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Overall Rating
4.39

Awesome61.11%
Worth A Look: 22.22%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 5.56%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 12 user ratings


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Boy and His Dog, A
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Cult Classic and Cinematic Masterpiece"
5 stars

L.Q. Jones has fashioned the best film of its kind ever made.

Masterfully written for the screen and directed by L.Q. Jones, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy A Boy and His Dog is bereft of fancy special effects and reliant instead on character and incident to carry the show. Taken from award-winning author Harlan Ellison's novella, the story takes place in the year 2024 in a devastated wasteland after the nuclear holocaust of World War IV (which, we're informed, lasted five whole days and showed that "politicians had finally solved the problems of urban blight"). Earth now looks like a desert, where water and food are extremely scarce, and so are women -- much to the dismay of our hero, Vic (played by a pre-stardom Don Johnson), a quintessentially horny young man who travels this desolate terrain alongside his faithful sidekick: a mangy dog named Blood. But they're not your ordinary pair: the dog communicates to Vic telepathically, so we can hear the "voice" of Blood (provided by the wonderful Tim McIntire), who's intellectually superior to his master and far from humble -- he's always ragging Vic on his inferior acumen and unsatisfied lust for the opposite sex. (If someone offered a starving Vic the choice between food or sex, he'd go hungry.) They make for an incorrigibly appealing pair, and Jones never sabotages things by interjecting inappropriate cuteness into their rapport; their dialogue is remarkably casual, witty, and sometimes amusingly profane -- the kind of talk you'd expect to overhear between two longtime friends nursing a six-pack. We believe in this outlandish story gimmick because there's genuine conviction and trust placed upon it: neither does Jones offer up some spelled-out explanation nor does he make a big deal out of it; and we, in turn, accept it as naturally as the dust clouds and bolt-action rifles.

The film functions as a sly black comedy rather than a survival-of-the-best thriller, a caustic cautionary fable than a preachy mediation on governmental irresponsibility. It's not worried about making big statements or meeting a popcorn-muncher's puerile expectations; it's not adamant about engineering high-voltage chase sequences and delivering righteous speeches about right or wrong; and it doesn't make a fundamental mistake in having its anti-hero unaccountably transform into a more caring and moral human being. Vic's and Blood's adventures are sometimes-suspenseful, sometimes-amusing, and you haven't a clear idea of where these episodes are headed or the film in general is, either. When Vic spontaneously commits a derring-do (stealing some canned food from a band of barbaric nomads), he isn't given chase to; instead, he's first shot at and then grudgingly saluted by the leader, who quips to his less-than-stalwart comrades that at least this scavenger has guts. When Vic and Blood use some of their food (which has replaced cash as the prevailing currency) to attend a make-shift theatre showing bad b/w porno, instead of going the pour-on-the-nudity route, Blood blackmails his master into buying him some popcorn before he'll tell him of the female in the audience he's managed to sniff out. And when Vic follows the female in question, Quilla June (Susanne Benton), into a bunker and watches her undress, she turns out to be not only uncommonly beautiful (along with possessing the kind of perfect body that induces libidinous moans) but unexpectedly sexually aggressive, with Vic being floored by a female impervious to his charm yet welcoming of his machismo.

The setting then re-locates us to a vast underground world, where peace and health supposedly reign. Vic isn't particularly ecstatic over leaving Blood topside and descending to there, but he's determined to track down Quilla June (who left him while he was sleeping). Instead of turning out to be an idyllic community, however, it's actually an underground Topeka, Kansas (literally) that's a cross between Norman Rockwell and Clive Barker. It's circa 1950s-style in dress and architecture, the citizens wear whiteface and talk in dippy dialogue, and there's a totalitarian-ruling government body, The Committee, headed by Lou Craddock (Jason Robards), that requires everybody adhere to their strict standards of conformity, with any serious and repeat offenders sentenced to The Farm, where they will be executed. Vic is immediately captured upon his arrival by a physically imposing mute named Michael (Hal Baylor), who looks like a country bumpkin and possesses the strength of a grizzly bear; he's also pressed into service to help the community with their fertility problem, though the initially overjoyed Vic ("You mean you want me to knock up your broads!? Well, line 'em up!") is soon subjected to a rather unorthodox asexual method of accomplishing this. It'd be no fair to give away the rest of the story details, because the element of surprise is crucial in A Boy and His Dog. I will divulge that: Vic doesn't take matters lying down (except when having his, um, seed extracted); Quilla June isn't quite what she seems (and that goes for Michael, too); and there's an ultimate choice to be made at the end by Vic that'll have first-time viewers either screaming with outrage or laughing themselves silly.

