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Christophe Gans
Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Mark Dacascos, Jean Yanne, Jean-François Stévenin, Jacques Perrin
Stéphane Cabel, Christophe Gans

Rated R for strong violence and gore, and sexuality/nudity.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 144 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 10/1/2002

• Deleted Scenes
• Cast and Filmmakers Bios
• Production Notes
• Theatrical Trailer

Score soundtrack

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TV - Mitsubishi CS-32310 32"; Subwoofer - JBL PB12; DVD Player - Toshiba SD-4700; Receiver - Sony STR-DE845; Center - Polk Audio CS175i; Front Channels - Polk Audio; Rear Channels - Polk Audio.


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Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte Des Loups, 2001)

Reviewed by David Williams

Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte Des Loups) is a literal melting pot of cultures and genres. Contained in this French potpourri are a stunt coordinator from Hong Kong and a star that hails from the United States (Hawaii). The principals take some of the better (read: audience friendly) elements from French (tons o’ dialogue with a smattering of romance), Asian (shades of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and John Woo), and American (The Matrix with a splash of Tarantino) film - adds some cool filters, fast-paced editing and gorgeous cinematography – and mix it all up to produce one of the more interesting films to hit theaters in some time. In a dumbed-down nutshell, Brotherhood is a “philosophical kung-fu horror flick set in 18th century, powdered-wig-wearing France”. Nifty premise, eh?!?

Based loosely on historical events of “The Beast of Gevaudan” in the south of France, Brotherhood opens in 1765 during King Louis XV’s reign. It seems that there is a mystifying and savage beast that is roaming the French countryside and brutally slaughtering innocent women and children. The men living in and around the area of the vicious attacks have been hunting high and low for the best without avail and the King is quickly losing face with his subjects since he hasn’t been able to capture or kill it. However, a few of his subjects have lived to tell about their encounter with the “Beast” and they describe him as having razor-sharp teeth, weighing in around 500 pounds, having no fear of humans and firearms, and a very, very brazen personality – definitely not someone, or something, you’d want to meet; let alone, tangle with.

The film follows a fairly simple plot, as King Louis XV dispatches naturalist/philosopher/investigator Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) to capture and then study the beast once it has been apprehended. Fronsac, a grizzled and scarred veteran from wars with the British over in “New France” (North America), brings back with him, an Iroquois Indian companion named Mani (Mark Dacascos). The two are told that whoever kills the beast will reap a large reward and since Fronsac and his companion have essentially been hand picked by the King, they become targets themselves – especially Mani. However, finding out the truth about the “Beast” is much harder than expected and the waters are muddied even further by a multitude of characters introduced and whisked off, as well as other key players like one-armed nobleman Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel), as well as the mysterious and very lovely, Sylvia (Monica Bellucci). Things aren’t as they initially seem and it’s a fairly interesting ride in order to reveal all of the answers our heroes seek.

However, the film suffers somewhat from bad/incorrect/misleading marketing. Those of you expecting a balls-out action flick are going to be sorely disappointed. Those of you expecting any sort of credible romance are going to be sorely disappointed. Those of you expecting an involving and engaging horror/mystery film are going to be sorely disappointed. Unfortunately, the film is a victim of its own design and bogs down in too many places because it tries to be everything to everyone. One minute we’re hunting down the “Beast” and kicking butt and then the next, we’re exploring a poorly designed romance and getting knee-deep in philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Round and round it goes – a constant ride back-and-forth ride on a schizophrenic pendulum between genres that ultimately becomes somewhat frustrating.

Another problem encountered in the film was the absolute hilarity of the “Beast” once he’s revealed. During earlier moments in the film when the “Beast” was never fully realized and we only heard his grunts, snarls, and growls, he was at least intimidating. Unfortunately, when he’s presented in full, CGI-rendered form - courtesy of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop – it’s practically laughable and definitely much less menacing than expected. I won’t spoil the fun for those of you who haven’t seen the film, but believe me when I tell you that the unveiling of the “Beast” is at best, anticlimactic. Keep your expectations low and you’ll be fine …

However, all is not loss with Brotherhood of the Wolf, as the fight sequences are some of the better choreographed I’ve seen in some time. Fronsac and Mani’s introduction to the audience in Brotherhood is easily one of the best scenes in the film, as the duo arrives in a driving rainstorm with their three-corner hats and long raincoats strategically and stylistically worn and they commence to dispatching quite a few baddies in short order with some very impressive martial arts moves. The fights, although fewer and more far between than hoped, were choreographed by Hong Kong cinema veteran Philip Kwok, who is probably most famous for staging the fight scenes in John Woo’s 1992 classic, Hard Boiled. Unfortunately for viewers, Christophe Gans is no John Woo and many of the scenes regrettably feel like nothing more than a cheap imitation of a John Woo film. Quick edits, slow motion, and jerky camera movements are fine and good, but in Brotherhood, they seem to be used – actually, overused - for all the wrong reasons. I’m convinced that the movie could have been 30-minutes shorter had Gans not resorted to so many slow-mo shots. Even so, the scenes can be fun to watch.

