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Brian Helgeland
Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany, Shannyn Sossamon, Alan Tudyk, Laura Fraser
Writing Credits:
Brian Helgeland

He Will Rock You.
Box Office:
$41 million.
Opening Weekend
$16.511 million on 2980 screens.
Domestic Gross
$56.083 million.
Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
English, French

Runtime: 144 min.
Price: $19.94
Release Date: 9/25/2005

• HBO Making-Of Special
• 11 Behind the Scenes Featurettes
• Music Video


Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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A Knight's Tale: Extended Edition (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 3, 2006)

For whatever reason, films set in medieval times just don’t seem to do a lot of business. From Excalibur to Dragonslayer and with many stops in between, movies have tried a mix of approaches toward the material, but the box office receipts remain modest at best. Recently, King Arthur fizzled. Has there ever been a genuine hit that worked with that era? Probably, but I can’t think of one off of the top of my head, and some modest research turned up no exceptions to my rule.

In 2001, we got yet another attempt to plumb the period, and this one looked like it had a shot. A Knight’s Tale starred rising heartthrob Heath Ledger and took a gleefully anachronistic tone that looked like it might connect modern audiences to ye olden days. However, the results weren’t all that positive. It grabbed a $56 million gross, which was pretty disappointing for a big summer flick.

A Knight’s Tale holds the distinction of being one of very few “popcorn movies” that my father liked. Unfortunately, his endorsement usually means the kiss of death to me; Dad and I don’t often agree on films. Although I didn’t dislike Tale, I can’t say I concurred with my father’s opinion, as I thought it was a generally entertaining but unspectacular piece of work.

A Knight’s Tale follows the story of William Thatcher (Ledger), squire to a knight named Sir Ector. At the film’s start, Ector buys the farm after a jousting match. Since he almost achieved victory - which meant a nice payday for William and his cohorts Wat (Alan Tudyk) and Roland (Mark Addy) - William decides to pretend to be Ector to finish the contest. He does so, they get their loot, and that’s that, right?

Wrong. William takes this success as a sign and decides to fake nobility so he can enter these sorts of tournaments on his own. Neither Wat nor Roland seem enthused about this, but they agree to give it a shot, and a chance meeting with a down-on-his-luck - and naked - Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) offers possible assistance; he can forge the necessary documentation of William’s heritage. Rechristened Sir Auric von Lichtenstein of Gelderland, William quickly hits the field and becomes a success.

Along the way, matters become complicated. As one expects from a movie, William develops both a love interest and an archenemy. In the former capacity we find Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), a lovely but elusive young woman, and in the latter category stands Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), a nasty dude who accurately sees William/Auric as a challenge to his jousting hegemony.

With this cast of characters in place - plus Kate (Laura Fraser), the most beautiful blacksmith you’re ever likely to see - Tale takes an inevitable path. William/Auric becomes the top dog but doesn’t get his ultimate goal to fight Adhemar because the latter is off at war. We also see a subtext in which William needs to discover himself and come to terms with his roots; his father (Christopher Cazenove) sent him off to be Ector’s assistant at a very young age, and William seems to fear his eventual homecoming. All of this leads toward the predictable climactic battle between William and Adhemar.

I won’t divulge all the details about what occurs, but let’s just say that A Knight’s Tale holds few surprises. However, I don’t really regard that as a flaw. The film’s essentially just another underdog against the odds story, sort of like Rocky with staffs and horses. The vast majority of movies feature pretty predictable plots, so I think it’s much more important to see what the director does with the material; I worry less about the originality of the story itself. Actually, sometimes attempts to alter the usual course of things seem worse than the standard sequences; such changes can come across as forced and self-conscious.

Anyway, you’ll find few surprises during Tale, though director Brian Helgeland leavens the activity with an anachronistic tone. He makes no attempt to create an authentic rendition of the era, and this attitude comes through clearly during the first jousting scene; fans sing Queen’s “We Will Rock You” while air horns bleat in the background. Helgeland follows this with quite a few other attempts to meld eras.

While this attitude possessed a potential spark, I thought it ultimately seemed like little more than an attempt to be different for the sake of being different. At its heart, Tale was a very traditional story, and it progresses in an unexceptional manner. It felt as though Helgeland introduced the anachronistic elements simply to make the movie stand out in some way. That’s fine, I suppose, but I thought those bits added nothing to the film, and they appeared gratuitous. I didn’t think the rock music and other nods to modern society really harmed the flick, but I felt they didn’t contribute to it either. Helgeland lacks the skill and style to pull them off fully, so they seemed tacked on to a degree.

Really, very little about Tale made it stand out, though the jousting scenes were surprisingly vivid and exciting. Jousting always seemed like a dull sport, as all we see are a couple of guys who try to knock each other off their horses. Hey, at least the videogame Joust put the participants on ostriches to enliven the proceedings!

However, Helgeland was able to bring a great deal of flair and impact to the events. He brought home the intense violence of the games and made them appear much more brutal and rough than usual. As such, these scenes provided some of the movie’s best elements, and they allowed the film’s ending to become truly climactic.

Otherwise, Tale seemed like a pretty ordinary flick. Ledger will have to wait for another day to attain major stardom, and I saw little in his performance to indicate much beyond his pretty face. Actually, I think he’s a decent enough actor, and he’s done well with supporting roles in movies like The Patriot. I just don’t feel like he can quite carry a movie on his own yet. He seemed vaguely likable and engaging as William, but he failed to provide a real star presence or magnetism.

Most of the supporting cast offered able work, though none really stood out from the crowd. Sidekicks Wat, Roland and Chaucer had their own defining characteristics, but the movie never fleshed them out much, so they all felt ill defined as a whole. As for Jocelyn, Lisa Bonet reincarnation Shannyn Sossamon looked pretty good in the role, but she showed little personality or spark in the part, and I felt the combination of Sossamon and Ledger failed to demonstrate much chemistry. It didn’t help that some of the other actresses were just as lovely as Sossamon; it never made sense to me that William was so stuck on Jocelyn when blacksmith Kate and Jocelyn’s handmaiden Christiana (Bérénice Bejo) were just as gorgeous.

In the end, I thought that A Knight’s Tale offered a generally enjoyable experience, but it never threatened to become anything more than that. It gently recast the traditional medieval film with modern elements, although it stayed with a very traditional storyline. Most parts of the movie seemed well executed, but other than the thrilling jousting scenes, none of them excelled. Tale was a slightly above-average popcorn flick, but it didn’t make a substantial impact upon me.

Postscript one: those who enjoyed the film will want to stick it out through the completion of the end credits. A minor finishing sequence pops up at that time. Don’t expect cinematic treasure, but it’s a neat reward for anyone who goes that far.

Postscript two: no one ever mentions this during the supplements, but I’d be curious to know if any parts of Tale were inspired by the 1963 Disney flick The Sword In the Stone. In addition to the theme of the commoner who achieves nobility, that film featured a character named Sir Ector and another called Wart. “Wart” sounds a lot like “Wat”. Coincidence or intentional link? Apparently Helgeland’s not telling.

Note that this DVD presents an Extended Cut of A Knight’s Tale. It runs about 12 minutes longer than the original theatrical cut. Mostly it expands the supporting characters and situations, as we learn a little more about them.

Does this make it a better movie? I don’t think so. If anything, it may slow the film too much. Tale was already long for this sort of flick, so the addition of another 12 minutes weighs it down even more. I like that we learn a little extra about the secondary roles but can’t say that this information really adds depth to them or to the story. The footage was cut out for a reason and probably should have stayed on the editing room floor.

The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio A-/ Bonus B-

A Knight’s Tale appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The first two Knight’s Tale releases looked great, and this one continued that trend.

Sharpness always appeared very crisp and concise. At no did time I discern any examples of softness or fuzziness, as the movie remained detailed and accurate throughout the film. Actually, the clarity seemed fairly astonishing, as even the widest shots appeared very distinct. No moiré effects or jagged edges appeared, and I also witnessed no signs of edge enhancement. The print used seemed to be totally clean; I detected no examples of any form of source flaws.

Colors looked nicely natural and warm, and the medieval world seemed to be accurately depicted in that regard. Flesh and all other hues came across as vibrant and distinct. Black levels appeared to be very deep and rich, and shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. The low light sequences demonstrated fine definition and they came across as nicely opaque but still visible. This was an excellent transfer.

