Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Boy And His Dog (Collector's Edition) (1975)

A Boy And His DogIt's the year 2024, and most of the Earth's nations have been demolished by yet another world war (the latest being WWIV). In this postapocalyptic world, slow-witted survivor Vic (Don Johnson) forages through the ruins for food and women with the help of his faithful dog, Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire), with whom he is able to communicate telepathically. Blood, more intelligent and more cultured than his young "master," often gets impatient with Vic's immature behavior and lack of interest in his attempts to educate the boy, but he nonetheless loves Vic and sticks with him to help him survive. And after several minor adventures and one huge misadventure, Vic does learn one incontestable actuality: Nothing is more important to a boy than his dog.

Based on an award-winning novella by the curmudgeonly SF writer Harlan Ellison, A BOY AND HIS DOG was adapted and directed by character actor L.Q. Jones and co-produced by Jones and Alvy Moore (the latter probably best known for his portrayal of scatterbrained Hank Kimball on TV's GREEN ACRES). While Ellison has said many times publicly that the film is the most faithful adaptation of any of his works, he has nonetheless complained vehemently about some of Jones' "adjustments"--most notably the minor addition of some gross or vulgar dialogue--and tried unsuccessfully to get them changed. Whether or not Ellison's complaints have merit, A BOY AND HIS DOG has come to be regarded as a science-fiction classic, its popularity undoubtedly due to its likeable characters who, despite their constant bickering and individual quirks, are redeemed by their committed friendship and their sarcastically humorous approach to survival.

The performances in A BOY AND HIS DOG are top-notch. Johnson convincingly portrays Vic as a filthy scavenger who, in spite of his dire situation, still manages to remain a decent human being at the core. Tim McIntire's vocal characterization of Blood embodies Ellison's original concept of a mutant pooch with a caustic ego that is balanced with just the right amount of off-beat humanity, and this portrayal is enhanced further by the outstanding on-screen performance of Tiger, the canine thespian that portrayed the family pet on TV's THE BRADY BUNCH. In his supporting role as the governor of a subterranean dystopia, Jason Robards is delightfully smarmy. And when beautiful Susanne Benton bares her ample "talents" on the screen, that's a lot of fun watch, too.

With A BOY AND HIS DOG, Jones' intention is not to make deep socio-political innuendos or to meet the average action-fan's prosaic expectations, and sentimentality is obviously far from his mind. Instead of serving up a dull postapocalyptic survival-of-the-fittest thriller or a cliché love-among-the-ruins drama, Jones gives us a wry black comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously. His direction is tight, his staging often inventive, and the dialogue--while MOSTLY lifted directly from Ellison's story--is often sharply sardonic and frequently witty. With this AND the outstanding performances he elicits from his cast, Jones creates a realistic world of future desolation, but he peoples it with central characters that learn to deal with the nightmare while still maintaining their humanity...and a sense of humor.

Several DVD editions of A BOY AND HIS DOG have been available over the past few years, and all have delivered good letterbox widescreen digital transfers. The current offering from First Run Features is an anamorphic widescreen version, and it also contains an interesting feature commentary and theatrical trailers.

All in all, A BOY AND HIS DOG is a wonderful interpretation of a classic SF novella, and this DVD will make a great entry in the film collections of SF fans who love quirky non-mainstream films.

A cult favorite for years, this faithful version of Harlan Ellison's classic novella enjoyed some mainstream popularity in the mid-'80s when its star, Don Johnson, hit the big time with "Miami Vice." In recent years the movie has settled back into cult status, which is for the best. Johnson (in an excellent performance) is Vic, a simple-minded survivalist who wanders what's left of post-apocalypse America with his dog Blood (played by Tiger of "The Brady Bunch," with voice by singer Tim McIntire), with whom he has a telepathic bond. Vic's main ambition in life is to, well, find female companionship; he demands that Blood sniff out girls for him. He meets a seemingly innocent young woman who leads him down to a strange subterranean civilization where all the men are sterile. Eventually, Vic is presented with a hard choice. The decision he makes has remained controversial; the one-liner that ends the film is even more so. (Ellison didn't write the line and has expressed discomfort with it. I think it's one of the great final lines in movie history.) If you haven't seen this film, chances are you've seen a dozen better-known SF movies it influenced (like the "Mad Max" series), and Kevin Costner's "The Postman" was a windbag '90s variation on the same theme. If you've only caught this on television, you haven't really seen it.

Buy A Boy And His Dog (Collector's Edition) (1975) Now

Mid-70s post-nuclear apocalypse movies are not a genre I generally enjoy. "A Boy and His Dog" (one of the first of the type) is the exception that proves the rule.

The shattered world above is not the interesting part of this film, and it moves slowly for the first hour while we're in it. What keeps us watching is the great dialogue and interaction between Vic (Doh Johnson) and his dog, Blood. Vic and Blood can talk to each other, and the dog is rather smarter than Vic. Once we go "downbelow," into the survivalist enclave called "Topeka."

One reason I didn't give this film 5 stars was the slowness at the start; the other reason was the poor quality of the DVD transfer. If ever a movie cried out for remastering, this is it: it really does look like they just transferred it from VHS. There is a commentary track with film critic Charles Chaplin, director L.Q. Jones (this was his last film directing), and John cinematographer Morrill. It makes for interesting listening.

If you like this genre, this is an essential film to add to your library. If you're not as fond of apocalypse movies, call this one a rental.

Read Best Reviews of A Boy And His Dog (Collector's Edition) (1975) Here

...which is why I keep buying every new release that comes out in the hopes that it will be better than the last. No such luck. This is the same transfer as the previous two releases -from the original laserdisc, and with the same problems: dropped frames, dust and scratches all over it. And despite Amazon's description, this release is NOT ANAMORPHIC, though, like the others, it is widescreen. (I've submitted a change to the description). I could live with the dust and scratches -after all, all the known prints of this film have been knocking around for almost thirty years, and as far as I know no pristine negative exists anymore. But I *wish* we could get an anamorphic transfer. How is it that a Hugo award-winning film that is so loved by critics can be overlooked for a decent DVD treatment for so long?

Now, the good: In addition to the now-familiar (and very entertaining) L.Q. Jones commentary track which has appeared on all the others, we also get two trailers restored to the DVD (these appeared on the first release, but not the one from Slingshot). And the fact that it is available once again at all -I didn't relish the idea of shelling out ~$100 if something happened to current copy. Kudos to Firstrun for printing 'em again.

But dangit, won't *someone* step up to the plate and give us a decent anamorphic transfer? I'm begging here, which even Blood could only bring himself to do once.

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It's my own fault for buying this unknown. I was hoping for an anamorphic copy. But I received the same crappy letter-boxed print that's been around for years. But this one is the absolute worst I have ever seen this movie look. Out of focus,soft,noisy,just terrible. The best copy of this movie remains the U.K. Arrow Films release. It's true anamorphic,starts out 2:35 but changes to 1:78 after the titles clear. It does run 3 minutes shorter then the letter-boxed version,but it's better picture quality and anamorphic format make it very desirable if your a fan of this movie. Please don't waste your money on this issue.

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