Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The werewolf is one of the better known creatures from horror stories. Herodotus wrote about them, and the stories of men turning into wolves or other animals were probably old in his time. Despite the antiquity, werewolves haven’t fared particularly well in films. In my personal opinion, there have only been four truly must see werewolf movies, and this review is of the most recent of them, Dog Soldiers.*
A British army section (six men instead of the usual eight) is dispatched to a remote portion of Scotland for a training exercise, carrying blank ammunition. Little do they know, but they are actually there to serve as bait. Apparently, the British government has learned of the existence of a werewolf stalking the forested land of Robert the Bruce, and, in the grand tradition of evil governments, wants to catch it for possible use as a weapon. An SAS stick is watching the unlucky soldiers to catch the creature when it comes for them, but there is a miscalculation. There isn’t just one werewolf, but a pack of them and the stick is slaughtered before they have a chance to fight. The other soldiers discover this, appropriate their weapons and pick up their sleazy commander, and begin the risky business of surviving until morning, when presumably the sun will turn their stalkers back into humans. They are guided by a pretty local zoologist, although they forego the opportunity to ask her as many questions as they should.
The producers chose not to go the modern CGI route for the movie, instead using practical effects, animatronics, and people in costume (on stilts, for the illusion of height) and it works well. For one thing, it means the creatures are seen mostly in glimpses until the end of the movie, which heightens the suspense. The cast is also very good. The most recognizable faces to American audiences would be Kevin McKidd (Rome), and the always-good Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon, The Mutant Chronicles). The actors playing the soldiers do a good job of handling the “squaddies-in-peril” aspect of the film, even mentioning, Rorke’s Drift, the inspiration for the film Zulu at one point. The gore effects are well done but not excessive. It was directed by Neil Marshall, who also gave us the good The Descent and the disappointing Doomsday.
One of the things I really liked was when the werewolves attacked, the soldiers acted like soldiers (or soljas, as Pertwee’s character says). They execute a retreat under fire, covering their rear as they retreat, they practice conservation of their scarce ammunition, and when they get to a shelter, they immediately begin hardening it to strengthen its defenses. Most importantly, chain of command for the section stays intact. Even in military movies, soldiers are usually depicted as falling into anarchy when threatened.
I found the movie suspenseful, humorous in the right spots (there’s a Matrix reference that made me laugh the first time I saw it, although time may have dimmed the effect of that one) and consistent in its internal mythology. If you haven’t seen it, you probably should give it a chance.
For years, there was a sequel planned for the movie, but talk of that seems to have died down, and there is now little chance of it happening, it seems.
The one big disappointment here is the blu-ray presentation. It is at best little upgrade over previous DVD editions, and may be a step back. The transfer rate hovers around 1000, where most blu-rays are over 4000 (and most DVDs 448) and the picture quality is about the same as the DVD releases. Any improvement to the sound quality is likewise unnoticeable, and it does not have audio encoded in DTS or PCM formats. Even worse, the special features found on the earlier DVDs, including two information commentaries, are missing, and the movie is presented in a bare bones package. I assume this is so they may be restored later in a “Deluxe Re-Mastered” blu-ray, but this is a cheat.
* Curious as to what the other three films are? Of course you are. Check back here later for my "Four Essential Werewolf Movies".