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Starz / Anchor Bay // R // July 11, 2000
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 13, 2000 | E-mail the Author
John Romero's "Knightriders" is a film I've heard of for years, but until recently hadn't seen. For some reason, I'd always been under the impression that it took place in a post-apocalyptic future, with motorcycle-ridin' knights trying to tame a wild environment, fighting for the very survival of mankind. Though that may have made for a more interesting film, "Knightriders" is actually about a traveling Camelot led by the honorable King Billy (Ed Harris), featuring knights who duel on motorcycles at small fairs. The financially strapped act strives to follow dignity and honor, not the almighty dollar, but when more lucrative arrangements present themselves, the family-like group finds themselves torn asunder. As is typical with Romero films, "Knightriders" also makes some social commentary, and, as was the case with "Dawn of the Dead", focuses on commercialism, although the message can be interpreted in a number of valid ways.

For the first ten or fifteen minutes of "Knightriders", I had that sort of 'what the hell...?' expression on my face (I was entertained, but I couldn't help but wonder if my delight would carry over for close to two-and-a-half hours), and it was around forty minutes in before I really started to get into the story. This is due in large part to an incredible job by Ed Harris, who has an intense, yet regal quality about him, which is especially impressive considering that this was one of his first feature film roles. Tom Savini, best known for his effects work, plays Billy's foil (though hardly the 'villain'), Morgan. The stuntwork is top-notch, and a couple of the falls taken from motorcycles were breathtaking. Being a life-long devoted horror fan, I typically don't wince when a little violence splashes on-screen, but there's one sequence where a stunt in the show goes wrong and a woman finds herself in the path of danger that even made me recoil a bit. "Knightriders" does a surprisingly good job of mixing commentary and adventure, and though it is quite a bit longer than it probably ought to be, it's a hell of a ride.

Video: "Knightriders" looks dated and its low-budget origins show, but aside from some overly-soft opening shots, Anchor Bay did as fantastic a job with their anamorphic widescreen transfer as I could hope for. The palette is pretty limited, with plenty of browns, but some of the more colorful outfits and scenery that pops up from time to time looks accurate. Fleshtones seem to change from shot to shot, but this is likely due to the source material and can't really be helped. There's a surprisingly small number of print defects and assorted flaws for a relatively obscure film of this age. I noticed one rather large splotch of dust at one point in "Knightriders", and that was pretty much it. Typical great job by Anchor Bay.

Sound: Although I'm always pleased to see the original soundtrack included (which is, in this case, mono), I was kind of hoping for a 5.1 remix, or at the very least 2.0 surround... For a mono soundtrack, it's pretty decent. The score sounds kind of flat, but it's nearly entirely free of hiss and distortion. There's a bit of distortion when characters shout, which is pretty infrequent. The mono sound was a bit distracting at first (particulary in early scenes, when the score first kicks in), but like the film itself, once things get going, it becomes more

Supplements: "Knightriders" features one of the better commentaries I've had the pleasure of listening to, with writer/director George Romero, actors Tom Savini, John Amplas, and Christine Romero, and film historian Chris Stavrakis. Although not all of them are present for the entire commentary, the number of people speaking really prompts a lot of discussion and joking around, and there's not a second of silence throughout the 145 minute running time. Along with the trailer, there are also two TV spots that really misrepresent the film and make it look like a much worse movie. Admittedly, this is a pretty difficult film to market. Also included are around 14 minutes of silent home video footage shot on the set, giving a little insight as to what went on behind-the-scenes. Duplicating part of the score or maybe including some commentary would have made this footage more interesting. As it is, the home video section is difficult to sit through in its entirety. An above-average booklet is also packaged with the disc.

Conclusion: How I should go about recommending this film is a bit difficult. It really does take two viewings to really appreciate the film, and adding in the commentary track and viewing the other supplements, you're approaching the ten-hour mark. That's certainly too much to handle in a traditional rental period, but as much as I enjoyed "Knightriders", I'm not sure if I'd really recommend it as a purchase, simply because there are so many other films I'd more highly recommend as a purchase in the same price range. "Knightriders" is a very well-done and rather original movie, and it certainly seems like the type of film where subtle nuances that previously went unnoticed become increasingly visible with each subsequent viewing. So, I'd recommend this disc to those already familiar with this cult-classic, and it's tepidly recommended to the intrigued...
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