Prince Valiant

1997, Movie, PG-13, 92 mins


This clunky international coproduction adapts the popular Arthurian newspaper comic strip. The budget is low, but the film boasts some moments of dizzy, kitschy fun.

While King Arthur (Edward Fox) reigns in Camelot, his hostile sorceror sister Morgan Le Fey (Joanna Lumley) has allied herself with the Viking tyrant Sligon (Udo Kier) in the realm of Thule. They send raiders, led by Sligon's barbarous brother Thagnar (Thomas Kretschmann), to steal the mystic sword Excalibur, symbol of Arthur's authority. In the meanwhile, Arthur asks Valiant (Stephen Moyer), squire to Sir Gawain (Anthony Hickox), to escort visiting Princess Ilene (Katherine Heigl) back to her native Wales.

After defending the princess against a few potential kidnappers, Valiant divines that Thagnar took Excalibur, and he attempts to inform King Arthur. In the process, he winds up having a duel of honor with Ilene's jealous fiance, Prince Arn (Ben Pullen). A quelled Arn, Valiant, and an armored Ilene (who's been learning about the ways of knighthood from Valiant) converge on a Viking camp where one Knight of the Round Table is being held hostage. But the barbarians overwhelm them, killing Arn, capturing Ilene, and leaving Valiant for dead. Recovering, Valiant is informed of his heritage: the mysterious Boltar (Ron Perlman) tells him that he is really a prince, survivor of a noble Thule dynasty overthrown by Sligon; already their army-in-exile awaits Valiant to lead them in a siege against the villain's castle. Once they begin, however, they learn that Sligon has been slain by Thagnar, who wants the throne--and a harem of captive brides, including newcomer Ilene--for himself. Morgan tries to tempt Valiant into an alliance of their own, but while trying to elimate meddlesome Ilene, Morgan falls into a boiling cauldron. After various traps and escapes, Valiant cuts down Thagnar, but the usurper's swordstroke has already killed Ilene. Valiant's agonized appeal to God resurrects her. Prince Valiant delivers Excalibur to King Arthur just in time to prevent the disconsolate monarch from abdicating.

This is lively folderol, lavishly mounted despite the filmmakers' cost-cutting technique of resorting to cartoon animation (nicely done in the manner of Harold Foster's painstakingly detailed comic art) for transitions and scenic vistas of Camelot. The budget, such as it is, is well applied to a meticulous production design by Crispian Sallis (ALIENS) that offers wondrous medieval armor and fortifications, and Age-of-Chivalry gadgets that a feudal 007 could envy. If the story line were more straightforward and the principal actors were more than merely serviceable (all the colorful parts go to the baddies, although Fox does make a disturbingly doddering Arthur), this would be a swashbuckler worthy of comparison to THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952). As it is, PRINCE VALIANT parries, thrusts, and occasionally stumbles over its own feet in a manner nearer to ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991), with liberated princess Heigl as campily anachronistic as was Kevin Costner in Sherwood Forest, and Lumley spooky but underused as Morgan Le Fey. Unlike that well- promoted Hollywood blockbusters, PRINCE VALIANT went quietly to home video in the US in 1998. (Violence, adult situations, substance abuse.) leave a comment

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