Somehow I missed the box office powerhouse that was Red Dog, but if you did too, never fear – not only is this more prequel then sequel, but you get to watch a bit of the original during this second instalment. In the framing narrative, our protagonist Mick takes his two kids to watch it, along with every single other Australian family.
When he gets home, he tells his boy – who wants a dog – that he once had a canine bestie, back when he was a boy. That dog became Red Dog. So what they’d just watched on screen was a reconstruction of the later adventures of the dog that he once owned.
Someone will no doubt write a PhD on the intersection of history, fiction and metanarrative in the to-be-continued Red Dog trilogy, but it isn’t at all necessary to get your head around that. Because this is a simple tale of a boy, his dog, and his grandpa, along with a few other characters from a remote station in the Pilbara.
That’s where a young Mick – a very game Levi Miller, who for some reason has a slight English accent – lands at the start of the film, dumped by a pilot onto the extraordinary red dirt of a hostile but glorious landscape. His discovery of that landscape, aided by the red kelpie he finds after a storm and names Blue (Get it? True Blue?) form the basis of a coming of age story.
There really isn’t much new on offer here, except the random arrival of John Jarratt as Lang Hancock, which is certainly an unexpected diversion, if not necessarily one whose point is apparent – but it’s a sufficiently charming tale to entertain adults and kids alike. Bryan Brown in an Akubra is worth the price of admission alone as Mick’s tough but fair grandfather.
What renders the film extraordinary is the landscape. I’ve never been to the Pilbara, but the spectacular scenery on offer is such a brilliant ad for the region that it’s no surprise ScreenWest is a funding partner. Just watching Mick and Blue zoom through it absolutely worked for me.
The protagonist here is very much Mick rather than the dog, as in the first instalment. Blue is definitely the sidekick here. And his coming-of-age plot is slight – there’s a love triangle of sorts and some fairly dubious mumbo-jumbo about a haunted cave on this Aboriginal land which has been taken over by Mick’s grandpa – until a bushfire arrives to conveniently raise the narrative stakes. The minor characters, who offer a soupçon od diversity beyond white Aussie blokedom, aren’t given enough to do, either. I was especially flummoxed by Jimmy Umbrella, who seemed to exist merely to facilitate aerial shots of a parasol.
But Blue is a Good Boy, played with much dignity by Phoenix after the sad loss of Koko from the original, and handles the action with aplomb even when they give him a farting scene. Between him, the potent charisma of Bryan Brown and the sheer delight seeing an incredibly special corner of Australia on the screen, there’s enough here to warrant catching it on the big screen.
Here’s our podcast review, featuring Giles Hardie in the role of “person who saw Red Dog“