A Boy and His Dog (Shout Factory, R)

Boy-and-His-Dog 75A Boy and His Dog tells you what it is right off the bat.

Boy-and-His-Dog 500

Along with Blue Underground, Shout! Factory (and their horror sub-label Scream Factory) are pretty much the genre movie equivalent of The Criterion Collection.

They take forgotten or underserved films, like Ninja III: The Domination, and give them the star treatment, putting out Blu-ray Discs that are stocked with solid special features. Their latest release is a collector’s edition of the cult, post-apocalyptic film A Boy and His Dog.

The titular “boy” is a young man named Vic, played by pre-fame Don Johnson. In the year 2024, Vic wanders the post-apocalyptic wasteland with his trusty dog, Blood, looking for food and sex, not necessarily in that order. The film opens with a title scroll that says “World War IV lasted five days. Politicians had finally solved the problem of urban blight.” That’s all it says. That’s all the background information we get, and immediately, I have a huge smile on my face because I realize that I am in for one of those great low budget sci-fi films from the 70s which beautifully blends simple exploitation with heavy-handed satire.

If the opening words didn’t make it clear that this is a film from the 70s, it would be obvious right away when we find out that Vic and his dog communicate telepathically. In the commentary, the director, L.Q. Jones, states that in the original Harlan Ellison story, there is a long, convoluted explanation of how this communication is possible. Jones felt like that would only make it seem sillier and that the best way to present this idea to the audience would be to just throw it out there as soon as possible. He was right. Rather than question it, the audience just accepts that the boy and dog communicate telepathically. Even better, the dog is the more rational of the two, almost acting as a disapproving surrogate father to the boy. Blood is voiced by Tim McIntire, and his voice is so unbelievably dry, it makes the unique comedy of the film work very well.

I’ve often heard A Boy and His Dog referenced as an influence on Mad Max, and it is evident right away. From the huge desert landscapes, to the wacky traveling gangs, to the nihilistic tone that runs throughout the story, this movie is a very early (if not the first) representation of a post-apocalyptic world which would become the standard. Even recent, big budget movies like Terminator Salvation and Book of Eli still use this aesthetic.

The movie looks great. L.Q. Jones is an actor with only two other directing credits, and the cinematographer, John Arthur Morrill, only made one other movie I’ve heard of and that’s the William Shatner vehicle Kingdom of the Spiders. It’s a shame that they didn’t get to make more movies, because they show an innate talent and understanding of the medium. Jones frequently worked with Sam Peckinpah, and he credits him with teaching him to tell the story with images. Of course, this was back before home video, so movies were almost exclusively made to be seen on the big screen. The widescreen frame adds a lot to the production value of a small film, and the Blu-ray Discs transfer looks great.

The meat of the special features on the disc is an audio commentary by Jones, Morrill, and film critic Charles Champlin, as well as a 50-minute discussion between Jones and Harlan Ellison, who wrote the original novel and at least started out writing the screenplay. I was afraid these two features would cover a lot of the same material, but they mostly don’t. Ellison dominates the conversation, but he’s very interesting, so it’s fine. Overall, he likes the finished film but is very honest about his issues, and there is some very playful ribbing between the two of them. Jones gets more of a say in the commentary. He’s proud of the movie, but he’s very critical of his own work, often stating that he didn’t think he directed certain scenes correctly. This humility, along with the fact that he answers every question with “Yes, sir,” makes the commentary very endearing and a good listen.

The disc also features an original theatrical trailer, which is hilariously derivative of the trailer for A Clockwork Orange, and four minutes worth of radio spots. Radio spots don’t really exist in this form today, but they should, because they are great to listen to. A deep-voiced announcer enthusiastically pushes A Boy and His Dog with lines like, “It’s a film with sex, violence, humor, everything which makes life worth living.” They’re really fun, and way more interesting than the dull marketing of today.

Like I said, A Boy and His Dog tells you what it is right off the bat. If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of this stuff. There’s a fairly jarring shift in location and tone for the last third of the movie, but at least Jason Robards is there to make everything feel alright. I understand why Mad Max made more of an impact. A Boy and His Dog is a bit more off-the-rails, and while that means that it has a smaller audience, it also makes it a perfect cult film. For those who are into that, it’s a must-see, and you might as well see it on this excellent release. | Sean Lass

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