Tuesday, June 30, 2015

DOG SOLDIERS (2002)

DOG SOLDIERS (2002)
Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 105 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Liam Cunningham, Kevin McKidd, Thomas Lockyer, Emma Cleasby, Sean Pertwee, Neil Marshall

A squad of six regular British Army soldiers lead by Sgt. Harry G. Wells (Sean Pertwee, Gotham) are dropped by helicopter into the chilly Scottish Highlands for what is to be a standard military exercise, they are up against a Special Forces unit lead by Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham, Centurion). Suddenly the training exercise turn to shit when the soldiers find the Special Forces unit have been eviscerated by an unknown enemy, the encampment is covered in blood and guts, with only the critically wounded Ryan having survived. While Ryan keeps repeating "there was only supposed to be one" the enemy make themselves known and the group retreat into the forest, in the ensuing panic one of the soldiers impales himself on a tree branch and Sgt. Harry is disemboweled by what turns out to werewolves. Patching the Sgt. up the remaining soldiers are found by a woman in a Jeep who transports them to a nearby woodland cottage where they regroup, and treat the injured. Meanwhile, the werewolves gather around the cottage and lay siege throughout the night. Neil Marshall made quite a werewolf film back in 2002, a darkly funny and gory mash-up combining a gritty war movie with the hairy-howls of a Howling-esque terror film, that at its prime feels a bit like Assault of Precinct 13 with werewolves thrown-in to the mix. 

The group of soldiers are spot-on fantastic, a great assortment of actors who imbue their characters with some minor depth as they each share war stories and fret about missing the big soccer match in between barbing each other about this and that, the dialogue is snappy and vibrant. An earlier scene with Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) establishes both his own moral code and his antagonistic relationship with Capt. Ryan from the Special Forces. These are all decent blokes, except for maybe Ryan who is keeping vital information from the other soldiers, and whom strangely has recover from his injuries in record time, I wonder...

The pace is kinetic and the atmosphere is tense, the Scottish Highlands (Luxembourg actually) look damn great, loads mist-laden greenery with rocky outcroppings made even more ominous by the black and white wolf-vision employed by the filmmakers for the POV shots of our hairy-antagonists. The design of the werewolves is great, seven foot tall beasts with the head of a wolf, their bodies are somewhat hairless with a long mane descending down their back from their head, long-clawed fingers with seemingly overlong arms with quite a reach... the better to disembowel you with with my dear. I think the design gives a wink to the creatures from Joe Dante's The Howling, but they manage to hold their own without resorting to outright theft, plus we do not get an elaborate transformation scene, mostly achieved quite simply with just yellow contact lenses and a set of teeth, they duck down below a table or whatnot, a boom  they're transformed. I love that Marshall went practical for the appearance of the werewolves, thereby avoiding the shock and awfulness that was An American Werewolf in Paris, this has an great old school special effects vibe.

Audio/Video: Dog soldiers was previously issues on Blu-ray from First Look Studios in North America and the image was lacking to say the least, when Scream Factory announced a new Collector's Edition of the movie was in the works I was very pleased. After a bit of a delay what we ended up with was a new 2K scan HD transfer approved by director Neil Marshall. Unfortunately, not from the original negative -- which by all accounts seems to be lost -- but from two 35mm film prints. So the expectations of a new 2K scan must be tempered by the fact that we have no negative and there's only so much you can do with a 35mm print -- that is actually a Super 16mm negative blown-up to 35mm. 


Keeping that in mind the PQ is not ideal, by the director's own admission the film is contrasty, overly bright and cursed with black crush and an abundance of grain. I don't mind the film grain, I love it, but the brightness and contrast issues are unsightly, but overall I think the grittiness of the image is actually complimentary to the kinetic hand-held nature of the film. Perhaps down the road someone will uncover the seemingly lost original 16m negative for the movie as we will have a superior transfer, but until such a time we will have to make due with what source elements that were available, and this appears to have been the best of what was available, not ideal but that's the reality.

There are two audio options, English language DTS-HD 2.0 and a Surround 5.1 mix, both are adequate but neither are gonna blow-up your home theater system. Dialogue, the score and special effects audio are nicely balanced, the surround sound option is more active with some use of the rear surrounds during the more action-oriented sequences with some pleasing ambient sound and gunfire. There are optional English subtitles are provided. 

Bonus content on the disc include an hour-long making of documentary with input from Director Neil Marshall, Producers Christopher Figg And Keith Bell, Actors Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Leslie Simpson And Emma Cleasby, Special Effects Artist Bob Keen. There's also a new featurette with Production Designer Simon Bowles who brings out a scale model of the cottage and speaks about the design and logistics of the cottage sequences.There's also a new audio commentary from the director loaded with anecdotal info about the making of the film, the cast and crew, and the genesis of the project. Neil Marshall's short film 'Combat' from 1999 is included on the set, a fun war-themed version of the pub dating scene at the time, it's a fun addition



A few extras not carried over from previous DVD editions worth mentioning are an audio commentary by writer/director Neil Marshall, producer Keith Bell, cameraman Sam McCurdy and actors Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham and Sean Pertwee which can be found on the Region 2 DVD, plus a  commentary by producers David Allen and Brian O'Toole which can be found on both the R2 and R1 DVD. Also missing are a brief Making of Dog Soldiers featurette (found on the R1/R2 DVD) and a selection of deleted scenes and gag reel with optional audio commentary by writer/director Neil Marshall -- only found on the R2 DVD from Pathe. Depending on your love of extras you might want to hang onto those DVDs. Notably, the previous Blu-ray from First Look Studios was completely bereft of extras, so this release from Scream Factory is much appreciated, and the new making of doc more than makes up for the missing supplemental material. 

As one of Scream's Collector's Edition we have a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring original artwork -- which sort of reminded me of the baboon horror fest 'Shakma' -- and new artwork from illustrator Scream regular Nathan Thomas Milner, with a slipcase featuring the new artwork. This is a DVD/BD Combo with a DVD disc that mirrors the same feature and extras only in standard edition, the disc art is the same on both the DVD and Blu-ray, which I think is a missed opportunity to showcase the new artwork. As I recall most of Scream's combo releases typically have the same artwork, with the exceptions of Escape from New York and Motel Hell which two art options on the disc -- it's a small thing but I love it when they do it. 

Special Features
- NEW 2K Scan HD Transfer Supervised And Approved By Director Neil Marshall
- NEW Audio Commentary With Director Neil Marshall
- NEW The Making Of DOG SOLDIERS Featuring New Interviews With Director Neil Marshall, Producers Christopher Figg And Keith Bell, Actors Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Leslie Simpson And Emma Cleasby, Special Effects Artist Bob Keen, And More! (62 Mins) HD
- NEW A Cottage in the Woods: A Look At The Model Of The Sets Created By Production Designer Simon Bowles (13 Mins) HD
- Theatrical Trailer (5 Mins) HD
- Neil Marshall's Short Film: Combat (8 Mins) HD
- Two Still Galleries – Photos From The Film And Rare Photos From Production Designer Simon Bowles And Special Effects Artist Dave Bonneywell's Archives (69 Images) SD


Dog Soldiers is in my opinion one of the best werewolf movies of the past twenty-years, without a doubt. Other than the very recent Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf (2014) there are precious few werewolf movies worth a re watch these days, if there are, please tell me what they are. Scream Factory new edition is a solid purchase, loaded with cool extras and highly recommended.  4/5

No comments:

Post a Comment