Wolf Totem (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
December 21, 2015 by Dennis Amith
“Wolf Totem” is a beautiful film about nature, respect for traditional cultural practices and what happens when humans try to interfere with the food chain. An absolutely gorgeous and captivating film from director Jean-Jacques Annaud. Recommended!
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Wolf Totem
YEAR OF FILM: 2015
DURATION: 122 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Color, 2:40:1 Aspect Ratio, Mandarin, French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish
COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RATED: PG-13 (Including Images of Violence and Brief Sexuality)
RELEASE DATE: December 15, 2015
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Based on the Novel by Jiang Rong
Screenplay by John Collee, Alain Godard, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Lu Wei
Produced by Yin Cao, Xavier Castano, William Kong, La Peikang, Alan Wang, Jianshai Xu, Duojia Zhao
Music by James Horner
Cinematography by Jean-Marie Dreujou
Edited by Reynald Bertrand
Shaofeng Feng as Chen Zhen
Shawn Dou as Yang Ke
Ankhnyam Ragchaa as Gasma
Yin Zhusheng as Bao Shunghi
Ba Sen Zha Bu as Bilig
Baoyingexige as Batu
Tumenbayaer as Shartseren
Xilindule as Petit Bayar
In acclaimed director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film adaptation of Jiang Rong’s best-selling novel, a young Beijing student is sent to live among the nomadic herdsmen of Inner Mongolia. Caught between the advance of civilization from the south and the nomads’ traditional enemies – the marauding wolves – to the north, humans and animals, residents and invaders alike, struggle to find their true place in the world.
In 2004, a young student named Jiang Rong (Lu Jiamin) wrote a Chinese semi-autobiographical novel titled “Wolf Totem” about his life as a young student from Beijing sent to the countryside of Inner Mongolia in 1967, during China’s cultural revolution.
Sent to stay with the clan chief and a group of nomads, he learned about the dangers of the area, especially due to the pack of wolves and how they were smart and cunning when they went for the attack on a herd of sheep and dragged their corpses to a cave. Fascinated by them, he began to study the wolves and also wrote about his relationship with the nomads.
“Wolf Totem” would become a best seller, selling over four million copies in China and many countries went after licensing rights for the novel. Despite no marketing by Jiang Rong (nor did he attend any awards ceremonies), the novel became a popular overseas and would lead to French director Jean-Jacques Annaud (“Seven Years in Tibet”, “Enemy at the Gates”, “Two Brothers”, “The Bear”) to read the book and eventually being selected to direct the film thanks to his experience with working with animals in his films.
To make “Wolf Totem” work as a film, it would require a dozen wolf pups and them being trained several years by a Canadian animal trainer.
Shot in Inner Mongolia, the film was released in theaters in February 2015 and would earn over $122 million dollars in the box office.
And now “Wolf Totem” will be released in 3D/2D on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
“Wolf Totem” revolves around Chen Zhen (portrayed by Feng Shaofeng), one of the two students sent to Mongolia by the Chinese government to help educate the Nomads and must live with them for two years.
Chen Zhen begins to learn about the culture of tribes and the importance of the land but also its dangers, especially when it comes to the wolves.
How the food chain would actually work is that the wolves would feed off their prey, typically squirrels, rabbits and wait for the gazelles who feast on the greenery of the land and the wolves would attack and store the gazelles in the snow as a source of food.
The Nomads would wait until the wolves leave and take the gazelles and take the meat and sell their hides for money. And when one of the Nomads breaks the rules by giving away the area where the gazelles are stored, all the meat is taken away by another group, leaving the wolves to be hungry and seeking for other sources for a food supply.
Taking away all the wolves source for food, they now grow hungry and edge closer to human populations to look for any food they can find.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government issues an order for the Nomads to eliminate and kill all wolves in the grassland. While for the government, this may seem like a positive idea, for Nomads, they see this as a disruption of the food chain.
But as the Nomads are forced to hunt for wolves and eliminate their cubs, for Chen Zhen, he desperately wants to rescue a wolf pup in order to study it. And by raising it from childbirth and letting it have human contact, seeing if he can learn about the actions of wolves, not knowing what happens when you take a wolf out of its natural habitat.
So, Chen Zhen seeks to find a cub to raise and hide from his fellow Nomads, but is it that even possible?
