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A Boy and His Dog is a short story written by science fiction author Harlan Ellison in 1969. A revised and expanded version was printed in Ellison's 1976 story collection The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, and Ellison continued the story in the graphic novel Vic and Blood which was illustrated by Richard Corben.

The novella was the basis of a movie adaptation in 1974, the post-apocalyptic science fiction film of the same name, directed by L. Q. Jones working in collaboration with Harlan Ellison. The film was also distributed after the initial run under the names Psycho Boy and His Killer Dog, Mad Don, and Apocalypse: 2024, among other titles.

Setting

Both the novella and the film adaptation have the same alternate timeline setting. In this, President John F. Kennedy survived the assassination attemptmarker on his life in 1963, and under his continued terms of office and that of the other Kennedys, the advancement of technology was concentrated on and billions of dollars poured into it instead of the space race. Technology flourished in the 1960s far faster than it did in our timeline, as indeed within a few years even surpassed that point at which we are at now. Androids became common household servants across the United Statesmarker before the end of the decade. Extensive research was done into the fields of extra sensory perception and telepathy, which are both proved possible, and also animal intelligence.

However, this new form of technological race only intensified the Cold War, which had begun in June 1950 with the Soviet Unionmarker and the People's Republic of Chinamarker, eventually becoming an arms race. The world became divided along the lines of the "Western Bloc" and the "Eastern Bloc". World War III broke out and was fought by conventional means very similar to World War II, yet lasting decades, with both sides suffering heavy losses and neither gaining the upper hand. World War III ended in an uneasy truce—the "Vaticanmarker Armistice"—in March 1983. However, tensions continued for the next 25 years and the global economy never recovered. In 2007, global negotiations finally broke down and World War IV subsequently broke out. This time the war was fought with nuclear weapons and only lasted five days, just long enough for the nuclear missiles to leave their silos on both sides. Civilization was almost entirely obliterated, leaving the surface of the Earth reduced to a desolate, irradiated, desert wasteland.

Central characters

The year in which both the novella and the film take place is 2024. The few survivors who remain above ground must forage and fight for food, clean water, clothes, weapons, ammunition, and women. Of these necessities, women are the rarest; most survivors are male because while the males were off fighting in the wars, their enemies bombed and destroyed their homes. Among these survivors, it has become a rule of dog eat dog.

The main character, Vic (portrayed by a 25-year-old Don Johnson in the film), is an 18-year-old boy born in 2006 in the ruins of Phoenixmarker, Arizonamarker. In both the novel and the film, Vic is focused on stealing food and fulfilling his sexual needs. He is quite base, because he lost both of his parents in the nuclear war, has no formal education, and doesn't understand the principles of ethics or morality. Satisfying his carnal desires remain Vic's main motivation throughout the story. He is accompanied by a well-read and wise-cracking telepathic dog named Blood, an "experienced female provider" through the use of his advanced senses of smell and hearing. Blood's main motivation is food, most notably popcorn (his favourite), which Vic is able to provide by theft or by purchasing it from various vendors in the wastelands. In the film, Blood is portrayed by Tiger and voiced by veteran Tim McIntire.

Vic and Blood have a successful working partnership as they scavenge across the deserts of the Southwestern United States, stealing for a living and evading bands of roving marauders, berserk androids and mutants. Vic looks up to Blood as a teacher and a father figure, and Blood views Vic with equal fondness as a protégé, even though at times Blood is frustrated with Vic's rebellious nature and unwillingness to learn. Although the two argue over trivial matters and threaten each other, nothing ever comes of these arguments and threats and in the end both agree (somewhat reluctantly at times) that they both need each other to survive. They have also been together since Vic was born and Blood a puppy.

In addition to locating women for Vic to rape, Blood also has the unenviable task of trying to educate Vic and keep him safe from harm. Blood is the result of genetic experimentation, which resulted in an intelligent canine mutation with telepathic abilities. However, the only human Blood can communicate with is Vic, to whom Blood refers as "Albert" as a "term of endearment." In the later graphic novel Vic and Blood, Blood explains: "I get such a kick out of calling him Albert – after Albert Payson Terhune, who wrote all those stupid dog books in which we noble creatures were pets, always being saved by some sappy human - it is my best gambit to make him scream." It is also stated in the novel that Albert is Vic's real name, but Vic doesn't like the name Albert.

