Flesh + Blood Blu-ray Review
Hauer + Verhoeven
Flesh + Blood Film Review
Incessantly controversial director Paul Verhoeven's Flesh + Blood lives up to its title, but offers little else.The Dutch filmmaker's last Dutch production before he moved to Hollywood to do Robocop, and the sixth and final collaboration between Verhoeven and his actor of choice, Rutger Hauer, Flesh + Blood was a troubled period production which suffered from creative differences between the director and his leading man, as well as studio influences on the narrative direction the Verhoeven - who also wrote it - wanted to take.
Originally intended to tell the tale of two warrior friends whose relationship becomes increasingly antagonistic, Verhoeven was advised to focus instead on the three-way romantic relationship between two of the characters and the main female lead, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. As a result of this, and Hauer's resistance to get stereotyped as a villain (following Blade Runner), and thus insistence upon reinventing his character in a more heroic light, the original stories of friends who became enemies became the story behind the scenes, as Hauer and Verhoeven would part ways after this and never work together again.
The story is set in the late Middle Ages, as a group of Mercenaries led by Jack Thompson's Hawkwood and his Lieutenant, Martin (Rutger Hauer) are dispatched to reclaim a city for the rightful ruler. After they do so, the ruler wants them gone, with Hawkwood betraying his former right hand man, and Martin succeeding him as leader of the mercenaries. Adding confusion to the mix is the capture of Jennifer Jason Leigh's Agnes, the young woman betrothed to the feudal lord's son, who seduces Martin in order to survive her capture, but is sought after by Steven, her intended husband, who - with the backing of his father's army - will do anything to get her back.
Hardly Verhoeven's finest hour.
Not quite in the same league as something like Excalibur, Flesh + Blood enjoys the same kind of flavour of violent medieval battles imbued with sex and sword fights, but lacking the added spice of sorcery from the former. It wears its production problems on its sleeve too, struggling to find a strong narrative or, for that matter, a central protagonist. The only person with any charisma is Hauer, but, as much as he tries to play it as a rugged Robin Hood, he's still a raping, pillaging mercenary, yet the lords who wronged him aren't just nasty and backstabbing, but also played by an array of wooden actors. Then there's Jennifer Jason Leigh, who isn't anywhere near striking enough to play a princess caught between two lovers who want her, nor capable of fully grappling with the nuances of the role and, in particular, Verhoeven's obsession with rape.
On reflection, it's rather worrying that Verhoeven has made far fewer films in his career without scenes of graphic rape than he has with it (four with Hauer alone, returning to it more recently with Elle), likely besting even Peckinpah's record in that respect, and following Peckinpah's strange obsession with depicting scenes of 'consensual' rape as a means of showing women reclaiming control (Peckinpah toyed with this in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, whilst attempting to define a fine line between sex and rape in Straw Dogs, whilst Verhoeven played with similar themes in Basic Instinct). Here his gang rape turns into something of an odd power play by Jennifer Jason Leigh's victim, who attempts to seduce one of the rapists so that he will protect her from the others.
Sure, at least it's uncut - as with Peckinpah, Verhoeven's sexual violence is often framed much worse when it's censored, ironically losing any vestiges of its intended meaning - but it's still dangerous territory, and hardly helps this already flawed feature, which provides some bouts of frenzied entertainment, a few nice ideas, and a conflicted performance from wannabe hero Hauer, who is a cut above the rest of the production, but is hardly Verhoeven's finest hour (and, in fact, the filmmaker regards it as his worst film - and this is from the man who made Showgirls).
Flesh + Blood Blu-ray PictureFlesh + Blood has suffered a number of flawed international releases over the years and it's UK bow, on a Region B-locked Blu-ray disc courtesy of Eureka, is far from perfect, likely affording it the best presentation it's ever had (notwithstanding the fact that it appears to have been sourced from the same old master used for the German release), but still mottled by very variable grain levels, unruly sharpening application, rather odd lens choices and even an occasionally stretched image.
A presentation which struggles with its source material looking pretty-much as good as it's ever likely to without a new 4K remaster.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation has moments of impressiveness, where it captures some excellent detail beneath a fine filmic layer of grain, faring generally better in outdoor scenes, whilst indoor sequence boast a prevalent softness largely as a result of the candle- or firelight.
The colour scheme is rich with vibrant reds and golds, and some decent greens too, whilst fires glow impressively. Black levels remain relatively strong, but are far from consistent, and the thick swathe of grain leads to some shots where detail is hard to make out beneath all the noise. Crush is also far from absent.
Conversely, the cleaner sequences have a heavy application of sharpening evident around the edges. Still, despite all of these prevalent faults, the stronger shots leave this likely the best it has ever looked; a presentation which evidently struggles with its original source material looking likely pretty-much as good as it's ever likely to without a new 4K remaster.
Flesh + Blood Blu-ray SoundThe accompanying lossless Linear PCM 2.0 audio track is a solid but similarly flawed and inherently limited aural offering, delivering the core elements of dialogue, effects and score reasonably enough, but hardly standing out in any respect. As the first English-language production from the director, there's plenty of dubbing evident across the piece, and, at least initially, the dialogue level appears to be mixed quite variably.
A solid accompaniment notwithstanding the limitations of the source material.
Effects enjoy whizzing arrows, clashing swords, blazing fires and splashing baths, crafting a decent enough atmosphere for the piece, and allowing for some modicum of immersion. The score is also a plus point, giving a suitably period flavour whilst rousing almost beyond the scale of the film. It's a solid aural accompaniment, again, notwithstanding the limitations of the source material.
Flesh + Blood Blu-ray ExtrasEureka certainly delivers the goods on the extras front, with a whole host of additional features, headlined by Paul Verhoeven's original Director's Commentary, but also featuring a number of new Interviews and Featurettes. Verhoeven vs. Verhoeven is a 46 minute Documentary on the work of the Dutch director, in French and Dutch with subtitles. Although this charts Verhoeven's entire career, considering Hauer worked with him on almost all of his films leading up to Flesh + Blood, there's plenty about their work together.
Eureka delivers the goods on the extras front.
The 22 minute Paul Verhoeven - In the Flesh Featurette is more specifically focussed on this film, with Verhoeven here speaking in English, featuring plenty of stills and behind the scenes footage into the production as well as some quiet honest discussion about the way in which Hauer's resistance to play another villain (as the part was ostensibly written) clashed with the director's intentions and led to a fracturing in their friendship.
The lengthy 25 minute audio Interview with Hauer is also a nice reflection on the actor's career but, much like Verhoeven vs. Verhoeven, there is minimal focus on this specific film. There's also a Featurette Composing Flesh + Blood which spends a little under a quarter of an hour looking at the score. The disc is rounded out by the film's original Trailer.
Flesh + Blood Blu-ray VerdictHauer and Verhoeven fans will want to check it out, perhaps in part for what it could have been.
Eureka deliver a flawed but decent enough (considering the limitations of the source material) Blu-ray release to mark the UK bow of Paul Verhoeven's first english language feature, which enjoys problematic but sporadically impressive video that likely still remains the best that it has ever looked, and solid enough audio, but which really distinguishes itself in the burgeoning extras department.
It's a flawed production too; a violent period romp through medieval times, rich with rape and revenge, which ultimately struggles because it doesn't have much of a core narrative, nor anybody to even slightly root for (beyond the charismatic Hauer, who clearly wanted to make his character - written as a villain - into the hero of the show), but Hauer and Verhoeven fans will still want to check it out, perhaps in part for what it could have been.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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