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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

Druids (2000)

"Do not forget the path to wisdom."- Guttuart (Max Von Sydow)

Stars: Christopher Lambert, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Max Von Sydow
Other Stars: Ines Sartre
Director: Jaques Dorfmann

Manufacturer: DVXX
MPAA Rating: R for (violence and nudity)
Run Time: 02h:04m:00s
Release Date: 2001-12-11
Genre: drama

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ D+A-A- D

 

DVD Review

Druids was actually a French production released in Europe in 2000 under the title Vercingétorix. Filmed simultaneously in French and English, theEnglish version released by Columbia TriStar saw very limited theatrical release and now heads home to DVD. Comparisons between Druids and Braveheart are inevitable and, unhappily, necessary. Both are stories about one man rallying a people to fight back against a conquering nation, and both are, at least partially, based in historical fact. Unfortunately for the creators of Druids, Braveheart came first; Mel Gibson's effort set the modern template and standard for the historic battle-filled epic that they would be held to. Druids is almost an exact copy, or worse: an uninspired copy.

Christopher Lambert stars as the title character, Vercingétorix, a Celtic warrior who is known for his efforts to resist the Roman Empire's conquest of the Druidic people and all those related to them. As the empire expands, the Romans seek to root out so-called "pagans." In his youth, Vercingétorix witnessed the treachery of how other chieftains collaborated with the Romans, betraying and murdering his own father, once a great leader. As an adult, he wishes to avenge his father's murder and help his people. At least, this is my best grasp of the general plot. The history of these people is fuzzy at best, and the film never goes into enough detail to really to determine what's going on.

Max von Sydow is Guttuart, a mysterious shaman who seems to guide Vercingétorix with all sorts of cryptic wisdom as to which path to take. His relationship to Vercingétorix is a little muddy, but he serves as the teacher in the very early scenes. When Vercingétorix sets out as an adult, his goal is to reclaim his rightful role as a chief among the local people, bringing them together to resist the tyranny of Rome. The end result is lots of emphasized speeches and large scale battle sequences, but there seems to be a distinct lack of real emotion or passion. The acting is wooden; the actors neither seem to improvise or add any personal element to the awkward dialogue. The speed at which the film accelerates into Vercingétorix's main mission is dizzying. Granted, I don't have a huge grasp ofthe history of Celts and Druids versus the Romans, but there were times I felt utterly left out at this pace. I had no clue what was going on or who was being killed or why people were upset about certain things.

Even stranger are the awful, forced dramatic moments. For example, when Vercingétorix first sets off to join the tribes together, not more than three stepsout of his village he runs into Julius Caesar (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who just happens to be riding through. The two exchange threatening Bond-style dialogue as if they were old enemies meeting each other on the field, then part ways with a "We shall meet again!" farewell. This struck me as completely ridiculous.

Although the production itself seems capable (elaborate sets and epic, widescreen cinematography show off the ancient land), as with many historical films, it feels almost too well produced. The costumes, while reasonably accurate, are too perfect, and the film lacks that tangible texture of realism. Also, as a central hero Christopher Lambert does his best to be an inspiring figure, but this is no Highlander. As much as I like him as an actor, I honestly think he's a little too old to be playing Vercingétorix.

Because the script is very cookie cutter (and insists on being extremely quotable), thiswould leave the action as the most desirable aspect, but it's not. Despite the impressive scale of the big battles, the editing and direction leaves much to be desired. Action sequences are put together like a music video with barely any clear views of what's going on, and there's a lot of speed-up technique used. I don't mean the frame-skipping type of speed-up seen in stylized movies like Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator, I literally mean speeding up the footage. This creates a rather silly, slapstick feel to scenes which are, presumably, intended to be absolutely serious. The sort of modern techno-classical musical score is also really out of place, sometimes jarring in its pop-song origins. Druids would merely be mediocre if just left to its bad writing and pacing, but the accumulation of all these problems proves fatal.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: D+

 

Image Transfer


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 One Two
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen 1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyes no
Anamorphicyes no


Image Transfer Review: While the movie leaves a lot to be desired, a nice transfer eases the pain a bit, getting across the beautiful locations and epic feel the filmmakers attempted to create. On one side of the disc is an anamorphically enhanced 2:35:1 widescreen version, while the other contains a pan & scan, full-screen version. The widescreen version is fairly impressive; extremely sharp and clean with fine detail. While there was a hint of slight over-sharpening in the brighter, outdoor sequences (resulting in ringing), no other significant problems can be detected. It feels very film-like, and nothing digital distracts from normal enjoyment of the film. It's pretty much on par with most of Columbia TriStar's visual output. The full-screen side is a bit worse. Of course, there's the obvious, major compromise to the image composition, but the transfer pushes the limits of the source material, and in trying to render everything as well as it should be, there's some artifacts and background shimmering, roughly what I'd call B-quality for a full-screen disc. Some of the sharpening is a little worse here, as well, with more obvious ringing in brighter scenes.

Image Transfer Grade: A-
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englshyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is impressive overall. The soundstage is very theatrical and loud. Every element is well separated and rendered into the channels, making it very clear and without distortion. There is a good deal of directionality, and the surrounds are used generously during most normal scenes, but especially during the battle sequences. The level of activity compliments the movie well, and there is plenty of beefy, bassy action to satisfy the hunger for a really good sound experience. The Dolby 2.0 Surround is a little muted, without the power of the 5.1, but is roughly of the same activity and usage.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Messenger, Fortress 2
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are additional trailers and basic presentation, but no other additional features.

Extras Grade: D
 

Final Comments

Not a bad disc, Druids is just a bad movie; an over-ambitious and oftenpretentious epic that assumes if you build the stage, your work is done. It fills in theblanks of what you'd expect from this type of story, but does it without any feeling ororiginality. Skip it and go for Braveheart, or better yet, Spartacus.

Dan Lopez 2001-12-13