Straw Dogs

Straw Dogs (1971)
Criterion Collection
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George
Extras: Commentary Track, Isolated Score, Documentary, Interviews, Trailer, TV Spot

Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 crime drama "Straw Dogs" has long been hailed as a masterpiece and a highly controversial film, and it is hardly surprising to find this movie being part of the Criterion Collection now. The nature of the film is very dark and violent and sometimes it appears as if the film itself were superficial and even gratuitous. At the same time, Peckinpah’s harrowing view of a man driven to these savage and violent acts does have purpose, and it is this purpose that sets it apart from traditional and schlockier exploitation films. Even the story of "Straw Dogs" is reminiscent of films such as "I Spit On Your Grave" where the theme of revenge after a rape an also be found, but in the hands of a filmmaker like Peckinpah, it turns into a study of social behavior that is both unsettling and eye-opening.

With the release of "Straw Dogs" Criterion definitely lives upon to their reputation as a studio to present some of the finest releases. The transfer of "Straw Dogs" is simply staggering and belies the film’s age. Presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer in the movie’s original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this is presentation definitely a sight to see. Entirely free of defects or blemishes, without grain and absolutely stable, this transfer makes the film look as if it were shot yesterday. Colors are perfectly rendered and always remain vibrant and natural without taking on the washed-out tones we got used to from previous incarnations of the same film. The level of detail of the presentation is marvelous and with its perfect black levels, the film always manages to maintain its definition, even in the darkest and most contrasted shots. No edge-enhancement is visible and the compression has also been handled magnificently, leaving the presentation free of any distracting artifacts.

The DVD contains the original mono audio track of the movie that has been cleaned up. No pops or background noise is evident, making for a clean presentation. Frequency response is somewhat limited as a result of the technical limitation of the movie’s original production, and the dynamic range is equally limited, but always suffices nicely to make "Straw Dogs" an impressive showing.

Befitting a Criterion release, the DVD contains a wealth of valuable supplements. An isolated music and sound effects track is one of these features, allowing you to see just how well images and sounds manage to create emotions. A brand new <$commentary,commentary track> by film scholar Stephen Prince is also included on the disc, though these third-hand commentaries always are an acquired taste. Talking about the history of the movie, its impact, its intentions and purposes, as well as citing various critics on the subject, the track is never engaging in a sense that it allows you to better understand the production, but it is nonetheless well done and relays a wealth of information about the impact a film can have on society.

An 82-minute documentary entitled "Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron" awaits you also on this release, allowing viewers to get a glimpse at this remarkable, but also highly eccentric filmmaker. Countless actors, such as Kris Kristofferson, Jason Robards, James Coburn and others talk about the filmmaker and his antics. It shows the dark side of the filmmaker as much as his cinematic genius and as such is a must-see for all fans of Peckinpah’s work – and those who just may want to understand it a little better.

Next up are two interviews. The first one is an original 1971 interview with Dustin Hoffman, in which he elaborates on the themes and views of the film, as well as working with Peckinpah. I am always impressed hearing what Hoffman has to say as he is one of the view actors who are not only very communicative and eloquent, but also extremely intelligent to the point of almost being academic. The second interview is new interview footage featuring actress Susan George and producer Daniel Melnick. Each of them running for about 20-minutes, these are in-depth interviews that further help understand the problems the film was facing, the social impact it had as well as the pains the production had to go through – many of which were a result of Peckinpah’s extreme personality.

The DVD also includes a reel of behind-the-scenes footage, the movie’s theatrical trailer and TV spot, as well as a gallery of correspondence by Sam Peckinpah. Last, but not least, you will find a 20-page booklet in the DVD, with a reprint of a 1974 interview with the director.

"Straw Dogs" is not for everyone. It is an extremely brutal and visceral film that explores the violent fibre that can be found within every human. It is a dark film that offers graphic images that are certainly disturbing, but as a result of the filmmaker’s unambiguous intentions and direction, it never becomes a cheap exploitation film. Never has "Straw Dogs" looked better, so make sure to get your copy of this DVD before out goes out of print.