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Blu-ray Reviews

Excalibur Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 52 Cameron Yee

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Posted February 24 2011 - 04:17 PM

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Excalibur
Release Date: March 8, 2011
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-ray "Eco-Box"
Year: 1981
Rating: R
Running Time: 2:20:47
MSRP: $19.98


  THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 Standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 1.0, German 1.0, Italian 1.0, Castellano 1.0, Spanish 1.0, Portuguese 1.0, Czech 1.0 Mono
Subtitles English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Castellano, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hebrew, Russian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish N/A

The Feature: 4/5

John Boorman's "Excalibur" puts to screen the legendary tale of King Arthur as told in Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur." Playing the mythic characters are Nigel Terry as Arthur, Nicol Williamson as Merlin, Cherie Lunghi as Guinevere, Nicholas Clay as Lancelot, and Helen Mirren as Arthur's half-sister Morgana.


Fans of the Arthurian legend will no doubt enjoy the entirety of film as it brings to life the story's major components with impressive production design and fantastically ethereal cinematography. However the first act is a little difficult to sit through for everyone else, being a fine example of why some have no patience for the fantasy genre. Terry plays an older and more experienced Arthur better than he does a bumbling youth, and the whimsical tone emphasizing the boy's innocence ultimately comes off as nonsensical. The one consolation is that the scenes showing Arthur's birth and boyhood don't take up a lot of the film.


When we eventually move on to Arthur's befriending of Lancelot, his creation of the Round Table, and Morgana's ultimate power grab, the movie finds a consistency and direction previously lacking, which in turn makes it more universally appealing. Those who have no interest in a sword and sorcery epic will of course find nothing of interest, but notwithstanding the early scenes, "Excalibur" is a respectable big screen adaptation of the Arthurian legend and one worth watching for anyone with even a faint interest in the story.


Video Quality: 3.5/5

Presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer approximates the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. Grain is fairly heavy throughout most of the film, and often apparent in the more dimly lit environments, of which there are many given the numerous settings in castles and caves. Black levels hold up okay, but can often appear limited in depth with poor shadow delineation. Contrast is also flattened at times by gauzy, soft focus effects applied to many of the shots. Contrast is otherwise solid and colors, though looking sometimes over-saturated, appear deep and strong. Overall sharpness is subject to some source-related softness or focusing errors, and while the grainier film stock combined with the filtering effects don't make for the most finely detailed picture, there appears to be no overuse of sharpening tools. Though not always the greatest looking of images, the transfer does seem true to available source elements, as limited as they may be.
Audio Quality: 3/5
Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently clear and intelligible, if often a bit rough around the edges. Sound effects can also have the same problem, along with being noticeably dated in quality. Surrounds never seem to engage, with all the activity originating from the front sound stage. There are some occasional localization of voices, but otherwise the mix sticks to vocals in the center and the score in the front left/right channels. LFE doesn't make an appearance until well into the film, but is fairly impressive since I wasn't expecting any activity of the kind. While certainly not a great track, it gets the job done with minimal offenses.


Special Features: 2/5


Commentary by John Boorman: Boorman occasionally lapses into scene description and periods of silence, but otherwise he provides a candid commentary about the film's challenges and goals, with some interesting anecdotes about working with the various actors.


Theatrical Trailer (2:27, SD)


Recap
The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 2/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

Warner Home Video turns in a decent presentation of a big screen adaptation of the Arthurian legend as told by Thomas Malory. Extras are limited to just a commentary and trailer, but it's not surprising given the age of the film and the title's overall marketability. Previous editions - including a DVD in 2001 and an HD-DVD in 2007 -  also didn't offer anything different. Coupled with the middle-of-the road quality of the presentation, the film's appearance on Blu-ray will only appeal to those who don't have the title in any high definition format or ardent fans who are looking to upgrade from DVD.


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#2 of 52 24fpssean

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Posted February 25 2011 - 04:33 AM

Excalibur was shot 1.66:1, British Flat, not 1.85:1. Boorman confirms this in his commentary and says he didn't shoot Scope (2.35:1) because the cost would have been too much (???). Cropping this film to 1.78:1 for HD televisions will result in half of heads being chopped off (see the scene when Lancelot is leading Guinevere to her wedding - in the two shot of their conversation, his head went entirely out of frame on the 1.85:1 dvd, which means it must be almost as bad on this 1.78:1 blu ray). I don't understand why most viewers never notice this sort of thing. No serious cinematographer would allow that to happen. Cinematographer Alex Thomson is dead, so Warners easily got the go ahead to crop the film's aspect ratio.


