When someone asks me who my favorite writer is, the name that immediately escapes my lips is that of Harlan Ellison. Because he's spent most of his career focusing on short stories (as well as screenplay writing and critical essays), he's never quite achieved the household-name status that he deserves, but I can't think of another living American writer who is more talented than Mr. Ellison. 'A Boy and His Dog' is based on a short story of the same name written by Ellison back in 1969, and while Ellison didn't write the screenplay for the movie (for reasons detailed in the extras on this Blu-ray), it's in many ways the closest adaptation (in theme if not in substance) of any of his written works to the screen.
Directed by L. Q. Jones (who also adapted Ellison's story) and starring a very young Don Johnson as the boy, Vic, 'A Boy and His Dog' is set in the apocalyptic world of 2024, where humans on Earth have survived both a third and a fourth World War. The surface of the planet is a barren waste, and those who remain – mostly males – must do what they can to scavenge food. Vic's dog, Blood, is telepathic – meaning boy and dog can communicate just by thought. The pair have a very symbiotic relationship, as Blood uses Vic to get the food he needs to survive, while Vic uses Blood to sniff out any women they might run across – which are also a commodity, especially to someone like Vic who is at the age where his hormones are running wild.
Early in the film, Vic is able to steal a bag full of food from a group of scavengers, which he and Blood use as payment to get into a local gathering where, among other things, Vic and Blood can enjoy an old movie (which turns out to be of the sleazy softcore porn variety). While there, Blood indicates to Vic that he can smell a woman, and the two track her to a nearby underground gymnasium. They're soon surrounded and attacked by a group looking to take the woman for themselves, but Vic is able to shoot the invaders that enter the gym, while the others outside are scared off by a mysterious group called "screamers" (never seen in this movie, but more detailed in Ellison's story). The woman introduces herself as Quilla (Susanne Benton) and after an evening of lovemaking, Vic notices an I.D. card she has left behind and realizes it is a pass to get him into the underground society from which she has come. Blood doesn't want to go, so Vic goes on his own, only to be quickly captured by the citizens of the underground society.
The underground world is made up of the kind of people one would expect to see in movies like this one. They're led by a council headed up by Lou Craddock (Jason Robards) and all the town's citizens wear white clown makeup and appear to be very conformist. Loudspeakers all over the town broadcast 24 hours a day, spouting out everything from safety messages to food recipes. I found it quite similar, in a way, to the "village" seen in The Prisoner television series of the late 1960s. When people step out of line in this society, they are brought before the council, who sentence them to "the farm," which we learn is a euphemism for death.
Vic soon learns that the town wants to use him to help impregnate the females, something he's pretty excited about until he discovers that his sperm will be extracted clinically. Quilla helps Vic escape, but he soon learns that she only wants to use him as well – her desire being to overthrow the council so they can take charge. I won't reveal the rather dark (and darkly humorous) ending to the movie for those who have yet to see it, but it is no doubt one of the reasons the film has become such a cult classic over the years.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'A Boy and His Dog' is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, with the Blu-ray housed on the inner left and the DVD on the inner right. The content of the DVD is identical (right down to the menu) to the Blu-ray. There are no front-loaded trailers on either disc. One interesting tidbit is the fact that the slick of the Blu-ray is reversible, with the opposite side having the French title ('Apocalypse 2024') and artwork for the movie. The back cover and spine of the slick remain the same on both sides.
For starters, this new high-def transfer of the film is a huge improvement over the prior DVD versions that existed. However, it appears that little (if any) effort was made to eliminate all the dirt, scratches, and defects in the print. The problems are most evident during the daylight desert scenes (most of which take place early in the film), but there are glitches in the print throughout. In addition to defects in the print, viewers will also notice the occasional jitter or jerking of the image, and super-sharp eyes might even note a frame or two where the color correction doesn't quite match the rest of the scene.
With those issues noted, overall the picture quality is vastly improved. While there's a healthy amount of grain in every shot, there's also a lot of detail that one could never make out on the prior home video versions of the movie. Shadow delineation isn't perfect, but considering how dark many of the scenes in the film are (I remember barely being able to see stuff on an old VHS version I had), I was impressed at just how much could be made out.
Obviously, a more attentive frame-by-frame removal of issues would have served this movie better (chances are this is the last update this film will receive for a while, if not the last ever), but again, this is such a vast leap above the quality of previous versions it's hard to think fans will be disappointed by what they get here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track is actually a 2.0 track, although the same audio is coming from both one's left and right front speakers (the same is true of the Dolby Digital mono track placed on the DVD – it's also 2.0 mono). As mono goes, this track sounds really good…with no popping, hissing, or cracking in the soundtrack. Dialogue is clean, fairly crisp, and easy to understand. I detected no dropouts or other technical issues with the track.
Subtitles are available in English on both the Blu-ray and DVD versions.
I've never been in love with 'A Boy and His Dog' as a movie, but I like it enough to recommend it to those who have yet to see the film. The new transfer, while far from perfect, plus the new sit-down conversation between Ellison and Jones, are more than enough reason to add this title to your collection. Be sure to get yourself a copy. If you don't like it, you should be able to trade it for some food in the very near future. Recommended.