Blood's opinion of the human race is not generally positive, and Blood is somewhat of a misanthrope. His opinion of humans may have something to do with the fact that Blood is most likely the most intelligent and learned living thing left in the world, and he looks down upon the "stupidity" of humans. In addition, Blood notes that "human sex is an ugly thing". Blood does, however, have a more positive outlook on life in general, and believes in a place untouched by nuclear radiation he heard about from a police dog. Blood refers to this place at various times as "Over The Hill" and the "Promised Land", where "deer and the antelope play and it's warm and clean and we can relax and have fun, and grow food right out of the ground." Blood wants to look for "Over The Hill" with Vic, but Vic does not entertain it as a sensible suggestion. Vic states that their current situation is as good as it gets, and there is no "Over The Hill."

Plot summary

The remnants of civilization has gone into the "downunder", a subsurface setting, with artificial sunlight, hydroponic bay, biospheresmarker (with similarities to the Eden Projectmarker) and even functional, living forests. One such underground city, referred to as Topeka after the ruins of the city it lies beneathmarker, is fashioned in a mockery of 1950s rural innocence and brave-new-worldian madness, with all the inhabitants wearing dungarees and mime makeup. Topeka solves its need for exogamous reproduction by forcibly extracting fluids from sperm donors with machines and artificial insemination, yet the subterranean city with its limited population is still running low on viable donors. Anybody who refuses to comply, or shows any disregard to the committee whatsoever, is sent off to "the farm", and is never seen again. Even when someone becomes no longer useful to the society, they are sent there. "Heart attacks" and "farming accidents" are given as reasons for the unexplained disappearances. However, the inhabitants of the underground city are so brainwashed that they either do not realize, or do not protest.

Quilla June Holmes (portrayed by Susanne Benton in the film), the scheming and seductive daughter of one of Topeka's committee leaders, Lou Craddock (portrayed by Jason Robards in the film), is sent by her father to the surface to bait Vic into much needed "service", which Vic thinks is his dream come true as he believes he will be impregnating the women of Topeka by more conventional means. Blood takes an immediate disliking to Quilla, sensing something wrong, and warns Vic, but Vic will not listen. After saving Quilla's life from a band of raiders, and after, some mutants referred to as "screamers", Vic then spends an amorous night with her. In the morning she knocks Vic unconscious and flees. However, she had told Vic about where she lives, and also deliberately left an access card to the vault door so that he could follow her down there. Vic, completely taken by the idea of women and sex, takes leave of his lifelong friend Blood despite Blood's pleading and pursues the young lady into the downunder. He soon learns the harsh reality of the authoritarian committee and of its need for his semen, and is strapped to a table and a machine is used for this purpose. Vic is told that, when his sperm has impregnated 35 women, he will be sent to "the farm", as they will no longer have any use for Vic.

Quilla June, along with a few other rebellious teenagers, have other plans for Vic. They free him from captivity and beg him to kill the committee members and their android enforcer Michael (performed by former Californian boxing champion Hal Baylor in the film), thus leaving Quilla June in power. Vic, however, has interest in neither politics nor in remaining underground. Nevertheless, before Vic can shoot Lou Craddock, the other rebellious teenagers are captured by Michael and have their skulls crushed by Michael's bare hands. Vic manages to disable Michael with a heavy barrage of bullets. Still, knowing that her plan is foiled, and her co-conspirators dead, and also after overhearing her own father ordering her execution, Quilla decides Vic is her only chance and decides to escape to the surface with him. To this end, she tells Vic that she loves him, although this is clearly a lie to save her own skin (she was also apparently romantically involved with one of her late co-conspirators, although this may have been done also to her own ends.)

Vic and Quilla discover when emerging to the surface that Blood is starving as he was not able to find food without Vic, because Blood is an elderly dog and has a broken leg from an earlier fight with a raider's dog. Blood is near death. Vic faces a difficult situation, and in a twist ending, it is implied he kills his new love and cooks her to save Blood, as a bonfire is shown barbecuing food. This is not explicitly stated, though; Quilla simply disappears from the short remainder of the story. In the film, the following dialog suggests her fate: Blood states "Well, I'd certainly say she had marvelous judgment, Albert, if not particularly good taste."

Awards

Novella

The novella of A Boy and His Dog won the Nebula Award for Best Novella upon its release in 1969.

Film



Film production

Harlan Ellison started the screenplay but encountered writers block, so producer Alvy Moore and director L.Q. Jones wrote the script, with Wayne Cruseturner, who was uncredited. Jones' own company, LQJaf Productions (L. Q. Jones & Friends), produced the film. They filmed the movie at Coyote Dry Lakemarker in the Mojave Desert.

