Monday, October 12, 2009

A Boy and His Dog (Dystopia Week Part 2)

If Things to Come, discussed yesterday, was the film that created the sci-fi model for what a ruined post-apocalyptic civilization is supposed to look like, A Boy and His Dog, a 1975 film featuring a young Don Johnson and his shaggy telepathically-talking dog companion, was likely the transmitter of that vision to the directors of some later, better-known works.

As in Road Warrior, here we see a pieced-together simulacrum of a functioning civilization, clothes in tatters, machinery in disrepair, and — crucially — the survivors struggling to survive in the Australian Outback. As in two Duran Duran videos, we see an elevator carry our protagonist down into a vast subterranean civilization that is at the same time more high-tech and more terrifying than the surface world.

Unfortunately, once Don Johnson descends from the post-nuclear wasteland into that subterranean world, the shabby appeal of the post-apocalyptic, barbarous world is lost. The underground looks like a hyper-suburban, brightly-lit world born of 1950s sitcoms, and that’s just not as much fun. Worse, Johnson leaves his adorable, scruffy talking dog on the surface when he travels below, so half the film’s fun — and half the title — is irrelevant for a long stretch. It’s just as well that George Miller came along and mined the best elements of the film for use in the Mad Max films, since A Boy and His Dog doesn’t quite deliver on its promise.

A simple rule for all aspiring filmmakers: Don’t introduce us to a lovable talking dog and then take him away for half the film. Virtually all good-hearted people love dogs — talking ones even more so — and the thought of one sitting out half the film in a sandswept post-nuclear wasteland is just sad.

But speaking of boys and magical animals, now I must dash, since I see that Dave Barry is talking about his Peter Pan books at a Barnes & Noble in my neighborhood. It is my duty as a mature adult to hear what this influential writer has to say.


Ali T. Kokmen said...

If I recall correctly, A Boy and His Dog was based on a story by Harlan Ellison, who, of course, created many of the most interesting speculative fiction stories this side of Phillip K. Dick.

Also I recall that the movie ends with the telepathic dog making what I long considered (and may still, come to think of it…) the worst pun in all moviedom. [SPOILER ALERT for a 34 year-old movie...] As I recall, when Don Johnson and his subterannean lady love interest escape from underground, they encounter the the dog, starving since he was unable to hunt while his mater was underground. And then in the next scene, the dog is hale and hearty, and the boy and his dog are talking about the girl. “She had marvelous judgment,” says the dog. “But not particularly good taste.”

Billy Oblivion said...

Have you seen Six String Samurai?

It’s another dystopian movie, and it has the Red Elvises in it.

Todd Seavey said...

I have _not_ seen that. [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT FOR _A BOY AND HIS DOG_, AGAIN:] I suppose I should have said the dog is lovable _aside_ from unexpectedly eating the girlfriend. Details.