In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of A Knight’s Tale always remained positive. The soundfield provided a very broad and engaging affair that seemed wonderfully engulfing. From the front spectrum, audio appeared nicely localized. The music demonstrated solid stereo separation, and a variety of effects popped up from the appropriate places in the side speakers. These elements blended together quite naturally and smoothly, and they panned across channels cleanly.

Surround usage was a major factor in this mix, and the rears took the soundtrack to a higher level. Both the score and the many rock songs heard spread nicely to the back speakers, but they remained largely within the realm of general reinforcement. The mix worked especially well in regard to effects, which became a major force in the surrounds. A great deal of accurate and lively material appeared in the rear channels, especially during the jousting sequences. Knights rode by convincingly, and their battles displayed excellent atmosphere. Overall, the soundfield was quite well defined and involving.

Audio quality also seemed to be terrific. Despite the fact that much of the speech needed to be looped, dialogue sounded natural and warm throughout the film; I detected no problems related to intelligibility or edginess, and the speech appeared nicely crisp and distinct. Music usually sounded bright and lively, though some variations occurred due to the source material. For example, AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” was direct and forceful, but David Bowie’s “Golden Years” seemed somewhat muddy and vague. I’ve heard the latter song a few billion times, so I know it can – and should - sound better than that. Nonetheless, most music appeared quite vivid and clear, so my complaints remained minor.

Effects remained the stars of the show, as they displayed fine fidelity and dynamics. Again, the battle sequences were the strongest parts of the film, especially during jousting scenes. At those times the mix packed a serious wallop as the participants clashed to fine effect. Bass response was nicely deep and rich, and it remained tight at all times. I thought some of the music could have showed stronger low end, but these concerns were fairly inconsequential. Ultimately, the soundtrack of A Knight’s Tale worked tremendously well.

How did this “Extended Edition” compare to the quality of the prior DVDs? It seemed on a par with the Superbit release and offered visuals slightly superior to the original disc.

When we head to the extras, we mostly find elements that already appeared on the first DVD. A whopping 11 “behind the scenes” featurettes appear. This means that we get 11 short snippets that examine various aspects of the film. Each of the clips lasts between 95 seconds and five minutes, 50 seconds for a total of 33 minutes and 10 seconds of footage. These might have been better presented as one running documentary – the lack of a “play all” option seemed very irritating – but I still found the featurettes to be generally solid.

Each took on a different topic. These included the film’s tone, costume design, sets and cultural differences on location in Europe, shooting the tournaments, the history of tournaments and jousting, facts about heralds, Chaucer and courtship in the era, and basic discussions of Ledger and Helgeland. These consisted of small interview snippets as well as movie bits and shots from the set, and they added a lot of good information about the movie. Again, they might have worked better as one integrated program, but I still thought these were enjoyable pieces; they were definitely more interesting than the average featurettes.

More information about the movie popped up in the HBO Making-of Special. This 15-minute program followed the usual process, as it provided interview snippets, clips from the movie, and material from the set. Some of the stuff was good, especially in regard to the behind the scene footage, but most of it became redundant in conjunction with the featurettes. Really, those pieces made this special fairly superfluous; any segments that didn’t appear in the featurettes weren’t very useful, as they tended toward the promotional side of the coin.

Finally, a fun music video for “We Are The Champions” by Robbie Williams + Queen appeared. Though the clip used the standard format as it combined film snippets and a lip-synched performance, it placed the action back in the 14th century and seemed to be fairly witty and compelling.

This “Extended Edition” DVD loses a lot of features from the original release. It axes a very entertaining audio commentary as well as a collection of deleted scenes. Since these now reside in the body of the movie, that doesn’t seem like a big omission, but unfortunately, the disc also drops the excellent “Filmmakers’ Introduction” that accompanied the clips. Finally, the set excised filmographies, production notes and trailers.

A Knight’s Tale was and remains a moderately enjoyable diversion, but not one made better by this “Extended Edition”. The extra footage is interesting to see, but it fails to make the movie stronger. Indeed, the clips may cause it to drag too much. The DVD offers excellent visuals and audio plus a decent set of extras.

Back when I reviewed the Superbit DVD, I recommended it to folks who wanted the best visuals and didn’t care about supplements. I thought all others should stick with the original special edition disc. That recommendation remains accurate. I prefer the theatrical cut to the extended version and see no reason anyone should choose this disc over either of the others.

To rate this film visit the original review of THE KNIGHT'S TALE

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main