Prince Valiant (1997)

A nutty sword and sorcery take on Hal Foster's classic starring Udo Keir, Thomas Kretschmann and Ron Perlman. Atlantic Film SWE R0 DVD.

The Film

King Arthur's exiled sister Morgan Le Fay (Joanna Lumley) is in Thule and is seeking the help of Viking brothers Thagnar (Thomas Kretschmann) and Sligon (Udo Keir) to take revenge on her brother, she has recovered Merlin's books of spells and sends Thagnar to Camelot to capture Excalibur. The attack is blamed on the Scots and the Knights of Camelot march north. Young squire Valiant, who was left in a monastery at birth and knows nothing of his origins but has proven himself adept in combat, is sent to escort Princess Ilene (Katherine Heigl) home to her castle in Wales. The group are attacked by the Vikings and Valiant discovers that they were behind the attack on Camelot, he has to warn the armies in the north and seek help to stop Morgan Le Fey seizing power...

Michael Frost Beckner's script takes considerable influence from the epic Hal Foster comic, most aspects of the storyline are inspired by the comics in one form or another, even the crocodiles that inexplicably appear in a Scandinavian castle are based on one of Valiant's early adventures, yet the low-fantasy historical scenes are unexpectedly juxtaposed with sword and sorcery inspired high fantasy settings, more akin to Conan the Barbarian (1982) and its wave of knock-offs than the Foster comic, which certainly in later years trended away from the magical aspects. One major change is made to the source material - having Valiant unsure of his past is something that owes a lot to the "destiny" themes than run through a lot of high fantasy stories - it works quite well here, allowing Valiant to be older, but still learning of his abilities.

On its own merits, Prince Valiant makes for an entertaining fantasy adventure - combining over-the-top action scenes and a variety of larger-than-life characters, it never takes itself too seriously but avoids descending into parody. The storyline is very well paced and there are no dull moments as the film builds to a dramatic climax. The film's major failing is that it seems to be stuck in a strange limbo between a more family friendly approach (akin to A Knight's Tale (2001)) and a darker sword and sorcery piece, apparently subject to some post-production editing by the German producers, the resulting film does feel like it was supposed to be aimed at an adult audience but has been somewhat neutered to appeal to a wider audience, so there is a hareem sequence but no nudity and a couple of deaths that could have been gory highlights, cut away very quickly.

The design of the film is in keeping with Foster's drawings - although set in the 5th Century, he drew elaborate medieval styled castles and plate armour that would not exist for centuries and accordingly this film does the same, defying historical accuracy but giving a good impression of the source material. Filmed in location in Wales, good use is made of the beautiful mountin ranges and of real castles rather than the matte paintings of many earlier Hollywood efforts. The interior sets, particularly of the castle in Thule, follows the sword and sorcery route with some utterly bizarre but perfectly suited designs. The optical special effects are rather dating, looking more like shots from a 1980s production than a late 90's one A few well animated sequences transit between scenes using images that look like a comic-book page and a voice-over narration, cleverly done and not overused, this does add to the film's feel.

In the titular role, British actor Stephen Moyer (best known for his part on the television series True Blood (2008-14)) makes his film debut - he is well cast and really suits the part, young enough to be believably immature in the early scenes, but growing well into the character. Katherine Heigl (who has gone on to appear in a number of Hollywood films including Knocked Up (2007)) is similarly well cast as the Princess, providing the requesite blonde good looks while still looking good in the action scenes. A tremendous supporting cast includes German actors Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie (2008)) and Udo Keir (Blood for Dracula (1974)) as the Viking brothers, veteran British actor Edward Fox (Battle of Britain (1969)) plays King Arthur, while Joanna Lumley (British actress best known for the television comedy Absolutely Fabulous (1992-96)) plays his sister Morgan le Fay. Warwick Davis (Leprechaun (1993), Ron Perlman (Hellboy (2004)) and Walter Gotell (General Gogol in the Roger Moore era James Bond films) all appear as well, along with director Anthony Hickox as Prince Gawain.

A much-maligned film that may have been done a dis-service (or salvaged) in post-production, Prince Valiant is a rather odd blend of a surprisingly faithful, family friendly adherence to stories from the Foster comic strip and a wild sword and sorcery adventure for adults. As a result it will probably disappoint viewers hoping for one of the other, but for fans of series like Scorpion King or In the Name of the King then this does offer plenty of enjoyment and is bolstered by some solid production and an amazing cast of familiar faces. Recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Ron Perlman - American character actor who appeared in Guillermo del Toro's debut Cronos (1993)
Thomas Kretschmann - German actor and war movie regular, including Der Untergang (2004)
Udo Keir - German actor who often appears in Lars Von Trier films including Europa (1991)
Directed by anyone interesting? Anthony Hickox - British born director, best known for helming Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) and has directed a few other horror and thriller films including Contaminated Man (2000)
Any gore or violence ? Minimal blood.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Who is it for? Fans of fantasy adventures should certainly enjoy this.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
A good looking print - good colours and detail, only minor print damage.
Audio English stereo - sounds fine.
Subtitles Swedish, Finish and Danish.
Extras None
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Other regions? No UK or US DVD releases. Also released by RCV in the Netherlands with English audio and Dutch subtitles, Aurum in Spain with English and Spanish audio, in Germany by Koch Media as 'Prinz Eisenherz' with German 5.1 audio only. '
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut as per the original release (the film was edited by the producers before release with some scenes apparently removed, a few potentially bloody scenes do also cut-away but no "director's cut" exists at this time). Print language is English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 30th January 2015.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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