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Duellists - Special Collector's Edition
Digital 5.1 and 2.0, French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono
Ridley Scott/ Composer Howard Blake
with director Ridley Scott & Kevin Reynolds
with behind the scenes productions/ Poster & Movie Stills/
Harvey Keitel, Albert Finney, Edward Fox, Cristina Raines
"This story is about an eccentric
kind of hunger," comes the opening narration of "The Duellists,"
a serious period drama that takes a more reserved approach
to what dozens of other films have bastardized for cheap thrills
since the dawn of moviemaking: the duel. Normally, we're treated
to a sequence in which two men are either A) swordfighting
for five minutes or so until one man dies, or B) taking ten
steps away from one another before turning around and taking
a shot. This movie, however, handles more than just the logistics
of the event itself: as the film will tell you, honor is like
a drug for the duelist who demands satisfaction. ***
The film is based on a true story
as well as a story written by Joseph Conrad; it tells of two
officers under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte's army during
his rule in France in the early 1800's. Gabriel Feraud (Harvey
Keitel), the older of the two, is seen in the opening engaging
in a duel with an unknown man; he wins, and later celebrates
his victory in the company of the wealthy. Enter Armand d'Hubert
(Keith Carradine), the officer assigned to Feraud's arrest;
apparently, the mayor of Strasbourg didn't find it particularly
in his favor that his nephew happened to be the slain party
of the early morning swordfight. ***
d'Hubert later removes Feraud from
his entertainment and attempts to make the arrest; Feraud
is insulted and becomes enraged, and engages d'Hubert in a
duel. d'Hubert leaves his mark and exits, but old wounds and
a fractured ego don't heal easily. Something besides Feraud's
forearm has been injured: it's as if his very pride has been
taken from him with one single cut, his very essence stripped
from his soul. He must have satisfaction: it becomes a constant,
a factor that never leaves his mind for the next fifteen years
of his life. ***
The rest of the film is a series
of political and social changes for the two men: the fall
of Napoleon, the rise of Louis the XVIII, d'Hubert's marriage
to a woman with whom he conceives a child, all bring about
vast differences in their lives between the past and present.
Still, there remains that riff between the two, that irrepressible
desire in Feraud to attain his justice, and that yearning
in d'Hubert to simply end it once and for all. The various
thematic elements involving honor, obsession, and violence
come into play throughout the film, as well as the constant
questions of who will win out in the end, or who will become
the better man by showing a capability of granting mercy.
You see, honor doesn't necessarily mean murder. ***
All of this is handled extremely
well by Scott, who guides the proceedings with a steady hand
on the tiller of authenticity. The period setting is meticulously
crafted with exquisite details in sets, costumes, and props,
bringing 19th-century Europe to life with striking beauty.
The duel sequences retain a high factor of intensity about
them, making for quite a few instances in which holding your
breath is a prerequisite. Keitel and Carradine, despite their
lapses in accent, give strong performances fueled by authentic
representations of rage, internal conflict, and adherence
to honor. "The Duellists" may have gone by without much of
a ruckus, but it stands as proof that Scott was a director
of great talent, vision, and ability from the very beginning.
The 1.85:1 image transfer for "The
Duellists" is a nice presentation that should satisfy fans
of the long-awaited release. For starters, the picture has
been cleaned up exquisitely from the previous VHS versions,
and looks just great. Grain and dirt a virtually a memory,
while there is very little noise within the image to provide
distractions. Colors are appropriately drained in some cases,
while very vibrant and well-saturated in others; the balance
between the two mediums is excellent. Contrast is also in
fine shape and is complimented by solid blacks throughout.
Edges are sharp most of the time, with some softer appearances
in some of the darker interior scenes and some of the underlit
exterior scenes. Other than that, this transfer is a winner.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track earns
points for its cleanliness and expansive use of the front
end. Dialogue sounds terrific and is nicely centered, while
many of the sound effects are also commendably blemish-free.
The surrounds become engaged for the score and the occasional
sound effect, such a scene which takes place in a tent on
a rainy night, or the windy, snowy mountains of Russia, which
can be heard all around. Deep bass is minimal, but not really
needed much, so it doesn't matter. A worthy presentation,
if altogether not as impressive as other audio tracks.
The isolated score, presented in
2.0 surround, is dotted here and there with commentary from
the composer, Howard Blake, who is a man of little words from
what we have on the DVD. His technique is to wait until the
musical cue is finished before he begins his discussion, which
is actually admirable, because you don't have to struggle
to hear one or the other. Blake basically introduces the themes
as well as their origins, and his inspirations for the music.
Overall, not a bad shot. ***
The featurette "Dueling Directors"
is an interview with Ridley Scott conducted by fellow director
Kevin Reynolds, who happens to be a big fan of "The Duellists."
It's basically the development of the movie from page to screen,
spliced with some footage from the movie, and even a vintage
1977 interview with screenwriter Gerald Vaughan-Hughes. There
is also footage of Scott accepting the award for "Best Debut
Film" at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. Scott also talks about
staging the duel challenges, and keeping the dramatic impact
of the scene intact. ***
Then we move on to the storyboards,
which are presented both in storyboard-only format, and in
split-screen format (always a plus). And then we have an interesting
presentation of Scott's first short film, called "Boy and
Bicycle," shot in black and white. Purely an experimental
piece, but like many of these types of films, it's interesting
to try and point out the various stylistic influences that
have stayed with Scott as a director throughout the years.
Closing out the disc is a photo
gallery with behind-the-scenes, production, poster and movie
stills, and a theatrical trailer.
feature commentary with Ridley Scott is an engaging conversation
with the director about his various techniques and methods of
crafting his first movie. He refers a great deal to his career
as a television commercial director here, pointing out that
his experience in that field helped him to position some of
the fight scenes the way they appear. He also discusses things
like the casting, the short filming schedule of six weeks, trying
to find a studio that would fund the film, and the production
as a learning experience for him and his crew. Anyone who enjoys
commentaries will not want to pass this one up.
we have yet another fine special edition from Paramount. "The
Duellists" isn't as full of goodies as some of the previous
releases before it ("Sunset Boulevard" comes to mind), but it
still has some weight just the same.