Notes From a Reluctant Royal Wedding Watcher

I was so ready to ignore the British royal wedding. I had zero interest. So when I set my PVR to record one of the interminable PBS reruns of the five-hour HD event, I told myself I was doing it just in case. Maybe someone would trip over the bridal train and send the whole entourage tumbling like a row of dominoes. That would be historic. Of course, getting a choice clip or two of video out of the closed world of the PVR is a puzzle I haven't yet solved—including the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction from a few years back that has now sadly succumbed to the eventual fate awaiting all our precious ones and zeros: Erased from existence.

The next day, I had two choices—watch the infernal thing or delete it to clear those five hours on the recorder's hard drive for more stuff. I had already recorded and scrapped a shorter TLC presentation of the event, also in high def, but I ended up scanning through most of it when it became obvious that the commentators were more interested in what everyone was wearing rather than the historic nature of the event. The only things I remember from TLC's coverage were the women's hilarious hats (sad that it wasn't a windy day in old London town), the incessant commercials ("We'll be right back after this word from Cialis"), and a giddy commentator swooning over Prince William, remarking that he "looks handsome except for the unfortunate hair." True enough, the 28-year-old is developing a monk's bald spot, just like his father. You'd think the royals could afford plugs.

But as a history buff who made it all the way through the 15-hour A History of Britain DVD boxed set some years back without being bored for a minute, I couldn't bring myself to simply erase it. Nevertheless, 5+ hours is a slog, and I did a lot of fast forwarding through at least three hours of filler. Interviewer: "Random British Citizen, how are you enjoying the festivities from the row 15 on the Mall?" (Over there, mall is pronounced Mal, as in the lead character on Firefly, not Maul as in attacked by a lion or a rabid kitten. How come it's we Americans who get to throw around the long "a" on that one?)

But the Brits sure know how to put on a big show, even in a sour economy. And face it, the bride wouldn't have been hard on the eyes even if she had been wearing Calvin Klein. (She wasn't…I don't think.) That couple won't have any ugly children.

This was the first royal wedding broadcast in high definition, and HD was made for such pomp and circumstance. There were a few soft shots here and there, but nothing serious. The detail and color, particularly inside Westminster Abbey, were jaw dropping. And the narration, despite the obligatory (but on PBS at least, not constant) detours into fashion talk, was full of interesting historical detail.

But for me, the star of the show was the music. The sounds from the choirs, orchestra, and military brass groups were nearly wall-to-wall. I recognized some of it—Parry's "I Was Glad" and "Jerusalem," the latter a popular British anthem that film fans will recognize as the closing hymn in Chariots of Fire (okay, Hollywood, when will we see this exceptional 1981 Academy Award-wining Best Picture on Blu-ray?), Walton's "Crown Imperial March," and, of course, "God Save the Queen." A distinguished looking older lady in a yellow dress and sensible matching hat wasn't singing along. You'd think they were singing about her. Oh wait, they were!

Editor's note: I, too, thoroughly enjoyed the music. Perhaps my favorite selection of all was Paul Mealor's sublime choral setting of Ubi Caritas et Amor ("Where charity and love are"). The herald trumpeters from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force, pictured above in a photo taken directly off Tom's screen, were stunning as well, though they sounded like they were blowing their brains out, leading to some questionable intonation.

The sound was also breathtaking, with an ample assist from the Abbey's potent reverberation. I watched in my smaller room that I sometimes use for HDTV reviews, a room that can accommodate only a modest 2-channel audio system, but it still blew me away. On the video side, the display was a 42-inch Panasonic TC-L42E30 LCD set that I'm reviewing for Home Theater. It looked excellent on this material, which featured loads of bright, crisp, colorful images but presented no challenges to the set's black level or shadow detail.

I hope this event will find its way onto Blu-ray. A standard-definition DVD has already been announced, but after seeing the festivities in high definition, I wouldn't go near it in anything less. Apart from the obvious treasure trove of extras, the main event itself would make a great demo piece for dealers trying to sell to the wife with something other than the 5000th repeat of the diva scene from The Fifth Element.

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