Truth be told, Ledger has always been a good actor with natural leading-man charisma. Even when indulging the Hollywood studios intent on marketing him as a teen heartthrob, the actor chose some better than average starring vehicles. Both 10 Things and Knight's Tale are witty, breezy, light-hearted entertainment. Though I've seen the latter too many times to really appreciate its freshness anymore, it still remains enjoyable despite familiarity. That's a testament to both its stars and writer/director Brian Helgeland, who managed to bring a unique spin to the old sword & armor genre.
In A Knight's Tale, Ledger stars as William Thatcher, squire to a has-been knight we find dead in a ditch as the movie starts. Destitute and starving, William puts on his liege's armor and enters a jousting competition under false identity hoping to win a few pence and eat for the day. Miraculously surviving the event, he determines to train himself and, with the help of his reluctant but cunning friends, crafts the persona of Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland, soon to be the toast of the festival circuit.
The movie's plot is pure fluff. The hero has to woo the pretty girl and win the big competition, his chances of doing either compromised when his true identity is discovered by a dastardly rival. You can predict every story machination in advance and know how it will end practically as soon as it starts. What makes the movie entertaining is its playfulness. Helgeland has loaded the film with likable characters and clever dialogue. The supporting cast (Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell) are game, and Paul Bettany outright steals the movie as Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, the Chaucer who authored The Canterbury Tales), played as a hapless gambler who becomes Sir Ulrich's scribe (read: forger) and ringside announcer. Historical accuracy is far from anyone's mind here, you can tell. The movie mutilates history for a laugh and throws out a constant stream of amusing anachronisms: crowds at the festival games wear face paint like football fans and chant the lyrics to "We Will Rock You"; classic rock dominates the soundtrack, and a formal ball turns into a Saturday Night Fever dance-off.
Only his second film as director, Helgeland (screenwriter of L.A. Confidential and Mystic River) keeps things moving at a brisk pace, deftly balancing comedy and action. His tournament scenes showcase the sheer brutality of the jousting event, each slam of the lance almost painful to watch. A Knight's Tale is completely frivolous, lightweight entertainment, extremely silly but fun to watch (those who enjoy fart jokes are advised to stick around through the end credits). It could never be mistaken for art, but my wife will certainly testify that it holds up well to repeat viewings.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
Unfortunately, this is yet another mediocre Blu-ray offering from Sony. On the plus side, the movie's basic color transfer is bright, sharp, and fairly vibrant. Edge enhancement is present (it wouldn't be a Sony disc without it), but generally not too obscene. Black level seems a little shallow, though, and white detail is noticeably clipped. The colors also seem a bit overcranked in some scenes, with flesh tones that run toward orange or red. I'm sure that this is the same transfer used for the studio's Superbit DVD edition, and overall these basic attributes of picture quality look reasonably good in spite of their flaws.
The problem is that the movie's photography is mildly grainy throughout, and in its present state the Blu-ray format doesn't handle grain very well. Although sometimes it's rendered well enough to look like actual film grain, for most of the movie the grain is poorly compressed and looks like electronic video noise. You can see this layer of noise in the background of almost every single scene for the first 3/4 of the movie, and at its worst it manifests as visible pixelation in details such as the leaves on trees behind the actors. The movie dramatically improves in its last 1/4, as though the studio were saving all the important bits for the big finale. The film's climax looks really good, and if demoed on its own makes for some impressive High Definition video. It's just too bad that the rest of the disc leading up to it couldn't maintain that same level of quality.
The Knight's Tale Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
Subs & Dubs:
The movie was released three times previously on the DVD format, one of them with a commentary and several featurettes. I suppose you could argue that Sony is trying to replicate their feature-less Superbit edition with this Blu-ray, but it's especially irritating that they couldn't have at least dropped the useless French dub to squeeze in the commentary. Thanks for nothing.