The Green Knight, director David Lowery’s film adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an anonymous 14th century poem, is a fantastical, visually intoxicating take on Arthurian legend. Following a night of drinking and carousing at the local brothel, carefree young Gawain of Camelot (Dev Patel) is summoned on Christmas morning to the Round Table, where he is invited to sit beside his uncle, the king. Gawain’s feeling of unworthiness is only deepened by Arthur’s graciousness, and by his request for the young man to share a story of himself so they may know each other better. But Gawain has nothing to share because, unlike the heroic knights gathered, he has so far done nothing brave or important in life. Suddenly, the Green Knight, a bizarre combination of man and foliage, intrudes on the scene and proposes a game where a member of the gathering is permitted one blow against him, with that blow to be returned one year hence. Sensing an opportunity to distinguish himself, Gawain volunteers to wield the sword against the monstrous Green Knight.
Lowery takes liberties with the original 14th century text, but The Green Knight maintains its themes of honor and the importance of staying true to your word, even in a world filled with countless temptations (temptation arriving big time here in the form of the Lord’s Lady, played by Alicia Vikander). It’s also a story about establishing oneself: What do I want to do and, more important, what kind of person am I capable of being? Gawain’s eventual journey to the Knight’s forest lair leads him through trippy landscapes filled with thieves, ghosts, giants, and a talking fox who accompanies him on much of his travels. Shot in County Wicklow, Ireland, the same site used for John Boorman’s Excalibur and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, the scenery is both beautiful and bleak, while sets by designer Jade Healy conjure up a compelling world of medieval mystery and poetry.
The Green Knight was shot digitally in large format using the Arri Alexa 65 camera and mastered at 4K resolution. Consequently, its images are at once panoramic and crisp. Landscapes brim with fine natural detail, and so do the intricate period-inspired costumes. Shots in Arthur’s court and in dark castles use a combination of natural and candlelight and Dolby Vision high dynamic range ensures that blacks in these scenes are solid and deep, while flames and occasional shafts of sunlight impart a powerful sense of contrast. The Green Knight‘s image is impeccably clean, even in shots with dense fog and mist. The 4K/HDR disc’s expanded color range also helps to bring out the vivid red of the fox depicted in tapestries, and the green of the scarf given to Gawain by his mother, a witch, to protect him on his travels.
The Atmos soundtrack here isn’t showy, but it does use height effects successfully to render resonant voices in halls and chambers. Natural sounds in outdoors scenes like wind and rustling leaves are also consistently used in the rear channels to convey a sense of those spaces. Composer Daniel Hart’s medieval music-influenced score employs vocal performances to eerie or emotional effect depending on the scene, and percussion instruments used throughout have a powerful envelope and bone-rattling bass.
The Green Knight‘s extras are provided on both the regular and Ultra HD disc versions included in this package. An illuminating making-of feature offering detailed comments from the director of photography on the lens choices employed for different scenes, along with interviews with the set and costume designers (no leather used in this production; all clothes were vegan). Two other features examine the movie’s visual effects and unique title design. A digital copy is included.
[The Green Knight returns nationwide for a one night (knight?)-only theatrical screening today, December 10. Go out and see it, and get into the Christmas spirit!]
ULTRA HD BLU-RAY
STUDIO: Lionsgate, 2021
ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1
HDR FORMAT: Dolby Vision, HDR10
AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos with TrueHD 7.1 core
LENGTH: 125 mins.
DIRECTOR: David Lowery
STARRING: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Joel Edgerton