Boy and His Dog, A (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits a childhood favourite he probably shouldn't have seen as a child...
World War IV has ravaged Earth and its survivors must battle for food, shelter and companionship in a post-atomic wasteland. This classic sci-fi tale follows the exploits of a young man, Vic (Don Johnson), and his telepathic dog, Blood, as they struggle through the barren wilderness. In the midst of their meager existence, foraging for scraps of food and battling ruthless gangs, Vic and Blood encounter a young woman who lures them into a surreal city deep beneath the earth’s surface. (From Shout Factory’s official synopsis)
Someday I need to compile a list of movies my dad showed me when I was too young to watch them. I’m pretty sure most readers have similar lists, but I’m also pretty sure most readers didn’t have a mother as protective as mine when it came to film entertainment. It wasn’t that my dad was trying to defy Mom’s rules – he just didn’t pay as much attention to ratings and had ‘selective memory’ when it came to less child-friendly things like sex and violence. But in his supposed ignorance, Dad introduced me to some films that became lifelong favourites, including John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, Alex Cox’s Repo Man, and, possibly strangest of all, L.Q. Jones’ A Boy and His Dog. Of those movies, A Boy and His Dog is also the one I remember the least (it’s been at least 15 years since I last saw it) and the only one I have never owned on home video, so I’m approaching Shout Factory’s new Blu-ray with a mix of excitement and apprehension.
L.Q. Jones (born Justus Ellis McQueen, Jr.) is best known as a cowboy character actor (and with a name like Justus Ellis McQueen, Jr., what else could he have been?) that has appeared in a variety of films since the 1950s, including Anthony Mann’s Cimarron, Ted Post’s Hang ‘Em High, and a cabal of Sam Peckinpah’s best ( Ride the High Country, Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid). He also directed a 1964 film called The Devil’s Bedroom and an episode of the Incredible Hulk, but A Boy and His Dog is the closest thing he has to a filmmaking legacy, aside from his work as a director. It is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick, but Jones approaches the broad desert landscapes as he would a western, clearly based on lessons learned via the directors he worked under as an actor. In fact, balletic violence aside, it would be easy enough to confuse A Boy and His Dog with one of Peckinpah’s more quirky, post-modern westerns. The camera movement is sometimes a little jagged, but the compositions make great use of the 2.35:1 frame and the intuitive editing (which reminds me a lot of ‘static shot editing’ George Romero used throughout his ‘70s career) gives the story solid momentum (aside from some awkward scene-to-scene transitions). Jones gave himself a big advantage when he hired John Arthur Morrill as a cinematographer. Morrill had a habit of making schlock, like The Hideous Sun Demon, The Witchmaker, and Kingdom of the Spiders, look particularly slick.
A Boy and His Dog is based on a short story by science fiction great and notorious super-curmudgeon Harlan Ellison, who later expanded the story into a novella. The screenplay, co-written by Jones, isn’t particularly strong from a story standpoint, but remains a unique take on the post-apocalyptic subgenre and an equally uncommon character study. There are also some basic structural issues (it’s a two-act story and the first act takes up more than two-thirds of the runtime), but the core themes are classic sci-fi allegory, though the misogynistic content has been a constant source of controversy. I’m not prepared or qualified to defend Jones and Ellison’s choices (according to the interview on this disc, Ellison himself forced changes to Blood’s dialogue), but the bleak tone and misanthropic themes tend to justify at least some of the darker, grossly anti-female sentiment. Sexual violence is a common occurance throughout dystopia-themed literature and movies, it just isn’t usually taken as lightly (some might say callously) as it is here. More importantly, I don’t think Jones (who, again, apparently changed Ellison’s intent) is necessarily trying to depict the misogyny as respectable behavior, even if he approaches it from an occasionally satirical point of view. The criticisms tend to discount or ignore the more subversive sexual politics of the last half-hour. I’m not sure Jones really succeeds when he switches up the role of sexual object during the final act, but even the cruel, climatic punch-line seems to be more of an act of utter nihilism than an act of woman-hating.
The bigger problem is that the only major female character fills two particularly anti-feminist roles. She begins the film disguised as an empty vessel that exists mostly to be raped and rescued, then reveals herself to be a crafty, conniving sociopath. She uses her feminine wiles and even the word ‘love’ as a means to control Vic. Susanne Benton plays these two sides of Quilla quite effectively (she changes characteristics without becoming an entirely different person), but can’t help but be trapped in a position as the film’s chief villain. The other villains, including Jason Robards as the leader of the underground society, are more incidentally evil. Don Johnson, who hadn’t made is way into Miami Vice was a relative unknown at the time. He gives an underrated performance here, especially considering he’s usually playing a petulant, horny teenager against a dog that only speaks thanks to post-production ADR. Tim McIntire’s Blood is delightfully sarcastic, though Ellison’s words (based on his own inner voice) are definitely an essential part of the character. His heartfelt pleas to Vic when the two of them are initially separated are especially moving, despite the inherent silliness of the situation. The dog himself (original name ‘Tiger’) is the most endearing on-screen presence and steals every scene with his stoic, blasé ‘performance.’
