With the success of Dawn of the Dead, writer/director George A. Romero was offered a three-picture deal with United Film Distribution, and used that leverage to get make what is, perhaps, his most personal film, Knightriders, about a Renaissance Fair troupe that performs jousts and other knight-related battles on motorcycles instead of horses. The film features Ed Harris in his first leading role.
Distributed By: Shout! Factory
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 2 Hr. 25 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeepcase
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 11/26/2013
In the early 1980s, while I was obsessed with the films of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, several of my film making buddies were enthralled with George Romero. One film they kept telling me to watch was Knightriders, which was in heavy rotation on the now-defunct local sports and movie pay channel, Prism. I remember the movie being overly long, and never found the story very interesting. Since it was in heavy rotation, I tried more than once to sit through the entire movie, and never succeeded, nodding off at some point in the film.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
The film tells the story of a traveling medieval re-enactment troupe led by “King” Billy (Ed Harris), who uses Arthurian legend as both his backdrop and his ideals, substituting motorcycles for horses. He is joined by his queen, Linet (Amy Ingersoll), the Black Knight, Morgan (Tom Savini), champion Alan (Gary Lahti), Tuck (John Hostetter), and Merlin (Brother Blue). But there is conflict within the group as their popularity increases. Billy wants to keep things on a small scale, roughing it out year after year, town after town, refusing to back down to any local corruption. Morgan, though, along with many others in the troupe, aches for stardom, and when the chance comes by way of a promoter (Martin Ferrero) who wants to take them to Vegas and beyond, the group splits. Morgan and his group leave to seek the spotlight with the promoter, Alan strikes out on his own with his girlfriend to try and live a more normal life, and the rest stay with Billy, waiting for everyone to return.
Revisiting Knightriders for the first time in over 30 years is something of a revelation. The film is still overly long, clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, the female roles are not well-developed, and neither is the conflict within the group. But knowing now where Romero was in his career when the film was made, this is very likely his most personal film, with Billy as his alter-ego. Dawn of the Dead opened a lot of doors, and Romero was at a crossroads (much like Billy in Knightriders): should he cash in and venture off to Hollywood, or continue to make independent films on shoestring budgets with local Pittsburgh talent? When a three-picture deal with nearly full creative control was offered by United Film Distribution head Salah Hassanein (the same company that distributed Dawn domestically), with the only stipulation that one of those films be a sequel to Dawn, Romero saw this as a chance to continue making his films his way. And this is very much the heart of Knightriders. Ed Harris, in his first starring role, shines as Billy, giving the character an often quiet intensity that every so often boils over, with his ideals leading to eventual self-destruction. Tom Savini hold his own as Morgan, a man desperately seeking the spotlight, almost at all costs. Where Knightriders eventually excels is in its battle reenactments, with some excellent stunt work on motorcycles that any insurance company today would likely never allow filmed.
Knightriders makes its high definition debut on Blu-ray in an often stellar 1080p transfer that retains the film’s intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are accurate and consistent (grasses are a lush green throughout), with deep blacks throughout much of the film, although some of the nighttime scenes suffer from excessive grain and crush. The opening title sequence appears overly soft, likely due to the optical processes used during post production, but detail clears up considerably once the sequence is over, with well-defined textures on the armor and costumes.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The audio mix for the film suffers due to its low budget constraints (something Romero admits to in the included commentary), so don’t expect anything special. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track recreates likely how the film played during its brief and extremely limited theatrical run. Dialogue is, for the most part, clear and understandable. The real disappointment, though, is the lack of any low-end to the roar of the motorcycles, explosions, and body impacts. The added fidelity and frequency response for David Rubinstein’s stylized orchestral score makes up for it, though.
Audio Rating: 3/5
Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew: Originally recorded for Anchor Bay’s DVD release from 2000, writer/director George Romero is joined by his then-wife Christine Forrest (Angie), Tom Savini (Morgan), John Amplas (Whiteface), and Christian Stavrakis. This is a lively track, with the five friends catching up on what each other has been up to, what others in the cast and crew have gone on to do, and share stories on the making of the film.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Conscience of the King with Ed Harris (HD; 8:11): Harris talks quite fondly of making this film and his friendship with George Romero in this recent interview.
Code of Honor with George Romero (HD; 17:20): Romero discusses pitching the film to various executives (including Samuel Arkoff, who eventually gave him the idea to use motorcycles), striking 3-picture a deal with Salah Hassanein, his dislike of how the film was released and promoted (including the original movie poster, which appears on the cover of this Blu-ray), and how Morgan Freeman who was his first choice as Merlin, refused to audition because the character was described as a black man.
Memories of Morgan with Tom Savini (HD; 10:15): Savini discuses how he first met Romero when he auditioned for a role when he was in high school, his experience with swordplay and motorcycles prior to Knightriders, and the joy of finally having a lead role in a film.
Behind the Scenes: The Stunts of Knightriders (SD; 8:16): Tom Savini’s home movies taken on the set of Knightriders, shot on home video equipment and upscaled to 1080i for this Blu-ray.
Trailers and TV Spots (HD; 3:08)
Knightriders has gained its fans over the years, thanks to cable and home video, but was somewhat forgotten until Shout! Factory managed to license the film from current rights holder MGM. Fans will likely be delighted to not only have the film, finally, in high definition, but with a wealth of interesting extras.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
Support HTF when you buy this title: