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EXCALIBUR ($20) is co-writer/director John Boorman’s somewhat earthy and decidedly bloody take on Arthurian legend. Adapted from Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d'Arthur, takes a naturalistic approach to the material that doesn’t glamorize a barbarous period in English history, where might made right; the nobility were little more than petty warlords that fought amongst themselves for land and the knights that fought behind them were the equivalent of mercenaries. As EXCALIBUR opens, Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) is in the midst of a battle with the Duke Of Cornwall. With the aid of his advisor, the sorcerer Merlin (Nicol Williamson), and the sword Excalibur, there is a brief truce with Cornwall that finds Uther named King. Unfortunately, Uther’s lusting for the Duke’s wife ruins Merlin’s plans for peace, but the sorcerer relents to Uther’s request to use magic to seduce the Cornwall’s wife, on the condition that Uther relinquish whatever results from his lust. Ultimately, his pact with Merlin requires that Uther give up a son born from his union with the Duke’s wife.

Uther’s reign proves short-lived; Excalibur becomes embedded in stone- only to be withdrawn by the hand of the rightful king. Years pass, the nobles and the knights continue their petty infighting with no king to unite England. Young Arthur (Nigel Terry) attends a jousting tournament with his father and brother, with the victorious knight winning the right to attempt to draw the sword from the stone. Serving as his brother’s squire, Arthur discovers his brother’s sword stolen and seeks a replacement. Stumbling upon Excalibur, Arthur is able to draw the sword from the stone. A sudden appearance from Merlin, reveals Arthur as Uther’s son and the rightful king. The pronouncement divides the nobles, but Arthur’s acts of bravery ultimately result is unanimous declarations of loyalty to the new king. Under Arthur’s reign comes the golden age of Camelot, the Knights of the Roundtable, marriage to Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and friendship with Lancelot (Nicholas Clay). However, Arthur's half-sister, Morgana (Helen Mirren), conspires against him, and through sorcery, rumor and sex, she sets out to destroy the King. The cast of EXCALIBUR also features Paul Geoffrey, Robert Addie, Keith Buckley, Katrine Boorman, Liam Neeson, Corin Redgrave, Niall O'Brien and Patrick Stewart.

Warner Home Video has made EXCALIBUR available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. EXCALIBUR features a fine 1080p presentation that makes the most of the film’s diffuse/misty/gauzy cinematography. With an intact grain structure, there are no indications that the image has been further softened in the digital realm, with the picture producing a textured appearance. In high definition, EXCALIBUR demonstrates better image detail than I have ever witnessed on this title previously. Colors are somewhat subdued, and look absolutely correct considering early eighties film stocks and the other stylistic choices being made by Boorman and cinematographer Alex Thomson. Blacks are reasonably accurate, as are the whites. Contrast looks good, but is a little flat due to the afore mentioned stylistic choices. Shadow detail is acceptable, but can drop off into the abyss in places. The elements from which EXCALIBUR has been mastered appeared relatively clean. Grain is ever present, and is sometimes a little heavy, which maintains the film-like quality of the presentation.

EXCALIBUR is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Considering that EXCALIBUR originated in the Dolby Surround era, the soundtrack has been very nicely upgraded. Of course, the track does exhibit qualities that clearly tie it to the era it was produced. This being a sword and sorcery movie, the sound design is reasonably engaging during the action sequences, but the majority of the sound is localized to the stereo imaged forward soundstage, while the surround channels add reinforcement in the form of mild ambience and fill. The lossless encode enhances the musical component reasonably well. Sound effects are a little more hit or miss, with some sounding a bit canned. Additionally, bass channel proved surprisingly potent. Voices are cleanly reproduced and the dialogue maintains complete intelligibility. French and Spanish Dolby Digital monaural tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the extras. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with co-writer/director John Boorman. A Theatrical Trailer close out the extras.

EXCALIBUR is an earthy and bloody adaptation of Arthurian legend that has lost none of its power after thirty years. The Blu-ray offers the finest home presentation of EXCALIBUR that I have ever seen. Recommended.


Excalibur [Blu-ray] (1981)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2011 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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