Sword and the Sorcerer (The)
R0 - Australia - Big Sky Video
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (30th March 2020).
The Film

The prosperous kingdom of Eh-Dan has been invaded by the tyrannical King Cromwell, aided by a powerful sorcerer, Xusia. Cromwell orders the death of the royal family, but the youngest son, Talon, slips from the soldiers' grasp and disappears.

Eleven years later, a hulking young rogue returns to the place of his birth, ready to avenge the family he lost. However, in a time of wicked kings and brutal soldiers, it is the sorcerer who is the most powerful of all.

Video

The most successful independent film at the box office of 1982 = budget $1.3 million against a domestic take of $39 million!

An evil warlord, an evil reptilian sorcerer, hunky beefcake with a big fuck-off, 3-bladed sword (the outer two blades of which are spring loaded projectiles!) and a cheesecake princess who seems perpetually pissed off with the men in her life ... what more could one want?

Designed by Albert Pyun (in his first film) to cash-in on the success of Excalibur and the forthcoming Conan the Barbarian (both 1981 although Conan was ultimately released about a month after this in 1982). This is a gloriously energetic swashbuckler played very much with a light touch and good humour.

Lee Horsley is a lusty hero, Kathleen Beller the sparky heroine who is always kneeing bad dudes in the nads and Richard Lynch the hissable warlord. Richard Moll - oh he of the deep, rumbly voice - plays Xusia of Delos, the evil sorcerer who seems to be from a human-reptile hybrid race. Bodybuilder Earl Maynard has fun as a Rastafarian sailer sidekick of Horsley's. Melodramatic nirvana!

Every cliche imaginable for such a film is trotted out, lovingly polished and it looks great as lensed by Joseph Mangine utilising a rich, warm colour palette with plenty of Bava-esque atmosphere and a misty, filtered ambiance. The bouncy score by David Whittaker and Dolby Stereo lend the sound field a humour and scope lacking in other, bigger films of this ilk from around the same time. My first experience of The Sword and the Sorcerer was the wonderfully pulpy, florid, gratuitous novelisation written by Norman Winski because I was too young to get into the cinema; I caught up with it on HBO when it debuted on the channel.

Visually this is not an easy film to transfer with all DVD transfers that I've seen struggling to do it justice. In the past I've had the 2001 US Anchor Bay (R1) and replaced it with this 2008 Australian Big Sky (R0) release. All current DVDs are probably taken from the same master and all look more or less the same. By 2020 standards they're pretty rough, but sadly the only game in town. In 2001 this seemed much better but in an age of HD and 4K the master doesn't cut the mustard.

However, the Australian DVD is the best of the bunch as apart from having the same transfer as the others, it actually added a substantial extra: The Pyun / Gore commentary (see below) which is why I thought it'd be fun to put a review out there because Aussie discs just didn't get covered much and I've only ever seen one reviewer write about it.

The image is overall very soft but much of that is down to the source which is richly, warmly coloured throughout and shot through with filters and on set atmospherics like mist, smoke, fog etc. Grain is there but it struggles to be defined ... a common problem with standard definition transfers from the early 21st century. Most of the time the encoding has a hard time but is satisfactory for the format and given it's the MPEG-2 codec.

The print does show minor signs of age with speckles and dirt showing up particularly in optical dissolves and during the few moments of stock footage (of medieval towns, castles etc) which feel like they date from the late '50s / early '60s and may have been taken from films using the 2.35:1 ratio (The Sword and the Sorcerer is spherical soft matte 1.85:1). The balance of the footage shot in 1981-82 is noticeably sharper and cleaner.

Black levels are generally pretty good with some crush here and there in dimly shot interiors and nighttime scenes; although some shadow detail is in evidence it's not helped by being in SD. Contrast is generally acceptable and layered allowing as much detail as we can expect given it's in the fog of standard definition and shot-through with atmospheric effects. This is a dual layered disc with a reasonable bitrate.

