Brotherhood of the Wolf (2002)

In the mid-18th century, the French province of Gevaudin was terrorized by a mysterious Beast, who savagely killed over a hundred women and children in a three-year period. This much is recorded fact.

Brotherhood of the Wolf follows naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Iroquis blood brother Mani (Marc Dacascos), dispatched to the region by King Louis to investigate and hopefully preserve the Beast when it is killed. However, as the weeks turn into months and the creatures's predations continue unchecked, Fronsac begins to suspect that the Beast is not entirely natural; moreover, there seems to be a malignant human intelligence guiding it.

Brotherhood is an interesting stew of a film - director Christophe Gans manages to make martial art fights choreographed by Philip Kwok exist side-by-side with philosophical musings and classical monster movie trappings. An exceptional cast and a fine filmmaker make the 144 minutes of this "extended version" go by very quickly.

I find myself wanting to like the movie much more than I actually do. I was familiar with the tale of the Beast of Gevaudin, and was anxious to see the movie in its domestic theatrical release. However, Gans' directoral flourishes occasionally jar me out of the story, and too much of the script is derivative: the first attack seems cribbed from Jaws, the eighteenth-century conspiracy feels like Sleepy Hollow and the central MacGuffin owes rather too much to Richard L. Boyer's Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Giant Rat of Sumatra. But in a film this good, such things can be forgiven, and since producers Studio Canal + reportedly challenged Gans to "beat the Americans at their own game," you can almost say they were to be expected.

Universal doesn't present an artful segue from its logo to the menu as it does in its higher profile discs; in fact, the only clue you have that this is a Universal disc comes from the unbidden trailer for The Bourne Identity that rewards your pressing of "Play Movie". Once past that, though, the film transfer is beautiful, lush blacks and colors that could be eaten with a spoon. The 5.1 soundtrack makes good use of the surround channels in both language tracks. Being a purist, I prefer the French track, but the English dubbing is quite serviceable.

Okay, it's not the Canadian deluxe three-disc release, but the extras provided are pretty good. Well, except for "Cast and Filmmakers" which gives you very spare biographical data and filmographies for the stars and Gans. And "Production Notes", five text pages - really, half pages, and hardly that - which would have been presented better on a pack-in card.... except there isn't one. At least the theatrical trailer is nice (even if it's not anamorphic).

Oh, alright, I admit it. I'm just in love with the "Deleted Scenes" portion, in which Gans, in videotaped bookends, talks about the five scenes and why they were ultimately deleted even from this extended version. This extra, supported by behind-the-scenes footage, runs almost an hour and ends with a nice montage of alternate takes and excised lines. Each of the deleted scenes is quite good, but Gans' reasons for excising them are even better, providing a very nice insight into a painful side of the filmmaking process. Especially since each segment seems to begin with "I really loved this scene..."

My earlier grumblings aside, I was certainly looking forward to my second and third viewings of this film. Worth at the very least a rental if you are a fan of action, horror, period pieces, intrigue, romance, or have an interest in cryptozoology.

Dr. Freex, 10/21/2002