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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Animal Factory: Special Edition (Blu-ray)
Animal Factory: Special Edition (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video // R // November 28, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted November 29, 2017 | E-mail the Author

Based on late criminal-turned-novelist Eddie Bunker's 1977 novel, Steve Buscemi's Animal Factory (2000) remains one of the most subtly authentic prison dramas in recent memory. Our story follows Ron Deckard (Edward Furlong), a young man imprisoned for selling marijuana, whose youthful appearance and upper-class background make him a target for those who really deserve to be there. Luckily, he's "adopted" by the older Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), who has developed a strong reputation---and the privileges that come with it---during a sentence that's lasted nearly two decades. Taking the young man under his wing, Earl helps Ron wade through some of the institution's rough waters and even snags him a few of its more desirable jobs, biding their time until an eventual release...or better yet, escape.

Much like Buscemi's first film Trees Lounge, Animal Factory is boosted by an excellent ensemble cast; some are returning faces, like Mark Boone Junior and Seymour Cassel, while Buscemi appears in a smaller supporting role. But new or old, almost every performance is first rate: Defoe's turn as the patriarchal "boss of the convicts" and Furlong's role as the young man taken under his wing (undoubtedly due to his part in American History X) carry much of the emotional weight, with memorable supporting performances by the likes of Danny Trejo, Tom Arnold, Jon Heard, Eddie Bunker, and Mickey Rourke playing extremely against type (at the time, at least). Shot on location at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia for less than $300,000, Animal Factory also employed hundreds of prisoners from the facility as extras and this only adds to the film's surprisingly understated sense of authenticity, realism, and emotional effectiveness.

Though Animal Factory isn't without its faults and small speed bumps along the way (some of which stem from its low budget and short 30-day shooting schedule, no doubt), this is unquestionably a thoughtful film with strong roots. While Bunker's source novel---according to its late author---was "written to be a movie", it obviously took much longer than expected to make it to the big screen: initial plans began around 1992 when Bunker wrote the screenplay with noted playwright John Steppling, yet financing difficulties delayed its development for most of the decade. Buscemi was Bunker's first choice to direct after meeting him on Reservoir Dogs, while Danny Trejo (also a former convict) also served as producer; he and Bunker initially met during the production of Andrei Konchalovsky's Runaway Train, which Bunker co-wrote. The rugged, offbeat music by John Lurie adds weight to many scenes...as does at least one musical performance by Antony Hegarty, former lead singer of the music group Antony and the Johnsons.

Sony's 2001 DVD was impressive for its time, undoubtedly attracting those who couldn't see Animal Factory in theaters. Offering a fine A/V presentation and a handful of great extras, it remained the best home video package to date...that is, until Arrow's new Special Edition Blu-ray, which obviously bumps up the video and audio quality a few notches. This isn't quite as definitive a release as expected (especially given the 16-year gap, not to mention the studio's track record), but there's a lot to like and die-hard fans will be pleased to finally have Animal Factory in high definition.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Animal Factory shines on Blu-ray with a crisp and clean 1080p transfer that appears to be sourced from a relatively new master; Arrow's "About the Transfer" blurb in the booklet is extremely vague (and I doubt it was created exclusively for this Blu-ray), but it's obvious the source material has been treated with care. Image detail and textures are quite strong at times, especially during outdoor scenes (more than expected for a prison film), with good color saturation, solid black levels, and only the smallest hints of print damage. No flagrant digital imperfections were spotted along the way and, aside from the possibility of slightly tweaked color timing, this appears to be an accurate presentation. Fans and newcomers alike should be satisfied with Animal Factory's appearance on Blu-ray, even if there's a small amount of room for improvement in several key areas.


DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

Arrow serves up a PCM 2.0 Stereo track that replicates the film's two-channel roots, with crisp audio and effects that rarely fight for attention. Animal Factory isn't as chaotic as your average prison drama, but when the action heats up everything remains well-balanced. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are included during the film only.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Arrow's basic but attractive interface has separate options for audio/subtitle setup and bonus features (which, like Criterion's, are often individually described in detail). This one-disc release is packaged in a clear keepcase with original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips. The included Booklet features a new essay by critic Glenn Kenny, promotional stills, an abridged cast/crew list, other bits of new artwork, and a few brief tech specs.

Bonus Features

The lone new extra here is "Eddie Bunker: Life of Crime", a new 21-minute interview with writer and critic Barry Forshaw (British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia, The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction) about the late criminal-turned-novelist's career. It's a great appreciation with plenty of candid thoughts, photos and film clips, an overview of Bunker's work, and plenty of personal stories about their occasional meetings and correspondence throughout the years.

Carried over from Sony's DVD is the Trailer and a feature-length Audio Commentary with author Eddie Bunker and actor Danny Trejo. Topics of discussion include the film's five-year development process, Bunker's source novel, shooting on a $300,000 budget, choosing the director and cast, their former jobs and earlier film careers, meeting on the set of Runaway Train, shout-outs to the supporting cast and bit players, filming at a prison in Philadelphia, and much more. Unfortunately, four short interviews (featuring Buscemi, Dafoe, Furlong, and Rourke) from the same DVD are missing in action; combined with the lack of new material, this Blu-ray feels a little light but what's here is valuable.

Final Thoughts

Animal Factory is a well-acted, refreshing slice of prison drama that's aged well since its quiet 2000 theatrical release. Sourced from Eddie Bunker's 1977 novel (which itself was undoubtedly based on his time spent in prison), it feels like a realistic and extremely natural examination of people trapped in a hostile, numbing environment. Animal Factory has gained something of a cult following during the past 17 years, so it's likely that Arrow's new Special Edition Blu-ray will continue to attract new audiences to this lesser-seen gem. The A/V presentation is fairly good and, while the bonus features are somewhat lacking in comparison to the studio's other releases, this is easily the best home video package of Animal Factory to date. It's firmly Recommended to established fans and curious newcomers alike.


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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