The Mists of Avalon
If your fondest cinematic memories of the King Arthur legend come from First Knight or Disney's The Sword and the Stone, you're in for a bit of a shock. Sure, you've got Merlin (Michael Byrne), Excalibur, and the Round Table, but TNT's distaff-flavored Mists of Avalon also tosses in conspiracy, betrayal, murder, incest, and, in one eyebrow-raising scene, even a ménage-a-trois (ahh, cable...). Based on Marion Zimmer Bradley's best-selling novel, The Mists of Avalon is told from the decidedly feminist viewpoint of Arthur's older sister, Morgaine (ER's Julianna Margulies). Raised to follow the Druid ways by her mother Igraine (The Princess Diaries' Caroline Goodall) and her aunts Morgause (Joan Allen) and Lady of the Lake Viviane (Anjelica Huston) two scheming sisters who would give King Lear's Regan and Goneril a run for their money Morgaine learns to worship the mother Goddess on the mysterious, mist-shrouded island of Avalon while her little bro (Edward Atterton) grows up to be a mighty king. Things get complicated when Viviane, desperate to protect Avalon from the growing influence of Christianity, manipulates a few people here and there and winds up both alienating her niece and unwittingly putting Camelot and the Druids at even greater risk. Oh, and we can't forget noble knight Lancelot (Michael Vartan of TV's Alias) and devout Gwenwyfar (aka Guinevere, played by Samantha Mathis), whose forbidden passion throws a few cogs in the wheel, too. Overall, the cast does an impressive job of keeping the story from getting too soap opera-ish, though Allen and Huston do their share of over-the-top scenery-chewing, and it's a little hard to buy Margulies' English accent at times. Vartan is particularly convincing as the earnest Lancelot, whose loyalty to his king is in a constant battle with his heart. Unfortunately, due to the smaller scale required by TV, the movie's production values are a little low-rent at times (there are a few obvious blue-screen bits, and some of the castle sets practically scream "foam!"), but the battles are convincing, and the costumes are top-notch. In the end, especially when its compared to fantasy miniseries like the 10th Kingdom, Mists of Avalon is an entertaining, fresh take on a story we never seem to get tired of hearing. The three-hour film is a natural for DVD; the effects were designed for the small screen, and you don't have to sit through two evenings' worth of ads to see the whole movie. The matted widescreen transfer is strong, and the English 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is far and above most of the audio offered on TV (a French 5.1 track is also available, as are French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles). Extras include a cast and crew list (with filmographies for Huston, Allen, and Margulies); a nice set of photo, costume, and storyboard galleries (don't look at the family tree-like character gallery before you watch the movie if you don't want to know a few plot twists); and about eight minutes' worth of deleted scenes, including text explanations of why each was cut. Snap-case.