Beasts of the Southern Wild Blu-ray Review
If you’re a fan of the underdog film you’ve no doubt been following the story of this year’s version, Benh Zeitlin’s BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. Winner of the 2012 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the film has grown from word-of-mouth sensation to a possible major player as award season rolls around. That the star of the film is an untrained child who lied about her age to audition (had she admitted to being only five she never would have been able to attend the casting call) is just one of the great stories that seem to travel with this film like an old friend.
Hushpuppy (Wallis) lives in the bayou country of Louisiana, far below the levees in a section known as “The Bathtub.” She lives in a makeshift campsite with her father, Wink (Henry, also making his acting debut). Her mother long dead, Hushpuppy has learned to fend for herself in the world. Yet she is still also a child that loves her father. And that is a bond that can endure anything.
It is hard to believe that this is director Benh Zeitlin’s first feature as a writer and director. His script refuses to play on the stereotypes that others may play up of the bayou communities and his dialogue and situations ring true. The same can be said for his direction. Zeitlin has been blessed by finding incredibly talented and natural performers who blend easily into the story. Nothing seems forced or unnecessary. With his hand held camera work the film is made more intimate, so much so that we feel we are actually a part of the story and not just an observer.
The performances are outstanding. If I hadn’t read that Wallis was five when she auditioned for the film I never would have believed it. She is a natural performer on screen, often seeming to take care of her father then the other way around. Yet she is still a child, one prone to hiding under the nearest box whenever a storm is brewing. Henry is just as powerfully surprising. That two people who had never acted before can express the emotions that these two do is utterly mind numbing. Wink is a good man…a good parent…one who uses tough love as a way to prepare Hushpuppy for the day when he will no longer be around to care for her.
Production values are also much better than one would expect on a first feature. Cinematographer Ben Richardson uses his lens to capture the beauty that IS the state of Louisiana. From the blue/green Bathtub waterfront to the mystical ice covered lands of Hushpuppy’s imagination, the colors practically jump out at you. And it is all backed up with a beautiful musical score co-written by Zeitlin. The film was shot on 16 mm film, which really goes hand in hand with Zeitlin’s hand held/documentary style of filmmaking. All in all BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a fine introduction to a new filmmaker and two new actors to certainly keep an eye out for in the future.
Video: Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, some images are not as sharp as you would expect. I attribute this to the fact the film was shot on 16mm and then blown up to 35mm.
Audio: The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is well mixed. There are several scenes that feature Hushpuppy’s voice-over narration and the words do not get obscured by the score of audio effects (thunder, etc).
Deleted Scenes (14:00): A few scenes not used in the film (and not missed) with accompanying commentary by.
Audition Tapes (15:15): If you ever wonder how a casting director works here is an inside look. These are the original audition tapes of Wallis and Henry, both singularly and working together.
The Making of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (22:27): A very in-depth piece explaining how the various effects were created as well as how the look of the film was decided on.
Glory At Sea (25:44): The is director Zeitlin’s first short film, originally released in 2008.
Music (3:06): A very short featurette detaling the creation of the film’s score between director Zeitlin and composer Dan Romer.
The Aurochs (3:18): Another short bit, this one about the creation of Hushpuppy’s imaginary Aurochs.