the most atypical and most personal of George
A. Romero's films, this is a truly unique movie.
Knightriders is the
heartfelt and emotionally compelling story of
a group of traveling show people who stage elaborate
Renaissance Fair-style jousting competitions.
The twist is that they conduct their combat on
motorcycles instead of horseback. The film touches
on several of the themes Romero plays with in
most of his work, but Knightriders
shows him at his most introspective and revealing.
Can a person lead a life of nobility and honor
without bowing to the baser parts of one's soul?
Is it possible to avoid the pitfalls of greed,
vanity and lust in a world as corrupt as ours
without destroying what you hope to build? Is
compromise the only way to get through life?
The film opens with the traveling group in full
flower but behind the scenes, cracks are growing.
The troupe is presided over by King Billy (Ed
Harris) who sees himself as a modern day Arthur
and the people around him as Camelot. It quickly
becomes evident that the knights are not just
putting on a show for the curious spectators.
They take the competition of the jousting and
combat seriously as the way in which their extended
family structures itself. Billy is the King by
right of respect and skill at the games. He earned
his place, and now there is a contender for the
throne in Morgan (Tom Savini) who thinks that
Billy's stiff refusal to bend his personal outlook
is stupid and pointless. We see that some of the
troupe is of the same mind as Morgan but most
still adhere to Billy's leadership. Billy feels
that the code he follows (and wants his people
to follow) is the only way to maintain self-respect
and honor. At one point he says he is fighting
"the Dragon" and in many ways he is.
He sees the pull to commercialize the group, which
Morgan advocates, as exactly the wrong thing to
do. He refuses to bend his sense of what is right
to make money or please those who won't act honorably.
When a wealthy promoter offers to set them up
in major venues and make them rich, Billy refuses
because it means pretending to be just entertainment.
For him it isn't play acting —
it's a way of life. Rejecting Billy's decision
Morgan and several other knights ride off with
the promoter. The group fractures and those who
stay are devastated, but Billy is sure they will
return. He knows that Morgan's own sense of honor
will force him to come back and try again to win
Billy seems almost too stiff-necked
in the early part of the film, going as far as
to refuse to sign an autograph for a young boy.
He refuses because it would validate the view
of him as a Daredevil rider out to thrill the
masses. In that action lies the beauty of the
King's code of honor. It would be such a small
thing to sign the picture and make the boy happy,
but to do so would lay the groundwork for the
boy to devalue his hero. If Billy is nothing but
a stunt rider, why respect him? But if he is fighting
for right and dignity in a corrupt world he is
a worthy man and a worthy hero. It would make
the kid smile, but would demean the hero. Earlier
in the film he refuses to pay off a small town
cop looking for a bribe, standing beside his harassed
friend all the way to jail. It is this act (and
its later follow up) that shows Billy living the
code he has chosen no matter how hard it may be.
Romero's script is a marvel
of sharp observations and strong dialog. He effortlessly
introduces over 20 characters with distinct personalities
in a matter of minutes. Of course, he is helped
considerably by a fantastic cast. Ed Harris, in
his first leading role, is simply stunning. With
a series of brilliant performances behind him
now, it may seem easy to take his portrayal here
in stride, but Harris is as good here as he has
ever been. (Am I alone in thinking he is overdue
for an Oscar?) Matching him perfectly is Tom Savini,
who on the strength of his performance here should
have gone on to an astonishing career as an actor,
but I guess his genius with make-up effects kept
him mostly behind the camera. Other notable performances
come from Brother Blue as the troupe's Merlin
figure (resident doctor and spiritual guide);
Gary Lahti as this Camelot's Sir Lancelot; Christine
Forrest as Morgan's lady love and mechanic; Warner
Shook, Patricia Tallman, and even the film's music
composer Don Rubinstein in a small but strong
role. This movie was a labor of love for these
folks and it shows in every frame.
isn't a perfect film. It has a few flaws and its
age is starting to show, but the performances
and Romero's script shine through. If you've never
seen this movie, please do. It's very entertaining
and just might be Romero's best film. Maybe!
Bay's DVD of the film is easily the best it has
ever looked on video. Previous tapes can now be
retired forever and the Laser Disc released in the
early '90s has been bettered both in sound and picture.
The image is sharp and clear
while the audio is near perfect. The picture is
matted at 1.85:1 and while I have felt in the past
that Anchor Bay's cropping of Dawn
of the Dead was far too tight, here they
seem to have gotten it right with everything looking
beautifully framed and no heads lopped off. For
you widescreen TV owners, the disc is also 16x9
enhanced. For the extras AB comes through once again
with a great commentary track for the film. George
Romero, Tom Savini and film historian Chris Stavrakis
are joined briefly by John Amplas and Christine
(Forrest) Romero for a funny, informative and touching
discussion of almost every aspect of the production
of the movie. Romero admits that his inspiration
for the film was the Society for Creative Anachronism
and the early Renaissance fairs of the 1970s. They
all remark on the idea of Billy's "dragon"
being commercialism, noting that the film's very
uncommercial nature was one of the reasons for its
poor box-office. The movie was filmed over the summer
of 1980; Savini and Amplas repeatedly call it their
greatest summer ever.
Romero and Savini have done many
commentary tracks before and I've always found them
to be quite entertaining but this track is a highlight.
It's wonderful to hear them talk about the movie
and get misty-eyed during certain scenes. I came
away from the commentary liking the film even more.
Also included is a 14-minute selection of silent
home movie footage taken during filming. It's interesting
for many reasons; the behind the scenes shots of
the stunt work are amazing. The disc is rounded
out by the 3-minute theatrical trailer and two short,
ineffective TV spots. 8/04/02