Blu-Ray Review: Dog Soldiers

AUGUST 24, 2022


As someone who made a quick cameo on one of their first discs (Halloween III, via a clip of a screening I hosted), it makes me happy to realize that Scream Factory has been around long enough to double dip their own releases. They first released Dog Soldiers in 2015, prior to the debut of 4K UHD discs, so now that the format has started to become more mainstream, they've been re-releasing some of their big titles (including those Halloween sequels) with the improved transfers it allows. And I need you all to keep supporting them, so that they can justify redoing Shocker. Horace Pinker needs 2160p, baby!

OK, in reality I don't personally see the need to bother upgrading some of the ones they've put out (The Craft? I'm good!) but in Dog Soldiers' case, it's more than just a mere upgrade. At the time of the previous release, they couldn't locate the original negative, and had to use a pair of actual 35mm prints to make their version from. It didn't look terrible, but obviously the film deserved better, especially since it was shot on Super 16 and thus already had a grainy look that wasn't helped by using a secondary source. Also, the color timing was a bit off, making the film look too bright at times; not to the extent of Halloween's constant changing, but enough to be noticeable.

Both issues have been solved this time around, making the upgrade justified. Director Neil Marshall and DP Sam McCurdy *both* signed off on the transfer (usually it's one or the other for such things), and they actually finally found the negative to work from, so it's just a noticeably improved transfer all around - even if you (like me) can't really tell much of a difference between regular Blu and 4K. And as is often the case, they've added some new bonus features to sweeten the deal, making this release all but completely definitive* and something that should be the last time you ever feel the need to buy it.

I already reviewed the movie before so I'm not going to bother doing that again: my thoughts haven't changed (it's great!) and my backlog is too long to be reviewing movies twice. However, I "lucked out" this week (potential TMI incoming!) by having a vasectomy, which means walking around isn't all that fun and sitting on the couch is how I spend most of my day. This means I had time to watch not only all of the extra features (retrospective doc, historian interviews, etc) but all three (3) commentary tracks that are provided. After spending something like ten hours with this set, I am confident that the only way I could know more about Dog Soldiers would be to go back in time and get myself hired as a crew member.

Two of the tracks are older: one with Marshall (recorded for the previous release in 2015) and the other with the producers. Marshall's is obviously the superior of the two; not only does he have better insight into the film (which he also wrote and edited) but the "looking back" nature keeps him honest about it. He's rightfully proud of his first film, but has been around the block and isn't afraid to be a bit candid at times, which is something director are often hesitant about when they're recording tracks before the film even comes out. You can surmise from both his track and the one with the producers that they didn't always see eye to eye on things (not to the extent of his later Hellboy, to be clear), but it doesn't get too dirty - he just occasionally notes things that they forced upon him (like the history between Megan and Ryan) and how he tried to minimize their impact.

The producers track, however, was recorded back in the day (2002, 2003) and gets into that self-congratulatory mode a bit too much, not to mention occasional references to the sequel they were then sure they would make (Ron Howard voice: they still haven't). One guy barely even speaks as the other one dominates the track, praising the performers and (to his credit) even noting a few occasions where he fought against something only to be proven wrong. Still, it's a bit too obvious that he was the "looking over the shoulder" type of producer instead of the kind that protects/backs up the director, and while Marshall went on to make The Descent, this guy went on to produce DTV junk like Cemetery Gates, so it's hard not to think that he ultimately wasn't adding too much to the table.

The third track is new for this release, from horror writer/professor Alison Peirse. Unsurprisingly since the film isn't that old, she doesn't spend much time on biographical information about its cast or crew as is usually the case for historian tracks, but instead puts it into the context of werewolf films (a genre she rightfully stresses began with Werewolf of London, not the more often-cited Wolf Man) and notes where it zigs when most others zag. She also argues that it often follows the rules of a slasher film (with Kevin McKidd's Cooper as a "final boy"), which I feel is a bit of a stretch but she isn't dismissing my beloved body counters as she does it, so I'm fine with it.

If you don't have the time for her entire track (I always forget that the film is rather long for its time/sub-genre, running an hour and forty five minutes instead of the usual 90ish), you can watch the video essay by Mikel J. Koven and the interview with Gavin Baddeley, which cover some of the same ground as Peirse (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, cross into each others' territory). Baddeley's is also about the history of the werewolf film, highlighting what Dog Soldiers brings to the table (such as the rather gaunt lycanthropes as opposed to the stockier/tougher versions from the likes of Lon Chaney and Paul Naschy) and - bless his courage - correctly points out that while the transformation in American Werewolf is an all timer, the actual wolf itself (the run who runs around Picadilly) is a bit of a letdown. As for Koven, his is more focused on the folklore of the werewolf as a whole (not just movies), going back to the "Werewolf of Bedburg" from the 16th century, though by the end he's also talking about Wolf Man and The Howling. Three "werewolf movie history" pieces and not a single one mentions Big Bad Wolf... for shame.

The other new extra is a lengthy interview with Marshall, recorded fairly recently as he runs down his entire career including The Reckoning, which he notes was a return to his roots as it was low budget and he was given the sort of control he lacked on his previous movie Hellboy (which he completely tears apart). It was nice to hear him discuss Doomsday a bit, as I have a soft spot for that and it has seemingly been forgotten over the years (to be fair, it tanked, so it's not like there's much demand for a collector's edition), plus his recollections of the very first film he worked on, a thriller called Killing Time, which I didn't even know existed.

The longest extra is "Werewolves vs. Soldiers", an hour long retrospective documentary with - finally! - some of the cast members offering their thoughts, including both Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd giving their account of the latter accidentally busting the former's nose in the scene where Cooper has to knock him out. It's said time and time again that the cast really got along like a real squad of soldiers would, but honestly, hearing Pertwee laugh his way through a story where another actor legitimately punched him is all you need to prove it. By this point the other participants are repeating things you've heard elsewhere, but the cast recollections and other tidbits make it worthwhile.

The rest gets into hardcore fan only territory, such as a look at the film's production design, with Simon Bowles, who handled such things. He still has the model they used to plan out the stage set that served as the film's main location, so it's interesting to see all the things they have to consider (i.e. how much outside of a particular window that the camera will see, so they don't waste time dressing part of it that'll never be on screen) and celebrate the low budget ingenuity that is lost on bigger budget movies where they'll throw money away at things like this and then cut an important dialogue scene when they realize they wasted too much time on the other thing. Planning, people, PLANNING! There's also a bunch of promotional stuff, and an early short film from Marshall that... well, he's gotten better since, let's just say that.

As is often the case, the video extras are only on the standard Blu-ray, but thankfully the commentaries ARE on the 4K UHD disc, so you don't have to downgrade the visuals to listen to the folks talk (this is a bizarre oversight I've seen on other releases, and it drives me insane). Marshall's interview alone is worth keeping the second disc for if you're one of those space-saving types who put everything in binders, but if you do that you and I are already on way different wavelengths, so go with your own god there. At any rate, it's a solid set for a film that got screwed twice; first with its initial release (it premiered on Syfy here) and then with its various home video releases, all of which have been compromised in one way or another until now. Took twenty years, but I'm glad the film has finally gotten the respect it deserves.

What say you?

*There's a commentary track with Marshall and some of the cast that originated with its original DVD release, but only appeared on a German DVD. For whatever reason, this track hasn't made its way to any of the other various releases, so I think at this point we can assume it's "lost." Still, something to hope for when the inevitable 8K Ultra ULTRA HD format comes along.


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