Straw Dogs (1971)

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Released 16-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Animation
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 112:15
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Sam Peckinpah
Studio
Distributor
ABC Pictures Corp
MRA Entertainment
Starring Dustin Hoffman
Susan George
Peter Vaughan
T.P. McKenna
Del Henney
Jim Norton
Donald Webster
Ken Hutchison
Len Jones
Sally Thomsett
Robert Keegan
Peter Arne
Cherina Schaer
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Jerry Fielding


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, incessant
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Straw Dogs was the subject of some controversy when it was released in 1971. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, a man who is infamous for the overt violence portrayed in some of his films, this tense drama had the critics in an uproar for its extreme violence and graphic rape scenes. The film was actually banned from video release for almost twenty years in the UK, and garnered a reputation as one of those "video nasties". So, now that we have the chance to own the film on DVD in this Region 4 release, how does it stack up? Is it still violent and shocking over thirty years later? In a word - yes.

    The plot is simple. David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) is a quiet and fairly unassuming mathematician, who is spending a year with his young wife Amy (Susan George) in an English country farmhouse where he can complete his research for a book. Their home for the year is a village which Amy had grown up in as a child, so she is already familiar with many of the locals. David finds settling in much more difficult, with the thick-set, working class local men all seeming to be dismissive of his academic lifestyle. From the outset the local men regard David with a mocking disdain, and the braless, liberated Amy with lecherous lust.

    Despite the seemingly idyllic setting, it is clear that the relationship between David and Amy is not all sweetness and light. There is a simmering distrust between the two and they never seem entirely comfortable around each other. The source of this unease is never divulged in the film, but it seems that Amy regards David as a coward for some past event which remains hidden to the viewer. The locals David has hired to re-roof his garage seem content to take his money and slack off on the job whenever possible. Even Charlie - a local man who has had a relationship with Amy many years before - seems to resent everything about the Sumners' country cottage lifestyle.

    When David finally gets a chance to bond with the locals, after accepting an offer to go shooting with them, it seems that this is simply an excuse to get him out of the house. With David stranded in a field, aimlessly shooting at passing wildfowl, Charlie is able to pay an unwelcome visit to Amy whilst she is home alone. This is the start of a sequence of events which force Amy and David to defend themselves from the excesses of the local men in the strongest way possible...

    Being famously accused of being sexist, misanthropic and misogynistic, Straw Dogs could be found guilty on all counts. However, given that the title of the film comes from a Chinese philosopher who wrote "Heaven and earth are not humane, and regard the people as straw dogs", it was surely intended by Peckinpah to show the misanthropy of man. The locals are all presented as English hillbillies with dragging knuckles and unfettered sexual desires. There are plot elements dealing with paedophilia and hints at incest. The main female characters can be seen as "teases" who are just "begging for" sexual attention. This latter facet of the film does make it look rather dated in this respect - hopefully nobody really feels that way nowadays. As for the sexual and violent imagery? The sexual violence has been shown more graphically since and the physical violence it contains has been exceeded ten-fold in more recent fare.

    Nevertheless, despite the passage of time, the basic story, the excellent acting of Hoffman and the credible casting of the local men provide a quality to this picture which allows it to remain undeniably impactful - even in 2004. The grittiness of the filming and the contrast between the almost mundane opening reels and the climax ensure that this film retains the potential to disquiet and, by the closing reel, even shock. This is a well made, visceral and memorable film which, whilst not perfect, will earn a well deserved place in the collection of Hoffman or Peckinpah fans.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The overall video transfer is acceptable for a film which is well over thirty years old, but it is not without some annoying flaws.

    The movie is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.78:1 which some sources state is slightly altered from the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but others claim is the OAR.

    The image is surprisingly free from any significant grain. It is however fairly softly focussed - particularly in middle-distance shots - and even though it is an older film, this lack of sharpness was slightly disappointing at times.

    Black levels are quite adequate with no significant issues with low level noise. Shadow detail is generally fine. The colours all look somewhat muted, which I suspect is partly to do with the age and partly reflective of the English setting. There are no problems with bleeding. There is still quite a range of colours on offer, but they all look fairly desaturated. The one exception to this is the lead actors' skin tones, which look a little too warm on occasion - the benefit of 1970's make-up I guess.

