Blu-ray Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

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Some people live for the swords 'n sorcery of the fantasy genre. That's the crowd Warner Bros. was gunning for with this summer's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, but given that they've issued it on Blu-ray even before the summer season has ended makes it plain their target was missed. Not terribly unlike 2016's mega-budget fantasy Warcraft, King Arthur tanked in the U.S. but scored bigger overseas. Though to be fair, Warcraft was a substantial overseas hit, whereas Arthur was barely adequate.

The thing is, despite not clicking with moviegoers, Guy Ritchie's retooling of the Arthurian legends is actually a pretty good (if empty-headed) time. Charlie Hunnam (TV's Sons of Anarchy) makes for a charismatic, physically-commanding, and at times reluctant Arthur. Jude Law steals scenes as Arthur's villainous uncle Vortigern, who early on sets the stage for Arthur's ascendance to the throne by overthrowing his brother (and the future-king's father) Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana). 

King Arthur Jude Law.jpg Three screenwriters (including Ritchie) wrestle with the material, struggling at times to shape it into a compelling two hours of 'knights in shining armor' entertainment. They succeed in crafting something of a cracked fairy tale, with anachronistic touches abounding. The razzle-dazzle CG gives this Arthur all the bells 'n whistles money can buy (the reported production budget is in the neighborhood of $175 million). Djimon Hounsou adds to the hefty acting chops with his take on Sir Bedivere, a former general in Uther's army who now leads a resistance against power-mad Vortigern. 
King Arthur 2.jpg Yes, Arthur of course pulls Excalibur from the stone, but Ritchie isn't interested in playing traditionalist for the most part. There's a lot to put off anyone seeking a straightforward retelling of the legend (not the least of which being the total lack of Merlin in this version; Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is on-hand as Mage, who works for Merlin). This is a wilder and woolier vision of Camelot than director Antoine Fuqua's 2004 King Arthur (which was somewhat better received at the box office, but hardly remembered as a classic). King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't likely to top anyone's favorite fantasy flick list, but for those with a taste for this material (and who don't mind departures from long-established legend) the rock and roll aesthetic that Ritchie flaunts throughout creates a generally winning, low-cal experience. 
King Arthur 1.jpg Warner Home Entertainment's Blu-ray edition of King Arthur meets expectations in terms of high def presentation (bear in mind, the standard Blu-ray edition was reviewed; there are also Blu-ray 3D and 4K UltraHD versions available). Sonic bombast abounds in the Dolby Atmos mix (screened here in Dolby TrueHD 7.1). Composer Daniel Pemberton (who previously worked with Ritchie on 2015's The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) contributes a rousing score which is highlight of the rowdy surround mix.

For such a box office bust, Warner has generously outfitted Arthur with a neat roster of extras. Nothing fancy, just a series of eight featurettes on various aspects of the production that totals a rather substantial 75 minutes.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was, at one point, apparently the conceived as the starting point of a vast cinematic universe that was supposed to have spanned some six sequels. But as various studios are discovering, not everything was destined to spearhead an elaborate, Marvel-style shared universe. Guy Ritchie has enough of a fan base, however, to ensure some level of interest in this one movie.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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