DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main

Ridley Scott
Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Albert Finney, Edward Fox, Cristina Raines, Robert Stephens
Writing Credits:
Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, based on the story by Joseph Conrad

Rated PG.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 12/3/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Ridley Scott
• Audio Commentary and Isolated Score With Composer Howard Blake
• “Duelling Directors” Featurette
• “Boy and Bicycle”: Ridley Scott’s First Short Film
• Photo Galleries
• Storyboards
• Theatrical Trailer


Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Duellists (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Ridley Scott wouldn’t achieve commercial prominence as a film director until he put out his second theatrical release, 1979’s classic Alien. However, that doesn’t mean that his initial offering, 1977’s The Duellists, got the cold shoulder. The movie earned a prize at Cannes as “Best Debut Film”, and I’ve also heard it cited positively by filmmakers from time to time.

Though I took in Alien way back during its theatrical run, I never saw The Duellists. As such, I eagerly greeted its DVD release as my chance to see Scott’s opening salvo as a filmmaker.

The Duellists starts in 1800, where we go to Strasbourg Germany sdds and meet Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel). A hot-tempered sort, he skewers the mayor’s nephew in a duel. The presiding general sends Lieutenant d’hubert (Keith Carradine) to retrieve Feraud, but when he does so, Feraud takes terrible offense for no apparent reason. His “honor” attacked, Feraud challenges d’Hubert to a duel. This ends as a draw, but Feraud wants more.

Thus starts 16 years of battles. France goes to war, which suspends any form of duels, but after about half a year, Feraud comes back for more. Laura (Diana Quick) love d’Hubert, but she can’t be with him as long as he continues to indulge in these battles. From there, the film progresses through another decade and a half. Both Feraud and d’Hubert rise through the ranks, and eventually, d’Hubert attempts to form a domestic life for himself. However, Feraud’s crazy quest for “honor” continues to interfere, until the two finally resolve matters in 1816.

Based on a Joseph Conrad tale, The Duellists enjoyed a terrific concept. The notion of a prolonged battle between two men seemed very cool, and it provided a depth beneath the surface. One can easily see this extended animosity as an analogy for wars fought between nations, especially as the pair get to the point where they don’t even recall what started the fight.

In his first directorial effort, Scott brought the immaculate visual flair he learned from years of work in commercials. Clearly influenced by another period piece – Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon - Scott made Duellists look wonderful from start to finish. Each shot felt like a painting from the era, and this helped make the movie seem more real and involving.

Despite those positive elements, I never really found myself all that intrigued by The Duellists. Part of this occurred due to the casting. I liked Keitel as the gritty and fiery Feraud, but I thought that Carradine seemed wrong for the more aristocratic d’Hubert. I suppose that the filmmakers felt the contrast between Carradine’s laid-back California aura and Keitel’s more abrupt New York feel would create a contrast, and it definitely did. However, Carradine came across as so subdued that I occasionally wondered if he was awake. It simply seemed weird to get a surfer boy as an officer in Napoleon’s military.

Granted, I suppose that’s no worse than the sight of the heavily New York Keitel, but I think he worked better for a couple of reasons. For one, I find Keitel to be a much stronger actor, but in addition, he filled significantly less screen time. Carradine’s d’Hubert stood as the film’s main character; while obviously crucial to the story, Feraud existed mainly as a supporting character. This meant that Carradine’s performance became that much more important, so his weaknesses harmed it to a more significant degree. While Kubrick turned Ryan O’Neal’s lack of ability into a strength, Scott lacked the ability to make Carradine work for the movie.

Frankly, it often felt like The Duellists simply didn’t have enough story to spread out across 100 minutes of film. Some of it came across as padding, and I would have preferred to see more exposition in regard to Feraud. He just seemed like a nut without a cause. It also appeared hard to believe that someone else wouldn’t have killed him during the film’s 16-year span. He displayed such an aggressive temper that it felt likely he would have gotten into trouble elsewhere in that span.

Ultimately, The Duellists provided a provocative but erratic experience. In his debut as a film director, Ridley Scott displayed an excellent sense for visuals, and the movie also provided a cool theme and some interesting notions. However, it became somewhat tedious after a while, and some lackluster acting from its lead harmed it. The Duellists merits screening, but don’t expect the excellence seen in later Scott flicks like Alien and Blade Runner.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B / Bonus B+

The Duellists appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of the time, the picture looked quite solid, but a few minor concerns knocked my grade down to a “B”.

Sharpness generally appeared positive. Some minor softness affected a few wide shots, but those examples occurred infrequently. For the most part, the image remained distinct and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did notice a little light edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, the movie displayed minor grain on occasion as well as some speckles, a few marks and grit, and a blotch or two. The first half of the flick looked quite clean, but unfortunately, the defects increased moderately as it progressed.

