Anna And The King

Anna And The King (1999)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling, Syed Alwi, Tom Felton
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Video, Trailer

"What an elaborate and sweeping experience, " I though to myself while I was watching the end credits of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s DVD version of "Anna And The King." It is the kind of film, they just don’t make any more these days, and digging through the supplements contained on the release, my feelings were confirmed even further. In the glorious style of the epic movies of the 50s, "Anna And The King" is without a doubt one of the most charming, elaborate and staggeringly beautiful of recent memory, and it makes me a bit uneasy that I didn’t go to see this magnificent movie in theaters. Not only must it have been a splendid experience to watch this film in theaters, by doing so I would have also helped to prevent this film from becoming the box office disappointment that it was, which could have helped make such lavish productions more attractive to studios. Based on the real-life story of Anna Leonowens, "Anna And The King" has now found a new home on this Special Edition DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

British school teacher Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster) and her son Louis travel to the kingdom of Siam, which is better known as Thailand in our time, following an invitation of King Mongkut (Chow Yun-Fat) to teach his fifty-eight children. Once she arrives in Siam, Anna finds out that things are not quite a she had expected and with pride she tries to uphold her British values. Slowly, Anna tries to understand the Siamese culture, while King Mongkut is eagerly interested in learning more about Western civilization. Slowly, the two begin to build a relationship that is built on understanding and trust, but ever so often tempers flare up as the two cultures collide, especially as an impending war with Burma puts additional stress on the wise King. A war that is triggered and supported by the British it seems, creating a rift between Anna and the King that only their mutual trust can mend.

Do yourself a favor for a minute and forget everything you know about "The King And I," the basic storyline that also makes up "Anna And The King." Forget the happy tunes, the cartoon characters, the goofy sidekicks, the shallow storyline and the happy endings. What director Andy Tennant is serving up here is a grandiose, adventurous romantic drama with beautiful vistas, big pictures, big emotions and a bit of explosive action. "Anna And The King" is everything you’d expect it to be and so much more. Heartfelt and honest, this retelling of the story of Anna Leonowens is a story of grandeur, bravery and romance that feel irrepressibly real. Unlike the previous adaptations of the material, Tennant’s version of the story leaves in many of the harsh aspects of Leonowens’ experiences she made during her stay in Siam, a country on the brink of war, where people are killed in broad daylight and British oppressors care more for proper etiquette than the social issues at hand. In the midst of all this we witness a clash of cultures as Anna tries to blend in with the Siamese culture while the King of Siam tries to open up to Western ideologies. Both of them go through a series of mind-expanding and thought-provoking tribulations in their effort to do the best they can, and this inner torment is beautifully integrated in "Anna And The King."

The film’s superb cast certainly helps to give this story the richness we get to see on the screen. Jodie Foster shows us her most restrained play that conveys intimacy and personality, just as you’d expect from a woman of Leonowens’ stature. Opposite her we get so see Chow Yun-Fat in his most engaging Hollywood role to date. Unlike his previous films here in the US, this time Yun-Fat has a role that is filled with emotions, depth and a lot of dialogue – things he has become so famous for in his native Hong Kong. Finally, this incredibly talented actor has the chance to show his skills to American audiences, as his portrayal of the King of Siam is mesmerizing to say the least. Deliberate and decisive, Yun-Fat’s commanding performance is so natural that you will be completely absorbed in this captivating tale about a King struggling to reform his country, one step at a time.

