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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Horror > A Boy & His Dog (First Run Features DVD)

A Boy & His Dog (1974 – 5/First Run Features DVD)

 

Picture: C-     Sound: C-     Extras: B     Film: B

 

 

L.Q. Jones is an actor who occasionally produced, and even wrote and directed films.  One time, he decided to write and direct one the same one, with the result being the ever-controversial A Boy & His Dog, which was made in 1974 and then independently released in 1975.  Based on a novella by the combative, clever, and occurrently controversial science fiction author Harlan Ellison the film is set in an imagined 2024, where a nuclear holocaust has blasted everyone back into the Stone Age.  This was the result of World War Four (does that then include the Cold War like one politician recently tried to do, or was there a WWIII we were somehow to have survived following and/or due to Vietnam?) and this leaves young Vic (Don Johnson) fending for himself.  The twist is that he has a pet dog named Blood who happens to be telepathic and a sort of genius, complete with the dog facilities.

 

Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire, who also created the music for this film) also is a smart alec and throws one-liners around like Henny Youngman, but is also managing to save Vic life as many scavenge and kill to survive or just senselessly.  The dog works for food, likes popcorn, and in return ensures Vic’s survival and ability to get women.  The dark humor from Jones’ screenplay is definitely in the mode of some of Ellison’s, but the film does not dwell on it, though it is there and in keeping with the general Vietnam-era attitude of the time: cynicism form being forced to grow up.  That certainly matches the situation of the film’s leads.

 

It is argued that the dog is the brains of the outfit, but Vic is not a total idiot and eventually goes on his own into a bizarre underground world that offers us a gaudy police state with a twist:  it is the world of “Topeka” with people trying to relive the 1920s, while mostly all wearing deathly clown make-up.  Besides jibes of sorts about Kansas against The Wizard of Oz (especially the 1939 film) in being ruined by a world that is a lie, also speaking volumes about Americana pro and con, love is dead and these people cannot naturally reproduce.  Vic is eventually kidnapped to be used as remedy for this situation.  Jason Robards is great as the demented head of this sicker society.

 

The 2.35 X 1 letterboxed image is the same one that Lumivision issued on LaserDisc and DVD when they had the rights, though there may be a very, very slight improvement by default since the DVD was issued back in 1997!  The print was an off-the-bat reconstruction, but the film needs far more work and deserves it.  At times, you can see how good the three-strip Technicolor must have been in original prints.  The influence of Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 opus Walkabout is immediate, while the letterboxing here is uncompromised.  It would also be fair to say Jones long history with the Western genre did not hurt.  Too many 2.35 X 1 transfers cheat a bit.  This film, which was shot by John Arthur Morrill (later of the Sci-Fi B-movie Kingdom of the Spiders) in Techniscope, uses the entire frame.  While Paramount’s recent DVD of Once Upon A Time In The West sets a new high standard for a Techniscope transfer and MGM’s restoration of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in 35mm is amazing, more such films need saved.  The film was finally restored and saved in 2007/8 and the 35mm print I saw was most impressive, if not with the vibrant Technicolor of its original release.

 

The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is sounds like an older recycling of the PCM CD tracks form the LaserDisc, noticed by a slight harshness and distortion throughout that is characteristic of such a recycling, but it was likely one done (again) by Lumivision.  Background hiss is also noticed.  Jones notes in the commentary how much sound was on the soundtrack.  When the Blu-ray arrives, he ought to consider a Dolby TrueHD or DTS MA 5.1 or 6.1 remix, because this film deserves such treatment.

 

Though only credited to Jones, the exceptional audio commentary is co-recorded with Jones by film critic Charles Champlin and cinematographer Morrill.  Besides a few trailers for other First Run DVDs, there are two trailers for this film, including a pan & scan theatrical promo that does an amazing job of looking like the promotion for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which was issued in 1971, but still playing theaters along with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as Kubrick’s influence and popularity grew.  This film was originally released in March 1975, so that says something about how important Kubrick was even then.  The second trailer is more standard, pushing Don Johnson, who was a star years later on TV’s Miami Vice, and it is wider-screen, if not as much as the actual film on the DVD.

 

The final controversy of the film is a spoiler that would unfortunately ruin the ending, so we will avoid that, except to say the one thing no one else has.  It seems that it is making an argument about love versus survival, but the still-shocking conclusion is too much for just about everyone to make this consideration.  Add the underground affair, and this is a major aspect of the film just about everyone has missed.  The reaction has usually been that it is a great film, or a horrible one, but I think it is a really good one form the last great era of Science Fiction filmmaking that is long-overdue for reconsideration in what it accomplished, not just beginning or ending with inspiring George Miller’s Mad Max films.  This film is the epitome of a successful low-budget, independent film, so current contenders thinking they are achieving something need to take note, while everyone should see it.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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