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One Night With the King

Fox // PG // January 30, 2007
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted February 14, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Admit it: When you first heard the title "One Night with the King," you, too, thought it just might be an Elvis movie.

Alas, "One Night with the King" is instead a lavish adaptation of "Hadassah: One Night with the King," the recent novel by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen that in turn is a novelized retelling of the Old Testament's Book of Esther. (Long story short: young Hadassah takes the name Esther to hide her Jewishness, becomes queen, discovers a plot to kill all Jews, reveals herself to her husband to be a Jew, saves a people.) Scripted by Stephan Blinn ("The Omega Code") and directed by Michael O. Sajbel ("Reluctant Prophet"), "One Night" marks the seventh movie retelling of the Esther story (most memorably a 1960 production starring Joan Collins, and most recently in 2000 as an animated "Veggie Tales" video).

The film is an attempt to return to the lavishness of the classic Biblical epics of the 1950s and 60s, and visually, it succeeds. Filmed mainly at a temple in Rajasthan, India (with digital backgrounds - notably two massive waterfalls - enhancing the scenery), the movie is loaded with lush set design and gorgeous costuming, a notable achievement considering its comparably low budget. To seal the deal, the filmmakers hauled in Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif for marquee value and a sort of instant class; never mind that O'Toole only appears for one quick scene (and looks drunk throughout), and Sharif is shoved aside in a secondary role.

All of this is the only upside to what is ultimately a sloppy, inept, often laughable production. The film is an exercise in overblown and overplayed, with Sajbel tossing in clumsy, melodramatic slo-mo in too many scenes, punctuating each Big Moment with ridiculous attempts to duplicate the grandeur of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. (Esther's big time entrance into the palace is an obvious rip-off of Aragorn's similar door-busting in "The Two Towers;" the editing team - Blinn among them - loves the shot so much that we get it from four separate angles, like it's a stunt in a Jackie Chan flick.) J.A.C. Redford's ridiculously exaggerated musical score only enhances Sajbel's every wrong move, with clich├ęd pounding brass highlighting the director's every hackneyed move.

Worse still is the writing. Blinn's dialogue struggles to find a balance between Biblical (read: stuffy, pompous, "classy") and everyday (casual, modern). The idea is to update the text without losing its King James Version feel. The result, however, is lumbering and ludicrous, leaving the performers to struggle with lines like, "Wilt thou sit there all day, m'lord?" The experienced members of the cast (also including John Noble and John Rhys-Davies) manage to make these spurts of idiocy work decently enough, but the main players - newcomer Tiffany Dupont as Hadassah/Esther, former Brit pop star Luke Goss as King Xerxes, and James Callis of "Battlestar Galactica" as the weaselly Haman - are so terrible that their fumbled line readings only enhance the script's awfulness.

Indeed, Dupont delivers a performance so notably awful that one wonders why she was cast in the first place. I'm not sure what her accent was supposed to be, because it changes repeatedly throughout the film, and often throughout the same sentence. Goss, meanwhile, plays his role as if channeling Fabio himself (I Can't Believe It's Not Xerxes!), but with the added bonus of sometimes sounding like a deranged Muppet. As for Callis, well, his every pseudo-serious utterance is worth a giggle or four.

But back to the screenplay. Blinn gets lost in his own stuffiness, bringing the story to a screeching halt over and over again with attempted political intrigue that trips over itself to add a sinister flavor to the proceedings. Blinn's biggest mistake is in trying to beef up the tale by adding extraneous flights of fancy to a story that does not need any. Consider a dismal plot point in which Hadassah is given a necklace that, when held near candlelight, sends visions of dozens of Stars of David dancing around the room - but only a true believer can see them. Here is a writer that thinks the Old Testament needs a rewrite to punch up a few key scenes.

It's a shame to see "One Night" fail so miserably, because as a scrappy little movie reaching for greatness, you want to root for it. But there's just nothing here that deserves a cheer, unless that cheer is of the Bronx variety. "One Night with the King" misses every opportunity to fill the viewer with awe and wonder, instead filling us only with the need to point and laugh.


Video and Audio

One of the film's few plusses is its cinematography, which gets a rich, grand look on essentially a shoestring budget. The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer is rich and crisp. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is equally sharp. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.

Note: Multiple online sources indicate the movie was shown in theaters in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I did not see the film in theaters myself, so I cannot verify this. There is no indication that the video on the disc has been cropped, and the 1.78:1 format looks quite natural here. (The DVD case makes no mention of reformatting, but that doesn't mean much.) There's plenty of headroom in most shots, suggesting that the presentation here may be a widescreen TV version of "open matte." Either that, or online sources are wrong, which is a believable possibility.


Memo to Fox: learn the difference between singular and plural. Clicking on "Trailers" takes you to a menu screen offering only one trailer (for "The Passion of the Christ: The Definitive Edition"), and that's just silly. (Another preview, for the studio's Fox Faith line, plays when the disc loads; you can skip it if you choose.)

There are no extras for the movie itself.

Final Thoughts

There's a definite audience out there for movies like this, an audience willing to overlook a movie's problems as long as it tells a faith-based tale. To you, I say this: Don't confuse a movie that shares your religious beliefs with a movie that's actually worth watching. "One Night" is a clunker all the way. Skip It, unless you want a good laugh.
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