The Host

The Host

DVD Rating: *****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Angus Wolfe Murray's film review of The Host

Like genre films, DVD extras tend to be bound by lazy cliché - yet the extras on Optimum Asia's two-disc edition of Bong Joon-ho's The Host are a delightful exception to the rule, proving to be as inventively unorthodox as the 'family monster movie' that they accompany.

Sure, all the expected cast-and-crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes and stills galleries are present and correct, but their organisation is entertainingly novel. A stills gallery of the different evolutionary stages of the creature's conception is fleshed out by an interview with designer Jang Hee-chul, as enthusiastic about the ideas that never made it onto screen as about the final product. In other featurettes on the creature, we learn that its lumbering appearance was inspired by research on deformity, as well as by shrimps bought at the market, and that it ultimately took some 70 artists to bring it to life through design, CG work, and puppet animatronics - and there are numerous scenes from the film broken down to illustrate the elaborate development, from animatics to plate work to CG animation to the final composition.

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The making-of section is equally engrossing. Bong reveals he had harboured the "crazy idea" for a Loch Ness Monster in the Han River since high school, but that the film was also inspired by the McFarland pollution dumping scandal of 2000, and by the 'family' approach to horror in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs. Other crewmembers talk about Bong's driven dedication to filmmaking, while cast and crew alike complain about the horrific conditions (the ice, filth, stench and "blood-sucking tapeworms") the suffered during lengthy location shoots in Seoul's sewer system.

A gallery of storyboards is enlivened by being matched to real dialogue and soundwork from the film. Even the sound mixing, one of the most technical aspects of filmmaking, is made fascinating by a featurette that offers just the right amount of bizarre detail: apparently to help give the creature its "cynical, sniggering character", the guttural voicework of Oh Dal-soo was combined with recordings of a sea-lion, a pig, a rattle-snake, and even, in one scene, the sound of a squid being rubbed on a punching bag.

A section on the crew includes a hilarious reel, modelled on a scene from the film itself, in which only the interviewees' shoes are shown, and their voices are distorted, as they tell bitchy anecdotes about the production. Another section on the characters includes the casting tapes for the film's two child actors, in which Bong expertly puts them at ease by making the auditions seem just like friendly, inconsequential banter.

Finally there are 23 minutes of deleted scenes, ranging from snatches of filler material or reaction shots to more extensive vignettes: in one of these, a man tries to impress his date with a story of a monster sighting, but she is too distracted by a televised football match to pay any heed; in another, an American biologist, realising that Gang-du can understand his English, switches to German. The last two minutes show snatches of unused (and presumably very expensive) monster footage.

Despite stretching to an astonishing 200 minutes, there is no detectable repetition in these extras. The only niggling complaint is that the Korean captions have frequently been left untranslated, so that it is not always clear who is being interviewed. Otherwise, this DVD edition of The Host is as close to perfect as can be imagined, and, taken together with the equally excellent edition of Pan's Labyrinth, sees the good folk at Optimum Releasing setting a benchmark for DVD packaging that is near impossible to surpass.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2007
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The Host packshot
A toxic monster terrorises Seoul.
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Product Code: OPTD0754

Region: 2

Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic

Sound: Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 surround

Extras: The Creature Stills Gallery, Designing the Creature, Creature Animation, Puppet Animatronix, Making the Creature, Gag Reel, Making-of with Director Bong Joon-ho, Storyboards, Bong Joon-ho's Direction, Memories of the Sewer, The Film Departments, Physical Special Effects, Sound Effects, The Staff, The Production Team, Kevin's Korean Life, Casting Tapes, The Characters, Training the Actors, Deleted Scenes, Saying Goodbye to The Host, Korean Trailers, Optimum Asia Trailer Reel

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