The Naked Prey
Glamorous leading man turned idiosyncratic auteur Cornel Wilde created in the 1960s and ’70s a handful of gritty, violent explorations of the nature of man, none more memorable than The Naked Prey. In the early nineteenth century, after an ivory-hunting safari offends a group of South African hunters, the colonialists are captured and hideously tortured. A lone marksman (Wilde) is released, without clothes or weapons, to be hunted for sport, and he begins a harrowing journey through savanna and jungle back to a primitive state. Distinguished by vivid widescreen camera work and unflinchingly ferocious action sequences, The Naked Prey is both a propulsive, stripped-to-the-bone narrative and a meditation on the concept of civilization.
Cornel Wilde’s The Naked Prey receives a Blu-ray upgrade from the Criterion collection, presented on a dual-layer disc again in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition digital presentation is taken from a high-def restoration scanned from a 35mm low-contrast print, taken directly from the original negative.
This release is, like other Paramount upgrades, using the same high-definition master used for that DVD. This looked pretty amazing on DVD, and I’d say it was one of the more impressive looking DVDs I owned, and I’m happy to say that it has carried over extraordinarily well to Blu-ray, even if it’s still open to improvement. Stock footage or second unit footage still looks a bit off here, and probably worse: grain looks a bit messier and can take on a more digital look, even in comparison to what the DVD offered. But outside of those scenes the image is very clean and sharp, the detail levels—already impressive on the DVD—looking crisper, particularly on close-ups, and depth also manages to come off a bit stronger.
The colour scheme to the film is pretty limited: browns and yellows, with the blue sky to balance things out a bit, but the colours look brilliant. Black levels are strong as well. The restoration work is impressive: outside of that stock/second unit footage that can pulse and look a little rough, the image doesn’t feature any significant damage, though the DVD was similar.
In all it could certainly be better, and a new restoration could probably resolve any of its remaining issues but we still get a decent upgrade in the end.
The audio (now presented in lossless PCM 1.0 mono) still holds up with this edition. Fidelity is decent, and the track is free of background noise and damage. The film’s score is probably the audio’s strongest aspect.
Criterion ports everything over from their DVD edition, though the supplements still prove a bit disappointing.
The biggest supplement on here would have to be the audio commentary by Stephen Prince. Looking at my DVD review I didn’t appear to be too impressed with Prince’s track but coming around to it a second time I can’t figure out why I wasn’t its biggest fan. Like with his excellent Straw Dogs track he touches on the themes of violence present in the film, and Wilde’s use of it (even mentioning Wilde found this to be the hardest film of his to make since he didn’t want to hurt animals). He talks about the history of South Africa, focusing on the period depicted in the film and the time when the film was made, makes comparisons to the John Colter story on which the film is based (it originally started out as that), gets into the production code at the time, Wilde’s minimalist style, and as a bonus translates what the tribe members are saying in most scenes. There’s quite a bit of info in it, including information about Wilde and other members of the film. I’m not sure why I was indifferent originally but now I found it a terrific commentary.
The next supplement on this disc focuses on John Colter. Colter was a former member of the Lewis and Clark expedition and in 1809 he and a friend were captured by Blackfoot natives. Colter’s friend was killed and then Colter was stripped down naked and let go to run through the woods only to be chased by his captors for sport. Criterion has taken a 1913 account written by historian Addison Erwin Sheldon and have actor Paul Giamatti read it to us in an audio segment that plays over maps and sketches that may or may not have anything to do with the event in question. It only runs 5-minutes and is not too detailed but gives you a general description of the events. This feature has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Simply titled Soundtrack the next feature presents the music cues from the film. There are 18 tracks that are indexed. Also accompanying this are text notes by ethnomusicologist Andrew Tracey, who briefly describes recording the tracks, inspirations, and instruments used. You flip through these notes using the left/right arrows on your remote. The film’s score is very unique and having the score here separate from the film is a nice addition.
An awkward trailer (which pretty much gives away the whole movie in less than three minutes) is the final feature on the disc.
Finally, we get a reprint of the booklet, looking to have been copied exactly, still containing an essay by Michael Atkinson, which briefly covers Wilde’s directing career as well as a brief analysis of the film. Also included is a segment from a 1970 issue of “Films and Filming” containing an interview with Wilde, who talks about his move to directing and offers some insight into his films, though there is only brief mention of The Naked Prey. Both articles look to be the same as what was presented in the DVD booklet.
Still not packed and a little disappointing in this regard, but the supplements are good, particularly the Prince track.
Not a great upgrade by any means but taken on its own it is still a decent Blu-ray release. The image does look better in comparison to DVD, but not by a large margin, and the supplements, while not plentiful, are enjoyable to go through.