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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/21/99

1999 (1999) - Twentieth Century Fox

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Ravenous Film Ratings: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A

Specs and Features

101 mins, R, widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:04:16, in chapter 18), Amaray keep case packaging, three audio commentary tracks (one with director Antonia Bird and composer Damon Albarn, another with star Robert Carlyle (starts at chapter 4), and another with writer Ted Griffin and star Jeffrey Jones), deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Antonia Bird), movie stills gallery, costume and set designs, theatrical trailer, TV commercial, film-themed menu screens, scene access (26 chapters), language: English (DD 5.1 and 3.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Close Captioned

"Well... isn't this civilized?"

It's the tail-end of the Mexican-American war, and Capt. John Boyd has just been declared a hero. His reward, along with the rest of his company, is a nice big juicy steak. And after seeing it, and watching everyone chomp down (with amplified chewing, hacking and slurping, of course), Boyd proceeds to puke right next to the film's title card. It's a lovely way to start a movie, and it sets the tone for the rest of the film beautifully. Never before has a film about loneliness, desperation and utter cold LOOKED the way it must have felt living it and filming it. Ravenous just looks so damn cold. I grew up in the North, where after a day's playing in the snow in your jeans, you had to peel your pants off, and the cold clammy skin underneath was so otherworldly, that it hardly felt like your own leg. That's the feeling you get watching Ravenous.

The majority of the film takes place at Fort Spencer, high in the Sierra Nevadas in 1847. Boyd (Guy Pearce) has been sent here by his commanding officer, because he knows deep down that Boyd is a coward, and only somehow lucked into being a hero. Boyd joins up with a group of misfit soldiers at Fort Spencer, all as pathetic as he is. There is commanding officer Hart (Jeffrey Jones), Toffler (Jeremy Davies), who is the soft-spoken religious member of the group, a hard-drinking doctor named Knox (Stephen Spinella), a machine-like career soldier named Reich (Neal McDonough), the fort cook Cleaves (David Arquette), who seems to have hit the peace pipe once too often, and two Native Americans. All seem to be in this no-man's land for some personal reason, but we never really learn why, and in a way, that's a good thing. We do, however, see in flashback why Boyd is considered a coward. He played dead out of fear during a battle, and was eventually piled underneath the dead bodies of his fellow soldiers and taken behind enemy lines, only to be rejuvenated by a steady stream of blood pouring into his mouth. This allowed him to surprise the enemy on their own turf, turning the battle to America's favor. The flashback is important, because as we learn later in the film, there's a Native American legend that tells of men who consume human blood and flesh, and in so doing, gain strength and powers you can only dream of. But the price is an unholy hunger for more. This legend is called Wendigo in the film, and it comes to horrible life in the form of Robert Carlyle.

Carlyle plays Colqhoun, a Scotsman who was travelling with a group to California. His group got lost in a storm, and Colqhoun tells of a villainous military man named Ives, who proceeded to kill and eat most of the group when faced with starvation. Colqhoun says he was lucky to escape, having found his way to Fort Spencer, where he is brought back to health. It's here that he spins his tale, and because it's their duty, the soldiers head to the last known location of the group to see if any of them are still alive. It turns out to be a bad move for the soldiers, and just the opportunity Colqhoun needs for some fresh meat.

Ravenous is a fun little movie if you have the stomach for it. I originally had no interest in the film, based on the trailers and the commercials. Once I saw it on DVD, I was hooked. Fox really had no idea how to market this movie, but if they had presented it right, everyone who loves funny, gross and scary movies would have seen this film, and they wouldn't have been disappointed. The characters are well drawn and well acted, and the locations are incredible (with really wicked set designs for the cave and Fort Spencer itself). Oh... and the special effects are gruesome, and very real looking (in a comic book sort of way -- you'll have to see the film to understand). Ravenous is just a very well produced film, and so fun to watch.

Not only is Ravenous an unseen cult film, but this DVD does the film great justice. There's a whole bunch of love in this disc. Not that other discs aren't produced with love, but it's much easier to do a special edition for The Matrix, than it is to do one for a movie that hardly anyone saw in the theaters. Thankfully, for the DVD, Fox really threw themselves behind this little film, and put together a nice special edition. This disc has just about everything you need to understand how much this film meant to the people making it. It has THREE commentary tracks, and each of them is as fun as the film itself. Granted, the Carlyle track is a bit choppy (with some big gaps between comments), but what he has to say gives you a nice look into the mind of a talented actor. The other two tracks feature writer Ted Griffin with Jeffrey Jones (who really have fun talking about the film and its history), and director Antonia Bird with one of the film's musical composers, Damon Albarn. Bird and Albarn talk about the technical issues in making this film work. Some interesting tidbits gleaned from a listen concern the uncompromising weather, and the Fort Spencer set (which was built from scratch, regardless of its rustic 100-year-old look -- fascinating). Also included are some interesting deleted scenes with optional commentary by Bird, costume designs, TV commercials, the theatrical trailer, and a stills gallery. This is a pretty hefty set of bonus material for such a non-blockbuster film. Fox should be proud of the production team behind this disc, because aside form its lack of anamorphic, it's one of the better individual titles put out by the studio.

Getting to the disc's picture and sound quality, both are pretty solid. As I mentioned, it isn't anamorphic. But for a non-anamorphic transfer, the picture looks pretty sweet. Colors, light and shadow all play out nicely, with no artifacting and minimal grain. Sound-wise, Ravenous is huge. There are two English tracks (but no international languages) that both sound super. The Dolby Digital 5.1 and 3.0 audio pulls all those spooky sounds (the icky chomping, that kooky folk soundtrack, and the eerie cold night winds) right off the disc, and puts them all around you. This DVD is nothing short of an experience.

Ravenous really deserves to be seen, and I can't think of any better way to do that than on DVD. If you simply have even the most remote interest in horror, black comedies or culty-type movies, pick this disc up and give it a spin. When you're done, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

Todd Doogan

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