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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1981 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 134:58 minutes Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (82:30)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director John Boorman
Orion Pictures
Warner Home Video
Starring Nigel Terry
Helen Mirren
Nicholas Clay
Cherie Lunghi
Paul Geoffrey
Nicol Williamson
Case Snapper
RRP $34.95 Music Trevor Jones

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 1.0, 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 1.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Well, is there a story that has inspired a more diverse range of films than the story of King Arthur, Camelot and The Knights of The Round Table? They range from the quickie version in the animated The Sword In The Stone from the Di$ney empire through films such as First Knight to musicals such as Camelot to such offbeat efforts as Monty Python and The Holy Grail, a film desperately awaited in Region 4. The fact that I have all these efforts in my collection would perhaps indicate that I do have an interest of sorts in the story myself. Well, I readily admit I do. I have been fascinated by the subject ever since I first went to Tintagel in Cornwall, England as a child. Nowadays, Tintagel is famous for perhaps one thing - the ruins of Tintagel Castle, which is rumoured to be the birthplace of King Arthur. There are also assorted rumours about Tintagel Castle being the burial place of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere, although it is now generally accepted that Arthur is buried in Glastonbury Abbey, in Somerset, England. With so much mystery and myth about a man who lived from about the year 500 to the year 537 when he died in battle, there is little wonder that the stories and myths have formed the basis of numerous books, plays and films over the years. It is a topic rich in scope for exploration, particularly after 1,500 years when the possibility of accusations of historical inaccuracy are fairly limited. In other words, liberties galore can be taken, and probably have been. Arthur certainly did live, and there is little doubt that Guenevere did, but as for the existence of Merlin and Excalibur?

    The story here focuses pretty much upon the sword from the stone and the right-born King of England, rather than the sword itself. Well, I ask you, how enthralling would a film about a sword be if it were the focus of the film? The story here begins with Uther (Gabriel Byrne, in an early role), current holder of Excalibur who rather bungles an attempt to unite England under one crown when he takes (literally) Igrayne (Katrine Boorman), the wife of his greatest enemy Cornwall (Corin Redgrave) after falling for her during the celebrations of a peace accord with Cornwall. Unfortunately, he required the services of Merlin (Nicol Williamson) to seduce her, with the promise that their first-born would be handed over to Merlin. Arthur (Nigel Terry) was dutifully born, then handed over to Merlin, much to the disgust of Igrayne. In an ensuing battle, Excalibur is plunged into a stone by Uther shortly before his death, thereby creating the sword in the stone story. Years later, at a joust to determine the worthiest knight for an attempt at extracting the sword, Arthur is acting as squire for his brother Kay (Niall O'Brien) when Kay's sword is stolen. Desperate to provide a replacement sword, Arthur extracts Excalibur from the stone. Promptly proclaimed by some as the King of England, including by Leondegrance (Patrick Stewart, as ever without hair) and others, Arthur has to lead a band of knights to convince others to accept him as King. Of course, he does, and the whole King Arthur and The Knights of The Round Table legend is born, along with his love for Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and we all know that story pretty well. The interesting side issues here are Arthur's half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren), who seeks the ways of the craft in order to seek revenge for what Uther did to her mother Igrayne. This she effectively does by pulling the same sort of stunt on Arthur and thus bearing a child from the incestuous evening by the name of Mordred (Robert Addie). Life is anything but dull in royal households!

    Whilst this is not a too dissimilar story to others used for various films, this is possibly one of the few to cover the entire story, rather than concentrating on the Lancelot/Guenevere affair. As a result the story moves along at a slightly faster pace than usual, but skips a little of the fleshing out of characters that would perhaps have made the whole thing a little more engaging from a character point of view. There is a uniformity of performance amongst the cast of a generally decent standard, even though most of the cast would hardly qualify as known names, and this really is quite a consistent presentation from that aspect. The only quibbles here would be the fact that the accents employed by both Nicol Williamson and Cherie Lunghi seem just a tad inconsistent. This is possibly a more notable film, however, for the early efforts of well-respected actors of the ilk of Gabriel Byrne, Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson. I would have to concede that John Boorman produced a fairly decent screenplay and did a pretty fine job of bringing it to life. Some of the effects work is quite good, and often rather subtle too, and this indeed aids the overall enjoyment, especially when coupled to some rather interesting cinematography, which copped an Oscar nomination at the 1982 Oscars.

