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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 64.48)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    Hebrew, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - Andy Tennant
  • Featurette
  • 1 Music video - How Can I Not Love You? - Joy Enriquez

Anna and the King

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 142 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

It’s a brave director that dares to tackle a story that’s previously been filmed to great acclaim and numerous awards - and in the case of the 1956 musical The King And I, people’s memories and impressions are so set in stone that the very idea of doing a remake seems ludicrous. But then, the story of widowed English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens and her time with the King of Siam had been filmed before - in 1946, as Anna And The King Of Siam. But it’s the ‘50s musical that’s most peoples’ familiar version of this story, due in no small part to the remarkable, Oscar-winning performance of the late Yul Brynner.

But then, Anna And The King is a very different proposition. Written by Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes - whose previous screenplay work includes Back To The Beach and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home! - this 1999 updating of what’s become a favourite Hollywood tale is most certainly not a musical, and takes its subject matter far more seriously than the 1956 film did. The director here is Andy Tennant, a former TV director who scored well-deserved praise for his lavish updating of the Cinderella story in 1998’s Ever After. Tennant, already regarded as a visual stylist of the highest order, makes sure that everything we see on screen in Anna And The King rings visually true, and his knack for combining large-scale romance with classic drama is once again put to good use.

The story, well known by now, tells of schoolteacher Anna Leonowens (well played by Jodie Foster with a credible British accent that sounds like a cross between Emma Thompson and Kristen Scott-Thomas), summoned to Siam (now the Kingdom of Thailand) in the 1860s by that country’s outward-looking King Mongkut (Chow Yun-Fat) to school his son in English language and customs. But from the moment the two meet, there’s tension - Leonowens is not about to give up her way of life for the more disciplined way of the Siamese, and is taken aback by the King’s many wives, concubines and children. The King, meanwhile, is equally determined not to give in to Western mores - but soon he warms to this determined woman and, inevitably, falls for her. Meanwhile, others are conspiring to ensure Siam’s downfall…

A high quality production with mainstream aims, Anna And The King tries to do the seemingly impossible - a believable historical drama with wide audience appeal. And as those who saw the delightful Ever After would have guessed, Tennant succeeds admirably in both departments, taking a few liberties with the story (based, unlike the ‘50s musical, on Anna Leonowens’ own diaries) but remaining utterly true to the spirit of the tale. While fundamentally a romance, there’s a good amount of intrigue and violence here - remember that this was a very turbulent time in Thai history. That said, this is not a minutely accurate historical drama, nor is it intended to be. The main thrust of the film, as the title suggests, is the relationship between the teacher and the king - but it’s the often visceral nature of the other events here that give the film some bite, at the same time lending greater depth and colour to the principal characters.

Visually, the film’s a feast. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who more recently shot The Patriot, uses his Panavision frame exceptionally well, and there’s plenty for the lens to take in - including a remarkable, utterly realistic seven-acre palace set that genuinely looks like the real thing. In fact, none of the buildings seen throughout the film are the real thing - unable to shoot in Thailand, the producers opted for Malaysia and built everything they needed, aided by a little CGI embellishment.

The cynical might blanch at the idea of sitting through an historical romance movie that runs to nearly two and a half hours - but rest assured that, with Tennant at the helm, Anna And The King is a visually sumptuous pleasure to watch, and is executed without the slightest hint of cheesiness. And anyway, the chance to see Chow in a non-action role (his performance is, by the way, very good indeed) is hard to resist.

It’s a small shame, though, that Tennant and the studio have bowed to commercial pressure and used a cheesy pop ballad, Titanic-style, during the end credits. Because as all long-time film fans know, it just isn’t a proper epic if it’s got fast-dating pop songs on the soundtrack…

  Video
Contract

Many of Fox’s DVD transfers of recent films have been a treat for the eyes; the transfer here is of the highest standard. Presented at the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and 16:9 enhanced, the image is sumptuous from the first frame, with absolutely no film damage visible and only the very occasional spot of aliasing on finely detailed scenes to distract you. The film transfer itself is wonderful; the myriad colours that are such a key element of the film’s production design really leap off the screen when required, and the most difficult scenes in video terms - dimly lit rooms with a red hue - still look superb. There are no compression problems at all with the MPEG stream on the DVD. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort went into making this film look as good as possible on DVD.

