King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
- Street Date:
- August 8th, 2017
- Reviewed by:
- M. Enois Duarte
- Review Date: 1
- August 18th, 2017
- Movie Release Year:
- Warner Brothers
- 126 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of the standard, day-and-date Blu-ray release, also written by M. Enois Duarte. Specifically, this review features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections, while both reviews share The Movie Itself, Audio, and Special Features. For a full in-depth review of the other format, please read our review of the 4K Ultra HD HERE.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Borrowing heavily from a variety of mythological sources, Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword wastes no time in making its intentions known. As a horde of face-painted barbarians storm a castle while riding atop gargantuan elephants, immediately recalling images of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga, the epic fantasy fable wants to be a contemporary retelling of a familiar folklore. It's told with all the spectacle and gaudy extravaganza that modern technology can afford — and a hefty price tag it was, setting Warner Bros back a cool $175 million — which is apparently where all the talent gravitated towards. Leaving the rest of the production to rely on a paper thin plot and an ensemble of mind-numbingly dull characters to carry it, the end result is a movie that feels episodic and quickly cobbled-together in the editing room. Then again, Ritchie's particular style is in the quick edits and rapid dialogue exchanges pivoting on some random, non-linear piece of exposition. And all that is evident here to a surprisingly annoying degree.
From a script he co-authored with three others who've done better than this, Ritchie, who's more admired for his rough-around-the-edges but spirited action comedy heists, clearly wants to make his cake and eat it too, working overtime to inject his unique brand of gritty realism to the fantasy genre. There is a clear attempt to eschew from the standard folktale telling of the legendary Briton who united a nation in turmoil and formed the Roundtable, aspiring to something like a PG-rated version of Game of Thrones, only without the political intrigue and betrayals. The movie stars Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, The Lost City of Z) in the title role, and he plays the character with a gruff, off-putting vainglory that's nowhere near as charming as the filmmakers fantasize it. Found floating down the river after the death of his father (Eric Bana) and his mother by prostitutes who raised him, this Arthur comes with pseudo-Biblical origins that imply his street-smart altruistic nature, but his reluctant-hero haughtiness makes for annoyingly unpleasant company.
But rather than show anything that could make Hunnam the least bit likable, Ritchie and his team must keep things moving, almost as though checking off a foreordained list for conjuring the perfect hero story. (Oh, I don't know, perhaps something like Campbell's "Hero's Journey.") Only here, this prophesied champion for good is a skilled warrior long before the story proper, as shown in a three-minute montage sequence at the beginning. Thus, making a later training in the "Darklands" inconsequential and redundant. Cocky and insolent as he is, Arthur nonetheless manages to put together a band of merry men to follow him, such as Djimon Hounsou and Aidan "Littlefinger" Gillen of Game of Thrones. (Hero surrounded by allies. Check!) Weirdly, the plot does away with the all-important mentor, which in Arthurian legends would be Merlin, except to mention his name as some outside conspirator pulling the strings for putting Arthur on the throne. The role is instead given to the medieval wizard nameless disciple (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), but she's wasted doing busywork like concocting fruitless potions and snapping at Arthur to pick up Excalibur. (Check? Kinda)
As the saying goes, a movie is only as good as its villain, and Guy Ritchie's King Arthur pretty much proves that sentiment when providing audiences with one of the vapidest and humdrum bad guys in a long while. And sadly, Jude Law is tasked with the responsibility of making this production the least bit interesting, but fails so miserably in the role of family-murdering Vortigern that he should cast a spell on the world to forgot he ever made an appearance. Aside from summoning a demon knight to do his fighting, he never feels like much of a threatening obstacle to Arthur and his tiny army. Unless we count an intimidating scowl as a weapon. (So, I guess another check?) To offset much of the testosterone seriousness saturating the air — every few minutes, characters are measuring the length and firmness of their swords — Ritchie tries to instill a bit of humor, but much of the joshing about falls flat. So, it would seem as though the movie was sloppily piecemealed together and set on a downhill slope towards failure from the start because there's little saving this medieval fantasy mess. Let the Lady of the Lake take it to the bottom and pray it never resurfaces.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Warner Home Video brings Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy, which can be redeemed via wb.com/redeemdigitalmovie.com for the SD and HDX (1080p). The Region Free, BD50 disc sits opposite a DVD-9 copy inside a blue, eco-cutout case with slipcover. After a couple skippable promos, the screen changes to a static screen with a generic set of menu options along the bottom of the screen.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Guy Ritchie's modern take of the fantasy legend debuts on Blu-ray with a lovely 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that appears faithful to the intentions of cinematographer John Mathieson. Shot entirely on the Arri Alexa camera systems, the digital photography comes with a surprisingly good deal of texture and style. Contrast has been greatly restrained and muted to give the action and setting a very dreary, somber feel, as though the kingdom under the rule of King Vortigern were in perpetual gloominess. In spite of this, whites remain crisp and brilliant throughout, allowing for excellent visibility into the far distance. In fact, the presentation is, for the most part, highly detailed with distinct, fine lines in the clothing, the stone architecture of various locations and in the surrounding foliage. Healthy facial complexions are revealing, showing individual pores and negligible blemishes in the entire cast.
