Sword of War (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 13-May-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Historical Epic Trailer-x 4 but not for this film
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 128:55
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Renzo Martinelli
Studio
Distributor
Pinnacle Films Starring Rutger Hauer
Raz Degan
F. Murray Abraham
Christo Jivkov
Antonio Cupo
Cécile Cassel
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Aldo De Scalzi
Pivio


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Europe, 12th Century. Frederick I Hohenstaufen (Rutger Hauer), known as Barbarossa, takes as his second wife Beatrice of Burgundy (Cecile Cassel). Frederick controls a swathe of Europe, including Northern Italy, and dreams of recreating the empire of Charlemagne. The northern Italian cities war amongst themselves and when the city of Milan rejects an instruction from Frederick not to attack Lodi, Frederick and his army invade Italy and besiege Milan. The Milanese are divided among themselves; Cardinal Siniscalco Barozzi (F. Murray Abraham) wants to surrender to Frederick, others including blacksmith Alberto da Giussano (Raz Degan) and his brothers want to fight. Also in the city is Tessa (Federica Martinelli), whom Barozzi loves but who Tessa rejects, and her sister Eleonora (Kasia Smutniak). Eleonora is a seer who, Cassandra like, has terrifying visions of the future. She also loves Alberto, but rejects him because of the future she sees.

     After a siege and a number of attacks, Barozzi betrays Milan to Frederick’s troops, who take the city. The walls of Milan are destroyed, its citizens scattered across Italy. Frederick moves on to occupy Rome and in the Vatican is crowned Holy Roman Emperor. But on the day of his coronation the plague strikes Rome, and Frederick and his army are forced to retreat to northern Italy.

     But this is not Frederick’s only problem. His cousin Henry sends money, not the troops Frederick needs, and Alberto has rallied the youth of the northern Italian cities, forming the “Company of Death” to oppose Frederick. Following Alberto’s example, the cities form the Lombard League and in 1176 AD, at the Battle of Legnano, they defeat Frederick and declare their freedom.

     Sword of War has appeared in a number of versions. It was originally called Barbarossa or Barbarossa: Siege Lord in Europe, where there was apparently a 200 minute version for Italian TV and another Italian 139 minute film cut. The Region B UK Blu-ray (which I own) runs only 123:31 as does the Region B German release. By the time the film was released in the US on DVD it was titled Sword of War and ran 123 minutes. The Region A US Blu-ray is listed with a running time of 126 minutes. Our Region B release has a running time of 128:55, the longest cut of the film currently available.

     Sword of War is an Italian production reminiscent of the type of sword and sandal or spaghetti western filmmaking in the 60s. Import a couple of “names” from American or Europe, round out the production with Italians speaking Italian, dub the whole thing, indifferently, into English and release on the English speaking market to make some money. In this case the names are Rutger Hauer and F. Murray Abraham but despite the film being called Barbarossa on release, neither Hauer or Abraham are essential to the plot which is really about Alberto, Eleonora and the creation of the northern Italian Lombard League.

     Indeed, this highlights the main problem with the film: it tries to tell too many stories, most of them peripheral to the main storyline. These include the relationship between Frederick and Beatrice, for example, but even worse is the subplot of Barozzi’s love for Tessa which has nothing to do with anything. The visions of Eleonora are interesting, but really go nowhere, and there is her capture by Barozzi and her supposed burning at the stake as a witch. This is a bit of a cheat; likewise the scene where Frederick goes to a nun who has visions and who foretells his death by water. The film later has a scene where Frederick goes into the river to help secure a bridge of boats – this I suppose after the earlier prophesy is intended to create a bit of tension. As people who know any history would realise, Frederick did drown in a river but it was when he was on his way to the Crusades, 14 years after the events of this film. So the prophesy scene was not really relevant to this film.

     Other things worthy of comment are the dubbing and the action scenes. A number of writers have criticised the poor English dubbing, with some justification, although I have to say the voice acting is not as bad as some I have heard in old spaghetti westerns! Mind you, it is not helped by some very silly dialogue that probably would sound silly in any language. The battle sequences are not frequent, but when fighting occurs it is quite violent and bloody, the film justifying its MA rating. However, while the battles are bloody, their staging is quite ponderous and not particularly exciting.

     However, there are certainly some things to like in Sword of War. Big men in armour on big horses thundering across the landscape with banners flying is always good to watch. The cinematography of the Romanian countryside is delightful and the costumes, both of the nobility and peasantry, are first class, with armour, mail and clothing looking very authentic. Rutger Hauer has little to do except look grizzled and gruff, but Raz Degan and Kasia Smutniak are fine and F. Murray Abraham makes the best of a rather thankless role.

     With a tighter, more controlled plotting, including deciding where the focus of the film should be, Sword of War could have been far more interesting. Instead, it jumps around far too much and there are a number of people in scenes who seem important but we have no idea who they are. Perhaps Sword of War would indeed make more sense as a mini-series where the sub-plots can be developed, so the 200 minute cut, if it is ever available, may be interesting.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Sword of War is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the original aspect ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code. The cover slick states wrongly that the Blu-ray aspect ratio is 1.78:1.

     The print looks great. Detail is crisp and sharp, with every whisker and wrinkle in full view. Chain mail and armour sparkles, banners fly and the Romanian countryside looks beautiful. Colours are deep but natural, brightness and contrast consistent. Blacks and shadow detail are excellent. Other than slight occasional ghosting, artefacts were absent.

     There are no subtitles. When Beatrice speaks French with her companion, white English subtitles appear automatically.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio track options are English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps.

     The English DTS- HD MA 5.1 is very good although dialogue is sometimes hard to hear, especially some of the dubbing, and as there are no subtitles information can be lost.

     The surrounds are constantly in action with music, the thud of horses, cries in the battle scenes, the clash of weapons and ambient sound. There are some panning effects with crossbow bolts, fireballs and horse’s hooves. The subwoofer supported the explosions, thundering hooves, the sounds of battle and the music when required but was never excessive.

     The choral and orchestral score by Aldo de Scalzi is reminiscent of Hans Zimmer. It is excellent and supported the visuals well.

     Lip synchronisation varied considerably and on occasion it was quite noticeable that some actors were not speaking English.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     On start-up we get four trailers which can also be selected from the extras menu.

Trailers

     REC 2 (1:22), Uninhabited (2:05), The Reef (2:13) and The Hole (2:01).

Image Gallery

     Around 67 film stills; background music, use the remote to advance to the next image.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     As noted Sword of War has appeared in a number of versions. It was originally called Barbarossa or Barbarossa: Siege Lord in Europe. The Region B UK Blu-ray runs only 123:31 as does the Region B German release (which adds as extras a featurette (7:19), film promo (8:15) and the original trailer. The Region A US Blu-ray is listed on Amazon but is showing as currently unavailable, with a running time of 126 minutes. Our Region B release, with the correct aspect ratio and a running time of 128:55 is the longest cut of the film currently available. While I do own the UK Blu-ray, I have not been enthusiastic enough to do a frame by frame comparison to sort out the differences. Our version is fine.

Summary

     Sword of War is an Italian production, in English, set in the Middle Ages. The film has pretentions to epic grandeur, but does not work as well as it could due to trying to tell too many stories, most of them peripheral to the main storyline.

     The video and audio are fine, extras limited to an image gallery.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, September 03, 2012
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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