A slice-of-life folk tale of life in the Louisiana bayous, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild casts a kind of mystical spell at its best but at certain points seems dramatically deficient. A central father-daughter relationship serves as the focus of the movie, but the surrounding characters aren’t given their due, and the movie sometimes dawdles when it should be racing.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 93 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Review Date: December 3, 2012
A small band of stubborn bayou dwellers living on the wrong side of the Louisiana levees refuses to leave when the threat of a hurricane is imminent. Chief among them are Wink (Dwight Henry) and his headstrong six-year old daughter Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis). Sure enough, the storm hits the area very hard, and it’s even more serious for Wink as he’s suffering from a blood malady that’s slowly taking his life. But he doesn’t want to die in a shelter, and he feels compelled to teach Hushpuppy everything he knows before he breathes his last breath.
Director Benh Zeitlin has captured the atmosphere of the community of Bathtub, Louisiana, to perfection: a series of shanty-like river shacks and jerry rigged floating cabins which civilization has barely touched and has infused in the area a culture of harsh yet pastoral near-bliss. Though child-rearing in this area won’t win any awards from the department of social services, there’s a spiritual and almost primitive love of life and land that’s rather magical to witness as director-writer Zeitlin focuses on Hushpuppy, motherless and reasonably self-sufficient, good thing since her father goes missing for long periods without warning. The voiceover work by young actress Quvenzhane Wallis will remind you immediately of the same laconic narration in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, and the films share that same wonder with nature in its power and majesty. Zeitlin’s script co-written with Lucy Alibar and based on her play “Juicy and Delicious” invents the mythical aurochs, wild bore-like creatures who come to symbolize life’s dark forces (i.e. death), something that Hushpuppy resists thinking about until confronted with it both realistically and symbolically at film’s end. The symbolism is a bit heavy-handed, but the visual encounter between the child and her adversary does make for a moving image (as does the father and daughter’s final moments together). But the other residents of Bathtub are only seen in fits and starts giving us only brief glimpses into their own circumstances and philosophies of life. In fact, when the cast list appears in the closing credits, one is loath to be able to match names with faces in so many instances.
Cast when she was five years old, Quvenzhane Wallis has a firecracker fierceness and forcefulness that takes over the screen, and she certainly has screen presence to spare. Dwight Henry as her dominating father is another nonprofessional actor offering a potent performance as he struggles against his own impending death and his energetic child who’s not quite old enough to understand how life always works but must be taught despite her age. They certainly are front and center in all of the most memorable scenes in the movie especially when Wink teaches his daughter how to catch catfish without a line and when Hushpuppy is taught how to crack open a crab barehanded.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Shot using 16mm film and digital cameras, images aren’t always in focus, and details in the best images are good but seldom great. Color can be a bit smeared on occasion, but flesh tones are natural enough, and black levels are good. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is very effective for an über-low budget film. There’s undeniably impressive bass in the music and some of the sound effects, and both are used optimally to give a believable surround presence to the events of the movie. Dialogue in direct recording and the voiceover narration has been excellently recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
Unless otherwise noted, the featurettes are presented in 1080p.
There are ten deleted scenes compiled in a 14-minute montage which features commentary on their deletion by director Benh Zeitlin.
Audition footage for stars Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, and the two together can be viewed individually or in one 15 ¼-minute grouping. It’s in 480i.
“The Making of Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a 22 ½-minute synopsis on the film’s production by his troupe Court 13 featuring discussions by director Benh Zeitlin on casting the movie, the construction of Bathtub, behind-the-scenes shots during the filming of important sequences, Quvenzhane’s final day on the set, and the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
Glory at Sea is director Benh Zeitlin’s 2008 short feature using the same motif as Beasts with a group of bayou dwellers coping with a river flood. It runs 25 ¾ minutes in 1080i.
A featurette on the film’s music score showcases composer Dan Romer and his close working relationship with director Benh Zeitlin coming up with the music for the movie. This runs 3 minutes.
“The Aurochs” shows how the mythical creatures were developed for the movie and then filmed and composited into the movie in a 3 ½-minute vignette.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 minutes.
The disc contains a promo trailer for Stoker.
The second disc in the set is a combination DVD/digital copy of the movie.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a somewhat compelling drama of the harsh conditions growing up on the Louisiana bayous. There’s an art-house feel to the movie which won’t make it for all tastes, but the performances by non-pros are impressive, and the film’s mystique is often unmistakably gripping.