James Cagney's voice was considered as the voice of Blood, but was dropped because it would have been too recognizable and proved a distraction. Eventually, after going through approximately six hundred auditions, they settled on Tim McIntire, a veteran voice actor who also did most of the music for the film. McIntire was assisted with this by Ray Manzarek (misspelled in the film credits as Manzarec), formerly of The Doors. McIntire sang the main theme. Latin American composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava provided the music for the underground segment.

Differences between the novella and film

  • In the novella, nuclear fallout had created horrific genetic mutations. One such group is referred to as "burnpit screamers" because of the noise they make. The screamers are widely feared by the survivors of the nuclear holocaust, and references are occasionally made to them in the novella. Screamers feature in the film, although only in one scene, and are not actually seen, but only their screams are heard, and their green bio-luminescence seen through a wall.




Criticism of the film

On the film's DVD audio commentary, L.Q. Jones states that Harlan Ellison was generally pleased with the movie, with the exception of the final line of dialog. In the introduction of the Vic and Blood anthology, Ellison criticized the film's "moronic, hateful chauvinist last line, which I despise." The final line occurs after Vic had to choose between saving the life of his faithful guide or running off with Quilla June. A shot of cooking meat followed by the line from Blood, "Well, I'd say she certainly had marvelous judgment, Albert, if not particularly good taste", ends the movie. The movie and short story are widely attacked for being misogynistic. Ellison has been quoted as saying he did not intend it this way.

Graphic novel

Ellison later continued the story in the graphic novel Vic and Blood, illustrated by Richard Corben. After a retelling of the first story, the final chapter deals with the events immediately afterward. Although Blood is now back on his feet, the pair's situation deteriorates as Vic begins having guilt-ridden hallucinations as a result of an awakening of conscience following the death of Quilla June. Due to his preoccupation, Vic stumbles into a near-fatal encounter with a roving gang, resulting in his getting separated from Blood once again. After the two reunite, Blood finds Vic in a hopeless, almost catatonic state. Despite Blood's appeals and attempts to reawaken Vic's sanity, Vic allows himself to be captured by a giant, mutated spider. Cocooned, poisoned by venom, and beyond any hope of saving, Vic accepts his fate as Blood is left to fend for himself.

The reasons given by Ellison for this abrupt ending have differed over the years. One relates to his anger over the L.Q. Jones ending of the film, as detailed above. The other is, according to Ellison, essentially a desire to stop his fans from requesting more stories about the two characters. Ellison claimed at the time of the film's release that he had said all he wanted to say about Vic and Blood, and that there would be no more sequels.

However, in the introduction to the graphic novel "Vic and Blood", dated 25 March, 2003, Ellison mentions:

"And I've written the rest of the book, BLOOD'S A ROVER. The final, longest section is in screenplay form - and they're bidding here in Hollywood, once again, for the feature film and TV rights - and one of these days before I go through that final door, I'll translate it into elegant prose, and the full novel will appear."

Sequel to the film

Rumours have abounded over the years regarding a movie sequel, but it has never materialized. On the film's DVD audio commentary, L.Q. Jones states that he had started to write a script sequel to the film that would have picked up right where the first film ended and featured a female warrior named Spike, and we would have seen this world through the eyes of a female instead of a male. Jones and Ellison collaborated on this short-lived effort. Ellison, however, has denied that development went beyond a short "what if?" conversation, and that any efforts were solely that of Jones.

According to Cult Movies 2, Jones had a sequel planned called A Girl And Her Dog, but the plan was scrapped when Tiger died. In a December 2003 interview, Jones claimed that he is approached by a different group wanting to make a sequel approximately every 30 days, but funding is always an issue.

Legacy

The film was not successful at the time, however it has since developed a cult following. The film ranked #96 on Rotten Tomatoes "Journey Through Sci-Fi" (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies.)

A Boy and His Dog has also been a great influence on the Fallout video game series.

Copyright status

The original copyright notice is incomplete and contains an invalid date more than one year different from its actual release date. While a registration was lodged with the USCO in 1989, it gave false publication information and is therefore invalid. This makes the original film public domain.However, in 1990, Third LQJ Inc. made a claim on the 1982 version of the film that had new footage added, which appears to be valid. No copy of the original Public Domain film was released on VHS or DVD, which pretty much moots the PD status.

See also



References

  1. Ellison, Harlan and Richard Corben. Vic and Blood. Simon & Schuster. 2003. 5-6.
  2. http://www.scifidimensions.com/Dec03/lqjones.htm
  3. "RT's Journey Through Sci-Fi", Rotten Tomatoes, 2007.
  4. "Requests", Internet Archive, 2004.
  5. [1], Internet Archive, 2009.


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