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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Dead Lands (Blu-ray)
The Dead Lands (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // August 4, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted July 29, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Movie:

Set in the New Zealand of centuries past, Toa Fraser's The Dead Lands tells the story of two separate Maori tribes that have long lived near each other without any serious conflict. Unfortunately for both tribes, this changes when a tribesman named Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) violates the one promise both sides made to keep the peace: he treads on holy ground where man is not to tread.

A tribesman named Hongi (James Rolleston) is the one to witness Wirepa's transgression, and he just so happens to be the son of the Tane (George Henare), the chief of his respective tribe. Tensions flare when words gets back and soon enough things get violent as Wirepa and his tribe launch a vicious assault on Hongi, Tane and the others leaving the chief's body a corpse in the process. With his father now dead, Hongi and the surviving members want vengeance. Hongi, however, is not skilled in the art of war and so he sets out on a quest to a warrior (Lawrence Makoare) who has left both tribes to live in peace and seclusion away from it all. Hongi finds the man he's looking for, though not before he traverse the feared ‘Dead Lands,' and then undergoes the training he feels he will need to avenge his father and the others killed in Hongi's raid.

The Dead Lands is a movie that is as beautiful looking as it is brutally violent. Shot on location in the wilds of the country in which it is set, the movie makes great use of some genuinely stunning cinematography to show off the country's natural landscape. This is a big part of what makes the movie such a treat for the eyes. There are impressive angles used throughout the movie that really pull you into the storyline and that are just flat out impressive to look at. This natural beauty, however, can often times be contrasted pretty harshly with the violence in the film. When the various tribesman throw down with one another, the movie has no trouble convincing you that they mean it. The violent altercations shown in fairly unflinching detail here definitely help to build tension and suspense but they are not for the faint of heart. The different action set pieces are choreographed well and plenty exciting, however.

As to the story itself? It pulls from a few different sources to create something that's different not so much because of its story but because of its setting. This is a lot like various martial arts films over the years, wherein the student who wants to learn the art of combat seeks out the reclusive teacher in an effort to convince him to tale him on as a student. We know that eventually the teacher will oblige and that the student will use what he's learned for the greater good. It's not a particularly original concept but by setting this in New Zealand's past and amongst that country's tribes it does at least allow those behind the camera to effectively exploit all that these aspects can offer.

The performances are pretty decent. Te Kohe Tuhaka can be pretty intimidating as the heavy and he definitely creates a character that you wouldn't want to trifle with. Lawrence Makoare is really good as the mysterious warrior about to become a teacher. He looks the part, he's got a weathered and worldly appearance about him in the movie that says more than a lot of his dialogue does. He makes for a strong casting choice here and the movie better for having him in this part. James Rolleston as Hongi gets the meatiest role and he makes the most of it. Hongi is a young and inexperienced tribesman in way over his head and Rolles does well here. His character goes through quite a transformation as the story evolves and it's interesting to see how the actor handles it.

It might occasionally feel like insanely violent style over substance and at times it certainly does deal a bit too heavily in cliché, but The Dead Lands does ultimately deliver a satisfying mix of action, adventure and character development. The ending is appropriate and at the same time defies our expectations. This is one that fans of intense action and martial arts films should most certainly appreciate.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

The Dead Lands arrives on Blu-ray from Magnolia Pictures in its original 2.39.1 aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Shot digitally there's obviously not going to be any print damage issues while clarity and color reproduction are generally top notch. There's a little bit of aliasing and a little bit of banding in some spots but generally if you're not looking for it you're not going to see it. Black levels are solid and shadow detail is pretty good too. Close up shots show the most detail, no shock there, but medium and long distance shots also fare quite well. This is a really strong, colorful transfer with nice detail and depth.

Sound:

The audio is offered dubbed in English or in its proper Maori in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with optional subtitles available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish. This is, as you'd guess, a pretty aggressive mix. There's lots of surround activity here and really strong, deep bass emanating from the subwoofer when the movie calls for it. The levels stay properly balanced here and there's nice depth to the mix. Hiss and distortion are never an issue. The movie sounds great and unless you've got an aversion to subtitles, the Maori language is the more fitting option.

Extras:

Extras start off with The Making Of The Dead Lands, a twelve minute piece that interviews the producer, director, co-producer and some of the cast members about the different characters, their motivations, where some of the ideas for the movie came from and more. It's a bit on the promotional side but it's worth watching. Exploring The Dead Lands: Creating A Traditional Maori World is more in-depth, clocking in at just short of half an hour in length. It takes us behind the scenes of the shoot and shows us what went into creating the most authentic recreation of the time period in which the movie is set as possible. There's lots of interesting behind the scenes footage here showing how certain sets were put together, the casting, the fight choreography and more. The Behind The Scenes Comparisons segment spends six minutes contrasting what we see on the screen in the finished movie with what was actually happening on the set while those scenes were being shot, while the Theatrical Premier Q&A is a lengthy forty-three minute Q&A session with the director, co-producer, an actress and moderator James Cameron that took place, as the title implies, at the premiere. They cover some of the same ground that's covered in the other featurettes but do go into a bit more detail here. Cameron shows up again in the appropriately titled Interview With James Cameron where the director talks about how he heard of this film, his thoughts on it and more for just under five minutes.

Rounding out the extras on the disc is a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Magnet Releasing titles, animated menus and chapter selection. The Blu-ray case comes housed inside a cardboard slipcover featuring an embossed version of the cover art featured on the insert slip.

Final Thoughts:

The Dead Lands is tense, exciting and brutal, which makes it easy to overlook the fact that it isn't all that original despite its unique historical and geographical setting. The performances are great and the action set pieces even better while the Blu-ray release from Magnolia looks and sounds really nice and throws in some good supplements too. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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