A film that garnered high praise during its original 2002 theatrical run in the United States, Brotherhood of the Wolf also kicked up a fair amount of revenue for a foreign language film in limited release. With a solid showing at the box office, it was inevitable that we’d see a new DVD edition at some point and what we receive in this two-disc edition will surprise you. Despite a three-disc edition being released exclusively in Canada years back, this new Director’s Cut edition actually stacks up quite well when held next to the three-disc set.
When a beast begins terrorizing and murdering villagers, two heroes are called in to track down and kill it. What the men don’t realize, however, is that there’s more to the beast than they originally anticipated and with one finding love along the way to taken down the beast, it becomes harder to decide what is more important. Part action, part horror, part mystery and part romance, Brotherhood of the Wolf manages to fill almost all genre with its wide range of storylines and plot points that engross each and every one of the characters from beginning to end.
I’d heard of Brotherhood of the Wolf before but I never saw it or gave it a second glance, simply because after seven years I didn’t have much desire to see what I assumed would be a (now) dated action film. Still, with the two-disc release hitting shelves, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and I have to say, it was quite an entertaining film. That’s not to say I don’t have issues with it (which I’ll soon address), but it really isn’t what you’d think it would be based on the cover art and description alone. Of course that’s a poor way to judge a film regardless, but when that’s the only thing you have to go on (and a handful of reviews smattered around the web), you don’t have much choice.
First and foremost, the good. The film does a superb job at setting up its characters and giving each and every one of them ample time to be fleshed out. Even after they disappear into other parts of the story we don’t see, their return at the end in no way feels abrupt or awkward and it is all laid out quite beautifully. Between the myriad of action sequences to the romantic pieces, the films lightning and cinematography is breathtaking as well; plenty of beautiful scenery fills each of the scenes in the film and the lighting used in each is remarkable. It’s a truly fantastic looking film, but I do have a few issues with it.
My main qualm with the film is that it is quite a bit on the long side. The director’s cut clocks in at over two and a half hours and while I appreciate the time taken to develop each of the characters, sometimes it felt entirely unnecessary. Time is spent in areas where it isn’t necessarily required and the long wait until we actually get a good look at the beast itself is part of what kills the enjoyment of the film. Had I known going in that it was such a wild collaboration of multiple genres I may have been more forgiving. But after sitting and waiting for what was nearly an hour until the beast actually showed its ugly mug on screen, I just became restless. At that point the film began to mix in more genres, with the martial arts and the mystery and secrets that abound in the film. Quite honestly, even with its generous run time, the film is quite difficult to keep track of on a first viewing and may require another before you fully grasp it. Unfortunately I don’t think I enjoyed it enough to give it another spin just yet; it wasn’t a horrible film by any means, but I think it’s been given a bit more credit both at the time of its release and even to this day. It’s a good film, yes, but I don’t entirely see how people can enjoy it so very much.
I have a pretty strong patience level when it comes to films that want to do the walk and talk thing more than get into the meat of the story, but when there is so much fat on the edges, it’s hard to swallow. There’s far too much chewing of the dialogue and scenery that has to go on before we really get into the story. I think had I known going into it what to expect more than just a “horror/action film in French” that I’d gleaned from the description of the film on the rear jacket, I’d have been more receptive.
Of course there was still plenty to enjoy even while I was looking at the clock. The actors in the film were fantastic, with Vincent Cassel playing a fantastic villain and Monica Bellucci stealing every scene she managed to be in. Those were the only two actors in the film I immediately recognized (I’m not exactly big on French cinema, so that’s probably a big factor in that), but all of them played their parts exceptionally well. It really is an actor’s film and I can only imagine how much fun they all had sinking their teeth into the roles that the film gave them.
