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Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.36:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
- Three separate commentary tracks with Director Antonia Bird And Composer Damon Albarn, Screenwriter Ted Griffin And Actor Jeffrey Jones, and Actor Robert Carlyle
- Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Antonia Bird
- New Interview with Jeffery Jones
- Original theatrical trailer and TV Spot
- Two Stills Galleries
One of the most overlooked films of the late-’90s and quite possibly ahead of its time, Ravenous is an unexpectedly deft hybrid of war, horror, western, allegory and black comedy. For a film that had a host of problems during production, least of which being that the original director (Milcho Manchevski) left the set a couple weeks after shooting had already begun, and had trouble finding an audience, it’s such an effectively grisly, unsettling and all-out riveting piece of work. It embeds Ben Franklin’s quote, “Eat to live, and not live to eat,” into the brain and almost makes vampirism look way more appealing. While there is enough blood and gore to go around, the now-late director Antonia Bird, then working from a unique screenplay by Ted Griffin, never pours it on for the sake of letting the effects department and make-up crew go to town. This time, the entrails actually guide the narrative.
The film begins as a war film, set in 1847. Making out of the Mexican-American War within an inch of his life by playing dead and inadvertently drinking the blood of one of his fellow soldiers when hiding from the enemy, calvary officer Captain John Boyd (played by a solid Guy Pearce) gets shipped to a remote outpost a fort in the Sierra Nevada mountains. There, at Fort Spencer, commanding officer Hart (Jeffrey Jones) hosts a house of eccentrics, including excitable padre Toffler (Jeremy Davies); the brain-fried cook, Cleaves (David Arquette); and cocky soldier Private Reich (Neal McDonough). As Boyd has settled in, a bearded and nearly frozen stranger named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) stumbles onto their camp. After he is given shelter and rests up, the mysterious Colqhoun tells his saviors of how he and a set of pioneers became stranded in a cave during the winter and ended up eating each other for food. This does not bode well for anyone when Colqhoun claims to have been the only survivor of the mad man’s cannibalistic killings, forcing the men to journey to the cave.Reminding of the sick cannibalistic humor of 1986’s underrated, blackly comic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, though with a few degrees of more subtlety, Ravenous is a tonally strange film, but that’s meant as a total compliment. Whereas some films falter from fickle shifts in tone or just feel so miserably one-note, this one is constantly changing and yet the shifts don’t feel accidental but seamless by the filmmakers’ design. The through-line of hunger nicely intersects with the Wendigo myth—man eating another man’s flesh and becoming a demon—into a story with allegorial leanings about man versus man. If one can find any fault, it’s a quibble with the third act, where one returning character’s rash decision feels underdeveloped and unconvincing. Looking back, too, a character jumping off a mountain, landing in a tree top and falling through the branches, only to land a dead character, is almost comedic, like the kind of cliff fall Andy Samberg would go on to parody in the silly Hot Rod. This would hardly seem like the kind of film that would culminate in a mano-a-mano, to-the-death confrontation, not unlike a superhero picture, but it does, and the payoff is perfectly uncompromising in how it’s an apt capper to the film’s opening quote from Nietzche (“He that fights with monsters should look to himself that he does not become a monster.”). While it’s fun to go back to a time when Jeffrey Jones was still receiving work, post-Saving Private Ryan Jeremy Davies got to shout the line, “He was licking me!” and David Arquette was between Scream films, Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle are the standouts, no contest. Relative to some of the juicier villain parts he’s played most recently, Pearce is an understated rock as John Boyd, a point of reference and conduit into the story, but slightly unreliable once getting a taste of human blood. Resembling Charles Manson, Carlyle makes for a startlingly creepy human monster, injecting the role of Colqhoun with shreds of macabre humor and being given the chance to appropriately gnaw on the scenery a bit without losing his menace. Technically, the film is an embarrassment of riches. A tautly edited and assuredly crafted sequence, intercutting between two soldiers in the cave and the rest of the group on the outside, is quite chilling. Anthony B. Richmond’s gorgeous, textured lensing has a palpable feel for the damp, snowy weather, and the unconventional music score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn is haunting.
Unfortunately, fans of the film are not getting a superb improvement from the previous 20th Century Fox DVD release of Ravenous. The transfer has some noticeable digital sharpening and edge enhancements, as well as some moments where the image is a bit soft. All-in-all, nothing about the transfer will distract the average viewer, and it is not enough to warrant the avoidance of this release.
Where complaints can be made in the visual department, the audio counter-part remains mostly intact. The DTS Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 mixes strike a good balance between clear dialogue and a dynamic score. Nothing in the audio track appears blemished, with no noticeable hisses or pops.
As usual, Shout! Factory have supplied a good deal of extra features. Three separate commentary tracks offer the viewer diverse perspective from cast and crew alike. In addition, there is a newly commissioned interview with actor Jeffrey Jones, as well as two stills galleries and the original TV Spots and theatrical trailer. For its modest cover price, the Ravenous Blu-Ray more than delivers its value.
With colorful characters, an engrossing narrative, and a deliciously sick sense of humor, the film is sure to please horror fans who favor a build-up of dread with their blood. It’s definitely one of a kind. If that Alec Baldwin-narrated PETA video Meet Your Meat doesn’t convert one to vegetarianism, Ravenous decidedly does the job. Alright, now, who wants a salad?