The work of writer Harlan Ellison throws a huge shadow over sci-fi as we know it today; his Outer Limits episode Soldier forms the basis of what we now know as the Terminator franchise; a law-suit ended with his name being added to the credits of James Cameron’s original film. But his award-winning 1969 novella A Boy and His Dog also went on to inspire George Miller’s Mad Max films, and the connection is fairly obvious; this is a warrior of the wasteland tale, and one which retains some of the political bitterness and uncertainty of the mid 70’s.
But future historians should handle the film version of A Boy and His Dog with care; this film has big ideas to play with, and doesn’t have much time for what we might call political correctness. This is the story of a boy and his dog; Vic (Don Johnson) is the boy, and Tim McIntire provides the voice of his trusty telepathic dog Blood. Yes, the dog has a voice, since we hear his conversations with Vic throughout; it’s never explained quite how or why this happens, but as a device, it works. The year is 2024, and in a post apocalyptic world, Vic is scavaging for food, shelter, and, erm, sex. That latter obsession is one of the reasons that A Boy and His Dog is a cult rather than mainstream movie; LQ Jones’ film makes no bones about future men having a horribly predatory nature towards women, so faint-hearted viewers need not apply. ‘She could have been used two or three more times…Why’d they have to cut her?’ says Vic when they find the corpse of a mutilated woman, and we, the audience should be suitably repulsed by his attitude.
But such appalling sentiments are not window-dressing; this film portrays a world in which the worst human impulses are exaggerated. A Boy and His Dog is initially set above ground, but Vic and Blood find their way to an underworld society which is extremely odd by any yardstick. It’s a utopia out of Our Town, with the inhabitants looking as wholesome as the cast of Oklahoma, and yet the undercurrents are just as vile; Vic has been brought there as one of the last virile men to impregnate the female population. Aside from the nuclear disaster, a political retraction has taken place too; the last three presidents were Kennedys, and a new America formed on racism and sexism lies beneath the cheesecloth clothes and dungarees.
‘Breeding is an ugly thing,’ says Blood, and he’s got a point; decades ahead of its time, A Boy and his Dog suggests a populist veneer of American patriotism behind which humanity’s worst racist sentiments are festering. That lurch into political satire frustrated me as a teenager watching this film on Channel 4; I’d much rather have seen Vic’s attitudes questioned through adventures with Blood on the surface. But both halves of A Boy and his Dog do match up politically; the rich live in a luxury utopia, the poor scrabble around in a dystopia, and humanity as a whole withers on the vine as society polarises. A Boy and His Dog isn’t an easy or likeable film, but it’s a great example of imaginative sci-fi, and a dank, dingy polemic that doesn’t dilute Ellison’s righteous anger about the dangerous direction he perceived society to be going. Still, 2024 is a good couple of years away, so there’s still time for us to stop such entropy taking place…
A Boy and His Dog is out now (Oct 17 2022) for the first time in the UK on blu-ray. Link below.