Straw Dogs (UK - BD RB)
Marcus defends his home against country folk while reviewing this BD...
Mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George) have moved to the English town of Wakely in order for David to study in relative peace. Being Amy's hometown she knows all the local faces, including Charlie Venner (Del Henney) Amy's ex, who still shows an interest in Amy and doesn't seem to keen on her new American husband.
With David finding it hard to fit into the town and his married life strained due to his need to study, tensions rise and when Amy is sexually assaulted in their home and David takes in Henry Niles (David Warner) a local who has accidentally killed a girl in the village, to protect him against the locals, everything comes to a head and David fights for his life.
Straw Dogs is certainly a movie that has stood the test of time. Made in 1971 it still feels totally fresh (despite the era's fashions and general look of the film). Its dark tale of a small village full of characters who all seem a little twisted in some way or another is the perfect setting to delve into those small unexplainable instances in life where people take an instant dislike to strangers for reasons that feel almost totally insignificant.
Dustin Hoffman's performance has to be regarded as one of his best. His character is fantastic really, the stranger who remains on an even keel despite the turmoil around him, the frustration of the villagers toying with him and indeed his relationship with his wife which seems to have the two on different wavelengths most of the time. There are a lot of complicated relationships here and when this is put under the spotlight and the controversial rape scene in which Amy is attacked by her ex arrives everything elevates to a place that is full of tension.
Where Straw Dogs really stands alone in the thriller genre is that the audience is generally the only ones who know the full story at any one time. David not being aware of the attack on his wife is constantly underpinning all of the unfolding events and the fact the locals as they carry out a full blown attack on David and Amy's house are unaware of the accidental killing of Janice, their aggressive acts don't feel like they will ever peak because if they are this bad with just the knowledge she's missing, how much worse would it be if they knew she was dead? Sam Peckinpah expertly plays on all of this, with subtle flashes to previous events that remind us of the turmoil in these characters' lives and with Hoffman stepping up in the closing scenes to protect his home and wife you get a character who wins the day but in a way quite unlike what you'd expect.
Dustin Hoffman playing this role somehow makes its more powerful. David being a normal guy in an horrific situation is one thing but Hoffman is still playing it in his own way which somehow grounds the character and never makes this feel Hollywood. For example if this character was played by Harrison Ford or someone of that ilk, you'd expect a calm and controlled taking out of his attackers but seeing Hoffman do it adds a different amount of weight somehow. His logical and matter of fact approach to defending his home slowly builds and the more and more bloodied and broken David gets the more you get behind him and the more this last stand feels epic for the character.
Coming away from Straw Dogs isn't like coming away from the usual thriller. Sure there's a sense of relief that all the bad stuff is over but Straw Dogs is more complicated than that. Nothing is fixed, nothing is back to normal but there's a bigger sense of achievement somehow. Through all of David's frustrations and problems in the village, he's done it, he's come out okay and while it's hard to pin down why this is so rewarding it really, really is and I can't get enough of it.
Well compared to how this disc look during the opening credits anything would be an improvement, but with that said Straw Dogs doesn't look all that great.
The transfer is very soft, especially in wider shots where it looks out of focus a lot of the time. The film looks grubby and honestly looks way older than it actually is. Skin tones are a little white and sometimes a little orangey and shadows range from good blacks to slightly blue edges. Also the contrast seems too high a lot of the time and this gives the image a very washy look.
On the upside, detail is there. The dirt on Amy's white car look great, textures in David's wooly jumper are good, a small selection of close ups are noticeably better than others, the textures inside the country house are sometimes impressive with the stone walls and wooden doors look pretty realistic. There is grain but nothing all that noticeable really, unless it's super low light and then it can feel like its taking over.
Weirdly the picture gets worse after the Major dies. Grain increases, reds begin to bleed a little, skin tones and general image quality can change multiple times in single scenes. Deeper shadows make everything much darker and tighter close ups can look very grubby indeed. At the end of the day this release of Straw Dogs looks okay at best but if reports are true the recent US edition is much better.
The LPCM 2.0 track feels a little shrill but is a good representation of the era of film it was made in. Dialogue is clear but can get a liitle muffled in higher volumes or if multiple characters are conversing.
Breaking glass ranges from realistic to slightly too high pitch and that bagpipe record that blasts out is actually strikingly clear and strong. All in all this track sounds good, it's a small track but one that generates the desired amount of tension (thanks largely to Jerry Fielding's score).
The disc comes with two commentary tracks. The first with Garner Simmons, David Weddle, Paul Seydor and the second with Katy Haber. Both tracks are full of insightful little nuggets of information about the director and the film's history and with Katy Haber being Sam Peckinpah's assistant, quite a bit of behind the curtain knowledge. There's also a Jerry Fielding isolated score track.
The interviews section begins with Susan George (24:18 HD) and it's a personal and insightful account on the director, her co-stars and the making of the film. Dan Melnick - producer (20:30 HD) is mainly what drew him to the project and finally from Garner Simmons - author of 'Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage' (22:27 HD) is more specific to what makes the film so good and a good insight into his relationship with Sam Peckinpah.
'Before and After' (3:18 HD) is a restoration reel showing the improvements made to the film. The stills galleries are split in 'On Location', 'Original Publicity Stills', 'Original Film Posters' and ' Lobby Cards'.
The '1971 On Location Documentary' (07:34 HD) is in black and white and is so loose it's fantastic (we see Dustin Hoffman pulled off mid interview to film) and we get to see a short Sam Peckinpah interview as well. There's also the 'Original US Theatrical Trailer' (01:42 SD) as well as three TV spots and two radio spots.
The 'Background' section is a number of text based articles and includes lots about the BBFC and the censors. There are a lot of letters from Peckinpah to his producer as well as the replies and ABC Pictures regarding the film's title. Also there are original reviews, articles and descriptions of deleted scenes plus a 'Film Fact and Trivia' section.
Well the Ultimate Edition of Straw Dogs doesn't feel like it's the last time this much re-released film will get an outing. The extras are all good and the audio is fine considering its limitations, it's just the transfer that needs another go around which by all accounts doesn't stand up to the recent US release at all, even though the US release is light on features - damn it, it's never easy is it.
* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 24th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Commentaries, Original Behind the Scenes, Interviews, Trailers, Original Articles, Reviews and Correspondence
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan, T. P. McKenna
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 118 minutes