Wednesday, November 18, 2009

George A. Romero's Knightriders With Ed Harris

I have written in the past that one of my favorite directors is George A. Romero. Recently while looking for films of Romero’s I haven’t seen I came across a gem of a movie named Knightriders. While the film was originally released in 1981 it is a film worth review and notice. As people who love film, sometimes when looking for something good to view, we are privileged to live in a time when we can access older films we haven’t seen or heard of. For me, Knightriders is such a film, and if a fan of quality B movies you haven’t heard of, you won’t do much better than this.

Knightriders takes an unusual twist for George Romero who is known for his zombie and gore movies. Knightriders is a film that follows a Renaissance Troop who has as a desire, to live in the spirit of the Renaissance. There is good King Billy played by Ed Harris and his myriad of knights including actors such as Tom Savini, Gary Jahti, and numerous others who have been in many of Romero’s films. Individuals like Ken Foree are also there along with some wonderful cameos from such people as Stephen King.

There is a unique twist though to this fair story, a unique attribute that adds to the story itself. The story follows this group of individuals who live in the 1980’s as opposed to the Middle Ages. Instead of horses, they ride motorcycles, and they fight their battles and participate in their games as they take their journey from town to town entertaining all of those who would enjoy. While there is the opportunity and challenge to accept financial gain, the desire of living in the spirit and attitude of the time frame which they represent is more important to them. This is the story played out in Knightriders, the conflict of the challenges placed on one through commercialism versus the desire to follow ones dreams, loves, and passions. King Billy and the faithful see the potential harm in following the pursuit and love of money versus the need and desire to care for something one can’t buy, the concept of honor and family.

For a movie that never garnished much fan support, Knightriders may be among the best ‘unknown’ or ‘little known’ films I have personally seen. This now cult classic has the opportunity to garnish even more fan support, especially with recent releases by Romero and remakes of such movies as The Crazies. Hopefully he will garnish fans that will value his true genius, not just in the horror genera, but in his ability to make movies of any style.

Knightriders had the unfortunate happenstance of being released during the same time as the popular Medieval film Excalibur, and while it garnished better reviews from such sources as Newsweek, it never garnished the fan support at the time of release. I think largely due to the smaller advertising budgets but that will never be known. Fortunately, this well acted film, featuring the wonderful Ed Harris and others like Tom Savini who is well known for his work with special effects and being in various cult films can now be seen. Savini actually gets to act in this film but we also get to see some incredible stunt work throughout the film. This well developed, true to the concepts of King Arthur tale is a wonderful modernization of the era that originally drew Romero’s attention while attending an actual Renaissance Fair. While there are some lackluster edits in the film, Romero gives tremendous direction to this unique concept, and it highlights his true abilities as a director and writer. One of the fun things about this movie is that while it was released in 1981, the story holds up and entertains.

In Knightrider King Billy understands the concept of being true to ones goals, dreams, and the simplicity of life. He understands the need to have people be together, to love and support each other. He is challenged though, his journey includes a journey that has as a crown, “a crown of thorns.” He is not just a king; he is a savior to a group of people who realize their own individual need for community. There is the story of loyalty, love, dedication, and the need of family which is ultimately what this group is, a family of misfits who have yet to find joy in the surroundings they live in. It is why they form their own community, it is why that ultimately, when challenged, they realize what they have, but sometimes it is only when you loose what you have that you realize what it was you had to start with. While these people live in a modern world, they ultimately find joy in following what many consider old concepts. It is if you will a form of church. It is a type of church that understands the value of following a belief, while being committed to each other as opposed to the potential of commercialism. They ultimately understand real riches come in relationship, not per say dollars. Real community comes in being with each other, not in a world so focused on self consumption. They also realize that sometimes real opportunity, real love, comes with real sacrifice, sacrifice that is not always so pleasant to bear.

One of the fun things about this is the directors and actors commentary that comes attached to the DVD. There was no doubt this crew loved making this movie. Savini talks about how it was one of the best summers of his life and that Romero was essentially making, “a very personal story about fighting the dragon of commercialism.” While this is an incredibly enjoyable and thought provoking well made film there are some things that could have been done a little better. There are certain relational concepts that could have been done better, and one has to almost watch this twice to catch all of the symbolism. A little research after watching the film initially, then watching again will provide some insight into how well this film is made.

Romero adds to the legend of his genius in Knightriders. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it is an exceptionally good movie that is totally different than many who are knowledgeable of Romero would know. Over the years, this quirky director has been loyal to his actors, and technical crews, you hear that illustrated in the directors commentary cut, and you see that in many of his movies. Romero, unfortunately due to the style of film he has made is not recognized in the way he should be for his abilities. I think more movies like Knightrider would have helped with that but I think Romero don’t really care so much what people think. Just like King Billy, he follows his own heart, he follows his own path, and fortunately some of us have been there for the ride.

Overall, as a cult classic DVD, this film is one you will want to buy if a fan of Romero. Even if not a fan, I think most will enjoy this movie, it makes for a wonderful Friday or Saturday evening viewing at home, and a good movie to have friends over to discuss the concepts of the movie. Better yet, you can purchase this movie for a very reasonable price. I actually purchased mine for less than $8 and I have personally already seen this movie three times. It is that good. If looking for a fun surprise, you can’t do much better than this one. You’ll see a good story, with a good message, and a thought provoking plot to go along with some good action sequences and some rather remarkable stunts. For those who expect the gore and guts, you will be disappointed, but if expecting the excellent and wonderful social commentary that Romero is known for, even the Romero fans of such films as Night of the Living Dead will be pleased. Now enough for the review, time for me to go back to those special features on the DVD.

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