The King & I (1956)

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Released 17-Apr-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1 non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:14 minutes)
Featurette-Movietone News Premiere (1:44 minutes)
Featurette-Movietone News Oscars (2:04 minutes)
Audio-Only Track-3
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1956
Running Time 138:44
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (77:40) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Walter Lang
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Deborah Kerr
Yul Brynner
Rita Moreno
Martin Benson
Terry Saunders
Rex Thompson
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $36.95 Music Richard Rodgers


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.55:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.55:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Czech
Danish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Finnish
Hebrew
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Swedish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    You may have already seen The King & I. But, unless you are considerably older than I am, you have probably only seen it on TV, and probably only in pan and scan format. This is not the sort of movie that works well in pan and scan, so I am glad to see it coming to DVD, where its widescreen grandeur can be properly appreciated.

    The King & I is based on the best-seller novel by Margaret Landon, published in 1944. The novel was based on the true story of an English woman called Anna Leonowens who, in the 1860s, was teacher to the children of the King of Siam (modern-day Thailand). This novel has been made into a movie at least three times: in 1946 it was a movie called Anna and the King, starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison; in 1956 it was the musical The King & I, starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brunner; and in 1999 it was Anna and the King again, this time starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat. Two of these three movies are being released on DVD on the same day, so it seems appropriate to include in the reviews of these DVDs a comparison of two versions of the same story (you'll find the other review here, but I suggest you read this one first).

    The King & I is the musical version of this story. In fact, the story was turned into a stage musical in 1951, and played 1246 performances before they made the movie. When the time came to make the movie, it received a generously large budget for its time. For example, the sets cost over three quarters of a million US dollars (that's 1956 dollars!) to construct. It won 6 Oscars, including best set design. This is a classic example of a big budget Hollywood musical, and like so many other Hollywood musicals, it came from the pens of Rodgers and Hammerstein. These are the same men who penned Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, and The Sound Of Music, to name but a few.

    Now comes the hard part. I remembered seeing this movie a long time ago (no, not in its theatrical run), and I remembered it fairly fondly, if indistinctly. Viewing it again brought home how much things have changed. There are a couple of things in this movie which I found unattractive - a jingoistic flavour, perhaps, a touch of "laugh at the ignorant foreigner" - but I may be being a little over-sensitive. We should keep in mind that the film was made in 1956, and it is set in the 1860s; it is a product of both these times.

    This is a "fish out of water" story. Anna Leonowens arrives in Siam with her young son, having been hired to teach the children of the King of Siam. She is a strong-willed woman, and not afraid to insist on what she sees as her rights. The King of Siam is a little eccentric, but is enraptured with Western culture and science, and is very keen that his children should be educated in Western science. She is caught by surprise on many occasions by differences between the culture she is accustomed to, and the one she is living in. One of the biggest shocks is the discovery that the King is an absolute ruler, albeit a benevolent one. She and the King have an argument throughout the movie about her accommodation - she was promised a house of her own, outside the palace - he wishes her to reside in the palace. In retaliation, she teaches the King's children to sing "There's No Place Like Home", and proverbs about house and home.

    I am unsure whether the costumes Deborah Kerr wears are historically accurate, but they are certainly impressive - she sweeps through scenes in her large hooped dresses.

    This movie comes from a time when musicals had an overture. The first 3:47 minutes are the overture, with nothing to see but a red background and "Overture". At 77:50 (just after the layer change) we have an Intermission, which runs for almost four minutes.At the end, we have Exit Music, running a little over 3 minutes - there are no credits at the end of the movie, they appear at the start. All in all, a bit different to a modern movie.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    You know how a movie can be crystal clear, so sharp that you can pick out dust motes floating in the air? This transfer is not one of those. In fact, this transfer looks like it is slightly out-of-focus for pretty much the entire movie. The worst part is that this is really the only flaw - the picture is well-lit, the colour is good (no bleeding), and the print used is extremely clean - it is in excellent condition for a film of its age. I'm not sure why the picture looks like this. It was filmed in Cinemascope 55, with an aspect ratio of 2.55:1, which is very wide - that may have contributed to the problems. And, it was filmed on 35mm film (not 70mm), which wouldn't have helped. And, it is 45 years old. However, I have movies of similar age which are far sharper; for example, The Court Jester, made in 1958 - but it is only 1.85:1. Whatever the reason, beware that sharpness is a major problem with this disc. The disc makers appear to have tried to compensate for this by using edge enhancement in places, but this has produced haloes - see 39:10, for example.

