Brotherhood of the Wolf comes to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray complete with the 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Unsurprisingly, this is a different High Definition transfer to the one Studio Canal used for their release of the movie back in 2008 (on French BD and on UK HD DVD), because it’s also a different cut – the shorter version, rather than the full-length Director’s Cut. Now the movie has not only suffered from never having a satisfactory cut released (particularly in the UK) but also from never having amazing video presentations – many of the SD-DVDs (both here and in the US) and even the 2008 High Definition versions (struck from the same master) were plagued with digital anomalies, incorrect colour, overt noise, and artifacting.
Unfortunately even this new release’s presentation does not appear to be brand new, just a polished-up version of what we’ve seen before – and they still haven’t got it quite right. Whilst the noise and defects have been ironed out, edge enhancement is much more apparent, and the grain level has often been scrubbed somewhat as a result, removing some of the fine object detail in the process. It’s not fatal – it’s far from Predator – but it’s also far from perfect; or what this movie deserves. Softness becomes yet more apparent in the longer shots, but, then again, it was always a fairly soft film – in certain sections (the romantic interplay between De Fronsac and Marianne is often pervaded by ‘soft focus’. There’s also one snow scene which, whilst privy to some of the best-integrated effects (perfectly infused using the Director’s style at-its-most-effectively-adventurous) also boasts snow that infuriatingly interferes with the image – it just doesn’t seem to me that the Director ever intended his shots to be that obscured by the fall.
The colour scheme also poses some problems for me. Perhaps I’m still just reeling from the whole Fellowship of the Ring debacle, but this movie is the first back catalogue title I have come across recently where I feel the need to say – did they do something to the green levels? A quick comparison to the old French Limited Edition SD-DVD, and to the Canadian Special Edition SD-DVD and I find that the green levels were always pretty high, but perhaps not quite this high – and whilst it’s not a LOTR job, it does stand out, particularly during the more green-dominated shots (the opening attack as well as the Predator-trap scene which comes at the end of the second act).
Still black levels are strong and don’t swallow up too much of the detail, with only the reds erring slightly on the heavy side. And the indoor sequences generally fare very well, both in terms of detail and colour reproduction, so perhaps lighting was a big issue when regarding the quality of the original footage. Overall, I can easily remark that this is noticeably far superior to the earlier SD-DVD releases (you won’t want to pop in your SD-DVD discs, even if they boast superior cuts of the film), but, that said, I can’t quite see why people would prefer this to the 2008 French Blu-ray, which sported English-friendly subs and included the full Director’s Cut rather than the UK-cut Director’s Cut. Brotherhood of the Wolf looks reasonably good, but deserves considerably better. Disappointing.
At last finding something I can truly rave about when remarking about one of my Top Ten movies of all time, we come to the audio treatment, which, right from the opening attack, and through the bone-crunching, blood-splattering first fight, we know exactly what we’re in for – a great, all-encompassing, superbly atmospheric, six-speaker surround-sound experience. There may be a whole load of flavours to go for, but there’s only one real track you should choose – the original French language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix.
Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, dominating the frontal array wherever appropriate, but it’s the effects which provide much of the track’s majesty: the surround use and growling LFE accompaniment making this one hell of a mix. Imagine the rain thundering down around you, the surrounds taking you through every movement – one smash to the face audibly swipes across your room; the thud of the tomahawk feels like a devastating impact; and the fire-tipped arrows raise up a blaze which veritably crackles all around you, as if your own living room is alight. All the while we get some great whooshing, sweeping effects noises to carry you through some of the director’s heavily-stylised ramping-across-the-landscape shots, perfectly blended into the well-suited score which isn’t afraid of dipping through genres as well, avoiding all but a hint of thematic flavouring in favour of mood-suited melody. All-round perfection, as far as the audio accompaniment is concerned. Top notch.
Back to being disappointed in terms of extras, with a considerable step backwards over the Canadian Special Edition SD-DVD and, of course, the Limited Edition French SD-DVD sets. Sure, we get a weighty documentary, which clocks in at a feature-length running time of 78 minutes, and takes a long, comprehensive look at the making of the movie, complete with ample behind the scenes footage, b-roll footage, interview segments from the cast and crew and visual effects breakdowns, but where’s all the rest of the special features which previous releases have been privy too? One of the biggest things fans are going to miss out on are the Extended Scenes, which include significant extra footage for two key action sequences (as well as plenty of extra deleted scenes as well). These extended action sequences, whilst not quite suited to the final film – they would have telegraphed a twist at the end – are very entertaining, and it’s a real shock that material like this is not to be seen on what must be the 6th or 7th digital release of the movie. Almost certainly we’re going to get a double-dip somewhere down the line.
Brotherhood of the Wolf, one of the most financially successful French films of all time, is a beautiful blend of elements from a half a dozen different genres, brought together perfectly under the guide of imaginative Director Christophe Gans, whose stylish excesses actually work wonders for this cross-bred hybrid. Loosely based on a strew of mysterious murders that occurred in 18th Century France, this ostensible period drama is infused with some truly magical ingredients which make it at once suspenseful horror, and then all-out action-thriller; smoothly gliding between romantic interplay and highly charged sexuality; founded on a strong backbone of political and religious intrigue, and significantly energised by some truly outstanding martial arts sequences, which perfectly blend in with the rest of it, in spite of the overt anachronism. If you haven’t seen this outstanding movie then you should really rectify that right now. Highly recommended.
Unfortunately, this latest UK Region B-locked will likely neither win over many newcomers nor compel those already in love with the movie to rush out and pick up another version – and nor should they. The video is pretty disappointing, especially considering how great the movie is, and whilst it is still a significant upgrade from the SD-DVD releases, and the audio is outright amazing, we are once again hampered by an extremely limited extras package that reduces all the previously-available extras down to just one (admittedly long) documentary. Perhaps the biggest issue I have though is with regards to the cut of the movie itself, which has always been cursed by having multiple versions, all of which have their imperfections, and not receiving the right seamless branching multi-cut release it deserves (a la Blade Runner). Here we get the UK cut version of the Director’s Cut, which runs some 12 minutes shorter than the French version of the Director’s Cut. That said, once you've tried Brotherhood of the Wolf on Blu-ray, you'll likely never want to play your old SD-DVD disc other than for the longer cut and the extra features. It's just a shame that this is far from a definitive package. Overall, you simply have to own this movie, but I’m not sure this is either the best version available, nor the last version that we are likely to see – and truly this gem deserves considerably better.
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