Judge David Johnson has a challenge for you: juggle billiard balls nude.
Our review of Sharpe's Challenge, published December 6th, 2006, is also available.
With the States-side premiere of Sharpe's Peril, its immediate predecessor gets the Blu-ray treatment and that would normally be a good thing…
Facts of the Case
Richard Sharpe, long since retired from the military and scratching out a living as a farmer, is called in by Lord Wellington (Hugh Fraser) for a mission into the heart of India. Turns out a Maharaja has been stirring up trouble, keeping the British forces busy putting down rebellions, and basically threatening England's interests. An operative had already been sent in, but upon his disappearance, Sharpe was called. He is of course resistant to another military operation, until he discovers who the operative was: his best friend Patrick Harper (Daragh O'Malley).
So it's back into the thick of it, as Sharpe slings his rifle and journeys to a land that has a nasty history for him. Years ago, his battalion in India was slaughtered by a maniac British traitor called Dodd (Toby Stephens, Die Another Day), and as fate would have it, the same man commands the Maharaja's forces. It will fall then to Sharpe and Harper to infiltrate the Maharaja's fortress and squelch Dodd's ambitions.
I'm a Sharpe fanboy. These movies are Grade-A alpha male red meat and Sean Bean's Richard Sharpe is a total stud; a rude, crude, horny, prone-to-violence brawler with honor, loyalty, and a penchant for stabbing guys to death in the heart, sneering a one-liner at them and twisting the sword for added misery.
Once a bottom-dwelling foot solider, Sharpe was promoted through the ranks when he saved Lord Wellington's life. Subsequent adventures document his heroics, set against the backdrop of real historic events, primarily during the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe's Challenge finds the well-seasoned rifle-slinging swashbuckler squared off with new foes: an ambitious Maharaja, some French mercenaries, and a ruthless British traitor.
But his opponents aren't the only change for Sharpe. Sharpe's Challengeis a beefier production than the films that came before it. There's just a whole lot more going on. More budget. More violence. More extras. More explosions. More beautiful vistas. More gorgeous women. More jowls.
Yes, Bean and O'Malley do appear pretty long-in-the-tooth as compared to their more spry days in the earlier movies, but they still have it where it counts (i.e. talking trash and capping suckas). On the other side, Toby Stephens stands out as a noteworthy heavy; lethal, corrupt and whiny, just begging for some sweet comeuppance, which he gets in vintage Sharpe fashion. Karan Panthaky's Maharaja is forgettable, but Padma Lakshmi is captivating as the ambitious and smoking hot princess.
It's a great adventure and one worth taking…though I don't think I can recommend the Blu-ray for one simple reason: you're only getting the heavily trimmed-down "film" version. The full-scale production runs 138 minutes (and you get the whole thing on the DVD release). This release coughs up 105 minutes. And there's no option to watch the uncut version. That's a true kick to the groin for Sharpe fans.
If you can move beyond that miserable decision, rock-solid high-def picture quality waits, the rehabbed 1.78:1 1080i transfer doing wonders for the exotic locales shot so well in the film. Sharpe's Challenge is a colorful film and the Blu-ray offers a memorable rendering. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio flexes its muscles during the centerpiece castle siege scene, supplementing overall good aural work from a clean mix. Extras are mostly lifted from the DVD: commentary tracks from Bean and O'Malley and the filmmakers, deleted scenes, a photo gallery, outtakes and a nice making-of featurette. One Blu exclusive: an interesting feature on making the HD version of the film.
The technical achievements are great, but ignoring the true cut of a cool film is flimsy stuff.
If you want the emaciated version, then Not Guilty, but Sharpe purists have reason to file an appeal.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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