It must be announced at the outset that no matter what I or anyone thinks of the original Starz series 'Camelot' it's still canceled. After a ten episode first season the darker, more sex-filled story of King Arthur and his construction of the fabled Camelot is over and done with. Never to come back to a screen near you.
Fresh off the success of their 'Spartacus ' franchise, Starz decided to delve into another period piece full of blood, swords, and breasts. Taking on the legendary story of King Arthur, they set about adding a little more sex and violence seeing as that's what made 'Spartacus' so popular right?
From the outset it seems like 'Camelot' is trying too hard to be liked. The first two episodes reek of trying to hook the audience with copious amounts of sex and nudity only to have that sex and nudity trimmed way back as the season progressed. It's almost as if the first two episodes were so desperate to build a fan base that they were front-loaded with all the risqué material that Starz prides itself on.
In this version of the tale we find Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) growing up in a small village. Unbeknownst to him he's about to become the new king of the land. He doesn't know that his real lineage consists of royal blood. He was hidden away because he was a bastard child of the now deceased King Uther. Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) is the only one who knows where the boy king is hiding out and goes to retrieve him once Uther is pronounced dead. Now it's time for Arthur to take his rightful place at the throne and rebuild the now rundown castle of Camelot. It isn't smooth sailing for the young king-to-be, because his sister Morgan (Eva Green) is making things truly difficult for him. Dabbling in the dark arts of sorcery, Morgan tries to usurp Arthur's rightful place on the throne because she believes she's the one that should be sitting there.
The first couple episodes of 'Camelot' border on the corny. Fiennes seems like he's trying his hardest to overact every scene. It's hard to wonder who thought it was a good idea to cast Bower as Arthur. In the words of my wife, who likes the show overall, "How are you supposed to take the show seriously when King Arthur looks like a pussy?" How indeed! He's never believable as a king or a competent warrior at that. He's skinny, with patchy facial hair, and his wimpy ponytail isn't doing him any favors. Green, as evil Morgan, is the bright spot in the series. She's deliciously evil, without being overwhelming. Fiennes tones down the glowering mess from the beginning of the season and becomes one of the more interesting characters. A credit to the show is that it puts a different twist on some of the well-known tales. I liked how they changed up the story of Excalibur and how Merlin came into possession of it. Not a happy story, but in order to save face Merlin makes up a legend about it to ease the blow of the truth.
Political posturing takes up the majority of the last few episodes as Morgan tries her best to turn the people of the realm against Arthur. It isn't as intriguing or engrossing as the political musings that went on in HBO's 'Rome,' but it works to some degree. Watching Green maneuver her way as an evil sorceress is a treat. There are numerous times where she has the upper hand and you truly wonder how the good guys are ever going to overcome her. It's nice to feel the main characters in some sort of mortal danger.
In the end though, 'Camelot' just couldn't get over the hump. It doesn't really matter if you liked the show or not because it isn't coming back. With that in mind, investing in the first season on Blu-ray seems like a lost cause.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Camelot' comes in a more sturdy case than 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.' Instead of digi-book packaging with simple slide-in folds, 'Camelot' is housed in a tri-fold featuring individual hubs for each of its three 50-GB Blu-ray Discs. An episode list is printed inside so you know which disc holds which episode. The first and second disc feature four episodes while the third disc houses the last two. The tri-fold then slides into an outer cardboard box that houses everything.
Note for PS3 owners: I couldn't get the second disc to play on my PS3, which has the latest firmware updates downloaded. The first and the third disc played fine, but the second disc refused to play. However, it played fine on my backup Sony BDP-S270. I couldn't figure out the problem or a solution. PS3 owners just might want to be aware that this could possibly happen to them too.
'Camelot' lacks the post-production comic book-like pop that makes 'Spartacus' look so good in HD. Even though 'Camelot' holds its own in high definition with a bold and striking palette full of on-location scenery and heavy detail.
It's easy to see how detailed the show is with one look at Fiennes head. It's shaved, but during close-ups it's easy to make out the individual pieces of stubble that make up the hair on his head and face. You'll be thanking the clarity of the show's detail when you watch Tamsin Egerton, who plays Guinevere, step out of the ocean wearing a wet see-thru white dress.
The on-location scenery of Ireland packs a visceral punch with its deep lush greenery. Blood isn't nearly as overdone as it is in 'Spartacus,' 'Camelot' does feature some fierce battles where striking red blood is thrown from bodies. The blood spatter is clear and its edges easily defined. Blacks look nice and deep too. The picture isn't overly noisy at all. It's nice that Starz didn't try to pack all ten episodes onto two discs. This more than likely helped with the absence of any compression or technical issues.
'Camelot's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is a sturdy supporter of the series. It doesn't overwhelm like 'Spartacus' might at times. Instead it's a constant, strong reminder of the clinking, clanking sound environment of medieval times.
Battles are usually small, featuring only a small number of combatants. This is most likely due to budget constraints. You don't have any full on battles of thousands of people running full speed at each other in open fields. The more intimate fighting environment is treated with skill here though. Clangs of swords and wooshing of arrows shooting through the air are well placed in the sound stage. It's easy to discern the chaos of the battlefield.
LFE is present during more intense scenes. It thumps along as horse hoofs clomp towards their destination. It crashes as large wooden doors slam shut. It booms as the soundtrack intensifies.
Finally, dialogue is well-rounded and placed where it needs to be in the front and center channels. The entire mix is technically proficient. It may be more reserved than other shows like 'Spartacus,' but it still performs when it needs to.
It's always hard recommending a series that's already been canceled. Why invest yourself if you aren't going to be able to see it to a conclusion? Why take time out of your day to watch a show that ultimately ends before its time? 'Camelot' has its problems, most of which rest directly on the shoulders of Bower. Still, it's a breezy series with some interesting twists on well-known fables. If the series hadn't been canceled I would've provided a light recommendation, however only fans of the show should pick up this set. People looking for a new series to get in to may want to steer clear of a show that has already been sent packing.