King Arthur [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment - Director's Cut
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (25th April 2007).
The Film

Antoine Fuqua blew me away with his 2001 film "Training Day" a film that earned Denzel Washington his second Oscar (his first for Best Lead Actor, the previous was for Supporting). The film was energetic, intense and featured some excellent performances from the film's stars. It was a film that marked the arrival of Fuqua as a serious player in the industry, although he directed two films prior and many music videos it was "Training Day" that really got people's attention. Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer was one of those people and joined with Fuqua to bring the blood and guts epic "King Arthur" to the big screen a film that was at one time in the hands of the maestro of the quick-cut Michael Bay who left the production, this re-telling of the myth would string along a gigantic budget and an International cast that includes Clive Owen playing the title character, as well as Bruckheimer alum Keira Knightley, tough-guy Ray Winstone and the always excellent Stellan SkarsgÄrd to name a few. However despite the massive budget, the amazing cast and a script from Oscar winning scribe David Franzoni ("Gladiator") could save this mediocre at best attempt at epic filmmaking, although the film does have some fine moments but occasional vignettes of coolness do not a solid film make.
Set in 300 AD Britain, under the control of the Roman Empire Sarmatian youths are taken and trained as warriors to fight as Knights for the Roman army. After fifteen years of service to the Roman Empire, Arthur (Clive Owen) and his Knights are to be set free, however they must complete one final task. They must find and rescue a Roman priest and his family, as the Romans are leaving Britain and the priest is in danger from the invading Saxon hordes, Arthur and his Knights reluctantly accept this final challenge, one in which they face much danger from an ever increasing and fast moving Saxon army that they must face or die at the hands of.
Going by my childhood history and having grown up to films such as "Excalibur" and the Disney animated film "The Sword in the Stone" I was more in tune with Arthur as a child and the freeing of Excalibur from the stone, a story in which has been covered a lot in many different mediums, so for this big screen shindig Fuqua decided to focus on the latter events, Arthur as an adult but not yet King. Supposedly this is a more accurate telling of the story or so says the marketing blurbs and sound bites you hear from writers, producers etc. They can say whatever they want to sell the movie, at the end of the day this isn't really a historical epic as one would be led to believe, it's more an adventure film with kick-ass knights, amazing battle scenes and Keira Knightley wearing what appears to be straps of leather so skimpy she may have just as well worn shoelaces for a bra. So how does a film with these elements not live up to the expectations, well it's mainly to do with the story itself, it paints Arthur as a mercenary in the beginning, sure he was under Roman rule to be one but the jump from mercenary to do-gooder is a leap that requires at least some character arc development, the transition in this film is rather quick and unconvincing. The dialogue is another area that suffers on occasion, steeped in one-liners and the genre requirement of at least two 'hero soliloquies' that are entirely forgettable and don't really evoke the emotion they are meant to but rather a slight chuckle instead. In terms of the characters aside from Arthur and Bors played by the wonderful Ray Winstone the other Knights of the Round Table weren't as distinctively different as I'd imagined, they may have all just been one person and the first time I watched the film I found myself confusing one for the other, this is perhaps a weakness in casting. When dealing with several key characters that make-up an ensemble it would seem best to cast strong character actors to fill those roles or take a route much like John Sturges did when casting 'The Magnificent Seven" in looking for established performers that each add something different and unique to the characters to make them stand out, of course the only prominent female character we see throughout this film is Guinevere played by Keira Knightley who is introduced as a weak and tortured character that suddenly leads an army of forest-dwelling people, firing arrows and taking the blows among the men, now I understand her character was written as an empowering female character that is not your traditional damsel in distress but seeing a woman of Knightley's size take a hit to the face with the same force as one to Arthur and still be able to stand up is a bit much in my books. There are other far more believable ways for a character like that to be empowering and impressive, how about writing her character with a shred of intelligence, that's far more powerful than taking a hit to the face isn't it?
This 'Director's Cut' supposedly restores 15 minutes of additional footage not seen in the original 'Theatrical Cut' which includes additional violence in the battle scenes, which is really why you should be watching this film in the first place as the battles are tremendously exiting especially the battle on the frozen lake and the final battle among the burning fields marks two of the film's most memorable sequences, the music and photography are also expertly crafted and add to the raw energy Fuqua was after, if it wasn't for battle scenes this film wouldn't be any fun at all.
"King Arthur" doesn't seem to capture the same spirit of the classic mythology of the boy who would be king, or for that matter no magic either in this telling Merlin is portrayed more as a crazy forest dwelling witch than a magician, well that's no fun! If it wasn't for the over the top battle scenes and the on the edge of your seat pursuit of the Knight by the evil Saxon hordes this film would have been an entire waste, then again it's not a whole lot left to keep it above water either. If you're not planning on taking this flick seriously then it's an ok way to kill a little over two hours, if you are finicky about your epic films I'd say you'd be rather disappointed with this one.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 this high definition transfer is presented in 1080p 24 fps and has been created with AVC MPEG-4 compression. "King Arthur" is the perfect type of film that high definition was made for, it's got an epic scale, big budget and displays production design to a detailed degree you'd expect that the presentation would impress and astonish. Sadly that is not the case; in fact this disc ranks amongst the worst high definition presentations that I have seen top date. While the image is occasionally sharp and detail is beautifully rendered (especially background detail) I am totally disappointed with the amount of heavy grain present, blacks felt flat and at times noisy with grain. Banding is another problem that persists throughout parts of this film and colors felt over saturated and unbalanced. Skin tones also veered on the orange at times which was also disappointing. I felt that an opportunity was missed with this film's presentation and not what I expected at all.

