DVD Review HTF Review: Straw Dogs (Unrated)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Sep 9, 2004.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]


    Straw Dogs: Extended Unrated Version





    Studio: MGM
    Year: 1971
    Rated: Not Rated
    Running Time: 118 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
    Audio: English – Monaural





    Release Date:
    October 19th, 2004



    Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 masterpiece, Straw Dogs, is set outside of what seems to have been his genre of choice (Westerns), but his skill as a storyteller makes this a chilling, violent, and disturbing cinematic work nonetheless. Essentially, Straw Dogs was Peckinpah’s contribution to an era replete with movies that almost glorified vigilante justice, such as Dog Day Afternoon and Death Wish, which underscored the apparent dissatisfaction with some aspects of America’s legal system. Of course, Straw Dogs is not set in America, but it has a similar theme to the aforementioned films, and is one of the grittiest of these “vigilante movies” (at least in my opinion).

    Granted, the level of violence that made it infamous during its theatrical release is somewhat tame by current standards, but Peckinpah’s exploration of the dark, animal side of human nature remains every bit as disturbing now as it was over three decades ago! This is particularly true the depiction of one of his characters seeming to derive a strange sense of pleasure from being forcibly raped! Sam Peckinpah’s chosen location also played a large part in creating the forbidding “feel” of the film, as the overcast skies of England’s dreary countryside proved to be a perfect environment in which to explore the primitive, barbaric impulses that are buried deep within the modern human being.

    As the film begins, we are introduced to the story’s protagonist, a timid American college professor named David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), who has traveled to his wife Amy’s (Susan George) quiet hometown in England, so he can develop his theories on astral mathematics without disruption. Interestingly, his wife suspects that David really wanted to leave the States because he was afraid of the climate surrounding the protracted Vietnam conflict. More specifically, she seems to show disdain for David’s desire to avoid having to address the issue or have his views called into question.

    Unfortunately for David, the small, fog-shrouded town proves to have been a poor choice for quiet comfort, and his move leads to trouble of a much more serious sort. From almost the instant the Sumners arrive in town, Amy’s former boyfriend Charlie Venner (Del Henney), begins harassing and crowding the couple. Peckinpah’s gift for foreshadowing comes into play here, as he inserts shows that clearly show Amy going without a brassiere, or topless, seeming to stir up the interest of Charlie and other seedy locals, all while claiming to be offended by their ogling. Thus, in addition to hinting that Charlie would become a threat to the Sumners, Sam Peckinpah uses these scenes to subtly clue the audience in on what I believe his two main themes in Straw Dogs are, namely sex and violence.

    As I mentioned, it doesn’t take long for the real trouble to start, for when David refuses to pressure Charlie and his crew to complete some repairs to their house, Amy goes ballistic, and chides David for being wimpy and unmanly. Charlie and the other hooligans pick up this internal strife between the couple, leading them to step up their effort to intimidate the mild mannered mathematician.

    Things are already bad for the couple, but they take a real turn for the worse when Amy is assaulted and raped by Charlie and another man. This is the controversial sequence I alluded to above, which is most notable for a very distressing moment where Amy appears to be enjoying her violation at the hands of the two cretins. Indeed, it seems to me like Peckinpah was proposing that Amy was, in a really demented and sick way, trying to spite David for being so weak and unmanly (as compared to local vermin like Charlie). After really pondering this scene, I cannot think of a director other than Sam Peckinpah that would be bold enough to depict Amy as not only somewhat responsible for the crime but also deriving some pleasure from the violent act, since she was being taken by rough, forceful men – the polar opposite of her David.

    It is hard to believe, but the latter stages of Straw Dogs take the tension, carnage, and violence another step further, as these thugs attempt to invade the Sumner’s home. Now I must mention that I like that Sam Peckinpah does not merely use violence for violence’s sake, or to create cheap visceral thrills for the audience, during these sequences. There is method to the madness of using violent imagery and brutal, namely to set the stage for the development and transformation of David’s character. You see, as David’s homestead is under attack, he must summon the courage to defend both himself and his homestead, and at the same time determine if his wife, who did not appreciate him for what he was, is even worth protecting.

    As far as the performances are concerned, Dustin Hoffman is as brilliant as ever, portraying a weak, mild mannered man who is forced to violence with extreme realism. The majority of the other cast members are almost as good, but it is hard to like any of their characters, as they are truly despicable human beings.

    Turning to the man at the helm, we see that volatile director Sam Peckinpah again uses his immense filmmaking talent to plunge viewers into a cold, brutal environment in which people must exhibit extreme courage, and be willing to take lives whenever necessary, if they are to survive. Personally, I think that Straw Dogs is among Peckinpah’s best works, and that the non-Western setting really allowed him to show how money, status, and the pursuit of civilized ends competes with the savage impulses buried deep within the human mind. I also liked how the film accurately depicts that acts of violence can change a human being’s life in more ways than one.

