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Blu-Ray Review: Deaf Crocodile’s Heroic Times (Collector’s Edition) 

Heroic Times

It is always a reason to celebrate when we get a new Deaf Crocodile Blu-ray.  Heroic Times the Hungarian Animated Medieval Epic has been brought to Blu-Ray beautifully restored and filled with extras. 

The Film 

For so many, animation is just Disney films and child’s play.  They lump it into a genre and not a filmmaking style.  Many disrespect the art form as nothing but fluff or fodder.  It has gotten slightly better with Western Audiences (specifically Americans – because Asia and Europe and other countries do put the respect on Animation’s name it rightfully earns).  Recently, as of the summer of 2023, with the release of Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse many have seen what is possible when the confines of the style and story you are telling are widened.  

One would think it nearly impossible for the American Studio system to produce what Hungarian director József Gémes did forty years ago with his sharp and lacerating Heroic Times adapted from the epic poem by János Arany.  Not the kind of thrilling heart-pumping adventure film of the 1980s but rather a contemplative meditation on war, the violence of men, and the ruling class’s ever-changing power-hungry whims and fancies.  The film feels more akin to Ridley Scott’s recent The Last Duel or director Elem Klimov’s brutal Come and See.  

The tale is told by a farmer who eventually rises through the ranks of Knighthood and the cost of the violence and war he partakes in.  Heroic Times takes everything you know about Medieval Epics – the jousting, the armor, the commitment, the bloodshed – and subtracts any sort of code of honor or moral justifications.  Murder is murder in Heroic Times and the price for that is as much physical as it is psychological.  

What makes Heroic Times so arresting and watchable is that it never shies away from the cost and the assessment and critique of the ruling class.  The way that they plunder and go to war based on the most personal and slightest of turns is one of the most clear-eyed looks at just how rotted to the core the ruling elite were and still are.  

Heroic Times is not just an ironic title but a savage assessment of how history and many look back on any time of uprising, war, and violence.  How the victors make heroes out of psychopaths to justify and inspire more to serve the rich and power hungry.  Even forty years later this is still a salient point that continues a brutal cycle of never-ending death and destruction.  

The Transfer

The new 4K restoration of Heroic Times by the NFI – National Film Institute-Film Archive in Hungary with Blu-ray authoring by David Mackenzie of Fidelity In Motion is a stunner.  The painterly backgrounds and scenes coupled with the often abstract motion of the entire film could have spelled a disaster on Blu-ray.  The restoration and authoring make these hurdles not even a bump in the road.  The image is beautiful and hypnotic as though we’re watching an oil painting come to life. Bravo to not just NFI for the restoration but the thoughtful authoring by Mackenzie. 

The Extras

They include the following;

  • New commentary track by film historian Samm Deighan
  • Short film: “Koncertissimo” 
  • Short film: “Parade (Díszlépés)” 
  • Short film: “Funeral (Temetés)” 
  • New video interview with Heroic Times animator Sándor Békési,
  • New video interview with György Ráduly, Director of the National Film Institute-Film Archive on József Gémes and the history of Hungarian animation

The all-new commentary track by film historian Samm Deighan begins with the unique style of the film’s animation as compared to most animated films and the subject matter.  Some of the other details include the Epic Poem this film is based on – the mixture of history, folklore, and fantasy; a larger discussion about artists and creatives use the fantasy genre to get around censorship while under totalitarian government; a discussion of filmmaker József Gémes – his work, his personal life, the work he did beyond just his directorial career with his production company; a larger discussion about Hungarian animated films – and how they used them not just as a children medium but for adults and complex subject matters; a discussion of the production; how this parallels the rise of the “Sword and Scorerery” epics in the 1980s in the West; a discussion of poet János Arany – the epic poem and how it differs from the film, the historical context of when this was written; and much more.  Deighan’s commentary track is a master course on Heroic Times.  The wealth of information on not only the film but the filmmakers, Hungarian history and politics makes this track not just a worthy listen but a vital one.  

 “Koncertissimo” (4:11) – This short from 1968 much like Heroic Times is done in a certain specific artistic style that is more of a painting than it is a traditional animated film.  The set-up is simple but savagely effective; a mass of social elites gathers in a concert hall readying themselves to watch the theater of war.  

“Parade (Díszlépés)” (6:10) – This short from 1969 like Koncertissimo is a beautifully dark satire, this one taking on the military and the “pomp and circumstance” of formations and revelry in the military and its push to conform.  Director József Gémes again uses a specific artistic style that’s anti-theatrical of what people normally associate with animation which results in a wonderfully unique artistically beautiful short.  

 “Funeral (Temetés)” (3:09) – The final short from 1970 is a beautiful and all too darkly funny look at the social norms of a Funeral and how they’re disrupted.  József Gémes’s acute sense of humor and understanding of social norms play with the precision of a scalpel and the devastation of a sledgehammer. 

New video interview with György Ráduly, Director of the National Film Institute-Film Archive on József Gémes and the history of Hungarian animation (50:09) – the all-new interview is moderated by Dennis Bartok done via Zoom with Ráduly begins with crediting him and the NFI for their restoration of Heroic Times.  Some of the details include a discussion of the formation/creation, purpose, the research and saving of lost Hungarian films and more about the NFI in Hungary; Ráduly own personal history, his love of cinema (including the first films he fell in love with as a child) and how he got involved with the NFI – how he came from finance (not film finance) but eventually got involved with film by a friend; the work and life of József Gémes – including a discussion about censorship and how he and others navigated this through their work and specifically in animation; and much more.  We’ve said this before but Bartok is a great moderator guiding this fascinating interview and subjects that we normally just do not have a window into.  Ráduly is great at not just discussing the various topics but expounding on them as they relate to Hungry politically, historically, socially, and artistically.  

New video interview with Heroic Times animator Sándor Békési (26:08) – the all-new interview is moderated by Bartok and done via Zoom with Békési begins with his credits that he worked on (he is also coincidentally György Ráduly cousin). Some of the details include Békési discussion of his early childhood and drawn to the arts and how he was influenced by his father; he is both an animator and theologian; how he got into animation in Hungary and how he rose through the ranks on various projects eventually working on Heroic Times; József Gémes love and inspiration of The Yellow Submarine; how he met and began to work with József Gémes; a discussion about the development of Heroic Times from the epic poem from poet János Arany – his own experience with the material; the production of Heroic Times – including details specific to animation like how did the design the characters, sets, the lead animators, the way things were actually animated, style books/guides; and much more.  We rarely get long-form interviews with animators, this is a true treat for not just animation fans but film fans in general.  

The Final Thought 

Heroic Times is another gem of European Animation from Deaf Crocodile.  The boutique label has given the film a beautifully stacked edition.  Highest Possible Recommendations!! 

Deaf Crocodile’s Blu-Ray edition of Heroic Times is available on August 29th

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