Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reel Dogs Review: Red Dog

It opened the London Australian Film Festival in 2011, became the biggest box office hit of the year in Australia, and, at last, Red Dog has trotted into a theater near you. UK that is. Any plans to release Red Dog in the US or Canada are still forthcoming.

It may take a while to get there, but rest assured this dog's journey is worth the wait. While modern dog films wander more and more into the realm of cliché ridden, poorly written, silly children's stories without redeeming value, Red Dog makes tracks in the right direction to redeem his genre.

Red Dog is based on a novella by Louis de Bernières. The novella is, in turn, based on a legend which is based on a true story of a stray dog who brought a community together and became famous for trekking across Australia by himself.

This visually beautiful film of red dirt and burning landscapes chronicles the life of the legendary "Red Dog" of 1970s Western Australia. Red Dog is a stray Kelpie, friends to all, but bonded to none, who touches the lives of those he meets and roams constantly through the region, often by hitchhiking. One day, Red Dog finds his true master, a bus driver he chooses for himself, and settles in as a one-man dog.

When tragedy strikes and his human fails to return home one night, Red Dog waits to no avail. At last, he sets out on the quest that makes him famous; traveling hundreds of miles throughout Australia. What Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) did for traveling dog scenes in the western United States and Lassie (2005) for Scotland, Red Dog does for Australia through red dirt, red sunsets, and a very lonely red dog jogging by.

A few moments of less than dazzling acting and some canine clichés that no dog movie seems able to live without are made up for by a surprisingly good screenplay, rich with unexpected humor. Koko, the Red Cloud Kelpie playing Red Dog, also puts in a believable performance enhanced by several impeccable closeups. As an added bonus, it is wonderful to see a new dog film that is not made just for children. There are not even any child characters in it. Red Dog would be appropriate for about 10 and up.

Koko landed the leading role in Red Dog by his close physical match to the real red dog and his highly expressive face. He came from an Australian show kennel to live with trainer Luke Hura in Melbourne, where they worked together for a year before filming. Koko learned sixty commands, including "head to the front" to keep him facing forward rather than turning to watch his trainer. At the end of filming, Koko was adopted by Red Dog producer Nelson Woss.

The DVD is already available in Australia and Germany. Coming soon to the UK and, hopefully, the US.