    Clearly, this film’s subject matter places it squarely in the “not for the faint of heart” category, and in addition to being interesting and thought provoking, the film is truly disturbing. However, if the dark subject matter doesn’t scare you off, a stellar performance by Dustin Hoffman, unsettling and well-told story, and capable direction make Straw Dogs worth a look.







    SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
    Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is presented by MGM in 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.85:1), and it looks simply delightful. To begin with, although colors are slightly faded (this is a film from the early ‘70s), they are rendered in a superb fashion, with no visible smearing or noise. Blacks are also rich and detailed, so shadow delineation is fantastic, even during the latter stages of the film, which are very sparsely lit.

    Further, the image also boasts exceptional clarity and depth, so even small objects in the background of scenes are clearly visible. There is a very, very light grain visible from time to time, and an occasional imperfection in the print pops up as well, but other than that there is absolutely nothing to complain about. Having never seen the Criterion disc, I cannot state with any degree of certainty that the film has undergone further resoration, but this is still a wonderful, film-like presentation overall, and as a result Straw Dogs looks much better than most films its age. Color me impressed!




    WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
    The monaural Dolby Digital soundtrack for Straw Dogs is not what I would call exceptional, but it does have an acceptable level of dynamic range and is free of defects that hint at its vintage (pops, crackles, hissing). And although the soundstage is not terribly spacious, the fidelity of the source material exceeded my expectations, and frequency response is fine in all but the lowest portions of the audible spectrum.

    All in all, this is a serviceable, though unspectacular monaural soundtrack. Without question, it is not on par with the excellent image quality, but it does suit the source material well enough.





    EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!

    There are no supplemental materials available. All you get is the Unrated cut...




    SCORE CARD

    (on a five-point scale)
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras:
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    THE LAST WORD
    Straw Dogs is not a film that will appeal to everyone, but I think it is an important work from a controversial and talented filmmaker that is worth seeing. Better still, MGM has seen to it that the film looks fabulous and sounds good on DVD!

    Unfortunately, however, there is not an extra to be found on this release, which is really a shame considering how good (and controversial) this film is. Apparently, a Criterion edition (which I have never seen) of this film, which contains a bounty of bonus material, is also floating around out there. Thus, if you are really interested in this film, you may want to pick that version up, although it will probably cost a pretty penny. On the other hand, if you are more concerned with A/V quality than extras, there is no reason not to add this to your DVD collection! Recommended!!!


    Stay tuned…
     
  2. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    hopefully someone will be able to compare this to the CC release.[​IMG]
     
  3. Tim_Stack

    Tim_Stack Second Unit

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    The best blind-buy I've ever made - and I only got it after word leaked of the Criterion going OOP. I'm very happy with that choice.
     
  4. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    The transfer is the same as the Criterion. The colors are a bit faded, although there is no excuse or reason that should be, certainly not "it's a seventies film". A little work in the telecine room would have done wonders. The region 2 which is not as sharp has better color.
     
  5. Paul Arnette

    Paul Arnette Cinematographer

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    Thanks for that. Is this the same cut of the film as the Criterion also?
     
  6. JackKay

    JackKay Second Unit

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    My question also. My CC has a running time of 117, the review says 118. I wonder what that minute has?

    Here is comparisons of FreMantle - Region 0 - PAL vs. Anchor Bay - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC at DVD Beaver:
    http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/dvdcompare/strawdogs.htm
    But not the current MGM release.
     
  7. Jason^G

    Jason^G Auditioning

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    lion roar
     
  8. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    Same exact transfer, same exact cut, every frame.
     
  9. JackKay

    JackKay Second Unit

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    Thanx guys.
     
  10. Hans M.

    Hans M. Stunt Coordinator

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    Well, seems the final scenes of the film lends itself to some intrepretation.
    Jason Perez states:


    I don't agree. I think David's actions at the end of the film are an extension of his cowardliness at the film's beginning. He has total disregard for the safety of his wife and often projects his frustrations toward her. He battles against the thugs outside his house for principal, not out of some new found courage. He's defending a murderer he doesn't even know-- not his wife and home, which is being demolished around him—it’s not even his house. It was his wife’s father’s home! What's so tragic about the film is that he doesn't fight because he suddenly taps into some sense of courage, but because he has quite "snapped." He has no regard for his wife and home. The man was a simple idiot who never acknowledged his wife's feelings. There's much more complexity to the film than what the reviewer states.
     
  11. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

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    Thanks Jason

    After reviewing Peckinpah's "The Osterman Weekend" earlier this year, my interest in seeing Straw Dogs is pretty much here.

