Release Date(s)2019-2020 (June 1, 2021)
Studio(s)Studio La Cachette/Cartoon Network Studios/Williams Street/Adult Swim (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
Spear is a caveman in his sinewy prime, born into a brutal prehistoric world, while Fang is a young female tyrannosaur that lives nearby. They’re mortal enemies in a relentless Darwinian drama… until the day when Spear’s wife and children, and Fang’s young hatchlings, are killed by the same pack of vicious predators. Blinded by rage, man and dinosaur quickly exact their revenge. But left with nothing, they’re forced to become uneasy allies, and eventually faithful companions, in their ceaseless struggle to survive.
In the wake of Samurai Jack’s successful finale (see our review of that series on Blu-ray here), writer/director Genndy Tartakovsky had an idea. The most well-received aspects of Jack’s final season were long and highly-stylized action sequences with almost no dialogue at all. So what if you could create an entire animated series that was only that? The result is Primal, a modern classic of traditional 2D animation. Set in an alternate prehistory in which the end of the dinosaurs coincided with the rise of primitive humans, the series’ ten episodes combine extreme action-drama with fantastical, even horror-based elements like giant spiders, monstrous bats, and brutal tribes of ape-men. There’s nary a lick of dialogue in the whole series. But ho-boy is there violence! Now, you might be wondering: How violent can an animated series really get? The answer is very. And yet the result is an undeniable masterpiece of visual storytelling, featuring lush, Moebius-styled backgrounds, produced by an unsung French animation studio packed with talent. The result is also a series that’s now the deserving winner of three Primetime Emmy Awards.
Primal was produced digitally, but using essentially hand-drawn character animation and background artwork, all of which looks absolutely gorgeous on Blu-ray in 1080p HD at its intended 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The palette is vibrant and accurate, with deep blacks and clean linework. The backgrounds are painted and textured in a watercolor style that’s genuinely beautiful and recalls the best French bande dessinée—think early Métal hurlant or Arzach—while characters and foregrounds feature bold colors and simple but stylized designs. The series’ iconic look is completed with the addition of multi-plane atmospheric effects that tie the visual elements together. Bitrates are good and there’s nary an artifact to be found.
Audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio only, but it’s full-sounding and highly atmospheric. Screams, growls, and howls are spread across the front of the soundstage, with robust bass. Panning is surprisingly lively for what is essentially a TV release, and music and sound effects filter in from every direction. The mix falls sort of being truly muscular and dynamic, but it’s still one of the better TV release mixes on disc in a long time. Note that optional subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. French and Dutch subtitles are also available for the special feature only.
Which brings me to this Blu-ray’s sole special feature:
- Behind the Scenes: Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal (HD – 10:18)
A single ten-minute featurette might not seem like a lot of content, and it isn’t. But every bit of it is great. You get to hear from Tartakovsky and art director Scott Wills, you get to see composers Tyler Bates and Joanne Higginbottom working on the score, you get to see voice actor Aaron LaPlante screaming his lungs out to breathe life into Spear, and you even hear from the artists of Studio La Cachette in Paris where the animation was produced. Not a moment is wasted and it’s worth every minute. There’s also a Digital code on a paper insert in the packaging, which includes a nice cardboard slipcover and sleeve art with no text—only an iconic image from the series.
Bottom line: Primal might not be for everyone (it’s certainly not for the faint of heart), but it is a gem, and Warner’s long-awaited new Blu-ray Disc release (which was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic) presents it in much better than broadcast A/V quality. If you’re a fan of adult animation—or really any kind of great animation at all—this series is not to be missed.
- Bill Hunt