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Case Number 06105

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The Roger Donaldson Collection

Sleeping Dogs
1977 // 107 Minutes // Unrated
Smash Palace
1981 // 100 Minutes // Unrated
Released by Anchor Bay
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 1st, 2005

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All Rise...

Thanks to this set, Judge David Johnson knows a lot more about New Zealand, the land of hobbits, elves, giant apes, political violence, and low-IQ tow truck drivers.

The Charge

Double your Donaldson pleasure.

Opening Statement

New Zealand has been getting some good word-of-mouth these days in the entertainment biz, and one of the country's more recognizable faces gets this two-disc tribute. That face is Roger Donaldson, director of the superb Thirteen Days and the superbly trashy Species. Anchor Bay's The Roger Donaldson Collection boasts two of the auteur's earliest New Zealand films: Sleeping Dogs and Smash Palace.

Facts of the Case

• Sleeping Dogs
This 1977 thriller, starring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), was the first New Zealand film to be shown in America theatres. Here's the lowdown: New Zealand is engulfed in political turmoil, as a band of resistance fighters have engaged in a violent conflict with the hard-line government. Caught in the crossfire is a man named Smith (Neill), who has tried to stay out of the anarchy. He leaves his unhappy marriage and heads out to live a solitary existence on a middle-of-nowhere island.

Unfortunately, a series of coincidences leads the government to Smith's island, where—sucks to be him—a cache of weapons have been buried. The dots are connected, and Smith finds himself embroiled in the conflict. He's taken prisoner, but soon escapes. Now he has been inexorably drawn to the resistance, and he will ever be the reluctant freedom fighter, right until the end.

• Smash Palace
Al Shaw (Bruno Lawrence) is a retired race-car driver devoted to two things: his salvage yard "Smash Palace," and his seven year-old daughter. He clings to his struggling business, despite pleas from his ever-anxious wife (Anna Jemison) to sell. Shaw is stretched thinner when his wife decides to leave him; but the Pennzoil really hits the fan when it's Shaw's best friend his wife shacks up with.

After some full-frontal public nudity and a stint in a rubber room, Shaw teeters closer and closer to the edge. But when his wife files an injunction preventing him from having access to his daughter, he takes a flying leap off of it.

The Evidence

Roger Donaldson is a director I have enjoyed in the past. I really dug his Cuban Missile Crisis retelling Thirteen Days, and who doesn't consider Species a guilty pleasure? With this set, you get his first two films, and the good news is that this isn't just a half-assed DVD. Both movies are quality films, feature some solid tech specs, and sport great extras. Anchor Bay wisely shied away from lumping both movies onto one disc, and treated each movie as if they were exclusive releases. The payoff is a classy presentation all around.

• Sleeping Dogs

Sam Neill is magnetic as a man who just wants to be left alone, but finds himself unwillingly dragged into a political fracas. The focus of the movie is Neill's character, not the New Zealand unrest. The upheaval is actually the foil for Smith; here is an every-guy isolationist who just wants to live a peaceful life on his island, but who can't avoid being caught up in the social whirlwind. Smith's worst enemy is his own luck—who would expect a weapons depot on his own island?! As soon as Smith is involved, the film finds a quick pace. From his escape from the government prison, to his hideout in a safe-house, to the firefight that soon transpires, and then ultimately to his wilderness survival trek with his comrade, Smith and his experiences propel the movie forward.

I admire Donaldson's choice here to keep the story honed in on Smith, despite the allure of jumping into a straight-on story of anarchy and regime-change. Sleeping Dogs is a compelling story about an ordinary man trying to exist in a world consumed by insanity.

• Crash Palace

This is a far different movie from Sleeping Dogs—and yet it's not. Both films feature regular guys coping with dramatic circumstances, and each is saddled with a trait that makes these problem near-insurmountable for them. Crash Palace is smaller-scale, more intimate film, where the only world that's been turned upside down belongs to a simple man named Al Shaw. For Smith it was extreme ambivalence and horrible luck; for Shaw, it's…well, lack of intelligence.

The guy loves his cars and he loves his daughter, but he couldn't outwit a bonsai tree. This, mixed with his unyielding pride, leads Shaw into situations that just can't end well, e.g. kidnapping his daughter or pointing shotguns at police officers.

Crash Palace is certainly lighter on the action than Sleeping Dogs, though Donaldson inserts some very cool racing sequences. One long scene is filmed solely with a camera mounted just behind the driver's shoulder.

What elevates the film above the typical angst-ridden family drama is the intensity of Bruno Lawrence's performance. Though I think he flies over the edge a little too fast and makes some really boneheaded choices, overall his aggressive portrayal of a simple-minded man who's lost nearly everything is captivating.

Technically, both movies look very good, and benefit greatly from having their own separate discs. Though not anamorphic, the 1.85:1 transfers for both films hold up well, considering their age. There are some areas where the colors deaden; but overall, good grades. Also, each film receives a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround treatment; the thought is nice, though the result is a very front-loaded mix.

The discs contain posters, stills, and bios, but the real meat of the extras are the commentaries and the "making-of" documentaries. Donaldson does both tracks. On Sleeping Dogs he's accompanied by Sam Neill and writer Ian Mune; Crash Palace teams him up with—uniquely—special driver Steve Millen. While none of the commentators are profoundly verbose, their comments are insightful and anecdotal.

The documentaries are superb for each movie. At about an hour a piece, each documentary reunites Donaldson with the actors and crew of the respective films. As a group they travel to the actual sets and locations, reminiscing and describing the filming process. Interviews are mingled with the footage. Really good, substantial stuff.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

By the way, each movie is unrated, though they probably would both be rated R—Sleeping Dogs for violence and nudity, and Smash Palace for a graphic sex scene and nudity.

Closing Statement

This is a great set. The two movies are both good, and the extras that accompany them are outstanding. From top to bottom, Anchor Bay is commended for putting together a fine double-shot of R-to-the-D. Its Kiwi-licious.

The Verdict

Not guilty, mate.

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Genres

• Drama
• Thriller

Scales of Justice, Sleeping Dogs

Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 95
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 87

Perp Profile, Sleeping Dogs

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Distinguishing Marks, Sleeping Dogs

• Director/Cast/Crew Commentaries
• Making-of Documentaries
• Still Galleries
• Promotional Art
• Bios

Scales of Justice, Smash Palace

Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 95
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 87

Perp Profile, Smash Palace

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Distinguishing Marks, Smash Palace

• Director/Cast/Crew Commentaries
• Making-of Documentaries
• Still Galleries
• Promotional Art
• Bios

Accomplices

• IMDb: Sleeping Dogs
• IMDb: Smash Palace








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