Universal // 2001 // 151 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // September 8th, 2008
Chop socky and corsets and creatures! Oh my!
Brotherhood of the Wolf is what happens when you meld an American blockbuster with a Hammer horror and a Shaw Brothers epic: A fast-moving costume drama with sexy accents, martial arts, and a dollop of cryptozoology.
Be still, my anachronism-loving heart.
There's something rotten in the town of Gévaudan. A terrible monster roams the land, attacking and devouring the villagers. Gregoire De Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a naturalist, and his Iroquois companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven), have traveled to the rural village on behalf of the king to discover what manner of animal has developed a taste for French flesh.
Surrounded by conspiracies, suspicious characters, comely wenches, and a population that really likes hand-to-hand combat, the two enter a world where eat or be eaten isn't just the law of the jungle and a man-eating beast is the least of their worries.
An elderly aristocrat awaits the inevitable on the eve of the French Revolution. A shepherdess is chased through the countryside and ravaged by an unseen beast. A cowled traveler comes across a group of men attacking some peasants and kicks the living daylights out of them. Brotherhood of the Wolf comes out swinging and establishes its genre defiance at breakneck speed.
The monster portion of the plot has definite Jaws parallels and, like that mother of the modern monster movie, reveals its killer in agonizing glimpses. When the beast comes literally bursting onto the screen for the first time, it's a moment made of pure, undiluted awesome.
Brotherhood of the Wolf has the color, texture, and flair of five movies and is one of the few films that can feed your inner aesthete and satisfy your blood lust at the same time.
Don't like the talky, drawing room antics? Don't worry; someone will be getting kicked in the throat soon.
Distracted by the pretty colors and sumptuous set design? The subtitles you missed aren't all that important.
While the script has more than its share of flaws, director Christopher Gans keeps the action clipping it along at a pace too quick to leave you time to question it. Gans has an innate sense of how far over the top he can let things rise and keep them just short of becoming silly, if only he'd shown the same restraint when it came to the camera tricks. In highly charged moments, like when the pretty Marianne comes into Fronsac's view or a victim realizes their bloody fate, it makes sense for time to slow, but there's a lot of needless slow-mo in other places that make the technique aggravating.
Chiseled hero, pretty love interest, and mystical sidekick are all ably played by their actors, but the supporting cast steals the show. Vincent Cassel (Ocean's Twelve), as the slinky, one-armed aristo, is a charming, feline ass (judging from the behind-the-scenes footage, it isn't much of stretch), the kind of guy you love to hate, and Monica Belluci (Shoot 'Em Up) is on hand to look stunning and flash some skin as the mysterious prostitute, Sylvia.
Because of the movie's rich color palette, the anamorphic transfer looks especially nice, but some of the digital effects don't mesh as well with a pristine picture. The 5.1 Dolby, on the other hand, is nothing short of sonically incredible. Too often those three extra speakers just mean a louder variation of a 2.0, but the mix on this edition has every sound effect selectively booming from your woofers and tweeters with devastating effect. When the beast's first victim goes plummeting down a rocky incline, it sounds like her skull is bashing every speaker on the way.
This new Director's Cut adds 10 minutes and a subplot to the storyline (more on that in the Rebuttal) as well as a second disc of bonus material. In addition to the 40 minutes of deleted scenes from the original edition, there are storyboards, an interview with an expert on the real Beast of Gévaudan, and two documentaries. Very little of either featurette is the complimentary horse manure that you normally get in EPKs. "Documentary" is a production diary about the less glamorous aspects of filming, complete with crabby actors, missing crewman, and malfunctioning equipment, and "The Guts of the Beast" is a more traditional "making of," breaking down stunts, CGI, and other movie info into 10-minute morsels. That doesn't seem like a lot of time but, since rehearsal footage and outtakes are substituted for movie clips and interviewees give their honest opinions, the content is far more valuable. There's even a trip to Jim Henson Studios to see the animatronic beast in action. The only thing missing that would have earned the bonus disc a perfect score is the director's commentary off the three disc Canadian edition.
Brotherhood's love story always lacked bite, and the 10 minutes of restored scenes in the Director's Cut make it more toothless than ever. In between monster attacks, Fronsac spends his days pitching woo at a teenage aristocrat and his nights cavorting with an Italian prostitute. One is a sensual, intelligent, complicated woman, the other a game-playing little girl, whose biggest act of rebellion is not riding sidesaddle, yet we're expected to believe our hero is enamored of the bland enfant terrible and not the super cool Sylvia. The added footage has Marianne finding out about her suitor's infidelity and kicking him to the curb, only to joyfully welcome him back when told he may be screwing other women but loves only her. Quoi?
Brotherhood of the Wolf may not be the most cohesive movie but, damn, it's visually stunning fun. Years of Xena: Warrior Princess and her syndicated kin have given me a taste for genre-blending, but martial arts historicals are not for everyone.
If a creature feature with a sense of cool is what you've been craving, there's no movie that can do it better, and the 200+ minutes that's actual content and not congratulatory fluff make the two-disc Director's Cut worth the cash.
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 151 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* "The Guts of the Beast"
* "The Legend"
* Wikipedia: The Beast of Gevauden