Does anybody remember 'Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire?' No? Well, uh, you're probably not alone, but I assure you it existed. A fantasy/action/comedy, it ran on Comedy Central for six episodes in 2009 before it was quickly canceled. It wasn't great, but it wasn't all that bad either. Now, why do I bring up this forgotten, mediocre, and seemingly unloved series? Well, I bring this doomed television show up because the 2011 film, 'Your Highness,' from 'Pineapple Express' director, David Gordon Green, is a lot like 'Kröd Mändoon.' They're both set in medieval fantasy worlds. They both star comically inept heroes with anachronistic personalities and dialogue. They both have love interests who are really hot warrior women. And they both include hilariously maniacal evil wizards. Yes, 'Your Highness' is a lot like 'Kröd Mändoon' indeed. Well, except for the fact that 'Your Highness' isn't as funny… as 'Kröd Mändoon'… a canceled series on Comedy Central… starring that guy from 'Meet the Spartans.' Yeah, I'm a bit disappointed too. So, what went wrong? I mean McBride is a very funny comedian, Green has done some good work in the past, Natalie Portman can win me over with a mere smile, and James Franco is… well, James Franco! So again, what went wrong? Well, I think it may have something to do with the fact that in the included supplements, the filmmakers repeatedly insist that they weren't actually making a comedy at all. So... there's that. A sometimes amusing, sometimes eye rolling mixture of crude humor, fantasy, and action, the movie never quite finds its groove or direction, and despite the great talent involved, it never lives up to the creative promise it occasionally displays. Still, even if the jokes fall mostly flat, the action and adventure aspects are surprisingly strong, resulting in an uneven, but still entertaining ride.
Set in a medieval fantasy world, the film follows Thadeous (Danny McBride) an incompetent, lazy prince, and his brother, Fabious (James Franco), a typical, heroic knight in shining armor. When Fabious's bride to be (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by an evil wizard (Justin Theroux), the mismatched pair embarks on a dangerous quest to save her. Along the way they encounter various humorous obstacles and meet a female warrior (Natalie Portman) who eventually aides them in their journey.
The main problem with 'Your Highness' stems from its inconsistent script and lack of intelligent humor. In the special features, the director and cast talk at length about wanting to avoid parody, instead wishing to make a more sincere fantasy film harkening back to the R-rated, cheesy sword and sorcery flicks of the 1980s. While that's all well and good, the trouble is that the movie doesn't always feel like this, and instead jumps in and out of earnestness and caricature. Based on the director's comments, the intention was to play the majority of the plot and characters straight, with the exception of Thadeous himself, highlighting his incongruity for maximum comedic effect. This actually sounds like it might have been cool, as seeing McBride do his normal, vulgar shtick while thrust in a deadly serious 'The Lord of The Rings' like quest, could have been very funny. Unfortunately, that really isn't what we get. Despite the filmmaker's goals and deliberate choice to cast the film with many serious actors (instead of comedians), other characters and situations do still come across as broad spoofs, and rarely very clever ones at that. In fact, had the director actually gone more strongly in that direction, with intelligent, humorous observations on the typical conventions and clichés of the genre, 'Your Highness' might have worked better. As it stands, it seems as if the film is stuck between two very different approaches, and just simply picking one would have led to a much more consistent and effective movie.
The humor that's present mostly comes from Thadeous's inadequacies, cowardice, and constant crude jokes that never really land. Most attempts at comedy amount to little more than tossing out random expletives within otherwise boring lines that are spoken in bad English accents. Merely taking modern vulgarity and throwing it into a medieval setting is not enough to elicit laughter, and instead comes across as lazy, uninteresting, and dumb. With that said, there are still funny moments peppered throughout, including an incredibly inappropriate meeting with a perverted wizard who makes his guests keep "playful secrets," some occasional improvised lines by the talented stars, a musical sequence with Franco and Deschanel, and quite a bit from Justin Theroux's evil sorcerer, Leezar. In fact, Theroux and his maniacal villain are probably the most amusing part of the film. McBride and Franco do have decent chemistry, and there is some genuine development between their characters, but for the most part, both usually strong comedic performers are disappointingly mundane. Portman is fine in her role, but the character is underwritten and generic. The supporting cast of serious British actors, including Damian Lewis and Toby Jones, end up doing better, and again, despite Green's intention of having them come across as serious, Jones's impish silliness and Lewis's man crush on Franco, actually provide some decent laughs.
