- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Director Guy Ritchie’s unnecessary reimagining of the origins of King Uther Pendragon’s favorite son limps from its recent, disappointing debut in theaters to the ultra high-definition format in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 126 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $35.99).

This $175 million-budgeted opening salvo, of a reported, potential six-film franchise, quickly gets mired down in a muddled plot and too-much familiar flash from Mr. Ritchie while often forgetting its potent source material.

The story immediately dives into the end of the reign of King Uther (Eric Bana) after his treacherous brother Vortigern (Jude Law) conspires with the evil wizard Mordred (Rob Knighton) to attack Camelot and rule the Britons.

King Uther’s young son Arthur barely escapes the deadly purge that takes his parents and grows up in a brothel. As an adult (played by the enthusiastic Charlie Hunnam), he hones his skills as a street fighter, thief and enforcer.

King Vortigern’s and Arthur’s paths soon cross when the once and future king is kidnapped with other locals from Londonium and asked to try and pull the sword Excalibur from a rock.

What happens after he pulls out the sword is a methodical guerilla war as Arthur, haunted by his family memories, bands with a group of resistance fighters, must come to grips with his destiny and remove his uncle from power to take back Camelot.

He gets help from a junior assistant to Merlin simply named a Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey); former Uther knights Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Sir William “Goosefat Bill” Wilson (Aidan Gillen from “Game of Thrones”); friend Sir Tristan “Wet Stick” (Kingsley Ben-Adir); and a giant snake plucked from a “Harry Potter” novel.

Subplots such as Arthur growing up also frenetically play out in Mr. Ritchie hyper-stylized, lightning-fast editing and occasional rewinding of scenes. These tricks that might work well in his odes to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Sherlock Holmes,” but they seem out of place and pace here.

Also, some exciting creature moments do play out on the screen, such as multistory, tusked elephants attacking Camelot with trunks gripping maces as well as multiple encounters with a warrior completely ripped off from Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer painting. However, viewers will yawn more than cheer at most of Arthur’s early adventure.

Suffice it to report: None of the elegance, beauty and emotion of director John Boorman’s “Excalibur” exists in this Camelot. Instead, viewers get lost in a haphazard homage to franchises such as “Lord of the Rings,” “Game of Thrones” and “Lady Hawke.”

4K UHD in action: Cinematographer John Mathieson paints a grim, earth-tone smothering and too-dark picture of Arthur’s life crafted in medieval times, even when revealed in the ultra high-definition format. Mud, dust, dirt, embers and smoke manage to cloud the action and often rain down upon on the locations.

Some visual moments do stand out, thanks to the 4K UHD upscale, especially when highlighting creatures such as the undulating, squid-like moat hags (the larger one looks like Ursula from “The Little Mermaid”); and a final confrontation with the Death Dealer demon, especially when studying his musculature, armor and glowing red scythe.

Most will appreciate the high dynamic range and extra clarity when Arthur fights King Vortigern’s guards. With both hands on Excalibur, Arthur’s weapon of mass destruction leads to a slow-motion death spiral for the bad guys with metal masks peeled from their faces and floating in midair. The wood from the arrows splinters as each one lethally hits a target.

The high dynamic range is also most welcomed in any of the darker scene that wash out detail in the Blu-ray format.

Best extras: Eight featurettes (totaling roughly 75 minutes) offer plenty of production background on the film, but they never really cover enough about Mr. Ritchie’s and his team’s motivations for tackling yet another adaptation of the classic tale.

The segments, all supplemented with interviews from cast and crew, cover designing the sword, shooting in Scotland and Wales, costumes, production design of massive sets such as Londinium, sword-fighting rehearsals and stunt work.

Viewers also learn about Mr. Hunnam’s appreciation for the Arthurian legend and get a laugh-loaded, behind-the-scenes look at the 93-day long production shoot.

Best of the bunch is an almost 19-minute overview of the movie with the English crew and actors offering memories about growing up with the Arthurian legend.

It features key production personal rationalizing Mr. Ritchie’s vision to offer a modern take on the tale that audiences could relate to. He ultimately wanted a film with more fantasy elements and a production loaded with scale, scope and passion.

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