Release Date(s)1980 (September 9, 2014)
Studio(s)MGM/20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D+
Based upon the novel by Frederick Forsyth, The Dogs of War was released in 1980 and was directed by John Irvin, who is better known as the director of films like Next of Kin, Raw Deal, and Hamburger Hill. The film stars Christopher Walken as a former mercenary for hire who is coaxed into going on a reconnaissance mission to the fictional African nation of the Republic of Zangaro in order to get information about a violent leader there named President Kimba for a wealthy bureaucrat. After acquiring and delivering the information, he and his cohorts are paid to go back into Zangaro and take Kimba out of power by any means necessary.
On the surface, The Dogs of War functions as a sort of Rambo-type action movie in the third act, leaving the first two acts feeling like pointless setup. We’re under the impression at first that the film is going to be a character study of some kind, or perhaps even a revenge story. We learn a great deal about Walken’s character, especially as it pertains to his relationship with his ex-wife. The focus is so strongly planted on Walken’s character that the other members of his company, who come into play much later in the story, have little to no build up. We virtually know nothing about them other than their abilities in combat. It’s not that the film is tonally all over the place, it’s that the story never finds two feet to stand on by sticking to one idea.
There are some strong points though, such as Jack Cardiff’s cinematography and Walken’s performance. Both are quite strong, but there’s nothing overly memorable about the story itself. The mission to go after President Kimba in the third act is also handled quite well. It’s actually the most engaging portion of the entire film. Unfortunately, it’s followed up with an ending that comes directly out of left field without any proper setup for it. It seems as if the film wants to make a statement, but forgot to organize itself enough to make it properly. At times it takes on the appearance of a Michael Cimino film, which coincidentally, Cimino did an uncredited rewrite of the film.
If there’s such a thing as a slow-burn movie then I would describe The Dogs of War as a movie composed of dying embers. It’s simply a confused movie with little to invest in, as if the important pieces to make it work were chopped out. It’s entirely watchable and enjoyable at certain times, but it feels incomplete overall.
For Twilight Time’s Blu-ray transfer of the film, the presentation is a strong but imperfect one. There’s a steady amount of grain on display that tends to be much more pronounced during darker scenes, but there’s a lovely amount of detail on display. The color palette is pretty flat for the most part, without any colors that really pop out at you. Blacks are decent, although muddled a bit by the aforementioned heavy grain, and contrast levels are never entirely consistent. There’s plenty of dirt and debris left behind in the transfer, but there’s been no attempt to make it look any better than it does. So it’s an honest presentation, but not an overly amazing one. The audio, which is an English 2.0 DTS-HD track, is about equal to the video presentation in terms of quality. Dialogue is quite audible and easy to follow, while score and sound effects have some nice breathing room. The sound effects in particular have a bit of heft to them during the more explosive scenes in the third act. There’s not much in terms of directionality or speaker to speaker activity, but it’s a strong front-heavy presentation. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
For the supplemental section, it’s worth noting that both the original US theatrical and international versions of the film are included, with a scene selection option for the latter version only. There’s also an isolated score audio track presented in 2.0 DTS-HD, the film’s original theatrical trailer, an MGM 90th Anniversary trailer, a scroll-through of the current Twilight Time catalogue, and an insert booklet with a 6-page essay on the film by Julie Kirgo.
The Dogs of War is an ideal catalogue title choice for picking up and releasing in high definition. It’s not a rock solid film, but more of an entertaining curiosity. If it had had a stronger focus on one thing and not several, it might have been more enjoyable. But nonetheless, the presentation on this disc is strong enough and should please fans old and new.
- Tim Salmons