DirectorGeorge A. Romero
Release Date(s)1981 (November 26, 2013)
Studio(s)United Film Distribution Company (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
[Author’s Note: I originally wrote this many weeks before it was published, long before George Romero’s passing. As this it is both one of his best works and one of my all-time favorite films of his, at least outside of his horror output, I’d like to dedicate this review to his memory. He was always one of my favorite filmmakers, and certainly one that initially attracted me to the idea of how movies were made. His casts and crews often spoke about his warmth, heart, and talent on set, and they are an enormous part of what makes Knightriders so special. It also somehow seems fitting that we are publishing a review of what he considered to be his best film not long after he has left us. In short, we say Goodnight George, and we thank you for your work that has entertained us and will continue to do so in the years to come. Thank you for being a warm human being and sharing your talents with not just your peers, but your fans as well. We will also continue to stay scared.]
While it was initially overlooked and quickly forgotten, simply because it was a film that was made by George A. Romero that wasn’t a horror film, the fact that Knightriders isn’t spoken about as often as his other work is a travesty. The idea of a troupe of traveling Renaissance folk who joust while riding motorcycles could wind up being completely ludicrous, but it isn’t. It’s a bit long in tooth as far as pacing is concerned, but it’s an entertaining film with a terrific ensemble that put an awful lot of work put into it, wearing its heart firmly on its sleeve.
In some ways, the content of Knightriders is reminiscent of the many Road Warrior clones that were released in that film’s wake. No matter what the environment or situation was, there was always somebody in a kooky leather outfit or metal armor riding around on a motorcycle. Thankfully, Knightriders isn’t that, and it has a lot more on its mind than its wacky concept. Action and comedy are tossed aside for a dramatic film about a group of people drifting apart from each other, and what that ultimately means for the group as a whole. Although unintentional humor can be found in it today due to some of chintzy outfits and props, the story itself is potent and has a strong emotional connection. It’s a solid and poignant piece of work that should have done better than it did and should be heralded more than it has.
Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release of the film features a major upgrade in the A/V department. Truth be told, this film’s budget has always been reflected in its visual quality, including some inherent softness due to opticals. However, this transfer is heads and tails above the original DVD release. It’s a much more precise presentation featuring more inherent and solid grain, sharper detail, and much more depth. Colors are also remarkably improved, showing off much cooler landscapes, skin tones, and more natural foliage than before. Black levels are terrific as well, although shadow detail tends to be lacking at times. Brightness and contrast is also improved. Minor damage such as scratches and speckling is leftover, but there’s clearly been no attempt to artificially improve the transfer. It’s the best that the movie has ever looked on home video. And on the aural side of things, an English 2.0 DTS-HD track is available. While sound effects have always been a problem for the movie, particularly the sounds of the motorcycles, everything else is much clearer. Dialogue is discernible and the movie’s song and score selections have been tidied up as well. A 5.1 soundtrack could give this movie some extra teeth, but as is, it’s still a fine track. Subtitles in English SDH are also included.
For the extras, there’s a pleasant assortment to dig through, beginning with those carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD release. They include an audio commentary with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, actor John Amplas, actress Christine Romero, and film historian Chris Stavrakis; Behind the Scenes: The Stunts of Knightriders home movie footage; the movie’s theatrical trailer; and 2 TV spots. Newly-included via Red Shirt Pictures are three interviews: Conscience of the King with Ed Harris, Code of Honor with George A. Romero, and Memories of Morgan with Tom Savini. It’s also worth noting that the Arrow Video Region B release of the film featured three different interview segments: The Genesis of a Legend with Ed Harris, A Date with Destiny with Tom Savini, and Medieval Maiden with Patricia Tallman. It also featured a 36-page booklet with an essay on the film by author and critic Brad Stevens, an archival interview with Romero, and a recent interview with composer Donald Rubinstein. Completists take note.
In today’s home video market, any film can be revisited and brought to a wider and more receptive audience if it didn’t do that well the first time around, and Knightriders is just such a film. Any way you swing it, Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray is a welcome upgrade should certainly help in that regard.
- Tim Salmons