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"Camelot" The Complete First Season DVD Review

Camelot: The Complete First Season (Complete Series) DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Camelot (2011)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Michael Hirst, Chris Chibnall / Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall, Michael Hirst, Fred Fuchs, John Weber, James Flynn, Anne Thomopoulos, Craig Cegielski, Tim Headington, Graham King, Douglas Rae, Morgan O'Sullivan

Directors: Stefan Schwartz, Mikael Salomon, Ciarán Donnelly, Jeremy Podeswa, Michelle MacLaren / Writers: Chris Chibnall, Louise Fox, Terry Cafolla, Steven Lightfoot, Michael Hirst, Sarah Phelps

Regular Cast: Joseph Fiennes (Merlin), Jamie Campbell Bower (King Arthur Pendragon), Tamsin Egerton (Guinevere), Claire Forlani (Queen Igraine), Chipo Chung (Vivian), Sinéad Cusack (Sybil), Peter Mooney (Kay), Clive Standen (Gawain), Philip Winchester (Leontes), Eva Green (Morgan Pendragon)

Recurring Characters: Diarmaid Murtagh (Brastias), Jamie Downey (Ulfius), Sean Pertwee (Ector), Lara Jean Chorostecki (Bridget), James Purefoy (King Lot), Dara Devaney (Harwel), Caoimhe O'Malley-Doyle (Scullery Girl), Ed Cosgrove (Borin), Adam Goodwin (Pellinor), Sebastian Koch (King Uther), Sebastian Spence (Lucan), Daragh O'Malley (Leodegrance), Tyler Kennington (Albion)

Notable Guest Stars: Lucy Cohu (Arthur's Foster Mother), Vincent Regan (Caliburn), Lauren Coe (Excalibur), Liam Cunningham (Colfur), Steven Mackintosh (Ewan), Alfie Davis (Redwald), Barry McEvoy (Donal)

Running Time: 509 Minutes (10 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-MA on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Mono 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Series Airdates: February 25, 2011 - June 10, 2011
DVD Release Date: September 13, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $49.98
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Digipak in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($59.99 SRP)

Buy on DVD from Amazon.comBuy on Blu-ray from Amazon.com

"Camelot" seems to have been Starz's attempt to do for Arthurian legend what its "Spartacus" series have done for ancient Roman gladiators, to tell the true story with violence and language beyond what network and basic cable could allow. If you're wondering whether they were able to repeat the success of "Spartacus",
know that though branded The Complete First Season, this week's DVD and Blu-ray releases of "Camelot" in fact represent the complete series.

There is no denying the impact and appeal of the source lore. So much of King Arthur's story has seeped into the cultural conscience that even almost a thousand years removed from the legend's popularization, the names Merlin, Guinevere, and Lancelot and phrases like Excalibur and the Knights of the Round Table are used without explanation or any need for it.

The believed fictional British king of the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. warrants little in the way of synopsis. But whether you've gleaned your information from family films, Lerner and Loewe, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Jerry Bruckheimer, or Monty Python, "Camelot" is sure not to simply retell the story as you remember it. After all, could you fill ten 50-minute episodes with what you know about the subject? Besides, it's not like one definitive version of the tale exists.

Young Arthur Pendragon (Jamie Campbell Bower) pulls the famed sword in the stone in the second episode of "Camelot." Arthur's elder half-sister Morgan (Eva Green) is consumed with ascending to the throne he's assumed.

"Camelot" is much less bawdy than the first two "Spartacus" shows, but it still features more violence, more nudity, and more uses of the f-word and the c-word than the vast majority of American television ever has. This isn't actually an American series and though you'd suspect an English production from the cast and subject matter, Wikipedia and the end credits classify it Irish/Canadian (to which IMDb adds US and UK designation). Certainly, the series was made with a global audience in mind, the only way such a relatively high-budgeted show can succeed on a subscription movie channel.

Unfortunately, "Camelot" is lacking. Though its story would seem to rank as one of the most compelling ever told, the way we get it in soapy, serialized episodes drains it of power and the execution leaves much to be desired. Acting, dialogue, and characterization all fail to do this dramatic, fantastic royal adventure any justice. No one aspect is glaringly problematic, but neither are any of them competent enough to satisfy. Any joy the series provides emerges mainly from reacquainting yourself with the legend and seeing how elements of it are interpreted. The more familiar you are with the lore, the more likely you are to be disappointed.

Of chief interest to "Camelot" in its first and only season is the succession of power. The show opens with the fatal poisoning of King Uther by his banished daughter Morgan Pendragon (Casino Royale Bond girl Eva Green). Bad girl Morgan expects to inherit the throne, but instead the bald, ageless sorcerer Merlin (Shakespeare in Love's Joseph Fiennes) tracks down the illegitimate son of Uther and Queen Igraine (Claire Forlani, back in action), a young man who has been living as a peasant. Merlin's claim that stringy-haired, lightly goateed Arthur Pendragon (Sweeney Todd's Jamie Campbell Bower) is the true heir to the throne is contested by Morgan, resulting in stern words, sword-clanging, and the murder of a foster mother.

Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) is smitten enough by Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton) to form a love triangle with her and his champion knight. Following his older brother's footsteps into bald wizardry, Joseph Fiennes plays royal sorcerer Merlin, still impressed by magic all these unaged years later.

Arthur's entirely unexpected rise to power requires repeated show of might. Even when Morgan silences her army and concedes to Arthur, her campaign for the crown presses on, merely moving from physical to psychological tactics, with help from her shady advisor nun Sybil (Sinéad Cusack). Arthur's feelings for Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton) linger after she marries his loyal champion soldier Leontes (Philip Winchester) and become the target of Morgan's insatiable ambitions, which she serves with magical powers that take a toll on her as the mostly abstinent Merlin's do on him.

Speaking of Merlin, one thing that especially does not work about "Camelot" is Joseph Fiennes. I long thought it curious that Fiennes could hold the title role in a Best Picture Oscar winner and then essentially disappear while his older brother Ralph remained respected and in demand. Then I finally saw Joseph in something else, playing the lead role in ABC's initially promising, soon disappointing single season casualty "FlashForward." He was a weak spot there, unable to draw sympathy in the easiest of opportunities.
His shortcomings in "Camelot" are far more pronounced. Given the opportunity to reinvent one of the richest parts in history, Fiennes never emotes in an identifiable way and never stops annoying with his hammy, exaggerated mannerisms. Did he overthink it? Did he underthink it? Did he proudly boast at last Christmas' Fiennes family gathering, "Now, I'm a bald wizard too"? Almost every second he's onscreen serves to take you out of this world. Perhaps someone should have a talk with the younger Fiennes, because as his professional freefall strongly suggests, he might not have chosen the right career for himself.

With top billing going to Fiennes, that sets the bar pretty low and none of his cast mates is determined to raise it. They are commonly hindered by the material and the standard historical drama tone and speech patterns, but must accept some blame for the frequent nonsensicality. A touch of intrigue still emerges in spite of the failings, but they are a lot to overlook in order to reach enjoyment.

The ten episodes of "Camelot" are divided across three discs on DVD as follows...

Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) is escorted to his realm by non-biological brother Kay (Peter Mooney) and the wizard Merlin (Joseph Fiennes). Just give Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) the sword and everything will be all right.

Disc 1

1. Homecoming (50:40) (Originally aired February 25, 2011)
Arthur learns of his true lineage when Merlin finds him to take him to assume his late father's crown. Morgan reveals she is not going to let Arthur take it without a fight.

2. The Sword and the Crown (48:20) (Originally aired April 1, 2011)
Arthur becomes the one to remove the fabled Sword of Mars from the waterfall where it has long been stuck. Also, King Lot (James Purefoy) punishes Morgan, and Arthur meets Guinevere and is bummed to learn she's engaged.

3. Guinevere (53:30) (Originally aired April 8, 2011)
Morgan invites Arthur and Merlin over for a dinner less innocuous than it seems. Meanwhile, Leontes and Arthur's foster brother Kay (Peter Mooney) recruit Gawain (Clive Standen) and, on the eve of her wedding, Arthur longs for Guinevere.

4. Lady of the Lake (53:32) (Originally aired April 15, 2011)
A sickly Morgan is visited and treated by her old nun teacher Sybil. Gawain trains the men to fight. And, with difficulty and sorcery, Merlin acquires the Excalibur for Arthur.

Morgan (Eva Green) accepts advice and affection from her old nun Cybil (Sinéad Cusack). You know it's been a "Long Night" when women are dabbling in archery alongside the men.

Disc 2

5. Justice (50:40) (Originally aired April 29, 2011)
Arthur intervenes to make sure a man about to be hung for murder first has his side heard. Sybil takes extreme measures to advance Morgan's cause. Romance starts to blossom between Merlin and Igraine.

6. Three Journeys (50:12) (Originally aired May 6, 2011)
Morgan begins hearing citizen complaints, including a serious accusation against Sybil. Arthur accompanies Guinevere to visit her dying father. Merlin and others return to Arthur's old home to retrieve the books that will form Camelot's library.

7. The Long Night (48:41) (Originally aired May 13, 2011)
Morgan hosts another dinner for Arthur and his knights, this one marked by dancing servant girls and an unexpected "attack" on Castle Pendragon, to which Arthur et al. plan a defense.

After hours of peripheral existence, Igraine (Claire Forlani) finally gets to shine in an episode bearing her name. The more prominent of her two parts, however, develops a different character. Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) shows his brave side by shouting, wielding a sword, and tying his hair into a tiny braid.

8. Igraine (51:16) (Originally aired May 20, 2011)
It's like a one-way Freaky Friday as Morgan assumes Igraine's body for a day, trying to blend in while cozying up to Merlin and creating mischief.

Disc 3

9. The Battle of Bardon Pass (49:29) (Originally aired June 3, 2011)
Leontes responds to the revelation about his wife. Arthur and his men go out to fight for an important passageway. Merlin and Igraine's accusations against Morgan backfire.

