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Franklin J. Schaffner
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A young knight sets out to join King Richard's crusaders. Along the way, he encounters The Black Prince who captures children and sells them as slaves to the Muslims. It is Robert Narra's sworn duty to protect the children and lead them to safety. Written by
Kevin Michael Papineau <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Films about the Children's Crusade, where hundreds of children headed for the Holy Land only to end up in the hands of slave traders, perhaps unsurprisingly seem to be doomed before they even start. Nicholas Ray could never get the money to film Henry Treece's The Children's Crusade while Andrzej Wajda's Gates to Paradise seems lost in the mists of time. Franklin J. Schaffner's penultimate film, 1987's Lionheart, barely even go released it spent so long on the shelf being re-edited (presumably by the dead hand of executive producer and serial re-editor of other people's films Francis Ford Coppola) that not only did the film's soundtrack album nearly end up longer than the finished film but half of its child crusaders could probably have graduated university and started families of their own by the time it crept out for a one week run in Detroit. The story certainly held promise, as did Schaffner's return to the Middle Ages for the first (and last) time since The War Lord, but as ever, producers Jack Schwartzman and Talia Shire's uncanny gift for getting the least out of people looms large.
The script isn't bad and Gabriel Byrne's Black Prince, a bitterly disillusioned Crusader who constantly challenges a god who has no time for him and now makes his money as a child slave trader, makes for a strong villain. Unfortunately he ends up being pretty much the only interesting character in the movie thanks to some terrible casting of the many children's roles. Despite his Method Acting antics on the set that antagonised many on the film, Eric Stoltz's strangely somewhat effeminate hero lacks presence and power, and the entire issue of his cowardice in battle that provokes his becoming protector to a group of outcast children hit the cutting room floor and is conspicuous by its absence in the finished film. Even worse is his romantic interest Nicola Cowper, in a performance so incredibly inert you suspect narcolepsy or even undiagnosed rigor mortis, or Chris Pitt's would-be page. Only Deborah Barrymore proto-feminist would-be knight and Sammi Davis' underused thief make a positive impression amid a small army of bad child actors.
The rather lethargic pacing doesn't help. Although heavily cut to improve the film's pace, the individual scenes themselves tend to be underpowered and feel as if no-one involved was really engaged with the material, with even an early scene of knights riding to battle proceeding at a snail's pace while the action scenes are mostly clumsy and uninvolving. Much of the staging is curiously lazy and uninvolved, with a vaguely demoralised "That'll do" feel to whole sequences, with only a handful of scenes seeming to garner much enthusiasm from those behind the camera while the exterior photography is especially dreary and unappealing. The film's one real triumph is Jerry Goldsmith's superb score, but even that suffers from poor mixing and clumsy sound editing, with cues either played over completely different scenes to those intended or removed entirely. Lionheart does work in fits and starts, but it's a film that disappoints more often than it pleases. Warner Archive's DVD-R release boasts a decent 2.35:1 widescreen transfer and includes the theatrical trailer, though the voice over references to Schaffner and Patton have been curiously omitted.
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