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Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Boy and His Dog (1974)

Rating: 2/4

My opinions are extremely torn for L.Q. Jones' film, A Boy and His Dog, which is based on the award winning story of the same by Harlan Ellison. Starting with shots of many -- or it could have just been many different angles of one -- nuclear explosions and telling us that it is set in 2024 after the conclusion of World War IV. The world is now a barren wasteland with females nearly nonexistent and men have become desperate savages.Vic (Don Johnson) and Blood (played by Tiger and voiced by Tim McIntire) are the two title roles and they are out guides through the barren desert that is now America. John Arthur Morrill does a splendid job with the dystopian atmosphere, he even works the claustrophobic set-areas well also. Vic is 18 and his only goal is to get "laid;" Blood's age is not determined, he is experienced and has knowledge of the past which causes him to be more cautious although he does have dreams of a fairytale-like place he calls "Over The Hill." It is their chemistry that is the deepest, warmest, most tortured, and most consistent presences in the film. When they are separated about 3/4 in, the film quickly loses its strength and that is when the faltering begins.

One of the many frustrating aspects of this film is how vague it is with the causes of the wars and the state of the world. Through the "history lessons" that Blood gives Vic we learn that World War III had lasted 33 years (1950-1983), John F. Kennedy had avoided being assassinated, serving multiple terms as president, and World War IV had lasted 5 days "just long enough for each country's missiles to leave." A lot of implications but not a lot of explanations. I love a good post-apocalyptic film, but the ones I like the best are the ones that have the guts to take the idea and run with it, not always leaving us wondering.

Susanne Benton plays Quilla June Holmes, Vic's love interest of the film. At first bringing a charming added chemistry, but she is the cause of the very frustrating direction that is taken. After an intense battle with a group of savages and avoiding mysterious creatures called "screamers" -- I was quite frustrated that the intrigue of the screamers abruptly passes -- Quilla tricks Vic into coming to the underground society where she lives. Her deceptive beauty easily tricks Vic and us viewers, by the time you figure out what she is up to we feel just a dazed as Vic. She plays his animal-like lust and desire like a world-renowned violinist.

Now, we have arrived to the point where the film began to lose me. I will not go into extreme detail about the underground society in hopes as to not shed to negative of a light on a film that has some good-hearted intentions and clever ideas. With saying that, the depiction of the exclusive futuristic society in this film is just plain weird, unnecessarily attacking us with its appearance which causes the intelligence within to be almost entirely overshadowed. A parody of southern upbringings, patriotism, and governmental control. The law enforcement system of this society consists of 4 characters who are wonderful caricatures of real-life governmental presences who punish repeated law breakers by creating fictional causes of death then let their robotic executioner have his way with them. What a shame that appearance is allowed to overpower ideas with so much potential.

Ultimately it is those touching moments between Vic and Blood that make this film actually good for much of its duration. Blood's patient, knowledgeable leadership patiently teaching the often savage Vic how to survive in a world that is just as lost as him is wonderful; ironically their roles are reversed at various moments, making Vic, in all truth, Blood's dog. L.Q. Jones is sympathetic in how he directs their heated arguments along with their simple conversations. There is a theme that works brilliantly.

It is very well-known that Harlan Ellison was dissatisfied with the closing lines of this film and it really is an unfitting closure to the film. An unsympathetic line by Blood takes much of the warmness away from an ending that otherwise is touchingly satisfying. Little flaws like that prove to be fatal blows to this film that becomes directionless, fittingly at times, as well as distractingly shallow when it should be its warmest. L.Q. Jones was dedicated to this adaptation, but he seems to not know what he ultimately wants to achieve with it. I still have not come to any real conclusions about my overall feelings for this film; there is much to like, some to love, and a whole bunch to not like. Maybe this will become one of the endless recent remakes; I think that this film would be one with some real potential unlike the painfully forced reboots or remakes of remakes that have wasted countless hours of our precious time. Who knows? I would probably watch it just in hope to see this material done at least close to what it could have been with this film.

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