Jerry Zucker is primarily known for directing and writing comedies like "Naked Gun", "Airplane" and "Top Secret!", but the director managed to try his hand at more dramatic fare with 1990's "Ghost" and 1995's "First Knight". "Knight" is another attempt at the King Arthur tale, but the audiences generally passed, possibly having had their fill of similar pictures after "Braveheart" and "Rob Roy" had come out only a couple of months prior.
Despite the fact that Zucker probably wasn't the finest choice to helm the film (which he certainly seems to agree with on the commentary for this Special Edition), the movie still has its merits. Early in the picture, Guinevere (Julia Ormond) is rescued by Sir Lancelot (Richard Gere), but when he tries to flirt, she protests that she's on her way to be married to Arthur and stops his advances.
However, Lancelot has fallen in love and works his way into Guinevere's life, gaining the respect of Arthur while all the while admiring Guinevere. Meanwhile, the kingdom is threatened by the forces of Malagant (Ben Cross), one of Arthur's former knights who has vacated the kingdom and turned rogue, looking to overthrow Arthur. While Guinevere has been saved by Lancelot once, she'll need saving once more when Malagant kidnaps her and holds her for ransom.
The film doesn't make any claims to be historically accurate, instead going for old fashioned swashbuckling with a helping of romantic drama. The action scenes are moderately successful, as while Zucker clearly is out of his element directing this sort of thing, the scenes manage to have reasonably good choreography and generate a few thrills.
The romantic angle is also adequate, as while the performances are fine, Connery and Ormond don't have a great deal of chemistry although she fares somewhat better in her scenes with Gere. On their own, the performances are passable, as while all three are enjoyable, none of them turn in what could be considered one of their finer efforts. However, the screenplay by William Nicholson doesn't help, as the dialogue can be clunky and occasionally unintentionally amusing.
Visually, the picture seems less epic than one would hope for, considering the material and budget of $75M (not bad for 1995.) However, Zucker clearly at least tried to surround himself with a top-notch crew, including legendary editor Walter Murch ("Apocalypse Now"), production designer John Box ("Lawrence of Arabia") and supervising art director Robert W. Laing ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service") and cinematographer Adam Greenberg ("Terminator", "T2").
VIDEO: "First Knight" arrives on Blu-Ray in a 1.85:1 (AVC/1080P) widescreen transfer from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The result is - considering the fact that the picture's over a decade old - not half bad. Sharpness and detail are above-average overall, but remained a little inconsistent, as small object detail was pleasing in many scenes and seemed mildly lackluster in others. The sense of depth to the image was usually fine or even good, but never thrilling.
Aside from some occasional inconsistencies in definition, the picture didn't show too many other concerns aside from a few minor instances of noise and some slight instances of wear on the elements (some minor dirt and a few specks and marks, but nothing too noticable.)
Colors looked perfectly natural, especially the rich greens of the forest sequences. Black level remained solid and flesh tones looked accurate, as well. The Blu-Ray presentation isn't without some issues, but it is an improvement over the DVD edition.
As for the previously mentioned DVD edition, it looks fine enough for the DVD release of a film from the mid-'90's, but stands as a few large steps down from the Blu-Ray release. Sharpness and detail may have been a bit inconsistent on the Blu-Ray release, but the best scenes on the Blu-Ray looked quite detailed and clear. The DVD release looks fairly crisp, but appears moderately softer than the Blu-Ray. Small object detail comes up short on the DVD presentation, as well. The DVD presentation also suffers from some minor edge enhancement and pixelation. Colors also benefit from a bit of a pop on the Blu-Ray release in comparison to the DVD.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English & French options.) on the Blu-Ray edition and Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD Special Edition. The film's soundtrack isn't particularly complex or detailed, but it does provide some respectable use of the surrounds during the action sequences for battle sounds (horses running, swords clanking, etc.) The majority of the movie's audio is nicely spread across the front soundstage. Audio quality is fine, with Jerry Goldsmith's score sounding crisp and bold and dialogue sounding natural and not thin or otherwise problematic. The Dolby TrueHD presentation does boast increased clarity and does sound mildly more transparent than the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation.
EXTRAS: The DVD & Blu-Ray share the same extras.
First up is an outstanding commentary from director Jerry Zucker and producer Hunt Lowry. The two clearly have no problem taking apart their own picture and the result is plenty of laughs. Early on, the pair talk about how terrific they think Jerry Goldsmith's score was and that, "Maybe if it was a better movie he would have been nominated." Zucker admits that maybe he wasn't the best choice for director since he had no interest in the Arthur tale or medevil history (the director says he was looking for something different - and he learned his lesson.) While there's a fair amount of kidding, the two are quite informative, and their discussions of trying to pull together a major action/drama and working with Gere, Connery and Ormond are insightful and honest. Most informative commentary ever? No. However, it's great to hear a commentary that's very honest.
An oddity is the inclusion of a historian track, which has an expert on the era discussing the background of Arthur and providing a wide variety of general facts on the time period. This stands as a rather interesting pairing with the director/producer's commentary, where they don't seem to be taking things seriously. This commentary track isn't informative, but one wonders if it wouldn't have been better matched with a different movie on the subject.
The release falls flat in the featurettes department as "The Quest for Camelot", "The Creation of a Kingdom" and "In Shining Armour" are three dated promotional featurettes pulled from the vault. "Creation of a Kingdom" (production design) and "In Shining Armour" (training/choreography) are more interesting, but one wonders if the original behind-the-scenes footage couldn't have been mixed in with a few new interviews. We also get several minutes of deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts: The screenplay could have used some more work and while I've been entertained by Zucker's films, he may not have been the best choice for a film that could and should have felt more epic. The performances aren't stellar, but Gere, Connery and Ormond are at least solid enough in their roles to make this passably entertaining. The DVD & Blu-Ray editions offer a couple of very informative commentaries, but the Blu-Ray edition pulls ahead in terms of audio & video quality. The Blu-Ray is a recommended purchase for those seeking an upgrade. DVD fans who don't have the prior release should seek out this one, but those who do have the prior release don't need to upgrade.
The Film C+
The Film C+