Judge Daryl Loomis was disappointed these bikes neither talked nor were zombies.
Our review of Knightriders (1981), published July 13th, 2000, is also available.
Camelot is a state of mind.
When people think of George A. Romero (Martin), the first thing almost anyone will think of is a zombie. But after the success of Dawn of the Dead and a career of making innovative horror films, he wanted to do something different. The result of that desire was Knightriders, and he really couldn't have made something more different. I've seen just about every movie that Romero has made, but this one completely escaped my radar and, after seeing it, I can see exactly why. That doesn't make it bad, not at all, but its subject matter is of a sort uniquely designed to make me unaware of it.
Facts of the Case
Billy (Ed Harris, Pollock) is the "king" of his troop of "knights." They travel around the country, selling tickets to watch them fight and joust from their horses. These horses, though, are made of iron and this is all for show, but that belies how seriously they take all of it. Though they're all friends, there is a Black Knight in Morgan (Tom Savini (From Dusk Till Dawn), who actively covets Billy's throne. Things get even more complicated when their act gets popular and an agent wants to take them to the big time, threatening the core values of the group that Billy has worked hard to protect.
If it's true that, when we die, we each receive our own personal hell, mine will assuredly be an eternity at a renaissance fair. Not to offend the people who actually enjoy prancing about in awful getups pretending like it's the dark ages, but I can hardly think of a dumber or more ridiculous way to spend one's time. You know what I want to see at a renaissance fair? Botulism and Trichinosis from improperly prepared food and a requirement that anybody on the wrong side of thirty is either haggard from sickness or already dead. That's the kind of realism that I could get behind; otherwise, it's just playing dress up.
With all of that completely true in my head, once I realized that Knightriders involved just such a thing, I figured that I'd absolutely hate the movie. Surprisingly, I thought it was pretty good. Part of that is because it's a relatively faithful retelling of Arthurian legend and part of it is some excellent performances and rough looking stunts.
Ed Harris, in a very early role, is fantastic as the King Arthur part. He gets the nobility of the throne exactly right, yet doesn't go over the top with it. In fact, where he can be accused of going over the top is when he slips into a modern man, freaking out about the clear breakdown of his group. I don't care if it breaks up or not, of course, but it's perfectly clear how much he does, which is the only important thing. Tom Savini, while in no way the acting equal of Harris, makes a very good foil. With his natural athleticism, self-professed fencing skills, and love of motorcycles, he is completely believable in the fighting scenes and his swaggery demeanor makes him a natural antagonist.
There are also characters for Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, and even Friar Tuck for good measure. It's not an exact adaptation of any one story, but it gets enough of the ideas right to make it something of an extension of the stories. Thanks to the heavy dose of action, the story moves along at a pretty good clip, but that does bring up the big problem with the movie: its sheer length. 145 minutes is far, far too long for this kind of movie. The beginning runs pretty nicely and the end, up to the shocking finale, is quite good, but the middle section feels very tedious. Chop 45 minutes out of the movie, tighten it up, and I might well call it an excellent movie, but as it stands, is merely okay.
What is excellent, though, is the fight scenes, which are filled with dangerous looking stunts and well-constructed battles. While they're still just jousting, which is inherently dumb, it looks great when they go flying off the bikes; it's a wonder that they all weren't seriously hurt (one stuntman did break his collarbone on one of them, though). Romero pulls it off very well, making it seem exciting, despite the fact that they're mostly just riding around in circles.
Knightriders arrives on Blu-ray in another excellent release from Shout! Factory. The 1.85:1/1080p anamorphic image is top-notch, without a hint of damage to the print and without any digital errors. It doesn't look new, of course; the colors still have that washed-out look that a lot of early '80s movies were saddled with, but the black levels are strong, the image has great clarity and detail and, really, I can't imagine the movie looking better than it does here. The sound isn't as impressive, but it's not bad, either. It's a simple 2-channel mono Master Audio mix without the dynamic range one would hope for, but the dialog is always nice and clear, while the roar of the engines are big in the mix.
Extras are pretty good, too. First is an audio commentary with Romero, Savini, co-star John Amplas (Creepshow), Romero's wife, Christina Forrest Romero, and film historian Chris Stavrakis. It's a little disjointed, as people come in and out at different times, but it's informative and interesting. The only real problem is that it's the commentary from Anchor Bay's disc from a decade ago, meaning there are a lot of references to then recent movies, which comes off a little odd. The disc continues with three brand new interviews with Romero, Savini, and Harris. They run maybe thirty minutes combined and are all very good. A featurette is also included that reveals about twenty minutes of raw stunt footage, which will be a real treat for fans. A few trailers close out the disc.
Knightriders has a good-sized cult following, it being one of the only movies that takes the ridiculous idea of the renaissance fair seriously, and I'm sure that those people who happen to read this review are going to despise it and, most likely, me. That's okay; I'm not the one in tights and, truly, I did enjoy the movie. Its quality definitely does not justify its length, but it's quite good nonetheless, and something I can happily recommend to anyone who has never seen it.
This case is verily dismissed. Vroom.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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