- Oct 30, 2002
Brotherhood of the Wolf: 2 Disc Director's Cut
Studio: Universal Home Entertainment
Year: 2008 (theatrically released in 2002)
Film Length: 151 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Languages: English 5.1, French 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French
Cast: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Émilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Mark Dascascos
In 2003 I had my first experience with "Brotherhood of the Wolf" when a friend invited himself over and insisted I watch this movie. I was originally apprehensive being that I've never been much of a foreign film connoisseur, especially when it's a period piece. Suffice to say, after viewing the movie I was stunned by how entertaining it turned out to be. It gives me great pleasure to be able to re-visit the film five years later in the form of the 2 disc director's cut being reviewed here. The story begins in 1765; the Beast of Gévaudan has been terrorizing a small French province for over a year. The French king dispatches Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a knight and the royal taxidermist, to investigate the authenticity of the survivor's stories and to capture the Beast. Accompanying Fronsac in this journey is his Native-American companion Mani (Mark Dascascos). They are given residence and aided by Thomas d'Apcher (Jérémie Renier), the son of local aristocrat Marquis d'Apcher (Hans Meyer). While there, Fronsac and Mani are also introduced to the remaining aristocrats in the province, including Father Henri Sardis (Jean-François Stévenin) as well as the Morangias family and their daughter Marianne de Morangias (Émilie Dequenne) and her brother Jean-François de Morangias (Vincent Cassel).
Fronsac, being a man of intelligence, is skeptical that the Beast is real, but after measuring the bite radius on a victim he determines that the attacking animal is far more sizeable than the wolves that are currently being accused of the killings. Massive hunts are organized by the province's local authorities and still the Beast continues to remain at large. As the investigation drags on without any success, the King eventually sends his Master of Arms, Lord de Beauterne (Johan Leyson), to personally dispose of the Beast and return it to Paris for display. Fronsac discovers that instead of actually killing the Beast, Beauterne kills a normal wolf and demands that he dress up the corpse to look like a ferocious animal to present to the King. The knight begrudgingly obliges the request after he is reminded that disobeying the king's wishes could lead to unpleasant consequences for himself.
Fronsac and Mani return to Paris to find that the urgency to kill the Beast was based on a pseudo-religious book that is attempting to undermine the King's growing acceptance of philosophy over the church. The book chronicles the Beasts killings and heralds it as an effigy of God's wrath. The knight is told that, for all intents and purposes, the Beast is dead and he is bribed with a trip to Senegal in order to stay quiet. As Fronsac and Mani are preparing to depart for their voyage, Thomas d'Apcher requests that they both return to Gévaudan as the Beast has continued it's killing spree and must be stopped. Fronsac begins to suspect that the Beast is not necessarily a rogue animal and is, instead, under the control of the secret society responsible for publishing the outlawed book; The Brotherhood of the Wolf. Grégoire and Mani travel back to Gévaudan determined to unravel the mystery of the Beast's origins and group that commands it.
The art direction for "Brother of the Wolf" is one of the film's strongest aspects. The lighting is very high contrast and gives the movie a very gothic and ominous feel. Colors are used to wonderful affect, often offsetting the grayish tones used for the countryside. The movie is presented in an expansive 2.35:1 aspect ratio that really allows the vistas of the rural French locations to come alive since the vast majority of the movie is filmed outside. Given that this is a standard DVD release, I was pleased with the resolution of the film on my 60" LCD screen. The transfer seems very clean and sharp, and there was no bleeding of the copious amounts of color used during the film.
Adding to the uniqueness of "Brotherhood" is the inclusion of more modern influences not usually seen in period foreign films, particularly the martial arts action scenes. There is a very distinct "Matrix"-style overtone as the camera will suddenly shift from normal motion to slow motion and back again to add gravitas to important scenes. Some viewers may find this jarring but I personally felt it gave the movie a distinct flavor not found a genre film like this. It's very clear that these scenes were planned in advance since the slow motion is very smooth and fluid thanks to the usage of high-speed film for those scenes. All in all, "Brotherhood" has a unique visceral impact and while some may find these more modern effects somewhat out of place, I felt that it gave the movie a character all it's own and served to make the viewing experience even better.
This two-disc version of "Brotherhood of the Wolf" is presented with both English and French 5.1 soundtracks. For reviewing purposes, I chose to go with the native language since it allows a more accurate representation of the characters by the actors and, personally, I feel it is far and away the superior presentation method. The French 5.1 audio is impressive with all speakers getting a healthy amount of usage. Since much of the movie is outdoors, the rear channels are used quite often and really convey a sense of space for the locations. Viewers with dedicated subwoofers are in for a real treat here, since the LFE track is used for far more than just the ominous footsteps and growls of the Beast. The martial arts and slow motion film style use the low frequency channel gratuitously to enhance the action of the screen. Even something as mundane as Mani dismounting from a horse in one of the opening scenes is given punch by the inclusion of the sub channel.
Special features on this 2 disc set border on the exhaustive and it's clear that a significant amount of effort went into making this set worth the potential double (and triple for some) dip. The first disc contains forty minutes of deleted scenes which, thankfully, were not included in the movie as it already clocks in at a bladder-testing 2 hours and 31 minutes. The scenes are good but I personally don't feel like their inclusion would have added any significant impact to the movie. Disc 1 also contains the original theatrical trailer which is a bonus for viewers like me who enjoy watching them.
The second disc is where the real meat of the special features is. There are two full-blown documentaries as well as a shorter interview covering the legend of the Beast from a historical point of view.
"The Guts of the Beast" is the first behind-the-scenes feature and goes into extreme detail on almost every aspect of the film, from it's creation, to the kung-fu style fights, the special effects, and finally covering the impact the film had in France and around the world. At almost an hour and twenty minutes, this is a real treat for viewers who want to learn more about the aspects of making the film.
There is also a documentary titled simply "Documentary" that chronicles the entire timeline of the film's production via the use of a video camera. This isn't a sit-down style interview featurette, but instead relies on the viewer to watch the process of making a movie from start to finish. There is no voice-over and no gussied-up presentation; it's a raw look into the real problems and solutions of film production on location. This bonus feature also checks in at almost eighty minutes, so quite a bit of ground is covered in a linear fashion.
"Legend" covers the historical impact that the Beast had on the French populace. As it turns out, there actually was a beast that killed many people in Gévaudan in the 1700's. Author Michel Louis gives a short interview that goes into detail on what really happened with the beast that terrorized the French province, who was actually responsible for it, and it's comparisons to the film.
Rounding out the list of featurettes is a slideshow of storyboards used for the film's production. There is some good stuff here, but I think only the hardcore fanbase of the movie would get any real enjoyment out of it.
One important note to make regarding the special features is that they are all presented in French. The release is unapologetically sticking to it's foreign film roots so if you're going to sit down and watch them, make sure the English subtitles are turned on.
This is a solid movie that should appeal to genre fans as well as action fans. As far as I'm concerned, one of the unsung heroes of this production is the casting department. All the actors in the film are well-suited to their roles and play them beautifully. Samuel Le Bihan is excellent as Fronsac just as Vincent Cassel is equally unnerving and creepy as Jean-François. Finally, Mark Dascascos is fantastic as Mani who epitomizes the "speak softly and carry a big stick" mentality. His athleticism and agility really bring Mani's scenes, both fighting and not, to a higher level. I enjoyed the art direction and production of "Brotherhood of the Wolf" when I first saw it back in 2003 and I enjoy just as much now. I fully encourage anybody who has been curious about this movie to pick it up as I am confident they will not be disappointed. Happy hunting!