Meanwhile, the pack of wolves want revenge for the kidnapping and killing of its own kind but also looking for a new food supply.
How will the disruption of the wolves and their food chain affect the Nomads?
“Wolf Totem” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio). With the 2D version of the film, the first thing you notice is how vibrant the film is and how detailed the film is. Especially when it comes to closeups showcasing the cold or sunburned cheeks of the Mongolians to the closeups of the wolves. The greenery of the outdoors is vibrant and for the most part, because the film is primarily shot outdoors, the film looks fantastic in HD.
As for the 3D version of “Wolf Totem”, as one would expect from this kind of film, it’s more about using the technology to showcase depth. And in some areas of the film, it works rather well, such as when Chen Zhen is surround by a pack of wolves, you see levels of depth in the center, some in the forefront and wolves in the back. It work rather well and during a snowstorm, we see snowflakes floating towards the front in front of the nomads and horses. But the 3D is more or less used for depth and for this type of film, I found myself enjoying the 2D version of the film and enjoying the beauty of the grasslands more than anything.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for the lossless audio, “Wolf Totem” is presented in English and French 5.1 DTS-HDMA plus Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Descriptive Audio.
The lossless soundtrack is dialogue and musically-driven and is crystal clear. There are moments of surround sound usage during the horse scene or the sporadic use of rifle shots, but also utilizing the ambiance of the outdoor location.
It’s important to note that the music composed for the film is the final film composed by award winning composer James Horner (“Titanic”, “Avatar”, “Braveheart”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”), who died in a tragic aircraft accident months after the film’s release.
Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.
“Wolf Totem” comes with the following special feature:
- The Director’s Adventure – (5:22) Director Jean-Jacques and crew talk about how they came upon making “Wolf Totem”.
- A Look at the Cast – (3:17) Brief interviews with the cast of “Wolf Totem”.
- Saving the Environment – (5:25) Interview with novel author Jiang Rong and the cast and the importance of not disturbing nature and the food chain and respecting that during the making of the film.
- The Nature of the Wolf – (11:25) How wolves and dogs were used in the film.
“Wolf Totem” is gorgeous and breathtaking film based on the life of Lu Jiamin and his experience of living with the Nomads in Inner Mongolia.
And while the cinematography is breathtaking, what is more amazing is how director Jean-Jacques Annaud is able to showcase these wolves as characters. Characters who are important but not showing them as antagonists to the humans of the grassland but to show how they are important, but also showing great care in showing how troubles can develop when the food chain is disrupted.
Also, taking great care in showing the Mongolian tribe as people who live on the grassland and respects nature.
We see the difference between those from the city and tribe and how the Chinese government wants to change the Nomads through education and also disrupting their culture. And unfortunate, these are peaceful people who do not fight wars like their ancestors and they know what they are up against if not listening to government orders, so if the government forces two students upon them to educate them, they must do what the government says.
But we see the conflict through the eyes of Chen Zhen. Learning from the Village Elder, the current wolf totem about how their culture respects all nature and the living. The wolves pray on the gazelles for food, the humans take a few of those gazelles in order to store food but also for clothing or to make money.
And we see temptation come into play as business pry on the nomads to show them where they get their food supply and as nomads know their rule of secrecy, some can be tempted.
But seeing how the Nomads are affected when the wolves are stripped of their food, now they must look for other food sources, which leads to the bigger problem at hand when things go wrong as the wolves are hungry and what else to pray on but the animals that the Nomads have. Compounded by the issue of Chen Zhen wanting to save a wolf cub and raise it on his own, in secrecy.
The Blu-ray release features both the 3D and 2D version of the film. 3D used for depth, but for a breathtaking, vibrant film, I felt that watching the film in 2D does the film more justice. The 3D is not bad, in fact, how the 3D is implemented in showing depth as the wolves look from above and observe the humans and the animals of the grassland is done well. Details of the film look incredible in HD and the lossless soundtrack features crystal clear dialogue and a beautiful and final score by award winning composer, James Horner.
Overall, “Wolf Totem” is a beautiful film about nature, respect for traditional cultural practices and what happens when humans try to interfere with the food chain. An absolutely gorgeous and captivating film from director Jean-Jacques Annaud. Recommended!
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