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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  • None
  • Theatrical trailer - for 5 other Madman Cinema titles
  • 4 Cast/crew biographies
  • Animated menus


Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 93 mins . M . PAL


If you spend any length of time observing the more mainstream end of the media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that getting your name mentioned in connection with the word “Cannes” would guarantee you a high-profile career in the Australian film industry. Like the “Billboard chart success” that’s the unspoken holy grail of Australian music, winning something at the Cannes Film Festival – or even just getting noticed there – has become a stamp of the perceived quality of a film or filmmaker, yet it means little in the harsh commercial realities of the everyday movie business back on home soil.

Director Laurie McInnes undoubtedly knows this all too well. A former graphic designer – and, not surprisingly, a very visually-minded director – she found herself on the receiving end of a coveted Palm D’Or at Cannes for her 1987 short film Palisade; it then took her another six years to come up with her debut feature. Called Broken Highway, it was acclaimed at the time for its visual style – not too many modern feature films turn up in black and white Cinemascope, after all, and McInnes employed that format to great effect, telling her story as much with her visuals as with the actor’s performances. Broken Highway was a finalist for the top Cannes award, and at this point it looked like we’d be seeing a lot of Laurie McInnes in the future. Nine years later, her second feature film finally sees the light of day.

Dogwatch was filmed in 1999, but never scored a theatrical release. That must be one of the most frustrating of all things for a filmmaker – their feature being passed over by cinemas that will happily screen six sessions a day of Nutty Professor 2 – but in the case of Dogwatch you can almost hear the turning cogs of cinema managers’ heads as they looked at what was on offer. A film populated entirely by non-glamorous men set on a run-down merchant ship staffed by an alcoholic captain, Dogwatch chronicles the dark places a man’s soul can go in the throes of desperation but does so with minimal violence, no coarse language and no gratuitous sex or nudity, instead taking an almost meditative and poetic approach to the storytelling that, together with the unusually retrained script, gives the entire film an almost surreal quality that’s quite remarkable. Ostensibly the story of a bunch of outcasts and misfits out at sea and on the take, Dogwatch isn’t really all that interested in the actual events that the characters are going through. It’s the characters themselves that are the focus, and the floating location (the film was shot on a real ship at sea) serves as a great big mega-prop as well as an undoubtedly visceral experience for the actors. Put these same characters on a mountain, in a prison or on an island and the basic story would still work; the sea and the ship, however, plays an important role in the creation of the film’s overall mood and atmosphere.

And there’s loads of both throughout, too – McInnes’ visual cleverness is in full flight here, and visually this is a striking, compelling experience. Loaded to the gills with beautifully crafted imagery – but never pretentiously so – Dogwatch belies its tiny budget by looking better than most of the multi-million-dollar sea-based cannon fodder Hollywood’s churned out over the past two decades. McInnes’ use of colour is striking, as is her fondness for unusual, almost unnatural lighting. Many of the shots here are like a moving version of adventurous still photography, and while such a strong visual bent has been the undoing of many a film it’s never a problem here – quite the opposite, in fact. Cinematographer John Whitteron knows exactly the right ways to push his film stock to the limit, and the results speak for themselves.

The cast is terrific, particularly John Brumpton as Heckle and Steven Vidler (who’s also a film director – he made Black Rock) as the unnamed Captain; being convincing as hard men of the sea when you don’t get to swear your head off for an hour and a half is a feat that shouldn’t be underestimated (and the script seems to make a point of this, too, pointedly re-defining the acronym SNAFU for the occasion!) And the soon-to-be-ridiculously-famous Joel Edgerton can be seen here too, in a pre-Secret Life Of Us role as the idealistic Sparrow. It’s not a huge part, but it’s a key one, and he does a fine job; Edgerton is an actor who never seems willing to play the same type of character for too long, an admirable trait.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you like your cinema adventurous, individual and stylish then you too will very likely find yourself wondering why Dogwatch is premiering here and now on DVD rather than two years ago at a cinema near you. No matter; it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s a terrific movie which isn’t afraid to be itself without compromising an inch.


