Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on June 1st, 2011
“In the farthest corner of America lies the nation’s largest swamp. A hidden world where nature rules and man fights back. Welcome to the swamp.”
Leave it to History to find yet another profession that they can deliver to our living rooms and home theaters so that we can be entertained by someone else’s reality. When I first heard the title of Swamp People, I had something entirely different in mind than what I ended up with. I guess I was prepared for some hidden creature-folk who might be spotted between the swamp gas and the Spanish Moss Monster from an old Kolchak episode. Perhaps those are the images they intended for us to conjure, at least at first. But these swamp people are regular hard-working stiffs like the rest of us. Only they make their living off of the swamp itself. It provides food, transportation, income and entertainment. Much of their Cajun lifestyle has been handed down for centuries from generation to generation. And one of those traditions is gator hunting.
“The sun rises on the first day of alligator hunting season, and all over Southern Louisiana the hunt is on.”
When I was young, alligators were considered somewhat of an endangered animal and were protected in most places. A lot has changed in that time, as I’ve come to discover firsthand as a resident of Florida these days. Gators sun in my own back yard on occasion, and they’re pretty much everywhere. In Louisiana, the state game folks have been dealing with the rising population of gators by authorizing a limited 30-day hunting season. Not just anyone is permitted to hunt the prehistoric reptiles. They must purchase hunting rights to the areas they will hunt, and they must buy the limited number of tags they can use during that season. Failure to use all of their tags means less at their disposal the next year. But a good hunter can take over 200 gators out of the swamps in that time. Obviously, we’re going to meet some very good gator hunters on this show.
“The way of life depicted in this program dates back 300 years. Hunting, especially alligator hunting, lies at its core. Some images may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.”
And they’re not kidding. Gator hunting is a bloody business, and this show gets you right up close and in the action. The hunters set hooks with bait, and once a gator is hooked they must reel them in and shoot them in a very small vulnerable spot in the back of the head. Let me warn you that animals were indeed harmed in the making of this film, and you’re going to witness that harm. If you’re an animal activist, I suggest turning to the Disney Channel for this particular hour. The rest of you will get a front-row seat to a truly thrilling non-stop alligator hunt.
The series follows several families of hunters. The most interesting character has to be Troy Landry. He and his “hired gun” Clint have been hunting together for decades. Troy was taught by his father, who in turn was caught by his father. He’s a true Cajun through and through. His accent is so thick that the show often provides captions so that you can understand what he’s saying. He’s a hardworking man who sees this as a way of life. He’s the best hunter in the show, pulling in the two largest gators of the season. Then there’s Joe LaFont, who is trying to teach his stepson Tommy the ways of the tradition. Tommy is hardheaded, and these guys are fun to watch because of the tension. Tommy’s been learning for 20 years now, and he still can’t remember to load the gun. I also really like Junior and his son William Edwards. These guys really do live off of the swamp. They believe you should not need to ride down to the store every time you need something. He’s also one of the more clever hunters. He doesn’t just rely on the baited hooks. He’s invented a triple-hook that he uses to snag the gators right in the open water. Finally, there’s Bruce and Mike. They are brothers-in-law. They run an alligator and turtle farm as well as build aluminum boats for quick cash. They cut down on their overhead by skinning the gators themselves instead of taking them daily to the market. It allows them to wait until prices are higher. It’s certainly an interesting group of guys who work hard during hunting season. For most of them it is a huge portion of their entire annual income.
The show spends most of the time following the hunters out on the swamps. But you do get to spend some time checking out their families and some of their traditions. They work hard, and some of them play just as hard. And the History cameras are there to cover it all for you. Now it’s all available on DVD.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Remember that these are handhelds in circumstances that are not under anyone’s control. Lighting and framing are all subject to the conditions and the action. It’s good for documentary footage, and you certainly won’t be disappointed.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track catches the narration and splashes. What more do you want?
Additional Footage: (26:41)
This is a lifestyle most of us will never see up close. I accept that some of you will find it barbaric and horrifying. Don’t buy the set. For the rest, it’s filled with colorful characters doing what they know how to do best. Honestly, I would love to have a chance to get in one of those boats for a day and see these guys do their thing. Unfortunately, this is as close as you and I are going to get. Maybe that’s for the best. “You never know what’s out there, and sometimes you don’t want to know what’s out there.”