BLU-RAY REVIEW: Straw Dogs
40th anniversary of Dustin Hoffman classic hits hi-def...
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There's no doubt when Straw Dogs hit American theaters back in December 1971, moviegoers weren't prepared. Unlike other films which hit theaters that year like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Shaft, Dirty Harry, and even the similarly brutal yet satirical A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs included a type of realistic bullying and brutality which was simply hit too close to home for many moviegoers.
Brought to the life by director Sam Peckinpah, an American-born English filmmaker who never fit the Hollywood mold, Straw Dogs reeks of anger, distress, brutality, and alpha-male machismo. Based on Scottish writer Gordon Williams' novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm and co-written for the screen by David Zelag Goodman and director Peckinpah, the film tells the tale of David & Amy Sumner (Dustin Hoffman and Susan George), who move to Amy's childhood English town so David can finish his book. David, the epitome of soft, unmanly, nerdiness is forlorn compared to Charlie Venner (played brutally by Del Henney) and his crew of local workmen hoods, who agree to fix up David and Amy's home. However, Charlie - who used to be Amy's boyfriend - wants nothing more than to make a fool of David and get back with Amy.
Throughout the film's first acts, Charlie and his hoods show just how tough they are to the American outsider by antagonizing and intimidating him until they do the most brutal, horrific thing possible and gang rape Amy. Thus proving David can protect neither his home nor wife, the film enters its final act in which moviegoers watch as David's hand is forced and he becomes (be it better late than never) much more than the man of the house.
Throughout the film we watch as the effeminate David consistently receives ridicule for his lack of manliness - be it through teasing, name-calling, or physical intimation. However, it's the compounding of his mistreatment and the viscous attack on his wife that we finally see David's transformation into what society would consider "the protector of his home." For all intents and purposes, David has had enough and, unfortunately for us, we realize all too late that this man too is capable of viciousness. There is, per chance, little difference between him and those who've put him through hell.
Even now, 40 years later, Straw Dogs continues to stir up controversy on a number of levels. Of course the film is a moral tale that's immoral in its content and telling; showing how it's all too often those who look the weakest and easiest of prey are that are the most capable of doing anything and everything unexpected.
The video transfer on Straw Dogs is great considering the film's age. Brought to blu-ray in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There's plenty of grain which seems appropriate, though there are a few issues (like marks) which could have been fixed had a bit more time and money been spent on the film's hi-def transfer. Likewise, the audio here is great. A new lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track stays true to original monotone sound track with no new sound effects added. In fact, the new 5.1 surround track simply expands on the original audio and gives purists what they want.
As for special features, the disc includes only 3 short TV spots and a theatrical trailer, which is disappointing considering the 2-disc DVD Criterion release included a wide variety of interviews, commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, and more.
Overall, for fans of this classic, brutal moral story, Straw Dogs on blu-ray is a great addition to their hi-def home library. While the disc unfortunately doesn't include the variety of special features previously released on DVD, it does include the best video and audio available.
Straw Dogs is available on blu-ray hi-def now wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley