Over time, the meanings of things often change. This can be a product of shifting social mores, alterations in language, or incidental innocuous moments which lead to global change. One of them is the idea of chivalry as being strictly male-dominated and being centered on acts like opening doors, bringing flowers, politeness, and the like. In the time of King Arthur and his knights, chivalry was a code of conduct involving honor, bravery, loyalty, and combat. How one behaved in front of thine enemy was of great import, requiring anyone adherent to the chivalric code to follow it down to the letter, so that any breach would bring down dishonor upon the knight who failed to uphold it. You can’t be a knight without honor. Enter the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, now adapted by writer/director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story), a tale originally written by an unknown author accounting of Gawain’s heroic journey to face his death. Brilliantly composed in modern form, Lowery has made a tight sweeping epic wherein every frame could be hung upon a wall as decoration, where the poetry of the tale is made flesh, and the resonance of the message transcends time and space.
Born to Morgan le Fe (Sarita Choudhury), Gawain (Dev Patel) is the nephew to King Arthur (Sean Harris) and Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie) and is not entirely a knight of the round table. One Christmas, before the feast is to begin, a green knight (Ralph Ineson) appears before Arthur in his hall asking to play a game where the rules are as follows: he will battle any knight and, should the knight strike first, the knight will be given his axe. However, one year later, the knight must journey to his green chapel north of the castle and receive the same strike from him. Possessing no brave stories and seeing no knights jump to take on the green knight, Gawain jumps in and beheads him. Thinking the game over, Gawain, Arthur, and the rest of the hall are startled to see the green knight’s body move, grab the head, and ride out of the hall, shouting all the way about their date the following year. With one stroke of his sword, Gawain has sealed his fate, but can he face it with honor.
Seeing as I was unable to cover The Green Knight theatrically, please indulge a little exploration before getting into the home release aspects. First, if you’d like to know a bit more about the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, A24 released the following handy featurette ahead of the release:
Second, describing something as “visual poetry” seems about as pretentious and wildly figurative as referring to something as “an epic” or “modern masterpiece.” In the case of Lowry’s The Green Knight, there is literally no other way to describe it. The tale itself is poetic, written in both prose and verse, garnished with elaborate drawings of the medieval period. Of all the manners in which one could adapt this morality tale, Lowery clearly opted for the most faithful version possible. Just as the original printing was ornate in decoration, so is The Green Knight visually. It’s not merely that it’s beautifully composed and constructed, which it is, but that it’s entirely natural in appearance — something which the 4K UHD review copy highlights as both a compliment and hindrance to the home experience. Arthur’s hall is naturally lit, as are other structures throughout the film, meaning that some moments are harder to see than others, making the visual elements sometimes as obtuse as the thematic ones. Other times, like when Gawain dives into the lake to assist St. Winifred (Erin Kellyman) and the hues shift from greens to blues, it’s neither bright nor ghastly, but otherworldly. It’s in the way Lowery and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo (A Ghost Story) composed shots so that the foreground is entirely natural while the background appeared as a matted painting, as though the film was shot on a stage rather than on location in Ireland. This particular aspect encapsulates the handshake of literal and figurative, of prose and verse, of concrete and abstract that flows throughout the film. For instance, Patel’s Gawain isn’t intended to be a real person, but an avatar, someone the audience can journey along with, bind themselves to and use as a vehicle to consider their own weaknesses and strengths. One can certainly enjoy The Green Knight as a period piece, but it’s so much more than that, It pushes the audience as much as it pushes Gawain, testing us on what we would do in each and every situation Gawain finds himself in. Though Patel’s Gawain is following the adapted script, it’s likely that many in the audience would make the same choices as he, failing to see why this is a problem within the rules of the game. This is a tale which could’ve been played entirely straight, but by taking advantage of the thematic elements, everything becomes elevated for its betterment.
If you came away with similar feelings of awe, take heart that the bonus features included will not let you down either and are available on the 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital editions. There is no specific mention in the press materials as to whether these featurettes are included on the DVD release.
