A BOY AND HIS DOG is a wild, kinky and darkly hilarious cinematic adventure, a cult classic for almost 30 years and an inspiration for an era of sci-fi films, including the Mad Max movies. Based on the Nebula winning novella by Harlan Ellison and directed by L. Q. Jones, it stars Don Johnson, Jason Robards and Susanne Benton.
It’s the year 2024, and most of the Earth’s nations have been demolished by yet another world war (the latest being WWIV). In this postapocalyptic world, slow-witted survivor Vic (Don Johnson) forages through the ruins for food and women with the help of his faithful dog, Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire), with whom he is able to communicate telepathically. Blood, more intelligent and more cultured than his young “master,” often gets impatient with Vic’s immature behavior and lack of interest in his attempts to educate the boy, but he nonetheless loves Vic and sticks with him to help him survive. And after several minor adventures and one huge misadventure, Vic does learn one incontestable actuality: Nothing is more important to a boy than his dog.
Based on an award-winning novella by the curmudgeonly SF writer Harlan Ellison, A Boy and His Dog was adapted and directed by character actor L.Q. Jones and co-produced by Jones and Alvy Moore (the latter probably best known for his portrayal of scatterbrained Hank Kimball on tv’s Green Acres). While Ellison has said many times publicly that the film is the most faithful adaptation of any of his works, he has nonetheless complained vehemently about some of Jones’ “adjustments”–most notably the minor addition of some gross or vulgar dialogue–and tried unsuccessfully to get them changed. Whether or not Ellison’s complaints have merit, A Boy and His Dog has come to be regarded as a science-fiction classic, its popularity undoubtedly due to its likeable characters who, despite their constant bickering and individual quirks, are redeemed by their committed friendship and their sarcastically humorous approach to survival.
The performances in A Boy and His Dog are top-notch. Johnson convincingly portrays Vic as a filthy scavenger who, in spite of his dire situation, still manages to remain a decent human being at the core. Tim McIntire’s vocal characterization of Blood embodies Ellison’s original concept of a mutant pooch with a caustic ego that is balanced with just the right amount of off-beat humanity, and this portrayal is enhanced further by the outstanding on-screen performance of Tiger, the canine thespian that portrayed the family pet on tv’s The Brady Bunch. In his supporting role as the governor of a subterranean dystopia, Jason Robards is delightfully smarmy. And when beautiful Susanne Benton bares her ample “talents” on the screen, that’s a lot of fun watch, too.
With A Boy and His Dog, Jones’ intention is not to make deep socio-political innuendos or to meet the average action-fan’s prosaic expectations, and sentimentality is obviously far from his mind. Instead of serving up a dull postapocalyptic survival-of-the-fittest thriller or a cliché love-among-the-ruins drama, Jones gives us a wry black comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. His direction is tight, his staging often inventive, and the dialogue–while mostly lifted directly from Ellison’s story–is often sharply sardonic and frequently witty. With this and the outstanding performances he elicits from his cast, Jones creates a realistic world of future desolation, but he peoples it with central characters that learn to deal with the nightmare while still maintaining their humanity…and a sense of humor.
Several DVD editions of A Boy and His Dog have been available over the past few years, and all have delivered good letterbox widescreen digital transfers. The current offering from First Run Features is an anamorphic widescreen version, and it also contains an interesting feature commentary and theatrical trailers.
All in all, A Boy and His Dog is a wonderful interpretation of a classic SF novella, and this DVD will make a great entry in the film collections of SF fans who love quirky non-mainstream films.
Review by Michael R