A Boy and His Dog
Oh no! Those nasty nuclear bombs have gone off and turned the United States into a post apocalyptic wasteland. No, I’m not talking about Starbucks. I’m talking about turning rolling hills and green meadows into endless, flat, bone-dry horizons. Okay, so I am talking about Starbucks.
But that’s a different story. Released in 1975, “A Boy and His Dog” wasn’t a big hit in its time.
The film maker’s insisted on handling the distribution themselves. Through the years, “A Boy and His Dog” matured into a cult classic. Thanks to video, cable and college campuses, “A Boy and His Dog” found an audience that understood and appreciated its story and motivations. Actor-turned-director-turned-screenwriter L.Q. Jones spent five years bringing Harlan Ellison’s story to the screen.
There were numerous false starts and major studio offers, but Jones stuck to his guns to make the film he wanted to see. He chose young, up- and-coming actor Don Johnson to stars as Vic, the scavenger who roams the wasteland looking for food and women, in that order. He’s accompanied by his trusty sidekick, a talking dog named Blood (voice of Tim McIntire).
Blood doesn’t really talk to Vic. He communicates with his thoughts. Good idea. That saves the film maker’s a bundle trying to animate the dog’s lips. Besides, it would have looked silly in this film. Vic and Blood traverse the untamed land, dodging groups of desert pirates who loot and pillage, then rape and kill the women. These are not nice guys. Things pick up when Vic and Blood run into Quilla June (Susanne Benton), a tough gal who has survived by hiding out in a buried hospital. After a night of mattress mambo, Quilla leads Vic and Blood to an underground city called Topeka. While Blood waits above ground, Vic wanders through a labyrinth of tunnels that lead to a quaint, Norman Rockwell- like town where the residents dress like they’re going to the country fair and their faces are caked in white makeup. Sealed off from the madness above, the residents of Topeka lead a carefree, secular life.
They’re governed by a small group Lou Craddock (Jason Robards), who realizes that without new blood, their way of life will end. They need some young, strapping, virile stud to come to their rescue and help repopulate the town. Enter Vic, who is more than thrilled to service the female population. Wrong! They strap poor Vic up to a vacuum device that does all of the work for him. Gosh, and he didn’t even get kissed. Quilla comes to the rescue, and asks Vic to help her take over Topeka from the elders. That’s gratitude for you. Her selfishness leads to the film’s darkly comic finale. Shot on a limited budget of Bakersfield, “A Boy and His Dog” works on so many levels. It’s funny. It’s exciting. It’s creepy.
A testament to the film’s strengths is the fact that director George Miller said his “Road Warrior” is basically a remake of “A Boy and his Dog.” The cast is amazingly in tune with the concept, especially Johnson, who was still cutting his baby teeth back then. For a low budget affair, the film looks terrific. Director Jones put everything he had up on the screen, and the effort shows.
VISION: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ x ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.
Director L.Q. Jones admits on the DVD’s audio commentary track that “A Boy and His Dog” played in theaters around the world for seventeen years until they had to pull the prints because they were so used. The DVD notes claim that this 2.35:1 widescreen transfer was accomplished by using an archival 35mm color reversal internegative. I don’t know what they’re doing down there in the archives, but the print of “A Boy and His Dog” they used is in terrible shape. The color timing is off, the quality of the print ranges from sharp and clear to images that look like someone scrubbed them with iron wool. Based on the sharper images, the digital transfer looks good. The flesh tones are admirable and realistic. There’s a problem early in the film that could be compression related. It looks like frames were added (or the picture stopped for a few frames) to lengthen the film. This causes a noticeable split-second delay. When all of the elements come together, “A Boy and His Dog” looks fine, but that’s not often.
HEARING: [ ] EXCELLENT [ x ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.
The Dolby Digital Mono track gets the job done.
ORAL: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ x ] D.O.A.
No closed captions or subtitles. Don’t bother trying to read lips either, because all of Blood’s dialogue is voice-over.
COORDINATION: [ ] EXCELLENT [ x ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.
The best thing about the DVD of “A Boy and His Dog” is the alternate audio track featuring commentary from director L.Q. Jones, cinematographer John Morrill, and film critic Charles Champlin. These commentary tracks are always fun to listen to, especially when they involve the actual people who made the film, and not just some snotty film critic providing his insights, or a stage hand who served donuts that morning. Jones and Morrill are interesting and informative, but aside from the fact that he really liked the film, I can’t understand why Champlin was even in the same room. He doesn’t bring much to the table, and seems surprised and mystified most of the time. Jones and Morrill spend most of the commentary kissing each other’s butts (oh, you’e such a great director; oh, you’re such a great cinematographer). That’s fine as long as they also spill the beans about making the film, which they do. The DVD also features the original (and very puzzling) theatrical trailer, and a more adult, re-release trailer that capitalizes on the film’s cult success.
PROGNOSIS: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ x ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.
If the DVD didn’t feature such a crappy print, I’d say go for it. I doubt the American Film Institute will add “A Boy and His Dog” to their list of films to restore, so I imagine this is the best you’re going to get.
VITALS: $24.95/Rated R/90 Min./Color/22 Chapter Stops/Jewel Case/#1197
ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen
PATIENT: A BOY & HIS DOG
BIRTH DATE: 1975