According to the film’s distributor, theatrical release prints were never made for Dogwatch (not surprisingly) and so the presence of reel-change “cigarette burns” on the print used here shouldn’t be too much cause for concern; the source was most likely a final answer print of the film, and it’s in pristine condition aside from the rather obnoxious end-of-reel circular flashes (which actually help give the movie an old-fashioned feel, ironically).

Boasting an exceptionally nice video transfer that perfectly captures the film’s unusual look, Dogwatch is presented in anamorphic 16:9 format (an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the film’s intended 1.85:1 ratio opened up slightly for the video transfer). The transfer is beautifully sharp and clear throughout, and the many strong colours (particularly the intense, exaggerated greens inside the ship) are rendered flawlessly. The transfer embraces the darkness that’s a key component of the film, too, and shadow detail is very good – when there’s supposed to be some, that is. Much of the time extreme, impenetrable darkness is contrasted with strategic light with great results. Edge enhancement is non-existent throughout.

The 93 minute film is not surprisingly stored on a single layered DVD; video compression is excellent, and there are no artefacts or other problems to get in the way.


As far as we could establish, the audio for Dogwatch was mixed in good old fashioned matrixed Dolby Surround, and that’s the sound mix you get here, encoded as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Annoyingly, the Dolby Surround flag is not set to “on” in this audio stream, and while that’s not a huge problem – you can easily turn Pro-Logic decoding on yourself, and many decoders don’t obey this flag anyway – it’s trivial to turn on during encoding and does make life easier for those whose decoders can use it. Ironically, Madman’s disc authoring team has started using the surround flag on recent music titles’ 2.0 tracks, none of which are actually mixed in surround! We can confirm that this particular soundtrack indeed is specifically surround-encoded, so turn on Pro-Logic decoding if you’ve got it.

While you’d expect a film like this to be heavily dialogue focussed (and you’d be right, too), this is a subtle but nicely involving mix that makes heavy use of the surround channel for ambient sound and atmospheric effects, of which there’s plenty given that the sea is everywhere and that ships tend to make lots of noise. Dialogue is crystal-clear throughout and is well recorded; the intriguing music score by Michael Atherton, meanwhile, is nicely blended (in stereo) to fit in with the rest of the audio. As far as matrixed surround soundtracks go, this one is state-of-the-art.


Sadly there are no extra features (a commentary from Laurie McInnes would have been terrific, but we presume she’s gone back into hibernation until either Sugar Cane or Bruised sees the light of day!) aside from a set of four brief bios for McInnes and three of the cast; these are likely taken from press material prepared a while ago, as Joel Edgerton’s role in Secret Life Of Us doesn’t even rate a mention, let alone Star Wars Episode 2. Madman Cinema also clocks in with their usual batch of propaganda, this time in the form of trailers for The Bank, La Spagnola, Mullet, Pi and Tackle Happy. The menu item for the Mullet trailer has been accidentally linked to the La Spagnola trailer thanks to a slight authoring mistake; the actual Mullet trailer is encoded on the disc, though, and if you want to see it, just tell your DVD player to go direct to Title 6.

The animated (and 16:9) main menu design on this disc is absolutely superb, one of the most stylish menus we’ve seen from an authoring facility that’s always been as serious about their menu design as they are about the rest of the disc. A jacket picture is also included for those with a player that supports it; the disc is encoded with DVD text as well.


It might have taken a bit longer than expected to see the light of day, but Laurie McInnes has come up with an unassuming gem of a film in Dogwatch, and if you’re tired of films that go exactly where you’d expect them to then this might be just what you’re looking for. The visually stunning film is transferred beautifully to DVD for its premiere, and while the extras count is as good as zero it’s a disc that Australian film fans will be pleased to add to their collections when it goes on retail sale in a few months’ time.

Now, hands up who wants to release a DVD of Broken Highway...

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      And I quote...
    "...a terrific movie which isn’t afraid to be itself... transferred beautifully to DVD"
    - Anthony Horan
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