At this point in digital home media history the majority of high profile cult films have seen some kind of release and most of these releases have been re-released in ‘bigger and better’ versions. And yet, no one has done right by A Boy and His Dog, until now. All three US DVD releases (Lumivision, Image, and First Run Features) have been non-anamorphic and Arrow’s semi-recent, anamorphically enhanced PAL release was cropped to 1.78:1. Shout Factory (who has included an anamorphic DVD here) has cleaned the film up and is presenting it in full 1080p video (MPEG-4) and cropped at the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This ‘restored’ (their wording) print is nice and filmic, meaning there is plenty of grain to prove no one involved got too happy with DNR and digital tampering. The grain can be a bit ungainly at times, occasionally shifting over the image in sheets, but there are very few print damage artefacts (a couple of scratches here or there) or solid chunks of dirt to signify that this grain is anything less than natural. Detail levels are very impressive, including a whole lot of complex texture crammed into the backgrounds of every widescreen frame. There are minor issues with edge enhancement and fuzzy backgrounds during the widest wide shots, but nothing unexpected from the 35mm source. Colour quality is limited mostly to the yellows & browns of the dusty desert landscapes and static grays of the rotted metal sets. Skin tones are plenty warm and the occasional colourful highlight (the blood on Blood’s fur, the neon green glow that accompanies ‘screamers’) contrasts nicely against the otherwise drab palette. Blacks are nice and deep without sacrificing some of the more subtle tones and details during the film’s many dark sequences.
Shout Factory isn’t messing around with A Boy and His Dog’s original mono sound and present here in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The sound probably isn’t going to win any awards, but is a nice representation of the original design. The single channel sound is occasionally a bit overstuffed, leading to some minor distortion (mostly crackles) and the higher end noise is consistently a little tinny. The loudest aural element tends to be dialogue, which is a problem for some of the more intricately layered effects work. Blood’s telepathic talking is particularly overwhelming as far as overall volume goes, though it is nice that the sound design differentiates between spoken and telepathically communicated dialogue. The nightmarish underground sequences, which are generally more aurally stylized and busy, impress with overall clarity and punch. Tim McIntire’s occasional musical interludes are a mixed bag in terms of clarity, but usually end up resting warmly and tightly beneath the action, especially the more outgoing, southern-themed ditties and the more intense electronic noises.
The extras begin with the same commentary that has been making the rounds on every one of the previous US DVD releases. It features L.Q. Jones, cinematographer John Morrill, and L.A. Times film critic Charles Champlin. Jones is sort of a host, while Champlin is a more traditional moderator. Morrill has a big part too, though, and asks Jones his own questions on several occasions. The discussion is full-bodied and brimming with behind-the-scenes factoids (Jones claims that Blood was almost nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar, that he was almost voiced by James Cagney, that Don Siegel almost directed, tells stories of children’s reactions to the film, and so on), valuable technical information, and intelligent, critical discussion. It’s also a good means to mark the differences between the original release and the more watched 1982 re-release. Even though it’s an ‘older’ extra, it’s a valuable and likable addition to any release of A Boy and His Dog. I’m happy Shout Factory has included it.
The extras continue with an all-new item, In Conversation: Director L.Q. Jones and Writer Harlan Ellison (51:00, HD). The director and writer speak face to face about the film’s production. Jones is a bit of a folksy rambler that unravels his introduction to the story, while Ellison, who is uncharacteristically modest, recounts Jones’ ingenious pitch and how it helped him overcome his innate hatred of Hollywood. The two also discuss the arduous process of striking a deal between one another, Ellison’s writer’s block, changes made to the original script, Ellison’s issues with the film’s misogyny, the retrospective reviews, and the process of changing things to fit Ellison’s demands. The discussion goes way off the rails as Ellison begins to ask Jones questions about his pre-Hollywood history, but this is the most endearing part of the entire interview. The extras end with the film’s Clockwork Orange rip-off trailer and radio spots.
A Boy and His Dog remains a unique, challenging, and ultimately entertaining look at a post-apocalyptic world, one I’m very happy to have revisited after a long time away. Shout Factory has done a great job restoring the video for HD without losing the basic look of its 35mm source and has supplied a sharp, somewhat limited DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack. The extras include the previous DVDs’ invaluable commentary track and a brand new interview with director L.Q. Jones and writer Warren Ellison. Fans still hanging onto their non-anamorphic and/or misframed DVDs will definitely want to make the upgrade.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 6th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Extras: Director, Cinematographer, and Critic Commentary, In Conversation: Harlan Ellison and L.Q. Jones, Trailer, Radio Spots, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: L.Q. Jones
Cast: Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Tiger, Jason Robards
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 91 minutes
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