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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Adventure > History > Medieval > Excalibur (HD-DVD)

Excalibur (HD-DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: B



The recent cycle of Fantasy genre films have been so “warm” and “fuzzy” and absolutely childish that you would think such storylines were never taken seriously on film.  Even Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004) was cut down form an R-rating to a PG-13 to meet this sic, dysfunctional need by the studio.  Fortunately, there have been great, mature, intelligent, adult, important filmmakers like John Boorman around who know what they are doing with such material and that is why his 1981 film Excalibur is a classic of the genre that cannot be rediscovered fast enough.


Based on the Thomas Malory book Le Morte d'Arthur (screenplay adaptation by Rospo Pallenberg and Boorman) features Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana, Nicholas Clay as Sir Lancelot, Nicol Williamson as Merlin, Gabriel Byrne as Uther Pendragon, Liam Neeson as Gawain and Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance.  That cast alone annihilates any cast for this kind of film since, but then the script is solid and the film expertly produced and directed.


Serious films have been done before like Knights Of The Round Table (the Fox film whose soundtrack is reviewed elsewhere on this site) took this material seriously, but Boorman takes it into directions no film has before or since.  The battle scenes and acting exchanges are top rate.  In addition, Anthony Pratt’s Production Design and Bob Ringwood’s costuming are very authentic and the total lack of any stupid digital animation is a further plus.  Thankfully not for children, it may take at least a generation before any film catches up with Excalibur, something that can only make it more important and valuable as time goes on.


The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition transfer is from a rough print with detail issues, depth issues and even some color issues.  It is a bit disappointing the stunning cinematography by Alex Thompson, B.S.C., which takes the film to yet another higher level.  Over the years, this genius cameraman has lensed unforgettable visual feasts like Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka, Michael Cimino’s Year Of The Dragon, Cimino’s The Sicilian, Peter Medak’s The Krays, David Fincher’s Alien 3 and Kenneth Branagh’s 70mm Hamlet.  This is a master with a stunning track record.  This transfer is a little better than the DVD, but deserves a top-rate special edition down the line.


The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix remixes the theatrical monophonic sound, though the film has sometimes been credited as a Dolby A-type analog theatrical release.  You can compare to the Dolby Digital Plus 1.0 French and Spanish tracks to hear an idea of the upgrades.  Dialogue is toward the center, but the solid music score by Trevor Jones (The Dark Crystal, Desperate Measures, Dark City, From Hell) is among his best work.  Wonder if the audio could be upgraded to Dolby TrueHD?


Extras include the original theatrical trailer and yet another great audio commentary by Boorman himself, who delivered so much in commentaries on Zardoz (which Fox should issue on Blu-ray soon) and The Tailor Of Panama (which Sony has just added for Blu-ray release).  This film deserves more, but even Warner is smart enough to know how good this film is and that is why it is an early HD-DVD (and soon Blu-ray) release, especially in its full length 140 minutes version.  This is the best way to see it outside of 35mm for now, though Warner seems to be planning a new special edition, so we’ll see.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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