ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) Blu Ray (Vertigo Releasing)
Julian Dennison plays Ricky, a rather overweight delinquent New Zealand boy who is taken into foster care by Bella (Rime Te Wiata), who lives on the edge of civilisation with sullen farmer/hunter Hector (Sam Neill). While Ricky initially tries running away, Bella finds him sleeping not far from their home and brings him back in. Soon, Bella’s evident affection for the kid causes him to open up and become curious about the pair’s lifestyle, particularly when she gives him a few lessons with a rifle and knives a passing boar to death for food. During his birthday she gives him a dog as a present (whom he decides to name Tupac after the deceased gangster rapper).
Soon, however, tragedy strikes as Bella dies suddenly, meaning that troublemaker Ricky will have to be returned to juvenile detention - something that the gruffly withdrawn Hector doesn’t exactly seem passionate about fighting against. In desperation, Ricky stages a fake death in a barn fire by dressing a dummy in his clothing and setting it alight. He heads off into the bush with Tupac and soon ends up being hopelessly lost with no food. Hector decides to head out after him with his own dog Zag and quickly locates the boy. Ricky, however, isn’t keen to come back with him and starts an argument. In the ensuing fracas, Hector manages to twist his ankle leaving them both stuck in the bush overnight. When he manages to regain his health the pair team together to (literally) get out of the woods. They soon discover however that the authorities - led by Ricky’s custody officer Paula (Rachel House) and her partner Andy (Oscar Kightley) - believe that Hector has kidnapped the boy and have organised a nationwide manhunt.
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Adapted from the novel “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is another utterly charming film from New Zealand comic Taika Waititi, who gave us the wonderful vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows in 2014. In many ways, it feels rather like a Wes Anderson film, but despite the colourfully-framed shots, comedic montages, twee chapter cards and unashamed references it’s a little less blatantly self-conscious and displays more overt warmth to its characters.
There are more than enough laughs to satisfy those hankering for more of the comedic side of Waititi. Most of the humour comes from the characters: Ricky’s love of hip-hop and haiku poetry, the encounter with a bush dwelling conspiracy theorist named Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby), the minister conducting Bella’s funeral (played by Waititi himself) who goes off on a hilarious ramble about two doors (one with a bounty of confectionery behind it) during his sermon. However, it’s seated in affection for these quirky sorts rather than contempt. In fact, it’s less of a straightforward comedy and more a mix of comedy, touching drama and even some Rambo-style action (albeit with very little real violence). Ricky and Hector, although far apart in terms of personalities, have more in common than they initially think; neither of them fit in with the conventions of mainstream society and have to (literally) get lost in order to find their place in life. In many ways, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a paean to those who are different and a case study in how the straitjacket of the societal norm isn’t the best thing for everyone. Unfortunately, society itself isn’t always so willing to accept this.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a great-looking movie with some of the best use of the New Zealand landscape since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (and yes, there are indeed references to the epic series here). The performances are a lot of fun throughout and everyone has a chance to shine. Sam Neill is as great as ever, albeit playing an unusually aloof role by his standards, while his scenes with Julian Dennison’s cheeky kid have a genuine love-hate spark that makes their exchanges feel improvised and spontaneous. The smaller roles filled out by the likes of Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House and Oscar Kightley are all well-defined with plenty of laughs and memorable lines. It’s one of those rare films that’s great entertainment throughout but not lacking in intelligence.
Runtime: 101 mins
Dir: Taika Waititi
Script: Taika Waititi, Te Arepa Kahi, from a novel by Barry Crump
Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley
As you would hope and probably expect from such a recent film it looks fantastic on Blu Ray. The visual richness just jumps out of the screen.
Sonically it’s top notch, the ambient sounds incredibly immersive in 5.1.
Taika Waititi, Sam Neill (skyping from Australia), then later on Julian Dennison lend an enjoyable, good-humoured commentary to the film. Some of the most interesting parts are related to the wildlife; we learn that possums are considered a pest in New Zealand but are a protected species in Australia - and that the Huia bird they encounter later on is extinct in the country as it was hunted for its tail feathers for hat decorations. The shoot was apparently a mere 25 days; the work Taika and company achieved during this timeframe was startlingly good. Oh… and Ricky’s birthday song was improvised as they discovered that the customary “Happy Birthday” song is actually in copyright.
A quick 3 1/2 minute synopsis of the film with some quick highlights, interview footage of Waititi, Neill, Dennison and Darby and a bit of behind-the-scenes footage. Rather insubstantial.
2 1/2 minutes of gaffes. The funniest is when our central duo ask Psycho Sam what the fastest way out of here is. He responds “Rabbits… saddles on rabbits.”
… with Taika Waititi, Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby, Stan Walker, Rima Te Wiata and Karen Kay, plus some anecdotes about Kiwi icon Barry Crump from the cast and crew. Waititi, who was surprised that Sam Neill (a major star who spends a lot of time working overseas) agreed to sign up to the film, was inspired by old locally-produced adventure films such as Shaker Run (1985). Darby reveals that he enjoys working on Kiwi films as, despite the lack of budget and personal trailers, there is a degree of freedom that’s unavailable in major Hollywood productions. Rima reveals that she didn’t know she would be acting alongside Sam Neill until he showed up on set. Not a bad set of somewhat short interviews.
Behind the Scenes
Lots of footage of the cast and crew doing their stuff shooting various scenes from the film, as well as some in post-production along with bit of Taika playing table tennis during a break(!) That’s literally it - just a lot of footage with no interviews to illuminate what’s going on. Not really worthwhile unless you’re a buff of moviemaking equipment (or, possibly, table tennis).
The film’s an unadulterated gem, but the extras (the commentary notwithstanding) veer towards the ho-hum.