(BBC America, 568 minutes)
BY CHRIS ZIMMERMAN
The Arthurian legend is one of the most well known stories
to have ever been told. With countless retellings of the classic fable of a
hero whose rise from poverty to Lord of the Camelot, is it any wonder that
someone finally decided to focus on the oft over looked but no less important
Merlin, and his rise from young upstart to famed sorcerer. That’s exactly what
the BBC did with this unique reimagining of the Arthurian tale, fittingly
titled Merlin. The first season
originally aired on NBC before Syfy purchased the rights later on. So now,
nearly a year after it first premiered, it finally lands on DVD.
Merlin follows the
adventures of the titular character, of course named Merlin. His travels bring
him to Camelot where he is to be trained by the royal physician, Gaius. Upon
first meeting him, Gaius discovers that Merlin is much more than he appears, as
he has the ability to move objects just by glancing at them. To Gaius surprise,
unlike most people who practice magic, Merlin can produce amazing feats of magic
without so much as breaking a sweat.
Unfortunately, due to its abuse 20 years prior to the story,
magic has been outlawed with the penalty for practicing it being death. The
king, Uther Pendragon, has a personal distaste for magic as well as dragons, going
so far as to hunt them all down with the exception of one.
Further compounding matters is Uther’s son, Arthur. He is a
brash stuck-up prince with a huge chip on his shoulder, whose personal pleasure
comes from picking on others weaker than him. To say that he is a jerk would be
an understatement. Upon first encountering one another, it would be hard to
imagine that these two are destined to be the best of friends. As the series
goes on, they battle magical foes of Uther, who crop up seeking to destroy
For those familiar with Arthurian lore, it should be quite
obvious by now that there are major deviations from the original story. For one
thing, Arthur is raised as a prince, rather than living the life of a commoner;
not to mention, he is also spoiled and a fierce combatant. It should also be
worth noting that both Arthur and Merlin appear to be the same age, an oddity
to be sure. Then again, this is a reimagining rather than a retelling and
pointing out major differences would only be nitpicking.
For the first half of the season, the episodes are actually
very predictable with a “villain of the week” approach. Adversely, the
negatives don’t end there as something has to be said about the less than
appealing special effects. The graphics used for the dragon are almost
laughable and it doesn’t help matters when the actor is positioned right in
front of it, making it appear even less realistic by comparison.
Fortunately, the acting is actually quite good, ranging from
decent to downright great. Anthony Stuart Head, or Giles to Buffy fans, practically steals the show
with his performance as Uther. His take on the character shows a king whose war
on magic has left him bitter and jaded while still wishing to protect his
people to the best of his abilities. Also of note is Bradley James, whose
portrayal of Arthur really sinks in the fact that this character may be
unlikable, but he shows the potential to be the once and future king we all
know him to be.
While the series kicks off with a bang, it immediately hits
a slump and takes some time before it once again picks up steam. When things
really get rolling, the show becomes addicting. The quality of the episodes
steadily improves and by the finale, it leaves the audience wanting for more.
Even with its flaws, this is an engrossing series. The
characters are all well defined and plot improves with every episode. Above
all, the show is fun and if nothing else, will appeal to fans of Arthurian lore
looking for a more contrasting take from what has come before.
Two making of Featurettes