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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Teaser trailer
  • Animated menus
  • Dolby Digital trailer
  • Jacket picture

The Bear

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 1 mins . E . PAL

  Feature
Contract

This gorgeous story, courtesy of French director Jean Jacques Annaud, follows the relationship between a young orphaned bear cub and a massive grizzly who adopts him, and portrays their struggle for survival against the perils of nature and man. All sounds a sneaky bit Disney, doesn't it? Well, it couldn't be further from Disney if it tried.

In fact, every fat, pony-tailed Disney executive should be forced to watch The Bear, with eyes pinned open if necessary. This may be required, as it may not naturally incorporate enough blatant potential profits or intrusive advertising to instinctively draw their attention. The film industry, and certainly the general public, would gain from the lesson they would (hopefully) learn in how a beautiful, subtle story can be told without reverting to schmaltz, stars and stripes, or selling via the voices of big-name American actors.

The Bear, is set in British Columbia in 1885, and was filmed in the Dolomites of Northern Italy. Book me a ticket, baby! It is impossible to overstate the beauty of the filmography, with sweeping scenic shots which will take your breath away.

The story itself is quite simple. Annaud cuts quickly to the chase as within the opening scenes the young cub is orphaned when its mother is the sorry victim of a landslide. After wandering alone for days, scared, lost and dazed, it is found by the recently injured massive grizzly bear. To follow is the beautiful, heartstrings galore portrayal of their relationship and survival together, including some memorable moments such as a lesson in fishing, a magic mushroom encounter and even a bit of sex education for the wide-eyed young cub.

Things turn nasty (speaking of which) for the companions when someone else wants to join the party, with life becoming an arduous fight for survival as hunters catch their trail. About this time, life becomes an arduous fight for not exploding with laughter, as the hunters are amongst the more one dimensional, stereotypical, badly portrayed characters this reviewer has ever encountered.

"The greatest thrill is not to kill, but to let live..."

Heart-stirring sentiment, which unfortunately did not quell my wish to kill the hunters leisurely and thoroughly. I don't know if it's the dubbing over and ‘Americanising’ of the French originals or the characters themselves, but it is truly impossible to take them seriously, and you won’t be alone if you find yourself hoping for a little “accident” as they're cleaning the guns. In fact, the actors should have done themselves a service in asking the bears for a quick run through of the Stanislavski method, because the two bears outshine them outrageously in every facet of acting.

And it is due to the stellar performances from our furry friends that the piss-weak portrayals of the hunters doesn't detract too much from the film. In every other way it is quite wonderful. One of the most beautiful things about it is that it contains plenty of humour, beauty and substance to keep an adult interested, but is also wonderfully entertaining and educational for the smaller fry. Be warned though, The Bear doesn’t shy away from the blood and death realities of game hunting, so adjudicate your small fry’s readiness before running the risk of imposing “cute bear bleeding” nightmares upon them. My un-child-savvy guestimate was around ages seven to eight, however the more experienced may wish to do a preview and make their own decision. But for the wise enough young padawan, exposure to the emotional and educational journey of The Bear will be deeply rewarding enough to warrant a few porky pies about tomato sauce.

  Video
Contract

Just breathtaking. The magnificent scenery has been done complete justice, with warm, natural colours, good contrast, and a great, anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 transfer. The efforts of the anally retentive will be rewarded with the occasional appearance of noise… or was that the bees? This is particularly evident at the start, but is certainly not to the extent that it interferes with the experience. Another little niggly point is the movement is somewhat blurred and unnatural; again this is barely evident, but it appears as though a dubious transfer might have occurred. Lastly, I wasn't completely convinced by the night shots around the campfire; I ain’t lit no fires that produced that much light, and I’ve chewed the fat around a number of campfires in my time. But these are just a minor things, and overall the picture and image quality is fantastic. The cinematography is simple and effective, showcasing the scenery with sweeping shots, and capturing precious moments with intimate close-ups.

  Audio
Contract

A lot of effort has been gone to here; we are clearly delivered every sniff, scratch, tweet, roar, buzz and deep south cliché, all delivered in 5.1 Dolby Digital. However, in the remastering of this from the original Dolby stereo sound, I wonder if they haven’t tried just a fraction too hard, as the fidelity strikes one as being a bit lacking. There’s perhaps too much of a good thing, lending the sound an almost ‘yeah right’ comical effect. This is perhaps an overcompensation for the lack of dialogue, or the dodgy nature of what scanty dialogue there is. However, the score is fantastic, unobtrusive and complimentary, and perfectly delivered by the London Symphony Orchestra. So what the hey, crank up the sound and snuggle into a blanket as you shiver at the loud roars, simper at the cub’s little squeaks and shudder at the hackneyed dialogue.

  Extras
Contract

We have an animated and introductory sequence. We have a jacket picture. We have an anamorphically enhanced menu. Points are lost for this reviewer due to the fact that as the cutesy little paws that mark your choice are selected, their colour change is barely noticeable, so you’ll end up slightly confused as to what option you’re on.

We have a short French trailer… very short in fact, no dialogue, which is OK as it would have been in French anyway, but there is a nice build up in sweeping atmospheric music and some ripper bear roars.

Ah, magic time. We’ve also been treated to trailers for three other Umbrella releases. I’ll give you the bad news, then the good news. Bad news: Paul McCartney’s DVD trailer is not anamorphically enhanced, and is ridiculously badly compressed. Sure, Paul is live, but he looks shoddy as shit, and he’s in dire need of a shave to boot. The second piece of bad news (hang in there kids); the trailer for Cyrano De Bergerac. For once I’m at a loss for words. So, I will “skip” to the third. Hint, hint, skippy hint. Oh, folks, its just hilarious! No word of a lie, there’s not a bladder out there that won’t be under pressure to explode when subjected to the trailer for this outrageously cheesy and piss-weak series, which has for so long embarrassingly defined our nation. Thank Jebus we’re ironic, I think…

  Overall  
Contract

Newsflash. There’s an exciting middle ground between afternoon-nap David Attenborough and repetitive tedious Disney schmaltz. The Bear is commendable in delving into a relatively untouched genre of storytelling, and managing to do it with stirring, absorbing and deeply moving results.

Forget Brother Bear - shelve it and grab The Bear, and treat yourselves and the young 'uns alike to the wonders and magnificence of the real world and its real inhabitants, sans schmaltzy American apple pies, or the voice of Mike Myers. The Bear will reward your time, effort and money in giving you a sense of experiencing a new voice, a different message and an imaginative new method of expressing nature’s wonders. Truly a gorgeous, magic film.


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      And I quote...
    "The biggest, warmest, fuzziest bear hug you'll ever get from a shiny silver disc... "
    - Rachel Schmied
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS530
    • TV:
          Sharp SX76NF8 76cm Widescreen
    • Receiver:
          Sony HT-SL5
    • Speakers:
          Sony SS-MSP2
    • Centre Speaker:
          Sony SS-CNP2
    • Surrounds:
          Sony SS-MSP2
    • Subwoofer:
          Sony SA-WMSP3
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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