Fox // 2006 // 123 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 20th, 2013
Feel the touch of destiny.
There was a time when biblical epics were a bread-and-butter genre for Hollywood. From at least D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, the camera has loved to show the biblical era in all its decadence. Once widescreen and color technologies emerged, they were used to lavish the screen with brightly colored costumes set against wide desert vistas. Cecil B. DeMille was the king of these kinds of films, and they largely peaked with his Ten Commandments (though the epic would become more secular throughout the '60s and wasn't really killed off until it was replaced by the "blockbuster" in the 1970s). Though one can find Charlton Heston mugging for the camera regularly on Easter television, films like The Passion of the Christ demonstrated there was a much stronger audience for biblically based entertainment than previously suspected. Released in the wake of this revelation, One Night with the King tells the story of Esther and harkens back to those DeMille classics. Though One Night with the King ( Blu-ray) is fine, the film itself will leave most viewers wishing they'd stuck with a Heston flick.
One Night with the King is based on a novel by Tom Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen (which is itself based on the biblical Book of Esther). The basic story is that Esther is a young Jewish woman (Tiffany Dupont, Hijacked) who changes her name to Hadassah. She catches the eye of the king of Persia (Luke Goss, Blade II), who marries her without knowing her heritage. When a plot to kill all the Jews gets to Esther's ears, she reveals her heritage to Xerxes to save her people.
Peter Jackson hit gold with his Lord of the Rings films. Not only did he save a studio nearing financial troubles, but he fostered a series of pioneering visual effects that came to redefine epic. In the same way that The Matrix birthed a million bullet-time imitators, The Lord of the Rings gave us epic slow-mo with historical costumes and massed armies. Unlike The Matrix -- where any sci-fi film could find an excuse to use the relatively cheap bullet-time effect -- the innovations of Lord of The Rings were a bit harder to spread far and wide. Though kiddie-friendly magic movies (Harry Potter, the Narnia series) made use of these techniques, more mainstream films struggled with them. Thus, the 2000s saw a raft of historically inflected "epics" that tried to stay dramatically relevant and give us slow-mo action scenes.
Which brings us to One Night with the King. It's not quite a Lord of the Rings meets The Bible, but it has the whiff of those films about it. That's the film's main weakness. It could have been a decent little drama in the old '50s/'60s style, but instead, it's a bunch of "epic" clichés combined with the visual effects and style of more recent films. Combine that with a screenplay that sacrifices good dialogue to squeeze in more "big" moments,
Two things keep the film from being a total failure. The first is that the cast includes some veterans like Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. Though they don't have the bulk of the screentime, they do enliven a film that is otherwise going off the tracks. The second reason to watch the film is that the costumes and setting (inside a real palace, though not in Persia) are gorgeous. Though the film was made on a paltry budget for an epic (in the $20 million range, supposedly), it looks like it cost three or four times that amount. I don't know whether filmmakers were hoping that epic scope would make up for so-so dialogue and a muddy plot, but they pour a lot of heart into making One Night with the King look good.
That beautiful look is also the main draw of the One Night with the King (Blu-ray) release. The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer does a great job handling both the CGI material and the gorgeous interiors. Costumes have a lot of fine detail, and colors are well-saturated. Black levels stay consistent and deep throughout. The DTS-HD 5.1 surround track is slightly less impressive, but it handles the dialogue easily, while the surround come in a bit for musical cues and some atmospheric effects.
The film's lone substantial extra is a commentary featuring the film's producers: Richard Cook, Stephen Blinn, and Matthew Crouch. The trio are chatty and have a strong working relationship so they have a lot to say about the film. As the sole extra, it does a fine job providing context and information on the background and production of the film.
One Night with the King is disappointing because it feels like it could have been great. The story of Esther is an interesting one, many of the actors are talented, and given the budgetary constraints, there was obviously some genius behind the camera. The script, though, just doesn't work, making One Night a tough slog despite the beauty on the screen. The disc might be worth a rental for fans of the actors or of gorgeous, biblical-era sets, but otherwise there's little to recommend here.
Guilty of being all surface.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG