What kind of guy was the wizard Merlin, anyway? He lives a long time, raises a boy to be a king, props up a Utopian empire with his magic and wisdom, and then watches as it all crumbles under such banal forces as vengeance... more » and betrayal. This four-hour miniseries re-tells the story of Camelot and King Arthur from the perspective of the magic man who sacrifices a great deal to guide mortals toward a better destiny. Sam Neill plays Merlin as an accessible, flesh-and-blood fellow of real passion, powerless to undo the spell of a rival (Rutger Hauer) who has virtually imprisoned Merlin's great love, Nimue (Isabella Rossellini), but gifted enough to counter the treachery of Morgan Le Fey (Helena Bonham Carter) and the wicked Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson). The battle sequences and special effects are striking and original, and it is great fun to see such art-house movie actors as Richardson, Carter, Neill, etc., in fantasy entertainment the whole family can enjoy. (An unrecognizable Martin Short must be singled out, however, for a wonderful, largely dramatic performance as Mab's sidekick, Frik.) Directed by Steve Barron (The Adventures of Pinocchio), Merlin is a nice bit of glossy revisionism of a beloved legend. --Tom Keogh« less
Anna D. from SAN PEDRO, CA Reviewed on 8/29/2009...
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Happy Endings Matter!
Jason Baker | Goshen, IN USA | 04/15/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I own several movies that tell the same tale in different ways, the tale of Merlin and King Arthur and Sir Lancelot. Of these the ones that have really stood out are "The Mists Of Avalon" , "Excalibur" and "Merlin". Of these 3 I must say that Merlin is my favorite. This is because the first 2 while wonderfully told and acted out, the endings were far from happy and feel good and more remeniscent of classic French movies with their tragic endings with only small glimmers of brightness. Merlin,however, is a fairy tale movie with a fairy tale ending..a happy one.. There is also quite a lot of humor and wit blended in this movie as well. If you enjoy movies that take place during the Arthurian time period then this is one you will want to add to your collection!"
Taylor | Madison, CT | 08/01/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I missed this movie when it was on TV, and I totally regretted it. The next day at school, EVERYONE was talking about how great it is. I resolved to see it when it came out on video. When I did, I was totally blown away! I mean, the acting was spectacular *special kudos go out to Miranda Richardson for her fabulous job as Queen Mab, and Isabella Rosselini, for being an excellent Nimue*, the plot was excellently written, and the setting/costumes were fabulous! Some of you biased reviewers *you know who you are* insist that Merlin "doesn't measure up" to Excalibur and that it isn't "historically correct". Gimme a break! First of all, why does Merlin have to be compared to Excalibur? Why can't you people just enjoy it for what it is? Secondly, let me say this loud and clear: THE ARTHURIAN LEGENDS ARE NOT HISTORY! THEY ARE LEGENDS! THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG TELLING OF THEM! Now that I've said that, I hope that everyone reading this will take my thoughts into consideration. If you haven't seen this movie and you like tales of adventure, romance, and magic, I DEFINITELY recommend it."
An Enjoyably Unusual Take
S.E. Poza | Rimersburg, PA | 06/13/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Those who are fans of the oft-repeated Arthurian legend and the way in which Merlin is commonly portrayed may find this adaptation fails to meet their expectations. However, before dismissing it out of hand, one might want to consider how little of Merlin's life is shown in the stories of Excalibur/Arthur and how one-dimensional his character usually is.
This miniseries seeks to show Merlin's story from conception to "retirement". The part he plays in Arthur's life is shown but only as one thread in the tapestry of Merlin's life. This miniseries is about why Merlin was born, who gave him his power, and what motivated him. It also portrays him as having more mortal interests than being mainly interested in magic and power. As a story, it's well-structured and offers much to an open-minded viewer. The motives of most of the characters are credible (even for a fairy tale) and even the central "bad guy" (Mab) has a good reason for all the things she does.
The story is built around a "war" between the beliefs of the old world based on the world of fairy and those who embrace the newer belief system of Christianity. Merlin is created as a tool of Mab, a powerful sorceress in the world of fairy, in her struggle to keep belief in her alive so that she may continue to exist.
While the basic premise may sound silly, it's only because the fictions of Mab, fairies, etc. are less well-known than the legend of Arthur (whose lady of the lake, sword in stone, dragon's breath, and powers of illusion are also pretty preposterous). The writers drew on existing lore for much of this miniseries just as the tales of Arthur do.
As for the cast, Miranda Richardson is extremely impressive as both Mab and the Lady of the Lake. Martin Short is nearly unrecognizable both as a gnome and a blond-haired blue-eyed suitor of Morgana le Fay. He's also both funny and capable of unexpected emotional depth in some rather painful scenes. Sam Neill is fine as Merlin but he always seems a little too calm in his roles in my opinion.
The special effects are really quite nicely done and there are many lovely scenes which add to a magical feel (especially Mab's cave and the look of the Lady of the Lake wearing little living fish as a necklace) but it's the story that really draws one in. You care about the characters and want them to live happily ever after and feel empathy for them when they suffer.
