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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Animal Factory (2000)

"This is my prison, everybody knows that."
- Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: February 26, 2001

Stars: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo
Other Stars: John Heard, Mickey Rourke, Rom Arnold, Seymour Cassel
Director: Steve Buscemi

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: R for (strong language, violence, and drug use)
Run Time: 01:33m:10s
Release Date: January 09, 2001
UPC: 043396059290
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AAB+ B-

DVD Review

Novelist Edward Bunker spent many years in prison; certainly enough to fuel his imagination for his 1977 prison drama novel The Animal Factory. Long in the making, mainly due to financial troubles, this movie brings Bunker's vision to the screen with a fantastic amount of integrity and depth. Prison dramas are fairly popular subject matter, but many times they seem to take the extremist route and present a very exploitative look at prison life. We see killings, rapes, and all sorts of bad things, but rarely any core message behind it all. Animal Factory makes an incredible breath of fresh air from that sort of thing by telling an actual story, rather than a by-the-numbers, violence-fest.

In the film, Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) is sentenced to a long term in prison for possession of marijuana. Once inside, he finds himself overwhelmed by the level of violence and intensity in prison life. He manages to become an acquaintance of Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), a long-time convict who, with his prison "gang", has managed to take over the system behind the prison. Copen is friends with guards, other convicts, and even the warden, so he is allowed a certain amount of privilege, much like an imprisoned mob boss. Copen extends a friendly hand to Decker, with no strings attached. Decker is scared of Copen, but he's more afraid of the various deviants and hardcore criminals trying to victimize him. Eventually, their relationship deepens into an honest friendship with both of them trying to figure out how to get out of prison the honest way, by manipulating the law. When events in the prison damage both their reputations, though, the legal means no longer work so they begin entertaining the notion of escape.

What truly drives the story is the actors. Even the smallest roles are filled by extremely capable actors, some of whom have served actual time in prison. Willem Dafoe's screen presence is overwhelming as Earl Copen, as is the spot-on performance by Edward Furlong, who embodies the inexperienced, burned-out kid. Co-producer Danny Trejo makes a nice addition to the minor cast, and viewers will probably recognize him from films like Desperado and Heat. A gritty realism is maintained without going overboard. Perhaps the big surprise is the small, supporting role by Mickey Rourke, as a kindly but menacing transvestite that Furlong's character bunks with for awhile. The weaving of great actors with fitting roles results in an extremely impressive production that has more character than might seem initially apparent. Even director Steve Buscemi makes an appearance, as does Edward Bunker himself.

The story is absorbing and rewarding. Though prison life is portrayed with a reasonable level of repulsion, it's well balanced. Not every convict is a raving psychotic who starts trouble all the time, and not every guard is a corrupt, oppressive figure. The convicts are not presented as heroes or anything like that; they're just people trying to escape the horrible world of their surroundings. In the end, this makes Animal Factory a very entertaining, deep drama that is without pretensions or any kind of "feel good" message. It may be downbeat, but it doesn't abuse the viewer with senseless tragedy. This isn't Hollywood's idea of prison, it's just prison...plain and simple.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1:78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The image here is impressive, with a nice amount of depth and clean presentation. Widescreened at 1:78:1, the anamorphic, dual-layer enhancement has obviously allowed for a smooth encoding of all the drab, grey palettes we see inside the prison. There isn't much color or bright imagery giving that the setting is mostly inside the jailhouse, but the general balance of flesh tones with the environment is nice, and there are no signs of artifacts or other digital compression flaws. The source print has a few specks and damage marks towards the end, but nothing that brings the film down. Small details are nicely rendered and, overall, this is a pretty luminous looking transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is primarily front-focused. Animal Factory is a dialogue movie, so there isn't much action in the soundfield. The stylish soundtrack score by experimental jazz musician John Lurie comes across very nice, with great acoustics. Stereo effects are very common, mainly due to the fact that so much of the on-screen action echoes in the concrete hallways of the prison. Surrounds are rarely used and I couldn't discern any split-surround effects. The dialogue is very crisp and easy to understand, balancing itself well with the rest of the soundtrack. The 2.0 Surround French audio sounds slightly worse, in that the dubbed dialogue is a bit unnaturally loud. However, the front soundstage is essentially the same.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Danny Trejo and Edward Bunker
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:59m:09s

Extra Extras:
  1. Interviews with Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi, Edward Furlong, Mickey Rourke.
Extras Review: The commentary track features co-producer and actor Danny Trejo with author Edward Bunker. Trejo's voice comes from the front left speaker and Bunker's voice from the front right. The commentary is informative and interesting, but it is also a little sparse; long periods go by without much being said of any interest. Bunker and Trejo have both spent time in prison, and as a result too much of the commentary is sort of in-jokes and remembrances about prison time, rather than discussing the film. This doesn't make the commentary bad, but it's not quite as detailed as one might be used to.
A set of video interviews are also presented. Each interview is about 6 minutes long and provides a little insight into some of the aspects behind the making of the movie (especially the fact that it took almost 5 years to complete). I was unable to access the Mickey Rourke interview through the menu, which actually took me to the Edward Furlong interview instead. I was only able to watch the Rourke interview by accessing title 7 on the disc.
Some good cast and crew bios and a trailer round off the disc. If I had any serious complaints about the disc, it would be the awkward and slow menuing system that takes far too long to interact with.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Animal Farm is a top notch drama that deserves at least a rental. It's lack of major, theatrical presence is too bad, but hopefully the fact that almost everywhere I've been is carrying the film for rental, it's reputation will increase. This is easily Steve Buscemi's best directorial outing (I wasn't a big fan of Tree's Lounge) as well. A very solid package. Highly recommended.

 


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