Blu-Review: Arn: Knight Templar

Directed By Peter Flinth
Starring Joakim Nätterqvist, Sofia Helin, Milind Soman, Simon Callow and Stellan Skarsgård


There’s a great HBO miniseries lurking somewhere in Arn: The Knight Templar. With gorgeous visuals, potentially deep, resonant characters and a fascinating historical backdrop that’s epic in scope, Arn could be a rich and engrossing companion piece to Rome. In film form, though, it’s a decent but truncated experience that crams far too much into too small a runtime, never properly allowing its ideas to flourish.

The film follows the titular Swede – a farmer’s son whose parents left him at a monastery to grow up in service of God. There he’s trained by a former Knight Templar (Vincent Perez) to channel his natural abilities into those of a skilled warrior. When the time comes for him to venture back into the world, he soon meets a beautiful young nun (Sofia Helin), falling for her instantly and getting her pregnant almost as quickly – a problematic romance since she’s been sworn away to the son of an enemy nobleman. After the church discovers that they did the pre-marital horizontal shuffle and he’s falsely accused of bedding her sister as well, they’re excommunicated; Cecilia is locked away in a convent to serve 20 years of penance, while Arn is forced into The Knights Templar to serve as a weapon of God in The Holy Land, pledging to return to his lost love one day.

The above synopsis covers the first half of the movie in not much less detail than the film itself offers, which is the nagging cloud wafting over Arn’s runtime – for a 2 hour, 19 minute film, it’s epic and engaging, but bafflingly short. Sure, it covers a lot of ground, spanning from the young knight’s boyhood to his days as a mighty, war-ravaged commander of legions, but we’re offered scant few important character moments that are all too vital when charting the story of a man’s life. The birth of his romance with Cecilia (a supposedly all-consuming, everlasting love that fuels his spirit throughout 20 years of war) amounts to literally two scenes – he spots her singing a jaunty tune at the convent, then a few days later they have a horse ride and sleep together. A love that will last through the ages, if I ever saw one. It feels less like an earned romance and more a thinly-sketched Romeo & Juliet “star-crossed lovers” rehash.
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Similarly, Arn develops the fearsome moniker “Al Ghouti – The Devil With The Red Cross”, though we never witness anything that would earn him such a reputation. One scene after being recruited, he’s suddenly just in command of a garrison, mid-conflict, without as much as an ’80s action montage in between. The film rushes to the choppy resolution of every sub-plot with jarring edits. An intended epic conflict between the Templars and Arab enemy Saladin is started and wrapped up in about 20 minutes; Arn saves Saladin from bandits, they have a quick fireside chat, then suddenly cut to the young knight with all the enemy’s secrets, readying an army to wage war on the Arab leader. The wider conflict is painted with equally patchy brush strokes – new kings, comrades, commanders and adversaries pop up out of nowhere with precious little inclination as to their character, motives or, in many cases, where they disappeared to.

The film’s issues become clearer when considering that it was originally released in Sweden as two separate 140 minute movies, now condensed from over 4 hours of material into a single 139 minute film for the international release. As a result, not only are the characters and plot short-changed noticeably, but the passage of time is sloppily conveyed, too. The opening act is an awkward flurry of needless flashbacks within flashbacks and strange, omissive edits. Over the course of twenty-odd years, Cecilia never seems to age, nor do the filmmakers attempt to provide the illusion of her being any older, which begs much suspension of disbelief when she leaves the convent to greet her adult son despite looking like his barely older sister.

Arn: Knight Templar is by no means a bad film. It’s entirely entertaining throughout, and there’s a great deal to love. Joakim Nätterqvist’s performance is worthy of praise, and he really nails the growth of the character. The movie leans on the easy trick of merely gauging his age by the length of his beard growth, but the change is in his eyes too; there’s a visible and subtly emotive shift in Nätterqvist from doe-eyed, sheltered young monk to a world-weary warrior who’s seen the worst that war has to offer. The dynamic between Arn and Saladin is a great one too, and it’s refreshing that the film takes strides towards making their relationship something engaging and interesting – two men with a friendship based on honour and respect who just happen to be on opposite sides of a war – rather than the noble Aryan versus one-dimensional Arab stereotypes we’ve come to expect.
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Arn is apparently the most expensive Swedish film production in the history of forever, so it’s no surprise that it’s a visually striking movie, with gorgeous scenery, fantastic production design and an epic, well-shot battle or two, with the final conflict especially gripping. The supporting actors are uniformly excellent, with a great little assortment of international actors in fine form; Vincent Perez, Simon Callow and Steven Waddington all make welcome, albeit brief appearances, with Stellan Skarsgård and Michael Nyqvist (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) popping up to add a little Swedish cachet. Also refreshing is that the film doesn’t take the age-old tact of having every nation inexplicably speak English for the sake of the audience; Arn chats away in about 4 or 5 different languages throughout, adding a pinch more realism to proceedings.

Sadly though, every thing Arn: Knight Templar does incredibly well is countered with the unwavering feeling that there should be more to it in every respect – not just a feeling of dissatisfaction, but the sense that there’s clearly substantial chunks of story and character missing. Fans of Swedish cinema and historical swords-and-sandals epics will find the film a worthy watch, and it’s thoroughly entertaining with plenty to love. We can only hope, though, that a more complete director’s cut or expanded mini-series comes along to flesh out the massive potential on display in its shortened film form.
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On the Blu-ray:

High Fliers’ UK Blu-ray release comes with an attractive 1080p transfer that preserves the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the film (the Australian release was cropped to 1.78:1) The visuals capture the film’s finer details and the lush, colourful changes in season and setting throughout the film well. Aurally the disc only comes with a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 tracks. The 5.1 track does its job well -dialogue is clear as a bell, the battle scenes are well catered for in the surround department – but it doesn’t quite pack the added grandiose punch of the lossless DTS tracks we’ve come to expect from Blu-ray releases.

There are hard-coded English subtitles during the film’s multi-language dialogue, but there’s no optional subtitles. While this isn’t a major issue for most, the lack of subtitles for the English dialogue means a few of the thicker-accented performances (like Vincent Perez’s) can be tough to discern during some lines. Sadly there’s nothing to be found on the special features front.

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Arn: Knight Templar is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 20th September 2010.
Click here to order the Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.

(Note: The images above were captured and saved at a reduced quality, and though they give an idea of how the film looks, they might not reflect the true quality of the Blu-ray image itself.)

  • Magnus

    “The film’s issues become clearer when considering that it was originally released in Sweden as two separate 140 minute movies, now condensed from over 4 hours of material into a single 139 minute film for the international release.”

    And the films were culled from an 8 hour miniseries for Swedish TV!

    • MrFelixify .

      HBO Nordic has now released the whole 8 hour series. 2013.

  • Dangoo

    It’s also worth noting that the movie is based on a series of novels, therefore it is possible to get a more complete view of the events and characters in this particular world.