HD DVD: Worth a Look
3 Stars out of 5
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Release Date: April 22nd, 2007
Movie Release Year: 2002
Release Country: United Kingdom
COLLAPSE INFO -

Brotherhood of the Wolf (UK Import)

Review Date July 9th, 2007 by
  • Editors Note

    This is a review of the UK HD DVD release of 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' from Optimum World. (A comparable HD DVD edition of this disc is also available as a French import from Studio Canal.) This movie has not been announced for release on either high-def disc format in the United States (the domestic home entertainment rights are owned by Universal, which is currently a HD DVD-exclusive studio).

    Note that this disc is not region-coded and will play in any HD DVD player -- for more information on importing HD DVD discs, click here.

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Worth a Look
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  • Editors Note

    This is a review of the UK HD DVD release of 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' from Optimum World. (A comparable HD DVD edition of this disc is also available as a French import from Studio Canal.) This movie has not been announced for release on either high-def disc format in the United States (the domestic home entertainment rights are owned by Universal, which is currently a HD DVD-exclusive studio).

    Note that this disc is not region-coded and will play in any HD DVD player -- for more information on importing HD DVD discs, click here.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: HD DVD,HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
    Length:150
    Release Country:United Kingdom
    Aspect Ratio(s):2.35:1
    English Descriptive Audio: French DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
    Subtitles/Captions: English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Danish Subtitles,Finnish Subtitles,Norwegian Subtitles,Swedish Subtitles

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

2.5 Stars out of 5

Following the success of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' which in 2000 became the highest-grossing foreign film ever in the United States, Hollywood quickly canvased the world in search of other would-be hits it could exploit for big box office. Universal's pick in the derby was the French blockbuster 'Le Pacte des loups' which the studio released under its English title, 'Brotherhood of the Wolf.'

But while Universal marketed 'Wolf' as greatest undiscovered epic to hit these shores since, well, 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' the film didn't translate quite as well for Americans, earning a total domestic office gross that barely topped what 'Crouching Tiger' earned in its first weekend.

(Very) loosely based on a true story, 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' re-imagines a legendary tale of French lore focusing on a man-eating monster that terrorized the Gevaudan district of the country from 1764 to 1767. Though the mystery of what would become known as the "Beast of Gevaudan" has never fully been solved (theories range from it being anything from a large striped hyena to an oversized wolf), over the years the legend has become so popular in France that it joins the ranks of the Loch Ness Monster and the Bermuda Triangle in the annals of unsolved natural mysteries.

It also, of course, makes a great idea for a horror flick. The problem is that 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' aspires to be much more than just a big-budgeted, glossy monster movie. Instead, one part epic, part gothic romance, part action-fest and part martial-arts extravaganza, the film's tone and script is so wildly all over the place it ends up missing just about every mark it tries to hit in its overlong 142-minute run time.

As the fictionalized story goes, the King of France dispatches Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) to locate and kill the creature. Along with his companion Mani (Mark Dacascos), Fronsac heads into Gevaudan where the local townspeople are in a state of panic and offer the duo little help in their quest. There's also a go-nowhere yawnfest of a romantic subplot involving the stunning Monica Bellucci as local courtesan Slyvia, who ends up holding many key pieces of the puzzle.

Luckily, director Christophe Gans overloads 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' with enough style that we forget about the script's deficiencies for a while and just enjoy the ride. The key scenes of action and horror are as visceral and well-executed as any in recent memory, even if they are a bit too reliant on extreme close-ups and fast-cut editing. They also shamelessly rip-off all those 'Matrix,' 'Underworld' and 'Resident Evil' movies, proving that foreign filmmakers can be just as derivative as Hollywood.

By the time 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' lumbers to its completely over-the-top climax (complete with some pretty bad CGI), it's hard not to feel a bit cheated by the production. The real-life legend of Gevaudan is a fascinating story, and I can't help but think that if the filmmakers had only attempted a more believable explanation for its mysteries, they might have had a classic modern ghost story on their hands. Instead, we're left with just another empty-headed example of Hollywood style over substance -- only this time, with subtitles.

(Note that this British HD DVD release is pretty poorly mislabeled. Not only are the wrong audio tracks specified on the back of the box [see below for more on that], but the film's runtime is listed as 134 minutes, which would seem to would indicate that it is the trimmed UK version of the film, which excised about 8 minutes of footage from the film's original 142-minute runtime. In fact, this is the 150-minute Director's Cut of the film, which was previously released on standard-def DVD. Why Optimum World did not choose to advertise this very marketable extra remains a mystery.)