    Thanks for the review.
    Mike
     
  12. David Wilkins

    David Wilkins Supporting Actor

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    CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!

    I would like to begin by saying, that if you love film, and you haven't seen Straw Dogs, please do so. In my opinion at least, it's an important piece of work.


    ***
    HansM wrote: I don't agree. I think David's actions at the end of the film are an extension of his cowardliness at the film's beginning. He has total disregard for the safety of his wife and often projects his frustrations toward her. He battles against the thugs outside his house for principal, not out of some new found courage. He's defending a murderer he doesn't even know-- not his wife and home, which is being demolished around him—it’s not even his house. It was his wife’s father’s home! What's so tragic about the film is that he doesn't fight because he suddenly taps into some sense of courage, but because he has quite "snapped." He has no regard for his wife and home. The man was a simple idiot who never acknowledged his wife's feelings. There's much more complexity to the film than what the reviewer states.
    ***


    I disagree with several of your points. First, I would like to agree with your statement that the film is far more complex than the reviewer indicates.

    That he seems to disregard his wife's safety, I believe, is an ongoing indication of their strained relationship. He is indeed frustrated with her. However, his emphasis on keeping out the thugs is very appropriate due to their "mob mentality", and the collective fate of he and his wife and the man he's protecting, hinges on keeping them out at all cost. At that point, his courage may be more neccessity than either principal or new-found courage. I think his new-found courage is more accurately, a discovery that he (like most of us) is capable of more than he himself suspects, and this discovery leads to an iron-willed resolve in the midst of potential catastrophy.

    True, it wasn't actually his home, but it was his sacred space being violated. And in very short order, it becomes obvious that the doors and walls are just preimptory to the fate that will befall himself, his wife, and most certainly the man of questionable guilt, and unquestionable mental and emotional defects.

    Also, I suggest strongly that he isn't "defending a murder that he doesn't even know". This was the situation that spawned his courage and self-discovery...from his (Hoffman's) perspective, he doesn't know for certain that the man has killed anyone, it's just the claim of the mob, and he has enough experience with their questionable characters, that he has doubts about their claims regarding the supposed murderer. All he knows of the man, is having seen him around town, and in at least one instance, being mistreated by others. This is a cinematic moment when the character in question knows less than the audience.

    Regardless, the man is obviously retarded to some extent, and rather than turn him over to an unruly mob in whose hands he would doubtless meet a grim fate, he stands his ground, wanting law enforcement authorities to handle the matter, which is quite admirable given the circumstances. I would say that his courage is definitely in evidence at that point. The stance taken by Hoffman's character is proven correct after the group of men kill the Constable. The group had a very violent nature, and quickly lost control of themselves.

    You mention his wife's feelings: she was all for turning the man over to the mob, and she, more than most, had to know full well what they were capable of doing.
     
  13. David Wilkins

    David Wilkins Supporting Actor

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    There have been a couple of comments regarding faded color. I can't speak for the MGM release, but the Criterion release is, I believe, very close to original intent. If there's an "era" factor, I believe it to be of little or no consequence. The overall color palette is very much like that of the coutryside where it was shot--mostly shades of gray, brown and muted green.

    I'm glad that this post has brought back some attention to a deserving film. For those undecided, the extra value included on the Criterion 2-disc release shouldn't be overlooked. There's SAM PECKINPAH: MAN OF IRON, an 82 minute documentary on the career of Peckinpah. A 26 minute interview with Dustin Hoffman on the set of Straw Dogs...very interesting and rare footage from Hoffman's early, pre-star stages. And of course, other materials.
     
  14. Kevin M

    Kevin M Producer

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    And if you do want the Criterion release bear in mind that it is now officially OOP but may be found at many retailers....for the time being. I'd hurry if I was you, it's worth the search.
     
  15. Ike

    Ike Screenwriter

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    Get the Criterion version if the transfer is the same. The supplements, which I usually am apathetic towards, are fantastic. The commentary and essays are really enlightening. It's worth a pretty penny more.
     
  16. Jeff Adkins

    Jeff Adkins Screenwriter

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    So the Anchor Bay version remains the only true uncut version? I remember Video Watchdog saying the Criterion had some frames cut out that were present in the AB release.
     
  17. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    Frames cut out? Why would Criterion do that? The print used was a new interpositive from the O-neg.

    I'll have to look for a link...
     
  18. Jeff Adkins

    Jeff Adkins Screenwriter

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  19. Kevin M

    Kevin M Producer

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    I have both releases and I personally haven't noticed any difference in cuts between the two.
     
  20. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    There are NO differences - there is not one frame extra in the Anchor Bay. Video Watchdog does get it wrong from time to time, although they're usually good about corrections.
     

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