Another Scream Factory release, another controversy. Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release of Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers has been plagued with issues since it was announced. Delays, a lack of source material from which to scan a new transfer. After a year of waiting, some of us assumed that we’d never actually see this release come to fruition. On June 23rd, the wait was finally over, but some people were less than satisfied. Do they have a valid complaint, or is it more anti-Scream Factory hipster nonsense?
First, let’s talk about the movie, then we’ll get into the controversy. Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers is one of the last great Werewolf movies. It shouldn’t be hard to do, considering the criminal lack of solid werewolf movies on the market, but sadly, the few that do get made are generally average, or worse. If you really break it down, Dog Soldiers is more than just a werewolf movie, it’s also an homage to Evil Dead, and a brilliant comedy. You don’t often see the movie described as a comedy, but it really is.
What helps Dog Soldiers to stand out among the handful or so of werewolf films we’ve been treated to since The Howling and An American Werewolf In London in the 80s, is that it wasn’t just trying to mimic those films. It was attempting to take a monster, underrepresented in the horror genre, and actually do something different with it. Sure, you have the full moon transformations, and all of that, but you also have military presence, which creates a Werewolves VS Soldiers dynamic that, to my knowledge, hadn’t happened previously. And that’s on top of the fact that the werewolves were being weaponized by the military on the scene. Dog Soldiers was ahead of its time in a lot of ways, which is one of the reasons we haven’t seen a movie quite like it since.
Here is the harsh reality of the situation. Dog Soldiers is an ugly film in a lot of ways. It’s a low budget affair, it was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for its theatrical exhibition in the UK. The original negative is lost. However, with the materials available, Marshall states that this is the closest a home video release has come to resembling the original theatrical release of the film. It’s super grainy, and the contrast is really high. On top of that, it’s quite a dark film in the first place. Having said all that, this was my most aesthetically pleasing viewing of the movie to-date. It’s damn sure an upgrade from the DVD, and aside from the obvious shortcomings, it actually looked exceptional displayed on my sixty-inch Samsung Plasma. Though the grain is thick, the details are well-defined. The color looks different from the DVD, but as I said, according to Marshall, this is the way the film has looked since the first print.
There are plenty of arguments one could lodge against this Blu-ray release of a coveted fan favorite, some of them valid, others not, but we’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that this is likely the best it’s going to get. It’s an upgrade, there’s no denying that, and the disc also comes stacked with a plethora of bonus content, making this the current definitive edition of the film. One of the arguments I’ve seen to counter the claims of Marshall in his release statements, and his interviews on the disc, is that George Lucas claims that his Special Editions of the Star Wars films were “how he always intended” the films to appear, but I don’t see the comparison as valid. There is a huge difference between using the available elements to piece together a transfer of the film as it was originally seen in theaters, and going back in and adding computer effects, and complete scenes that weren’t part of a film’s original release. Neil Marshall has never let me down, and each and every one of his films are a treat. I’m going to trust in him when he says that this is how the film is supposed to look. If it was a really crummy presentation of the film, you know, something like the Ultimate Hunter Edition of Predator, it would be a completely different story, but thankfully this isn’t that. This is the release of this film that you’re going to want in your collection, if you are a fan. It might not meet the qualifications that you’ve grown to expect, but it is what it is. It is highly doubtful that a better release will come along, at least not until the original negative is discovered, which we’re told is also extremely unlikely.
Director Neil Marshall was heavily involved in this Blu-ray release, from what I gather. On top of fully supporting it, he also oversaw the process of creating this new transfer, as well as participated in a wealth of bonus content that comes packed on the disc. There is a director’s commentary, a beefy “making-of” documentary, including new interviews with marshall, producer Chris Figg, Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Emma Cleasby, FX Artist Bob Keen, Creature Designer Dave Bonneywell, production designer Simon Bowles, and DP Sam McCurdy. Also on the disc is Neil Marshall’s short film Combat, which is where Dog Soldiers is spawned from. There is gallery of production and special effects photos, and plenty more. As you can see, if this is a film of which you are a fan, this is a disc that deserves to be on your shelf.
Beyond some problems finding the negative from which to draw a new transfer, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers is a must-own. Sure it’s dark and grainy, but the director himself is telling you that this is how the film is supposed to look. Could it have been better? Sure, in a perfect world where all of the original filming materials for every film are properly reserved to assist in these restorations, I’m sure the transfer could have looked a bit shinier, but with a significant audio/visual upgrade when compared to the DVD(which is also ugly as shit), and a hefty stack of bonus content, this is, and will continue to be the definitive home video release of Dog Soldiers, at least until someone happens to find the original negative. Buy it, watch it, love it.