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD,HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:150
    Release Country:United Kingdom
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    French DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Danish Subtitles,Finnish Subtitles,Norwegian Subtitles,Swedish Subtitles

Video Review

4.5 Stars out of 5

The 1080p/VC-1 encode on this HD DVD import holds up wonderfully well. This is one very good-looking picture, and is easily up there with the best catalog transfers I've seen on any domestic HD DVD or Blu-ray release. The lovely cinematography is lush, colorful, film-like and eye-popping. The image is a tad dark by design, but the print is so clean and boasts such rich blacks that shadow delineation doesn't falter. Contrast also has a nice amount of pop with little in the way of excessive boosting to blow out whites or curb detail.

'Brotherhood of the Wolf' has a natural appearance that reveals some film grain, but it's consistent and smooth throughout, and I was never distracted. The print is also in excellent shape, with no blemishes or other issues. Colors are vivid and pure, even if the film's visual design does lean towards darker (but no less impressive) hues. Detail is quite nice, with a near-perfect balance between naturalism and sharpness, and depth often achieves the thee-dimensional. In short, it's hard to imagine any fan of 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' being disappointed with this transfer.

Audio Review

5 Stars out of 5

Also mis-labeled on the back of the box are the audio tracks. Optimum World lists separate French DTS-HD High-Resolution 5.1 and English DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 tracks for 'Brotherhood of the Wolf,' but in fact neither is included. Instead, there is only a single French DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 surround mix (48kHz/24-bit), plus optional English subtitles.

I was particularly excited to jump into the DTS-MA track on 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' as I recently added Onkyo's TX-SR605 receiver to my rig, which offers built-in DTS MA decoding. But as members of our forum were quick to point out after this review was originally posted, the Onkyo receiver requires that the disc player output the original DTS-MA bitstream, a function no existing HD DVD or Blu-ray player is currently capable of. This leaves us currently capable of only listening the the core 1.5mbps DTS track, once again leaving the full resolution of DTS-MA out of reach.

All of that said, 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' enjoys a superb home theater mix, and moments of the film easily near the best I've heard on any home video format. Heck, even this disc's menus are something special, with lively sound in the rears that gives a nice taste of what's to come.

Dynamics are excellent. Low bass packs a wallop -- the very first scene featuring an attack by the unseen beast packs a whopper, with the subwoofer cranking out some serious rafter-rattling sound. The rest of the frequency range is no less finely rendered, with wonderful clarity and a rich sense of depth and timbre. Surrounds are highly active and engaged during the attack and action scenes, with seamless imaging and a "wall of sound" in the rears that is highly effective (especially at a high volume). Quieter scenes are less bombastic but not left wanting for atmosphere. Ambiance is almost continual, boasting wind, rain, and various nature sounds that sound both distinct and enveloping. Dialogue, too, is well balanced in the mix, although since I don't speak French I can't comment on intelligibility.

(Note that I briefly downgraded the audio rating for this disc to 4.5 stars after learning that this already impressive track might be even more improved when it's possible to listen to it in all its DTS MA glory, but I've since reversed that decision, as on its own merits this track is aces, and is certainly worthy of a five star score.)

Special Features

0.5 Stars out of 5

Not much. Though various standard-def DVD versions of 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' both domestic and international have featured a wide range of extras, Optimum World hasn't seen fit to put any of them on this UK HD DVD edition. Instead, all we get is the film's Theatrical Trailer in its native French.

Final Thoughts

'Brotherhood of the Wolf' is a visually striking, fanciful adaptation of the French legend known as the "Beast of Gevaudan." While I didn't find the film itself particularly scary, this British HD DVD import certainly delivers in terms of visual panache and ear candy, with a wonderful video transfer and a five-star soundtrack, although the complete lack of extras is a bummer. Perhaps someday Universal (the domestic rights-holder of 'Brotherhood of the Wolf') will release a more feature-packed high-def version stateside, but until then, this UK import more than delivers on the bottom line.

Our thanks to Dave for loaning us this disc for review!

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  • Editors Note

    Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD,HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:150
    Release Country:United Kingdom
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    French DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Danish Subtitles,Finnish Subtitles,Norwegian Subtitles,Swedish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Theatrical Trailer