Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on December 20th, 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 it in and shoot it 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. This year his “hired gun” Clint has his own business to tend, to so Troy has hired Liz to help out. She’s already tagged out, and her “daddy” and Troy were old friends. It’s the first woman on the gator hunt. 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 once again. 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 get up in time for work. This season the tension gets so bad that they split up for a short time. I also really like Junior and his son Willie 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. They split up a spell this season, but not because of tension. Willie is ready to try it on his own, and unlike Tommy, he doesn’t disappoint his father at all. Finally, there’s Bruce and his dog Tyler. This time Bruce is teaching a young apprentice. This year a new pair is added in Native American father and son team R.J. and Jay Paul. They rely on their ancestral knowledge of the swamp. They get zapped by poachers this season and want to grab them pretty badly. Finally, we go north to Mississippi, where Terral likes to catch gators with his bare hands for safe relocation. 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 on each disc.
The cast is bigger and the hunting is a little wilder. Still, the stars of the show are the hundreds of gators that these guys bring in each season. This is the kind of show where you know exactly what you’re getting into. You think Survivor is a reality show? This is real survival. The kind of job where the only way to survive is “Shoot!”