While some science-fiction films go to the dogs, this one has one that sits up and speaks!
A Boy and His Dog are the nomadic wanderers of the desert wasteland, and a parable on the virtues of life, love, and friendship.
The trailer has early reviews indicating that this may be the best science fiction film ever made. High praise! It seems like a bizarre premise: after World War IV, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a man (Miami Vice’s Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog fight for survival in the desert. He tries to hook up with a woman, and there are some odd people with white face paint. It appears to be a satire of sorts, but it’s hard to tell from the trailer. Let’s get moving and see what this film holds for Sci-Fi Saturdays.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
In the desolate future of 2024, the remnants of mankind scavenge the barren wastes after World War IV. Vic (Don Johnson) spends his days looking for food for he and his dog Blood (Tiger), will Blood–who has developed telepathy–spends his time looking for women for Vic. Unable to get his own food, Blood relies on Vic, while Vic takes history lessons and good-natured ribbing from Blood. Upon discovering an underground bunker with a woman, Vic is disappointed that she has been beaten and bloodied by another group of marauders, so they leave her–disappointed.
Vic is mostly interested in having sex, while Blood wants to visit “Over the Hill,” an idyllic promised land where everything is better. Vic doesn’t want Blood to leave him, so he is always making up excuses about when they will go to look for this place. One day they witness a strange group of marauders, with a hodgepodge of equipment and clothing, using slaves to dig out a bunker looking for food. The bunkers are buried buildings from before the War that were all preserved. While the boss man is in the crater looking for goods, Vic makes a break and steals the bag of food from the marauders vehicle.
Vic is being observed by several unidentified people, who wear blue jeans, and booties over their shoes. They think he might just be the one. Vic and Blood enter a small outpost where porno films are played for the entrance fee of one piece of canned food. Inside Blood senses a woman in disguise. The two follow her out of the “theater” and into an underground warehouse/gym. Vic corners her and is about to rape her when Blood tells him that a band of “rovers” has surrounded the building. The woman, Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton), Vic and Blood hide in an old boiler, but when the gang doesn’t leave they decide to frighten them away pretending to be “screamers.”
Blood, injured by a fight with a rover dog, needs medical attention. Quilla claims to be from a place called “Down Under” and after willingly having sex with Vic, knocks him out and escapes. Vic becomes enamored with finding her, even after Blood gives him many reasons why it’s not the prudent thing to do. Vic finds the doorway to Down Under and promises Blood he’ll return as quick as he can and hopes the dog will wait for him. Descending through a complex of vents and ducts (like a missile silo) Vic emerges in an underground town called Topeka. It looks like a quaint town out of Our Town or The Music Man. The residents all wear white pancake makeup on their faces, with rosy cheeks and pencilled in smiles.
Mr. Craddock (Jason Robbards) and the Committee run the town, seeing to everyone’s happiness. For those in this community that commit actions deemed unworthy or out of place, the Committee sends them to “The Farm,” making up an excuse about their disappearance. Quilla June, now in her Topeka outfit, has designs to get a spot on the Committee for helping bring the boy back. Vic has been tricked to come to Topeka in order to use his semen to help procreate the women of the town. After so many years with the same genetic specimens, new blood is needed–so to speak.
Quilla June, doesn’t get promoted to the Committee as expected and decides to overthrow the members of the Committee with some of her younger friends. Unfortunately she doesn’t really understand what that means. She breaks Vic out and helps him escape with the aid of her friends. However all of them are hunted down by the large farm-hand looking Michael (Hal Baylor), who turns out to be a robot and very hard to stop. Vic manages to shoot and disable Michael and he and Quilla June escape back to the surface, discovering a dying Blood outside the door. He has been unable to hunt for food and cannot walk to Over The Hill. Quilla tried to convince Vic to leave him. The next morning Vic makes sure that Blood doesn’t want any more to eat, as it’s intimated they killed and ate Quilla June, describing her as someone of particularly good taste!
“Now World War IV lasted five days, just long enough for the final missiles to leave their silos on both sides.” – Blood
History in the Making
A Boy and His Dog was the first, and most widely available, film based on a story by science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison. (I’m not calling it SF, as he hated that term!) Ellison had had modest success in television in the previous decade writing for science-fiction shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Outer Limits (with his award-winning script “Demon with a Glass Hand”) and Star Trek (also an award-winning story with “City on the Edge of Forever”). He was much revered in the genre, consulting on television shows and continuing to write episodes for TV, and continuing his own novels and short stories.
