Knightriders (UK - BD RB)
Sir Marcus Doidge armours up and jousts with King Ed Harris on a bike...
This 1981 George A. Romero feature is a different beast to what the renowned horror filmaker has become known for. Knightriders is basically a drama following around a travelling group of King Arthur fanatics as they re-enact the jousts of legend with a modern motorcycle riding twist or two. Led by Billy (Ed Harris) or ‘King William’ as he’s called in costume, the group struggle with their finances, crooked cops and the importance of what it is they are doing.
The knowingly abstract opening introduction features a series of a half naked and kingly Ed Harris shots, a crown, his queen, some knights armour and some mystical sword play. All very noble and King Arthur like but when the opening scene ends with the king and queen in full costume mounting their trusty... motorbike, Knightriders truly begins.
Despite the modern day setting and the reveal that this group of guys and gals are all essentially cosplayers for a living, Knightriders still plays it old school. The king. The magician Merlin, the court and the bad guys are all present. In fact the drama here could quite easily sit within a legitimate King Arthur tale but instead of warring kingdoms, it’s more a case of King William and his knights versus the cops and the corrupt world around them.
What sells this is the performances. Ed Harris is actually quite brilliant in the movie and as is usually the case with Harris his solid and believable performance somehow grounds the rest of this quite ridiculous set up in some sort of reality with some genuine dramatic weight.
With solid performances all round and a great set of characters, Knightriders is played completely straight and never makes a clear distinction between what’s going on and what is implied is going on. Sure this is cosplay but the characters are living their parts to the fullest. Ed Harris's Billy is every bit the king. His confidante Merlin is every bit the wise wizard and even though the knights drop modern dialogue on us there’s always a sense that this is being played as a straight up knight’s tale as opposed to anything modern, despite the modern setting with a watching audience (which features a cameo by Stephen King no less).
This tale of extreme cosplay remains a largely odd affair with a dramatic backbone. The combination of classic knights jousting while kings oversee proceedings is one thing but when it’s on motorbikes and it’s unclear just how into it the players are at times it’s all pretty nuts. These things usually come with a post apocalyptic backdrop or something but this one is more like hanging out with a pretty delusional bunch of guys who are taking their cosplaying a little too seriously at times. Against the odds, this all works but when you throw in the runtime factor (a whopping two and a half hours) it’s not hard to see how this movie slipped into the realms of obscurity rather than became a film with a ton of followers.
The opening credits are soft and fairly unimpressive but once they're done the image pops in wonderfully sharp and naturally lit ways. The presentation here is pretty much free from defects, offering natural film-like grain, consistently strong colours and plenty of detail (with fantastically sharp edges). Honestly it's easy to give this one a whole lot of praise. The overall look here is that of a film much more modern than its 1981 release. Few modern movies can muster up this good an image without boosting colours and 'orange and tealing' their way to high-definition good looks. Knightriders looks great without being over stylised and is impressive enough to leave any budget restrictions it may have had behind.
I seem to have been watching and reviewing a whole lot of 'cult classics' of late but this one is by far the best looking title in the 2013 releases so far and rivals some of the best restorations out there, especially when you add in the relatively unknown status of this Romero title.
The stereo track is of course very frontal and has limited range but still feels well spaced out and offers up a few more layers to its audio presentation than expected. Dialogue sits strongly up front with score and sound effects underpinning it without over powering it. Sure there's some hollower instances where dialogue can feel a little thin but there’s usually enough other things going on to keep this track at a pretty high standard and it never feels dated.
There’s some nice rumble to the bikes, some solid clangs in the jousting and Ed Harris shouting is really the only thing that leads to any sort of distortion in the higher ranges but all in all this is a solid audio affair across the board.
The commentary with George Romero, John Amplas, Tom Savini and Chritine Romero is a light and fun combination of friends talking up the film and their time spent together on it. It’s full of warmth and tales of good times and a very easy listen along with the film.
The big surprise here is that Ed Harris rocks up for an interview (13:08 HD). He chats about the film and his path to the role. It's great to see that the highly regarded actor took some time out to talk about such a small film from early in his career. He talks about how tight the script was and how his love of the King Arthur legend drew him to the project and it’s all done with a sense of affection as opposed to any level of embarrassment.
The Tom Savini interview (12:03 HD) is another great extra with the much loved actor talking up his role as Morgan and his knowledge of the film's inception and evolution.
The Patricia Tallman interview (17:43 HD) talks more of the film but from a point of view of a young actress and how much she learnt and enjoyed the experience. Lastly there’s a Trailer some TV Spots and of course the DVD copy.
I don’t know whether it was a genuinely good film or the late Saturday night watch I had was the perfect time to view it but outside of the long runtime, Knightriders balances crazy, dramatic and weird with all the right sensibilities. Romero really holds this great cast together expertly and never lets it run away from him and while it’s never going to be a story with mass appeal there’s a whole lot to enjoy here. The Blu-ray is almost shockingly great to look at. For a 1981 largely unknown film it looks great enough to knock your socks off and it even rivals more high end classic restorations really. Audio is solid but of course limited and the extras were a great watch. I’m not sure who I would recommend this to but existing fans should really get a kick out of this one.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 22nd April 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
Extras: Commentary, Interviews, Trailer, TV Spots,
Easter Egg: No
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Ed harris, Tom Savini, Gary Lahti
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 146 minutes
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