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#3 of 52 GMpasqua

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Posted February 25 2011 - 04:52 AM

thanks for the review - just cancelled my order.  If  the studios want me to upgrade to blu-ray they are going to have to do better than 3.5 picture quality


Also cancelled some of the upcoming MGM releases also which received less excellant reviews.


I was very disappointed in the "Bull Durham" release - if MGM is just going to use old DVD transfers I'll pass



#4 of 52 Edwin-S

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Posted February 25 2011 - 05:12 AM

This film gets the short shrift again. Another lousy cover, almost nothing in the way of extras and a mediocre sounding transfer. Talk about a film that can get no love from Warner Bros.


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#5 of 52 Worth

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Posted February 25 2011 - 06:09 AM

I think people have unrealistic expectations about how good this title can look. I haven't seen the blu, but I have the HD-DVD, and it looks equal or superior to any of the 35mm theatrical presentations I've seen over the years.


It's always been grainy and soft, made even softer by diffusion filters. It could probably be improved somewhat with a new 4K scan and Lowry-style clean-up, but I don't think the sales could justify such an expenditure.


I agree about the ratio. The framing does look a little tight. Even though it would have been projected at 1.85 in North America, I don't see why they couldn't have created a 1.66 master.



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#6 of 52 Scott Calvert

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Posted February 25 2011 - 06:44 AM




Originally Posted by Worth 

I think people have unrealistic expectations about how good this title can look. I haven't seen the blu, but I have the HD-DVD, and it looks equal or superior to any of the 35mm theatrical presentations I've seen over the years.


It's always been grainy and soft, made even softer by diffusion filters. It could probably be improved somewhat with a new 4K scan and Lowry-style clean-up, but I don't think the sales could justify such an expenditure.


I agree about the ratio. The framing does look a little tight. Even though it would have been projected at 1.85 in North America, I don't see why they couldn't have created a 1.66 master.



This one gets a qualified pass from me as well. The cover art is terrible and the video could use a higher bitrate but it looks more or less like a good 35mm print, so it meets my minimum standard.



#7 of 52 Bryan Tuck

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Posted February 25 2011 - 09:23 AM

Thanks for the review! I agree that this has always been a grainy-looking film, but I always thought the bad framing on the DVD was a telecine error, in which they had too much of the top cropped, and opened up too much of the bottom of the frame (I've never seen the laserdisc, but I remember reading that it was a more faithful representation of the theatrical framing).


Did you notice any places where there seemed to be a lack of headroom, Cameron?


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#8 of 52 24fpssean

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Posted February 25 2011 - 10:08 AM

I might cancel my order, too. I understand that it's a difficult film to transfer, being soft and grainy and dark and shimmery all at once, but surely the movie, being a cult classic by one of the best directors of the 20th century, deserves better treatment. Even Clash of the Titans got a digibook, so why should Excalibur get a plastic case? And wouldn't it be easier and more attractive to use the stunning original poster art rather than some pathetic doodle cut and pasted on windows paint? This is truly disappointing and it would even be an embarrassment on my blu ray shelf. A Passage to India was British Flat 1.66:1 and not only was it projected as such in North America, but Sony had the smarts to release it that way on blu.


On a side note, Warners MPI is really astonishing in their harvesting the best image from old material, so they are used by everyone in town, including Disney. Perhaps there was no room or time to fit a proper transfer for Excalibur on the schedule. I don't know. Anyway, just disappointed. It was the vain hope of film purists everywhere that blu ray would be the one format where classic films would be released for home video the way, shape and form they were originally intended by the filmmakers, but once again no standards of integrity have been set.


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#9 of 52 JohnMor

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Posted February 25 2011 - 11:12 AM



Originally Posted by 24fpssean 

I might cancel my order, too. I understand that it's a difficult film to transfer, being soft and grainy and dark and shimmery all at once, but surely the movie, being a cult classic by one of the best directors of the 20th century, deserves better treatment. Even Clash of the Titans got a digibook, so why should Excalibur get a plastic case? And wouldn't it be easier and more attractive to use the stunning original poster art rather than some pathetic doodle cut and pasted on windows paint? This is truly disappointing and it would even be an embarrassment on my blu ray shelf. A Passage to India was British Flat 1.66:1 and not only was it projected as such in North America, but Sony had the smarts to release it that way on blu.