The Duellists featured a muted and burnished palette, and the DVD displayed those tones well. The colors looked appropriately subdued, and they showed nicely vivid and distinctive images. Black levels came across as terrifically deep and rich, and shadow detail also appeared dense and appropriately opaque. Scott used shadows heavily during the film, so the accurate reproduction of those shots became especially important. The DVD handled those images well. In the end, much of The Duellists looked very good despite a mix of minor concerns.

Adapted from the original Dolby Surround audio, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Duellists stayed pretty close to that model. The soundfield showed good stereo imaging for the score and also displayed a generally subdued but acceptably involving sense of environment. For the most part, the mix provided light atmospheric elements such as music in a parlor and the hubbub of a street scene. The track came to life most significantly during the dueling segments, but those seemed somewhat gimmicky. The swords clanged somewhat abruptly and awkwardly across the speakers. As for the surrounds, they emphasized general reinforcement of the music and effects; I didn’t notice anything unique from the rears.

Audio quality varied. Dialogue generally appeared somewhat stiff and metallic, and I also noticed edginess at times, particularly during the shouted lines. Still, speech usually remained acceptably natural and also seemed intelligible at all times. Effects also demonstrated a bit of distortion, particularly during sword crashes. Otherwise, effects came across as acceptably accurate and distinct. Music easily functioned best of the bunch, as the score consistently sounded dynamic and rich. Bass response provided some nice depth to those elements and made the music work very well. The Duellists earned its “B” due to the better-than-average for its era soundfield and the nice reproduction of the score.

This DVD release of The Duellists features a nice little roster of extras that may not be long, but almost all of its seems very good. We start with an audio commentary from director Ridley Scott, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. A veteran of quite a few similar tracks, Scott seems at home with the form, and that comes through during this lively and informative discussion. He begins with notes about how he became involved in the movie, and he then proceeds through a variety of topics. He covers the cast, the challenges of a low budget, his attitudes about coming from the world of commercials, sets, locations, photographic issues, and many other subjects. Scott chats about the film with passion but he never simply praises it. Although he starts to fade somewhat during the third act, Scott mostly gives us a nicely compelling and useful look at his debut.

In addition, we get an audio commentary and isolated score from composer Howard Blake. Presented with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, I’d estimate that the track splits pretty evenly between Blake’s remarks and the music. Only once or twice does he speak on top of the score; unlike some isolated music tracks, this one almost never suffers from that annoyance. As for Blake’s statements, he proves chatty and informative. He covers how he became involved in the film and goes over different notes about all of the cues. Blake relates what he wanted to do with the music and additional elements about the work. Overall, the composer offers a nicely compelling look at his material.

Next we find a featurette called Duelling Directors. In this 29-minute and eight-second program, Ridley Scott sits with fellow director Kevin Reynolds to watch and discuss The Duellists. In addition to this chat, we see movie clips, shots and stills from the set, and 1977 interviews with Scott, writer Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, and producer David Puttnam. I worried that the show might mainly duplicate information from Scott’s commentary, but although a couple of tidbits reappear, “Directors” mostly offers new material. Scott provides some good technical notes about the shoot and goes over other elements like his original casting choices, the use of car aerials as swords, and many additional components. “Duelling Directors” gives us a lively and informative conversation.

For a look at Scott’s first short film, check out Boy and Bicycle. This piece lasts 26 minutes and 43 seconds as it presents Scott’s work from the Sixties. Bicycle follows a boy (played by Tony Scott, Ridley’s brother and future hit director as well) as he skips school and meanders about the seaside town. It doesn’t seem to go much of anywhere, but the combination of fairly striking visuals and odd stream of consciousness narration make it reasonably intriguing. (I also thought it presaged Quadrophenia, as the two seemed rather similar at times.)

The Storyboards feature presents Ridley Scott’s drawings as a filmed piece. It lasts three minutes and 56 seconds and offers two viewing options. You can inspect the boards on their own or flip to angle two and look at a storyboard/shot comparison. This section doesn’t highlight any specific scenes; instead, it skitters through the entire film and gives us samples of the whole thing.

In addition to the film’s Theatrical Trailer - presented anamorphic 1.78:1 with monaural sound – we get a collection of Photo and Poster Galleries. The latter divides into four areas: “Portraits” (five shots), “From the Film” (35 stills), “Behind the Scenes” (30 images), and “International Posters” (seven frames). These sections can be inspected individually or all together through the “View All” option. As always, Paramount provide English and French subtitles for most of the supplements that can use them.

For his first theatrical work, director Ridley Scott created an intriguing but only sporadically successful film. The Duellists presents a mix of highs and lows that make it generally interesting to watch, but it definitely falls short of the successes he’d later achieve. The DVD offers generally positive picture and sound as well as a very solid collection of supplements. While The Duellists didn’t do a lot for me as a film, this release becomes must viewing for Scott fans, and those who already like the piece should definitely feel pleased with the set.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5333 Stars Number of Votes: 45
3 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.