• Sleeping Dogs



    Released by: Arrow Academy
    Released on: April 17th, 2018.
    Director: Roger Donaldson
    Cast: Sam Neill, Warren Oates, Nevan Rowe, Ian Mune
    Year: 1977
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    The Movie:

    Adapted by Roger Donaldson in 1977 from C.K. Stead’s novel Smith’s Dream, Sleeping Dogs stars Sam Neill in his first lead role as Smith. He’s a bit of a loner – even more so when he finds out that his wife Gloria (Nevan Rowe) is carrying on behind his back. He responds by leaving her and their two young daughters, narrowly avoiding an altercation with the other man, Bullen (Ian Mune). Sam plans to essentially start anew and maybe even find himself on a tiny, remote island off the coast of New Zealand that’s looked after by some Maori native tribesmen.

    Of course, nothing can be that easy. As Smith tries his best to adjust to his new life, the very country itself falls into political turmoil. He keeps up to date thanks to TV newscasts, watching massive strikes cripple the economy and an oil embargo go into place and wreak havoc, eventually leading to martial law as the country’s Prime Minister sees no other recourse than to turn the armed forces out to take care of the problem. Smith tries not to concern himself with any of this too much, instead preferring to focus on getting over his own domestic drama. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that the island he’s decided to hide away on is strategic to some of those involved in the conflict – it’s basically a munitions depot. Smith gets captured by government forces and is charged with being an enemy of the state, but of course he makes his escape and goes on the run, changing his name to keep out of the limelight. Eventually he takes a job at a hotel but this too is interrupted when American Col. Willoughby (Warren Oates) and his team meant to help out the government shake up in the place.

    A film very much of the time and place that it was made, Sleeping Dogs is important for playing a big part in putting New Zealand new wave cinema on the map. It’s a picture that is simultaneously accessible to those willing to pay attention to it but at the same time, distinctly ‘New Zealand’ in both the events that it portrays and the people who inhabit it. This gives the film a lot of regional flavor and at times, the picture almost serves as a travelogue for its homeland. The audience quite literally follows Sam across large parts of the country as he hides from one problem after another, trying not to get involved in what he knows he’ll eventually have to get involved in.

    Long before Roger Donaldson ‘went Hollywood’ and made ‘big’ movies like Cocktail, Dante’s Peak and quite a few more he made this more unique and personal picture. His direction here is quite assured, allowing us to occasionally get lost in Michael Seresin’s excellent cinematography and the film’s impressive score. Production values are strong across the board.

    The performances are also impressive. Sam Neill is genuinely excellent in the part, expressing his character’s increasing frustration quite subtlety until the time comes where subtlety won’t cut it anymore. He handles Smith’s emotional rollercoaster ride quite well. And of course, having Warren Oates in your film is never a bad thing – and he brings the screen presence and intensity you’d want from him to the film, much to its benefit.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Arrow offers up Sleeping Dogs on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. It looks, in a word, fantastic. Detail is really strong throughout while texture and color reproduction are strong from start to finish. There's nice depth here and the black levels are strong – the widescreen photography really impresses, it’s quite artistic, but never at the cost of the film’s gritty aesthetic. Compression artifacts, edge enhancement and noise reduction are never obvious problems. This looks really, really good on Blu-ray. Nice and clean too, no real print damage worth noting – this looks great in high definition.

    English language options are provided in LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with optional newly translated subtitles provided in English only. This track is clean, clear and nicely balanced. No problems with any hiss or distortion, decent range and depth for an older mono track, the score really shines here. The subtitles are also clear, easy to read and free of any typos. Understandably the 5.1 track uses the rear channels while the mono track clearly does not. As such, it’s got a bit more depth to it, although that mostly applies to the score and effects work, the dialogue stays mainly up front.

    Extras start off with an interesting commentary by writer/director Roger Donaldson, actor Sam Neill and actor/writer Ian Mune that covers quite a bit of ground. They talk about the source material and how it made the transition from page to screen, shooting on location in New Zealand and the state of that country’s film industry, the contributions of the cast and crew – including Oates - to the picture, the thought process behind certain aspects of the production, the score, and lots more. It’s well-paced and quite interesting.

    Also quite illuminating is The Making Of Sleeping Dogs, a sixty-five-minute documentary that contains interviews with Donaldson, Neill, Mune, Geoff Murphy and others in which they look back on the making of the picture and reminisce about how much work was involved in it. The benefit of hindsight comes into effect here and it makes for an interesting and thorough piece. There’s also a vintage twenty-nine-minute piece here from 1977, also called The Making Of Sleeping Dogs, that includes some great footage shot during the film’s production as well as some interviews shot around the same time.

    The extras close out with the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. As to the packaging and physical aspect of the release, we get some nice reversible sleeve art featuring original poster artwork and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips. Additionally, for the first pressing only Arrow include an illustrated insert booklet that holds an essay on the film by Neil Mitchell, a review by Pauline Kael and a reproduction of the film’s original press book.

    The Final Word:

    Proving as is so often the case that we can’t escape our fate, Sleeping Dogs is at times tense, moving and thought provoking – and consistently beautiful to look at. The performances, particularly from Neill, are strong across the board and the visuals superb. Arrow gives this unjustly maligned picture an excellent release, presenting the film in beautiful condition and with a nice array of extras that document its history and discuss its significance.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!