It also marked the continued movement of the genre into more adult fare, with an R-rating. Increased violence, adult themes, and sexually explicit content had been trending into science-fiction films for a few years now. Death Race 2000 and Rollerball both had graphic violence and carried an R-rating. They also had adult situations and some sexual content as did the 1975 The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a vaudevillian style musical-comedy with horror and sci-fi overtones. And much like Rocky Horror, A Boy and His Dog has developed a cult following. It was never a commercial success on initial release, but its availability on video, the early appearance of Don Johnson as Vic, and the dour and blackly comedic ending all found a home with fans looking for new types of science-fiction.
A Boy and His Dog was also the first post-apocalyptic film to depict the barren wastelands after a nuclear war. Rather than present a futuristic world similar to present day (as Death Race and Rollerball did), or a overpopulated nightmare (as Soylent Green did), it chose to film in the bleak Mojave desert, presenting life after “the bomb” as a bleak, wind-whipped desert, where nomadic bands of survivors would rebuild using any and all materials available. The look of the film would certainly influence future depictions of the post-apocalyptic world, such as Damnation Alley, the Mad Max films (specifically The Road Warrior), and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. It even inspired the creators of the video game series Fallout when creating a post-apocalyptic world.
Fans of The Road Warrior will see many things in this film that inspired George Miller in his work. One of the packs of marauders seen in the film contains an odd man who rides on a cobbled together chassis of a truck, equipped with many vehicle and non-vehicle parts. His clothing is a mish-mash of fabrics from clothes, upholstery, and possibly curtains depicting the scavenger like nature of his existence. Similarly the outpost where Vic takes in a film is made of whatever items could be found, and is guarded by a series of sentries with shotguns. The entrance fee is a can of food, changing the base currency in the United States from cash to goods. It also presents the final war (World War IV) as having lasted “only 5 days.” Blood describes the length of the war as “just long enough for the final missiles to leave their silos on both sides.”
Having a telepathic dog, and not just Blood, in the film seems as if it’s the evolution of canines in the irradiated post-apocalyptic world. A small dog in Topeka supposedly talks to Vic, even though the audience doesn’t hear it in the same way. And several times Vic intimates that he’s had enough of Blood, and will just bond with another dog. Whether it’s evolutionary or some procedural experiment that occurred, the elevation of animals in a post nuclear landscape are not new. Planet of the Apes is a good example of the evolution of primates in a far-off future. And the trope of mutations (whether human or animal) providing some sort of advanced mind-power is not uncommon.
The main theme of the film, as with many other futuristic sci-fi films concerns the haves and the have nots. The Committee and the people of Topeka are struggling to hang on to some sense of normalcy in their underground bunker decorated like a Fourth-of-July picnic in some midwestern town. Meanwhile, those unincorporated folks on the surface, some roving as gangs while others live alone, must hunt for their daily existence in a violent and somehow more barbaric way. Except that by the end of the film, the people in Topeka are shown as no more moral that the surface dwellers. The Committee depicts a completely totalitarian regime where fear and order of a small few control the entire society. They literally hold the life and death of each person in their hands, and have no problem taking individuals from the surface and using them as studs for breeding their women.
The underground world of Topeka also suffers from the real-world problems of teenage rebellion. Unfortunately the real world can’t deal with the problems of teenagers in the same way. The Committee has the robotic Michael track down and kill each teenager that helped Quilla June with her plan, executing them with the only due process necessary: a unanimous vote from the three members. Vic has other problems to deal with as he has to deal with other scavengers trying to kill him or the screamers (unseen, but glowing, mutated and radioactive monsters) touching him.
Overall the story takes the phrase that “a dog is man’s best friend,” and really puts it to the test. In the film’s case, the dog is a mentor as well as a companion, who also happens to lead Vic towards women to alleviate his more basal instincts.
The Science in The Fiction
A Boy and His Dog does take cues from real-world concerns about breeding in limited populations. Over time, the viability of the smaller population will lead to lack of successful pregnancies. The Committee’s plan to invigorate the small population by bringing in an outsider to serve as a stud, sounds like a good idea. Vic thinks so too, until he realizes that he will not get to participate physically, and he will be “milked” of his sperm to donate to 35 waiting women, in a ”wedding” ceremony. This is really the only aspect of the town that is explored, but there are many other questions that get raised including how do they grow their crops, or clean their air?
The Final Frontier
As the sci-fi genre grows throughout the 70s and beyond, the amount of content will exceed the capacity of the audience–at least for initial distribution. More films like A Boy and His Dog would show up with the advent of video rentals. Cult films that would find new life in a secondary market. Also many more lower budget films would find their release on video, completely bypassing the normal film distribution network.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.