The Hunter (Australia, 2011)
Directed by: Daniel Nettheim
Written by: Alice Addison and Wain Fimeri, based on the book by Julia Leigh
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neill
Blu-ray released: February 8th, 2012
Distributed by: Madman Entertainment
Format: 1 × Region B BD50
Veteran local television director Daniel Nettheim announces himself as a feature filmmaker of rare visual talent with The Hunter, a drama as densely atmospheric as the wintry Tasmanian fog in which it is based.
The stoic Willem Dafoe stars as Martin David, a biologist sent to Tasmania by a shady biotech company to search for the last surviving Tasmanian tiger. His hosts in the Apple Isle are the Armstrongs: mum Lucy (Frances O’Connor), who spends her days in a self-medicated coma mourning the loss of her husband; and her two children, daughter Sass (Morgana Davies) and son Bike (Finn Woodlock).
David is a scientist above all, striving for knowledge at the expense of all other things in life (including his own happiness), but he begins to question his own values as he finds himself growing closer to the Armstrongs and learning more about the deceased Jarrah, who went missing on an expidition similar to David’s. With mystery and intrigue simmering beneath the surface, his journey of scientific discovery becomes one of redemption for past mistakes, aided by the unconventional but self-assured Aussie family.
Set in the breathtaking Tasmanian wilderness and with more weather changes than a Melbourne afternoon, The Hunter‘s external scenes are captured with several distinct visual styles. A soft, hazy yellow pervades the sunlit external daytime scenes, reminiscent of a Polaroid photograph faded by sunlight, and rainy or snowy scenes are washed in a desaturated blue.
Given that the Armstrong house is without power for much of the film, internal scenes are very, very dark, lit either by candles or by thin slivers of sunlight streaming through windows. Such low-light conditions necessitate faster lenses during filming and therefore shallower blacks, but given these trying circumstances it must be said that the transfer is suitably balanced between these widely varying characteristics.
There is some evidence of distortion during visually busy scenes (for example, fast-moving scenes set in dense rainforest), but not so much that it would be distracting during regular viewing.
Subtitles: English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
Special mention must be made of the score composed by Andrew Lancaster, Michael Lira and Matteo Zingales, which is one of the better scores to accompany an Australian film in 2011. Opera and Baroque period classical music help characterise Martin David and therefore receive prominent place in the sound mix.
Similar to the varying visual characteristics of the film, audio levels range from intimate and nearly silent late-night conversations between Dafoe and O’Connor’s characters to a soaring, booming finale. If you set your volume loud enough to hear detail during the quiter scenes, you will blow your ear drums during the end of the film, so watch your volume levels.
Audio tracks: English linear PCM 5.1; Audio descriptions for the hearing impaired.
Special Features: ★★★☆
Audio commentary with director Daniel Nettheim and producer Vincent Sheehan: A stock-standard filmmaker commentary track covering behind-the-scenes stories and tidbits made slightly more interesting thanks to Nettheim’s engaging personality. The two speakers reminisce about difficulties encountered while filming in Tasmania’s unforgiving wilderness and have a few insights into filming a movie on an incredibly tight schedule.
Deleted scenes with optional commentary (07:43): Even when presented in rough form with raw sound, no music and without context for where the scenes appear in the film, it’s plain to see why these scenes were deleted. Most of them take place in the first half of the film and flesh out interactions between David and the other characters, so they were easily culled. In his audio commentaries, Nettheim explains where the scenes were supposed to fit into the film and why they were removed.
The Making of The Hunter (33:02): A lengthy but tightly-focused behind-the-scenes documentary accompanied by interviews with Nettheim, Dafoe, Neill and other cast and crew as talking heads. The documentary is structured into multiple chapters, each covering one of the various technical or historical elements that went into making the film.
Soundtrack samples and portrait galleries (03:15): A slideshow of film stills and on-set photographs paired with short selections from the film’s wonderful score.
Theatrical trailer (01:52): As the name suggests.
Madman propaganda (09:13): Trailers for Madman home entertainment releases Balibo, Ten Canoes, Kenny and Big Mamma’s Boy.
ATOM study guide: A study guide to The Hunter designed for media studies teachers. (Note: this feature is encoded on the disc as BD-ROM and therefore must be viewed on a computer. For this reason, I was not able to view this feature of the disc.)
The Verdict: ★★★★
Note: Screenshots of The Hunter in this review are low-resolution stills provided by Madman Entertainment and will not reflect your Blu-ray viewing experience.