Razorback: Special Edition (AU - DVD)
Gabe Powers hits the duck's guts, but is it all the cod's wallop or dog's bullocks?
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One dark night in the Australian outback an old man's house is attacked by a rhino sized razorback boar, which runs off with the man's grandson. Though never sentenced to prison time, the old man's life is all but taken away in his thirst for vengeance. Years later, an animal rights advocate comes to the outback to film an expose on illegal kangaroo poaching. She's killed by the beast while being simultaneously attacked by a pair of roo-snuffing brothers. Her husband, bereft, and not trusting of the authorities assertions that she simply fell down a mineshaft, journeys to the outback seeking answers.
Back in my home town of Tucson, AZ, we had roving packs of javalina. In preschool a friend’s dog was killed by these razorback relatives, and after that day I lived my life convinced these beasts were bloodthirsty killers. When I grew up I realized they weren't really all that scary, but the seed was planted. I looked far and wide for a VHS copy of Razorback over the years, but simply never found one. The film's still not available in the States on DVD, so I had to look elsewhere. The horror film community seemed to be in agreement that the film was a minor masterpiece, and I'd be damned if I was to miss out.
Upon finally seeing the film, I'm inclined to agree with the minor masterpiece consensus, with an emphasis on the 'minor'. Razorback is the feature film début of music video wonder child Russell Mulcahy, who would go on to direct the cult favourite Highlander, and its awful sequel. This was, according to the DVD's making of documentary, one of the first times a distributor put its faith in such a director. This marks the beginning and end of the film's historical significance to filmdom as a whole, but it is an important step. Without this successful marriage, we may not have ever seen the likes of famous modern directors like David Fincher, Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze, or Michel Gondry (though I suppose we could've avoided McG and Brett Ratner).
Mulcahy's '80s music video background definitely shows through. The tap runs hot and cold, but overall the experimental quality to the look and editing are what makes the film more than another mediocre Jaws riff. Some shots, though not exactly 'realistic' are breathtaking. The film has a thick mood, though I wouldn't necessarily say it was an overtly scary one. Razorback is the antithesis of the hyper-real movement that followed Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which some viewers will find very off-putting. Stylistically, it looks undeniably '80s, complete with Michael Mannish cool blues (if you liked the look of Manhunter you'll like the look of Razorback), and the neon flashes of early James Cameron.
I liked the look, but had I not liked the story or characters, it wouldn't be enough. It doesn't look that good. Thankfully I liked the story and especially the characters. The whole thing is rather predictable, and wholly unoriginal, but it's still a good time at the movies. Our lead is a bit on the stoic side, but still a man we can get behind. The hunter is a big ol’ stereotype, but what else could he be? The whole picture is pretty much stolen by David Argue, who plays one half of the evil, roo-blasting Baker brothers. Argue is hammy as all hell, but as in the case of our great white hunter, it kind of goes with the territory.
There are a lot of 'buts' in this review, as you may have noticed. It's just that kind of film I suppose. It's lowbrow entertainment, yet it reaches for some real artistic abstraction, and even though the script was toted as a Jaws rip-off, there isn't a weak-linking actor in the bunch. The film's tongue is never too far from its cheek, but never do the characters let on that they're in on the joke. And it's all pretty gory as well, not to mention the title pig itself, which though almost a secondary plot device, looks pretty convincing considering the budget and vintage of the finished film. You could do a lot worse on a Saturday night.
Ehhhh...I'm sure this is as good as the film's ever looked, but there are some big problems with compression and noise here. There are other releases, and I'd like to know how each version compares some day, but you could do worse than this. I'm happy to see the film in its original widescreen my first time viewing it, I can only imagine how much information was cropped on VHS releases. The bright colours look pretty good, if not a tad on the dark side (though of course this is an assumption on my part). I'm happy with the sharpness levels for the most part. Most of the slightly soft edges are probably due to the PAL to NTSC compression on my television.
Razorback has been remixed into a decent 5.1 Dolby Digital track (the U.K. release features a DTS track, but doesn't have half the special features). The track isn't particularly spatially impressive, and I didn't notice too many effective directional effects, but fidelity is decent, and the punch of the overall track is effective enough. The film's soundtrack was composed by Iva Davies, who was an Australian pop star at the time (he later went on to compose the score for fellow Aussie Peter Weir's Master and Commander), is surprisingly undated. The composer states on the making of doc that he purchased one of the world's first sampling machines to create the score.
This Aussie Special Edition is the way to go for fans of the film, but new comers can get just as much out of the set. It all begins with a well made, and very accessible documentary called Jaws on Trotters. This is my kind of doc, well edited, informative without overstaying its welcome, all around very good stuff. Everything's covered at least briefly, from inception (it was based on a novel, believe it or not), to release (though the fact that it really didn't see a theatrical release in the States is skipped). The film's strengths are, of course, brought to the forefront, but no one's afraid to make mention of its shortcomings either. Those Aussies are honest folks, and have surprisingly sharp memories.
We've also got a radio interview with the lead actor, Gregory Harrison, who apparently was unavailable for comment during the making of the documentary (though I would've still edited in his comments if I were in charge). I'm sorry to say that my patience got the better of me looking at a static screen, and got a little bored listening.
My boredom subsided with the presence of four elongated death scenes. The film was cut for distribution, and these were the scenes that suffered. Some are almost identical to their in-film counterparts, but some (especially Argue's death) are quite a bit more sticky. The scenes are presented in a rough 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and can be a little hard to discern, but we'll take what we can get until someone (Anchorbay USA? Blue Underground?) has the time and money to clean up an entirely uncut print.
Things come to a close with some art galleries, which include some wonderfully lurid poster art, and a trailer gallery, which includes Chain Reaction (no, not the Keanu Reeves movie), Road Games, and Long Weekend.
It's not a surprise that Razorback ended up being a solid genre offering, as everything I'd read suggested as such, but it was still quite a joy to behold. There is no version as yet available in the US, and unless you're a DTS snob, this R4 special edition is the way to go for special features alone. The documentary is glorious, and the addition of the uncut death scenes is vital. Good stuff all around.
You can purchase this and other imports from my friends at Xploitedcinema.com
Review by Gabriel Powers
Recommended for mature audiences.
Release Date: 19th September 2005
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: 'Jaws On Trotters', Grisly Deleted Scenes, Stills and Poster Gallery, Audio Interview with Actor Gregory Harrison, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Gregory Harrison, Arkie Whiteley, Bill Kerr, Chris Haywood, David Argue
Length: 88 minutes
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