BLU-RAY REVIEW: KING ARTHUR - LEGEND OF THE SWORD

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by Tony O'Brien

21st February, 2018

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: KING ARTHUR - LEGEND OF THE SWORD

It’s almost impossible to watch or review a King Arthur movie without comparing it to 1981’s Excalibur.

Over thirty-five years since its release, Excalibur has well and truly stood the test of time. Director, John Boorman’s vision of Arthur’s Britain was dark and gritty, and both the story and cinematography were perfectly captured.

Excalibur culminated in a final battle with Morgana and Mordred’s dark forces that was dark and eerie, yet hauntingly beautiful.

Of course, mentioning Excalibur without recalling O Fortuna is impossible. The classic being inexorably tied to Excalibur in much the same way as Ride of the Valkyries to Apocalypse Now.

While I can’t lay claim to having seen every version of King Arthur released since Excalibur, in the ones I have seen, the results have been mixed.

In my mind at least, not usurped Excalibur as the penultimate King Arthur movie. In 2017, director Guy Ritchie (The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Snatch, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels) threw his chainmail coif into the ring with King Arthur: Legend of The Sword.

Guy Ritchie has created a film that is not only dark and gritty but has an interesting twist or two on the Arthurian legend. What lets this one down though is Arthur, who comes across as smug and not all ‘kingly.’

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword focuses on Arthur’s story after the death of his mother and father (Eric Bana and Poppy Delavigne) and his eventual ascension to the throne. The young Arthur, taken in and raised by a prostitute, is tempered in the harsh streets of Londinium where he leads a life of crime to survive.

After drawing the sword from the Stone, Arthur- who believed himself to be the bastard son of a prostitute - learns that he is the true heir to the throne of England. Arthur must then contend with his uncle, the despotic Vortigern, who would rather see him dead rather than take his rightful place on the throne.

While many would rather see Arthur on the throne, Arthur isn’t sure if he wants it. With the help of his former gang and a few still loyal to the former king (Uther Pendragon), they help Arthur discover the king within himself and take his place as the King of England.

There’s no mistaking King Arthur: Legend of the Sword as anything other than a classic King Arthur tale. Ritchie does serve up a few interesting twists which help invigorate the tale. For instance, all men of the right age are tested by the king’s guard to see if they can take Excalibur from the stone.

The magic is dark and mysterious, a perfect fit for the dark and brooding mood the director seeks to convey. These elements should come together nicely to make a great King Arthur film, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

It’s hard to like Arthur’s character, who is often arrogant. Both Arthur and his gang sound as though they would be more at home in a modern English gangster film rather than a dark fantasy film.

The cinematography reinforces this, with the frequent use of flash-forwards, which are voiced over by Arthur. Their use is both incongruent and jarring, leaving you scratching your head and pulling you out of the film rather than drawing you into it.

Despite the odd sojourn into the world of Snatch, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is still an entertaining film. Without these moments it could have been one of the best King Arthur adaptions in years.

Video Quality

The best way to describe the video transfer of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s is heavily stylised. I’m usually not a fan of heavily stylised transfers, but depending on the story, they can work well, and such is the case in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

The overall colour palette varies in nature, often appearing monochromatic or sepia in tone. Contrast is often restrained, giving the picture a soft ‘dreamy’ look.

Hues are also used effectively, favouring warm golden hues inside the castle during happier times. This contrasts with the blue tones used in the hag’s underground grotto and The Dark Lands.

With the appearance of mythical/magical creatures, this becomes even more stylised, with dark blacks bereft of shadow detail. In these instances, colour is also heavily restrained resulting in a comic book like appearance. Although it’s done very well, it’s obvious that The Lord of the Rings influenced the cinematographer’s artistic choices.

Colour is used sparingly and often desaturated; save for the occasional splash of colour used to bring out armour and tunics. At times colours can look natural, but this is infrequent.

Resolution varies, often intentionally soft, particularly where CGI is used. At other times, resolution can be sharp, particularly in close-ups, with chainmail links and wrinkles in faces being able to be clearly made out.

Both the often soft and heavily stylised aspects of the picture are used to support the storytelling and do a wonderful job of imparting a sense of awe to magic and creating the dark and foreboding environments of Londinium.

Sound Quality

Assuming your home theatre is set up for Dolby Atmos playback, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword will automatically play the Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Otherwise, the soundtrack will default to Dolby True HD 7.1.

The soundtrack varies in quality. My biggest complaint is the soundstage, which often feels small and constrained, the Atmos speakers laying idle.

However, during the film's more action-orientated moments, the soundstage tends to open up, offering more of a sense of space.

During these moments, directional cues are excellent with all the speakers being engaged to great effect.

At times the soundtrack can be dynamic, with some excellent bass, particularly towards the opening of the film. The soundtrack does seem to be recorded at a slightly lower level than normal, so you may find yourself nudging the volume a little more than usual to bring out the dynamics.

All in all, the soundtrack has its moments, but it’s a far cry from something like Mad Max Fury Road.

  • Review Format: Blu-ray
  • Release Date: 16/08/2017
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Available Formats: DVD, Bluray, 3D Bluray & 4K Ultra HD
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos/ Dolby True HD 7.1    
  • Rating: MA 15+ Strong Coarse Language     
  • Time: 126 Minutes
  • Label: Roadshow
  • Genre: Action         
  • Director: Guy Ritchie
  • Actors: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen

PICTURE QUALITY - 
SOUND QUALITY -
MOVIE RATING -

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Tony O'Brien's avatar

Written by:

Tony O'Brien

As the owner of Adelaide based 'Clarity Audio & Video Calibration', Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.

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