To complement these two main actors and the incredible supporting cast – look out for Bai Ling in a great tragic part – the film boasts an incredible production design, that is so elaborate and large in scale that its hard to believe your eyes at times. Shot in Malaysia on gigantic sets, the film offers rich visuals that perfectly complement the story.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is bringing us "Anna And The King" in a Special Edition that presents the film in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. Being the brand new movie that it is, the transfer of the film on this DVD is absolutely clean and without defects or blemishes. Film grain is very low, creating a very stable image that features a spectacularly high level of detail. The colors are vibrant and vividly reproduce the lush production design of the movie, capturing every subtle nuance in shades, bringing out the best in elaborate costumes. The lush greens of the landscape and the reds of the Royal Court, combined with the golden tones of the ornaments, are reproduced vividly and powerfully, while fleshtones always remain natural looking. The blacks in the transfer are deep and solid and no pixel break-up is evident anywhere, even in the darkest shadows, leaving all the film’s intricate details intact. The contrast is perfectly balanced, creating an image that appears absolutely natural and pleasing to the eye. Some edge enhancement has been applied to the transfer, resulting in some ringing artifacts, but they are subtle enough that I never found them distracting. The compression of the film on this DVD is also perfectly done and no compression artifacts are visible, making "Anna And The King" an incredible presentation.

The audio on the disc is equally pleasing. Presented in an engaging <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix, the film features a rather active audio track. Making good use of the discrete surrounds, the rear channels are engaged for most of the film to help create a breathing environment, as well as to give sound effects a heightened sense of realism. Dogs barking in the distance, echoing thunder strikes, debris flying overhead and other well-integrated spatial surround effects make this presentation truly immersive. The track has a very good frequency response with a good bass extension, that is entirely unexaggerated, and features crystal clear treble. There is no distortion anywhere in the track and the dialogues are well integrated. Always held at an understandable level, the dialogues also have a very natural sounding quality, further enhancing the sonic presentation of the movie.

George Fenton’s sweeping and powerful orchestral score also finds a glorious presentation on this DVD in a <$5.1,5.1 channel> Dolby Digital presentation. With a wide spatial integration, the score makes use of the full <$5.1,5.1 channel>s, creating an experience as if the listener is sitting among the orchestra. The imaging is carefully balanced and placed, and the surrounds are used very frequently for the music to add noticeable depth and dimensionality to the score,. Combined with the majestic images this score creates a real sense of monumental grandeur that never feels overblown or out of context.

The disc contains an <$commentary,audio commentary> by director Andy Tennant and it quickly becomes obvious, how dearly he is associated with the movie. Untiring and full of enthusiasm and energy, the director talks about all aspects of the film and offers great insight into the production as well as his basic intentions for the movie. Filled with valuable information, this commentary manages to add yet another layer of awe to this beautiful film.

A series of short featurettes is also part of the disc, each of them focussing on a particular area of the film’s production. Covering the monumental production design – you have to see this behind-the-scenes look at the sets to believe your eyes – the thousands of costumes, the elephants and many other aspects, these featurettes overlap in content quite a bit, but offer an intriguing look behind the camera. It is simply awe inspiring to see the amount of love and work that went into this production, and these short featurettes are just about long enough to give you this feeling of overwhelmed speechlessness.

Another highlight of the release is an assortment of deleted and extended scenes. I found myself mesmerized with the prologue and the epilogue to the film, both of which have been cut from the final movie. Understandably so, as they would have created a much slower build-up of the story, and would not have created such an emotional ending. On the other hand, these scenes are so valuable that you just have to see them. Although entirely removed from the film, these two scenes add immense credibility to the film because they are not included in the movie, allowing us a candid look at the outskirts of the story. The remaining scenes are nice to look at, but in many cases I was glad they had been removed from the final film. All these deleted scenes are offered either with their original audio track, or with a director’s commentary, which turns out to be invaluable once again.
The film’s theatrical trailer and the "How Can I Not Love You" music video by Joy Enriquez are also part of the release, making this a well-balanced and informative Special Edition.

After the romanticized view on the story presented in previous productions, "Anna And The King" for the first time gave me the feeling that this is how things really happened during her stay in Siam. This film feels authentic in all ways and the love that went into this production shows in every frame. You will love what you see, as you witness two very different individuals change the history of an entire country through their compassion and sensibility. It is one of most enchanting films I have seen in a long time and has immediately made a leap into my personal favorites with ease. You can not afford to miss this film, especially since 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has prepared such a great Special Edition here!