Why you have to watch the movie (#SFWApro)

TYG has sometimes wondered why I need to watch movies when I can find synopses of so many of them. Watching Whoopi Goldberg’s A Knight in Camelot (1998) for my time-travel book is a good example of why.
I had a perfectly good, accurate synopsis—from my own previous book, Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, in fact. And my assessment of the movie 16 years ago is still spot-on: this riff on Connecticut Yankee is funny when Goldberg cuts loose but the medieval adventures are flat as can be. They don’t even make much sense: Arthur (Michael York) goes from defending Sir Sagramore (he murdered Clarence’s parents years before) as exercising his knightly rights to condemning him as a base villain, for no reason I can see. And while I can accept by the laws of movie technical expertise that Whoopi, playing a gravity physicist, also knows how to make steam engines and dynamite, dynamite is not gunpowder-based!
But the thing is, a synopsis is rarely going to capture the feel of a film, the tone, the subtle details. I’d written up the movie before just as a TV-movie (the topic of the book) and this time I’m looking at it from a time-travel perspective, and that made it very different. For example, I didn’t remember that unlike umpty-zillion time-travel films, Whoopi figures out she’s traveled in time almost immediately. We get to skip all the usual idiocy of someone thinking they’re at a Ren fair or surrounded by cosplay and get on with the story.
I also notice that unlike the Twain original, Goldberg is only in Camelot briefly so she never introduces as much tech as Twain’s protagonist did (I think this is true of most versions, but I’ll see as I get to them).
There’s also “Sir Boss’s” outrage that King Arthur allows slavery in his kingdom. Coming from a black woman, that has much more meaning than if, say, Bing Crosby or Will Rogers had been similarly outraged when they played the role (there’s also a running gag about everyone wanting to feel Whoopi hair—I’ve read that’s an annoyingly common experience for blacks too).
It’s also unusual (and this I did remember) for being the only Yankee I know of where Merlin (Ian Richardson) is a good guy. It turns out he manipulated everything so that Whoopi would learn something of honor and courage and respect (she starts out a little insensitive to others) and Arthur will learn the value of freedom (and thereby become the shining inspiration for future kings). And at the end, Merlin takes her on as an apprentice and they go off to explore the cosmos together (I’ve got to say I love that bit).
Which is a long-winded way of saying yes, whenever possible, I see the movie.

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Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel, Writing

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