Hollywood Pictures // 2004 // 139 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // April 20th, 2007
An untold true story...brought to us by Jerry Bruckheimer?
Look, if you want sword and sorcery spectacle, who better to buy a tub of popcorn from than the man who brought us Pirates of the Caribbean? But when it comes to getting historical accuracy, is Jerry Bruckheimer the most reliable resource to consult?
Dunno. If you're a bit light on your Roundtable facts, you may decide to take Jerry's word for it with this one. If you do so, you'll also need to accept the theory that has determined Arthur was indeed Artorius Castor, a boy soldier pressed into a 15-year service of the Roman army.
It's the Dark Ages of 5th Century A.D. and Roman-British Artorius Castor (Clive Owen, Children of Men) has been commandeered as a boy, along with others, into serve a 15-year tour of duty in the Roman army. At the end of the term, a Roman bishop arrives to present 'Arthur' and his band of fighting men their release from service. Unfortunately, the service has not yet been completed, as Arthur and his men learn they have one more task to fulfill -- assist with Rome's evacuation of Britain. A young man who is to become Pope is trapped with his family within the path of the marauding and murderous Saxons, led by the evil Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest). Arthur and his men must rescue the family and withstand the Saxon aggression, culminating in a final conflict that may challenge Arthur's own social and political allegiances.
Here's a film that followed closely on the hooves of Troy and Alexander, those that similarly riffed on the superior Gladiator and Braveheart. As seen through the eye of Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), penned by the award winning David Franzoni (Gladiator), and costumed by Penny Rose (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), it would seem a given that all ingredients were present to make this a compelling and epic adventure.
In fact, King Arthur rode out onto the battlefield and simply died. It looked good, both in production design and through the cinematographer's eye, and it bore a resounding and heroic score by none other than Hans Zimmer. But, in the end, it simply lacked cohesion and, perhaps, tinkered with the myth and mysticism that has made the Arthur tale so compelling for so long -- be it true or not. Here, the sum does not equal the parts and King Arthur does not stir up the sort of excitement we would hope for, even under the tutelage of raucous ringmaster Bruckheimer.
The acting is good, led by Clive Owen as a too-handsome Arthur who mumbles at his trusty friend, Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd, Titanic), and dares to romance Guinevere (Pirates own Keira Knightley) without an ounce of interference. Ray Winstone (The Departed), as Bors, is plenty of fun and chews any scenery he can sink his teeth into, while Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale (2006)) serves as the piercing-eyed Tristan. These and the other knights seem to achieve certain chemistry on screen, and yet the film doesn't seem to know how to put them to use. Instead, we're served an unsteady journey that appears to be more politically minded than anything else (Franzoni spending quite a bit of time taking pot-shots at the Church). It's all dressed up with extended brutal battle sequences (further extended in this Director's Cut release), which doesn't seem to mean much in the end. Here's a case, if we're to believe the entreaties, where truth may be stranger than fiction...but that doesn't mean it's more interesting.
I'll stick with Excalibur, thank you.
The 1080p / AVC transfer looks better than the contextual content it represents, but that's still not enough to enthrall us for the 139-minute duration. The image is very detailed and delivers a well-rendered color palette. Black levels are deep and rich, serving to accentuate the bright colors in a way that provides the visual "pop" we crave in high definition. The source material appears unmarred and, again, makes the film look better than it actually is (is that the classic Bruckheimer effect?). The audio is energetic in another uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround mix that underscores the on-screen visuals competently. Of particular note is the fidelity of this mix, each sound effect striking with uncanny clarity -- as in the clanging of swords -- making us wish the film was better conceived and constructed.
There are plenty of extras here, all previously released on the Standard Definition DVD present and accounted for in this Blu-ray edition. Therefore, you'll find Director Antoine Fuqua's commentary (a bit bland), the 17-minute EPK fluff called Blood on the Land: Forging 'King Arthur', a 15-minute 'King Arthur': A Roundtable Discussion where cast and director enjoy a candid conversation, and an alternate ending that plays better than the feature wrap-up. As an exclusive to this Blu-ray edition, the "Knight Vision" feature provides pop-up factoids over the course of the film.
There is still speculation regarding the historical relevance -- and obvious omission -- of one Trojan rabbit.
At the end of the battle, this one has all the makings of an epic with nowhere to go. It was properly dressed, cast, and designed, but it failed to capture our attention the way this compelling tale should. Rent it before you purchase, but don't be surprised if it leaves you wanting more.
Perhaps if Fuqua included a sequence with a giant wooden badger...
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Hollywood Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* PCM 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Audio commentary
* Featurette: Blood on the Land: Forging 'King Arthur'
* Featurette: 'King Arthur': A Roundtable Discussion
* Alternate ending with director's commentary
* Photo gallery
* "Knight Vision" pop-up trivia track