'TMNT' Director Reveals King Arthur Movie and New BS Detector for Lazy High Concepts

King Arthur's rage shatters Excalibur in his duel with Lancelot. After EXCALIBUR no other Arthurian movie is necessary.
King Arthur's rage shatters Excalibur in his duel with Lancelot. After EXCALIBUR no other Arthurian movie is necessary. Warner Bros.

Jonathan Liebesman, director of the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, will be directing Man At Arms, an Arthurian epic, to go up against Guy Ritchie’s Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur. The new movie from the TMNT director is supposedly reminiscent of the Clint Eastwood Western, Unforgiven, as it follows an older Lancelot determined to make amends after destroying Camelot by hooking up with Guinevere. Deadline is calling it a “great twist to the tried-and-true story,” while I’m calling it “the fifth act of Excalibur.” Whatever it is, the comparison of a Jonathan Liebesman King Arthur movie to Unforgiven finally provides enough evidence to call out the latest trend in high concept studio-speak bullshit.

Here, Now You’ve Seen Lancelot Redeem Himself As an Old Man

As with most things terrible about modern Hollywood, this new trend can be traced back to Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the writers responsible for Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Transformers 2. In a 2009 interview with IGN about Cowboys & Aliens Orci and Kurtzman “said that they want the film to be like Unforgiven and then suddenly the aliens from Alien show up.” If anyone can find earlier precedent for invoking Unforgiven as one half of a studio mash-up, please share in the comments.

Unforgiven Meets Unforgiven

For those who consider 1993’s Jurassic Park the beginning of the classic cinema era, Unforgiven is a 1992 Western starring and directed by Clint Eastwood that won Best Picture. Not only is it one of the few instances where the Academy correctly picked the best movie of the year, but Unforgiven is one of the best Westerns AND best meditations on regret and aging ever put to screen. Which is why people like Orci and Kurtzman love invoking Unforgiven. It gives their project the advanced aroma of sophistication, suggesting that it will be a philosophical story about confronting a final challenge as your regret-filled life limps to a violent and ignominious end. What comparing your new movie to Unforgiven actually means: it will star an old guy.

While Orci & Kurtzman started with a bang by putting Unforgiven and the terrible Cowboys & Aliens in the same sentence, the cognitive dissonance wasn’t enough to deter future comparisons. In 2011 the screenwriter for Rambo 5 said “my hope is that [Sylvester Stallone] will eventually be inspired to do one more Rambo film, with the tone of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.” Legend of Conan producer Chris Morgan has repeatedly compared his new Conan movie to Unforgiven, telling IGN, “Arnold is coming back in an amazing way. It’s going to be our Unforgiven.” Mark Millar, king of the high concept comic and busy trying to take over Hollywood, called his comic Starlight, which is in the process of a being adapted for screen, “Buzz Lightyear meets Unforgiven.

As much as I’d love for Legend of Conan to achieve an Unforgiven tone to cap Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, it’s time to acknowledge that _______ meets Unforgiven has become too dilute to possibly be useful or true. No matter what Thunder Road Pictures would have us believe (it’s unclear in the Deadline piece who made the original Unforgiven comparison) there’s no way that the director of Wrath of the Titans and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could give us anything within a parsec of Unforgiven. But by making the outrageous comparison of a hack director’s new King Arthur movie to Unforgiven they have inadvertently created the friction necessary to expose this bullshit marketing trend.

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