Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Video
U.S. Rating: PG
Canadian Rating: PG
Film Length: 109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1, widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles: English, French
Release Date: December 2, 2003
Omar Sharif stars in a film adaptation of Joseph Kessel’s novel “Les Cavaliers” in The Horsemen. The horsemen refer to those playing one of the most violent sports left in this world today. In a game called buzkashi (incorrectly called bozkeshi on the back of Columbia’s packaging), men are to ride their horses and pick up a headless calf and carry it to the winning circle. In order to get the calf from the other rider (who had to scoop it off the ground with his hands while he was riding) the other men whip each other in order to be the first to get it. This game requires a lot of riding skill and this film shows the violence in all its glory as men fall off horses and the horses fall to the ground only to get stomped on by others. Ouch.
It is Afghanistan 1970, and Omar Sharif is Uraz, one of those horsemen determined to win on the best horse named Jahil that his father Turan (Jack Palance) gave him to use. His father is a past champion in this game and sends Uraz off to Kabul to represent his community that his father leads. Almost winning the tournament, Uraz falls off his horse and breaks a leg. We see Uraz is unwilling to adapt to new Western methods of healing and has his trusty servant Mukhi (David de Keyser) to break off the cast and cover it with a page from the Holy Qur’an. Soon this becomes a bad move as it starts to infect and the lower leg will have to be removed.
To get back to his hometown there are two roads to take: one is relatively easy and the other is the “old road” that no one travels because no one makes it alive. Uraz loves to challenge himself to the limit and decides to take the old road with his servant. They meet up with the “untouchable” nomad Zareh (Leigh Taylor-Young) whom Mukhi falls in love with and together they let greed overcome them as they plot against Uraz for his money and his horse.
There are a lot of extended scenes that help us sink into the cultural environment of Afghanistan in 1970, and to be honest it didn’t seem like anything less than what I’d expect to see there 500 years ago. The villages are small and barren with little modern utilities. I do appreciate places that haven’t been touched by modern civilization because I personally don’t believe that our ‘conveniences’ work in every part of this earth. That aside, we know this film is in modern day as we see a plane fly overhead, but we still get to see the games played since Ghengis Khan like buzkashi, camel fighting, bird fighting, and ram fighting. Lots of fighting to go around here…
It took me a while to figure out what direction this film was heading. I was confused about the characters too. I wasn’t sure what the father was expecting from his son, and I wasn’t sure why Sharif’s character was so bitter at his father in the beginning of this film. It also seemed he was bitter to the world. There was no apparent explanation for this and it would later dictate the path he would choose on the way home from Kabul and will only to be resolved at the end of the film. Because this film’s story and pacing was so ‘choppy’ I lost my enjoyment throughout some of it. I think the fight sequences were the most interesting because it’s something I’ve never seen before.
Video Quality? /
Enhanced for widescreen TVs, this film looks correct at 2.39:1. The breathtaking aerial shots in the mountains of Afghanistan have frequent dirt specks plaguing the image. Once these scenes are over, the image cleans up quite significantly and is pretty detailed for the film’s age. Colours are muted with an overall ‘brown’ look complementing the desert environment. Image inconsistencies in the film are occasionally noticed like small fluctuations of light through the print as well as very minor colour shifting. This film was mastered using Sony’s high definition process. The image is sure to please many of you.
Audio Quality? /
The audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono is weak. The music score by French composer Georges Delerue complements the Afghan scenery, but it is thin and thus unexciting which made it difficult to really get into the action on the screen. Dialogue has a strident character to it. Almost all of it has the sound of recroded “on scene” and has poor spatial integration and some distortion on the voice. All sound effects sound very dated.
Special Features? /
All that is included on this release is a theatrical trailer that’s enhanced for widescreen TVs.
With a script I wasn’t crazy about and thus lack of direction The Horsemen falls flat on its face as far as an entertaining story. This DVD doesn’t offer much either other than a satisfactory video presentation. It’s too bad that there wasn’t a search for original audio elements to widen the soundstage and free up some of that ‘compressed sound’. Or, it’s quite possible this was done with none to be found…? Don’t quote me on that, but I was surprised to see that no effort was done to clean it up a little. If you love the film this will be the best you’ll see it until a high definition version becomes available. For the rest of you thinking of picking it up – you may want to leave this title near the end of your rental list.