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Cinophile: A BOY AND HIS DOG

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The post-apocalypse comes in many forms. You get the dystopian future stuff (Akira, Equilibrium, 1984), the Machine Dawn (Terminator, The Matrix), Extinction (Planet of the Apes), Disease (28 Days Later) and Invasion (Oblivion). But the image it conjures today is inevitably batsh** biker hell-hole, where we are all shanking each other for the last bottle of urine.

All roads to the wasteland end with Mad Max: Road Warrior, the seminal masterpiece that defined a harrowing and much realer near-future than other sci-fi apocalypses. Any end-of-world scenario that involves scavenging, knife skills and making sure your friends don’t eat you owe a debt to Road Warrior.

But the family tree goes back one more branch. Road Warrior was by the admission of its creator a homage to A Boy and His Dog. This grim but darkly comedic indie movie may have carved out a new cinematic genre all by itself.

Prior to 1975, wasteland sci-fi largely dealt with the immediate aftermath of a nuclear dawn or a world there is only a lone survivor. But sci-fi authors of the period poured their anxieties about the Cold War into their work. Some of this material, a series of novels by Harlan Ellison, were adapted into a movie.

After World War IV devastated the world of 2025 in mere days, a young Don Johnston and his telepathic dog companion Blood survive in a desert landscape. He relies on Blood to help track movement and find women, while Blood relies on Johnson’s Vic for food. It’s an endearing friendship – Blood’s ability is never explained, but his frequent banters with Vic shows he is the smarter of the two. But the hot-blooded teenager Vic is set on getting laid, a pursuit that eventually lands him in trouble.

Their world is lawless and chaotic, with marauding gangs and plenty of brutal murder. Our heroes are not particularly ethical either, but at least they shine in comparison to their fellow wasteland citizens. But  there is also a subterranean society that runs a highly organised, but still completely twisted and autocratic idea of suburbia.

Ellison’s work, typical for his generation, was as much symbolic as realistic, so in comparison with more modern sci-fi that surreal switch in tone is a bit jarring. But it works if you just go with it. And then there is the ending, which is a bit of a legend in its own right.

But it doesn’t matter if you don’t enjoy A Boy and His Dog. It is still a bit of history, a time before Max went mad and Fallout opened a shelter door.

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Even though author Harlan Ellison adores the film version of his novels, the script was the work of Wayne Cruseturner and director L.Q. Jones. Ellison did start work on a screenplay, but got stuck with writer’s block.
George Miller directly credited A Boy and his Dog for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. In fact, according to author Harlan Ellison, Miller called him and admitted he “ripped off” the movie adaptation of Ellison’s novels, including that Max has a dog. The Dogmeat character in the Fallout game series is a reference to a slur the boy in the movie uses towards the dog. There is also a poster of the movie in The Book of Eli.
A sequel potentially called A Girl and Her Dog was planned, but the idea lost all steam when Tiger, the dog acting as Blood in the movie, died. It was also a financial disappointment, despite positive reviews from critics, but built a cult following and even a Blu-Ray remaster.
The name A Boy and His Dog created a few problems for marketing. Harlan Ellison even got letters from irate adults who took children to the movie, thinking it sounded like a Disney title. As such the film was marketed as being very kinky, even though it wasn’t particularly sexually explicit for its time.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: August 24, 2015

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