Ridley Scott’s first feature film The Duellists has made its Blu-ray debut in Australia thanks to new boutique label Imprint Films as No. 4 in their first wave of five titles. Spanning the course of almost twenty years, this early 19th century period piece involves a long-standing feud between two soldiers in Napoleon’s army. d’Hubert and Feraud, played by Keith Carradine, son of the legendary John “I was in every movie” Carradine, and Harvey Keitel (Taxi Driver), engage in a series of gentlemanly, but deadly serious, duels as they both rise through the ranks during a pivotal time in France’s history, which sets them apart in more ways than one.
The Duellists is a stunning portrait of honourable conduct born out of what is essentially petty grievance, instigated by the ill-tempered Feraud, who takes exception to the unintentional arrogance exhibited by the pragmatic d’Hubert. Their opposing attitudes continue to serve as the basis for their future encounters and reflects the political and social changes occurring throughout the landscape of France during Napoleon’s reign as military leader and emperor. d’Hubert and Feraud’s sword-wielding exploits become the talk of legend, especially since duelling between solders is strictly forbidden, and with it comes notoriety for both parties. The time lapses between bouts prove to be an effective means in developing their characters and while d’Hubert is the film’s central figure, we’re still able to see the different path Feraud is on; a military man loyal to his leader, whereas his counterpart aligns himself politically with royalty, which ultimately serves him well after Napoleon’s defeat. Shot primary in France, the lush countryside is captured in stunning detail, making use of the many centuries-old structures that remain scattered across the land. The buildings have a haunting quality, harbouring the memories of events untold, which have no doubt been an integral part of a nation’s growth and expanse over many years. Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel both excel in their very distinguished roles, and well-choreographed swordplay gives their performances further authenticity. Our leads have great chemistry and despite being very ‘American’ actors, it’s hard to imagine anyone else holding their sabres. Together the pair tell a story that’s in a way subtle, but quite powerful and moving, especially as the film reaches its climax.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Sourced from Paramount Picture, this 1080p 1.78:1 presentation of The Duellists yields an impressive and consistently-crisp image throughout the 100-minute runtime on a region-free disc. However, it would appear that at some point, those behind the HD restoration have enhanced the brightness during specific scenes as I noticed that some digital noise was present in black areas of the screen. It’s likely that this ‘side effect’ won’t be visible on newer TV screens, but if it does, a quick change to your picture settings should do the trick. There’s a nice ambient quality to the many interiors scenes, which are lit via candles or lamps, while natural colours show up beautifully during outdoor sequences. Sound is very rich in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, which is evident from the menu screen. It’s an immersive track that accentuates Howard Black’s score and excellently accentuates the dialogue’s eloquent use of language. English subtitles included.
- Audio commentary with director Ridley Scott
- Audio commentary & Isolated Score with composer Howard Blake
- Interview with actor Keith Carradine
- Duelling Directors: Ridley Scott and Kevin Reynolds interview
- Photo and Poster Gallery
- Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1000 copies
Despite not being a world-first Blu-ray release, Imprint Films has compiled a nice assortment of bonus material from previous disc-based editions, which gives their HD treatment a very dignified quality. Keith Carradine speaks fondly of The Duellists, particularly how impressed he was by Scott’s resourcefulness to make the picture with less than a million dollars; while also divulging small and interesting details like how he chose the accent for his character of d’Hubert. Duelling Directors take a deeper look at the production with Kevin Costner’s puppet director, Kevin Reynolds, picking the brain of Ridley Scott, who he clearly admires. The two commentary tracks offer even more of a historical deep-dive and Howard Blake’s isolated score very much echoes that old phrase of “actions speak louder than words” during fight scenes. The packaging is consistent with Imprint previous releases, although the standard artwork doesn’t differ as greatly from the slipcase, but provides a nice contrast in red, white and black while utilising theatrical artwork.
I imagine most collectors would be picking up all of Imprint’s releases regardless, we’re a little insane like that, but if you’re more selective with your movie purchases, definitely consider The Duellists simply because it’s just all-around excellent filmmaking.
(1977, director: Ridley Scott)
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direct blu-ray screen captures