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Merlin: The Arturian Saga - Dumbed Down for TV?

Posted by RangerGal , 21 June 2009 · 786 views

Television Series
When I saw the series advertised as "new" last year on Alluc.org I wasn't excited. It reminded me right away of past BBC efforts to revive Robin Hood. 'Course the first series was the best, and subsequent efforts to revive the series with other actors failed miserably. I wasn't thrilled at the idea of another Merlin.
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I can't even name all the Arthurian movies and series that I've seen. My first exposure to it was Mary Stewart's series of books: The Hollow Hills, The Crystal Caves, and The Last Enchantment. While these books were written for adults, my child-section librarian felt that I was ready for them at the tender age of 11, and sent me downstairs into the adult section to retrieve them. What I found in those books - references to sex and thoughts about sex - made me grin, but didn't enthuse me. Forcing Arthurian magic into romance (like Malory eventually did) made me a little angry. The saga was really meant to be a tragedy; a history lesson and moral tale about the death of magic and the beginning of the new age of man.

Which movie/TV series did I like the best? Probably the John Boorman version, Excalibur, for Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren, of course! Not only for that, but for our first glimpses of Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart. It had the right storyline but was mucked up with Lancelot's tale and the cheesy acting of Nicolas Clay. Yuck. At least seeing Nigel Terry again made it bearable. The musical score was fun, and the haunting green filter made it pretty to look at.
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Merlin (1998) Starring Sam Neill, Helena Bonham Carter, Rutger Hauer, Martin Short, James Earle Jones, and Isabella Rosellini is my next best fav. One can't help but be charmed by Sam Neill, (who looks wonderful on film) mesmerizing us with his slow, careful dialog and his earnest face. Isabella knocks our socks off with her sweet demeanor and her long well-vocalized vowels. Even Helena does a great job, but her hissing vocalizations sometimes make us wish she'd stop playing and get down to really acting the part. The additions of Sir John Gielgud and Rutger Hauer just make it more fun than before.
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But this new series (premiering tonight on NBC) promises something for the Harry Potter club. It's a kid-size Merlin, sort of a Smallville version of the saga. It's got a little of the BBC feel with some Zena, Warrior Princess thrown in. The actors are suitable. One surprise is Anthony Stewart Head (Uther), former star of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, the other is Sir John Hurt (Alien) who voices the Dragon and serves as narrator. Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley James (Arthur) are just...okay. Because this series was on BBC before NBC picked it up, I'd already seen parts of the first episode. I wrote it off because of its kiddie-feel, but am now watching it due to the lack of my favorite programming that has gone on hiatus.
Compare it to what you will, this seems to be a quality series for family viewing. It's just that it's mucking up the legend once again, with side plots and weird condensing of families, characters, and names. If you can get over that, I think you'll enjoy it.

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