Excalibur: Premium Collection Blu-ray review

From the earliest days of cinema, the Arthurian legend has proven to be irresistible to filmmakers. Key to this is the way in which the source material is open to such wildly disparate approaches on the silver screen, whether it's the medieval brutality of Lancelot du Lac, the animated antics of Disney's Sword in the Stone, Richard Harris singing his way around Camelot or the Monty Python gang's quest for the Holy Grail.

For his 1981 film, director John Boorman returned to what must surely be the best-known piece of Arthurian literature, Thomas Malory's 15th century novel Le Morte d'Arthur. Shot entirely on location in Ireland, the resulting film is a tale of sex and violence, love and betrayal, power and corruption; all filtered through a prism of unknowable primordial forces.

It is, of course, completely bonkers. But Boorman commits to the lunacy so completely and stages scenes of such astonishing lushness that it proves impossible to resist.

Picture: Shot with a mix of fog and filters, Excalibur was never going to be a film for those that like their hi-def encodes razor-sharp and packed full of fine details. That said, Warner's Blu-ray presentation is a seemingly accurate representation of the source material, and still plays host to deep shadows and areas of verdant colour within all of the mud and grime. Native film grain is finely resolved and the source print is in good condition.

We do have an issue the framing of the 1080p image. While most sources claim that the film was originally composed for 1.85:1, there are counter-claims that a 1.66:1 version, which appeared on UK TV, more accurately reflects the intentions of Boorman and cinematographer Alex Thomson.

Either way, Warner has ignored both options by presenting the film at 1.78:1 instead. In the process it appears to have cropped the picture tighter at the top of the frame for some unknown reason, which has a major impact on the headroom in the image.
Picture rating: 3.5/5

Audio: There's no sign of the original audio here, just a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. Even if you overlook the almost total absence of rear effects, it's still a pretty inconsistent soundtrack that suffers from some obvious distortion and limited dynamic range.
Audio rating: 2.5/5

Extras: Mirroring previous DVD and HD DVD releases, the only extras included on the Blu-ray are the theatrical trailer and a commentary by the director. As is usual with these Premium Collection Blu-rays, four art cards are included.
Extras rating: 1.5/5

We say: The quest for the definitive home cinema version of Boorman's Arthurian classic continues…

Excalibur: Premium Collection, Warner Bros. All-region BD & R2 DVD, £15 (HMV exclusive)