Movies That Should Be Comics #16: A Knight's Tale

I just finished watching A Knight's Tale, the period action comedy starring the late Heath Ledger, on dvr. I had already seen this movie a million times before I got married, but found out recently that my wife hates it for all the same reasons I love it.
A Knight's Tale tells the story of William Thatcher, who dreams the impossible dream of transcending his humble peasant origins to become a Knight. Of course, in feudal England, one would have to be born into nobility to even consider becoming a knight... "You might as well try to change the stars," laughs a doomed eavesdropper at young William's impossible aspirations.  Will's father, however is unable to say no to his son's ambitions, and encourages him to hold onto hope.
Through his father's machinations, Will leaves his home in London to become a squire for a country knight, whose unsanctimonious death over a decade later gives Will the opportunity he'd been waiting for.
As a person who is quite tired of the constant retreading of this period in European history (as if Europe was the only place there were worthy stories happening in the world at the time), I had no desire to go to the theater to see what I expected to be a subpar film in a lackluster genre. When my best friend drug me out to see this, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it... Similar to a Disney cartoon, the period trappings in A Knight's Tale are largely there for dress-up purposes. The story does its best to distance itself from the realities of the time, using music and situational details to make it feel more contemporary... The movie treats jousting, sword-fighting and the hero-worship of the knights as similar to modern sports as possible, complete with heralds that seem like they're announcing a boxing match more than the entry of nobles into mock combat.

Characters in the film show they are good and honorable mostly by going against the values and norms of the era, whether it's the female blacksmith Kate, Jocelyn the bold-talking noble woman, the swash-buckling Prince Edward, and of course William himself.  Conversely, the villain of the film Count Adhemar is a raping, pillaging, cheating, condescending prick... reinforcing the idea that the values of the time are unjust, and that the "new world" where a boy can "change his stars" fully deserves to supplant the patriarchal world Adhemar calls home.
None of this is unique of course. In fact, most period films use the contrast between the past and present to help engage the viewer, but A Knight's Tale, perhaps anticipating a younger audience, amplifies these with multiple characters and choices of music and comic relief. The voices that criticize A Knight's Tale (of which my wife is a proud member) fail to be amused by the injection of contemporary flair in their period flicks.
My wife's objections to A Knight's Tale reminded me of the initial rejection of Samurai Champloo I heard from anime purists who couldn't get with a samurai story that stopped for beat-boxing interludes or had backpacker-styled rhyming on the theme music. In both cases, the strength of the storytelling comes largely from bending and breaking the conventions of the genre. If that can't be tolerated, it's hard to have a fair opinion of the picture.

The movie helps its critics out by having an ending that breaks from anything that could be interpreted as reality, but I have no problem at all looking the other way on it. In fact, I'd say the ending provides a great opportunity to whoever is smart enough to make this movie into a graphic novel. If I made a comic out of this story, I would take the opportunity to expand a little on the roles of some of the characters, as well as shaving a little of the propaganda value off the the movie's final battle.The film's genre-bending puts too much pressure on an audience already to sustain such an over-the-top ending, and I felt like the story had not written itself into a corner that would require such a departure from reality to resolve itself. In a graphic novel remake, I'd advise making the ending more in balance with the whole of the story.
I would love to add vignette stories into the narrative that amplify each character, especially Count Adhemar, whose acts of true villainy occur offscreen in the movie. He would benefit from the additional screen time you could give in a 250 page OGN, as could the enigmatic Prince Edward. A polished manga style like we see in Yukito Kishiro's Aqua Knight or Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal would be perfect for this material. Since music is not much of a factor in a comics adaptation, storytellers could use more visual cues in costuming and dialog to establish the modern-minded feel of the book, but I for one would love to read it!


Arkonbey said...

Your analogy about this being a live action animated Disney movie is spot on.

That, however, is the problem I have with it. When you bring something into the (visually) real world, it has to be more realistic for me to really enjoy it; or at least naturalistic.

Damn. This review has got me thinking way too much for a comment. That's the problem with the internet: It's hard to sit down with a beer and argue pop culture with someone on a blog!

samax said...

I understand your argument, but I don't always agree with it. There is a fine line between stupid and fun, and I think this fell on the better side of it.

But one of my beliefs about walking the fun/stupid line is that the same things that make it fun for one makes it stupid for another, which was part of my point.

There are plenty of films (in many genres) that I enjoy on this level. It's especially common in sports and action movies, and this movie is both.

Check this out!

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