Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, The (1988)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 12-Jan-2005

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Fantasy Main Menu Audio
Gallery-Photo
Trailer-Vincent Ward Trailer Reel
Trailer-Rain, The Boys, Safe, The Bank
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 87:46
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Vincent Ward
Studio
Distributor
Arenafilm
Madman Entertainment
Starring Bruce Lyons
Chris Haywood
Hamish McFarlane
Marshall Napier
Noel Appleby
Paul Livingston
Sarah Peirse
Mark Wheatley
Tony Herbert
Jessica Cardiff-Smith
Roy Wesney
Kathleen-Elizabeth Kelly
Jay Saussey
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Davood A. Tabrizi


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes, city signs.
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    I came to this review with mixed feelings. Before picking up the box I knew very little about the movie itself, but had not quite made up my mind about the other films that director Vincent Ward has had a hand in. On the positive side he was an Executive Producer on The Last Samurai which I watched and enjoyed a short time ago. On the negative side he had a hand in the story for the third Alien movie which would be one of my nominees for worst sequel of all time. Finally, the jury is still out on my feelings for What Dreams May Come which Ward directed in 1998.

    As far as The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey goes, it has an intriguing fantasy premise and has generated some good press for a relatively low budget local production. I have yet to find someone who saw it in its theatrical run (no, it is not that film with the teenager flying around in a UFO - from memory that was Flight of The Navigator). The film did win a swag of film awards on both sides of the Tasman, not always the best recommendation, but nothing to dismiss either. Another recommendation was the number of reviewers here at Michael D's who expressed an interest in reviewing the disc - strong demand to review a title is usually a good sign of the quality of the content.

    The film begins in Cumbria (a mountainous area in the north-west of the U.K. which contains the famous Lakes District) in March of the year 1348. With gritty Black & White photography we meet the inhabitants of a remote mining village who are nervous about an approaching scourge which is in the process of claiming 1/3 of the lives in Europe: "The shadow which advanced across Europe into England was known as The Black Death". The villagers are deeply religious but also very superstitious and are seeking signs and portents which will reveal their fate, or hopefully some way of avoiding the plague.

    We meet a young boy, Griffin, who is anxiously looking for Connor, his brother who has been away from the village for some weeks. Griffin has a vision that they must visit a faraway church and complete the steeple by placing a cross at its summit - doing so will mean the plague will miss their village. As part of his vision he sees a journey through the earth, starting at a nearby pit. When Connor returns he sets out on this quest with Griffin, along with some of the other (very nervous) villagers. As most of them have never left their village before this is a dark and dangerous quest (on his return to the village from the outside Connor notes that it seems "strange to see people smiling").

    Well, after much digging (and a switch to colour film) the group enter some mysterious sewers, and finding their way to the surface behold a mystical city of light. They have no idea where they are, though the audience soon understands that they have somehow found their way to modern day New Zealand. In this strange land even crossing a road at night becomes a major problem, but lo and behold, the church in the town needs a cross on its steeple to be complete. Can the group somehow finish forging the needed cross and find their way to the church and attach it? Adding a hint of danger, Griffin has another vision that one of them will die along the way.

    Though the story told in these basic terms seems rather far-fetched, it somehow works on the screen. The medieval scenes and characters come across as authentic, and ground the fantastic elements in reality. Even the Wizard of Oz style switch between Black & White and colour film seems natural, and not just a gimmick. The theme of the strength of faith against adversity which runs through the film is also sensitively handled. While I enjoyed the film I also found it a little disjointed at times, and I never quite developed an attachment for the characters, apart from Griffin. I also have reservations about the quality of the audio transfer (discussed in more detail later in this review) so that on balance this looks a worthy rental but a doubtful purchase unless you really love the film.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    I had some difficulty deciding on an overall rating for the video transfer; while the look of the film is meant to be authentic (with torchlight, candles and lamps providing ambient lighting) it also looks like it was filmed with a 16mm handheld camera and not regular 35mm film. On the whole it is acceptable and adds to the mood of the film.

    The video transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced - this is very close to the correct theatrical release ratio.

    The opening portion of the film is fairly dark, but this is probably an artistic decision to represent the available light in medieval times. Most of the film takes place at night, and shadow detail is very limited. There is also some low level noise during the opening Black & White scenes. Focus is soft in the first 25 minutes or so, but becomes reasonably sharp when the film shifts to colour at 22:47 (there are occasional moments of Black & White later in the film as well).

