Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Blu-ray Review: RAVENOUS (1999) [Scream Factory]

Ravenous (1999)

Buy the Blu-ray or DVD

The Movie

The mid-to-late 1990s were a dark time for horror. Sure, SCREAM brought in huge box office and reinvigorated Hollywood’s interest in making horror movies, but unfortunately, most of what we got was garbage imitations that were barely a sliver as entertaining as Wes Craven film, and they almost unanimously lacked the wit of Kevin Williamson’s script. As such, horror fans were essentially relegated to A-List teen celebrities’ floating heads on movie posters – a disturbing trend that has unfortunately carried into contemporary cinema – and sloppy whodunits that always had to have a twist; even if it made no logical sense. As a result, most of us have written off the genre output of the time and tried to wipe it from our memories, which sometimes makes us forget that movies like Antonio Bird’s cannibal-based period film, RAVENOUS, were released at the time. And that’s a damn shame because RAVENOUS is a fantastic black comedy, loaded with socio-political commentary, that’s great, gory fun.

Part of the reason that it’s often forgotten or overlooked is that RAVENOUS didn’t exactly light the box office on fire during its initial release. Subsequently, its DVD release (right before that format’s boom) was a rather slapshot affair. Luckily, the good folks over at Scream Factory have resurrected the film with a new Blu-ray release, and thanks to their clout in the genre community, many people will either be introduced to the title or remember why they need to revisit it (I fall into the latter category).

The official synopsis of the film is as follows:
An isolated military outpost goes up against a marauding band of cannibals in a deadly struggle for survival! Ever watchful of the enemies who might literally tear them apart, the uneasy alliance of soldiers must fight brutal elements of the Sierra Nevada wilderness – as well as their own murderous instincts to stay alive.
At its core, that sums up RAVENOUS pretty succinctly. However, there really are a lot of other elements to the film, and it isn’t necessarily as action-packed as that overview may lead you to believe. But, that’s not a slam against the film or its marketing, as quite frankly, it’s rather hard to lump RAVENOUS into a specific genre or explain its concept at a high level without missing something. This is probably why the movie came and went from theaters in 1999 without much fanfare. Still, if history has told us anything, it should be that a lot of the great movies are often overlooked during their initial release, and some films gestate for decades before finding their audience. With that in mind, I’m thinking that it’s about time RAVENOUS finds its home with horror fans.

For one, the cast is fantastic. Guy Pearce is wonderful as our main character who is essentially resurrected during battle by the blood of his dead infantry only to find himself thrust into madness when pitted against some truly evil people who purport to be his new allies. Likewise, Robert Carlyle is devilishly entertaining as the mysterious madman villain of the piece. And with supporting players like Jeffrey Jones and David Arquette, you can’t go wrong.

The film’s score, co-written by Blur’s Damon Albarn, of all people, is also a thing of beauty. Quirky one minute and then oppressively harrowing the next, it really keeps you on your toes and accents the truly crazy parts that make up the final two-thirds of the film. 

And then there’s the screenplay/story itself… Cannibalism and Wendigos set during the Gold Rush? It may sound a bit out there, but it works, and it is definitely unique. In fact, I’m rather amazed that something like this found a home at a major studio in the late 1990s; especially given all of the parables that lies below its surface about the awfulness that early American settlers inflicted upon the Native Americans and Mexicans. Hell, I’m not even sure if a movie like RAVENOUS could find financing today. And, if it did, it certainly wouldn’t have such stellar name talent attached to it.

If you’ve never seen RAVENOUS before, do yourself a favor and watch it now. If, like me, you have seen it, but haven’t watched it in years (I think it had been a good fourteen years since I last watched it, until the other night), then revisit it; even if you didn’t truly appreciate it on your first go-round all those years ago. RAVENOUS holds up wonderfully, and it may actually have aged into a better film (or maybe I just appreciate it more now because it was so ahead of its time).

Movie Score


The Blu-ray

Scream Factory debuts RAVENOUS on Blu-ray in a single disc BD-50. The artwork features original key poster art with an alternate cover on the reverse (I prefer the original). Though it’s not one of their Special Collector’s Editions, there are a good amount of bonus features. From what I recall of my old DVD, all of the extras have been ported over, and there are definitely some new additions.

Video Quality (3/5)

There has been some grumbling as of late about the transfer on RAVENOUS, and while I do agree with some points, I think that others have been blown out of proportion. While it’s true that this is not a brand-spanking-new master of the film (probably provided by Fox), it hardly looks awful. The 1080p AVC-Encoded image is presented in RAVENOUS’ original AR of 2.36:1, and while it is soft (excessively, at times), it’s not the pile of DNR’d garbage that I keep hearing people say it is. There is certainly some DNR here, and there is dirt and debris present during some scenes (notably the beginning sequence), and there are also some black-level issues at times, but it is hardly egregious, and it’s certainly not distracting. I think most of the grumbling has been from people that have just been looking at screenshots and poring over them for any defect because, when the film is playing, it looks good (not great). Sure, it could be sharper... Sure, it could have been fully re-mastered in 2k... But, honestly, it’s kind of a small miracle that we have a Blu-ray of the film, and I think it looks good. It’s certainly an upgrade over the old DVD.

Audio Quality (5/5)

On the audio front, RAVENOUS features a great DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Honestly, this thing sounds better than 90% of Scream’s other discs; probably because the film is from an era where 5.1 was actively used in theaters and at home. The dialog is clear and crisp, the score is thundering at times, and the surrounds are used to very great effect. I loved this audio track. Will it knock your walls down like the latest Michael Bay joint? No. But that’s not the kind of movie RAVENOUS is, and this sounds fantastic.

Extra Features (4/5)

Scream factory has ported over the previous extras and commissioned some new ones. My favorite extras are the Commentary with Director Antonia Bird and Composer Damon Albarn (one of THREE) and the 20-minute interview with Jeffrey Jones, who really gets to the heart of why I feel RAVENOUS is so special. All are worth your time, though.

  • Audio Commentary with Director Antonia Bird and Composer Damon Albarn
  • Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Ted Griffin and Actor Jeffrey Jones
  • Audio Commentary with Actor Robert Carlyle
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Antonia Bird (12 min)
  • Interview with Jeffrey Jones (21 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
  • TV Spot (1 min)
  • Photo Gallery (3 min)

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, Scream Factory has delivered a very good disc of a great movie. I realize that the video is not one of their better efforts, but I still think it’s a significant upgrade from my old DVD, and while I would have liked a new re-master, I can understand why we didn’t get one ($$$). The audio track is wonderful, and it is easily one of the best that Scream has given us yet. Add to that a good smattering of extras, and I think that this is a satisfying package. If you only care about video quality and have a giant television or projector, then this release will probably not be for you. However, I honestly think that the movie itself is so good, and that this is enough of an upgrade, that I can give RAVENOUS a solid recommendation.


Blu-ray Score


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