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Beasts of the Southern Wild(2012)
Faced with her father's fading health and environmental changes that release an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy leaves her Delta-community home in search of her mother.
For more about Beasts of the Southern Wild and the Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray release, see Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on December 4, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis
Director: Benh Zeitlin
» See full cast & crew
Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray Review
“Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, December 4, 2012
Like any indie film that's ambitious and imaginative and thematically loaded, Beasts of the Southern Wild has been subjected to its share of both gushing, hyberbolic praise and the outrage of overly sensitive critics and cultural academics. The Sundance Festival favorite has been hailed as a jubilant coming-of-age story and waved off as pretentious, sentimental slush. It's been alternately praised and denounced as a reaction to Hurricane Katrina, and it's variously been labeled a surefire Oscar contender and—absurdly, really, considering some of the truly awful multiplex fare available this year—the worst film of 2012. It only goes to show how subjective a cinematic experience can be. To some, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an empowering tale of a young girl and her community overcoming victimization; to others, it's a romanticization of black rural poverty, couched in uncomfortable racial and gender stereotypes.
Most audiences, though, will enjoy the film, and for many good reasons. It's fully deserving of the adjective "life-affirming." It's funny and harrowing and gorgeously shot. It's been put together with an impressive level of authentic, do-it-yourself detail, and it features the best performances by non-professional actors in recent memory. While there are certainly some fair criticisms to be leveled here, I think the haters and naysayers—who are in the minority—have reacted with knee-jerk cynicism to misperceived slights in political correctness. I appreciate their vocal denunciation, though, if only because it stirs up debate. As the history of cinema shows, the most controversial and divisive films tend to be the ones that are fertile with ideas worthy of discussion.
Like Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are or Ken Loach's Kes, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an occasionally dark film about childhood intended primarily for adults. It's told from the perspective of Hushpuppy (fiercely natural newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis), an afro- haired six-year-old raised in abject poverty by her alcoholic and unstable father, Wink (Dwight Henry, product of a local casting call), who disappears for days on end and suffers from some unnamed heart condition. All we know initially about Hushpuppy's absent mother is that, in some point in time, she "swam away." The single dad and his wild child—who runs around in a white tank top and bright orange boy's briefs—are essentially squatters; he keeps his stuff in an abandoned bus, while she has a derelict trailer all her own, perched inexplicably on top of an enormous oil drum.
They live in the woods outside "The Bathtub," an isolated village on the Louisiana bayou, south of the levee that protects the mainland from flooding. Here, crab-harvesting blacks and whites coexist in rag-tag unity, bonded by mutual hardship and community tradition. "The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world," says Hushpuppy in her ongoing narration—which is highly reminiscent of the rambling, kid's perspective voiceover from Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven—and their parties are joyous affairs, complete with copious drinking, Roman candle fights, and parades of rusted-up jalopies. If everyone weren't so literally dirt poor, it seems like it'd be a hell of a place to live.
The film was evocatively shot on location in and around Terrebonne Parish, an area hit hard by Katrina, and at the core of the story is a hurricane of similar storm-of-the-century proportions. The rains come down and the floods go up, and Wink refuses to leave, putting a pair of water-wings on Hushpuppy's arms and telling her to sit tight inside a suitcase. They weather it out, and the sun rises on a transformed landscape straight out of Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law, with trees and wooden shacks jutting out of the muddy depths. The water shows no signs of receding. Wink and Hushpuppy group up with some fellow survivors , jerry rig an alligator-housed I.E.D. to take out a section of the levee—essentially draining The Bathtub—and try to avoid do-gooders from the city who arrive and try to force them out of the mandatory evacuation zone. As Wink gets progressively sicker, Hushpuppy rises to the occasion, fending for herself and setting off on an unlikely adventure to find her long-missing mother.
