Videophiled: Neil Marshall’s ‘Dog Soldiers: Collector’s Edition’

Dog Soldiers
Scream Factory

Dog Soldiers: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD) – “If we engage the enemy, I expect nothing less than gratuitous violence from the lot of you.” Neil Marshall ransacks and revitalizes every cliché in the book in this howling good reworking of the werewolf tale.

Borrowing liberally from the “survivors under siege” classics Aliens and Night of the Living Dead, Marshall drops his full moon boogie in the deep misty forests of the Scottish Highlands, pits platoon versus wolf pack, and watches the fur fly. Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd are the career soldiers on a weekend war game turned into a primal bloodbath, Emma Cleasby the backwoods naturalist who knows more than she’s saying, and Liam Cunningham the ruthless Special Forces officer with a conspiratorial streak. “There was only supposed to be one…” Cunningham moans when his troops find him at the otherwise deserted base camp, wounded and dazed and surrounded by spots of blood and bits of human organs. Their retreat is only marginally more successful and before you can say “Lucky you came along on this lonely dirt road in the nick of time,” they hitch a ride and hole up in the only house for miles around.

Where so many horror movies coast on such coincidences, Marshall works them into the conspiratorial premise of the piece and dangles clues for observant viewers between the blasts of black humor (Wells’ tug of war with a playful dog over the intestines spilling out of his gut), bloody horror, and action heroics. His muscular attack and display of men-under-fire sacrifice is reminiscent of James Cameron, while the shards of cold illumination that backlight the swirling fog, catch the faces of combatants, and silhouette the towering beasts (apparently the full moon had some help) recall Ridley Scott. Give credit to Marshall for borrowing from the best. Dog Soldiers doesn’t transcend genre, it embraces it, energizes it, and takes big bloody chomp out of it.

Director Neil Marshall posted a note about the restoration on the Scream Factory Facebook page, noting that the original negative is apparently lost and the disc was mastered from existing prints. “Like it or not, when the movie was originally released in the UK in 2002, the blacks were crushed, the contrast was high, the colours were rich and the image was grainy as fuck, because let’s not forget, this movie was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm.” So yes, this is grainy and doesn’t have the detail or clarity of master harvested from the original negative, but it’s a fine edition that the director stands behind.

This edition features both Blu-ray and DVD copies with new supplements, including commentary by Neil Marshall, the hour-long documentary “Werewolves vs. Soldiers: The Making of Dog Soldiers” with new interviews with Marshall, many of his collaborators, and the film’s stars, and a 13-minute featurette on the production design, plus Marshall’s 1999 short film Combat and a couple of photo galleries. The cover features reversible art.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

TV on Disc: ‘Strike Back’

Strike Back: Season One (HBO) – Originally developed as a British action series about international intelligence agents infiltrating enemy organizations and stopping terrorist threats around the globe with a mix of spycraft and violence, “Strike Back” was reworked and relaunched as a co-production between Britain’s BSkyB cable channel and the American pay cable channel Cinemax and relaunched with a new cast. That’s the version released here as “Cinemax Season One,” which stars Philip Winchester as Sgt. Michael Stonebridge, an agent in Britain’s super-secret covert Section 20 and Sullivan Stapleton as American Damien Scott, a former (dishonorably discharged) Delta Force officer drafted to help out when a fellow agent is captured by a terrorist organization in Pakistan. Amanda Mealing co-stars as the Section 20 commander and Eva Birthistle is a veteran agent, and guest stars include Jimi Mistry, Liam Cunningham, and Iain Glen.

It’s compared to “24” but it actually plays like a supercharged “MI-5” by way of a “Bourne” movie, with high-energy action, plenty of gunplay and explosions, maverick field agents, politically-minded commanders, and any number of conspiracies and double crosses winding through the stories. It doesn’t have the intelligence or complexity of an ambitious HBO drama, but it’s clever enough and delivers plenty of well-executed action sequences with a gritty style. The ten episodes play out as a series of five two-part adventures with a cliffhanger in the middle, and a season-long story connecting the individual stories. Give the show credit for an inventive conspiracy: it’s all about the WMDs that were *supposed* to be found in Iraq and the blowback from the failure just now reaching escape velocity in a terrorist plot.

10 episodes on four discs on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on five episodes. The Blu-ray set features a bonus DVD version (on two flipper discs) and digital copy for download (via iTunes).

More TV on Disc at Videodrone