The Adventures of the Wilderness Family Triple Feature DVD Review: The Off Grid Trilogy

Those lovable stinkin' hippies return in a compressed, single-disc/three-feature release for those of you on the cheap.
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Two years ago, Lionsgate Home Entertainment unveiled the first of a popular cinematic trilogy from not only another time, but for an entirely different kind of viewer altogether. 1975's The Adventures of the Wilderness Family offered up a unique form of motion picture escapism for moviegoers who had helped to bring the increasingly-overpopulated and polluted world to where it currently was. The tale told of the Robinsons, a family of four - father Skip, mother Pat, sister Jenny, and brother Toby - who decided their final tweet to civilization was to be "#OverIt", and promptly set out to live in an untampered mountain cabin left behind by Skip's late uncle.

There, as revealed in my initial review of the first film, the Robinsons constructed a new larger cabin, made the acquaintance of a goofy ol' prospector named Boomer (George "Buck" Flower, a fellow who started out his career in sexploitation flicks, and who would appear in a number of cult horror titles throughout his long and varied career in B movies), a couple of friendly bears, and made their audiences feel good in general. The movie was not intended to be praised for its acting (which was a good thing in some cases) or for the way it was constructed; instead, its popularity grew due to the nature of the story: the message of people going back to nature - a pro off-grid lifestyle movement that was in full swing when Lionsgate released the first movie on DVD in 2012.

Since then, however, the parties who were once interested either tried living in the boonies and decided they weren't quite cut for it. That, or they actually did succeed and we haven't heard from them because, well, they're not a part of our civilization anymore - and are presently working on a method of recycling their own bodily waste. Speaking of recycling, now, two years later, Lionsgate has finally got around to releasing the entire Wilderness Family Trilogy on DVD - with the final two entries in the short-lived (but enjoyable) franchise having only been made available via Video On Demand. And while I am glad to have been able to finish off the series, I can't say I'm all that impressed with the presentation. But more on that in a bit.

First, a brief synopsis of the second and third movie. In The Adventures of the Wilderness Family 2 (originally released to theaters in 1978 as The Further Adventures of the Wilderness Family, and also promoted as The Wilderness Family, Part 2), our heroic family - still played by Robert Logan, Susan Damante Shaw, and Ham Larsen, with Heather Rattray (of Basket Case 2 infamy) replacing Hollye Holmes as a much older Jenny - faces their first winter in the mountains. Though fully prepared for the elements, an ornery wolverine and a pack of very hungry and vicious wolves threaten to disrupt their best laid plans. Finally, in The Adventures of the Wilderness Family 3 (originally released in 1979 as Mountain Family Robinson; the titles for all three movies have been changed for their new home video incarnations), the clan gets some bad news from a mean forest ranger (William Bryant) who is determined to oust the folk off of government property unless they can find some mining minerals.

As with the first movie, any potential peril is quickly resolved in as gentle and bloodless of a way as possible. Attacks by nature, wolves, bears, cougars, and other kinds of woodland critters result in minor scratches that heal by the next scene (the Robinsons' dog is a particularly lucky pooch, wrestling with every kind of dangerous animal there is and always managing to survive intact). The unintentional humor is also there, mostly in the form of bad, stilted, or unrehearsed dialogue. And that weird creepy feeling occasionally sets in, especially as the newly-cast, barely-legal Robinson daughter entices Boomer to stay for dinner with "fresh homemade apple pie", which she promotes and promises in a semi-seductive fashion. Also witness a (tastefully) nude family hot tub moment effectively ruined by that rascal of a friendly trained bear, Samson (who is the real star of the series, no doubt about it).

Fascinatingly strange and fairly amateurish throughout, the Wilderness Family movies nevertheless still manage to exhibit the charm they were intended to possess back in the '70s, but whoever decided to house all three feature-length movies onto one DVD really dropped the ball. I fully understand this is a budget release, but the thing that befuddles the fresh homemade stuffing out of me is that the first movie had already been encoded for a single-disc release two years ago (with a selection of audio options and special features accompanying). Instead of going the logical route of placing the second and third films onto Disc 2 and just re-pressing Disc 1 from the 2012 DVD, they re-encoded everything. This, of course, means compression for both video and audio. It also means no alternate audio options or special features for this release.

What's odder is that the last two films were previously released - individually and quietly - in Manufactured On Demand versions, so they could have even made a three-disc set out of the deal of existing pressings. But they didn't. Frankly, after a lot of pointless head scratching, it's rather disappointing that Lionsgate did that - especially since the entire trilogy is available in Germany on Blu-ray in a three-disc set that presents each movie in its original unmatted 1.33:1 aspect ratio - whereas the one-disc SD-DVD release displays the whole trilogy in a matted widescreen presentation. That bit of griping aside, however, if you're only interested in seeing this trilogy on the cheap and could care less about the A/V aspects, The Adventures of the Wilderness Family Triple Feature will give you more bang for your buck.

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