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Bugs (2016)

Kino // Unrated // January 30, 2018
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted March 12, 2018 | E-mail the Author

Andreas Johnsen's Bugs (2016) is very straightforward with its message: the world will eventually need a lot more food to support its ever-growing human population, so why not munch on a few insects? This globe-hopping documentary follows Ben Reade, Josh Evans, and Roberto Flore of Denmark's Nordic Food Lab on their tireless journey to investigate, hunt, and prepare all sorts of insects from six continents with the assistance of local experts -- and, of course, to persuade anyone whose initial response to "How about a steaming bowl of fried crickets?" is an immediate gag reflex.

It's an admirable and forward-thinking notion, to be sure, and Bugs does a decent job of pleading its case. During the 73-minute main feature we visit Denmark, the Australian outback, Mexico, Kenya, Uganda, and Japan, getting an abridged but efficient overview of local cuisines and how they might be adapted to suit broader palates around the globe. But it's not all about cooking: Ben (lead host for the bulk of Bugs, although he leaves the project partway through for unspecified reasons and is replaced by Roberto) discusses sustainability, legal hurdles, long-term goals, and the importance of avoiding a profit-driven agenda. There's not a lot to dislike about Bugs from a moral standpoint, but I'll try anyway: aside from the foul language -- which I'm certainly not against on fuckin' principle, but this may keep the documentary out of some classrooms -- there's a brutal streak in regard to the treatment of most bugs consumed on-camera. I understand we're at the top of the food chain, but countless bugs are literally eaten or cooked alive; it's obviously not done for survival in this case, and I'd say the same thing if these critters were replaced by cows, chickens, or lobsters.

Interestingly enough, Kino Lorber's new two-disc presentation of Bugs also includes eight like-minded TV Episodes that extend the documentary's scope to fit more of a travelogue format; these points of interest include "Australia", "Mexico", "Kenya", "Uganda", "Peru", "Japan", "Italy/Denmark", and "The Netherlands" (approximately 30 minutes apiece). Basically, these individual episodes extend the chapters of Bugs while providing more a focused look at each region (the footage in "Peru", for the most part, looks to be entirely new). Additionally, the local contributors are also identified by name, which is a nice touch. While there's obviously less of an overall message or sense of urgency to the material in this format, I found it slightly more *ahem* digestible as a whole when viewed in direct comparison. Either way, both options are available here along with near-identical A/V presentations and a modest collection of bonus features.

Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 480p transfer of Bugs looks as about good as expected for a recent digitally-shot documentary. As most of this footage is captured outdoors in well-lit areas, image detail is quite impressive at times with tight textures and excellent contrast. Nighttime and indoor scenes hold up nicely as well, with little loss of detail in even the darkest areas. Color saturation appears smooth and natural with no apparent bleeding, and skin tones are accurate from start to finish. The only slight technical problems -- and they're most likely source material issues and nothing more -- are trace amounts of banding, as well as a few brightness fluctuations when light levels change outdoors suddenly. Overall, this is a very strong presentation that only makes me wish a Blu-ray option was available. (And just for the record, the TV episodes look exactly the same in appearance and overall quality).

DISCLAIMER: The promotional images and stills on this page are not representative of the disc under review.

The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo, with both options handling the source material quite well. Dialogue and front-channel effects are clear, with no apparent sync issues or other obvious defects. Surround activity is subtle but very much appreciated -- obviously there's going to be a lot of buzzing around at times, and other outdoor animals and weather effects can be clearly heard as well. Overall, it's an above-average effort that slightly surpasses what you'd expect from a documentary of this type. Optional subtitles are included (during the film, not the TV episodes) in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Danish. Sadly, they're for translation purposes only -- more than 95% of the dialogue is in English, which means the deaf and hard of hearing won't get very much out of this one.

This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed black keepcase with tasteful cover art and no inserts. The film-themed menus offer easy navigation and well-organized content with Bonus Features herded on Disc 2; these include 13 minutes of Deleted Scenes (nothing major -- just a few new faces and places, but the last one is interesting) and the film's Theatrical Trailer. Considering how much main content is included, the lack of extras isn't a problem.

Andreas Johnsen's Bugs is a unique and compelling documentary that, at times, is hampered by a somewhat malicious and off-putting tone. Still, the message behind this production is obviously forward-thinking, and for that alone it's worth a watch for interested parties of all ages. Kino Lorber's two-disc DVD package (no Blu-ray?) offers two complete programs: the condensed 73-minute feature documentary, plus an eight-episode TV series that stretches the concept to more of a smoothly-paced travelogue format. Paired with a strong A/V presentation and a few modest extras, there's a lot here for the asking price and it's well worth looking into. Recommended, although a rental may be enough for some.

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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