    The Black & White segments of the movie appear to have been shot on high contrast film as there is not much gradation in tones between the two extremes. The colour segments are mostly at night, so that the overall look of the film is dark and bleak, which makes the occasional shot of the sun or moon quite notable (and no doubt has just the impact the director intended). Colours are generally flat, my usual touchstone of judging flesh tones fails me here as there is never enough ambient light to judge how they look.

    There is little damage in the transfer, apart from occasional minor negative artefacts. The film does suffer from excessive grain (as around the 59:00 mark). It also swirls around maddeningly at times in the opening scenes. There is telecine wobble in the opening and closing credits and aliasing on the church shutters (what is it with aliasing and blinds and shutters?). The overall feel is very "low budget" but on the whole it is watchable enough.

    There are no subtitles - I really missed them when trying to make out the dialogue (more on that later).

    I did not notice the layer change.

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

Audio

    While the video transfer passes muster, the audio transfer is poor. At the end of the credits we find that the film has "Dolby Surround in Selected Theatres" - apparently mine is not one of them, as we are presented here with a very ordinary mono transfer.

    The only audio track on the disc is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track encoded at a bitrate of 224 Kb/s. As is often the case my amplifier seemed to dislike the mono track, refusing to place dialogue consistently in Dolby Digital mode, so I switched to Dolby Pro Logic mode and listened to the majority of the film that way. The audio track is also recorded at a VERY low volume level (the lowest I have heard on a DVD to date) - I had to have my volume dial close to full volume (on 80 watt per channel equipment) to pick up some of the dialogue, which made some sound effects too loud.

    Dialogue quality is very poor, with much of the dialogue muddy and indistinct, at varying volume levels. I had great difficulty hearing at least a third of the dialogue, despite repeated attempts to understand it. I am not sure why, but the dialogue in the Theatrical Trailer is much clearer and I was able to pick up some fragments of dialogue which I had trouble with in the main feature - shame. Audio sync is fair, but falls away at times, which seems to have been an original production issue rather than a mastering problem.

    The music is quite evocative, with lots of medieval sounding chants - it adds quite a lot to the enjoyment of the film. Unfortunately it is generally recorded at a higher level than the dialogue which adds to the discomfort in trying to find an acceptable volume level to listen at.

    There is very little in the way of surround activity. The only high point was the pealing of the church bells at 72:49 which sounded resonant. The subwoofer adds occasional bass to sound effects if directed to do so - it is pretty much absent in action otherwise.

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

Extras

    The extras are few, and only one or two have anything to do with the film on the disc - most are trailers for other films by the director or of other films from the DVD distributor. This is one film which really could have benefited from a director's commentary - it is a shame he is apparently showing so little interest in his home audience.

Menu

    The menu is static with audio; from it you can Play the Feature, Select Scenes, or Explore the Extras. There are 12 scene selections available.

Image Gallery

    This is really poor - there are 7 (yes, only 7) images, and they all have menu and navigation text superimposed across them.

Vincent Ward Trailer Reel

    Trailers for The Navigator, Vigil and What Dreams May Come. At varying aspect ratios they all run around two minutes; I don't think I would have rushed out to see any of these based on their trailer.

Madman Propaganda

    Trailers for Rain, The Boys, Safe and The Bank again at varying aspect ratios and around the 2 minute mark. I found the trailer to The Boys of interest as being the least likely to attract me to the film of any trailer I have seen in recent memory.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 version of this disc appears to share its poor mono sound with the local release. It has no extras but more importantly it is at an incorrect aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and so is to be avoided. Interestingly, the video release of the film was titled The Navigator: An Odyssey Across Time - perhaps time travel is seen as more marketable in the USA than medieval times.

Summary

    This is an intriguing film, and in some ways a breath of fresh air compared to some recent Hollywood films set in medieval times. It is marred by a very ordinary presentation on DVD, which suggests it is worth a rental at best for those intrigued by its premise. I realise that this is something of a cult favourite, but even fans are likely to be disappointed with what is on offer here.

    The video transfer is fair, and does a good job in capturing a mood.

    The audio transfer is just plain bad. This really is a poor example of local DVD authoring.

    The extras are few in number, and of limited interest.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Friday, July 01, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationKenwood
SpeakersKenwood

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
I saw it at the cinema back in '88... - James R REPLY POSTED