The stylized look does affect other areas of the 2.40:1 image, however. The movie comes with its share of softer, blurrier moments, which thankfully are not many, but they're mostly related to extreme wide shots, panoramic views of forest areas and some of the less than stellar CG imagery. Brightness levels take a very small but nonetheless notable hit with shadows occasionally looking a bit murky and lackluster. Blacks, too, can seem slightly faded and dull in some spots, but thankfully, it's not so glaring as to ruin the overall quality, as the black armor worn by the King's soldiers are still true and accurate for the most part. The palette is also somewhat affected by the deliberate photography where secondary hues seemed largely limited while primaries remains bold and well saturated. It's still a fairly colorful film nonetheless, particularly during the daylight exteriors when the presentation is awash with a light golden hue and in the sparkling array of yellow, orange and red in the embers hovering around the demon knight.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
This contemporary re-interpretation of the mythical Briton charges to home theaters with an excellent and satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack. While it doesn't compare to some of the best we've heard on the object-based format, the design does hold its own fairly well with several amusing bits that fill the room.
From the start of the movie, Daniel Pemberton's score crowds the entire soundstage and the front heights with a half-dome wall of sound, exhibiting superb clarity and distinction within the mid-range. A majority of the activity is also placed in the fronts as various noises fluidly move between all three channels with convincing off-screen directionality, creating a wide, spacious image that's continuously engaging. Dialogue reproduction is distinct and precise in the center, allowing every grumbling, mumbling line to be heard with great intonation. The loudest segments maintain superb definition in the upper frequencies while debris spreads into the surrounds and occasionally bleeds into the ceiling speakers.
Interestingly, quieter scenes also come with the subtle sounds of local wildlife to create a rather lively soundfield, but the overheads are not really put to much use and in fact, are pretty silent during these scenes. The failed assassination sequence is a nice highlight when the exploding arrows ring in the fronts or the sides and sometimes right above the listening area. There are a few other scattered moments where the heights are employed to great effect, but they are far and few in between. A more notable disappointment would be the less-than-satisfying low-end. To be fair, there is plenty of mid-bass to enjoy, providing the action with some weight and depth, but the design never digs much deeper, particularly during certain moments that suggest a deep, floor-vibrating rumble, such as when Arthur holds Excalibur with two hands summoning the sword's magical powers.
But, that's a small quibble in an otherwise highly enjoyable soundtrack.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Sword from the Stone (HD, 19 min): Director Guy Ritchie explains his creative process of bringing the Arthurian legend for contemporary moviegoers.
Building on the Past (HD, 14 min): A closer look at the production design and costuming.
Camelot in 93 Days (HD, 10 min): The challenge of bringing a legend to life in a three-month schedule.
Arthur with Swagger (HD, 10 min): Focus on Charlie Hunnam's performance in making a modern king.
Inside the Cut: The Action (HD, 6 min): Interviews discuss the stunt choreography and challenges.
Legend of Excalibur (HD, 6 min): Short discussion on the modern twist to a legendary sword.
Parry and Bleed (HD, 6 min): Piece on sword training and fight choreography.
Scenic Scotland (HD, 6 min): A brief tour of the shooting location on the day of wrap.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
There are no high-def exclusives.
Borrowing heavily from a variety of mythological sources, Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword wastes no time in making its intentions known while stringently devoted to the foreordained monomyth. At the same time, the filmmakers eschew from the familiar folktale telling of the legendary Briton who united a nation, aspiring more to something like a mind-numbingly dull, PG-rated version of Game of Thrones. The fantasy epic takes a swing at Blu-ray with an attractive picture quality and an excellent Dolby Atmos mix. Supplemental material is on the light side and pretty lackluster. However, fans of both the movie and Ritchie should be happy with the overall package.
- Two-Disc Combo Pack
- BD-50 Dual-Layer / DVD-9 Dual-Layer Disc
- Region Free
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English Dolby Atmos
- English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
Exclusive HD Content
- DVD Copy
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