movie are both jokes. The pre-Christian Britons were polytheists; there would have been no predominant cult of a Great Goddess, and certainly no matriarchy. In any case, it is very likely that they were already overwhelmingly Christian by the time of the Saxon invasions. Both book and movie completely ignore the influence of Roman culture, which would have been hard to miss for an observer who was privileged to be present at the time. Arthur, if he did exist, would have been a commander of Roman-style heavy cavalry, which could very well have been responsible for the respite that the British tribes gained from the Saxon depredations at that time. He also might well have been Christian, or just possibly an initiate of Mithraism.

What finally brought Celto-Roman Britain down in the 7th century was the same thing that doomed other tribal peoples: their inability to set aside intertribal conflict and unite against a common enemy. In fact, the leaders of the various British tribes would not have even thought in those terms; to them, an enemy was an enemy, whether a neighboring kingdom of long standing or an invading force.

All that said, it was a good thing to tell the story from the point of view of the powerful women who helped to shape it. It is a worthwhile counterpoise to the usual tale of big smelly warriors on big smelly horses, and is more true to British culture than the medieval romances were. Having the story set in a religiously diverse milieu is also a worthwhile corrective, even considering that all the details are wrong, since the Church did not fully control religious life in England[1] for another two centuries or so[2].

Suspending disbelief of all the laughable history and theology, the movie still has a certain grandeur. The sense of an enormous brooding fate which neither individuals nor the island as a whole can long escape make it a powerful experience and a worthy piece of literature and cinema. Just forget Arthur's Britain, forget the Roman Empire, forget what little we know about Druids and Celtic religion, and enjoy a fine fantasy enacted by a cast of beautiful and charismatic actors.


1. I have been careful to use "Britain" as the name of the island prior to the Anglo-Saxon conquest, a distinction that the scriptwriters failed to observe on one occasion in the dialog. It always makes me wince when I see Morgause refer to it as "England" while her people are still defending it against the Angles after whom it was later named.

2. See the excellent histories by Ramsay MacMullen for details about the conversion process and the relationship between Pagan and Christian in Western Europe from 100 - 800 CE.
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on March 13, 2006
Where do I begin?

I had just finished reading the book. Marion Zimmer Bradley produced a masterpiece. It is the tale of the Arthurian legends told from the women's perspective. It also brings to the fore what most medieval stories won't broach - the transition from pagan beliefs to christianity. I was very happy that this, along with the women's viewpoint was tackled. Unfortunately, the movie failed to deliver.

In the book, there were a lot of subtle details that the author included. They all had a reason. For instance, Vivian and Morgaine, both of fairy ancestry, should be shorter than most people, not taller, as with the movie. Also, the women of Avalon, when riding abroad, wear men's breeches. There's a reason for this. Morgause is not an evil sorceress. Neither is Mordred an evil person. The term Merlin is a title, not a name. The priestesses of Avalon do not dress in gaily colored clothes. The sacred well is actually sacred, and not to be treated like some weathered magical artifact. There are numerous other details, others not so subtle that have either been altered or cut out altogether.

I agree with a previous poster about how the true victims were the actors and actresses of this movie. The scriptwriter probably had to acquiese to either the producer, director, or studio managmenet. How else could any writer, novice or professional, think to leave out or change some of the most important parts of the story? Nothing worked. Not the love between Igraine and Uther. Not the love between Lancelot and Guenivere. Not Arthur's love for Guinevere and his companions. Not Morgaine's love for Lancelot. Not Viviane's commitment to the Goddess. Not the Merlin's or Raven's devotion. Not the sanctity of the Beltane rites. Not the sacredness of Excalibur, of the Holy Regalia of Avalon. Not even Mordred's inner conflicts. He's not evil, only conflicted. Imagine being the son of the High King and not being acknowledged for it because some priests consider it heresy. Imagine the pain the High priestess of Avalon, the Lady of the Lake, had to endure in order to keep Avalon alive. The "solo" passage through the mists should have been the culmination and greatest test for any priestess. Lastly, who in their right mind would change the ending to any great book? That is the utmost in presumptuousness.

I am very dissappointed with this movie. Many points and details in the story have either been changed or altered. I do not blame any of the actors or actresses. They did their best for such a mediocre production. Like the Lord of the Rings, Marion Zimmer Bradley's adaptation of the Arthurian legends should have been broken up into three separate movies, each about three hours long. Maybe then can we all truly enjoy the story of The Mists of Avalon.