On a side note, Warners MPI is really astonishing in their harvesting the best image from old material, so they are used by everyone in town, including Disney. Perhaps there was no room or time to fit a proper transfer for Excalibur on the schedule. I don't know. Anyway, just disappointed. It was the vain hope of film purists everywhere that blu ray would be the one format where classic films would be released for home video the way, shape and form they were originally intended by the filmmakers, but once again no standards of integrity have been set.


I think COTT only got the digi-book treatment because they hoped people would think it was the remake.  I was so looking forward to this, but now it's moved way down on my list.  Sad.  I couldn't care less about cover art and extras for my blu rays, but I do want the best transfer with the proper ratio, otherwise what is the point?


#10 of 52 Paul_Scott

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Posted February 26 2011 - 04:28 AM

from the review at DVDTown



Now, Warners give us the Blu-ray edition of the movie, this time on a dual-layer BD50, using an MPEG-4 AVC transfer. Does it still look a bit rough and gritty? I compared the HD DVD with the new Blu-ray side by side, and the results surprised me. The new transfer eliminates much of the grain, along with much of the detail, replaced by a softer, smoother, often washed-out look. So the studio engineers seem to have replaced one concern with another. The new transfer will delight viewers who watch a lot of ultraclean, digitally shot television shows, but it may not fully satisfy the videophile who may feel the BD picture now lacks fine particulars and ultimate definition. Still, the colors show up well enough, and the new transfer preserves the overall dark aspect of the film.



#11 of 52 neeb

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Posted February 26 2011 - 03:46 PM



Originally Posted by Scott Calvert 


 The cover art is terrible and the video could use a higher bitrate but it looks more or less like a good 35mm print, so it meets my minimum standard.


I kind of hoped they would have used this art for the new cover.


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


Which I believe was the art used for the VHS back in the day.



#12 of 52 soop.spoon

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Posted February 27 2011 - 08:37 AM

What an absolutely magnificent poster.



#13 of 52 Bob Cashill

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Posted February 27 2011 - 10:23 AM

Used for the LD, too, as I recall.



#14 of 52 DeanR

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Posted February 27 2011 - 02:10 PM

Yes, I pulled out the LD Cover.  Forged by God.   Foretold by a Wizard.   Found by a King.



#15 of 52 Professor Echo

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Posted February 27 2011 - 02:36 PM

Art by the late Bob Peak, who was one of the finest poster artists of all time.

A current exhibition of his work, including many original paintings next to the finished  posters for the films, can be seen here in Los Angeles at the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.



#16 of 52 Bryan Tuck

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Posted February 27 2011 - 08:37 PM



Originally Posted by DeanR 

Yes, I pulled out the LD Cover.  Forged by God.   Foretold by a Wizard.   Found by a King.



So gleefully spoofed in the original trailer for Army of Darkness: "Foretold by a mystical book. Forewarned by a wise man. Fulfilled by a wiseguy."


Yeah, the original poster art for Excalibur is awesome; would have made an equally awesome Blu-ray cover.


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#17 of 52 24fpssean

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Posted February 28 2011 - 03:26 AM

That would have made a great digibook cover. There is another Bob Peak creation for Excalibur that wasn't used nearly enough even when the film came out...

http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


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#18 of 52 RJ992

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Posted March 01 2011 - 03:00 AM



Originally Posted by DeanR 

Yes, I pulled out the LD Cover.  Forged by God.   Foretold by a Wizard.   Found by a King.



That was from the first laserdisc. The remastered Dolby 5.1 laserdisc (attached) had jacket art that is similar to the BD.



excali.jpg47k .jpg file




#19 of 52 Mike_Richardson

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Posted March 01 2011 - 03:16 AM

The DVDTown review is way off the mark IMO, and I think Cameron has it right. I do think there are unrealistic expectations at how good EXCALIBUR can look. This transfer does seem improved from the HD-DVD IMO, I did not see any additional DNR being applied as the DVDTown review claims, and in fact I think the authoring was superior. The transfer doesn't seem as noisy and there do seem to be some finer details and more accurate fleshtones. It hasn't been restored and it probably CAN be improved upon this -- but it certainly is far better than the DVD and is superior to the HD-DVD IMO.

#20 of 52 Felix Martinez

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Posted March 01 2011 - 04:59 AM

I love that poster also and HATE the DVD and Blu-ray covers.


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