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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » King of Texas
King of Texas
Warner Bros. // Unrated // December 10, 2002
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted December 23, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

King Lear in ninety-five minutes? Set in the Old West? It seems a bit of a stretch at first, but with Patrick Stewart in the title role, returning to his Shakespearian-actor roots, I was willing to give King of Texas a shot. As it turns out, this film offers an entertaining and well-handled take on the classic play. The English king Lear becomes John Lear (Patrick Stewart), a cattle baron who, as in the original play, decides to divide his land among his three daughters without realizing what a can of worms he's about to open.

King of Texas is a full adaptation, rather than a direct filmed version of the play: that is, the storyline, main characters, and key scenes are retained, but the dialogue is modern and not directly based on Shakespeare's dialogue. The result is a very accessible film for those who haven't read the play, and while I personally would have enjoyed hearing more of Shakespeare's own poetic language, I can see that the "complete" nature of the adaptation enables it to fit better into the Old West setting.

The Texas setting in fact works very well for the transplantation of the English story of Lear. Vast tracts of land for raising cattle are as much a temptation for the avaricious as Lear's original English kingdom, and blood feuds, vengeance, double-crossing, and deadly sibling rivalry are just a normal part of the landscape in Texas at this time, recently independent from Mexico after a war of conquest by U.S. settlers. The film manages to include all the key scenes from the play, which are essential in building the story steadily toward its tragic end; for those who haven't read the play, I won't go into details, as it would spoil several key scenes, but in any case it's interesting to see how well the English story translates to its new setting.

King Lear is a bloody story, make no mistake, and King of Texas doesn't shy away from presenting its characters as menacing, yet very realistic, in their willingness to do whatever it takes to get ahead in life. As the story develops, Patrick Stewart does an excellent job of portraying the aging Lear as a man who, despite his successes in empire-building, has no understanding of his own family. It's from King Lear that comes the famous line "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless child", but Lear's folly is that he fails to understand the way that genuine love and gratefulness are earned, and expressed. The strength of Lear in both the original play and in King of Texas is that we can feel pity for the character without completely liking him; he does, after all, bring all this on his own head.

The film admittedly never quite achieves the epic feel that a Shakespearean adaptation ought to have. King Lear is a great tragedy, and given the compression of the story into a fairly short running time, the actors do a creditable job in bringing out the highlights of their characters and the story; what's missing is a bit more depth, a bit more development of the material so that the conclusion, which is quite affecting as it is, could become truly moving.

The DVD

Video

Even though it was originally a made-for-television movie, King of Texas has been given a nice transfer worthy of a feature film. The DVD has an anamorphic widescreen image that preserves the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. With the broad vistas of the Texas landscape, including some quite artistic compositions in several scenes, it's nice to get the correct scope of the film on DVD.

As far as image quality goes, King of Texas is above average. There's a fair amount of noise in the image, and some edge enhancement is visible, but it doesn't detract too much from the overall appearance of the film. Both colors and contrast are excellent: a varied palette of colors is used throughout the film, such as in the yellows, browns, and blues of the Texas earth and sky, as well as nicely-represented skin tones and clothing colors.

Sound

King of Texas is presented with only a Dolby 2.0 track, which is a bit of a disappointment since this is a film that would have had a chance to shine with a 5.1 track. Many scenes involve sound effects that could have been given a good surround treatment, such as gunfights, cattle herds, and horses running; in King of Texas, these scenes have a somewhat flat sound to them with the stereo presentation. The dialogue, music, and environmental effects are properly balanced, and the actors' voices are always clear; though it could have been much better, overall the soundtrack for King of Texas comes in at a notch above average.

Extras

We get minimal special features in King of Texas: just a cast and crew listing with only a few items selectable for more information. It's packaged in a snapper case, with easy-to-navigate, simply themed menus.

Final thoughts

King of Texas is an enjoyable take on Shakespeare's King Lear, and by virtue of transplanting the Bard's epic tale to the Old West, it makes for an interesting western as well. It lacks the depth that a longer, more developed film could have had, but King of Texas handles the dramatic material quite credibly. With its reasonably good anamorphic transfer to DVD, King of Texas is recommended.

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