However, when it’s all said and done, the good barely edges out the bad and Brotherhood of the Wolf was at times, an entertaining ride – albeit a long one, as the film clocks in at a laborious 144 minutes. While the film didn’t quite live up to my admittedly higher-than-average expectations, it was interesting nonetheless and very fun to check out. Recommended as a rainy day rental for the curious and an obvious sight-unseen purchase for those already familiar with the film.

The DVD Grades: Picture A / Audio B / Bonus C-

Simply put, Brotherhood of the Wolf looks grandiose. With a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Universal, there’s absolutely no denying that the film feels epic in places, with much credit given to director of photography, Dan Lausten. Universal seemingly pulled out all the stops on this one and has presented viewers with a marvelously well-done transfer.

The film’s transfer is enhanced by its cinematography and everything fits together quite nicely in order to create a gorgeous and at times, very active, environment. As you might imagine, the film contains many dark, dank, and dingy moments and Universal handles them with ease, as they portray even the darkest moments in the film with excellent clarity and precision. Black levels are dead-on throughout the film and allowed Brotherhood of the Wolf to maintain excellent shadow detail and delineation. While much of the film sticks to a very earthy and dark palette, there are few occasions in the film where hues become very bold and vibrant, as many of the scenes took place in castles and/or mansions with absolutely brilliant colors and costumes. Included in the vast Brotherhood environment, we can be anywhere from dark, lush forests to candlelit rooms in mystifying castles and this dual nature of the palette worked quite nice for the film and was very pleasing to the eye. Ultimately, everything was properly balanced and saturated, with no bleeding or smearing noted at any time.

Flaws are few and far between during the lengthy running time of the film and other than a few instances of edge enhancement and shimmer, Brotherhood of the Wolf doesn’t contain much to complain about. Major flaws are non-existent in the film and what’s present is definitely of the non-distracting variety. Universal is to be commended for such a fine-looking disc – one that is just a few flaws short of perfection.

Universal has included a marvelously done Dolby Digital 5.1 track in the film’s native French, as well as a dub in English. Both mixes are quite active and are very pleasing for the home viewer. The tracks are virtually indistinguishable in breadth and scope, other than the obvious language differences, and Universal is to be commended for authoring such a fine mix.

Let me start off by saying that I’m a huge proponent of viewing any film in its native language first … and then … if you’re interested, checking out the English dub. While I definitely followed my own rules in viewing Brotherhood, I was quite impressed with the English dub for the film. It was easily one of the better dubs I have ever encountered over the hundreds of DVDs I’ve had the pleasure of viewing - with many of those being foreign. The English track was lovingly and meticulously authored and it definitely showed. Even so, I suggest you check out the French dub first. (Interestingly enough, my DVD player chose the ‘English’ dub as the default.)

As I said before, the track is a very active and charismatic one that takes many opportunities to employ each of your speakers in some very impressive and engaging material. The mix drops the viewer right in the middle of stylistic fights full of swift kicks, powerful punches, and all-around unruly melee. Ambience and directional cues are a fairly constant element in the track and at all times, Brotherhood displays excellent dynamics and fidelity. Dialogue is always front and center, with no issues related to harshness or intelligibility, while the LFE provides some incredibly “boomy” moments – many, courtesy of powerful horse hooves galloping and many are courtesy of the “Beast” himself. The film’s score, from Joseph Lo Duca, receives fine treatment from Universal as well, as the score for the film was appropriately rich and full.

Ultimately, Brotherhood was a great auditory experience that fans of the film and fans of the medium alike will enjoy. Universal has also included subtitles in English and French, as well as English closed captions. Universal, obviously capable of much better supplemental material than what we’re given here, does only an average job of providing extras for Brotherhood. Starting things off, as well as being the only saving grace of the set, are 40-minutes of Deleted Scenes that are introduced individually by director Christopher Gans. Without any sort of navigation for the scenes themselves, we jump right in and are required to watch them sequentially. While it is possible to jump ahead via the –FORWARD- button on your DVD remote – thanks to chapter separation of the scenes - there is no naming or navigation of any kind for any of the included scenes. Gans sets up each of the five included scenes and gives us some nice backstory and information on why each of them was deemed worthy of the fabled “cutting room floor”. Not a bad selection of scenes by any means and well worth the time investment needed to explore fully.

The DVD closes with some Cast and Filmmakers biographies/filmographies for cast members Samuel Le Bihan (Fronsac), Vincent Cassel (Jean-Francois), Emilie Dequenne (Marianne), Monica Bellucci (Sylvia), Jeremie Renier (Thomas d’ Apcher), and Mark Dacascos (Mani), while the only filmmaker with any information given is Christophe Gans (Director). Also included are 5-pages of text-based (and very generic) Production Notes and the film’s Theatrical Trailer in widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1.

A bit disappointing considering what our Canadian brethren got in their 3-disc super set, but for casual fans of Brotherhood, this should suffice. Hardcore fans of the film will find themselves wanting much, much more.

Having a good mixture of gore, choreographed martial arts fights, romance, nubile breasts, silly philosophical rumblings, quick editing and really bad CGI, Gans and Brotherhood are really nothing more than a mass-marketed action flick spoken in French. Slightly better than a B-movie with a big budget, Brotherhood manages to be entertaining in spots and fun if nothing else, for being a little off the beaten path of standard-fare flicks.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8048 Stars Number of Votes: 41
6 3:
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