"King Arthur" is the latest effort from producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Armageddon") and director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day"). The picture is both an attempt to be a serious drama and an action-packed Summer picture (the trailers make it out to look like more of the latter), but the indecision on what it wants to be keeps the film being a really strong attempt at either, despite very good performances and one particularly stellar action sequence.
The film focuses on Arthur (Clive Owen in a terrific performance) and his Knights, who, early in the film, are about to finish their service to Rome. They arrive to find that their papers of freedom are being withheld until Arthur and his knights can rescue a young man and his family before the Saxons arrive. While there, Arthur uncovers Guinevere (Kira Knightley), who ends up falling for him and aiding him in his quest for freedom.
"Arthur"'s opening hour attempts to develop characters, but David Franzoni's screenplay never really takes the characters beyond the predictable. Some of the details of the history and story seem to have also been condensed/tossed. It's up to the actors, and thankfully, the filmmakers have assembled an excellent cast. While the actors never quite jumpstart the opening half, they at least kept my interest. Clive Owen is terrific, Kira Knightley (who appears around the hour mark) has never been better and the supporting performances (including a creepy effort from Stellan Skarsgard) are superb.
The action sequences are generally good. The one moment that rises above the rest is a chaotic battle on thin ice. This sequence is beautifully staged, wringing the maxium amount of tension out of the scene. It's an edge-of-your-seat moment in a movie that needed more of them. The film's other major action sequence at the end is generally good, although I felt like I've seen it done better in other films.
Overall, I enjoyed "King Arthur" overall, but felt the film suffered from a noticably slow start. More could have been done to integrate some of the historical aspects too, which would have made the motivations of the characters even stronger and propelled audience interest more in the first half. Flaws aside, the picture does have some things going for it - Kira Knightley and Clive Owen are stellar in the leads, even though the script doesn't always back them up. So, while I wouldn't completely recommend the film, some may find it an enjoyable bargain matinee flick.
"King Arthur" was originally released as a PG-13 picture, which director Antoine Fuqua was reportedly displeased with. I didn't think it helped the picture, either: "Arthur" seemed to want to be a mass-market action/drama, when it had the tone and look of something that was trying to be another "Gladiator", or something similar. This "unrated" edition adds approximately 15 minutes to the running time of the flick, and although it adds some grit and gore, it really didn't change my opinion of the film that much, and made the pacing seem even a bit more slow.
VIDEO: "King Arthur" is presented by Buena Vista in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the presentation is THX-Certified. The picture is gritty, dark and likely, rather difficult material to transfer entirely accurately. Unfortunately, the picture quality, while not terrible, is nothing to write home about. Sharpness and detail are often quite uneven - the picture looked moderately sharp at times, but could take on a filtered, soft look at others. Dark scenes lacked detail and although this is a dark-looking movie in general, it looked a little darker here than I remember it appearing theatrically.
The picture suffers in other areas aside from definition: edge enhancement makes its presence known in a few scenes, while a trace or two of pixelation appeared briefly in a couple of scenes. There is grain present, although I'm guessing it's an intentional element of the photography, as it was present when I saw the film theatrically, as well. The print seemed to be in otherwise fine shape, as no specks, marks or other wear were spotted.
On a positive note, the film's colors look terrific, as the greens of the hills and the occasional other warm colors present throughout the picture appeared well-saturated and striking. Flesh tones also looked accurate. Overall, this was just an okay presentation - not bad, not great.
SOUND: "King Arthur" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Those expecting the kind of audio experience that can be found on most pictures from producer Jerry Bruckheimer will be disappointed with what's here. The film is talky by nature, but surrounds really don't offer too much ambience and battle sequences aren't nearly as enveloping as powerful as they could be. Fairly decent bass is present at times, and dialogue remains crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: Director Antoine Fuqua offers a full-length audio commentary for the DVD. The director provides an enjoyable discussion of the action/drama, with a good deal of detail regarding the casting of the picture, some chat about the history and research that was done during pre-production and the atmosphere on-set. "Blood on the Land" is a 17-minute "making of" doc that rises a bit above similar, generic promo pieces. We hear more about the "legend" of Arthur, and learn more about the production, including props, casting and more. "Roundtable Discussion" has producer Bruckheimer, screenwriter David Franzoni, director Fuqua and the actors sitting around chatting about the film - it's an interesting piece that offered some insights and enjoyable chatter. Next is a darker alternate ending that keeps more with the tone of the film. In the optional commentary, Fuqua tells that the ending that ended up in the film is only due to test screening audiences wanting a happy ending.
Finally, we get an optional subtitle production trivia track, "producer's photo gallery" and a "King Arthur" XBOX game demo (of course, you need an XBOX to play the demo.) Also included are THX Optimizer a/v tests and promos for "Life Aquatic" and "The Village"
Final Thoughts: "King Arthur" offers a few very good performances, but the film tries to be both an action film and a drama, and really doesn't entirely succeed at either. The opening is too slow, and the gloomy mood of the entire production weighs on the proceedings a bit too heavily. The DVD edition offers average video quality, fine audio and a few solid supplements. Fans of the film may want to seek a purchase, but otherwise, I'd recommend it as a rental.