Merlin is in the upper echelon of fictional wizards* along with Gandalf, Harry Potter, and the The Great and Powerful Oz. Having first appeared in Arthurian legend in 1136, Merlin predates them all, but arguably lacks the definitive on-screen portrayal of the latter three.
Author/screenwriter Jay Basu’s take on Merlin may not change that, but it ought to be fresh. Working Title has picked up a Basu film pitch that brings Merlin into “a contemporary setting.”
Merlin. Present day. That’s about all we know so far, but the character has a rich history; hit the jump for background information on Merin.
Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in the Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures. Geoffrey combined existing stories of Myrddin Wyllt (Merlinus Caledonensis), a North Brythonic prophet and madman with no connection to King Arthur, with tales of the Romano-British war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus to form the composite figure he called Merlin Ambrosius (Welsh: Myrddin Emrys).
Merlin’s traditional biography casts him as a cambion; born of a mortal woman, sired by an incubus, the non-human wellspring from whom he inherits his supernatural powers and abilities. Merlin matures to an ascendant sagehood and engineers the birth of Arthur through magic and intrigue. Later authors have Merlin serve as the king’s advisor until he is bewitched and imprisoned by the Lady of the Lake. [Wikipedia]
If you buy my premise that there is no singular cinematic Merlin, know the root cause is not insufficient attempt. Here are a few of the more notable screen depictions:
- The Socrerer’s Apprentice (2010) played by James A. Stephens
- Merlin (2008 TV series) filmed in Wales played by Colin Morgan.
- Shrek the Third (2007) voiced by Eric Idle.
- The Last Legion (2007) played by Ben Kingsley.
- King Arthur (2004), played by Stephen Dillane
- Merlin (1998) played by Sam Neill.
- Excalibur (1981) played by Nicol Williamson
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) played by John Cleese
- The Sword in the Stone (1963) voiced by Karl Swenson
- And countless more!
As you could probably tell from the leading image of this article, I’m partial to the Disney take myself, even if The Sword in the Stone isn’t typically talked about in hushed tones with the rest of their finest.
According to Heat Vision, Basu is currently working on a feature adaptation of the Simon Lewis crime novel Bad Traffic. Producer Nick Wechsler is currently in search of a director. Here’s the synopsis:
Inspector Jian is a corrupt Chinese cop who thinks he’s seen it all. But his search for his missing daughter takes him to the meanest streets he’s ever faced—in rural England.
Migrant worker Ding Ming is distressed—his gang master is making demands, he owes a lot of money to the snakeheads, and no one will tell him where his wife has been taken. Maybe England isn’t the Gold Mountain he was promised. [Amazon]
*Is it redundant to specify “fictional?” Is there an example of a non-fictional wizard? Does Criss Angel count?