Anna and the King/B-,B+
Fox/1999/ 147/ANA 2.35

     The huge sprawl of the Siam docks dominates the screen. Englishwoman Anna Leonowens and her young son Louis take in the exciting spectacle as they arrive in Siam by ship for Anna to take up duties as tutor to the King's oldest son. Anna and the King announces itself with lavish flourish, but, you ain't seen nothin' yet. In fact, the rich production and costume  design tapestry is so consistently brilliant throughout the film it overshadows the strangely cold yet overwrought drama and romance. Based on the same historical letters as the grand Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, coy elements appropriate to the musical genre still cling to this production. 

Shall we dance? ©Fox

    Anna teaches the children of the royal family, tries to teach the king a thing or too and her son Louis provides an added measure of spice to the brew. Anna gets to plan a royal party, defends the king against ugly colonial remarks, and even finds a way for King Mongkut to face up to overwhelming rebel forces.
    There is a cumbersome sense about the production, as if it lumbers on with awkward steps. The pacing seems uneven. Maybe the mixed tones prevent the story from coming to life. There are times when Anna and the King is like a children's tale and times when it wants to generate some sexual heat. It can lunge in any direction at any moment. Only the spectacular nature of the filming is consistent. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel delivers grandly lush vistas for director Tennant. I found the score from George Fenton failed to blend elements of East and West. It too, ambled about the film road like a drunken elephant.
     The action is not very convincing, the politics pretty awkward, so that leaves the romance. Anna and the King hinges on the sexual chemistry generated by its stars. Unfortunately, they too come up short. While I admire Chow Yun-Fat enormously, I was never comfortable with his King Mongkut. He seemed uncomfortable in brocaded garments and high collars, and whoever gave him that haircut he wears through the first third of the movie should have their scissors impounded as criminal evidence. Jodie Foster, another favorite of mine, is rather stiff herself as Anna. The role calls for cold, rigid, tough and determined, and Foster gives Anna plenty of those characteristics, but whenever emotion boils over, it seems patently false.
     The explosion of color and intricate costuming is transferred with fine energy. Colors explode from the screen. The enticing spectacle of 19th century Siam delivers a startling range of colors and the DVD is up to the task of delivering them with uniform beauty. Most of the images are rendered sharply, but a number of scenes are plagued by high transition edge peaking. Shadow detail is fine and film grain looks tight. The Dolby Digital Surround is very active and creates a three-dimensional ambiance with grace. Dialogue was not always easy to understand, but that was more a function of the words and accents of the actors rather than the DVD recording.
   Director Andy Tennant delivers an enthusiastic and informative audio commentary for the special edition. Several short featurettes are included and six deleted scenes are available with or without commentary from Tennant.



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