LOS ANGELES, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Coming out on Tuesday is the "Superbit" DVD version of that amiable medieval adventure from 2001, "A Knight's Tale." That's the movie with that love-it-or-hate-it opening where the spectators at a joust, peasants and nobles alike, lustily sing and clap along ("bam-bam-bomp") to the 1978 jock rock classic "We Will Rock You" by Queen. (I loved it.)
What is Superbit? It's Columbia TriStar's name for its DVD series for connoisseurs with home theaters who worry that normal DVDs aren't crisp enough. In order to cram the maximum number of megabytes of visual and audio information onto the disk, the Superbit versions leave off all those featurettes (you know, deleted scenes, "The Making of ..." pseudo-documentary, the director's commentary, and so forth), plus foreign language audio tracks.
Personally, I've never found the extras terribly inspiring, although while watching "Patton" on DVD, I do like option of watching George C. Scott deliver his famous speech in front of the American flag in French.
On the other hand, plain old DVDs look just fine to me. I don't think I'm alone. Does the public really care much about picture quality? Recall that the sharper-looking Beta format lost out to the more convenient VHS. Similarly, the governments of America and Japan have tied themselves in knots for years over the best way to introduce High Definition Television (HDTV), but practically nobody has missed it.
On the other hand, manufacturers can always find somebody who cares enough about audio-visual quality to pay extra. To get this enhanced version you have to pay about 40 percent more: the Superbit DVD of "A Knight's Tale" lists for $27.96 compared to $19.95 for the normal DVD.
So, should you pay the extra money? Although the Superbit DVD will play on any DVD player, unless you know (and care) what terms like "DTS" and "comb filter" mean, you probably don't need to bother.
Finally, just how hard-core do you have to be to want a hyper-quality version of "A Knight's Tale?" I could see the rationale behind spending extra for a perfect rendition of visual extravaganzas like "Attack of the Clones" or "Road to Perdition," but, as much as I enjoyed "A Knight's Tale," it cost only $41 million to make, and looks it. (It grossed $56 million domestically.)
Set in the year 1356, "A Knight's Tale" stars young heartthrob Heath Ledger, who was Mel Gibson's eldest son in "The Patriot." Ledger plays a servant whose knight drops dead on the verge of winning a jousting tournament. Starving, Ledger suits up in the knight's armor and wins the desperately needed prize. Ledger then talks his comic-relief friends into helping him continue impersonating a nobleman on the professional jousting circuit. The usual plot twists ensue.
The advantage of the mullet-headed Classic Rock soundtrack is that it instantly demystifies jousting. The rituals and pretensions of chivalry were highly useful in the Middle Ages for civilizing barbaric warriors. Today, however, the underlying Demolition Derby appeal of jousting -- guys in armored suits smacking each other off stallions with big sticks -- is readily apparent to fans of the World Wrestling Federation and NASCAR. In fact, jousting is about what you'd get if pro wrestlers drove stock cars.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack has nothing from the greatest Classic Rock band, Led Zeppelin, whose many murky medieval lyrics included the immortal lines: "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow/ Don't be alarmed now / It's just a spring clean for the May Queen." Indeed, Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is exactly what "A Knight's Tale" needed to put it over the top.
Although the music never again reaches the absurd glories of "We Will Rock You," the dialogue by writer-director Brian Helgeland (who won an Oscar for co-writing "L.A. Confidential") is quite funny, at least until the movie turns sappy toward the end.
Helgeland's main failing is that he had no idea how to film jousting so that we can follow what's happening. In recent years, sports movies have become utterly dependent on play-by-play announcers to tell you what is going on, even if it's a Mighty Ducks hockey game for little kids. Without a sportscaster, Helgeland can't even figure out how to make clear who won each joust, because all the gunmetal gray armor and dark horses look so similar. (Hint: In "A Knight's Tale II," put the hero on a white horse.)
Paul Bettany, Russell Crowe's imaginary friend in "A Beautiful Mind," steals the show as a down-on-his-luck young poet named Geoffrey Chaucer, whose grandiloquent introductions of Ledger would make wrestler The Rock envious.
"A Knight's Tale" is rated PG-13 for bloodless sport violence, Middle English five-letter words, and rather more of Geoffrey Chaucer's naked backside than even the biggest fan of "Canterbury Tales" would care to see.