  Audio
Contract

The sole film soundtrack here - in Dolby Digital 5.1 - is as close to state-of-the-art as modern soundtracks get, though of course with a largely dialogue-based film such as this, there won’t be many gee-whiz multi-speaker thrill moments to remind you just what a skilful sound mix this is. The dialogue is crystal-clear - very important when you’re dealing with a lead actor with a thick accent - and the various effects and ambient sounds are beautifully and naturally spread across the surround stage.

The music score is by George Fenton, a versatile film composer with a mind-bogglingly long resume; what he comes up with here is best described as “standard epic cinema fare” - a score seriously influenced both by Aaron Copland and the late Romantic period of classical music. Unusually, though, Fenton has woven Oriental influences into what is otherwise a decidedly non-Oriental score, and while this might seem odd, it actually works extremely well. It is reproduced well on the soundtrack, and it’s a shame there’s no Isolated Score track available on this disc.

One criticism - an all too common one with Fox DVDs - is that the film soundtrack is encoded at the lower Dolby Digital bitrate of 384kbit/sec, which limits high frequency response. With space to spare on the disc, a 448kbit/sec track would have been an easy fit.

  Extras
Contract

While there’s not a huge amount of extra features on this disc, there’s some worthwhile material here for those interested in the film. Strangely, though, there are no cast and crew bios or filmographies - and even more strangely, considering that there’s plenty of free space left on the dual-layered disc, the deleted scenes from the US version of the DVD are omitted here.

Audio Commentary: Director Andy Tennant, sounding a little bit uncomfortable at first but soon warming to the commentary concept, offers his thoughts on and memories of the film - and he’s got plenty to say, too. This is the kind of commentary that makes the effort of listening worthwhile, with loads of information on offer about the production of Anna And The King. Tennant is conversational and friendly in tone, and while he occasionally goes quiet for a while, he rarely misses an opportunity to reveal interesting trivia about his movie, very often pointing out detail that most would have missed while watching the film for the first time. A terrific inclusion, this commentary is thankfully encoded at a normal, full-bandwidth 192Kbit/sec bitrate - something Fox have been reluctant to do on many of their recent DVDs.

HBO Behind The Scenes Featurette: There’s actually no indication that this is an HBO production - in fact, it’s more likely just another one of those studio-produced promo featurettes, though in this case there’s a decent amount of actual interesting info within the all-too-brief quarter-hour running time.

Theatrical Trailer: The usual trailer fare, this one’s in good shape and close to its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (it’s rare for a trailer to be presented at 2.35:1, even for films shot in that ratio). Don’t watch this before you’ve seen the movie. Interestingly, the trailer uses Randy Edelman’s score from Dragonheart (A Universal film!) instead of Fenton’s own music, probably because it was produced before the film was completed.

Music Video: How Can I Not Love You by Joy Enriquez: The token “pop single” from the end credits, this is a turgid US radio ballad performed by a girl who usually spends her time doing cheesy dance songs. Unless you’re into vapid MOR pop ballads, this isn’t worth a second look - the video quality, though, is fine.

  Overall  
Contract

A fine dramatic reworking of the now-familiar Anna Leonowens story, Anna And The King is undemanding but entertaining fare with gorgeous imagery and strong performances from both Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, as well as a key supporting role played to perfection by Bai Ling. Fox’s DVD presents the film with outstanding video and audio quality, and while it does skimp on the extra features compared to the US version of the disc, most of what is here is excellent.


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      And I quote...
    "A fine dramatic reworking of the now-familiar Anna Leonowens story..."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Rom:
          Pioneer 103(s)
    • MPEG Card:
          RealMagic Hollywood Plus
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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