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Title: The Dead Lands

Movie: :3stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4.5stars:
Extras: :3stars:

HTS Overall Score:81

There are very few films about the Maori people. In fact including “The Dead Lands” the only other ones I can think of are “Boy” and “The Dark Horse”, both of which were only filmed in the last 5 years. For those of you not familiar with them, the Maori are the original Polynesian settlers of New Zealand. Much like Samoans and the like, they came from the same original source, but split up in their move across the ocean. While Samoan’s and Hawaiin Polynesian’s still make up a large percentage of their respective lands, the Maori people only make up about 15% of New Zealand, down drastically from their population a century or so ago. Now fast forward to the movie, where we have a depiction of ancient Maori culture, back when they were at their prime, in a way that can only be described as similar to Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto”.

After an entire tribe is slaughtered due to the war mongering of another Maori tribe. Hongi (James Rolleston), the only surviving male, and the son of the chief, must avenge his tribe by hunting down the men who destroyed his heritage. Not exactly the warrior type, Hongi is the youngest of his family, and really not exactly cut out to kill Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka), the man who lead the attack. Knowing he must avenge his family, he makes a drastic decision when Wirepa and his warriors head into the dead lands, an area that is forbidden after an entire tribe just vanished overnight. Following them in, he decides to hunt down and make a treaty with a long warrior who haunts those lands. A man so ferocious that stories are told to children about him to make them stay in line, a man so brutal, so vicious that he is considered not man, but a demon. Making an uneasy truce with this warrior (Lawrene Maoare), Hongi now has the power he needs to take on the despicable Wirepa.

Trained every day by the mysterious warrior, Hongi soon comes to learn that he isn’t the only one with secrets to hide and pain in his past. The warrior himself, as ferocious and evil as he may be, has a checkered past that explains just why the dead lands are dead. Despite these new revelations, Hongi is determined to track down and kill Wirepa, even if he ends up dying in the process.

The tale itself is very simple, most likely because it’s something we’ve seen in our own history many times before. One tribe wants to stay at peace, but anther tribe has more devious desires. One side is wiped out and the remaining remnants want revenge. Something we’ve seen in movies and books for decades (if not hundreds of years with the books). Honor and discipline get rolled in since we as humans have an innate desire to live with some sort of honor, some sort of pride in who we are. The real distinction here is in the story being about the Maori. I’ve read quite a few books about the Maori, mostly in my younger more formative years, and have always enjoyed the vicious tales of the Polynesian warriors. The flat blades, the shark toothed swords and the wildly theatrical martial art “Taiaha” incorporating Mau Rakau (basically their version of weapons in their martial arts). Here is where I REALLY was impressed. Director Toa Fraser did an INCREDIBLE amount research into the Maori culture and all the actors present during the filming were actual Maori themselves, speaking their native tongue. To make it even better, the traditional dress was used down to the individual feather’s and colors used on the chieftain’s cloak. There has been some disagreement amongst the Maori themselves about the authenticity of certain things, but I’m not a historian and will leave those facts to people more qualified than myself.

The fighting style and wild theatrics may seem a bit cheesy to the average viewer, but it is very much in line with what we know of the Maori culture. They reveled in theatrics, showing off and other forms of physical displays in an effort to unnerve or distract their enemies. Those of us who have gotten used to a more mechanical style of fighting on screen, which is swift and less flashy may harken this back to the old 70’s and 80’s kung fu movies where theatricality was key. The tongue wagging, almost dance like nature of the Mau Rakau may looks weird, but once you get into the 2nd half of the movie and watch the battle between the warrior and the Maori warriors for the first time you start to see the flavor and flair of the style come out, and the flashiness kind of moves to the back corner of your mind.

While I enjoyed the authenticity (for the most part) of the movie, I felt like there was some flaws to the picture, and some major ones at that. The first half of the movie felt very stilted and sluggish. We get to know Hongi, his people and even the warrior, but everything just blends together into one stream. I didn’t feel a sense of distinction between the characters and that led to simply not caring for them as I felt I should have. By the time the second got under way I was a bit fatigued, but that second half almost makes up for the sluggishness of the first half. The action becomes stupendous and even though it feels like one long battle, I really enjoyed the two major battle scenes between Wirepa’s men and the warrior. I wasn’t put off by the movie, but the distinctly indie budget left the movie feeling a bit too generic at times, and even though it advertised itself as being brutally bloody, it felt like the camera work delicately danced around any actual displays of gore, like it knew it didn’t have the budget for all those wounds and blood.


Rated R for Brutal, Bloody Violence

Video :4.5stars:
Shot in New Zealand itself, “The Dead Lands” looks simply fantastic on Blu-ray. Straight off the bat you can tell that this isn’t your typical Hollywood film as there is no excessive Teal or yellow/orange color grading. Instead we get to see the natural beauty and luster of the New Zealand outdoors with lush greens, shimmering reds and golds, and deep, earthy browns. Detail is abundant and you can see everything from the dust caked on the warrior’s thighs to blood making its way down the paddle weapons they carry. Black levels are very good, with deep inky blacks and solid shadow detail to boot. There is a few times where the color palette is completely drained, almost to black and white levels, but those are stylistic choices used to represent one of the bleakest times of the movie. Very VERY well done transfer.

Audio :4.5stars:
The disc gives us the option of an English dub in DTS-HD MA 5.1 losslless sound, as well as the original Maori language track in the same lossless format. I A/B’d the two tracks and have to say that you REALLY want to listen to the Maori original language track. This isn’t just because I’m a language purist, but because the English dub is simply awful. The voice acting is dull, flat and extremely out of place compared to the very natural feel of the Maori track. Hands down a winner, it’s not even a competition. Upon closer inspection I have to say that this is one of the better tracks of the year. The dialog is always crisp and clear, allowing the beautiful Polynesian dialect to be heard at any volume level and the balance with the rest of the track is superb. The surrounds are alive with the sounds of the forest. Leaves crunching underfoot, with the cracking of light twigs barely audible. The cacophony of battle sequences light up all 6 speakers and there are more than enough moments of really intense LFE to put a smile on this bass head’s face. A+

Extras :3stars:

• Theatrical Trailer
• The Making of "The Dead Lands"
• Behind the Scenes Comparisons
• Exploring "The Dead Lands": Creating a Traditional Maori World
• Theatrical Premier Q&A
• Interview With James Cameron

Overall: :4stars:

“The Dead Lands” is an interesting Indie take on the old ancient Maori race. It tries incredibly hard, and the amount of TLC that went into the creation of this film is nothing short of astonishing. The only issues come with some of the story telling aspects. The individual pieces come together nicely, and tell a good story, but for some reason it feels less impactful than it could have been. The action sequences start to blur together and feel like one long fight and some people may be put off by the theatrics known to Maori warriors. It’s definitely worth checking out to see if you like it, as I enjoyed the movie well enough, but I would hesitate a blind buy unless you’re into Maori history. Decent Rental

Additional Information:

Starring: James Rolleston, Lawrence Makoare, Te Kohe Tuhaka
Directed by: Toa Fraser
Written by: Glenn Standring
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Maori DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Magnolia
Rated: R
Runtime: 108 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 4th 2015

Buy The Dead Lands On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Decent Rental

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