• The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (Umbrella Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: April 3rd, 2019.
    Directed by: Vincent Ward
    Cast: Bruce Lyons, Chris Haywood, Hamish McFarlane, Marshall Napier, Noel Appleby, Paul Livingston, Sarah Perise
    Year: 1988
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    The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey – Movie Review:

    By Chris Workman

    In 14th-century Cumbria (today a county in northwest England), residents in an extremely small, isolated village have gotten wind of the imminent approach of the Black Death. A local boy named Griffin (McFarlane) has been having visions about how to avert the plague, which seems to involve digging copper from a local cavern, casting it into the shape of a cross, and placing that cross “atop the highest church in Christendom,” wherever that is. Furthermore, all of this must apparently be done before the next full moon. The task seems impossible. For one thing, it’s the middle of a pretty harsh winter, with foot travel difficult at best. There’s also the fact that nobody in the ramshackle, illiterate village has ever been to a city, any city. They’re so far out in the boondocks, in fact, that all they “know” about cities is that they’re very big and very, very far away, over mountains and across seas. Even if they decided to accept the challenge, they’d have only the vaguest idea of where to go.

    A possible solution to their dilemma appears in the form of Connor (Lyons), Griffin’s strong, able, and much-admired older brother, who unexpectedly returns home from a bout of adventuring. At first, Connor is reluctant to get involved. He has seen so much disease, death, and sorrow in his travels that he’s simply too weary to head out again so soon. There’s also the fact that his wife, Linnet (Peirse), is about eight months pregnant with their first child. Besides, Connor says, in his travels he has seen Death skip entire regions, and as remote as they are, there’s probably a good chance they’ll be spared.

    Soon, however, the fears of the villagers and Griffin’s persistence wear him down, and Connor agrees to take charge. An expedition is assembled, and it is agreed that Griffin, despite his young age, will be brought along for the guidance and information his visions impart. Said visions direct the group to a large mechanical drill that not only helps them dig up the necessary copper to bribe Jesus with, but to burrow deep, deep into the Earth as they do so. After an unspecified amount of digging, they hit a tunnel that, it turns out, is part of a large city’s sewer system. And that city, it turns out, is located in New Zealand… in the year 1988. Since they have no frame of reference by which to judge their surroundings, nothing about the skyscrapers, streetlights, or busy roads tips them off to their situation. Undaunted, they proceed with their mission to find a blacksmith, cast a copper cross, locate the city’s tallest church, and place the cross atop its steeple before the full moon appears to seal their village’s fate.

    Lest anyone get the wrong idea, Australian/New Zealand co-production The Navigator is not even remotely a comedy. It’s a non-linear work of either drama, science-fiction, or fantasy, depending on your interpretation of what is and isn’t intended to be real. Are Griffin’s “visions” literal glimpses into the future, flashbacks of an adventure already passed, or fever-dreams brought on by an onset of the plague? What exactly is it that carries the adventurers to and from 20th century New Zealand? Director Vincent Ward provides some sort of clue by shooting the scenes in the village in black-and-white and everything else in color, but apart from that, he doesn’t do much to help the viewer sort things out. Still, it’s engrossing enough to make repeated viewings worth the while of anyone who wants to try and figure out exactly what’s going on.

    The Navigator was Ward’s second film as director, after the acclaimed Vigil four years earlier. He also worked as a writer on Alien 3 (1992), which he’d been slated to direct before creative differences with the studio prompted him to bail. He might be best known in the United States for directing the 1998 adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel What Dreams May Come, starring the late Robin Williams. He was also an Executive Producer on 2003’s The Last Samurai.

    The film marks the second of two big-screen roles for Bruce Lyons, a Canadian who distinguished himself as an off-Broadway actor and a painter in the 1980s. His most recent screen performance was in the Canadian TV film Believe It, which he also wrote and directed. Hamish McFarland’s performance as young Griffin was his first appearance on film. His work here won him a Best Actor award from the Australian Film Institute. He did not pursue acting as an adult, choosing instead to work behind the camera as an assistant director and in other capacities. Noel Appleby likewise won an AFI award for his role as the sweet-natured but shy and somewhat stupid Ulf. He popped up as Everard Proudfoot in two Lord of the Rings films, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Return of the King (2003).

    But make no mistake: While all the performances in the film are solid, McFarland is the real prize, an actor of striking durability at so young an age, one capable of stealing a film from a stable of superlative adult performers. That the character also happens to be well written and developed—and the film on the whole the perfect showcase of McFarland’s talents—makes it all the sadder that he never pursued a film career.

    The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey – Blu-ray Review:

    By Ian Jane

    Umbrella Entertainment presents The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer with the film framed in its original 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio on a 50GB disc with the feature afforded just over 25GBs of space. The picture quality here is great, possibly sourced from the same elements used for Arrow’s Blu-ray release from 2018. Overall, the image is very clean with excellent detail and color reproduction. The monochrome sequences that bookend the film show very nice contrast and also look quite strong. Black levels look nice and the disc is free of noticeable problems with compression or noise reduction. The transfer does great job of bringing the visuals in the film to life.

    The English language audio track, which is presented in 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 format, is free of any problems. Dialogue is clean and clear and the mix is properly balanced. There aren’t any issues with hiss or distortion, there’s strong clarity throughout. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    The main extra on the disc is The Path Of The Navigator: Vincent’s Odyssey, which is a thirty-nine-minute interview with director, Vincent Ward. He opens by talking about where the idea came from for the film while he was hitchhiking in Germany and from there talks about the time frame that plays such a big part in the picture, the different contrasts that are in the story, how he tried to incorporate different elements from the medieval era into the film’s look and story, filming locations, having to use helicopters to get to certain spots used in the picture, the difficulties involved in some of the stunts, dealing with the Australian Film Commission to get funding and how his track record helped in this regard, meeting with Steven Spielberg about accomplishing what they did on a low budget and quite a bit more. There are some interesting behind the scenes photos used here and there throughout this interesting piece.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are a trailer for the feature, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey – The Final Word:

    The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey is an engagingly weird work of arthouse fantasy filmmaking. It’s a stylish film with some impressive visuals and a few really solid performances too. Umbrella has done a very nice job indeed bringing this to Blu-ray, presenting the movie in excellent shape and with a revealing director interview as its main extra feature.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey Blu-ray screen caps!