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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

In the Land of the Head Hunters [Blu-ray]


(Edward S. Curtis, 1914)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Seattle Film Co.

Video: Milestone Films



Region: FREE (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

In the Land of The Head Hunters Runtime: 1:06:34.198

In the Land of the War Canoes Runtime: 0:43:58.635

Disc One Size: 24,562,906,361 bytes

Disc Two Size: 24,920,480,514 bytes

In the Land of The Head Hunters - Feature Size: 16,589,942,784 bytes (MPEG-4 AVC Video)

In the Land of the War Canoes - Feature Size: 8,314,675,392 bytes (MPEG-2 Video / 480i)

In the Land of The Head Hunters Video Bitrate: 25.99 Mbps

In the Land of the War Canoes Video Bitrate: 22.31 Mbps

Chapters: 12 / 8

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: February 24th, 2015



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps



LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit (both features)
DTS-HD Master Audio English 2013 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2013 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
In the Land of The Head Hunters Commentary:

LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit



Optional English subtitles for the Kwak’wala dialogue on the In the Land of the War Canoes soundtrack



In the Land of the Head Hunters (Restoration of the 1914 version with original musical score, 66 mins, Tinted)

Commentary Track featuring Bill Holm, Andy Everson, and Aaron Glass, Edited by Keith Sanborn*
In the Land of the War Canoes (1973 version by Bill Holm & George Quimby, 44 mins, B&W)
The Image Maker and the Indians. Making-of documentary by Holm and Quimby (1979. Color, 16:33)
Turning Point Ensemble and the score (2013, Color, 3:09)
Documents of Encounter: The Head Hunters Reconstruction Project (2014. Video, 37:23)*
Cultural Presentation by the Gwa’wina Dancers. (2008. Color, 1:23:31)*
Still Gallery, courtesy of the University of Washington Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and Mick Gidley (5:28)
* Represent new bonus features produced by Aaron Glass, Brad Evans and the U’mista Cultural Centre

Trailer (1:12)

NOTE: I failed to mentioned these 'Audio-Only' extras on the second Blu-ray disc:





In he Land of the Head Hunters



In the Land of the War Canoes



Description: In 1911, as part of his massive undertaking, famed Northwest photographer Edward S. Curtis travelled to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to visit the Kwakwaka'wakw. By the next year, needing money for his project and to add to his research and still photography work, Curtis decided that the best way to record the traditional way of life and ceremonies of the Kwakwaka'wakw was to make one of the first feature motion pictures. Curtis had already shot footage in 1906 of the Hopi Snake dance, which he had previously showed during his talks, but this was to be on a grander scale. It took three years of preparation for this one film including the weaving of the costumes; building of the war canoes, housefronts, poles; and the carving of masks. Assisting on the film was George Hunt, a Kwakwaka'wakw who had served as an interpreter for the famous anthropologist Franz Boas nearly twenty years before. Hunt helped contribute substantial portions of the film’s story as well.

Selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, this early Native American drama/documentary released in 1914 is an amazing film produced in collaboration with the tribe members. The story of love and revenge among the Kwakwaka'wakw of British Columbia, Motana, the son of a great chief, goes on a vigil journey. Through fasting and hardships he hopes to gain supernatural strength which will make him a chief as powerful as his father. Curtis showcases the Kwakwaka'wakw's magnificent war canoes, totem poles, rituals, costumes and dancing.

To prepare for the centennial of the film's release, Milestone worked with the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the Field Museum of Natural History, the U'Mista Cultural Center and Professors Aaron Glass and Brad Evans to produce a deluxe edition of the restored, original version of the film!





The Film:

The Kwakiutl Indians of Vancouver Island were both skilled fishermen and able craftsmen long before they met white explorers. Edward S. Curtis lived several years among this tribe and created this documentary which includes the retelling a tribal love story. This black-and-white film also features many tribal customs and footage of decoratively painted war canoes.


It's an exciting story, and while Curtis was primarily a still photographer famed for his pictures of Native Americans, he put an exciting narrative together. Though Head Hunters is only about an hour long, that was a full-length feature in 1914, and it's one that hits the ground running and seldom lets up. There are chases, battles, dreams, and all manner of other action, and while some intrigue and romantic plots fall a bit by the wayside, even a modern audience will seldom feel bored. It's a cracker, even a hundred years later.

