The Grey Blu-ray Review with D-BOXMay 14, 2012
There have been many instances in which the 'Man vs. Nature' genre of film has had difficulty in striking balance. Some movies provide the visceral reality of being face to face with the wild but lack any humanity. Others have the reverse problem.
The Grey takes the big step of offering us our cake and allowing us to eat it at our leisure.
We're provided the imagery to remind us that we are but cogs in the machine that is the natural world as the film unflinchingly puts its heroes in harm's way and dares them to deal with it. On the other hand, it bears a component too often left behind in films like this: It gives us a greater appreciation for why human beings will fight to stay alive.
It makes the case that, at the end of the day, human beings are just animals that can think clearly - but, being the only species to truly understand the gravity that comes with the end of our existence, the movie highlights the fact that our will to live is born of deeper desires than simply finding food and procreating.
When a plane carrying oil field operators home crashes in the frozen wild of Alaska, Ottway (Liam Neeson), who patrolled the perimeter of the field to keep it free of ravenous wolves, leads a band of survivors in a desperate attempt to stay alive in the midst of blizzard conditions and the wolves whose territory the group is traversing.
It's a B-movie plot at best, but director Joe Carnahan (who previously directed Neeson in the underrated 2010 A-Team movie) and his co-writer, Ian McKenzie, make the material real, both in terms of lending that aforementioned gravity to the situation and in terms of humanizing the characters with whom we take this long, bloody, and vastly-unpleasant journey.
Neeson, as he is in just about everything, plays the role wonderfully. There is the prerequisite "Who are you to decide you're the leader?" scene that we've come to expect from this type of film, and Neeson quickly takes the reins of both his ragtag assembly of survivors as well as the audience when he reminds all of us that fear is going to be necessary to survive. "You're scared," he tells a rabble-rousing dissident. "What the hell's so wrong with being scared?"
Neeson has an unmatchable skill inasmuch as he has instant credibility with an audience, whom he infuses with the belief that he can get us out of this; we might not all make it, but he instills faith as few actors can.
There's a beautiful scene following the crash in which Neeson delivers a sort of last rites to a man on the brink of death. The words are comforting, and Neeson's delivery of them is sublime.
As great as Neeson is, though, there's a nagging story thread that calls into question his motivation for wanting to survive in the first place. Indeed, Ottway is borderline-suicidal the first time we meet him and doesn't seem to have much will to live. His need to be strong for the men over whom he has assumed command quickly dispels this issue so that it doesn't become a huge plot problem, but it is an inconsistency that I feel drags the character down in terms of believability.
Having said that, though, it's a minor issue at worst.
The film's star has plenty of help from the supporting cast, particularly from Frank Grillo, who plays Diaz (the rabble-rouser mentioned earlier). Diaz is the voice of the audience's practical side; he's the one to speak for us and say, "This is ridiculous." The argument can be made that his character serves primarily to enforce Ottway's position as the "alpha," so to speak, but Grillo humanizes Diaz and offers a layer of intrigue, particularly in the character's final scene in the movie.
Speaking of endings, much has been made of The Grey's ambiguous ending featuring Neeson forced to fight alone against a pack of wolves. Even without the post-credits sting, however, the final showdown between Ottway and the Wolves speaks volumes about the character and also beautifully sums up the more intellectual questions the story raises.
Even the aspect of the film that most people would find ridiculous (the wolves) is made simultaneously believable and somehow supernatural. Carnahan's visuals raise the stakes and turn the impending approach of the wolves into an almost ethereal, ghostly happening, reminding the audience that the wolves may only be behaving the way nature made them to behave, but they are also creatures to be feared.
The Grey is a well-written, well-directed, and well-acted piece of filmmaking that surpassed virtually every expectation I had of it.
Universal presents The Grey with an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer that is, for the most part, gorgeous. The natural beauty of Alaska is put on full display, but the darkest moments (both literally and figuratively) come to grotesque life with sterling clarity, for the most part. Some of the darker scenes come with a fair share of distracting noise, but more often than not the picture is beautiful.
As for the sound, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is absolutely fantastic. There aren't enough words to describe how much I dug the sound on this disc. There are no ambient noises in this movie - every sound is, in effect, another character in the movie. The blowing of the wind is a harbinger of another difficulty to come; the crash of a body through dozens of tree limbs is the sound of one of the men dying. Indeed, it is the film's treatment of the audio that transitions the killer wolves from a plot contrivance to true characters in the movie. It is absolutely fantastic.
D-BOX Motion Code
D-BOX expectations going into The Grey are obviously centered around the plane crash that sets up the story. In this sequence the D-BOX programming does not disappoint. I dare say those viewers skittish about plane travel avoid this sequence with D-BOX motion code as the small jolts and bumps leading up to the big "mayday" are frighteningly realistic as I bounced around in my chair practically in unison with the passengers on the plane.
There are other smaller notable D-BOX moments as well, especially when the survivors head run toward the trees with the pack of wolves hot on their tails. A subsequent wolf attack by a fire is a startling effect with motion, and an uncontrolled tumble down through a tall tree provides a few moments of intense movement.
Beyond the Feature
Universal didn't pack the Blu-ray release of The Grey with a lot of special features, but the ones they did include have more than their fair share of interesting elements.
Foremost among the extras is the feature commentary with Carnahan and editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellmann. The truly fascinating moments of the commentary are few and far between, but when they hit, they hit in a big, bad way - particularly when Carnahan makes some less-than-flattering remarks about both his A-Team crew and some rather unfavorable comments about the film's executive producer, Bill Johnson. The insights into the production of the film are interesting as well, but the real meat is in Carnahan's not-so-nice digs at his peers.
The disc also carries about 23-minutes' worth of deleted scenes that cover more battles between the natural world and Ottway's band as well as some deeper insights into Ottway's relationship with his wife (which stands at the root of his suicidal tendencies).
The set also comes with a DVD and a digital copy of the film.
I highly recommend adding The Grey into your collection. For me it served as reinforcement of my belief that one should never leave one's house - wolves live outside.
In all seriousness, though, it's the best 'Man vs. Nature' film I've ever seen, and it has humanity and a soul that's rare for movies of the genre.
- Jason Jarman (D-BOX portion by Dan Bradley)
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