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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The King and I
The King and I
Fox // G // November 7, 2006
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 25, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Okay, confession time:  I really enjoy a good musical.  Yes, I watch a lot of SF, anime, and foreign films and I listen to rock music, the louder the better, but I also appreciate the big Hollywood production numbers.  Some of the best musicals around have been based on Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway plays and a very nice boxed set of films based on their productions was released a few years ago.  I snatched it up and was very pleased.  Now Fox has revisited a few of these films, restored them, and added copious bonus items.  The cream of the crop of these new releases, in my opinion at least, is The King and I.  Presented for the first time with an anamorphic transfer and a wonderful looking image, this is sure to please all of this film's many fans.

This film is based on the stage play of the same name, which in turn was based on a 1944 book by Margaret Landon, which was inspired by Anna Leonowens own memoirs, is the story of a young widow Anna (Deborah Kerr) and her son Louis (Rex Thompson) who move from London to the kingdom of Siam (present day Thailand) in 1862.  Without any means of supporting herself in her native country, Anna has agreed to move halfway across the world and instruct the children of the King of Siam (Yul Brynner).

The king wants to make his country more western and "scientific" and has decreed that his children and wives be educated in the manner of the British, something that was very radical at the time.  The king wasn't expecting a woman of Anna's caliber however.  Headstrong and not afraid of conflict, she is willing to confront the king, something no one else in the country is willing to do.

The pair get off to a rocky start.  The king has promised Anna a house of her own, but when she arrives she discovers that the King wants her to live with his wives, and she's very vocal in her displeasure.  The king in turn finds Anna to be very aggravating and in a lot of ways unfathomable.  Over time however, the two people develop a strong respect for each other.

This is both a great story (so what if a lot of it isn't true?) and an enjoyable musical.  The song numbers fit into the plot very well and are also very catchy.  Even people who haven't seen the movie before will recognize such songs as "Getting to Know You" and "I Whistle a Happy Tune".  The production numbers are wonderful and work well, often because of their simplicity.  The section where Anna and the King dance at the end doesn't entail elaborate costumes or fancy sets, but it is the emotional high point of the film.

The acting is very good, with Deborah Kerr doing a great job.  Yul Brynner really steals the film though with his Academy Award winning performance.  He's masterful in the role, projecting a regal and aloof quality while also being vulnerable and unsure of himself.  He has such a large presence when he's on screen, it's hard to think of him as anything but a king.

Viewers who are familiar with the previous release of this movie on DVD may be surprised to discover that this version is different.  The 4 minute overture, as well as the intermission and the exit music are not present on this disc.  That is because this disc presents the film as it was originally shown theatrically.  The extra musical sections were added for the 1961 reissue, and they were pieced together from the background music and reprises of the songs.  No new music was recorded for these and since they were not part of the original release, their omission shouldn't be a point of concern.

The DVD:


Audio:

This disc offer viewers the choice of Dolby Digital 5.0 and stereo tracks in English as well as Spanish and French tracks in mono.  The audio sounds good for a film of this age.  On the positive side, there is no hiss, hum or tape noise on the track and the dialog is strong and clear.  On the down size the range is rather limited, which is understandable for a movie that was filmed in 1956.  The bass is rather lacking, with the drums during the play that the King's wives perform during the dinner banquet sounding rather anemic.  The highs are clipped a bit also.  This isn't a horrible defect, but is worth noting.

Video:

This film is presented with a beautiful 2.55:1 anamorphic (at last!) image.  The film has been restored from the Cinemascope 55mm negative, and looks even better than the earlier release (which looked very good itself.)  The colors were softer and less vibrant than the earlier restoration, but they also looked more realistic and natural.  The blues, a color that is hard to reproduce, are nice and warm.  The level of detail is very good, the contrast is excellent, and the blacks are strong.  On the digital side, there is some aliasing, and fine lines in the background tend to shimmer a bit.  The scene near the end where Anna and the King dance around the large palace audience chamber is a good example of this.  The horizontal lines on the columns in the background jump around a bit as the camera pans across them.  This wasn't a large defect however.
 
 

Comparing the new with the old.  The image on the left is the original release of The King and I, while the image on the right is the new 50th Anniversary edition.  Note the more accurate flesh tones and realistic looking colors.  There is a bit more detail too, though that is not evident in these screen captures.

Extras:

This two disc set includes all of the extras included on the earlier version along with many new bonus items.  On the first disc there is a commentary by film scholar Richard Barrios and musical theater historian Michael Portantiere as well as an isolated music score and a sing-a-long option.  The latter bonus plays the songs with subtitles.

The second disc is where the meat of the extras reside.  There are six (!) featurettes that cover much of the production and history of the film.  They are:  Something Wonderful: The Story of The King And I, The Kings of Broadway, The King and I Stage Version, The King of the Big Screen, The King And I The Royal Archives, and Restoring Cinemascope 55.  Some of these were better than others, but they are all worth watching.

Some vintage newsreel clips are included that cover the premier of the film and Yul Brynner winning the Best Actor Oscar, and there is a reconstruction of a song that was recorded but ultimately deleted from the final film.  This song, "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" utilizes the audio track recorded for the movie and production stills to show what the scene might have looked like.

A TV series based on the play never got past the pilot stage, but that filmed premier episode is included along with a commentary by actress Samantha Eggar.  Overall this is an excellent set of bonus features.

Final Thoughts:

This is one of the best film adaptations of a Rogers and Hammerstein play.  Not only is the production lavish and impressive, but the story and music are outstanding as well.  20th Century Fox has produced an excellent DVD with plentiful extras and a beautifully restored print.  This is a truly enjoyable disc that is highly recommended.
 

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