King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 4K UHD Blu-ray Review

Cutting Fantasy

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With a pre-packaged myth and videogame-like pizzazz, Guy Ritchie attacks King Arthur’s legend with his distinct cinematic sharpness. Quick cut conversations and splashy action feed a rather traditional piece of storytelling. Arthur rises from poverty-stricken orphan to national hero, ending where any tale of King Arthur does. It’s not unexpected. Ritchie’s style is.

King Arthur loves being erratic and fast-breathing. When it stops to take a breath, it’s only to admire location cinematography or lap up the successful computer generated monuments spread about. Flashbacks splice into other flashbacks, and Charlie Hunnam grows ever angrier as a contemporary anti-hero adaptation of Arthur.

The story set-up is ample, that of impoverishment versus privilege. A malicious king (Jude Law) engages in a power grab, doomed to fail by way of legend. That’s how these things go, and King Arthur doesn’t stray from the elements of fantasy. Opening scenes use mountain-sized siege elephants as if to best Lord of the Rings’ puny (by comparison) pachyderms. Later comes a giant snake, a better fit for King Kong. It’s all wild, and certainly a fantasy showpiece.

Arthur spends much of the film pouting about, unwilling to give in to destiny. Members of the Round Table recruit Arthur in a series of accidental if fateful meetings. The switch is smart, if leaning toward a derivative character arc, blossoming King Arthur into an absolute superhero. Comic book heroes tend to be popular these days.

The videogame power fantasy is so rarely evident on film

Yet with a significant gift for outrageous Excalibur-granted talents, King Arthur lets loose a creative spark. Arthur sets off earthquakes, slows down time, and sends towers to the ground. The videogame power fantasy is so rarely evident on film; King Arthur captures this admirably.

Also in the vein of a videogame, King Arthur sprints to the action and leans on repetition. Arthur’s nightmares replay – with purpose – if ultimately losing their impact. All of the sword clashes lose their weight too, generous in number, while leaving side characters (Round Table knights in particular) under developed.

This also means King Arthur carries a laser focus, enamored with the production design around the villainous king and the hero’s journey of the title character. Both grow into strong central players, rarely crowded by the visual effects. Jude Law finds himself surrounded by lavish designs, from a lesbian-esque tentacle creature and a grim castle utterly suited to his persona. Arthur, in comparison, uses the will of the land, dotted with greenery and sunlight. The contrast works, and is enough for King Arthur.

Video (4K UHD)

Sweating blues and teals, much of King Arthur lives in a spectrum of despair. The few splashes of color generate via fire, sometimes in interiors from wall torches or from Arthur’s vivid dreams. The UHD gives these hues density though, muted as they are. Deep color makes the color grading take on weight, less monochrome and richer than the companion Blu-ray.

With or without the aid of color, the winning element here? Black levels. Frequently reaching true black without incident, the intended darker tone of dramatic scenes comes alive here. Arthur’s nightmares, against a villain cloaked in black and backed by black, show off how well Warner’s disc manages gradients. A heavy contrast only helps.

If anything is missing – aside from saturation by choice – it’s fidelity. Facial definition reaches only average levels, if that. The 2K source works best when showing off landscapes or towns, soaking up the texture of the bricks. Well lined forests resolve branches and leaves well into the distance. Things like chain mail show extensive definition too. Strange then that one little detail is missing.

Video (Blu-ray)

Compression problems bug the Blu-ray edition of King Arthur. Some unusually heavy noise tends to spread around the walls inside castles. Smoke and fog tend to hinder things too, either hit with banding or general artifacts. This isn’t severe, rather obnoxious.

What the Blu-ray does best is find the dimmer, gray tones Ritchie goes for. Lacking in density, King Arthur pumps out a cloudy image. The deepest shadows reach true black on occasion (Arthur’s dreams), but otherwise maintain a brighter quality.

A hint of aliasing bugs certain armor pieces and buildings. This too is minor. The general lack of tight detail from the UHD carries over to the Blu-ray. Facial detail wanes while exteriors consistently impress.

Audio

Both format choices include a strong Atmos mix, bringing battle scenes to life. Giant elephants stomp around and swing their trunks with force, smashing into towers while sending debris fields around the speaker configuration.

It’s a large scale film. Crowded streets fill with ambiance and massive interiors make use of the space for echoes. Whether combat is small or large, arrows pan between channels with effectiveness. Flocks of eagles do too. One scene uses the birds as a swarm, filling the soundstage.

In the final showdown, it’s a battle of elements. The villain swings fire, while the surrounding ocean splashes onto a shoreline. This design is exemplary. Each swoosh of a sword makes an accurate pan and to add scale, clashes hit the low-end.

Extras

Eight featurettes line the disc, most of them mundane and typical of studio output. Arthur with Swagger holds interest in dissecting Charlie Hunman’s approach to the character after spending his youth watching 1981’s Excalibur. Sword from the Stone looks at the blank slate the lore offers, and Building the Past digs into the awesome art produced by this movie.

The rest mostly fall into a predictable pattern, running a few minutes each.

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