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"Camelot is a state of mind."
DVD ReviewMost people I've met have a hard time believing me that director George "Night of the Living Dead" Romero once made a film about Renaissance fair performers. I assure them, however, he did. Knightriders is arguably Romero's most ignored film, probably for the reason that it's not a horror piece. However out-of-place the idea might seem amongst his other work, though, the movie is a triumphant success in many ways.
In Knightriders, King "Billy" William (Ed Harris) leads a group of medieval performers around the U.S. The twist to this entertainment fair, however, is that the knights use motorcycles instead of horses. They re-create the classic Arthurian court and perform competitions in front of drunk, jaded audiences for meager pay. Alan (Gary Lahti) is essentially the head of the King's knights, while Morgan (Tom Savini) is the head of the black knights who seek to take over William's throne. Although, on a certain level, it's all fake, at the same time an underlying code of behavior make it very real to the participants. The performers live by this code and they take the lifestyle far more seriously than perhaps any casual showgoer would notice. Unfortunately, King William is far more obsessed with the lifestyle than the others. His desperate need to defy established modern conventions begin to bother the other members of the troupe. Knightriders essentially tells the story of this close knit group and how they must deal with a leader who furiously resists change and other members who have stopped believing in the magic of their own profession.
The most noticeable thing about Knighriders is it's excellent cast. While Ed Harris is superb in one of his early, manic roles, he is also surrounded by an excellent variety of characters. From Tom Savini as the Black Knight Morgan to Brother Blue as the poetic Merlin, there are a myriad of memorable performances. Since George Romero packed the film with his own special crew of friends and family, there is an earnest feel to these people. This ends up helping the movie immensely since these people are not only supposed to be friends, but they must also go through hard times together. My only disappointment here was the extremely small role given to John Amplas who Romero had previously cast to great effect in Martin.
While the movie is pretty lengthy at 185 minutes, I felt the time was well used. The film seems to divide itself into sections, and the only way to truly tell the emotional story of these lives is to spend good time in each of these sections. The drama is truly enhanced by having to spend so much time with the characters so that you effectively know them. The film is also peppered with some good action sequences where the performers use their motorcycles to battle. Considering the relatively low budget of this film, the stuntwork and general presentation are very impressive.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Visually, Knightrider's presentation is way above my expectations for a film of this age. Despite a few negative glitches, the actual image is superb. It's extremely crisp and clear with no signs of artifacts or pixelization. The color is restored very well, getting rid of the slightly washed out look I remember from the past. There are no aliasing problems from the anamorphic enhancement either. Black level is also extremely accurate and sharp, providing the many night scenes with great reproduction.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono soundtrack is a mixture of good and bad, though the good far outweighs the bad. Overall, the dialog and sound effects are extremely well balanced. At times, the soundtrack is so clear and vivid (like crickets chirping in the night scenes) that I found myself making sure it really was mono only. The bad portion is the significant amount of background, analog tape hum in many scenes. Understandably, this probably could not be improved upon much, but it is present.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by George A. Romero, Tom Savini, John Amplas, Christine Romero, Chris Stavrakis
Layers Switch: 01h:24m:40s
Extras Review: The centerpiece of the disc is the wonderful commentary track. George Romero is accompanied by his wife, Christine, actor/make-up effects person Tom Savini, actor John Amplas, and film historian Chris Stavrakis. While some people seem to have to trade off now and again to be heard (almost like a microphone being passed around), overall it's a wonderful track filled with humor and insight. You rarely see such incredibly large (3+ people) commentaries on films over 100 minutes. I really have to give a warm thanks to these individuals for participating. While I appreciate very detailed director commentaries that really get into the meat of the film, I also like informal ones too and this track is simply wonderful, especially for Romero fans.
The film is accompanied by 12 minutes of home video footage that was shot on-set. The footage is pretty good quality, and is obviously from an old 8mm, silent camera. Interestingly, though, the non-existent audio track decodes as 8 channel sound. (??)
The presentation is excellent. The keepcase is a golden color, the insert is a reproduction of the original poster with an essay by Martin Felsher, and the disc has a great shield logo on it. Also look for the slightly humorous trailer and TV spots.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsKnightriders undoubtedly slipped into obscurity because of its lofty themes. People probably expected an all-out action movie or a motorcycle movie. Instead, the film seems to be more about people pursuing their dreams and trying to grasp personal freedom. In a lot of ways, Knightriders is the Easy Rider of the 80's. Many of the same themes are present, they're just wrapped into a different package. Regardless, the film is a triumph of storytelling and it really remains quite unique. I can't think of any films about renaissance fair performers, offhand, and certainly none with the creativity of this one. I found it a very inspiring film about staying true to your nature. Highly recommended.
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