Judge Daryl Loomis has a dog who tells him to burn things.
The year is 2024…a future you'll probably live to see.
When it debuted in 1975, there hadn't really been anything on the market like A Boy and His Dog. A few post-apocalyptic movies had hit theaters, but none had shown the brutality of life in the wasteland like this adaptation of Harlan Ellison's acclaimed 1969 novella. Strange and funny, brutal and surreal, the movie has seen a few shoddy home video releases over the years, but it's finally being given its due on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
After World Wars 3 and 4 ravaged the Earth, the few survivors do what they can to survive the war torn landscape. Most run around in packs of raiders, but Vic (Don Johnson, Born Yesterday) has a different angle. He's a loner who has a knack for sniffing out stashes of food and supplies, but he has a terrible time finding sex. That's where his dog comes in. Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire, The Sterile Cuckoo), who talks to Vic, has a nose for the ladies and points him in the right direction whenever one is around. But when Vic meets Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton, Catch-22), a young woman who has come to the surface from Topeka, an underground society where food is plentiful and water is clean. Vic decides to follow her down but, unfortunately for Blood, no dogs allowed.
Adaptations of literary science fiction can be dicey, which we've seen in countless sorry films based on Philip K. Dick novels, but writer/director L.Q. Jones (The Devil's Bedroom) does Ellison's A Boy and His Dog right. It's a relatively faithful adaptation but, more important, he relays visually what Ellison describes over pages of words. The exposition in the movie is minimal. After a very brief text roll giving a bit of background, it drops the audience right into its stark and brutal world.
Of course, there is some historical context given here and there, but that all comes through Blood's telepathic conversations with Vic. He quizzes him on everything that happened during the war, but while he's doing it to tell the audience what happened, he's also doing it to make fun of Vic. Vic isn't nearly as intelligent as Blood and Blood lets him know that at every occasion. The mockery is hilarious and Tim McIntire's sarcastic voice over is brilliant, capturing the tone of Ellison's writing perfectly.
The movie loses a little something when Vic follows Quilla June down to Topeka, but what it lacks in humor, it gains in strangeness. The town they've built is a weird simulacrum of the rural Midwest. The residents dress like characters from Little House on the Prairie and everybody wears bizarre doll makeup. And while they act like it's the perfect world, but they've got a big problem: the men are all impotent. Once that fact comes to the surface, it becomes clear that the Vic was lured underground for his virility and, though it initially seems like something Vic would really like, he quickly realizes he wants no part of it. Of course, when the leader of the town is Jason Robards (Magnolia), there is no way anybody should have trusted it in the first place.
The underground scenes are not only less funny, the production becomes clunkier all around. The desert is wide open and cinematographer John Arthur Morrill (Kingdom of the Spiders) takes good advantage of the space, making the wasteland look as desolate as possible. Underground, it's much more cramped, and the photography and direction isn't as strong. The writing is sharper and funnier, the direction is stronger, and because Blood is the character that really makes the movie, everything is better up top.
L.Q. Jones hasn't directed many movies, but he seems very comfortable behind the camera, at least here. Maybe that comes from having worked so often in front of the camera with Sam Peckinpah, but I wish he'd made more of them. It moves well and he gets a really good performance out of Don Johnson, but not only that, he got one of the best acting performances by a dog that I've ever seen. Much of that certainly comes from the animal trainer, but he constructs the shots in such a way that it always appears that Blood is directly addressing whatever he's looking at. He feels like an actual character, which in itself is pretty amazing.
It may not be the best piece of science fiction ever made, but A Boy and His Dog is one of the best genre adaptations out there. It has its problems and, for a time, seems like two different movies, but its humor and cynicism make up for any missteps. It's a great time, one of my favorites of the genre, and it finally, after all these years, gets a proper home video release.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo comes from Shout! Factory, and while it may not have the great slate of extras to warrant its "Collector's Edition" banner, it's a very good disc. The 2.35:1/1080p image is a huge upgrade over previous editions of the film, as clean and bright as it must have looked the day it premiered. The colors are bright and warm and black levels are very solid. As a low budget production, it doesn't have the sheen that some bigger films do, but nearly every instance of dirt and damage on those previous releases have been cleaned up nicely. The sound, too, comes across very well. While a 2-channel mono track, there is strong dynamic range and good dialog and sound effects.
The extras are slight, but very good. An audio commentary with Jones, Morrill, and critic Charles Champlin is lively and fun. Jones is full of braggadocio and is very talkative, so dominates the conversation, but it's full of production stories and hilarious exaggerations about the movie. More of that comes in the real gem on the disc: an hour-long conversation between Jones and Harlan Ellison. Again, Jones dominates, but they're both pretty big characters and Ellison gets his time for rebuttal. It's a great talk and almost worth buying the disc by itself. There's a trailer and a standard def DVD copy to round out the disc. Though that's all there is, what's here is enough to keep me from complaining.
Today, there are plenty of post-apocalyptic sagas to choose from; movies, video games, and television programs are full of it. A Boy and His Dog was one of a kind in its day, though, and remains one of the best examples of the genre. Funny, cynical, and strange, it's got a little bit of everything, including one of my favorite closing lines I've ever heard. Now, it finally has the release it deserves, a Blu-ray that any fan of the movie should own. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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