Straw Dogs: Unrated Version [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (23rd October 2011).
The Film

Sam Peckinpah is no stranger to controversy, his seminal western "The Wild Bunch" was seen as a vehicle of incredible violence unmitigated by any hope of relief as the film progresses towards its bloody conclusion. In 1969 the film was seen as a gratuitous exercise so much so that the studio heavily edited the film (after the MPAA's delivery of an "X" rating), despite the many edits it challenged cinema goers at the time and wasn't really embraced as the cinematic masterpiece until later in the film's life when the "director's cut" of the film was assembled. While "The Wild Bunch" remains as one of his most cherished of films, just two years later he'd release arguably his most challenging film with "Straw Dogs" a film that takes viewers through an uncomfortable and shocking act of horror that's built inside a slow boil pressure cooker situation. Peckinpah certainly crossed boundaries in 1971 with this film and today it remains one of the most unforgettable films of its time.

David (Dustin Hoffman), and American and his wife Amy Sumner (Susan George), a British woman, play a couple that move to the quaint English countryside to get away from the bustle of America. David, a quiet and unassuming mathematician moves the couple into a small homestead that requires some repairs. But this creates problems when the locals hired for construction end up bullying and taking advantage of the couple leading to a shocking home-invasion, attack and rape in an incredible outbreak of violence that pushes David over the edge.

Let's address the elephant in the room up front, the film is shocking mainly because of its graphic portrayal of violence and the brutal rape. Originally planned as an explicit portrayal of rape, Susan George protested and the scene was shot depicting Amy's trauma by concentrating on her eyes and face only... which makes the scene all the more disturbing. Furthermore the scene is made near-unbearable as at one point Amy starts to enjoy the rape, perhaps a statement on the banality of her marriage? Perhaps it's the kind of sex that she'd fantasized about? Whatever the reasoning (and believe me it's mostly up to the viewer to interpret) it's hard to get over minute after unsettling minute. Matters are made worse for viewers as the character of Amy is seen as a tease to all the men of the Village who knew her before getting married to David. It reeks of that awful excuse that demeans most women in that "she asked for it" simply by being who she was.

It's fair to say that this film isn't for everyone. Having only recently discovered it myself a few years ago when The Criterion Collection released their excellent DVD edition, it's a film that takes time to develop, brilliantly adding tension and an overall sense of dread that permeates each frame. Peckinpah manages to turn an idyllic English countryside into a fear machine, whose cogs are made up of ignorant, drunk country people with a penchant for machismo. The air feels thick enough to cut with a knife, especially the scenes where David is picked on by the locals while fixing his garage. Peckinpah creates this schoolyard atmosphere where the bullies reign and the bullying will progress to a point of no return. The act of savagery brings David to a breaking point and leads to the film's other most disturbing moment, the final 20 minutes of the film - where we see David's sick enjoyment in beating a man on the floor to death complete with flying brain matter.

At the end of it all it's a fairly blunt conclusion, it's also hypocritical, being both scathing towards its violence and then using violence to solve the problems presented. This is the major problem with the film, however despite this "Straw Dogs" is still a better film than almost any other film in its genre, most especially the awful recent remake...

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 mastered in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression. I was initially worried going into this presentation whether a classic film such as this would be ruined by noise reduction as seems the case with a lot of "classic" films (especially ones distributed by Fox, although they've gotten better recently). I was pleased with the rich grain structure that maintains the picture's filmic look. The only problem I can see is that the film isn't as clean as I'd have liked, perhaps a restoration is in order to clean up a few annoying bits and pieces. Overall the HD is a nice boost to the former standard definition DVD release. The textures are more noticeable, skin tones look natural, and depth has noticeably improved and the best part is that there's little to no softness that tends to plague films of this era.

Audio

There's a single English DTS Master Audio 5.1 surround track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. I'm rather disappointed that the film's original mono track wasn't includes here, as with many cinephiles I'm a purist at heart. The problem with expanding mono tracks to a 5.1 spectrum is that there isn't enough audio information to provide a full surround experience, so the results tend to sound lacking in punch and sparse. While dialogue takes a front seat, the rest of the track does in fact lack in the the rear channels and are relegated to most the score. The result are average and not entirely terrible but the film's original mono option would have been the better choice.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

The Criterion DVD included a wonderful collection of extras and if you're a fan of this film you'll agree that it's a terrific edition, and if you're wanting an HD upgrade then I'd keep the Criterion DVD on hand as well as this edition from MGM (distributed by Fox) includes hardly any worthy supplements. A series of three TV spots and the film's theatrical trailer is all we get... very poor considering this film deserves a much better package of extras.

There's TV Spot 1 which runs for 59 seconds, TV Spot 2 which runs for 30 seconds and TV Spot 3 which runs for 11 seconds, all of which are in standard definition.

There's also the film's theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 42 seconds and is also in standard definition.

Overall

The Film: B Video: A Audio: B- Extras: D- Overall: C+

 


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