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In Neil Marshal's directorial debut, a squad of soldiers is sent out on what should have been a routine military exercise in the wilds of Scotland. But the excursion turns into a waking nightmare when Sgt. Harry Wells (Sean Pertwee) and his men discover the bloody corpses of Capt. Richard Ryan's (Liam Cunningham) battalion. As the sun goes down, the soldiers are tracked by a pack of werewolves determined to feast on their flesh.
For more about Dog Soldiers and the Dog Soldiers Blu-ray release, see Dog Soldiers Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 20, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Darren Morfitt, Chris Robson
Director: Neil Marshall
» See full cast & crew
Dog Soldiers Blu-ray Review
Neil Marshall's breakthrough film debuts on Blu-ray with no extras.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 20, 2009
The trick to survival lies not in running and hiding but in removing your enemy's capacity to hunt you down.
There are "guy" movies, and then there are guy movies. Commando and Predator are two that spring immediately to mind as the sorts of flicks that deliver straight meat-and-potatos goodness, passing on even a hint of a love story or some sort of external drama to take away from the wall-to-wall carnage. Even a movie like Die Hard, for as fantastic as it is, sneaks in a bit of a romantic/family twist that does heighten the dramatic angle for that added shot of personal danger that ups the ante of the action, but few movies truly set out to entertain a male audience with nothing but guns, muscles, mayhem, monsters, and blood, and Dog Soldiers is one example of that all-too-rare breed of moviemaking magic. Packed with gruesome carnage, thousands of rounds of spent ammunition, and featuring several hulking werewolves with an empty belly and a craving for human intestines, Director Neil Marshall's (The Descent, Doomsday) breakout picture is the very definition of guy-centric filmmaking.
While on routine assignment for a weekend war games exercise, several Scottish soldiers in a backwoods area known for strange disappearances and unexplainable bloody murders encounter the grisly remains of a special forces unit packing high tech equipment, tranquilizer darts, and plenty of firepower. The lone survivor is Captain Richard Ryan (Liam Cunningham) who repeats only "there was only supposed to be one." It takes little time for the men to realize that they're up against a threat more powerful than a well-armed military force; the enemy is, in fact, a pack of tall, muscular, and hungry werewolves packing not .308-caliber battle rifles or 9mm submachine guns, but instead sharpened fangs, deadly claws, stealthy movements, and natural night vision. Just when it seems the men are destined to die on that cold Scottish night, they are rescued by a passer-by and taken to a home in the middle of nowhere to tend to their wounded Sergeant (Sean Pertwee) and make a final stand against a determined and seemingly unstoppable enemy.
Dog Soldiers is a showpiece for what low-budget filmmaking can accomplish given the conglomeration of the right material and the right director. Surpassing plenty of bigger-budget sorts for both action and terror, Dog Soldiers employs something of a guerilla-style approach in the way it captures the story and the resultant mayhem, and in many ways it works far better than would a glossier veneer that might define a film with more money and resources at its disposal. Director Neil Marshall's gritty tenor superficially reflects the standard for War-themed pictures of recent vintage, but Dog Soldiers takes on a look and feel that's far more raw than even more conventional pictures, and it suits the film's tone of despair and brutality wonderfully. He employs plenty of handheld camera work along the way that effectively places the audience in the midst of the carnage, and Marshall also uses the technique in the black-and-white "werewolf vision" shots that represent some of the best scenes in the film, particularly those few that feature incoming gunfire zipping through the field of view. The resultant gore of the clawing, biting, stabbing, and gunfire is intense and well-done; it's the opposite of that found in Blood: The Last Vampire to be sure, here taking on a terribly realistic and -- on several occasions -- disturbing appearance. The rawness of the picture and lower resolution 16mm film stock does do well to keep it from becoming overbearing, and it fits in wonderfully with the overall experience.