    I am still awaiting a definitive version of this story, which I am sure someone will eventually get around to making given the propensity for Hollywood studios to throw money at remakes. Until then, however, we have this effort, and not too bad an effort it is, either.

Transfer Quality


    Upon reviewing the somewhat earlier Camelot I commented favourably upon the remastering and restoration of the film. This may not be in the same league in terms of age, but there are a lot of parallels with that film here.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    Overall, the transfer is quite sharp and very well defined. There were only some very short sections of the film where focus was a little soft, and the last few minutes of the film seemed to suffer a little more obviously from grain, but other than that I found this to be a most acceptable transfer indeed. It could perhaps have benefited from a little more clarity in the transfer, since there are quite a number of dark scenes in the film, but I am guessing that the original film also suffered a little from this lack of absolute clarity. Detail was generally good throughout, although a little inconsistent. At times it was quite superb and at other times it was just a little lacking. I particularly note some of the sequences involving water, which were almost perfectly rendered and full of detail. Shadow detail could perhaps have been better, but this is a reflection of the age of the film rather than faults in the mastering. There did not seem to be any low level noise problems with the transfer.

    The colours are beautifully rendered, and at times were extremely vibrant - some of the greens of the forest shots were stunning in vividness. Whilst the period of the early sixth century would hardly be blessed with extremely bright colours, there would certainly have been no lack of nice bright primary colours and these are what are noticed here. Also, the vividness of the good times contrasts nicely with the darker, greyer tones of the bad times and overall John Boorman did a good job in capturing the mood of the film through the colours. There was no hint of oversaturation in the colours at all.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in this transfer. There was some mildly annoying wobble, most especially between 26:10 and 27:10 although there were other sequences too. Film-to-video artefacts seemed to be quite rare during the film, and mainly comprised some very mild aliasing in a few scenes involving Excalibur. Obviously there were a few film artefacts present in the transfer and one or two of these were very noticeable, but this was no more than I was expecting from a film of this age, despite other transfers having demonstrated that they can be totally absent.

    This is a RSDL format disc, with the layer change occurring at 82:30. This is an extremely logical place to incorporate the layer change as it occurred during a static shot of the evening sky, which meant that it did not detract from nor interrupt the film in any way.

    Somewhat unusually for a Warners release, the special features on the back over are actually correct. Even better is the fact that this is hopefully the last snapper that will fall into my review pile, as the subsequent release batch has switched to the transparent Amaray case.


    Matching a pretty good remastered video transfer is a pretty decent audio transfer.

    There are three soundtracks on the DVD, being the default English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack and an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack. I listened to the English soundtrack, and made very minimal samples of the other two soundtracks, which certainly did not sound too great in comparison.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand throughout.

    There did not appear to be any audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The original music score comes from Trevor Jones, and a quite decent one it is too. Obviously drawing a little from the music of mediaeval times, the score is also complemented by excerpts from classical music, most notably from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, a piece written in the twentieth century but based upon compositions from the fifteenth century. The music nicely complements the film, without necessarily giving the film a huge amount of distinctiveness.

    This is a nicely remastered soundtrack with some reasonable detail through both the front and rear surround channels. Especially noteworthy is some of the bass support, nicely supportive without being too overbearing until required, like during thunderous horse riding sequences. The sound picture is entirely believable, if just a little too present out of the centre channel. The sound has quite a deal of space to it and there were no problem with distortion at all.


    Well a menu does count does it not? No, I guess it does not.


R4 vs R1

   Once again Region 4 has been stiffed by Warners and misses out on:    In addition, you cannot select all chaptered scenes from the menu, only about one third of them. The Region 1 version is quite clearly the way to go.


    Well, to be honest I quite enjoyed the film and this is not too shabby a disc from a technical point of view. However, I would suggest that if image and sound quality is important, then you should go for the better quality of First Knight, which has the added bonus of a better Guenevere too, although the story is perhaps not so good. Still, this is not a bad disc to add to the collection.

    A good quality video transfer, with some caveats.

    A good quality audio transfer.

    No extras at all.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
25th April 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL