Le Pacte des loups
WIDESCREEN DVD - Image A Sound A+ Extras B
3-DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION DVD - Image B Sound A+ Extras A+
starring Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Emilie Dequenne, Vincent Cassel
screenplay by Christophe Gans, Stephane Cabel
directed by Christophe Gans
by Walter Chaw A beautiful girl adrift in a vast natural expanse is set-upon by an unseen menace and slammed against a solid object before being dragged away to her bloodily-masticated doom. Enter a famed naturalist (Samuel Le Bihan), considered the expert in the breed of beast that might be responsible for the heinous deed; his investigations mostly reveal that the culprit is larger than your average monster. Alas, no one in the isolated and picaresque community believes him, consoling themselves in an amateur hunt that bags a load of smaller members of the creature's species. When the killing continues, the famed naturalist, his highly-trained sidekick (martial artist Mark Dacascos, here reunited with his Crying Freeman director), and a meek member of the ruling class along for the adventure, lay down a series of traps, gather hunting implements, and, after some derring-do, overcome their foe, incurring tremendous losses in the process.
Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des loups) is, in other words, the French Jaws. Set in the Age of Reason, it also has a passing familiarity with the embarrassingly paternalistic "noble savage syndrome" of James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans (and the kinetic naturalism of Michael Mann's filmed version) and the chop-socky gimmickry of The Matrix. It's cornball of the first water: preposterous and over-heated, but if you're wired to appreciate how cultural suffusion can take unexpected detours into the bizarre (or just like to imagine what it'd be like if John Woo were a French guy obsessed with Lautrecian brothels), Brotherhood of the Wolf is probably right up your alley.
Helmed by Cristophe Gans, Brotherhood of the Wolf is one of the biggest-budgeted Gallic films ever produced (and boasting of an equally bloated box-office return), and every penny of its cost evidences itself onscreen. The picture consistently evokes a Michael Parkes painting in its vast and decadent fantasy landscapes, unreasonably-beautiful women, and hideous beasts at the beck and call of human masters. In one stunningly audacious dissolve from a naked woman to a snowy (and hilly) landscape, it even begins to recall the surrealist erotica of artist Jim Warren. The aggregate effect of the visual luxuriance is offset to a degree by the more distracting trickery (especially a stop-frame effect that elicits giggles rather than gasps), while the struggles with the CGI-created enemy seem artificial. But Brotherhood of the Wolf is wise enough (like Jaws, natch) to keep the creature hidden until the ninety-minute mark of its running time, and although there's often little motivation for the fight sequences but to act as further affirmation of our heroes' prowess, Gans stages them with an attention to viscera that is thrilling and immediate.
Free from much sense and burdened with twists and turns (including a faked death and a rote love intrigue) that are so predictable and familiar they're clearly just the rickety frame upon which to drape lush tapestries and potent tête-à-têtes (including the climactic duel, which sports possibly the coolest fantasy film weapon since Krull's glaive), Brotherhood of the Wolf is trashy pulp of the choicest vintage. It's delirious and vertiginous and filled with the worst kind of muggy theatrical performances that, all the same, fit with the grand exaggeration of the great bloody, lusty mess around them. The film is unapologetic big budget period fantasy at its most ludicrous--and it is most intoxicating. Originally published: October 26, 2001.
THE DVD - WIDESCREEN
by Bill Chambers In a subtitled section of lost scenes on Brotherhood of the Wolf's R1 DVD release from Universal, director Christophe Gans says the disc contains an "extended cut" of the film, but nowhere within the packaging does the studio trumpet this selling point. (The slipcover lists the picture's running time as 144 minutes, two minutes more than the official length of the theatrical release, which would seem to authenticate Gans's claim--I had wondered at first whether his comments were simply ported over from a European DVD without regard for their specificity.) In what amounts to a cool 40-minute featurette, Gans introduces five--technically six--deleted segments but lets a final montage of table scraps speak for itself; removed were some particularly effective (and fitting) homages to such films as Portrait of Jennie (mistranslated as The Portrait of Jenny) plus a winking nod to Mark Dacascos's starring role on "The Crow" TV series.
Fairly detailed biographies and filmographies for select cast and crew, lengthy but facile production notes, and the theatrical trailer (in English Dolby Digital 5.1) finish off Universal's DVD, which presents Le Pacte des Loups in a keen, blemish-free 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with equally thunderous French and English DD 5.1 listening options. (The latter is a professional though obviously less-than-ideal dub featuring American voice talent.) Interestingly, there are subtle variations in the dialogue transcriptions between Universal's English subtitles and their captions for the hearing impaired. Originally published: September 5, 2002.
THE DVD - 3-DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION
Forget the limp American DVD reviewed above and pick up this 3-disc set distributed by TVA. First, the buyer-bewares: although this is definitely the Director's Cut, clocking in at 150 minutes (not 152 as listed on the back of the case), none of the additional scenes are annotated within the bilingual chapter menus. Meanwhile, actors Samuel Le Bihan and Vincent Cassel and director Gans have recorded screen-specific commentary tracks en français sans sous-titres anglais, meaning they're of little value to English-speaking viewers. Lastly, TVA's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video transfer isn't on a par with Universal's (grain is much coarser-looking)--but home theatre buffs will rejoice in the Canadian company's decision to include the French mix in 5.1 DTS as well as Dolby Digital.
Disc Two contains the excellent The Making of Brotherhood of the Wolf (78 mins.), produced by Samuel Hadida and Richard Grandpierre. Traditional in approach, it retraces the genesis of the film, incorporating extensive interviews with Gans--who admits to favouring a good shot over a good performance ("I don't want to be at an actor's mercy")--and fight choreographer Philip Kwok, plus footage from the set and various workshops where the special F/X were brought to fruition. ("Maybe I was just indulging the kid in me," says CGI supervisor Seb Caudron of the match-dissolve from Monica Belluci's breasts to a snowy mountaintop.) The Deleted Scenes featurette found on the Universal release, filmographies for the main cast, Brotherhood's English trailer, a dry 17-minute conversation with naturalist Michel Louis on the "beast of Gévaudin" myth (and Louis's published account of it) that inspired the film, and ROM links to the film's official site and French and English press kits round out Disc Two.
Disc Three houses another captivating feature called The Making of Brotherhood of the Wolf (77 mins.) from the same producing team. Less companion piece than evil twin, this second making-of depicts Gans as a self-absorbed nose-picker who pre-sells Brotherhood of the Wolf at Cannes only to take this as permission to go wildly overbudget in completing the film. Poor Émilie Dequenne injures her knee after multiple unpadded landings on a hardwood floor; guilt-wracked that Gans had yet to achieve the desired effect, she tells him that she's well enough to tackle the stunt again and receives the most passive-aggressive show of sympathy I've ever seen in one of these things: "No, we got it. I mean, sure, we could use another one, but no, you're hurt." Later in this vignette, Cassel has a priceless moment wherein he answers the question "Who do you play?" with, "I play the wolf... And the 'of' and the 'the.'" The set is worth full price for either of the comprehensive, identically-titled documentaries; also on board the third platter are twelve storyboard animations, five cool galleries ("The Beast," "Portraits" (with concept art), "Fronsac's Notebook," "On-Set stills," and "Posters") filed under "Album", and the uncut script (with notes by screenwriter Stephane Cabel), accessible via DVD-ROM. A thick booklet of liner notes ices this delicious cake. Originally published: October 1, 2002.