    The transfer is presented in a measured aspect ratio of just over 2.50:1 - very close to the theatrical ratio of 2.55:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    Sharpness is a huge problem - almost the entire movie is blurry - the generous term is "very soft". Shadow detail is adequate, and there seems to be little low level noise.

    Colour is good. There are plenty of examples of well-saturated reds and golds. There are some good solid greens and blues, too, with no trace of colour bleed. There is one shot (50:50) which seems a bit faded in comparison to the shots before and after - maybe that shot was at the end of a reel?

    There are very few spots or flecks on the film - the print used is in excellent condition. There are no visible MPEG artefacts. I saw no telecine wobble. There is some aliasing, especially on a blue and white striped dress at 38:30. There is also a fair bit of shimmering on jewellery and shiny fabrics. Both these problems are exacerbated by the softness of the transfer.

    This disc is RSDL-formatted (unsurprising, given its length). The layer change is placed at 77:50, at the start of Intermission - it could not have been better placed.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Unlike the picture, the sound is really quite good.

    The creators of this DVD chose to give this a 5.1 soundtrack, and they have done a nice job of it. The only soundtrack on this disc is the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The recording level is a little low, so you may want to boost the volume a little when playing this DVD.

    Dialogue was mostly clear and distinct. During dialogue sequences, the rears were silent, but they had fun spreading the soundtrack across the front soundstage when converting to 5.1. The stereo separation is almost excessive, with voices panning across the front as the actors move. I say almost excessive, because this seems not unreasonable on a movie that has been shot in such a wide aspect ratio.

    The audio sync was quite good. There are a few moments of sloppy ADR work, mostly during songs, where the actor's mouth and voice are obviously out.

    The music is, well, Rodgers and Hammerstein. This movie doesn't contain hugely memorable numbers (except, I guess, "Shall We Dance"), but they are pleasant, and appropriate. (Ed. Plenty would disagree about the memorability of the songs!)

    The surrounds are silent during dialogue, but they are well-used during musical numbers. Given that the soundtrack probably began as mono, they have done a good job of producing surround sound.

    My subwoofer woke up with a start more than halfway through the movie during the King's entrance to the banquet. I think it got a shock, because it had not been called upon until that point. This is basically a 5.0 soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    For a movie of this age we have more extras then I would have expected. They have not gone to the trouble of making a documentary about the movie, but they have rounded up some interesting stuff.

Menu

    The menu is silent and static, but it is 16x9 enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer

    We get the original trailer in an aspect ratio of roughly 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The video is a bit scratchy, and the soundtrack is pretty bad. The condition of this trailer makes us appreciate the quality of the main feature, despite its soft video. I guess they look after the movie more carefully than they do the trailer.

Movietone News - Premiere

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with mono sound and black and white picture, this 1:44 minute clip is in surprisingly good condition. It covers the premiere in fairly pedestrian fashion - it could almost be a segment for a program like Entertainment Tonight.

Movietone News - Oscars

    This 2:04 minute clip is likewise 1.33:1, mono, and black and white. It has a few scratches and flecks, but it's in reasonable condition. It covers the 1957 Academy Awards, where the movie pulled in 6 Oscars.

Sing Along

    Nope, not karaoke. Just three songs from the movie, each playing while you look at a static image naming the song. Not very interesting. The songs are:

Cast and Crew

    This starts with a one page index, and has a varying amount of information about each of the people covered. I thought it interesting that the actors' photos were shown with their bios, but the crew's weren't. The people covered are:

Production Notes

    More pages of information, including some interesting snippets which I included in my synopsis, thus giving you the impression that I'd done considerable research into the subject (I did, honest!).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:

Summary

    I enjoy musicals, and it cannot be denied that The King & I is one of the most sumptuous musicals ever filmed.

    The video quality is disappointing.

    The audio quality is quite good. This is a 5.1 treatment that works.

    The extras are good for a film of this age.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Saturday, April 07, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-737, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics matte white screen with a gain of 1.0 (280cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left and Right: Krix Euphonix, Centre: Krix KDX-C Rears: Krix KDX-M, Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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