10. Reckoning (52:19) (Originally aired June 10, 2011)
Morgan's path to Camelot's throne seems suddenly clear as her plans fall into place. Meanwhile, the series comes to its unforeseen end with two major deaths, one inevitable and one a surprise. This episode is also significant for dramatizing the first slow, sarcastic clap on record.

VIDEO and AUDIO

"Camelot" has a filmic look that of course lends to a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. CGI is used sparingly, which prevents budget-restrained visuals from adding to the show's long list of shortcomings. The DVD's picture quality could be better. The digital video is grainy in a few spots, blurry in a whole lot more, and never as clean, sharp, and detailed as you'd like. The soundtrack has a good amount of activity, but the series is lighter on action than advertised and expected, so demo-worthy scenes are few and far between.

This high-angle shot captures the bustle of production in "Starz Studios: Camelot." Eva Green gives her best sexy pose at the start of Morgan Pendragon's character profile short.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

With the exception of the sub-minute recaps offered on all episodes but the first, extras are relegated to Disc 3's "Featuretttes" menu.
Though it looks like a lot of material, much of it is short and soon forgotten.

By far the set's longest and best extra, "Starz Studios: Camelot" (14:32) is a promotional but substantive making-of featurette that covers the Irish production, how the series puts its own spin on the legends, and the lead actors.

Six short "Camelot Character Profiles" use show clips, cast/crew comments, and sexy introductory poses to address the following series regulars and their portrayers: "Arthur" (2:48), "Guinevere" (2:26), "Igraine" (2:02), "Kay" (2:07), "Merlin" (1:52), and "Morgan" (2:42).

"The Knights" (2:12) gives further consideration to the male characters of "Camelot." It's matched by "The Women of Camelot" (2:47), which obviously applies the same treatment to the fairer sex.

Tamsin Egerton is surprised and embarrassed to learn her lewd pantomime was caught on camera. Wait until she finds out it made the DVD! Believe it or not, it takes visual effects to make Joe Fiennes walk on water. Talk about a win-win situation: Jamie Campbell Bower gets a good workout as Peter Mooney gets good behind-the-scenes footage.

"Candid Camelot" (1:18) plays an assortment of goofs and between-takes randomness.

Predictably, three brief "scene breakdowns" break down the making of standout scenes, with talking heads, finished clips, B-roll, and raw pre-visual effects footage. Deconstructed in this manner are "The Lady in the Lake" (2:45), "Fire at Castle Pendragon" (1:20), and "The Sword in the Stone" (2:55).

"On the Set: Mooney's Movie" (2:53) shares candid behind-the-scenes footage shot and introduced by actor Peter Mooney and featuring Jamie Campbell Bower goofing around.

Claire Forlani provides a classic blooper reel staple -- the cross-eyed look -- in the Camelot outtakes. Vivian and Sybil are the only characters asked to share a screen in the main menu montage. Make of that what you will.

Finally, "Camelot Blooper Reel" (5:30) provides a lot of laughter and bleeped profanity.

One extra is exclusive to Blu-ray: a "Camelot Chronicles Pop-Up History" available on every episode. It sounds pretty substantial and probably easily convertible to DVD shorts, but alas it is an additional incentive beyond HD picture and sound to pay an extra $6 for the Blu-ray edition.

Disc One opens with promos for "Spartacus: Blood and Sand", "Boss", "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena", and "Torchwood: Miracle Day." Disc Three's "Also on DVD" holds the first, as well as promos for the Spartacus game (which is not on DVD), The King's Speech and "Sons of Anarchy."

Each disc's animated main menu places character stills in front of scenery, playing with the light behind them while the Emmy-nominated opening theme music is heard.

"Camelot" is packaged in a six-sided Digipak, whose faces are repeated in a less reflective, more embossed outer case. Episode titles, writers, and directors adorn one of the Digipak's sides. A couple of inserts promote "Spartacus", "Boss", and the "Spartacus" and "Camelot" online games.

To sum up, "Camelot" tells the story of two Pendragons (Eva Green and Jamie Campbell Bower) both after the same throne.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though much less raunchy and gory than the two "Spartacus" series, Starz's "Camelot" still takes a graphic approach to its material that will inspire some blushing. The lurid approach makes sense for barbaric ancient Rome and those shows at least have strong storylines and well-utilized casts to fall back on.
"Camelot" does less with a more celebrated tradition, determined to draw out the material with inessential detours and rarely imaginative twists. Had the show's makers known they would have just ten episodes, the series would have wound up considerably better.

As is, there's not much to take from this. Those who always welcome a new interpretation of King Arthur folklore will want to check "Camelot" out, but I doubt they'll be really pleased by it. Everyone else not sold on scattered swordplay and sex can take a pass.

Anchor Bay's DVD is adequate. Though it might partially be me getting used to Blu-ray, the feature presentation feel a little lacking. The extras are no doubt more lightweight than fans would like. In short, disappointment surrounds "Camelot."

Buy Camelot: The Complete Series from Amazon.com: DVD / Blu-ray

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Reviewed September 14, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Starz Entertainment, GK-tv, KA Television Productions, Take 5 Productions, Ecosse Films, Octagon,
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