George A. Romero became a very famous man because of his Living Dead Trilogy. The first of these films, "Night of the Living Dead" is widely accepted as one of the greats of horror cinema. Shot with nearly no budget, this film is king of zombie movies. The eventual success of "Night of the Living Dead" led to "Dawn of the Dead." Dawn had a larger budget and was much more ambitious. It became an instant success around the globe. To follow up "Dawn of the Dead," Romero decided to change gears and film "Knightriders," a tremendously different type of film from a man renowned for his zombies.
Of course, "Knightriders" was a George A. Romero film. Fans knew what they wanted to see. They wanted to see zombies and gore on the big screen. They did not want to see a film about a traveling renaissance faire that rode motorcycles in place of horses. Because of this loyal, but narrow focused fanbase, "Knightriders" did not last very long in theaters. It was a huge disappointment. The film was rejected by the public and quickly faded. "Knightriders" was not down for the count though. It gained a second wind in the video market and eventually found a loyal audience. As with other Romero films, it became a cult classic. "Knightriders" found a home on VHS. Anchor Bay has made quite a name for themselves by releasing obscure films onto DVD as wonderful special editions and they have given "Knightriders" the royal treatment and opened up the fanbase for this film even more.
"Knightriders" is certainly a different beast than those zombies that Romero is known for. The film is far from being a bad film. It is also not a great film. It's entertainment! The film has some merit in Hollywood history though. It marks the debut role for the great Ed Harris, who puts forth his usual incredible performance. It is also the only film to feature motorcycle riding knights. There are some truly great moments to be found in "Knightriders." This is not to say the film is without problems. First, it was shot on a limited budget and this shows through. Secondly and most importantly, this film is way too long. It runs nearly two and a half hours. It feels much longer. The film could have been edited down to two hours and retained all of the important and necessary parts.
As far as the story goes, it is about a band of motorcycle and medieval age enthusiasts who follow their "king", William (Ed Harris). They have a monarchy structure in place and the usual follower that destines to be king, Morgan (Tom Savini). Morgan and William have jousted before and it is clear that Morgan is the better warrior. William is having a hard time dealing with the defeat and is also badly injured. His days as king are dwindling down. Fortunately, a protector of the throne, Alan (Gary Lahti) is able to lead the king's knights and protect the crown. This causes dissention among the ranks.
Fame is also knocking on the door and Hollywood and Las Vegas come knocking. William does not want to be famous, but he can barely pay the group. Morgan sees this as a golden opportunity and leads much of the group away to start his version of the faire. The group has some difficulty coping with losing members and separating. They also come to realize that it is more than fame and fortune to what they are doing, it is a way of life. And their way of life is being together. The group rebands and Morgan and William agree to work together and put together an incredible battle.
Does this sound intriguing? Well, it is. The story is very unique and certainly entertaining. It is also a reflection on Romero's beliefs on Hollywood. Romero chooses to stick to his beliefs and avoid big budget Hollywood films. Because of this, his films are forced to remain low-budget and not attract the huge audiences he could if he were working for major studios. There is a lot of Romero written into William. Because of this, "Knightriders" does have a sense of passion in its filmmaking. This shows through and helps the film along and partly explains the grating length. The length is hard to bear and there is a lot of meat in the script that is covered. To sum it up, "Knightriders" is a film that has been overlooked and deserves much more credit than it has been given.
"Knightriders" has an epic length but does look nearly epic in scale. The costumes and sets are perfect. Watching the film, it is hard to think of anyway that any given scene could have been improved visually. The traveling band, the fans and all of the props look extremely authentic. Having seen renaissance fairs and carnivals, I can say that Romero nailed the look and feel of these events. Someone in mainstream Hollywood would never have been able to produce this film to near visual perfection as Romero has done. For all of its length, "Knightriders" looks wonderful.
Of course, a great looking film deserves a great looking transfer. In the very capable hands of Anchor Bay, "Knightriders" has received just that. The film is framed in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This film was shot for a relatively low budget. It died a horrible box office budget and it is nineteen years old. However, somehow, Anchor Bay has managed to find a nearly pristine print of the film. The transfer is remarkably free of source defects. No scratches, no dirt, nearly no film grain. The colors are a bit washed out due to age, but other than that, this film looks perfect. It is also free of any digitally induced bugs. More and more I am impressed by how Anchor Bay is able to churn out product of obscure films that puts some studios releases of more popular films.
The score for "Knightriders" is simple but fitting. Donald Rubenstein (who also appears in the film as a musician) has done an exceptional job creating a score that fits each scene but does not detract from what is happening on screen. The score helps set the mood and entertain. As far as sound effects go, motorcycles and crashes heavily populate "Knightriders." The sound effects are well done and the dialogue is clear as well. Nothing pops out and comes off as apparent ADR work. The effects and dialogue all come across as natural. Unfortunately, the disc is only mastered in Dolby Digital Mono. The soundtrack is crisp and clear but it suffers from a lack of range that does not do the motorcycle sequences any justice. This is a film that leaves you wanting to hear more.
This DVD is not labeled as a Special Edition. However, it is far from being a bare bones release, as there are some supplements to be found. The basic extras are the theatrical trailer and two television spots for the film. After these short advertisements, there is a fifteen-minute collection of home videos that document what occurred behind-the-scenes. Some of this footage is quite interesting. The only problem with this footage is that it is void of a soundtrack. A little musical accompaniment from the soundtrack would have went a long way here.
The real gem of the disc is the audio commentary. The commentary was recorded with primary inclusion of director George A. Romero, actors Tom Savini and John Amplas, Christine Romero (George's wife) and film historian Chris Stavrakis. This commentary is basically the recording of a bunch of friends getting together to discuss a project they all apparently loved. The majority of the discussion features Romero and Savini who have worked together frequently over the years. They discuss the underlying themes of the film and the importance the film has to each of them. This commentary is top notch and the film moves along quicker with the commentary selected as the soundtrack.
The first thing noticeable with the "Knightriders" DVD is its packaging. It comes in a gold Alpha keep case and not the usual black. This instantly says "Hey, there's something special about me!" After the gold case comes the very interesting cover artwork depicting Ed Harris wearing armor and sitting on a motorcycle. This is not something you see every day. This DVD is not labeled as a special edition, but it contains more supplements than many special edition releases and it truly has been given the royal treatment, down to its golden keep case.
"Knightriders" is not a film you would expect from the master of the zombie picture, George A. Romero. It is not even your typical subject matter. It is a peculiar and unique film that is quite entertaining, though a bit long winded. Ed Harris who has moved on since "Knightriders"to become one of Hollywood's best actors gives a great freshmen performance. Anchor Bay has continued their blazing movement to release obscure films as quality DVD releases by giving King William and his "Knightriders" the royal treatment. The sound is good and the image quality is astonishing. This film has never had the opportunity to look this good. There is also a very entertaining commentary and some other minor supplements. If you are a Romero fan or you are a true fan of this film, this is a must have DVD. For many others, it might still be worth checking out.