A Knight's Tale Review
Heath Ledger gets his first major starring role as William Thatcher, a peasant who has a piece of luck when his master dies during a jousting final leaving him the armour, the horse and the chance to become a champion jouster. After his initial success, the hefty winnings leave him and his band of merry men panting for more, which leads them on a tour of European jousting tournaments.
Not exactly knowing what to expect from this movie, after the first five minutes I was none the wiser. Thatcher enters the jousting arena to the chants of ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen. Electric guitars wail in the background as 14th century clothed peasants scream in 20th century tongue. This seamless merging of past and present cultures doesn’t come across without a sense of oddity yet it works, adding a fresh feel to what would otherwise be a simple run of the mill period comedy.
Providence, Rhode Island born writer/director Brian Helgeland is much like the film in that his output is as diverse in its approach as it is diverse in its quality. The poor Nightmare On Elm Street 4 and 1995’s Assassins; the mixed and muddled Conspiracy Theory and The Postman; and the brilliant L.A Confidential are all writing credits to his name. Somewhere in between lies his feature film debut as writer and director with the Mel Gibson film noir Payback. Evidently more relaxed in his second film in the director’s chair, Helgeland is not afraid to try new things. The present day ramblings in the period setting; the rock music montages, and an unusual interlude of synchronised dancing more conventional of a musical and reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever all show off the director’s relaxed nature. The mind-twisting subtext of Payback is substituted for all out fun and entertainment as Helgeland does a decent job at juggling the comedic pre-joust squabbles with the tension of each joust. As added touches there’s the love interest and the inclusion of Geoffrey Chaucer as a character.
A summer blockbuster usually comes with some baggage, and we saw in the summer of 2001 that most were so bloated and fat with major flaws, they wouldn’t look out of place on an episode of Ricky Lake: ‘Help! We’re Hollywood’s Biggest!’ A Knight’s Tale disappeared at the box office in the haze of Pearl Harbour’s outstayed welcome and its attempt to defy the critics. It is a pity, as there is a lot of enjoyment to be had here, but unfortunately it isn’t as consistent as it could have been. The pace seriously lags towards the final third as the romantic angle labours, and a back story that works perfectly well only you get the feeling the filmmakers struggled to find the right place to introduce it. As it is, the exposition isn’t welcomed as it slows the pace. Additionally, there are probably two too many jousting matches, and the female friend (Laura Fraser) they meet along the way, feels out of place. Perhaps she should have been the love interest? Rufus Sewell plays the evil baddie Count Adhemar, giving the best performance of the film only to be underused and never really fulfilling his place in the story.
Despite the film’s flaws, it retains a high level of entertainment with enough laughs to merit sitting through the film’s post-two hour running time.
The picture on the disc is so good there isn’t much you could say about it. First thing that springs to mind is ‘flawless’ with everything crisp and clear. The colours are superbly presented which is good news seen as the photography is vibrant and rich. There isn’t much contrast between light and dark in the first place, so the visual elements of the film don’t test the medium to its limit, nevertheless what we see is as close as reference quality as we’re likely to get. (N.B – bar ‘Superbit’ releases.) The picture is correctly framed at 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16:9 televisions.
The sound quality complements the picture in its vibrancy. Not only do we get the odd rock number bouncing around the speakers, but the separation of all the sounds in the film are mixed superbly. The left and right channels are put to use in dialogue scenes as well as action scenes, with the whole frontal sound unit doing a better job than most when it comes to largely dialogue based scenes. The rear speakers also feature prominently throughout, coming into their own during the action set pieces. Additionally, there are many scenes where a lot of people are in one place at a time, so we get many conversations happening at once. While the front speakers handle the major dialogue from the characters, the rear speakers handle the jumbled and mixed conversations of the people nearby. This really brings the film to life in your living room (or bedroom, or garage, or prison cell.)
Audio Commentary with Brian Helgeland and Paul Bettany - The commentary is informative with Helgeland providing the bulk of useful information and Bettany trying to be funny. After about an hour, you get the distinct feeling you’ve learnt enough about this particular movie.
HBO First Look - Fifteen minutes in length, this documentary is largely full of promotional material and doesn’t provide much useful information.
11 Behind The Scenes Featurettes - This is where the information lies. These mini documentaries are short in length (most are only three minutes long), but do offer the viewer a wealth of information from pre-production to post. Three stood out for me: 1) ‘School Of Hard Knocks’ – concentrates on the second unit director and how he was responsible for shooting the jousting scenes. 2) ‘Stories For The People’ – concentrates on the real life Geoffrey Chaucer and how his stories affect the film. 3) ‘A Director’s Quest’ – looks at how and why the director made the film the way he did.
Deleted Scenes - These are quite entertaining and are presented with director and editor introductions.
Music Video, Filmographies and Trailers - The music video is the Robbie Williams/Queen ‘We Are The Champions’ collaboration. Mr Mercury would be turning in his grave if he saw this piece of utter garbage. Williams swims in self-indulgence with people crying out ‘We love you Robbie!’ The song is nothing compared to the original, with Williams providing no originality, only cheaply imitating Freddie Mercury and ending up sounding constipated. Even though door number two is out, Williams goes route one, dressing up in period attire, having a few lines of dialogue showing his lack of acting skills and basically showing off to the camera.
The filmographies only include films made with no biographies offered.
There are two trailers on the disc. One is the original theatrical trailer for A Knight’s Tale. The other is a reasonably good trailer for Final Fantasy, however the film is made to look a lot like Aliens.
An entertaining, vibrant period-comedy-action movie, presented on an excellent DVD.