Universal Studios Home Video presents
Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des loups) (2002)
"It was in the year 1764 that the beast first appeared on our land and made it its own. One year later, its infamy had spread beyond the borders of our province and we came to believe that no mortal would be able to eliminate the terror."- narrator
Stars: Samuel Le Bihan, Emilie Dequenne, Mark Decascos
Other Stars: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Jerome Renier, Mark Renier,
Director: Christophe Gans
MPAA Rating: R for nudity, sexuality, strong violence and gore
Run Time: 02h:23m:01s
Release Date: 2002-10-01
DVD ReviewIn the realm of truly ambitious films that struggle to blend a variety of disparate genres together, Christophe Gans' near epic Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des loups) is no doubt one of the more successful, at least when it comes to simply making it all look good. Gans smoothly mixes elements of costume drama, martial arts, horror, romance, historical saga and conspiracy thriller into a strangely cohesive package that somehow manages to connect everything together believably, and more importantly, without appearing to have worked hard to be different. Much of the action that happens in Gans' film, as outlandish as it is at times, occurs within the framework of a remarkably powerful visual style.
Gans' film is loosely based on the real-life events in the Gévaudan region of south-central France in 1764. An unnaturally large wolf was believed responsible for nearly 100 savage, fatal attacks on local villagers, and after a number of unsuccessful hunting excursions by King Louis XV's best men over a three year period, the so-called Beast of Gévaudan became the stuff of myth and legend. Was it a wolf? Was it a monster? A werewolf or something else? The screenplay for Brotherhood of the Wolf, by Stéphane Cabel and Gans, borrows liberally from historical fact, mixing actual and fictional characters into a reworking of the events, and the result is a speculative premise, based in part on fact, that is revealed ever so slowly during the film's nearly 2-1/2 hour length.
The king of France has sent naturalist/philosopher Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan, here looking a blond cross between Christopher Lambert and Brendan Fraser), a member of the Royal Garden, to investigate the attacks in Gévaudan, and he is accompanied on his journey by his stoic, martial arts savvy Mohican sidekick Mani (Mark Dacascos). Fronsac and Mani are kind of an early Mulder and Scully, and their mission is to unearth the truth (whatever that may turn out to be) about the mysterious beast. Local lore describes a massive, spiky-haired creature, but Fronsac is convinced that it may have a more down-to-earth, and less supernatural, explanation.
The search for the Beast of Gévaudan almost becomes a secondary matter at one point in the film, as Fronsac is caught between the alluring noblewoman Marianne de Morangias (the absolutely angelic Emelie Dequenne) and the mysterious, all-knowing prostitute Sylvia (Monica Bellucci); I could only wish to have his problems. Mani, meanwhile, finds himself entrenched in a handful of well choreographed fight sequences that are given added grace via Gans' tight direction and Dan Laustsen's stylish cinematography. Laustsen is the cinematographer on the upcoming adaptation of Alan Moore's Victorian sci-fi fantasy graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and if his outstanding work here is any indication, that film should be a visual treat, as well.
At 2.5 hours in length, this is not a film that can be accused of moving along too quickly; we don't even get our first glimpse of the beast until over 64 minutes into the story, though there is a Jaws-style attack during the opening sequence. By the time Gans makes his grand reveal, I was so wrapped up in the story that I had almost forgotten about having not actually seen the creature, and its appearance more than makes up for its lack of prior screentime. The CG work, from Jim Henson's Creature Shop, is very well done, and it really excels when the director stages an elaborately fun fight sequence between Mani and the creature in a labyrinth of traps.
The blending of film genres works for Gans here, and the result is a beautiful-looking film with a storyline that is seemingly familiar as much as it is original. It's tough to categorize it, but if nothing else it is wildly entertaining.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Universal gets high marks for this gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, one that really shows off the Dan Laustsen cinematography that gives Brotherhood of the Wolf a grandiose, cinematic feel. The dominant dark colors used here are deep and clean, with well-rendered and natural fleshtones throughout. Black levels are dead on, with strong shadow delineation. Edge enhancement is evident in a few scenes, but in general it's not a major imperfection.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Purists will be glad that the film's original French language track, as well as a better-than-average English dub, are provided here in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Both tracks are mixed very aggressively, with heavy usage of all channels, especially during scenes with the creature, as shown during the film's opening attack when deep, guttural growls swirl around the rear speakers. Most of the primary dialogue is cleanly locked into the center channel, with noticeable imaging creating a decent sense of depth across the fronts.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: It's tough to blindly accept the limited extras that Universal has included on this release, knowing full well that the Canadian version is a 3-disc special edition, and includes a director commentary as well as a number of meaty additional featurettes. The fact that just about all of the Canadian extras are in French (including the commentary with available English subs), probably had something to do with Universal's reluctance to include them here on this U.S. release.
The only noteworthy extra here is an excellent Deleted Scenes section (40m:03s) that features comments from director Christophe Gans (in French with English subtitles). Gans discusses five cut scenes at length, both before and after the footage is shown (not during, however). The five scenes are presented in rough cut format, have not gone through any color-correcting, and include quite a bit of behind-the-scenes shots. The director's comments cover not just the deleted scenes themselves, but how they fit with the overall thematic intent of the film, too. The segment is only 40 minutes long, but it is by far the most substantive and well-explained set of deleted scenes that I have seen lately. I guarantee this will leave you wanting more, and it made me think I just may have to get that Canadian set after all.
The English version theatrical trailer is also included, as are a few screens of meager production notes and cast bios. The disc is cut into 20 chapters, with available subtitles in English and Spanish.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThis is a visually impressive film, with a very dark, unique and ultimately sad story at its center. It's extremely hard to pigeonhole Brotherhood of the Wolf into a certain category, other than to state when all is said and done it is probably unlike anything you have seen in quite some time. Christophe Gans merges a number of film genres to create an exciting, wannabe epic that is absolutely gorgeous to look at, even when the story meanders a bit here and there over nearly 2.5 hours.
This single-disc release pales next to the fully-loaded, three-disc Canadian version and its wealth of French language extras, but the film itself (and Universal's stellar transfer) is what makes this release a well-deserved addition to your library.
Rich Rosell 2002-09-29