Of course, part of the reason Curtis made this movie is to document the Kwakwaka'wakw people of the Canada's west coast, and while what he made was shot on locations purpose-built for the film rather than actual Kwakwaka'wakw villages, the cast is entirely Native American and the techniques are said to be authentic. What's on-screen looks spectacular; the culture's artwork is beautiful and showcased to great effect, from the raven's head that serves as a door to Motana's father's house to the canoes to the people dancing in full animal costume. The story may be sensationalistic in some ways, but what's on screen is often amazing.

The restoration is relatively new, done in part by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and Rutgers University from as many sources as could be put together, some in their original black and white, some tinted, and while occasionally it's clear that the source material is pretty beat up or sadly missing, it's still quite watchable. The soundtrack presented was the original composition by John J. Braham, partly inspired by Kwakwaka'wakw chants and music, but given a new and impressive orchestration for the restoration.

Excerpt from Jay Seaver at eFilmCritic located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

In the Land of the Head Hunters comes to Blu-ray transfer from Milestone Films.  In 1914, The American photographer Edward S. Curtis worked with the Kwakwaka'wakw people of British Columbia to produce a Silent feature film called In the Land of the Head Hunters - an epic of love and war set before Europeans arrived on the North Pacific Coast. Like many early Silent films, it was soon lost and its contribution to the history of early cinema was largely forgotten. Up until now, the only version available has been a reconstruction made in 1973 from a fragmented copy. Entitled In the Land of the War Canoes, it was synched to a naturalistic soundtrack and distributed as an early documentary. Following the recent discovery of the original music score and long-lost nitrate release, a team of collaborators came together to reconstruct what they could of the 1914 film. In 2008, a restored print screened in cities across North America with live musical accompaniment and a cultural presentation by the Gwa'wina Dancers, descendants of the original Kwakwaka'waka cast. In the Land of the Headhunters has been preserved from two heavily-worn, decomposing, and incomplete prints. Missing shots have been bridged with stills and enlargements from surviving frames. Original titles cards have been recreated. Text for missing titles was derived from preliminary title lists found in an early synopsis of the film. This is only single-layered and is obviously inconsistent - solely dependant on the restoration of the surviving elements. I don't know that dual-layering would benefit the visuals extensively. In the Land of the Headhunters has a 1080P AVC transfer on the first Blu-ray but In the Land of the Canoes is actually MPEG2 and 480i resolution and not tinted where In the Land of the Head Hunters is tinted. If the image quality is of prime concern, the two films will not provide a watchable presentation, but those keen on the history and appreciative of the visuals, no matter the extent of damage, should look at this as a golden opportunity to see a highly interesting artefact of cinema history.














Heavier damaged frames




Audio :

Both features get a linear PCM 2.0 channel mono track at 1536 kbps with In the Land of the Canoes synched to a naturalistic soundtrack and offers optional English subtitles. In the Land of the Head Hunters has a recreation of the, rediscovered, original score by Turning Point Ensemble and offers no subtitles. The latter also offers the option of a DTS-HD Master 5.1 at 2013 kbps significantly improved and adds a wonderful flavor to the viewing presentation with some atmospheric range in the music. Sounds great! My Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.



Extras :

There are plenty of supplements on the two Blu-rays, aside from the 1973 version, In the Land of the War Canoes, by Bill Holm & George Quimby adding knowledge about the films. In the Land of the Head Hunters has a wonderful commentary track featuring Bill Holm, Andy Everson, and Aaron Glass. The Image Maker and the Indians is a 16-minute making-of documentary by Holm and Quimby in color from 1979. There is a three minute piece focusing on 'Turning Point Ensemble' and the score - made in 2013. Documents of Encounter: The Head Hunters Reconstruction Project is a 40-minute video produced by Aaron Glass, Brad Evans and the U’mista Cultural Centre - as is the 1.5 hour Cultural Presentation video by the Gwa’wina Dancers. from 2008. We also get a Stills Gallery, courtesy of the University of Washington Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and Mick Gidley and, surprisingly, even a trailer.



Blu-ray 2



The audience here is, obviously, limited, but having watched the the two films completely and the extras I can endorse the value present. Film students will find this as fascinating as I did once you start digging into the impressive results of this huge project. The Milestone Blu-ray looks to have been a real labor of love and I can't imagine the package being much more complete. Those keen should already have ordered! 

Gary Tooze

February 17th, 2015

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
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Gary W. Tooze





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