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Uli Edel
Patrick Stewart, Marcia Gay Harden, Lauren Holly, Roy Scheider, David Alan Grier, Colm Meaney, Patrick Bergin
Writing Credits:
Stephen Harrigan, based on the play by William Shakespeare

Between land and power lies the frontier of greed... the saga of family... the heart of drama.
Not Rated.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 2.0
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 12/10/2002

• Cast & Crew Highlights


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King of Texas (2002)

Reviewed by David Williams (January 13, 2003)

John Lear’s Texas ranch isn’t just big. It’s several days’ travel in any direction. But no one can hold onto anything forever, and again Lear knows it’s time to divvy up his spread to his three daughters. There’s certainly enough land to make everyone happy. But for two siblings, enough isn’t enough.

KING OF TEXAS is Shakespeare-goes-West, a brawny Western based on the Bard’s KING LEAR. Patrick Stewart portrays Lear, the cattle baron who loses his land and perhaps his sanity in his family’s blood feud. Marcia Gay Harden, Lauren Holly, and Julie Cox play Lear’s offspring, joining a splendid cast that included Roy Scheider, Colm Meaney, Patrick Bergin and, as Lear’s wily man Friday, David Alan Grier.

Much like the recent Shakespeare update to “Macbeth” I reviewed earlier for DVDMG, Scotland, PA, I now bring forth for your perusal another Shakespearean adaptation; King of Texas, Patrick Stewart’s retelling of “King Lear” set in 1840’s Texas. Penned by famous Texas historian Stephen Harrigan, the film transports Shakespeare to another time and another place and performs quite a makeover on the beloved tale – much like Kurosawa’s Ran (which moved “King Lear” to feudal Japan) or A Thousand Acres (which moved “King Lear” to a farm in Iowa).

However, as with most adaptations, King of Texas doesn’t require you to be well versed in “King Lear” or any of the Bard’s other work. It’s almost best you don’t know, as you’ll spend quite a lot of time obsessing on how carefully the story was adapted and who was playing what part from Shakespeare’s original work. By wrapping the film in Western packaging, I’m sure the filmmaker’s were hoping to attract those who would normally avoid the Bard like the black plague.

Our central character is the weathered and white-maned John Lear (Patrick Stewart) – a land baron who has built himself up quite a large empire and now finds himself battling his children, mother nature, Mexicans, and even himself as he begins to realize his days on earth are getting short and the time is coming to divvy up his legacy. He invites his three daughters down for a party on Mexican Independence Day and in a private assembly with them, asks them to tell him how great their love for him is and in doing so, this will decide how he divides his massive estate between the three. The two oldest daughters, subbing for Shakespeare’s Gonerial and Regan, are now known as Susannah (Marcia Gay Harden) and Rebecca (Lauren Holly). They have absolutely no problem with this request and give their father glowing reviews. However, devoted and kind Claudia (Julie Cox), who has lived with her father for years and has taken care of him, denies his request and states that love is something that should be shown and not explicitly stated – in essence, words cannot adequately describe her love for her father. This truly upsets Lear and in a massive outburst, he disinherits his daughter and banishes her from the ranch forever. She takes her horse and finds solace with some of the Mexicans that are living on some of the disputed land that borders her father’s property, the Menchaca.

However, as time passes, the two eldest daughters, harvesting some great animosity towards their aloof father, plot to take over everything before his death and they swiftly carry out their nefarious plans. Although Lear pleads with his eldest daughters to rethink their grave mistake, they won’t hear anything of it and send him on his way. After wandering through a violent storm with Rip by his side, Lear finds himself rescued by his forsaken Claudia just as a conflict breaks out between those living on the Menchaca and those who have aligned themselves with his turncoat daughters.