    I noticed no significant problems with MPEG compression artefacts on my review player. I noted however that my PC did reveal numerous problems with MPEG artefacts, with the picture breaking up repeatedly. Hopefully this will not be the case for anyone else viewing the disc. I found no distracting instances of aliasing on my set-up. There is some fairly noticeable edge enhancement present from time to time though, primarily visible as a significant halo around darker clothing. This was never severe enough to be a major distraction.

    The biggest single problem I have with this transfer is the presence of some severe film artefacts. Whilst there are numerous small black and white flecks scattered through the film, these are excusable for a print that is over thirty years old. Given the rave reviews of some Region 1 releases of this film however, I cannot excuse the major scratches and tears which crop up numerous times through the film. Examples of large and distracting tears can be found at 13:13, 35:44, 44:07, 65:40 and 80:55 - and this is not an exhaustive list. There are also reel change marking ("cigarette burns") clearly visible at several points through the film (around the seventeen and thirty-four minute marks for instance). These defects, although brief, are significant enough for me to believe that serious fans should seek a better quality transfer than this Region 4 offering.

    There are no subtitles on offer.

    The disc is in a single sided and dual layered (RSDL) format, with the brief but noticeable layer change evident at 59:15.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer is technically reasonable but is perhaps unavoidably decidedly low-fi.

    The original mono audio track is provided as a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix encoded at a healthy 448 kbps. The surround flag is enabled. There are no major defects in the way of pops or dropouts but there is an occasional level of minor hiss in the background.

    The overall volume is a tad lower than more modern fare, and I had to increase the volume slightly above my normal listening levels for a satisfactory experience. The dialogue is clear enough and I noticed no significant problems with the audio sync.

    The original music is attributed to Jerry Fielding (Star Trek and Barnaby Jones on television and The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Big Sleep on film). Personally I found this score to be unsatisfying, with the woodwind and horns verging on the atonal. It is certainly not a score I would choose to listen to for pleasure, but the discordant nature does support some of the frenetic activity in the later scenes well enough I suppose.

    The front speakers do all the work. There is some reasonable spread across the main speakers, but nothing particularly noteworthy happens in the way of locational or directional sound. The heavily frontal soundstage is adequate and that's about it. The surround speakers, even with Pro Logic II enabled, have nothing to say for themselves.

    My subwoofer was asleep for the duration.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are minimal extra features on offer.

Menu

    The main menu is a 16x9 enhanced, static picture of the DVD cover, with some animation in David's broken glasses and a loop of the soundtrack as accompaniment. The chapter selection menus feature small windows with clips from the film playing, and although silent, are quite nicely done. The main menu offers the options of playing the film, selecting one of fourteen chapter stops, or reading the following extra features:

Biographies

    Brief but informative text-based and silent biographies for Hoffman and Peckinpah.

Filmographies

    Even more brief but still informative text-based and silent filmographies for Hoffman and Peckinpah.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this movie has appeared in a couple of incarnations:

    The two disc (supposedly limited edition, but still available) Criterion release contains the following extra features:

    The single disc Region 1 Anchor Bay release is not anamorphically enhanced and contains no extra features. Nevertheless, the picture quality seems to be rated very highly.

    There is also a Region 0 PAL (FreMantle) release, which is anamorphically enhanced and contains the following extra features:

    It's a tricky one this, but for collectors and fans of the film, by all accounts the Region 1 Criterion release would be the preferred choice due to the extensive extra features and overall transfer quality.

Summary

    Straw Dogs is a thirty-plus year old movie about a quiet American mathematician and the lengths he can be driven to in protecting his wife, his values and his home - and it is beginning to show its age. The colour palette and much-hyped sexuality and violence look a little dated. Nevertheless, a sterling performance from Dustin Hoffman and some smart casting and direction by Sam Peckinpah leave us with a film that deserves its reputation as an important work. Not for the squeamish, this is a great thriller/drama that remains well worth viewing. Unfortunately, for purchase, the Region 1 Criterion version would appear to be the version of choice.

    The 1.78:1 video transfer is spoiled by softness and film artefacts.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio transfer is adequate, without major flaws, but uninspiring.

    Extras are basically two-tenths of four-fifths of nothing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Monday, July 19, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDMomitsu V880 upconverting DVI player, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Criterion DVD is going out of print - Jace
Re: Criterion DVD is going out of print - Withnail
Criterion DVD - Jace
ABout the OAR - Anonymous