5 August 2006 | Quinoa1984
one of Romero's most ambitious films is a grand entertainment
Knightriders does more than prove that George A. Romero, most known for his Living-Dead pictures, is really overall a great storyteller and developer of characters and, above all craftsman. But it also shows how a filmmaker can subvert a genre that is really hard to define (is there such a genre as medieval racing, as it doesn't really fit into the typical 'biker movie' mold either), while sticking to an ideal that is more old fashioned. Romero has an ensemble put together than could almost remind one of an Altman film, as if this was his Nashville. Yet in spirit I'm more reminded of a Howard Hawks film- a director who was an influence on Romero- in having a group of characters fitting an amusing, rousing adventure story where the old director's credo still stands- there's not much drama without action. What's even more surprising, or really what might come as more surprising to those who just stick to the Romero zombie movies if they happen to come across this, is the attention to characters, mood, and above all superlative craftsmanship.
Ed Harris plays a King-like role that, much as in a Hawks film, could have been played by John Wayne. Like a Wayne character Harris is set in a very specific mind frame (to the point, of course, of being stubborn and head-strong) that can hardly be changed, even if he is a nice guy once in a while through his tougher moments. And, indeed, sometimes his delusions of grandeur have to face up to reality past the fantasy. But unlike Wayne, Harris has a constant, unwavering appeal as an actor, who is constantly watchable even in a role that doesn't give him as much to do as in some of his more memorable parts. He's surrounded by actors who have made up many of Romero's other films- Tom Savini (who is quite good as an actor here, usually known for his great make-up), Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Christine Forrest, John Amplas, and Anthony Dileo Jr- and help back up his traveling troupe of medieval-times type of motorcycle riders, all who provide more or less very human characterizations. The story basically focuses on these guys and how the times seem to be catching up with them- and tempting some- away from the lower-end type spectacles for the locals. But, in the end, things get patched up and a 'for-themselves' tournament is launched to determine the new 'King'.
The film is not impervious to criticism. It's a little overlong (perhaps one too many a coda at the end, even as Billy's payback to the Deputy is one of the highlights of the film), and the usual social commentary that Romero strikes his hottest at is really, aside from the small bits of reality checks for the troupe, break down to the media being shallow and self-destructive by luring away Savini and some of the others. Such parts kind of seem weaker, and even for this kind of old-fashioned adventure/action story too conventional. Nevertheless there is so much in the film that is richly entertaining and interesting, with many little moments being some of the funniest in any Romero film (including some high flying bits, and a hysterical cameo from Stephen King), and touching ones to boot in the climax. On top of Knightriders being an excellent showcase for what a director like Romero can be capable of with different material that covers dramatic ground, is his technical prowess. Coming off of another ambitious picture, Dawn of the Dead, his editing chops are still tight as can be, and seeing the riding sequences is downright exhilarating. Romero's eye and timing with the storytelling in action- and knowing how to keep things breathtaking (as with Dawn) without becoming too chaotic- is really un-canny and one of the most underrated aspects of his whole career, of which this would be his last credited as.
Also accompanying the film is a sweet, pitch-perfect score by Donald A. Rubinstein (not credited the site) to the proceedings, and what pops out in the end of this epic tale of reality facing un-reality and the kinds of people to different degrees who stake their lives to such a cause and living. It's a near-masterpiece that is a nifty find if you come across it in your video store.