Dog Soldiers:

or the True Meaning of Blu-ray

by

Scott MacDonald

   Dog Soldiers is one of the finest werewolf films of the 21st Century, and to be honest could easily squeeze into the pantheon of all time genre best as far as werewolf films are concerned. The werewolf as a cinematic monster is so drastically under utilized unlike it's cinematic counterparts zombies and vampires, that when one pops up, it automatically finds itself compared to others in itís immediately monstrous subgenre.

   Dog Soldiers is the feature film debut by director Neil Marshall. Marshall would go on to direct another horror classic The Descent, and also the post-apocalyptic throwback Doomsday, as well as Centurion. These days he is well-known for directing some of the most action heavy episodes of HBO's Game of Thrones The high adrenaline action style that Marshall would develop throughout his career can easily be pinpointed to his beginnings with Dog Soldier (and also the short film Combat included on the Blu).

   The film follows a Scottish Special Forces team on a series of weekend exercises. While out they stumble on Captain Ryan, the survivor of an apparent ambush whose squad was well armed, but somehow taken down. He rants about how "There was only supposed to be one", and we are soon to find out that a pack of werewolves tore his squad to bits. The team, who only has weapons with "blank" ammunition have to find a way to survive the werewolves who are stalking them. When all hope seems gone, they are given refuge in a rural home to tend to their Sergeant's wounds, and also to put up one last stand against the wolves.

   The film itself is an intense experience, and that should be no surprise coming from Marshall, whose riotous cinematic vision was on display right out of the gate. It was just done in a much more raw, low budget manner akin to the the first Evil Dead film.  Of course, Marshall makes his format work for him, and the film is grainy, dark, and this as well as the isolated setting contributes to the overall feel of the piece almost like an unspoken character.

   Now this is where I get to an issue I've wanted to address for quite some time, and the controversy surrounding the release of Dog Soldiers has given me the opportunity to do so. Dog Soldiers like so many of it's low budget horror and exploitation brethren of the past was shot using the Super 16mm format. That format is intensely grainy especially in low light conditions like those present in Dog Soldiers.  The grain is further enhanced by the fact that the 16mm was blown up to 35mm for theatrical exhibition.

   Now there have been 16mm films transferred to Blu-ray with stunning results, look no further than Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case or Sam Raimi's Evil Dead for a look, but even as nice as they look they share a raw quality to them. Raimi and Henenlotter obviously had better sources available to them, than Marshall and Scream Factory did for Dog Soldiers, and it does certainly show, but one important thing that must be understood by anyone who picks up a Blu-ray of a film that was shot on film, that the point of the format is to not make the film look HD or NEW (whatever that means), but to give the film the best possible interpretation of it's original look.

   Scream Factory and Neil Marshall did not have access to the negatives of Dog Soldiers, and so they went with the next best thing cinema prints that were color timed off the negative. These prints were scanned, and restored, but also show off their limitations. That means the transfer is highly grainy, there is some damage that is noticeable throughout, and some black crush that was present in the prints themselves. However, while I would give the transfer a 3/5 should I have done a more traditional review, I would also point out that the transfer is the best Dog Soldiers has ever looked on home video, and that is accurately represents what the film looked like projected in the early 2000's, and so the Blu-ray has done it's job as well as it could have. The transfer by the way for those keeping score is presented by Scream Factory in a 1:78:1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode.

   The audio is presented with DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Both tracks are quite suitable for the film, but nothing too over the top, dialogue comes through clearly, as does the filmís score. I did not detect any issues. The extras include a commentary by Marshall, a hour long behind the scenes, an additional documentary on production design, trailers, Neil Marshall's short film Combat, and more.

Dog Soldiers is not going to be the shiniest Blu-ray on your shelf, but it's an excellent upgrade for the film, and I am glad to have it. There is a solid extras package here, and I wouldn't hesitate to call it HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.