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The Dogs of War: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

The Dogs of War (1981) movie poster The Dogs of War

US Theatrical Release: February 13, 1981 / Running Time: 104 Minutes (theatrical), 119 Minutes (international) / Rating: R (theatrical), Unrated (international)

Director: John Irvin / Writers: Gary DeVore, George Malko (screenplay), Frederick Forsyth (novel)

Cast: Christopher Walken (Jamie Shannon/Keith Brown), Tom Berenger (Drew Blakeley), Colin Blakley (Alan North), Hugh Millais (Roy Endean), Paul Freeman (Derek Godwin), Jean-François Stévenin (Michel Claude), JoBeth Williams (Jessie Shannon), Robert Urquhart (Captain Lockhart), Winston Ntshona (Dr. Okoye), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (The Captain), Harlan Cary Poe (Richard), Ed O'Neill (Terry), Isabel Grandin (Evelyn), Ernest Graves (Warner), Kelvin Thomas (The Black Boy), Shane Rimmer (Dr. Henry Oaks), Father Joseph Konrad (Priest), Bruce McLane (Shop Manager), George Harris (Colonel Sekou Bobi)

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After winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Deer Hunter, Christopher Walken got his chance to be a leading man.
It was not all that long before he realized he was better suited for character acting, but from 1980 to 1991, Walken got to star in movies, including a couple that are still generally well regarded in the Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and the crime thriller King of New York.

Walken's leading man phase began quite ignobly with The Dogs of War. This 1980 action drama marked the feature film debut of English director John Irvin, who came from British documentaries and television (most notably, 1979's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"). Adapted and Americanized from the 1974 novel by popular British author Frederick Forsyth (The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File), Dogs casts Walken as Jamie Shannon, one of several mercenaries making a narrow exit from war-torn Central America in the film's opening sequence.

Back from one mission, Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) prepares to embark on another, but he won't have his old friend Terry (a young Ed O'Neill) along for the ride.

Jamie returns home to a fridge full of Budweisers, which is also where one of his many guns is kept. Lonely, Jamie is hired to conduct a reconnaissance mission for an English businessman. Traveling to the (made-up) West African nation of Zangaro, Jamie poses as Keith Brown, a photographer for a nature magazine who is there to shoot birds. He is interrogated at the Zangaro airport with suspicion and has his pockets lightened in the name of "airport tax" and "importation tax." After easing the administration's concerns with a demonstration of his bird expertise, Jamie gets a tour of the city of Clarence from a pretty young local doctor (Winston Ntshona). After trying to stealthily snap pictures of dictator President Kimba's home, Jamie gets arrested and is beaten in custody. He is almost immediately deported back to the States, where the businessman who paid him for this fact-finding trip now wishes to assemble a mercenary force to assassinate Kimba and replace him with a designated ally.

Though released to US theaters in February 1981, Dogs of War feels like a '70s movie. Like The French Connection and Serpico, this is a gritty, dark, cold, male-driven drama. Unfortunately, the comparisons end at look and feel, because Dogs isn't terribly interesting or good. Walken does an admirable job in the quiet lead role. At one point he is saddled with bad make-up effects for his beatings which make him instead resemble a horror B-movie reject. The movie is passable most of the time, as Jamie reconnects with a British journalist (Colin Blakely) he met in Africa and tries to shake both that journalist and another tail of uncertain motives. At its end, though, the movie devolves into mindless action, the kind which explains why the longest and most passionate threads on its IMDb message board concern the weaponry used. (Yawn.)

As the mustachioed Drew Blakeley, Tom Berenger makes a fatal mistake in the film's West African climax. Jamie (Christopher Walken) attends an infant's Baptism in a scene exclusive to the extended international cut of the film.

The film features some of the earliest screen appearances of Emmy-nominated sitcom veteran Ed O'Neill ("Married... With Children", "Modern Family"), playing a mercenary reluctant to go on the mission, and a young Jim Broadbent, who is lowly credited but instantly recognizable in a brief background role. Those actors eventually went on to bigger and better things,
as did Tom Berenger, whose second-billed role is as hazy as any, and at least two who appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark mere months later.

