United States, 1847, Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) embarks on a hellish odyssey when an act of cowardice during the horrific Mexican-American War battle earns him promotion yet banishment to a desolate military outpost, seen as a way-station for western travellers in the barren and icy Californian Sierra Nevada mountains. Boyd finds the outpost manned by a small assortment of soldiers, each with their own personality traits. Lead by Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), the soldiers loosely follow the rules and have seen little action. However, one blustery night, a mysterious stranger is found. Named Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle), the famished stranger had been travelling with a small group of settlers until they became snowbound. Seeking welcome refuge in a dark cave, the settlers soon ran out of food, and were forced quickly to turn to cannibalism. Colqhoun quickly escaped from the cave, fearing that he may soon become a main course. Colonel Hart immediately takes Colqhoun, Boyd and a team of soldiers on a journey to the cave, to attempt to save the other settlers. However, upon reaching the cave, Boyd learns that it's a trap, and that Colqhoun has eaten all of the other survivors and has lured the soldiers to his den for another feast. Legend tells of an old Indian mythical tale called Weendigo, which states that any human who eats the flesh of another, therefore steals that person’s strength, spirit and being. The hunger for human flesh then becomes an insatiable craving that only increases with the more flesh that is eaten. Also, the more humans consumed, the stronger and healthier that person becomes. This Weendigo addiction has hit Colqhoun, and he now attempts to inflict it upon Boyd, who most attempt to survive and resist at the same time whilst defeating the evil Colqhoun.
Ravenous is slightly infamous for having its director Milcho Manchevski fired after two weeks of production and replaced by Antonia Bird. Films that happen to have directorial changes in mid-production usually suffer, yet Ravenous' pace and plotting still manages to give a sense of unity. The pacing in fact, is very slick, and the plotting never sags. Performances are all very good, in particular Robert Carlyle, who oozes charisma it seems without even trying, and even when he is playing a ferociously determined cannibal. Guy Pearce is a capable film lead, and has already notched up a decent filmography in the form of L.A. Confidential, Memento and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. Pearce's performance gives the necessary subdued, almost confused stance to the role of Boyd. Jeffrey Jones, always shining in every film, even Howard The Duck, gives a jokey and light hearted angle on Colonel Hart which renders him quite likeable.
The cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond provides stunning use of the bleak American locales, and the film really is a treat in widescreen compared to fullscreen. The original music score is innovative and yet perfectly suited to the film, and is by two gifted composers from opposite ends of the spectrum: The Piano's Michael Nyman and Blur frontman Damon Albarn. The soundtrack is very reminiscent of Mike Oldfield's scoring of the classic Killing Fields, and certainly isn't a conventional soundtrack.
The most appealing aspect of Ravenous is it dares to be an irreverent cannibal/vampire story set in the what-could-be heavy-going American west as opposed to the usual Victorian setting. It's completely throwaway as a film, but it certainly has enough high points to warrant a decent cult following.
What a quirky, underrated movie Ravenous is. It made an underwhelming impression on the UK and US box-offices and was seen mostly on the VHS rental circuits. However, those fortunate enough to have witnessed the film in its full 2.35:1 widescreen splendour have seen a truly original film approached from a fresh angle. Granted, Ravenous will not appeal to most people, but it certainly appeals to some, and it is doubtful that a movie this courageous will appear for a long time to come. Just don't be afraid to laugh at the material.
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, unlike the non-anamorphic Region 1 counterpart, the transfer exhibits splendid colour tones and a vibrant, natural quality. Although many of the sequences are shot at night or in gloomy surroundings, the picture never looks murky and never suffers throughout.
Presented in a 5.1 surround mix, the sound track is abundant in clarity and provides the musical score with a heavy portion of the track, and thus occasionally appears overbearing. Dialogue is perfectly audible and even though surround rears are subtly used the overall mix complements the film acceptably enough.
Commentary With Antonia Bird And Damon Albarn: English director Bird, who directed early Eastenders episodes and feature films such as Priest and Face, talks refreshingly about the film and about her extremely last-minute involvement. She discusses the plot, shooting problems and related stories on numerous occasions, and never succumbs to over-praising the film. What is special about the commentary track is Albarn is actually sitting with Bird doing the commentary, instead of the usual 'recorded separately' routine, even though they both are describing totally different aspects of the film-making process. Albarn is clearly very interested in film, and asks many questions to Bird as if he is a keen scholar. Bird also moans to Albarn about her not having final cut and describes how she originally intended the film's ending to look. The only problem with the commentary is the audio volume level, which is quite low, and the fact that the commentary is recorded in mono, which doesn't help proceedings when there is more than one participant.
Commentary With Robert Carlyle: A sparse commentary that only commences on chapter four, naturally due to the fact that it is that chapter in which Carlyle is introduced to the film. Carlyle's commentary is mostly dedicated to him detailing the processes and preparation that was involved for his character. Although there are many gaps, Carlyle manages to throw in some informative packets on the occasions where he does speak, and it's just a shame that he couldn't have someone like Guy Pearce (sadly lacking from the commentaries) to bounce a conversation off.
Commentary With Ted Griffin And Jeffrey Jones: Probably the wittiest of the three commentaries, screenwriter Ted Griffin and the very talented Jeffrey Jones discuss at length the film's making, including changes to the script, and the film's final cut. This commentary is an interesting comparison piece to the Antonia Bird/Damon Albarn one, as it contrasts the views of the film's director with the film's writer. Again, this commentary suffers due to its monophonic quality.
Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary From Antonia Bird: An eleven minute roll of deleted scenes with optional commentary from the director. The scenes are the usual fare with extra padding for characters and unnecessary plot tangents, and in most cases it is fairly conclusive as to why they were omitted. Presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen.
Photo Galleries: Split into three sections of Movie Stills, Costume Design and Set Design, the galleries are an extensive collection of nice movie stills and detailed sketches of the costume and set design. Also, the stills can be navigated by the user, and not just presented on a roll.
Theatrical Trailer: A funny, well produced trailer that makes Ravenous seem like the good throw-away film it intended to be. This sort of film could have been hard to market in the wrong hands, but the trailer hits all of the right spots.
A good, original film with a nice set of extras, particularly the three extensive commentaries, the Ravenous DVD package is very appealing, and given that the RRP price is a cheap £15.99 (which means most outlets will sell it cheaper) it is seriously worth considering. The only gripe is that the cover has lifted the artwork from the VHS rental version and not the VHS retail version, which had a blood-dripping pair of lips on the front with the tagline 'You Are What You Eat!'