The Duellists, Ridley Scott’s feature film debut, was largely ignored after winning the jury prize at Cannes in 1977, and it isn’t quite as arresting as we remembered. Hardly surprising, given that the innovative visuals he developed as a successful director of commercials have been so widely copied since. But this tale of two Napoleonic soldiers (Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine) who fight a series of clashing-sword duels, the reasons for which are long forgotten, seems especially prescient in today’s bellicose global arena. (No matter that the men survive grueling war; they push all else aside in a pride-filled pursuit of ”honor.”)
The duels themselves have a visceral energy, but Scott’s talents really shine in the sweeping outdoor panoramas and indoor shadowplay, which have the look of 18th-century canvases. They’re especially impressive given his tiny $900,000 budget and rain-drenched shooting schedule — all detailed in Scott’s on-point commentary track. As an effort to rehabilitate a neglected gem, this DVD is a swell riposte.