Straw Dogs Blu-ray Review
The new take on Straw Dogs has a superb 2.40:1 image that comes via a terrific AVC encode that is very in-keeping with Sony’s standards. Like Warner, I always find that there is a certain look of vibrancy to Sony hi-def images. There is a slight push, and I do not think it unwelcome, towards teal and the green that makes the picture appear both fresh and warm at the same time. The blues are enhanced, and the earthier, more rustic tones are happily atmospheric and smoothly presented.
Grain is there in the image, but it is slight. One or two shots actually seem to have more than others, though I can only imagine that this comes down to the original photography and may well be intentional. Detail is very good to excellent throughout, with lots of finite texture in skin, clothing, fixtures and décor clearly apparent. Striations in bark, tight definition on leaves, grain in the wooden rifle-stocks and the mechanism of the bear-trap are elements that very much in-evidence. Far-off detail is also acute, with objectivity at the football field, across the street, down the road into the distance and out through the woods always appearing sharp and well-resolved. I noticed that a couple of moments looked quite soft, and these tended to be afforded to closeups of Kate Bosworth. Now, I am not suggesting for one moment that she needed to have the image softened and made more dreamy-looking during filming, so I am actually inclined to believe that some very slight noise reduction may well have been applied. Either way, I doubt anyone could find it troubling The wooded areas have a good sense of depth, as do the frequent wide shots of the workers idling on the roof of the barn. In fact, the whole film has a terrific three-dimensional quality that is irresistibly enticing. We have some fine resolution of the copious flames that come licking out from the barn, and this is also matched by great delineation of characters moving in front of the inferno and the blazing structure, itself.
Colours are warm and natural, and marvellously well-saturated. Black levels are strong and deep. There is fine shadow play, whether it is of the pleasant indoor daytime variety, or the more menacing night-time gloom that blankets the house during the pivotal siege. Contrast is excellent at all times, and it certainly makes the injection of muzzle-flashes, neon signs, vehicle lights and flames a very pleasing punctuation against the nocturnal staging of the final act. Look at David’s orange high-visibility vest during the hunt – he really stands out from the misty murk. The blood is also bright and deep, although the camera never really lingers on the more grisly moments.
I didn’t spot any distractions from edge enhancement, artefacts or smearing. The testing ground of a largely grey screen – found during the misty hunting sequence in the woods – could have revealed unsightly banding, and I’m of a mind that there may be some very slight evidence of it taking place, but it was largely smooth and reliably stable. Even here, there is appreciable depth to figures moving through it.
I think that Sony did a typically great job with this and there can’t be much that would irk or irritate even the most discerning of eyes with an image that captures the all sweat, tension and anger of this Mississippi enclave with detail, clarity, warmth and depth.
A strong 9 out of 10.
Now, this is where Straw Dogs gets another major thumbs-up from me. It may be great to experience a full-on, totally immersive and all-channel active track that rocks the house from start to finish, but there is definitely a case for applauding a mix that knows precisely when to hit you with the aural fireworks and to make them really count. This DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is just such a track.
Whilst dialogue is always very clean, very nuanced and full of clarity, depth and realism, and the music from Larry Groupe smoothes over the proceedings with an atmospheric sense of clammy dread that roils and simmers from all around you – by far the best thing about the movie, I would say – the sudden shockwave effects of gunfire, physical impacts and action are often superlative. Early high-velocity gunshots, such as those in the hunting sequence are fantastically powerful and punch through the room with a tremendously startling and breathtaking violence that genuinely displaces the air around you. Front to back and vice-versa steerage is spot-on for these shots, which whistle past you with real force. These ballistic effects are loud, gut-punching and hefty and they traverse the environment with all the clarity and solidity of rifle-shots blasting right across your living room. When David recoils in shock from a near-miss that splinters chunks from a tree, so will you. When he makes a kill, you’ll feel the pressure surge, move through the air and then evaporate around you. Bullets fired at the steel door also sport a good solid clang that gets convincingly swallowed by the steel. The sudden emphatic thud of the nails pumped out from the gun is also acutely rendered, and the sound of the windows being smashed is full of nerve-jangling clarity.
To go along with the notion of being closed-in by violence, there is plenty of surround action and a sure sense of being enveloped in the movie. Natural ambience – be it crickets, birdsong, creaking trees, the sound of hammering from outside, or human voices and general hubbub – is always very well steered and provides a realistic presence that entrenches the onscreen proceedings. The duelling music from David and the workers is also well achieved with one sound-system engineered to intrude upon the other.