This was only L.Q. Jones' second-directed film, and it's a pleasure watching a film made by a man who had built his career as a sturdy, grizzled character actor (Hang 'Em High, The Wild Bunch) yet manages to display such assurance and invention behind the camera. While the topside action sequences lack the grace of, say, George Miller's The Road Warrior, this isn't detrimental because the film is small-scale and not particularly concerned with shoot-'em-up action; still, the shootouts are decently staged and boast spatial cohesion so we've a clear idea of who's shooting at who and where they are in relation to one another. And unlike most actors who take a stab at directing, Jones doesn't go in for a lot of extreme close-ups; rather, he's a big fan of leaving two characters within the same frame and allowing the scene to build, with a minimum of cuts. He also knows how to keep things appropriately "cinematic." The widescreen compositions (the film was shot in 2.35:1 Techniscope) manage to include a good amount of visual information in the horizontal plane, and, especially in the underground sequences, boast a remarkable degree of depth -- you can see vast distances away with a hypersensitive clarity that's indescribably unnerving, without the use of garish lighting to point things up. The characters and props are arranged within the frame with both dexterity and suggestiveness, and Jones, who isn't much for zooming in or panning or tracking yet knows how to use a subtle style of camerabatics expressively, pulls a similar feat off that director Robin Hardy did in 1973's excellent The Wicker Man: eliciting a nightmarish, disturbing tone by accentuating ordinariness with an underlying sense of the macabre.

Jones has been quite faithful to Ellison's wonderful source material, but he's also done what all filmmakers involved in a book-to-film adaptation should: display the tenacity to take chances and risk failure by making the material his own, while still retaining the spirit of it that "spoke" to him in the first place. You don't have to have read Ellison to "get" the essence of Ellison from Jones' cinematic interpretation -- it's as if the author had possessed the director's soul throughout the filming in getting all of the playful nuances and complex tones all so alarmingly right. For a Hollywood veteran like Jones to take a story so unique and refuse to bleed contrivances into it is admirable, sure, but to further succeed by incorporating his own lyricism into it, making it expressive, yet proportionately fusing it with Ellison's own is even more so. A mere ninety-minutes long, A Boy and His Dog feels the appropriate length for something taken from a novella rather than a novel because Jones doesn't bog things down by pinning down ironies and overstating themes; he gives these facets a good tweaking yet glides over them in much the same manner Ellison did in suggesting and conveying so much with his trademark vivid minimalism. And while a fair amount of Ellison's dialogue has been maintained, Jones has penned a great deal of his own here that makes you regret he hasn't written more screenplays; whether it's Blood quipping to Vic that his prized member should wither and fall off, or Vic telling a sentry who wants to check his weapon at the gate, "If my gun picks up one rust spot you're gonna wake up with a crowd around 'ya", the gab is a consistent joy to take in. So is the production design, which almost always has something wonderfully off-kilter in the background for the audience to respond to.

