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Roger Donaldson
Sam Neill, Warren Oates, Nevan Rowe
Writing Credits:
Ian Mune, Arthur Baysting

Reclusive Smith gets drawn into a revolutionary struggle between leftist guerillas and the New Zealand government.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English LPCM Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 4/17/2018

• Audio Commentary with Director Roger Donaldson, Actor/Writer Ian Mune and Actor Sam Neill
• 1977 “The Making of Sleeping Dogs” Featurette
• 2004 “The Making of Sleeping Dogs” Documentary
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Sleeping Dogs [Blu-Ray] (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 12, 2018)

Director Roger Donaldson’s big-screen debut, 1977’s Sleeping Dogs takes us to New Zealand’s remote Coromandel Peninsula. After the dissolution of his marriage, Smith (Sam Neill) takes up residency there to help clear his head.

Instead, Smith finds himself stuck in a new series of problems. Political strife pushes toward civil war, and Smith winds up involved with these actions – whether he wants to do so or not.

Circa 2018, we think of New Zealand as a thriving filmmaking community. In the wake of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that domain developed into a strong contributor to mainstream movies.

This wasn’t the case 40 years ago, and Dogs showed that New Zealand could support talent. I wouldn’t call either Donaldson or Neill superstars, but they managed strong careers in the wake of Dogs.

All of that is well and good, but does the movie hold up after more than 40 years? Not really – while Dogs comes with potential positives, the end result becomes a bit of a mess.

Perhaps Donaldson’s relative inexperience impacted the film, as he didn’t show a strong hand behind the camera. Dogs lacks a particularly coherent throughline, so it tends to ramble and meander without the momentum it needs.

This leads to a movie made up of a melange of scenarios and influences, few of which come together in a meaningful manner. It occasionally feels like the film lost important expository elements along the way, as it skips from one segment to another without a great deal of coherence.

This means various narrative themes and supporting characters come and go without much obvious reason. The story bops around too loosely and it fails to mesh together in a satisfying manner.

That occurs even though Dogs tells a fairly simple story. In essence, it offers a twist in Hitchcock’s beloved “unjustly accused innocent man” concept – it’s not a detective story like The Wrong Man, but it shows a kinship with that sort of tale.

Unfortunately, Donaldson just can’t hold it together in a compelling way. The characters fail to develop into intriguing personalities, and the action varies without much reason. There’s probably an underlying process here but it rarely seems clear.

All of that leaves Sleeping Dogs as a disappointment. I felt curious to see the work of Donaldson and Neill so early in their careers, but the film doesn’t stand as a compelling work in its own right.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Sleeping Dogs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the film’s age and modest budget, it came with a pleasing transfer.

Sharpness usually worked well, with elements that offered pretty satisfying delineation. Occasional soft shots materialized, but those remained infrequent and modest.

I saw no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and the presentation lacked edge haloes. In terms of print flaws, I noticed a couple of tiny specks but nothing more than that.

Colors tended toward blues, greens and yellows. These could be a little thick at times, but they generally felt full and rich.

Blacks demonstrated fairly nice depth and density, while shadows worked fine for the most part. Despite a few slightly dense sequences, most of the low-light shots delivered appealing clarity. All in all, this became a better than expected presentation.

I encountered a more mixed bag with the movie’s remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. On the positive side, the audio sounded pretty good, as it came with surprisingly robust elements.

Speech occasionally showed iffy looping, but the lines mostly seemed natural and concise. Effects lacked much oomph, but they tended to be reasonably accurate and failed to suffer from much distortion.

Music fared best. The movie’s score and songs felt nicely broad and rich, with good low-end.

So what flaws befell this track? Localization became the main issue, as the mix suffered from an annoying slant to the right.

This meant much of the audio felt “off-axis”. Dialogue largely seemed centered and some material showed up in the left domain, but an awful low of the mix shifted to the right side in a distracting, unnatural manner.

The disc also included an LPCM stereo mix, but it also provided a mixed bag. On the positive side, it demonstrated superior balance, so it didn’t give us the same awkward emphasis on the right channel.

However, audio quality didn’t seem as good. Dialogue felt a little rougher, and both effects and music appeared less dynamic and concise.

I preferred the stereo mix to the 5.1 track because it offered superior localization. Still, neither offered a great option, as both came with relative strengths/weaknesses.

The Blu-ray comes with a mix of extras, and we open with an audio commentary from director Roger Donaldson, actor/writer Ian Mune and actor Sam Neill. Recorded for a 2004 DVD, all three sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story/characters and the source novel, sets and locations, cast and performances, music, stunts, and related domains.

While not a bad commentary, this one never quite ignites. It brings us a decent look at the film without a lot of consistency of depth. This means fans will still want to give it a listen, but they shouldn’t expect a lot from it.

From 1977, The Making of Sleeping Dogs runs 28 minutes, 41 seconds and provides notes from Donaldson, Neill, director of photography Michael Seresin, and actor Warren Oates.

Though they provide a few notes, most of “Making” focuses on footage from the set, and those moments make it worthwhile We don’t get a lot of concrete facts, but I like the behind the scenes material.

Created for the aforementioned 2004 DVD, another piece called The Making of Sleeping Dogs goes for one hour, seven minutes, 38 seconds. It brings us involvement from Donaldson, Neill, Mune, Oates (from 1977), Donaldson’s friend Bob Harvey, author Carl Stead, co-writer Arthur Baysting, special effects director Geoff Murphy, merchant bankers Don Brash and Larry Parr, arts council member Hamish Keith, production manager Graheme McLean, camera operator Paul Leech, art department Shelly Lodge, gaffer Alan Bollinger, 2nd AD Mark Piper, production assistant Shirley Duke, songwriter Murray Grindlay, composer Dave Calder, stuntman Gerry (Popov) Kostic, editor Ian John and actors Nevin Rowe (from 1977), Don Selwyn, Donna Akerston and Clyde Scott.

We visit various film locations and also cover the film’s roots and development, cast and crew, music, Donaldson’s work on the set, effects and stunts, post-production and release. The show mixes more of the archival footage from the 1977 program with new interviews and does so in a frank, involving way. This becomes a solid documentary.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we conclude with a booklet. It includes an essay from writer/editor Neil Mitchell, excerpts from the movie’s press book, photos and credits. The booklet adds value to the set.

As an early effort from director Roger Donaldson and actor Sam Neill, Sleeping Dogs offers a historical curiosity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bring us an especially interesting movie, as the film tends to feel meandering and flat. The Blu-ray offers surprisingly strong visuals along with erratic audio and a largely positive collection of supplements. Dogs fails to muster much to make it involving.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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