Other characters in the Bard’s tale show up as Gloucester is represented here by Roy Scheider in the role of Henry Westover (yes, he loses his eye in King of Texas) and Lear’s Fool has become Rip, played marvelously against type by David Alan Grier. Oswlad, Cornwall, and Albany make an appearance as the sinister Warnell (Richard Lineback), Highsmith (Patrick Bergen) and the good at heart Tumlinson (Colm Meaney). Gloucester’s sons are now Emmett (Matt Letscher) and Thomas (Liam Waite), not Edgar and Edmund, but hardly get to portray the traits that Shakespeare meant them to have.

The problem is that King of Texas never really feels like a Western. It lacks the intensity and epic of a “true” Western and almost all of the players seem miscast. And while Texas historian Stephen Harrigan aided much of the Shakespearean dialogue, the delivery very much had a movie-of-the-week feel to it. Heck, even my wife, who’s not a fan of the genre, noticed it as she said, “Why would anyone think Patrick Stewart would make a good cowboy with that thick accent?” As much as I admire Stewart, I would have to say that I wholeheartedly agree.

This was a valiant attempt, but not completely successful one, in bringing Shakespeare back to the Old West. Unfortunately, it was full of unbelievable and unlikable characters who stumbled around a bit too much through uncomfortable and awkward dialogue. At a running time of 95-minutes, “King Lear” just doesn’t get the treatment here he deserves, as we jump around from plot point to plot point and never really pause to understand the intricacy of the tale.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio C / Bonus F+

King of Texas was a made-for-television film that ran on TNT last year and thankfully, Warner has decided to release it to the home viewer in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in an anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film contained some very pleasant and expansive landscapes – shot in Canada, not Texas - and they are translated quite well in this home video presentation.

The image remains fairly strong throughout and detail was never really a problem. The color palette in the film was varied and bold, with the most impressive hues being the ones the decorated the beautiful “Texas” backdrop. It’s unfortunate that the cinematography didn’t aid the gorgeous landscapes any more than it did, as director Ulrich Edel misses the mark set by other greats in the genre like Simon Wincer (Lonesome Dove). Everything was properly balanced and contrasted in King of Texas and there was never any bleeding or smearing noted in the colors at all. Black levels were spot-on and allowed for excellent shadow detail and delineation, while fleshtones were always natural and pleasing.

There were a few anomalies noted in the print, as grain was present in quite a few places to cause things to go a bit gritty and noisy in spots. While it was nothing that distracted from the viewing of the film, it was noticeable nonetheless. There were also a few occasions where the top 1/5 of the picture seemed a bit shaky and unstable. It only lasted for a few seconds when it happened, but when it did, it was slightly distracting. There was also some edge enhancement spotted in places, but again, it wasn’t severe enough to totally scar the film. Print flaws were few and far between and what we’re left with are mostly run-of-the-mill transfer errors.

While it’s not the best transfer in Warner’s catalog, King of Texas manages to look quite nice in spots and fans of the show won’t find too much to complain about.

Warner’s King of Texas comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that gets the main points of the film across well. However, while watching, I couldn’t help but think that the film would have been better served with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, as Westerns seem to be prime candidates for aggressive transfers. King contains multiple instances of gunfire and galloping horses and with the right treatment, these could have been quite impressive on most any system. However, the 2.0 presentation that we have here – while nice – seems just a bit too neat and even-keeled. Dialogue is always front, center, and easily understood, while the score displayed standard dynamics and fidelity. There was a little bit of edginess and distortion found during some of the spoken dialogue, but it never reached a level where the proceedings became unintelligible. Effects were crisp and natural, while surround usage and ambience were a bit limited by the source.

There’s nothing particularly engaging about The King of Texas, but Warner definitely doesn’t do anything to screw it up either. Ultimately, this was a fine mix that was pleasing for the material at hand.

Warner has not included an alternate language track, but they have added subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

Warner doesn’t provide a whole lot to supplement King of Texas, as the only extra is a Cast and Crew section that provides limited information on the principals.

Ultimately, King of Texas was an enjoyable ride that failed in a few areas. However, the failures weren’t paramount enough to consider the film a total loss. However, considering the lack of extras and the less-than-stellar specs on the DVD itself, I can’t recommend this as a site unseen purchase.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.375 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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