Not surprising for an actor-turned-director, Jones gets highly commendable work from his talented cast. Robards is very funny and quietly menacing in his deadpan performance as the dastardly Craddock, a martinet whose sense of compassion and conscience are all but bereft. Benton, in a sexy, star-making turn, is forceful and mesmerizing as the conniving Quilla June; she pulls off emotional transitions with the effortless ease of a master thespian and gives the proceedings a shot of energy whenever she's on screen. But it's Johnson who anchors the film as Vic. He's game, uninhibited, and perfectly content to look foolish and come off as a bit of a doofus; everything he does is raw, unexpected, and he pulls off the talking-to-Blood moments with a steadfast conviction that makes us never question the validity of the relationship. Without the rich human element, A Boy and His Dog would otherwise be good-looking functional stuff but merely functional stuff, all the same -- its pungent critiques of adhering to strict social standards, which tends to encourage mindless, soulless conformity rather than freedom of thought, are rooted and resonate through the characters and their telling interactions with one another. When Vic, fed-up and furious and wailing to escape this despotically-ruled community where people are married off like nondescripts in an assembly line, shuns the offer to overtake Craddock and yells to Quilla June that he needs to get topside where it's dirty so he can feel clean again, it sums up the film's message perfectly, has genuine resonance, never turns didactic, is side-splittingly funny, and confirms the film as the best of its kind ever made.

The DVD

After years of having to make insufferable due with a 1.33:1 cropped VHS transfer from Media Home Entertainment, Lumivision graced us with an eagerly awaited 2.35:1 letterboxed DVD in 1999. It's been out-of-print for over two years now, but there's good news: First Run Features, a home-video distributor of eclectic film fare, has recently released the film on DVD. While the transfer is disappointingly non-anamorphic, thus making it discernibly no different than the previous transfer, it's still letterboxed and offers up consistent skin tones and glossy blacks (though they're not quite as deep as one would like). Grain and video noise still persist in places -- with the former likely inherent in the master print and the latter likely to have been cleaned up with anamorphic treatment -- yet these aren't particularly bothersome because this low-budget film has always looked low-budget. No problems with edge enhancement. Audio is passable, nothing more; some canny use of channel separations would have been nice. Special features are pretty fair. The original and reissue theatrical trailers are a joy to watch again, and the trailer gallery is acceptable. Best of all is the running audio commentary by L.Q. Jones, who deals out a wealth of invaluable information (like James Cagney having been considered for the voice of Blood, until it was decided the voice-recognition factor would call attention to the film as such) and insightful philosophies ("the more out-there your story premise is, the more rock-hard the inner logic supporting it needs to be"). A featurette with the film's stars reflecting on their experiences would have been welcome, but to merely have a letterboxed version of this cult classic on DVD on the market again is reason enough to celebrate.

See it.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8394&reviewer=327
originally posted: 12/06/03 11:51:24
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User Comments

8/05/10 PAUL SHORTT QUIRKY SCI-FI 3 stars
1/10/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Dog really is man"s best friend. 4 stars
12/03/07 Bnorm I liked it....really sexist, but ya gotta love that ending nonetheless 4 stars
4/04/07 David Cohen I love sci-fi, but frankly I couldn;t see the appeal of this sexist, senseless bit o' tripe 2 stars
4/08/05 Jeff Anderson A brilliant, trippy & completely awesome film experience! L.Q. Jones IS A TRUE GENIUS! 5 stars
1/07/05 ralph one of the best 5 stars
6/27/04 Christy Low budget, but excellent nonetheless. A classic! 5 stars
5/20/04 Alan Liddle Saw this movie 20 years ago and Loved it!!!!! 5 stars
5/18/04 Graham Witty, original and well-staged, but a single likeable character would help. 3 stars
12/13/03 R.W. Welch Post-apocalyptic fable is nihilistic but gets bonus points for originality. 4 stars
12/07/03 y2mckay Classic low-budget sci-fi, Don Johnson and the talking dog are most entertaining 4 stars
12/06/03 Charles Tatum Cool, weird, appreciation increases with repeated viewings 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Nov-1975 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Feb-1975 (M)


Directed by
  L.Q. Jones

Written by
  L.Q. Jones
  Harlan Ellison

Cast
  Don Johnson
  Susanne Benton
  Jason Robards
  Tim McIntire
  Alvy Moore
  Helene Winston



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