As strong of a film as it ultimately is, I’m going to have to give this one a Rental first. It has nothing to do with it being a foreign language film, I’ve stopped caring about reading subtitles long ago, but it’s just that it’s such a mixed genre film that it will undoubtedly confuse you at first. I’ve no doubt there are those out there who loved this film to pieces when they first saw it, but for me it was a little too much of a mash up to completely enjoy. For me it seemed like it wanted to be too much to really settle in one place, but it’s still very much worth seeing just for the actors and scenery. Rent it.
As previously mentioned there was a three-disc release of this film released in Canada, so those wondering if this is worth the upgrade if you already own the previous edition…well…no it isn’t. I obviously don’t own the three-disc, but after researching it this new two-disc keeps many of the same extras, but leaves off a few others as well. Nothing major and if you only own the single-disc edition and enjoyed the film, then in that case this would be worth the upgrade. We’ll delve into that further. First is the presentation of the set itself, which arrives in a standard two-disc DVD case with dark blue disc art and menus that resemble worn paper. It’s a very nice set and much more elegant than I’d expected from what is essentially a simple double-dip.
The video for the set is impressive, with plenty of detail in the image and a fantastic representation of the cinematography of the film. It really looks fantastic and there isn’t a scene that goes by that doesn’t make your eyes shout with glee. A high-definition version of this film would surely look fantastic, which I’m surprised Universal didn’t release this on Blu-ray alongside this release (an HD-DVD release was given for it overseas, but nothing Stateside). There is a fair bit of edge enhancement to be had on the picture still, but the compression is kept to a sane level. Overall a decent picture and the accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in both English and French) is clean and clear, with plenty of surround work during the action sequences. It defaults to French with subtitles, which is the way I recommend you keep it as the English dub is quite awkward.
Moving onto the extras, we first see the difference between the Canadian 3-disc. The commentaries are not included here, which is no real surprise as they were recorded in French. I can’t really deduct points for that, although including them and tossing in a subtitle track for it might have been a way to do it…but I’m not sure how many people would have even watched that. In any case, the commentaries and the photo galleries seem to be the only things missing from the disc, as the rest is spread across the two discs on the set.
First up are the deleted scenes (40:24, six total) on the first disc of the set. Each has an intro by director Christophe Gans and includes behind-the-scenes footage mixed in as well. They’re interesting pieces, but with all of the extra fluff tacked onto them, there’s no simple way to just view the scenes by themselves. Not a huge issue, but still kind of awkward. But this appears to be a repeat from all of the previous DVD releases anyway, so that’s probably why it’s pieced together in that way.
Disc two houses the big extras and we start off with “The Guts of the Beast” a six part documentary (1:18:27). The documentary consists of “Genesis,” “Casting,” “Artistic Direction,” “The Fight Scenes,” “The Beast,” “Digital Effects,” and “Epilogue,” each telling their own specific part of the story and including plenty of interviews with the crew. The next extra is a “Documentary” (1:17:52), this one split into thirteen parts which is made up of onset footage and almost entirely follows the film with stuff recorded on the set. There’s a nice little bit where they have to rework a scene when a lamb isn’t cooperating with what the director originally envisioned and they have to do a bit of a switching of the script on the last minute—a neat little bit.
Finally we have “Legend” (17:33) and “Storyboards”, twelve parts, (25:32). “Legend” talks about the historical facts behind the vicious Gevaudan Beast and the storyboards cover some of the more memorable sequences in the film.
Really it seems the only thing missing here are the commentaries and photo galleries, which, since I don’t speak French and don’t really enjoy flipping through photographs on DVDs, I’m not too broken up about missing. It’s definitely a solid set and the inclusion of the Director’s Cut, the first ever Region 1 release (from what I can gather) will definitely have Canadian and American fans clamoring to get their hands on this release to see what the director put back in.
Overall this is an incredible release that, with over four hours of extras, is really quite the standout, especially in a market when even modern films often get not even a half of that to sort through. Recommended.
The Brotherhood of the Wolf: Director’s Cut is now available on DVD.