This movie was not The Mists of Avalon. It is a different story altogether. How I wish I hadn't seen this under the pretext of MZB's book. If you truly want to enjoy this story, please read the book instead. This movie may have been made for TNT, but that doesn't excuse it's poor quality. We should never lower our expectations for any story. We should hold storytellers, print or film, to the highest standards. And we should never butcher a good story for the sake of corporate entities.
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on August 27, 2002
If you've read the book and still insist that Marion Zimmer Bradley would be proud of this, I think you are very very very wrong.
There were more than a few problems with this series - was I looking for complete and utter dedication to the original text of the novel? No. But I was looking for at least a majority of the storyline to match up. That's not what I got.
Okay, here we go - my breakdown of good and bad and all that jazz:
1) Time constraints - if this series had been given 2 more nights, perhaps things that were done TO the text would have been much improved. I can respect that having only 4 hours to fit in a bazillion pages of book is difficult (thus the 2 star rating and not the 1). Do I like what they did with those 4 hours? No, but I can respect that it made things difficult.
2) Viviane's/Morgause's death - LAME. LAME LAME LAME. Morgause doesn't even DIE in the book. STUPID AND NEEDLESS. Again, for time constraint reasons I can see why they would kill Viviane that way (Balin and Balan weren't huge enough characters to constitue devoting time to them), however, the Morgause thing was inexcusable.
3) Uther's Death - Cheesy. Melodramatic cliche. Needless adaptation of the script to try and cater to an audience looking more for General Hospital than the Mists of Avalon.
4) Casting - Lancelot is supposed to be this handsome God among men. He wasn't. At all. Arthur was supposed to be charismatic and likable. The actor portrays him as a gutless, sniveling little pained man. I didn't have too much to say about the rest of the cast, but still . . . considering those guys were two MAJOR players, this was a little bit annoying.
5) Music - Liked it. Really liked it. Good picks there. One of the few things I found truly enjoyable.
6) Mordred - Barely enough time to decide to dislike him. Very little character development makes him an ineffective bad guy.
7) Merlin/Kevin - very minimal parts. Kevin wasn't even mentioned. They were pretty important to the whole legend in general, no? OKAY, THEN WHERE DID THEY GO?
I am itching for a new, good Arthurian movie - one that won't make me want to slap people around. First Knight, Mists of Avalon . . . monstrosities. Please, somebody take the Arthurian legend and "Lord of the Ring"s it please. Wading through the cruddy Arthurian stuff is getting tired! Better luck next time.
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on January 2, 2002
How excited I was to learn that one of my favorite books was being turned into a movie! And with such talented actors! Then I watched it - and my temper flared. It is one thing to edit a book to make it into a movie, but it is another thing to butcher it. In their attempt to cram the whole novel into a three hour mini-series (4 hours with commericials), the audience is left confused by rushed events and unexplained plots. It would have been better to make it a longer mini-series or feature film so that the true story could be told and that the actors could shine even more.
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on October 27, 2001
...then you throw yourself on it.
Such is my impression of TNT's "The Mists of Avalon". MZB's book upon which this retelling is based is one of my favorite books of all time. When I heard that TNT was making a movie ersion I was excited... ooOOooooh, the same people who did "Animal Farm" and "Moby Dick" and "A Christmas Carol" (all of which I thoroughly enjoyed) were going to adapt a book which I have read and reread several times since my senior year in high school. I watched TNT looking for previews, commericials, anything in which I could see the appropriatley beautiful and haunted-looking Juliana Marguiles (as Morgaine) and the iron-faced Anjelica Houston (as Viviane) shine in their roles. And ooOOOOoooh the ads tempted and teased me. They showed a movie that was carefully constructed and lovingly filmed in perfect locations with the perfect mood.
Well, they lied. What else can I say?
When The Day finally arrived to watch, I was glued to my TV, and as time progressed I was still glued to my TV waiting for the movie to really "start". Six hours (or was it days?) later TMoA finished and I was left feeling hollow. This was it? What were they thinking??
It's... well, it's cheesy (when it should be dignified); it's banal (when it should be sexy); it's simple (when it should be subtle); and it's bland (when it should be interesting). There was no meat in which to sink my teeth.. no emotions for anyone (maybe for morgaine).. no anger at the hypocrisy of people... *sigh* It's another example of how A Good Book Can Go Bad on Film, which is sad because TNT had been doing so well up until then.
