Last year, Heath Ledger went historic in Mel Gibson's The Patriot, a run-of-the-mill war/action/drama film. This year, he has set his sights even further in the past, in a not-so-ordinary medieval story called A Knight's Tale.
A Knight's Tale combines the intensity of medieval jousting with modern audience fanfare, and the result is pretty typical of early summer pictures. The theme is 'watch but don't think,' because if you do think too hard (which is not hard at all) about the legitimacy of this film, you might find this one even worse than last week's The Mummy Returns.
Luckily, I went into A Knight's Tale with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised, and while it didn't require much more brain power than that Brendan Fraser movie, it did turn out to know a lot more about action, comedy, and drama than The Mummy Returns.
A Knight's Tale presents us to William in the first minute of the film as he decides to pose as his dead noble master in a jousting match. He wins merely by not falling off his horse, and he realizes that with a lot of work, he could go on to be rich and famous, and be noble, by competing in the tournament that starts in a month. Things go from there. Basically, A Knight's Tale is the typical storyline of somebody posing as someone their not, and they magically become better than all the people that have focused their entire lives on the sport in under a month, and they fall in love with someone who thinks that they are someone else, and then their identity is revealed. Yes, it has been seen in a hundred movies at least, so what makes A Knight's Tale so special? Maybe a better question is, What makes A Knight's Tale entertaining? Special is not the word, since it is the very epitomy of dumb Hollywood entertainment that gives the audience dumb excitement and comedy. But the keyword is entertainment, and A Knight's Tale is pretty entertaining. Sure, it has action, but is the jousting that momentous? I'm sure the film adaptation of Michael Crichton's Timeline will present a much more realistic and much grittier picture of the deadly sport. Is the romance great? Sure, Heath Ledger and Shannyn Sossamon make an attractive couple, but their chemistry isn't anything to scream about.
It is all about the comedy. Go into A Knight's Tale expecting a comedy and you will most likely enjoy it. Most of the characters are funnier in some sense or another, from Ledger's misfit sidekicks to the strange and unexpected large role of Geoffrey Chaucer. There are some good lines thrown out throughout the course of the film, and the editor of the film shows that he knows what he is doing when it comes to humor.
So A Knight's Tale has decent action and a lot of pretty good comedy, but it is a long way from being great. Coming out around the same time as last year's Gladiator, many would expect an attempt at a reoccurrence; surprisingly, and probably thankfully, A Knight's Tale is not aiming at a perfect and serious piece of work. However, just because they (being the director and producers) weren't trying to do something in the first place doesn't mean that they shouldn't have done something.
What am I talking about? The music. If it's supposed to allow modern audiences to relate with peasants of the past, it fails. If it trying to add one more element of comedy, it fails. The only thing it does do is make the audience cringe. In the very first scene of the film, a bunch of peasants clap their hands to "We Will Rock You," and from there proceed to do the wave. If I remember correctly, that song did not exist back then. Other modern day songs show up throughout the movie, and the only thing they do is take away some of the already thin realism of the film. I do not understand why anyway would think this is a good way to present a medieval film, but it is not. More classical music does the job a whole lot better; the scenes where A Knight's Tale does use the traditional music are a lot better than any of the ones with the modern music. Besides the "We Will Rock You" scene, the other notable disaster of the film comes in the dance portion, where the characters are performing a traditional dance, when suddenly the music changes and they start fast dancing. What the hell?
The music marks only the beginning of the lack of realism in the film. I think whoever made this film did a total of about an hour of research on the time period, because I, being no expert of the middle ages, became increasingly annoyed at all of the discrepancies. Now, I realize that the point of this movie was not to be authentic as it was to be entertaining, but believe it or not but both of those words can go hand in hand. I'm sure the middle ages were grittier than the world presented in A Knight's Tale. I'm sure that a lance to the head would kill ninety-nine percent of the time, instead of just knocking one's helmet off. And I'm sure that about a hundred other things in the film are very inaccurate.
A Knight's Tale is exciting in parts and boring in others. The length of the film is a little long and at times I was just hoping for it to get over. Other times, time went by quickly. I cringed at the scenes where the movie knowingly self destructs, and my heart thumped when the traditional music kicked in and Ledger hurled himself along on a horse. I laughed a lot but even at the end of the film I was frustrated, frustrated that A Knight's Tale hadn't tried a little hard to make an entertaining movie that was smart and realistic, that portrayed the medieval age accurately, and that realized the fact that there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made without the use of modern sports songs.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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