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New Line Home Cinema presents
"We are not keeping this dog. This is like a six-hundred-pound dog."
DVD ReviewIn the last year there have been a number of incidents reported of police shooting family dogs during traffic stops. Perhaps their nervousness was a result of seeing this film, where Fido (albeit a genetically enhanced Fido) is represented as being a most deadly threat.
Ambitious television reporter Lori Tanner (Ally Sheedy) sneaks into the Emax research facility to do an exposé on the animal experimentation that goes on there. As she flees to avoid discovery, she frees Max, a large black dog that immediately bonds with her and follows her home (can I keep him?). But unbeknownst to Lori, Max has been genetically enhanced to be an Überhund. The serious problem comes in with the fact that his violent aggression is kept under control only by medication, which he's no longer receiving....
Although for the most part a lot of this is territory that was tread by Cujo, it's handled quite a bit better here. However, some of Max's modifications stretch credibility (and his chameleonlike concealment ability is very poorly executed with primitive CGI). The basic premise is nonetheless plausible and a natural setup for suspense. As the audience watches Max's personality deteriorate through the running time, Sheedy remains for the most part oblivious, primarily because Max remains faithful to her and keeps secret his more psychotic tendencies.
The film carries a fair amount of comedy, which is really a necessity for the often grim adventures of Max. Particularly notable are a pair of comic dogcatchers who have a certain amount of sadistic glee in their work. The picture makes no bones about where it falls on the issue of animal rights; Lance Henriksen as the director of Emax is thoroughly black-hearted and without redeeming characteristics; even though he gives the obligatory "helping mankind" speeches, he plainly doesn't believe a word of it. The script in its emphasis on the word "vivisection" seems oddly forced; outside of PETA members and people reading The Island of Dr. Moreau, the word hardly comes up in general conversation, but here it's on everyone's lips. The result is awkward and doesn't ring quite true.
That said, Sheedy carries off the requisite irritating perkiness of the TV reporter well, and Fredric Lehne as her long-suffering boyfriend is pretty good as well. Henriksen doesn't get much to work with here, but the trainers of Max did a fine job indeed; he really pulls off the story by his naturalistic and unforced movements that seem to indicate a genius-level intelligence behind those big brown eyes.
All the same, I wouldn't suggest watching this with the family pets in the room; my dog found the growling and screaming that runs throughout the film to be pretty upsetting. But then she's under 17, so we were in violation of the R rating.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks splendid. There is no speckling or frame damage visible. Colors look natural, while the copious blood is a bright, nasty red. Textures are excellent and shadow detail is very good. Black levels are first-rate as well. Very little video artifacting is present. There's also a pan-and-scan version that crops the compositions mercilessly and is quite ugly for much of the running time.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 soundtrack has a terrific punch to it. Max's barks have vivid presence with plenty of deep gutteral bass. Joel Goldsmith's often pounding score sounds excellent and features prominent but detailed bass. The soundstage is fairly broad, although it was often difficult to ascertain directionality with any precision. The Dolby Surround track is a very weak competitor for the 5.1 track, even after correcting for the different volume levels, since it's lacking in the ambience that the DD track holds. Dialogue is clear throughout.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
0 Other Trailer(s) featuring Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Final Destination 2, Jason X
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: An anamorphic widescreen trailer for the feature is accompanied by four other New Line horror trailers. But that's it, except for a DVD-ROM weblink.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsA surprisingly effective scientific chiller that relies heavily on primal canine power for its terror factor. A very nice transfer with effective sound, but not much for extras.
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