PictureThe 1.85:1 image is speckled with grain throughout and there are elements of noise floating about too. I even spotted the odd tiny pop or nick in the print, as well. Not having the SD edition to hand, I can't really say how much better this transfer actually is. But the fact is that detail on close-ups (an old story, I know) is probably where most of the extra resolution can be found. Faces, beards, eyes etc. all seem to offer plenty of lines, wrinkles and crags and a good degree of finite definition. But background figures and objects lose it all and can become softened blurs. Riders in the distance, particularly. But, there are still plenty of moments when the image holds it together. Scenes such as the astonishing moment when it appears as though Lady Guinevere invented football look pretty robust and clear and, likewise, when a gaggle of battered villagers turn up at her doorstep demanding aid, the picture offers some depth, clarity and crispness. But it is the inconsistency that lets it down - the transfer just can't maintain such sharpness and detail throughout.
Colours are ok, with greens, reds and blues standing out. They don't smear, or look particularly subdued, but they don't possess any sort of vividness or vigour, either. The medieval costumes of the serfs and peasants - especially during The Gauntlet and trial sequences - look quite bright and decorous, with lots of reds and blues populating the image, but there is an aged, weary complexion to the palette that renders the movie a little lacklustre. The plentiful armour on display also steadfastly refuses to shine so the element of pageantry is lacking. Also, check out the purple blood that flies out of Malagant towards the end. Well, it is certainly purple on my check disc.
Depth isn't too grand. Then again, perhaps we shouldn't expect too much from a film that possibly didn't have much even when exhibited on the big screen. Long shots lack enough clarity to offer any visual relief or dimensionality. Shots of characters standing atop a hill and overlooking some distant city, castle or township are where you notice this lack of depth the most, with those matte paintings singularly failing to produce the desired effect.
On the plus side, I experienced no problems with glaring edge enhancement, with no banding and no trace of blocking either. Contrast does waver sometimes but never enough to worry about and blacks are quite strong - especially down in Malagant's lair, although that drop into the pit is let down by lousy visual effects when people are falling down it. There are moments when the picture looks just fine and very pleasing, but others when it is mired, dull and tired. Basically, this is a transfer of a film that will show its age no matter what it is done to it.
SoundThe only thing that really gains any ground from the TrueHD 5.1 mix afforded First Knight is Jerry Goldsmith's typically rousing score. His brass and strings hit the right notes and the glorious choral work shimmers through the track. Elsewhere, the mix sends out emissaries to all the speakers but rarely with any aggression. Granted, this is a movie that is now thirteen years old and won't have been engineered for such wrap-around intensity as a more modern picture, but the immersive qualities of First Knight don't exactly set your system on fire.
There is some bass - horses thundering over hills, towers and structures being toppled, a waterfall etc - but I was never once moved to notice anything that I actually felt the impact of. Sword-clanging and the clash of steel has a decent enough ring to it, and the big battles have a fair bit of intensity and detail going on within them, but once again, the audio immersion during such incidents didn't really wow me at all. The track does nothing wrong - there is, indeed, a reasonable mid-range, dialogue is always clear and well prioritised and the elements of steerage are well presented - but it does without fuss or flash.
The rear speakers have plenty going on - again, horses' hooves, rainfall, the thud of arrows etc - and it is nice to hear something happening back there. But, overall, First Knight didn't supply enough material to discuss.
ExtrasIt is great to hear a couple of enjoyable, anecdote-rich and easygoing guys yakking on about the film they've made. But when those two are Jerry Zucker and Hunt Lowry and the film in question is First Knight, then it is a chore - and one that I didn't stay the distance with, I'm afraid. Although wide-ranging and quite informative, I found that I just wasn't interested in what they had to say about producing such a waste of effort as this, and all the back-slapping in the world couldn't convince me otherwise.
A considerably better track in my opinion is the second one, in which we are treated to an altogether more critical examination of the film and how closely (or rather doesn't) it comes to the accepted and studied legends of King Arthur as passed down by Geoffrey of Monmouth, French poet Chretien de Troyes and ultimately shaped into the stories we now know and love by Sir Thomas Malory. An Canadian academic enjoys guiding us through the mistakes and narrative flaws of the film, keenly picking up on areas of medieval errors in weaponry, costumes, buildings, strategy etc. He likes the film - as hokum - and his ability to put everything into some form of context - movie-escapism, historical fact and accepted folklore from the Romancers who originally quilled all this stuff down - is pretty impressive. Personally, I love the stories and have pored over them many times in their many incarnations and throughout a multitude of variations, so I found this track to be highly entertaining and thought-provoking. Plus, this is an unusual step for a commentary track, I feel, as it is very un-promotional.