I'll be honest and say I was less impressed by this miniseries the first time I saw it than the second time. I found all the new elements very strange and hard to take in but the story stuck with me and I found I really wanted to see it again and enjoyed it much more the second time. This is a rare piece of entertainment which actually is better after you know how the story goes. There is a lot of subtlety and detail you only pick up on subsequent viewings.
If you're looking for a fairy tale with well-drawn characters and imaginative elements you haven't seen before, you will likely enjoy this miniseries. If you are a fan of the Gandalf-like, manipulative Merlin of Arthurian legend and seeking a retelling of his story in that mold, you will probably be disappointed."
Seems People Love to Beat Up On this One!
sharksignco | Denver, CO | 02/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have been studying the Arthurian legends for well over 15 years, and guess what, folks? They're just that... legends. So all of the ranting about "historical" accuracy is a contradiction of terms. It seems people judged this movie more on their expectations and preconceived notions of Arthurian legends than having an open mind to Barron's interpretation. And will everyone please get over Helena Bonham Carter's leather outfit? I, for one, enjoyed it, and if most were honest, they did too. Everyone talks about how WONDERFUL Excalibur was, Boorman being a visionary, blah blah blah. Excalibur WAS a great film, but it annoyed the hell out of me as well. EXCALIBUR was designed for us who knew something about Camelot, because if you don't, you are lost and bored 10 minutes into it. And the most severe detriment to EXCALIBUR is Boorman's dumb decision to redub every damned line of dialogue. At times it comes off as cartoonish as the voice inflection sometimes is mismatched with what's going on on the screen. After reading all 140+ mostly negative reviews of MERLIN, it's time for me to add my own. This was an AWESOME version of the Arthurian legend, and showed some great elements of MANY works on Camelot, including the beautiful imagery of Marion Zimmer Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON, just to name one. Reading some reviews, I wonder if we saw the same movie? I know this will blow some narrow minds up out there, but Malory's MORTE D' ARTHUR is not the end all and be all of the legend. Expand your minds! Read as many versions as you can get your hands on! And stop blathering about historical accuracy, and enjoy Merlin for what it is: A great retelling, from the wizard's perspective, of the FAIRYTALE of Camelot. If you want historical accuracy, hit the encyclopedias and historical texts like THE MILITARY HISTORY OF KING ARTHUR, and you won't be so mystically enchanted with the character of Arthur, if he existed at all. And yes, there is still question to his and Camelot's existence, no matter how hard any researcher tries to tell you they've discovered EVERYTHING. There simply isn't enough evidence to give credence to even the consistencies OR generalities of the Camelot legend. It was creative people filling in the blanks that have given us the wonderful legends we have today, and I cherish them all.It was refreshing that this MERLIN was a great version for the whole family, too, without being to childish and cookie cutter like in execution of its story. The VHS version is great for kids who have a short attention span (it leaves all the JUICY parts in), and the DVD version is great for us who love this story and the rich tapestry it weaves. The DVD has some great MAKING OF extra goodies, as well. We finally see Vortigern (Rutger Hauer) and Europe's early kings for the bastards they were, in this version, if you're still hung up on "history". The special effects were outstanding, but what captivated me was the telling of the story, and, contrary to those who profoundly proclaimed this version had no point and was aimless, MERLIN had an excellent moral that needs to be told again and again, no matter what age you are: even when you act in the best interest of something, whether it be a friend, a king or a an entire kingdom, you are still fallible and can make a tragic, costly mistake.Enough said. Now go watch it with an open mind, and critics, get over yourselves... just have FUN, for God's sake, and put your movie checklist clipboard away for this one. Nicol Williamson was great as the mysterious supernatural Merlin in Excalibur, and Sam Neill is simply outstanding as the all-too-human MERLIN..."
Still the best, but why calling it Special Edition?
Patrick Selitrenny | Switzerland a.k.a. Helvetia Felix | 05/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There is nothing on this disc, that was not already in the previous one.
Nothing except perhaps the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Stereo sound, which in the previous appearance had been reduced to a simple 2.0 Channel Stereo sound.
The specials are the very same you had before.
The screen ratio remains the classic TV 1.33:1 ratio screen resolution, which can be "expanded" to Full Screen, but watching the actual filming of the movie in the Making of, I seemed to have recognized a Panaflex camera moving around, hence it could have been transferred either in 1.78:1 or even in a matted 1.85:1 screen ratio as well.
But perhaps they already lost that copy.
Anyway, the acting by everyone involved in this project is magnificent and involving. Sam Neill, Martin Short, Miranda Richardson and Helena Bonham-Carter, without forgetting brief appearances by Rutger Hauer and John Gielgud give their very best and seem to truly have fun playing their respective roles.
The story flows and grips you from the very first shot, to the very last, without ever becoming too obvious or boring.
The special effects for a TV Movie of that era (late Nineties) are exceptional and very well interwoven within the story, without ever becoming overbearing on the plot.
This is the true Family Movie everyone should have. It has fun moments, dramatic moments and even magical moments for everyone to enjoy.
If this movie had been made to be shown in movie theaters, I am sure it would have won an Oscar for best leading Actor (Sam Neill as Merlin) and also best supporting Actress (Miranda Richardson in her double role as Mab, Queen of the Old Ways and as the Lady of the Lake).