Audio

Four audio tracks are included on this disc they include an English uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track encoded at 48 kHz / 24bit as well as tracks in English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its PCM track. Unlike the visuals there isn't a fault that I cold find with this soundtrack, Buena Vista continues to impress with their uncompressed PCM tracks. The track is totally aggressive and displays brilliant range and depth. Every subtle nuance is captured in this sound track and it all feels perfectly natural. Dialogue is clean and without distortion but the truly impressive thing about this track is the dynamic feel of the battles and the punch and robust score that virtually soar through the sound space. This track will certainly out your entire speaker set-up through a rigorous work-out, just make sure the neighbors aren't home when you play this disc.

Optional subtitles are also included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Buena Vista has released this film along with a series of extras that includes an audio commentary, two featurettes, an alternate ending, a producer's photo gallery, a trivia track plus a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at each of these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Antoine Fuqua, being a fan of Fuqua's previous film "Training Day" (2001) I was very interested to hear whether he would comment on why he chose to make an over bloated epic after he burst onto the scene with an excellent urban cop drama. Sadly he didn't go into detail regarding his decision to transition into mega-productions but instead rambled about the various challenges he faced during this production, the differences between this version and the theatrical version among other things. I was rather under whelmed by this otherwise paint-by-numbers track although some fans might discover something useful in here.

The first featurette on this disc is entitled "Blood on the Land: Forging King Arthur" and runs for 17 minutes 50 seconds. For a brief piece it covers quite a lot of material and plays much like an extended EPK, with only slightly more depth than most EPK's require. We get a chance to take a look at the casting process, the design and construction of the large sets, weapons and armor as well as other facets of the filmmaking process. The featurette includes interviews with key personnel inter-cut with behind-the-scene footage and clips from the film.

The "Cast and Filmmakers Roundtable" featurette follows and runs for exactly15 minutes. This clip features the film's producer Jerry Bruckheimer, screenwriter David Franzoni, director Antoine Fuqua, and also featuring cast members Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd, Clive Owen and Hugh Dancy as they discuss working on the film and their experiences on the set, on working with each other and the various challenges. However most of the time it's relegated to how great everyone is...boring.

Next we have an alternate ending for the film presented with optional audio commentary by director Antoine Fuqua, entitled "Badon Hill" and running for 4 minutes 10 seconds, this is rather a darker ending than the one currently used, Fuqua even goes on to say in his commentary that during test screenings people were after a happier ending which is why this one wasn't used.

A producer's photo gallery is next, containing images shot by Jerry Bruckheimer while on the set of the film.

Also included is a "Knight Vision" trivia track, which is a subtitle track that plays during the course of the film and provides some interesting information about the legend and also on the film itself.

Rounding out the extras are a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "Deja Vu" which runs for 2 minutes 1 second.
- "Apocalypto" which runs for 2 minutes 25 seconds.
- "The Guardian" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Invincible" which runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds.
- "The Prestige" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.

Also included is "Movie Showcase" which jumps to three key reference scenes that show off the high-definition quality.

Overall

The Film: C Video: C Audio: A+ Extras: C+ Overall: C-

 


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