Surely You Joust
Extreme Knight Movie is Historically Malnourished
Though I don't think
I ever saw a trailer or commercial for it, I knew that at some point during A Knight's Tale
there would be a scene of jousting set to the tune of Queen's ubiquitous stadium anthem, "We Will Rock You." That scene comes during the opening credits, and is, in its way, kind of funny for about a second. Several minutes of boom-boom-CLAP, boom-boom-CLAP later, and it's murder. Pantomimed by hundreds of costumed extras, and cut in time to the impact of lance splintering against armor (the film's central recurring image), the song affects a kind of half joke, half extreme sports adrenaline-pumper. Director Brian Helgeland asks a lot of that half joke, milking it for what seems like the entire length of the song--which, in truth, no one ever needs to actually hear again--until every conceivable laugh has been wrung clean. And in case you didn't get it, he repeats it several times throughout the film's ungodly length (132 minutes!), the only variation being the song itself; Queen gives way to Thin Lizzy, BTO, and Bowie--a veritable greatest hits of ballpark favorites.
Unfortunately, it's not really such a funny joke, and the constant repetition only serves to remind you that you're watching a modernization of a genre whose only appeal lies in its anachronism. The trophies of honor, sportsmanship, and nobility--none of which have much to do with the meretricious world of contemporary sports that Helgeland echoes visually--are the bearings on the knight movie coat of arms. To spruce them up with a modern soundtrack (well, kind of modern), is hardly a reinvention. It's just a cute contrivance, unsuccessfully masking the deep hollow that lies at the heart of this club-footed attempt to foist a Teen Gladiator on historically-malnourished summer audiences.
All that isn't so surprising, and historical accuracy isn't a valid benchmark in the realm of popular cinema (see sidebar, nonetheless). Still, the things you go see a movie like this for--rousing action and star power--are curiously absent (for all Heath Ledger's handsome Australianness, he's no Russell Crowe, senator). It's not that A Knight's Tale sucks, particularly--though it pretty much does--it's just that, like, where are the cheap thrills?