Next up, there are some Deleted and Extended Scenes. Four of them in all, with a Play All option. Nothing stands out, folks. We get some horse selection from Arthur and some horse-play from Guinevere and then we get some horse-whispering from Lancelot. There is some sword-talk between Arthur and Lancelot and then a very poor scene detailing a virtually wordless exchange between Lancelot and Guinevere. All of these are in poor condition, with damage aplenty and some terrible sound drop-out.
Then we enter the kingdom of the featurettes. The first two are pure EPK drivel that are simply not worth talking about, sufficed to say that everyone loves Connery, Gere and Ormond and the production is huge, spectacular and lush. Most of the cast get a look in - except Gere - and there is even a curious moment when Liam Cunningham and Chris Villiers appear with the other one's name beneath them which would be sure to crack them up if they could be bothered sitting down to watch this inane, ego-bolstering clap-trap. The Quest For Camelot lasts for 19 mins and The Creation Of A Kingdom lasts for 18 mins. That's a lot of self-praise when you add it all up.
And, finally, besides trailers for Close Encounters and The Jane Austen Book Club (which sounds like a truly bizarre hybrid adventure film from Spielberg and Lucas, doesn't it?) we get the astonishing In Shining Armour: Knights In Training (19 mins). This is highly bizarre. Here we meet John Clements and his American school of medieval martial arts - get this, called the Association Of Renaissance Martial Arts, or ARMA for short. This squat little dynamo claims to have studied the ancient medieval texts and scrolls and pushed the academic limits of understanding for chivalric combat to new frontiers and now he, and his students, indulge in some dazzling and totally authentic displays of sword-clanging. Sadly, folks, I just could not take this guy seriously - he simply is the David Brent of martial arts. The way that he takes over every little scenario and session to show off his own skills at the expense of his students is priceless. And to hear his endless spiel about the etiquette and classical style of defence and attack - well, I wish the feature went on for longer! What is puzzling is how he thinks we will fall for his denial that his form of fighting is not made up and is the real medieval deal. Now, I may be wrong, but I don't think that that centuries of historians have confused broadsword-swinging in cumbersome suits of armour with super-quick ninja-style, blurry chop 'n' change rat-a-tat kung-fu blitzkriegs - which is what ARMA seem to think those jousters really got up to! Honestly, watch this guy in action. I've done Tae Kwon Do and some weapons training with sword and stick as well as a weekend's (yeah, ok, it was only a weekend, but you ought to see how much they charge for it!) classical fighting with bows, axes, broadsword, shield and armour ... and all that this bloke's done is incorporate Eastern style hand-to-hand techniques, but with a bloody big sword in his hands. Somehow, I don't think this was the order of the day at Crecy or Agincourt.
Oh, and this bunch have nothing to do with the film First Knight, although there are copious clips from the film towards the end of the featurette. But, please stick with this doc, if only for the utterly hilarious final shot of little goatee-bearded Clements and his best two students (presumably his First and Second Knights) walking away and then fading into the distance of their own medieval woodland play-area. Wow ... who were those geeks?
So, it is a mixed bag. One great commentary, one a dud. Two naff featurettes followed by one unintentionally hilarious one.
VerdictOld fashioned entertainment with boo-hiss villainy, rousing set-pieces, a large scale, and the simple, honest-to-goodness ode to chivalry, self-belief and, of course, honour that suffuses the entire filmic genre as well as its literary sources. First Knight, however, is still hugely superficial, contrived and barely even begins to scratch the wonderful treasure-trove of material that the Arthurian Romances offers up for cinematic storytelling. Oh, and let's not forget, it is badly miscast, badly acted and ineptly written as well. You don't need to have Merlin and the usual cast to make a good King Arthur story - they are missed, mind you - but just shovelling big names into what is little more than a soap opera mishmash of un-intriguing odds and ends is never going to work.
Sony's disc is loaded with EPK pap and a truly hilarious promo for John Clements and his wannabe Knights-in-Training. Only the much more critical and better thought-out commentary from the historian about the film's authenticity bears any repeatability. AV-wise, there is not much to say, really. The film shows its age and does not look or sound especially good. It remains passable but, like the armour in the film, is still in need of a spit and shine.
One for the fans only. And I don't mean fans of the legend of King Arthur ... who should probably avoid this like the pox.
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