Dog Soldiers Blu-ray Review
Right, now Marshall's low budget schlocker was never going to look like hi-def material, was it? No, really ... we can bang on for hours about faithful transfers of the source print, which this, no doubt, is, but that isn't going to change the fact that this AVC encode does not grace your 1080p screen at all. Nope. Not at all. Dog Soldiers' 1.85:1 image looks terrible. Arguably, of course, if it looked any different, then it would obviously be fake and overly processed and that just wouldn't be right. But, thankfully, you won't find any DNR, colour timing issues or banding causing controversy here. You will find edge enhancement, though. And, at times, horribly excessive grain which, in hi-def, looks almost as though it has been stippled across the screen. Shots of the clouds and the full moon are mired with thick swathes of it and various different angle frames can swap their grain ration about, too.
Close-ups possess some clarity - faces, eyes, dripping fangs - but background detail is hardly anything to shout about. The wide open spaces of the Scottish hills and rivers don't look too grand here, I'm afraid. Depth and spatiality is not three dimensional at all, the film looking completely flat and bland. Contrast may well be a little better, certainly better than it is on the R1 SD version, with some shots of the werewolves prancing about the day-for-night filmed woods, or leaning in through back-lit windows looking more striking than before. Colours are earthy and drab, right across the board. The exception to this is, of course, the copious amounts of blood getting spilled and sprayed all over the place. Showers of the stuff that hit various characters or splash across the windscreen of the jeep, for example, look quite splendidly vivid. The ominous pale blue eyes of Megan also seem to be a little more prominent this time around, as do the feral yellow ones of those in mid-transformation. Flames have a thick orange hue that certainly brings some flair to the image, but they lack the subtleties within them to make them seem life-like and vibrant.
You know, if I'm honest, I can't say that this actually upgrades the SD image by much at all. There is a tad more detail with the exploding buildings and maybe the weaponry, muzzle-flashes and grievous wounds - but we really aren't talking much here, folks. Foliage, trees and farmhouse bric-a-brac don't seem to have any more substantial delineation. The picture's shadows are perhaps a little deeper, and blacks are certainly satisfying, but this Blu-ray does not offer the visual advance that many may have expected ... and the crunch of it all is - nor should it. Marshall's film is a grim and grimy delight. It is deliberately muted, scratchy and camouflaged - just like its leading men - and the Blu-ray accurately retains that look without glossing things up.
This gets a 6 out of 10 because it looks like the Dog Soldiers I know and love, but no more because it does not look like a 1080p image.
This is where the transfer starts to earn its medals, folks.
Dog Soldiers has both DD 2.0 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio options and, surprisingly, the lossless sound actually does make a big difference. Suddenly, Dog Soldiers snarls with vigour, howls with excitable blood-lust and blasts bullets around the set-up with fearless abandon.
Dialogue remains a tad subdued within the mix, but is always clear and discernible. Mark Thomas' score comes alive on occasion, although not always to the degree that I, personally, would have liked. The fierce tribal drumming during Cooper's Big Run sounds suitably prominent, but other percussive set-pieces, such as the initial encounter and subsequent escape and evasion drops the intensity of the music and dilutes the mix a little. The film is still fairly limited in its scope and depth, but there is an element of steerage that, although not always totally convincing, helps make it much more enjoyable. Sam suddenly barking, a slam at the door, shattering glass and a ferocious guttural bellow are definitely the kind of things that have impeccable placement and are pretty much guaranteed to work on a “stinger” level.
Room-filling surround capability is actually better than I expected. There are some nice elements of the werewolves snarling all around us and the great sound of that off-camera transformation is well presented so that it emanates from the rears whilst the camera faces the wide-eyed squaddies front and centre. Plus, there is the grisly sound of someone being devoured that pops sinews and grinds bone from somewhere behind and below us as Sam, the dog, looks on ... and, no doubt, licks his own lips at the prospect of a morsel or two. Elsewhere, the soundscape rumbles with thunder, the atmosphere convincingly heavy, although we never actually get any rain on this parade. Thus, ambience and tonal components are not overlooked.
The two big explosions are great in terms of a low-scale movie. I mean, we aren't talking about thunderous bombast here, but there is clear detail within the blasts and a definite shock-wave rush that boosts the experience quite a lot, all things considered. We do get some bullets zipping past us and whining off through the rears, as well, and the crisp metallic sound of casings hitting the floor is always cool. Joe's shotgun belches with a throaty roar, too, and the sub definitely gets a look in.
The DD 2.0 track is not as clear or as exciting as the 5.1, which is as you would expect, so stick with the lossless. Cleaner, brighter, more aggressive and gaining some slight, but rewarding surround activity, Dog Soldiers gets a hearty slap on the back from me for its enhanced audio.
Here's salt in the wounds, troops ... we get nothing extra with this release. The packaging is even cheeky enough to proclaim Special Features of 5.1 sound and Scene Selection.
Oh, there are a couple of Blu-ray trailers, too. But so what. This is absolutely pathetic.
Classic low budget independent genre-fusion, Dog Soldiers is an enthusiastic movie made by an extremely enthusiastic movie-buff. Marshall's raw talent is both fan-boy laddish and film-literate. He knows what he likes and he plunders from only the best. Dog Soldiers was a blast - hairy, howly and hilarious. The Descent was altogether more superior, a very, very assured progression from Dog that evolved almost exponentially in every facet of its production. His later film, the apocalyptic Doomsday was a terrible cut 'n' paste of genre staples that felt way too stolen for my tastes and a complete squandering of the talents I believed Marshall possessed. With him tackling a Roman action suspenser now, in Centurion, it seems that his cross-convention style is now becoming something of a jokey crusade. Once again, the man I had once dubbed Horror's Great British Hope seems hell-bent on applying his own take on established classics - this time, Gladiator, it would seem - instead of solidifying what truly made his name. I hope he proves me wrong, of course, and keeps on delivering either thoroughly entertaining action or out-and-out horror with gleeful grue and strong characterisation, but with the epic misstep of Doomsday, I can't help but feel that he is suddenly over-reaching and losing the bite that he showed himself so capable of with Dog Soldiers and The Descent.
The BD of this low-budget shocker gives us nothing in the way of extras - which is criminal - but does supply an exciting Dolby TrueHD track and an image that, for its sins, looks only faintly better than its SD incarnation. Perhaps the only way to have sharpened this picture would have been to have gone down the DNR route - and surely none of us would have wanted that, would we? So, my advice is to stick with your SD versions - especially the fun R2 edition - and only go for this release if you are a devout fan who needs every release of it for their collection, or a Blu-ray devotee who has never experienced the raw vigour of Dog Soldiers before.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £12.39
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