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Dog Soldiers (Collector's Edition) (4K Ultra HD)
Neil Marshall has had a hard time replicating the acclaim he received over his directorial debut, Dog Soldiers and follow-up The Descent. Subsequent films like Centurion and Doomsday are not without merit, but they fail to capture the energy and excitement of Marshall's first two outings. A group of highly skilled soldiers participates in a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands, where they stumble upon the remains of a group of Special Air Service men. A survivor, Capt. Richard Ryan (Liam Cunningham), does not provide straight answers about the situation, and the new unit soon is attacked by unseen assailants. They discover their attackers are nine-foot-tall werewolves with fangs, claws, and an appetite for blood.
Our band of heroes includes Sgt. Harry G. Wells (Sean Pertwee), Private Lawrence Cooper (Kevin McKidd), Private Phil "Spoon" Witherspoon (Darren Morfitt), Private Joe Kirkley (Chris Robson) and Private Terry Milburn (Leslie Simpson). Cooper is introduced in an earlier scene set during his training when he refuses to kill a dog in cold blood, causing his then commanding officer Ryan to shoot the animal and flunk Cooper. Things appear hopeless until zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby) arrives and guides the men to a country house. The werewolves soon locate the survivors there and begin attacking the house, causing Megan and the men to mount an increasingly desperate defense and use their wits to outsmart their vicious attackers.
This is tough, gritty little film that benefits from its likeable cast of characters. Marshall, who also wrote the screenplay, brings each of these men to life on the screen, offering diverse and often humorous backstories. The talented cast has increasingly moved from UK to US productions in recent years, and Dog Soldiers is a film that avoids the typical horror potholes of poor acting and bad screenwriting. Before the men are lined up for the slaughter, viewers get to know and like them. Although there is plenty of action and werewolf gore, Dog Soldiers is often quite funny - and not just in a typically British manner - particularly the banter between the soldiers.
Shot for around $3 million, Dog Soldiers is quite accomplished for a lower budget property. Marshall has a talented eye for framing and action, and there are some nifty effects in this film that refreshingly does not use computer-generated imagery. I understand the comparisons to Predator I often see when reading about Dog Soldiers. The film has the same macho, unashamed characters, and worldview, and offers a similar roller-coaster narrative of character interactions and intense action. There are a few points when the pacing suffers here, but the film largely moves forward at a good clip, offering several narrative surprises. The action and gore can be somewhat exaggerated, but these moments play toward the film's aforementioned comedy. This is a nice genre effort from Marshall, and it works to please fans of practical effects and tough, no-nonsense ‘80s horror.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Shout! Factory's original Collector's Edition Blu-ray, which arrived back in 2015, was met with controversy upon its release. The release date was pushed back for months, and Marshall ultimately revealed that the film's original 16mm negative was missing. Although the image quality was far above the dreadful 2009 Blu-ray release, the 35mm print-sourced transfer suffered from inconsistent highlights, black crush, and dull colors. Thankfully, that 16mm negative was located and Second Sight Pictures has completely restored the image with approval from Marshall and Director of Photography Sam McCurdy. The 4K disc offers a 1.85:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer from a native 4K source with Dolby Vision and HDR10, and the results represent a very significant and worthwhile upgrade for collectors. While the 16mm stock certainly is never going to look like a slick digital production, this new 4K image offers enhanced clarity, abundant detail and texture, and much more appealing black levels and highlights. There is a hefty layer of grain throughout, but it appears natural in motion and consistent. The greens, browns and greys of the woody locations are attractive and subtly enhanced by the HDR pass. Shadow detail is much improved, though there is still some expected crush during nighttime scenes, especially when the camera is in motion. Close-ups reveal strong facial and costume details, and wide shots are crisp and deep, even with the heavy grain. One big difference in this release and Shout's original Blu-ray is that the image no longer appears artificially brightened and anemic; the film instead unspools as I suspect it did in UK cinemas. I noticed no issues with digital tinkering or compression artifacts.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is recycled but gets the job done. Perhaps a bit front-loaded due to the film's low budget, the mix still offers ambient and action-effects panning throughout the surrounds. Dialogue is clear and undisturbed by distortion or crowding. The howls and carnage of werewolf attacks make good use of the rear speakers and rumble the subwoofer to life. All elements are balanced appropriately. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo mix and English SDH subtitles are also included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the film in 4K and on Blu-ray, with both new (denoted with *) and recycled extras spread across the two discs. The discs come in a black 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover. On the 4K disc you get the following extras: an Audio Commentary by Writer and Associate Professor of Film Alison Peirse*, an Audio Commentary by Director Neil Marshall and an Audio Commentary by Producers David Allen and Brian O'Toole. On the Blu-ray disc you get the same three commentaries plus the following: Werewolves, Crawlers, Cannibals and More* (38:26/HD), an extended interview with Marshall about genre films; A History of Lycanthrophy* (33:21/HD), in which author Gavin Baddeley discusses werewolves in film; Werewolves, Folklore and Cinema* (23:24/HD), an interview with author Mikel J. Koven; Werewolves vs. Soldiers (1:01:50/HD), an excellent documentary about the production; A Cottage in the Woods (13:26/HD), about the production design; Theatrical Trailers (5:02 total/HD), a Photo Gallery (4:57/HD); a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (4:30/HD); and Combat (7:37/HD), a short film from Marshall.
I am not quite as high on Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers as those who deem it the best werewolf movie ever made, but I still find it to be an enjoyable film, with plenty of werewolf action and carnage, enjoyable characters, and a solid comedic undercurrent. Fans of the film will want to purchase this or upgrade their previous releases, as the newly restored picture and new bonus content make this release worth the cash. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.