This may be the plot, but it hardly describes the poetry of the film, a Southern Gothic-meets-Magical Realism folk story with echoes of William Faulkner, Night of the Hunter, and Mark Twain. We see the world of The Bathtub almost entirely through Hushpuppy's eyes—the camera usually hovers about four feet off the ground—and like most six-year-olds, her perspective is exaggerated and naive and, well, childlike. She believes she is the cause of the storm—"Sometimes you can break something so bad it can't be put back together"—and she imagines that global warming has thawed out a pack of prehistoric tusked pig-like creatures who are stampeding towards Louisiana, the harbingers of death and apocalyptic doom. The film's environmental message can be a bit overstated at times, but otherwise, Beasts of the Southern Wild ebbs and flows on lyrical subtleties, particularly in regard to the alternately loving and borderline abusive father/daughter relationship between Wink and Hushpuppy.
It should come as no surprise that director Benh Zeitlin—who wrote the film with playwright Lucy Alibar, based on her stage production—is the son of two New York-based folklorists. With an anthropological attention to the culture and economic struggles of the bayou, he tells a modern-day myth that's grim and uplifting and universally relevant. Joseph Campbell would be proud.
Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray, Video Quality
Beautifully shot on 16mm, Beasts of the Southern Wild arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that may not be as sharp or clean as most modern movies—shot digitally or on 35mm—but has a gritty, textured, handmade quality that's perfect for the tone of the low-budget film. Shooting on 16mm essentially halves the analog resolution and doubles the size of the grain, so you should expect a picture that's inherently somewhat soft and chunky. That's not to say watching the film in high definition doesn't have immediately visible benefits over DVD. In 1080p, the patina of the grain is more natural, the details more refined, the lines tighter and the skin and clothing details better resolved. (Do your own comparison —a DVD is included in the Blu-ray set.) Basically, you're getting a more faithful, filmic, true-to-source presentation. There's no sign of digital noise reduction here, no edge enhancement, and no glaring compression or encode issues. If the image isn't super-sharp, it makes up for it with great color gradation; highlights have a slightly creamy cast, the palette of earth tones is rich and dense, and contrast balances a punchy tonal curve with preserved shadow detail. This is probably the best-looking 16mm film I've seen on Blu-ray since Revanche.
Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's meager budget in no way constrains its well-engineered sound design, which is presented here in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. From the very first frames we're aurally immersed in the story's world, with gusts of wind and rippling thunder emerging from the rear channels. This sense of you're-here-in-The-Bathtub-too engagement is consistent throughout the film. Every scene comes alive with natural ambience—insects and birds, torrential rain, lapping water, the rustle of leaves, sheets of ice collapsing into the sea. The more hefty effects are just as convincing; explosions send debris spraying in all directions, helicopter blades beat overhead, the noble Aurochs roots and grunts and stampedes. Backing it up is a Creole-tinged Americana score—by composer Dan Romer and director Benh Zeitlin—that soars and rattles, providing the emotional undercurrent for each scene. (You'll have the main theme stuck in your head for weeks.) Everything is grounded, clear, and dynamically expressive, and the dialogue glides through it all unhindered, clean and easily understood. The disc includes optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles, a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital dub, and a descriptive audio track.
Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As a directorial debut, as a story of empowerment, and as a work of great imagination and beauty, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a joy. It's layered enough to provoke a wide range of audiences responses—always the sign of a film that's at least interesting, if not good—and it features a courageous performance from the young newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, a total scene and heart-stealer. A lot of love clearly went into the making of this film, and that's something its critics seem to have missed. That love carries over to the movie's Blu-ray debut, which features a gorgeous 1080p transfer, an immersive audio track, and some worthwhile extras, including a nicely put-together making-of documentary, audition tapes, and director Benh Zeitlin's short film, Glory at Sea. Highly recommended!
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Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray - October 8, 2012
20th Century Fox, in an announcement to retailers, revealed its plans to release Beasts of the Southern Wild to Blu-ray. The critically acclaimed drama starring up-and-coming child actor Quvenzhané Wallis, arrives on shelves December 4th.
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