Those behind the scenes did not enjoy comparable boosts. Irvin would direct steadily through 2008, helming such films as Hamburger Hill and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Raw Deal. Non-collaborative screenwriters Gary DeVore and George Malko picked up a handful of credits (most notably, the buddy comedy Running Scared and the aforementioned Raw Deal, both by DeVore), but DeVore passed away in 1997 and Malko has only penned a single lowly-regarded Canadian disaster miniseries since then.

On Region 1 DVD, Dogs was presented only in an unbilled "international version." Now on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, the film is treated to a single-disc release containing both the theatrical and extended cuts, with viewers able to choose between the two. The international cut runs 14 minutes and 46 seconds longer. Some of that difference is comprised by an extended appearance by JoBeth Williams as Jessie, Jamie's ex-wife who is something of an enigma in the American edit, another Ed O'Neill sighting, and a baby's Christening that Jamie attends.

The Dogs of War: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA (Isolated Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired (International cut only)
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on DVD (November 20, 2001)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Twilight Time has repeatedly wowed with their fine-looking restorations of somewhat obscure old movies. Dogs of War does not maintain the company's high standard, at least not in the US theatrical cut,
which is marred by a number of white specks throughout and oftentimes doesn't look so good. The international cut seems to take precedence here and it looks better (the two cuts are presented not by seamless branching but two distinctly-authored files), but still suffers from more imperfections than you would like. On the plus side, the element is stable and nicely defined. But the colors seem pale and there are just too many debris for a film that's neither terribly old nor obscure.

Sound is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD master audio and it is generally fine though not exceptional. Strangely and unfortunately, the US theatrical cut goes without English SDH subtitles (which couldn't have been that hard to abridge from the international version that features them). That's doubly troubling because there are a few scenes of foreign dialogue that clearly should be translated.

The Dogs of War's original theatrical trailer presents Jamie's grenade launcher action in white and black rotoscope animation. The Dogs of War Blu-ray's menu illustrates some of the limitations run into by including two cuts of the film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Besides the two distinct cuts of the film, there isn't too much to find here. The movie's original trailer (2:37), which twice identifies Walken as an Academy Award winner and repeatedly features white and black rotoscope animation of his character's grenade launcher action, is nicely included, albeit in low quality standard definition.
There's also MGM's 90th anniversary trailer (2:06, HD), found on all of Twilight Time's titles licensed from the lion studio's catalog.

Twilight Time's standard isolated score feature is offered exclusively on the extended cut of the film.

As usual, the simple menu (silent save for navigation effects) adapts the cover art, which itself is taken from one of the film's poster designs. The complete Twilight Time Blu-ray catalogue is presented as a navigable gallery. Perhaps because of the authoring challenges, the Blu-ray did not resume unfinished playback, at least of the US theatrical cut.

Finally, in addition to the disc, the standard blue keepcase includes another Twilight Time staple: an 8-page booklet that is highlighted by an insightful essay by in-house historian Julie Kirgo. It opens with a celebration of Christopher Walken's body and proceeds to admire the film for its contributions to mercenary cinema.

Surrounded by fire and smoke, our African-invading mercenaries strike action poses in what is certainly the coolest-looking shot of "The Dogs of War."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Dogs of War is a clear product of its time and is kindred in some ways to a number of great movies from the '70s. But despite some interesting moments and a good rare lead performance from Christopher Walken, this is no great movie as it devolves into a climax of dialogue-less action that doesn't carry much meaning for anyone not excited by various military weapons.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray nicely presents this film in both its original US theatrical cut (previously exclusive to Region 2 DVD) and the extended international edit that has been available on domestic DVD. The picture quality isn't as polished as you'd like it to be and the 2.0 sound isn't so excellent either. Still, the company's usual nice touches (essay booklet, isolated score, original trailer) sweeten what is sure to be this film's only Blu-ray release for the foreseeable future.

Buy The Dogs of War on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

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Reviewed October 23, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1981 Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, United Artists, Juniper Films, and 2014 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Twilight Time.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.