While the juvenile comedy doesn't always work, the action and adventure elements of the movie are surprisingly well done. Green brings an exciting and energetic style to the screen, and several fight and chase sequences are genuinely thrilling with lots of over-the-top blood and guts. A great sense of imagination is also thrown in every now and then (though not frequently enough), using the fantasy elements to sometimes wonderful effect. The fun Marteetee battle scene is a good example, with a cool and legitimately inventive monster. The effects work itself is mostly impressive, with some interesting magical creatures brought to life, including wizards, witches, trolls, fairies, minotaurs, naked female warriors (yes, I'm including naked female warriors as magical creatures), and giant reptilian beasts. The CG and makeup aren't always topnotch (the film has a fairly modest budget) but the occasional cheesiness works to the movie's advantage, succeeding in Green's goal of emulating classic 80s fantasy, fun, gore, nudity, and silliness.
'Your Highness' hinges on a one joke premise, and can't quite decide what kind of comedy it wants to be (or if it wants to be a comedy at all, I guess), which is a shame, because the talent involved is definitely capable of much better. Still, while it might be surprisingly light on genuine laughs and uneven in tone and structure, the fun action sequences and general charisma of the performers lead to an entertaining but not wholly successful effort. I'm afraid if you want an actually funny fantasy/action/comedy, you're going to have to stick with good old 'Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire.' Well, maybe… I think. That show was kind of funny, wasn't it?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal brings 'Your Highness' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc housed in a standard case with a cardboard slipcover. Instructions are also included for a limited time, downloadable Digital Copy. Some skippable trailers play upon startup before transitioning to a standard menu. Both the 103 minute theatrical cut and the 106 minute unrated cut are included.
The movie is presented in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Filled with many colorful effects and lush scenery, 'Your Highness' looks quite nice.
The print is in pristine shape with a light layer of grain visible from time to time. Detail fluctuates a little depending on the shot and lighting conditions, but can be impressive, showing off the intricate chainmail armor of our heroes and the sometimes inventive production design. Colors are also pleasing, bringing a nice pop to many sequences, particularly in wide shots of the vivid Irish countryside. These scenes also exhibit the most sense of depth, which like overall detail, tends to waver a bit from sequence to sequence. Black levels are good but can appear a hair elevated and slightly blue. White levels are strong without overpowering the image, leading to a nice sense of contrast.
This is a colorful film filled with some vibrant imagery, and the transfer does a very solid job of displaying that. It's not exactly top tier material, but the video definitely looks good.
The film is provided with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, a French DTS 5.1 track, a Spanish DTS 5.1 track, and a DVS Dolby Digital track for the visually impaired. English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitle options are also included. Since the film tends to lean toward legitimate action/fantasy, this is actually a surprisingly lively and fun mix.
Dialogue is crisp, delivering every improvised bit of juvenile humor with nice, clean fidelity. Directionality is very strong with lots of great effects swirling around the soundstage. The film's numerous action sequences provide some enveloping surround activity, with magical spells, slashing blades, and galloping horses surrounding the listener. Imaging is also handled well, with the effects moving across the speakers naturally. Dynamic range is strong and bass is deep and powerful. Balance between all of the elements is handled well, but like most modern action films, the wide gamut between dialogue and effects can sometimes make speech a little too soft and action a little too loud.
Thanks to some fun set pieces, 'Your Highness' delivers a surprisingly robust sonic experience. It may not be 'The Lord of The Rings' but it's still a great mix.
Universal has included a decent assortment of supplements, including a commentary, a behind-the-scenes doc, and lots of deleted material. Thanks to the wit of those involved, these features are actually entertaining and are definitely worth a look. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and English, Spanish, and French subtitle options, unless noted otherwise.
'Your Highness' is an uneven, mostly unfunny, but still somehow entertaining blend of genres. It aims to be a light and dirty comedic love letter to 1980s fantasy flicks, and while not completely successful, its strengths just barely outweigh its flaws. The disc's video quality is good and its audio mix is great. Supplements are pretty standard, but thankfully entertaining. Though it's a shame the movie doesn't completely work, it's still worth a rental.