Arthur Takes on Spider-Man

Opening an action-adventure pic opposite Spider-Man 2 in its second week is an act of bravery worthy of the Round Table. Buena Vista Pictures is doing just that with its Jerry Bruckheimer-produced period epic King Arthur, which opened domestically on Wednesday with a respectable weekday take of $4.8 million. The distributor is appealing to fans of sword-and-sandal pics like Gladiator, and is hoping to stave off competition from DreamWork’s Will Ferrel comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun), King Arthur attempts to offer a more realistic take on the Arthurian legend than has been seen in such films as Excalibur. Clive Owen (Croupier, the upcoming Sin City) stars as the legendary monarch and Kiera Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Bend it Like Beckham) portrays Guinevere as a warrior queen.

cinesite, a subsidiary of the Eastman Kodak Co., provided nearly 500 visual-effect shots for the movie. The company’s work focused mainly on two huge battle sequences.

In a climactic scene, King Arthur’s outnumbered knights confront the Saxon enemy on a frozen lake surrounded by a steep mountain gorge. As the Saxons cluster together, their combined weight causes the ice to buckle and the lake swallows them up. Cinesite’s digital artists created the entire environment for this sequence using a combination of 2D and 3D digital renderings with the aid of proprietary software designed for the task.

The original live action was filmed on a gravel surface covered with artificial snow. Cinesite later replaced this with computer-generated ice and snow layers, which the director could orchestrate into the shots. The team then created 3D geometry that pre-mapped all the ice cracks procedurally and allowed for the natural random thickness, translucency and texture of the ice. Some shots, which are entirely computer generated, show the ice cracking from underwater.

Cinesite also contributed images to the battle sequence at the end of the film, using custom-made crowd simulation software to create thousands of digital warriors. The software has an artificial intelligence component that enabled the digital warriors to recognize and move smoothly around trees and other 3D objects.

These intense battle scenes, along with some sensuality and strong language, has earned the film a PG-13 rating. The film opens worldwide today.