Told from the viewpoint of Morgaine (Le Fey), the history of Camelot is laid out as Christians and Druids vie for control of Dark Ages England by supporting the High King Arthur, each trying to ensure their survival in England's future. But here it really boiled down to a love story between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, Gwenhwyfar and Lancelot, Lancelot and Arthur, Morgaine and Lancelot and Morgaine and Arthur. No real political or religious strife was shown; but ironically no hearts really seemed to be broken. All the passion of Camelot was dropped for the beauty of the image.. no one got dirty, the colors were way too bright, the moods were shallow and, honestly, for as much gold as Gwenhwyfar was decked out in I'm surprised she could stand up. Poor frail thing. Avalon was full up with veiled-women (which reminded me of Paradise Island in the Lynda Carter Wonder TV series) and magic that was uninteresting to say the least - where was the awe of the Goddess? The horror of The Sight? And what was going on with Joan Allen's eye make-up?? That star-burst design was distracting in the least and Cleopatra Schwartz in the extreme. And why were all the Christians so clean? Thomas Aquinas himself eschewed bathing in favor of fleas whom he referred to as "my little brothers". I doubt there was that much yellow in the world back then.
To be fair, though, I *was* touched two times during the movie - when Arthur and Morgaine were separated as children; and when Mordred was told his destiny was to betray his father Arthur. There was real emotin behind those moments. Sadly, they were brief. I also have to applaud TNT for not backing down form the incest issue, as it was integral to the plot.. even if they did A.) beat it over our heads, and B.) never really explain WHY Morgaine had to have a child with Arthur. The idea that Mordred would be raised to be the next High King as he was from two royal bloodlines (Pendragon and Avalon) was lost somewhere, so the incest in the movie just became kinda... well, gross. Noble effort, bad follow through.
I really wanted to like this movie. I really did. Sorry, guys, I didn't.
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on October 30, 2001
Visually beautiful, musically enchanting, perfectly cast, this movie drew me back again and again. I was transported by the misty lakes, green hills, and evocative soundtrack, yet the enjoyment was purely superficial. The movie is not MZB's "Mists," but a poor adaptation that reproduces selected events and characters without capturing the novel's spirit. Condensing 876 pages to four hours, with half the time spent on the first 250 pages, completely undermines a thorough understanding of Paganism and its conflict with Christianity. I was disappointed that Christianity was repeatedly shown to be the sole refuge for those seeking peace and forgiveness, while the Goddess religion was reduced to fertility rites. The characters, though brilliantly portrayed, lack depth and seem more like the proverbial cardboard cut-outs than human beings. In addition, the makers of this film did not concern themselves with story continuity. Many events were changed, but other events and dialog were not modified to reflect those changes, resulting in numerous inconsistencies. Igraine is shown wearing a crescent, marking her as dedicated to the Goddess, yet she is married to "Britain's greatest Christian warrior" and he to her. Morgause performs a certain ritual and tells her husband of it, yet later the two speak as though it never happened. Viviane is shown early in the movie to be an active, powerful force for Pagan preservation, yet later does nothing when it falls out of favor at Camelot.
I sincerely hope that another, truer version of the book will be made by someone who loves and understands it as much as Peter Jackson loves "The Lord of the Rings."
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on April 2, 2005
I gave major points to this movie for trying to be good. I wanted it to be a good movie, but the fact of the matter wasn't. This tele-movie had three major things going against it: 1}The casting was just plain BAD. No one was cast correctly...and everyone was overdoing it. The performances seemed to me like a high school production of some sort where everyone tries to be a good actor, but to no avail. 2}After reading the book, I realized that ANY movie adaption would be disasterous because of how great the book is and because of it's massive scope. There would be no real way to make a movie of it without cutting out massive (and sometimes vital) parts of the story, and as a result, destroying it. 3}It should never have been a made for TV movie. The story in and of itself is just too big, and it should have been done for the movies. Consider The Lord of the Rings trilogy for a minute...can you even imagine if those had been made for TV movies instead of theatrical releases? Can't really picture it can you? Its the same way with The Mists of Avalon. This should have been a major theatrical release...that way they could have cast the RIGHT actors for these roles and they could have done this film (and the book its based on) justice.
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