French critic-turned-filmmaker Christophe Gans' 2001 film Brotherhood of the Wolf was a cinematic wet dream for fanboys--a moving picture pastiche of genre films with a childlike love for all things cool. In much the same way Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon captured both directors love for the genre films they grew up watching, Brotherhood of the Wolf is Gans' loving tribute to the spaghetti westerns, kung fu flicks and horror movies that inspired him in his youth.
The American release of Brotherhood of the Wolf in 2002 was not nearly as successful as the European release, and while the film gathered a cult following in the states, it was far from a commercial hit. The original DVD release in Europe and Canada was a multi-disc collection with a 152-minute version of the film and a ton of bonus material. The American DVD release, however, simply featured a 144-minute cut of the film and deleted scenes. This new two-disc release features the 152-minute director's cut, and much of the bonus material from the Canadian and European release.
Set in 1765, Brotherhood of the Wolf combines fact and fiction to create a pre-French Revolution political thriller fused with a horror mystery--that may or may not have supernatural overtones--all wrapped up in an action-packed, romantic kung fu revenge film. The film uses the real-life tale of the Beast of Gevaudan, a mysterious creature responsible for attacking more than 100 people, as the focal point. For King Louis XV, the Beast was a source of embarrassment, and a symbol that he was incapable of effectively ruling or protecting his subjects. That much of the film is true, but reality gives way to fantastic adventure and political intrigue as Gans' introduces Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a naturalist dispatched by King Louis to capture and kill the creature. Having seen his fair share of action during a campaign in New France (Canada), Fronsac is more a man of intellect than of outright action. Fransac likes to leave the asskicking to Mani (Mark Dacascos), his Iroquois blood brother and Kato to Le Bihan's Green Hornet.
When Fronsac and Mani arrive in Gevaudan, they find a group of men terrorizing a woman and an older man. Mani dispatches the men in a martial arts-like battle that sets the tone for the rest of Brotherhood of the Wolf. This is clearly not a standard period-piece costume drama. Within the first few minutes of the film, Gans manages to work in references to Planet of the Apes, Jaws, Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti western classic Django, and the films of Bruce Lee. And as the film progress, the references don't stop, with Brotherhood paying loving respect to everything from the martial arts epics of Shaw Brothers Studios to the British horror movies of Hammer Films.
The local villagers, and the soldiers dispatched by the king, believe that the Beast is a wolf, but Fronsac is convinced otherwise. He suspects there is more going on than meets the eye, and he soon becomes caught up in a web of political deceit. Complicating matters is his love for the beautiful Marianne de Morangias (Emilie Dequenne), the sister of Jean-Francois de Morangias (Vincent Cassel), who holds a dark secret connected to the Beast. When Fronsac and Mani fail to capture the Beast, the king dispatches Beauterne (Johan Leysen) with orders to simply capture a wolf, and have Fronsac pass it off as the actual Beast. But when the killings continue, Fronsac and Mani return to Gevaudan to deal with the deadly killer once and for all.
Working with an international cast and crew (including fight coordinator Philip Kwok and editor David Wu, both John Woo collaborators), Gans has crafted an action film that transcends genres and nationalities. The end result is a tale of universal heroism that is, if nothing else, a cool movie. Brotherhood of the Wolf is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a great film, but it is very entertaining. The action sequences are great, the Beast is awesome and Dacascos is a total badass. Le Bihan and Cassel are pretty cool as well, and co-star Monica Bellucci certainly makes things easy on the eyes.
When all is said and done, the movie feels like it was made by a child who had run amok in some sort of cinematic toy store of his dreams. Gans is determined to create the ultimate genre hybrid--a film unencumbered by borders (or at times, logic) Think about it: This is a film that features a Hawaiian actor playing a Native American who uses martial arts in 18th-century France while hunting a creature that may be a werewolf. But somehow, whether through sheer determination or simple love of genre films, Gans succeeds in crafting a film that is captivating, drawing the audience in and reminding you of what it was like to be a kid watching a movie that is just plain cool.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is presented in 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. As near as I can tell, this has been mastered from the same source as the three-disc Canadian release of 2002. The picture quality is good, with consistently vibrant colors and a clean image transfer throughout.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital, with the original French language track, a dubbed English language track, and optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The audio levels on both language tracks are good, with a clean mix between music and dialog. The dubbing on the English language track is acceptable overall, although the actress substituting for Emilie Dequenne sounds like she's about twenty years older, and the actor replacing Le Bihan occasionally has an odd tenor to his voice that seems out of character.
Not quite as extensive or as exhaustive as the European or Canadian DVD release, this two-disc version is none the less jam packed, For starters, disc one features the directors cut of Brotherhood of the Wolf, which runs just shy of 10 minutes longer than the U.S. theatrical and DVD release. Disc one also includes a selection of deleted scenes introduced by Gans with explanation as to why they were cut, as well as a highlight reel of selected moments that were cut. The deleted scene segment with comments from Gans runs 40-minutes, and also includes behind the scenes footage, as well as the entire opening fight sequence, which was significantly longer. Disc two is fully loaded with more extras than even the most die-hard fan could hope for. "The Guts of the Beast" (78 min.) is a comprehensive documentary about the production process of Brotherhood of the Wolf, with special emphasis on the fight scenes and the special effects. "Documentary" (77 min.) is an equally exhaustive look at the making of Brotherhood of the Wolf, only this one was produced while the movie was being filmed. The best moment in the film comes when Dacascos and the make up artist are experimenting with ideas for his "war paint," and Gans simply stares at them with a looks that seems to say, "There is no way we are doing any of this." "Legend" (18 min.) is an interview with naturalist and author Michel Luis, whose book about the Beast of Gevaudan served as inspiration for the movie. Luis explains the true history of the Beast, and separates the fact from the fiction in the film. Finally there is a selection of storyboards from 12 different scenes in the movie. The only thing that appears to be missing from this collection that was on the other releases is the audio commentary.
Some people had trouble wrapping their brains around Gans' everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to making Brotherhood of the Wolf, while others found it to be a fun bit of escapist entertainment. The film does run a bit long, and it is certainly absurd at times, but it is always fun. If you already own either the European or Canadian release, there is no reason to get this one. If you own the shorter U.S. theatrical version, then getting this version really comes down to how much a true fan you are. The additional footage in the directors cut does not really make the film any better, and the supplementary material on the second disc is good for a single viewing, but I don't think any of it warrants multiple viewings. However, if you don't already own the movie, and you are a serious fan of genre films, then you'll want to add this one to your collection.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]