Outside of a theatrical trailer, there are three individual featurettes, totaling nearly an hour in length. Because the visual elements impacted me the most, I began with the 14-minute “Practitioners of Magic: Visual Effects” featurette which addresses the meshing of physical environments and tangible elements to the visual effects that Eric Saindon, visual effects supervisor at WETA Digital, and his team handled. Evidentially, they watched dallies so that they could get a sense of Palermo’s visual style, serving as a guide for the additions or extensions to background Saindon’s team created. One of my favorite nuggets of behind the scenes information comes from Saindon who tells us that the Green Knight’s chapel in the film was an accidental find, not something that the location scouts had found. Though learning how the film creates a very convincing decapitation via a blue sock, editing, and someone dropping a false head to depict Gawain’s act of premature aggression comes a close second. Getting such a behind the scenes look only enhances the impressive nature of Lowery’s film as technological wizardry and witchcraft makes the speeding up of time and talking bodiless heads organic and natural. Nicholas Ashe Batman, visual effects supervisor at Maere Studios, also offers insight on how matte paintings were integrated into the final film, creating the ethereal look that runs throughout the film, as well as little details that make the film seem so wondrous.
Where I suspect most will jump to first upon either completing an initial watch or bringing the release home to enjoy once more is “Boldest of Blood and Wildest of Heart: Making The Green Knight.” This 35-minute featurette digs into the legend itself, Lowery’s interpretation, and the making of the film. This includes his explanation of why characters aren’t mentioned by name (no one calls the king “Arthur” or the queen “Guinevere”), yet we still know who they all are. For those not yet enamored with Patel, hearing from Lowery while watching the actor work and getting the chance to listen to Patel discuss his initial thoughts and feelings will likely create a seismic shift. Patel is a fantastic actor with incredible range and this film is an undeniable calling-card. Luckily, Patel isn’t given the only focus as the lead, as other members of the cast (Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Ralph Ineson, and more) are afforded the opportunity to for the home viewing audience to learn more about their involvement. And, yes, Lowery does discuss the fox.
The third and final featurette, “Illuminating Technique: Title Design,” runs nearly eight minutes and features title designer Teddy Blanks who discusses his process for topographical research, development, and designing the section titles which appear throughout the film. What’s fascinating for the self-described nerds watching (Hi, I’m talking about me) is finding out that Blanks ended up using a letter text he’d scanned from a 1912 book cover. Evidentially, anything pre-1920 is public domain, so it gave them the license they needed to build the section titles using this specific font. From this, Blanks discusses the original design of the titles from their typeface, size, and coloring. It’s not just about the technical approach of these titles, as Blanks offers an opportunity to learn about the philosophy of the film as it relates to the design work, as well as how the postponement of release due to COVID created an opportunity to make changes to what audiences see now.
Typically, when a review copy is a 4K UHD, I would dig into the look and sound and whether or not this edition of the film is worth the extra price point compared to a standard high-definition Blu-ray. Based upon what I’ve seen, while the Blu-ray itself is fine, if you can watch The Green Knight on 4K UHD, that is the format you should pick-up. The greater definition affords a more immersive cinematic experience as you’ll feel pulled in whether the scene is realistic or leaning on the more magical aspects of the legend. As for the sound, while there are several scenes where I was grateful to have the ability to rewind in order to raise the volume to better hear the dialogue, this is an issue that is likely not confined to the 4K UHD release. You won’t need to have captions on for the duration, but I certainly felt like there were times when the whispers could’ve been a touch louder so as not to have the audience fumbling for volume control in their dimly lit home theater.
The Cine-Men co-host Darryl Mansel has seen, since its U.S. theatrical release on July 30th, 2021, The Green Knight around four or five times, and, with each visit, nudged me to view the film again and again. Usually this kind of prodding from anyone, person or marketing team, results in my pulling away from the project, losing interest as the hype grows ever larger. Yet, because I deeply love Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon and could watch Patel in anything, my interest remained strong. Do I wish I could’ve seen The Green Knight comfortably in the theater? Yes. Do I feel I lost anything by watching it at home? Only the ability to have appreciated for far longer than I have. That The Green Knight lives up the hype is about as marvelous a realization as the film itself. Though not exactly a “comfort film,” there’s something about the texture of the legend, the performances from the cast, and the world Lowery’s created that beckons one to return. Having now experienced it, it’s a call I will gladly answer.
The Green Knight Special Features:
- Boldest of Blood and Wildest of Heart: Making The Green Knight (35:24)
- Practitioners of Magic: Visual Effects (14:34)
- Illuminating Technique: Title Design (7:54)
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital October 12th, 2021.
For more information, head to A24’s The Green Knight website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.