Specifically directed activity is strategic and accurate and, once again, very natural-sounding. Movement around the channels is seamless.
Bass is often very effective, delighting in the rib-crunching punch of bullets and the pulverising impact of the truck being rammed repeatedly into the side of the house. The crashing thud of Jeremy Niles as he collides with the car is also catered-for with a meaty wallop. Plus, we get the crunching whump of an explosion that is also keenly felt as much as it is heard, and there is the spasm-inducing metallic snap of the jaws of the bear-trap, which reminds you of its devastating presence on a couple of occasions.
Overall, this is a very good audio track that comes alive with considerable vigour and violence when the need arises, but maintains a steady and consistent clarity and surround ambience all the way through. Pretty impressive stuff, folks, and a strong 9 out of 10.
Rod Lurie provides a solo commentary track that is very informative, yet very infuriating at the same time. You listen to him and you understand his reasons for remaking this classic, and you hear what instigated the modifications he made to the story. But he makes some errors of judgement that are not properly addressed. Not only does he get a few things wrong about the original film and how Peckinpah dealt with it, but he misunderstands the essence of what the great auteur was striving to do. It is a valid track that I would recommend listening to, but real fans may well end up ranting back at his voice over various creative decisions and his curious appreciation of a truly great film that doesn’t quite tally with watering-down his own adaptation so liberally.
The rest of the extras are composed of fluffy EPK featurettes that tend to rope in Marsden, Bosworth, Skarsgard, Drew Powell and the rather smug producer Marc Frydman for little chats about the characters, the themes, the relocation and the alterations from the controversial original movie, as well as showing us on-set and location footage of people goofing around and some elements of scenes actually be rehearsed or shot. We get four of these, and all last around six minutes. For the record we look at Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic, The Dynamics of Power: Cast, Inside the Siege: The Ultimate Showdown and Creating the Sumner House: Production Design.
Sony’s disc is rounded off with a couple of trailers for forthcoming releases, and comes equipped with BD-Live.
Straw Dogs 2011-style arrives on a stunning Blu-ray, but you will find that their bark is worse than their bite, that’s for sure!
Sony’s region-free UK release has a great transfer, the audio track offering some terrific surprises, and whilst the extras are largely made up of EPK drivel, the commentary track is oddly compelling for all the wrong reasons. Director Rod Lurie makes many strange assertions about Peckinpah’s original that I do not concur with, and this approach is interesting if galling. If you are going to remove the shock value and the social incision … what’s the point? But it serves to provide his motivations for crafting his own “interpretation” of the now-classic scenario and the questionable choices that he made.
But whatever his intentions were, we lose all of the ambiguity that made Peckinpah’s film so raw and unsettling. The battle-lines are drawn very neatly, with provincial English hi-jinks replaced with far more overt redneck terror-tactics. Skarsgard is a formidable threat and Woods is a credible curmudgeon of twisted devotions and bigotry, though the rest of the pack of straw dogs are merely generic hooligans. Marsden has a tough role to capture and one that cannot be separated from Hoffman’s barnstorming original, but the surprise is that he still manages to have you rooting for his underdog scribe. Bosworth, as good as she is, makes Amy far too cut ‘n’ dried with the modernisation of the character, and the pivotal catalyst that the story hangs on is rendered fairly insubstantial with Lurie’s lame PC treatment of it. This very ethic that Lurie absolutely clings to is the root cause of the film’s problems. He makes a difficult and disturbing tale immensely less provocative, neuters the shock-value and takes us down an all-too generic path towards a conclusion that is both unsatisfying and really quite dull despite all the blood ‘n’ thunder. Characters are rendered bland when sanitised of their very eccentricity and they become much less unpredictable and vital as a result.
But Straw Dogs 2011-style isn’t quite the runt of the litter that many expected it to be. The relocation serves the story well, and the cultural and psychological divide is still maintained with a steady slow-drip mood of escalating tension. Well filmed and offering a dazzling visual contrast to the drab and overcast original, this remake is certainly worth a look for curiosity value, if for nothing else. But make no mistake, the blue touch-paper may well be lit, but the result is a barely heard whimper and most definitely not a bang.
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