Dog Soldiers' technical achievements do somewhat mask a few shortcomings that keep this from being a perfect film. Though the script does well to keep viewer interest while it establishes the characters and the plot, most of it is superfluous niceties that do more to pad the runtime than add anything of much significance to the experience. The soldiers share some interesting backstories, discuss their displeasure with the Army's insistence of dropping them into a training exercise while a crucial England vs. Germany soccer game plays on their televisions back home, but it doesn't add much substance or serve as anything important that comes back to prominence later in the film. Though the characters are given decent enough backgrounds, they are, for the most part, interchangeable and do little to truly set themselves apart one from another throughout the entirety of the movie, save for Captain Ryan, Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd), and Megan (Emma Cleasby) who stands out solely because she's the only female of any importance in the film. Still, the movie doesn't suffer greatly as a result; Dog Soldiers isn't a character-driven picture, and while it's somewhat difficult to become attached to any single character, they all do their part in making the action sequences invigorating and the film as a whole worthy of repeat viewings. Lastly, the several revelations that come to light in the final act aren't particularly surprising, but they do add a bit of layering to the story that's necessary to keep the film from being nothing more than some video game-style Action/Fantasy hybrid.
Dog Soldiers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Dog Soldiers features a barely-passable-as-high-definition 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. Shots that resemble even a high definition transfer of mediocre quality are far and few between; several up-close shots reveal a decent level of fine detail in soldiers' uniforms, but otherwise, there's virtually nothing positive to say about this one. It must be taken into account, however, that Dog Soldiers wasn't shot to look, nor was it intended to be, glossy and colorful. The 16mm film stock combined with plenty of nighttime and otherwise darkened shots and a deliberately drab color palette that features primarily blacks, grays, browns, and dark greens, just doesn't add up to equal visual bliss. Still, the image is riddled with terrible edge enhancement that makes many objects -- particularly trees -- appear to have thick force fields around them. The print is marred with plenty of nicks, scratches, a few odd vertical and horizontal lines, and random debris. Sharpness is minimal; in fact, much of the film looks soft, with several scenes appearing downright fuzzy and borderline indistinct. Grain appears heavily throughout. Though this -- or any -- transfer must be given some leeway for the gritty original elements, this Blu-ray release of Dog Soldiers nevertheless features plenty of other issues that drag the rating down considerably.
Dog Soldiers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Dog Soldiers' Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack fares little better than the video presentation. Though much of the film's first act features virtually no back channel activity, the second and third acts deliver plenty of distinct effects as the werewolves beat on the top of a vehicle or rattle the doors around the country house. Unfortunately, plenty of other sound effects play as downright pathetic. A gunshot in one of the first scenes sounds puny and delivers about the same intensity as would a tennis ball dropped onto a carpeted floor. Automatic weapons fire later in the film sounds more like battery-operated toys than real guns. Buzzing helicopter rotors in one scene fare a bit better, with the blades seemingly slicing through the soundstage to decent effect. Still, neither music nor general sound effects play with anything even remotely close to reference-quality clarity, and dialogue, while generally clear, occasionally sounds muffled. Unlike the video, which can look downright horrible, the audio never drops to an unbearable level, but it's certainly not the sort of track that listeners are going to remember long after the movie ends.
Dog Soldiers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All that's included are 1080p trailers for Way of War, The Breed, War, Inc., and Immortal.
Dog Soldiers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Director Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers isn't an outright classic, but it's a fine example of low-budget Action/Horror filmmaking at its finest. What's so remarkable about the film is that nothing in and of itself -- outside of the basic premise and Marshall's superb direction -- is particularly remarkable. The script is fine but the revelations at the end leave a bit to be desired, the creature effects are good but not great, and the acting is fine but not memorable. However, none equate to a death blow for the film, and all told Dog Soldiers does remarkably well considering its low-budget nature and several otherwise inconsequential parts. This Blu-ray release isn't as fortunate in its ability to overcome obstacles. Though the film isn't the most pretty by default, the transfer barely passes for high definition material. Also featuring a lackluster-at-best soundtrack and no extras, fans might want to think twice about discarding that old DVD copy, even given the film's current bargain-basement price.
Dog Soldiers: Other Editions
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