Sunday, February 17, 2008

Review - A Boy and His Dog

A Boy and His Dog
1976 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

It's been a few years since I've read Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog" but from what I remember the film is pretty faithful to the original short story. It features a boy, his telepathic dog, and a post-nuclear war desert landscape where man subsists by scrounging in the ruins. There's also an underground facility where some aspects of the past are still maintained and the film shares the story's.... unique ending. The movie is not really that good but at the same there's several aspects to it that will definitely stick to you.

Particularly disturbing is the film's treatment of women. They are things to be used and discarded; in the opening scene when the protagonist finds a woman who has been murdered after being raped he's upset because she could have had "a couple more uses in her". If a woman is not a thing to be used then she's an ineffectual schemer. I'm wavering between "sardonic commentary on gender roles" and "just plain creepy" on this with "just plain creepy" winning out due to the film's nature as a 1970's exploitation film.

And it definitely is an exploitation film; cheaply made with junk based sets in the California desert with its cheap thrills. The cinematography is static and weak and the actors are all firmly in the B-class (though Don Johnson did go on to star in Miami Vice). What the film has going for it is shock value (there's that ending again). The film has some real pacing issues with far too much time spent on incidental wandering for the first hour when the real hook of the story occurs. Since it's a 90-minute film the transition is jarring.

What A Boy and His Dog does have is a distinctive viewpoint and black humor that would be duplicated often but rarely as well. While science fiction readers are going to be familiar with the things in this movie I am unaware of any cinema that depicted this now common view of a post-nuclear holocaust world before it.

There had been post-apocalyptic films before A Boy and His Dog but this movie laid down a foundation that would be copied quite often. If you were to watch Mad Max after seeing A Boy and His Dog you'd recognize the source for some of those ideas. Another place where this film had a huge influence are the Fallout computer games which borrows liberally from this film.

I don't think that the movie was successful in its attempts at art but at the same time it was such a bold attempt I have to give them credit for that. I can't recommend seeking out A Boy and His Dog but if you come across it then I would say that it should be watched just to be absorbed in the quirkiness.