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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Bear: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Blu-ray)
The Bear: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // PG // September 29, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted September 8, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Bear (1988) is an unusual film: the script has fewer than 600 words, the first 15 minutes have no dialogue, and our two main characters are bears that actually act like bears. Based on James Curwood's 1916 novella The Grizzly King, this 96-minute film looks like a documentary, feels like an adventure, and playfully manipulates like a drama. Our story takes places in the wilderness of British Columbia circa 1885 and follows a cub (Youk the Bear) whose mother dies while looking for food. He eventually comes to the aid of an older Grizzly (Bart the Bear, The Edge) who was injured by two hunters (Jack Wallace and Tcheky Karyo) and trampled their horse while fleeing. Soon enough, the trophy hunters return with another man, more supplies, and a pack of hunting dogs.

It's difficult to process a film like The Bear as the drama unfolds, since it fully commits to placing viewers in visceral situations from an animal's perspective. First-time viewers may have to remind themselves that the action is scripted and the bears are fully trained performers. Yet the spell is broken on just a few occasions: smash cuts for dramatic effect, occasional music by Philippe Sarde (The Tenant, Lord of the Flies), and three short dream sequences that use stop motion and other stylized effects to show the child-like thoughts of our orphaned cub. For the most part, The Bear is so fully invested in its primal narrative that it's easy to overlook these traditional "movie moments": we're so caught up in the perfect performances of Bart and Youk and the beautiful scenery that everything else pales in comparison. The end result is a film that absolutely works even when it can't help but bend its own rules.

I first saw The Bear at a young age...and despite a few moments of gruesome violence (or perhaps because of them), it's absolutely appropriate for those old enough to understand how nature works. Death and danger are faced head-on, not masked by layers of slapstick and cute narration. Early on, the film may appear to slant towards the innocence of animals vs. the mustache-twirling evilness of trophy hunters, a cliche that is thankfully subverted after a late show of mercy and not-so-subtle reminder that guns aren't the only thing to worry about when you're a wild animal. While the film's closing minutes almost border on the typical "happy ending" that shoots most family movies in the foot, The Bear's conclusion feels well earned; it's a temporary relief from all the danger, but a relief nonetheless.

Originally released on DVD by Sony Entertainment 15 years ago, The Bear has finally gotten a bump to high definition courtesy of Shout Factory in the wake of at least two recent international Blu-rays; they're all anchored by a 4K restoration conducted by Pathe in 2013. So while this "25th Anniversary Collector's Edition" is bad at math and a bit lighter on bonus features than you'd expect, it represents an obvious upgrade in all departments....and based on the strength of the main feature, it's both a terrific blind buy and a no-brainer for rabid fans of the film.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of The Bear uses the same recent 4K restoration as its international Blu-ray counterpart(s) released during the last year or so. It's a fine transfer that fully showcases the film's rich outdoor visuals, from spectacular wide shots to extreme close-ups of animals and humans alike. Textures and image detail are uniformly strong, though a handful of dimly lit scenes and nighttime (or occasional "day for night" shots are less impressive but hardly distracting. The earthy color palette appears natural, while the short dream sequences are obviously more saturated and stylized by design. Film grain appears natural from start to finish, and no flagrant digital imperfections could be spotted along the way. Overall, fans should be pleased.

DISCLAIMER: This page's compressed screen captures and promotional images do not represent the Blu-ray under reviews.

As much as I appreciated the strong visuals, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (presented in 5.1 or 2.0) is perhaps even more effective in establishing the film's terrific atmosphere. Philippe Sarde's score is sporadic but definitely makes its presence known at times, while the expansive Italian and Austrian wilderness---filling in for British Columbia---creates a wide and immersive sound field with excellent channel separation and strong low frequencies. Bear grunts, growls, and other dubbed (but entirely natural) effects are mostly anchored up front and rarely fight for attention. The dialogue is presented in its original English with optional subtitles during the film only.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The basic interface is easy to navigate and loads quickly; options are available for chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase with matching slipcover. The cover art is indeed hideous, but the superior reverse design is based on one of The Bear's original US posters.

Bonus Features

Though a pair of short featurettes don't look to have been ported over from Sony's 2000 DVD, we get a much more substantial Behind-the-Scenes Documentary (51:31, 480i) that's probably new to domestic audiences. Largely recorded on location in 1988, this loosely structured piece includes lots of shooting footage, bear training, and comments from select crew members who, strangely enough, aren't identified by name. This is a thoughtful and appropriate supplement, but it's a little dry and portions of the dialogue are dubbed over in English rather than subtitled.

Also here is the film's wordless French Theatrical Trailer (1:07, 1080p) that's been restored to match the main feature. Overall, there's less here than some fans might be expecting (including a recent commentary recorded for the French Blu-ray)...but it's still a modest step up from Sony's DVD and priced fairly, so no real complaints here.

Final Thoughts

Brisk, accessible, and completely committed to its visceral narrative, Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Bear is a timeless family film that's easy to get lost in. Featuring top-notch performances by an adult Grizzly and adorable cub, it favors accessible drama over dialogue and creates a fantastic illusion in the process. Although the film's spell is broken on a few occasions, it's an experiment so successful that first-time viewers and die-hard fans will easily overlook what little The Bear does wrong. Shout Factory's "Collector's Edition" Blu-ray serves up a fine transfer sourced from Pathe's recent 4K restoration...and while the bonus features are a little light, everything here represents an obvious upgrade from Sony's 2000 DVD release. Highly Recommended for its strong technical merits and replay value.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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