February 26, 2004

The Mists of Avalon

mistsavalon.jpgMarion Zimmer Bradley's tome, The Mists of Avalon, is one of the original doorstop fantasy novels. It's a retelling of the Arthurian legends slanted towards the female characters. It's been a while since I read it (11/20/92 according to my list), but I recall that it was largely about the collision between Christian culture and the Pagan Earth-mother faiths that prevailed in Britain in the time period. Or maybe I'm confusing it with Jo Walton's The King's Peace and The King's Name which have a different take on the whole Arthur thing...

In any event, the movie, which was produced as a mini-series for TV on TNT, concentrates mostly on the human part of the story in order to fit it into only 3 hours of screen time. Leaving out most of the Christian vs. Pagan stuff also probably helped keep the volume of appalled phonecalls down at TNT headquarters.

The characters and relationships are plenty interesting to carry the film and the actors who play them do a fine job. Julianna Margulies is wonderful as Morgaine, Arthur's sister. She convincingly takes the character from girlish playfulness to righteous anger to consuming lust to steel-eyed competence. She makes the character one of the most rich female parts I've seen on the screen. Anjelica Huston is fine as the lady of the lake, Viviane, playing the part with loving ruthlessness. Samantha Mathis was sort of an odd choice for Gwenwyfar, but she had good chemistry with both her true love Lancelot (played by Michael Vartan) and husband Arthur (Edward Atterton) and did a fine job going off her rocker as she continued to fail to deliver her king an heir. Joan Allen is good as the scheming, power-hungry Morgause. The male casting was less distinctive (as is only fair for this particular story) with the exception of Hans Matheson as a slimily psychotic Mordred.

The film is harmed by our having spent entirely too much time watching Peter Jackson's meticulously produced Lord of the Rings movies. Mists' visual effects are strictly video-game quality and the sets and costumes are merely "good". It's really unfair to compare the two, but it was a factor in my enjoyment that I kept being pulled out of the story by production details. I bring it up more to point out how much Jackson has spoiled me than to cast any aspersions towards the Mists production team who did a fine job with the resources they were working with.

Posted by jeffy at February 26, 2004 07:10 PM
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