A new 2K - or better yet 4K - master would wipe the floor with this; here's hoping a BD or even an UHD BD is being prepared (I can dream!). But, until the heavens fall and that happens, this acceptable, out of print, 2008 Australian DVD remains the best game in town.

PAL / MPEG-2 / 1.78:1 (slightly window-boxed when played on flat panel monitors with overscan switched off / 95:20

Audio

English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: None

The Sword and the Sorcerer, although a low budget production with a budget of just $1.3 million, managed to afford to have it's sound recorded in Dolby Stereo. Even the much bigger budgeted Conan the Barbarian was mono! However, this is pretty limited in it's directional or surround effects.

The original theatrical mix is present on the 2.0 Stereo track and is far and away the most satisfying listening experience. It's subtler, a little softer but suits the material well. It's not anything like as sophisticated as one created for even a contemporaneous big budget film, but it has some nice ambiance and score separation; mostly in the rears. Dialogue and action generally remains across the front sound stage.

The 5.1 (called 2.0 Surround on the menu) boost is cruder and louder but about the same, only a slight tinny quality has crept in ... and I didn't notice any subwoofer activity to speak of, which is shame. Stick with the 2.0 as it's a much more satisfying listening experience.

No subtitles have been provided which is sadly not unusual but also not acceptable.

Extras

Audio commentary with Albert Pyun and moderator Chris Gore

Apparently Pyun was touting the concept of The Sword and the Sorcerer around Hollywood for about four years before it was finally made. Influenced by sword and sandal epics of the '60s, the comic swashbucklers of Richard Lester, Samurai films, and finally the success of Excalibur (1981) which was released when this was being commissioned. A fine commentary full of fascinating trivia about this film with journalist Gore doing a great job of prompting Pyun.

Practically everything that is known about The Sword and the Sorcerer is to be found in this yaktrak. Fact: Oliver Reed was the first choice for the narration, but he'd been drinking and angry at being pulled away from his bender and couldn't do the job justice, so was replaced with co-star Simon MacCorkindale. The non-sensical three-bladed sword was inspired by the Lone Wolf and Cub series from Japan. Pyun worked with Akira Kurosawa fresh out of high school in the early '70s. This was a troubled, difficult production and Pyun walked off set twice; the first time star Horsley convinced him to return; the second producer Tom Karnowski was the diplomat.

Trailer #1 (Red Band) (3:01)
Trailer #2 (Green Band) (3:02)
TV Spot (0:29)


The trailers are more or less the same except that the first has some nudity and was obviously the 1982 equivalent of a Red Band trailer for release with R-rated films. The scene were Talon smashed through a window and lands in between the legs of one of Cromwell's harem members has the woman topless in the Red Band and wearing a top in the Green. The TV spot is typically brief; all three favour the high adventure and melodrama.

Other Fantasy Trailers:
- The Beastmaster (2:08)
- Barbarian Queen (1:48)
- The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak (1:35)


Trailers for other Big Sky releases; all in a similar fantasy vein although Just Jaeckin's Gwendoline (1984) is more of an R-rated Indiana Jones / Perils of Pauline variation and the trailer emphasises comedy and action - resolutely green band with none of the nudity of the proper international trailer and under the sillier US title.

Barbarian Queen (1985) is a sleazy Roger Corman New World release and the trailer is very red band with copious violence, sex and nudity. The Beastmaster (1982) gets the best, most commonly seen trailer.

Packaging

Standard, clear DVD Keepcase.

Overall

One of my very favourite 1980s cult films received it's best ever home video release in 2008 from the Aussie label Big Sky (are they still in business?) and it's been played annually in Chez Curzon for the last 12 years. I thought it'd be fun to get a belated review out there on the web.

Sadly, it's a very dated disc but is more than acceptable until a boutique label steps up to the bat and commissions a brand new 4K scan of the OCN. This is the only release to actually include a substantial extra and it's a fine commentary track.

At the time of writing this, US Amazon was only place having a copy of this rare disc available for a decent price.

Be quick!

Amazon USA

The Film: B Video: C+ Audio: C+ Extras: B- Overall: C+

 


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