Dog Soldiers Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Neil Marshall
2002, Region A, 105 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on July 23rd, 2015
Sean Pertwee as Sgt. Harry Wells
Kevin McKidd as Pvt. Cooper
Emma Cleasby as Megan
Liam Cunningham as Capt. Ryan
Thomas Lockyer as Cpl. Campbell
Darren Morfitt as ‘Spoon’ Witherspoon
Chris Robson as Pvt. Kirkley
Leslie Simpson as Pvt. Milburn
A group of soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands find themselves surrounded by a pack of hungry werewolves. The men are out of their element and forced to retreat, only to find salvation at the hands of a local woman who transports them to a remote cabin deep within the woods. Several attempts are made to escape the situation, but the monsters have their location surrounded and it quickly becomes clear that these guys are not prepared for this kind of scenario. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this spectacular debut effort from director Neil Marshall (The Descent).
Dog Soldiers wastes zero time with clichés of the genre. The high concept “werewolves vs. soldiers” motif is treated seriously, and the story explores all angles of trained military operatives facing off against a pack of mythical monsters. Characters are well developed and there is no shortage of creativity in staging the numerous action sequences throughout. The creatures look particularly cool thanks to the work of effects artist Bob Keen (Hellraiser), and while there is not a show-stopping transformation sequence as in An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, there is no shortage of violent set pieces either. Marshall keeps things moving at an intense pace and approaches the situation from a tactical standpoint of exploring what his soldiers would do in this situation and also manages to include moments of black humor.
Sean Pertwee (Wilderness) is instantly engaging as Sgt. Harry Wells, determined to ready his men for any scenario, only to fall apart when grievously wounded by a lycanthrope. He is carried to temporary shelter and it is here that Pertwee shines as his character’s vulnerability overtakes his cool demeanor, and the performance is surprisingly heartfelt. Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) has no time for such niceties as the mysterious Capt. Ryan, the sole survivor of an assault on a Special Forces team the night before. Ryan remains silent about the details of his mission, even when the information he keeps could save the lives of others. The real hero is Pvt. Cooper (Kevin McKidd, Trainspotting), who has a history with Ryan, but remains focused on the mission at hand: survival. McKidd and Pertwee have a great chemistry as they discuss the role of leadership and every scene they share together builds on the previous. Emma Cleasby (Doomsday) is Megan, the strong female counterpart to this testosterone brigade and she holds her own as a sensible person caught in an insane nightmare.
By the year 2000, the werewolf film had fallen into a slump of disappointing direct-to-video tripe that satisfied no one. The subgenre received a much needed adrenaline boost with the arrival of Ginger Snaps (2000) and Dog Soldiers (2002). Both films received critical acclaim but failed to secure a US theatrical release, the former going straight to video while the latter premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel. A rabid fan base has elevated these pictures to contemporary cult status and Scream Factory has stepped up to deliver Collector’s Edition deluxe releases of each. If you love lycanthropes but have managed to miss these recent additions, do yourself a favor and the next time the full moon shines, pop in any of the titles mentioned within this review and prepare to have your skin peeled back by the talented hands of some quality filmmakers.
Video and Audio:
Scream Factory delayed this release by almost a full year in hopes of providing additional supplements and creating a new transfer to improve upon the lackluster debut Blu-ray (and DVD). Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture looks reasonably strong at times, but is frustratingly inconsistent with color timing and issues with contrast levels. Marshall has gone on the record to confirm the original 16mm elements are currently lost and this transfer comes from the best 35mm prints available. He supervised the new transfer and claims this is as good as it can look given the limitations. Knowing that the blue tints added to the original video release were not director approved, it is nice to see the film resemble the original vision, but the good intentions fall flat given the condition of the source materials.
The picture limitations have sparked outrage from critics, and while indeed there is frequent print damage, their venom feels excessive. I cannot help but believe these are likely the same voices that praise the nostalgia vibe provided by the artificial scratches and digital manipulation for the contemporary wave of faux “Grindhouse” movies, while complaining that films like Texas Chain Saw Massacre look “too clean” when restored for Blu-ray release. This is not the final word on Dog Soldiers, but until the original negative turns up, this is as close as we are going to get. Scream Factory ran into similar problems when attempting to re-master The Final Terror (a title that was restored using multiple source prints). While you cannot please everyone, it is nice to see a company investing the time to track down the best elements rather than simply play it cheap and recycle what has come before. That being said, a sticker on the exterior packaging acknowledging the problems with this transfer would have likely silenced some of the haters.
Both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 are offered and either is sufficient. The expanded mix is preferable, particularly in the last half hour during all of the mayhem. The sound mix within the wooded environment is solid, but things really kick in once we get inside the cabin.
English subtitles are available for anyone in need.
Dog Soldiers finally receives a special edition loaded with extra features, but sadly there’s quite a bit missing from earlier releases. Let’s start with the goodies that we do get, as there are many nice things to be found in this Collector’s Edition.
Director Neil Marshal finally sits down for a long overdue and quite welcome audio commentary. The man has a lot to say and the track moves swiftly so check it out and prepare to be entertained as he reflects on the path to making his werewolf opus.
The impressive retrospective piece Werewolves vs. Soldiers (62 minutes) assembles numerous members of the cast and crew for a nice look back at the history of Dog Soldiers. Marshall is joined by producer Christopher Figg, cinematographer Sam McCurdy, production designer Simon Bowles and special effects artists Bob Keen and Dave Bonneywell. The team shares several informative anecdotes about the challenges of making the film and it is nice to hear from so many involved. Looking back at the project from an actor’s perspective, cast members Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt and Emma Cleasby are all on hand to share their memories of the project. There is a lot of information provided here and it is definitely the most impressive supplement included on the disc.
Production Designer Simon Bowles discusses his work in the A Cottage in the Woods (13 minute) featurette and reveals the original model he designed as a template for the cabin set being constructed.
A pair of photo galleries offers a behind-the-scenes look at the production as well as some promotional images from the film.
Neil Marshal’s short film Combat (8 minutes) offers a peek at the creative mind of a budding director and is a welcome addition here.
A collection of theatrical and home video trailers for Dog Soldiers round out the special features on this disc.
Missing from this release are the producers’ commentary track and original behind-the-scenes featurette (20 minutes) from the Artisan DVD. The import FOX DVD included deleted scenes, a gag reel and two additional commentary tracks featuring members of the cast and crew.
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