King Arthur: the reasons behind the gut of Guy Ritchie’s franchise
The franchise centered around the Round Table initiated by Guy Ritchie had a very short life, canceled after the resounding failure of the first feature film of the saga: “King Arthur: the legend of Excalibur”. But what happened?
The King Arthur adventure begins when Warner Bros. decides to retell the legend of the Round Table. The project has been going on for years, envisioned with Kit Harington as King Arthur under the direction of David Dobkin (Serial Noceurs), then in another version with Colin Farrell (and Gary Oldman as Merlin). None of them saw the light of day, until the project was relaunched.
It’s March 2010 when director Guy Ritchie says he’s interested in bringing the story of King Arthur to the screen. At the time, Ritchie was at home at Warner, having just successfully directed two adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law.
Ritchie will base his film on a screenplay written by John Hodge (Trainspotting) and inspired by the writings of Thomas Mallory titled The death of Arthur, published in 1485 and which served as the basis for John Boorman’s Excalibur.
By launching this project, the Warner symbolically shoots a bullet in the head of the remake of the Excalibur of John boorman, which she was developing in parallel, with a view to entrusting the production to Bryan Singer. In addition, Guy Ritchie does not have time to start work on Arthur, since he has already signed to direct before (and still for Warner) The Man from UNCLE with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.
A “Frankenstein” scenario
In 2014, Ritchie was officially under contract to produce what was then called Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur. Warner is abandoning John Hodge’s original script, and the project will now be written by Joby Harold, who plans a story arc … across six films.
This does not surprise anyone in 2014, when the Marvel Universe managed to hang up on Avengers Guardians of the Galaxy, then unsung heroes, by making them hit at the box office, while announcing nine feature films for the years to come, all related to each other.
At the time, Warner was building his DC Comics connected universe with Batman V Superman, heralding a much anticipated Justice League. It is therefore logical to also attempt the adventure with several films adapted from the Arthurian legend.
Except that the scripts of John Hodge (adapted from Thomas Mallory) and Dobkin (the one with Kit Harrington) are used as the basis for Ritchie and Harold’s version, with the studio tricking the writers to mix up the versions, which will cause problems with the Writer’s Guild, an authority settling copyright issues between the different writers of a project.
Add that the associate of Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, arrives in reinforcement in the writing, and the result for King Arthur is a scenario sewn from the different versions of the same story that one tries to unite by force.
The first doubts
The Man From UNCLE comes out on screens and doesn’t pay as much as expected. Warner therefore finds that what Ritchie touches does not always turn into gold. The spy feature makes $ 107 million worldwide for an estimated budget (excluding marketing and advertising) of $ 75 million.
The studio is therefore losing money, when Guy Ritchie is filming King Arthur, at least the first of six films. Meanwhile, the shoot seems to be going well. Charlie Hunnam is the star of the film, along with Jude Law (Vortigern), Annabelle Wallis (Maggie) and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (The Mage).
However, from the confession itself from Hunnam, the film was made live on set:
We started with a structure [d’histoire] and it quickly became obvious, from the first days of filming, that it was just a structure and that we were going to have to work in real time, that everything was going to evolve very quickly.
The shooting is therefore carried out in these somewhat incredible conditions, but is completed without too much delay … except that the first test screening is “catastrophic”. Something unexpected happens: the team realizes that one of the main actors is “miscast”, that is, not suitable for the role entrusted to him.
Rewritings are beginning to be organized, and with them the inevitable reshoots (shooting of scenes after the main shoot in order to improve the consistency of the film or to correct errors). It is whispered as the skills of producer and Ritchie’s friend, Lionel Wigram, are called into question.
At the same time, Warner had problems with another connected universe film: Suicide Squad, adapted from DC Comics, which also required a lot of reshoots and post-production that was not planned. The firm is therefore under pressure, with two blockbusters that seem to be off to a bad start.
A film that no longer wants to be released
In February 2016, the tabloid The Sun (via Femalefirst) reports that Guy Ritchie would be “disappointed” by the performance of Annabelle Wallis, to the point of cutting the majority of her scenes. As a result, a fairly important plot related to his character is left out by Ritchie, regrettably. The reshoots continue and the film, set to July 22, 2016, is postponed to February 17, 2017.
In january 2017, one month before the release, Guy Ritchie takes stock, announcing that the last visual effects are being processed. It offers a first cut of 3 hours, then a version of 2 hours 20 minutes, then another 1 hour 50 minutes. If the duration evolves enormously, it is because the director tries to compensate by the virtual disappearance of the character of Wallis and to find the right rhythm for the action scenes.
Hunnam tells for example at the time of the promotion of the film that one of the opening sequences (the flashback to the fight against the Vikings) has been significantly reduced:
[Guy Ritchie] made a considerable effort to reduce the first 30 or 40 minutes to a 10-minute streak. The original edit was 3:30 and everything had to be reduced. So he created this scene [qui n’était pas dans le script] to cut about twenty scenes (…).
The film moves again twice after that, postponed to March then May 2017. These postponements are not to reassure the public as well as the press. Meanwhile, post-production drags on, and Warner continues to sign the checks, hoping to recoup himself with the film finished.
Except that King arthur, which has meanwhile become King Arthur: Legend of The Sword, cost $ 175 million to shoot alone and earns just 148.6. The failure is resounding, the criticisms wherever they come from are scathing and the hoped-for connected universe will never see the light of day.
Guy Ritchie will bounce back quickly by agreeing to shoot the live-action remake of Aladdin for Disney. At the time of this writing, he has never worked with the Warner studio again. He will return with Charlie Hunnam for The Gentlemen (2020).