Man's Best Friend

(John Lafia, USA, 1993)


"Is this dog incredible, or what?" Incredible, indeed: Max is a scientifically engineered, genetic crossbreed who can jump like a tiger, climb like a monkey and camouflage himself like a lizard.

And something else, mysterious even to the Frankenstein-like scientist (Lance Henriksen) who produced this mutt: is Max, with his rapidly developing brain and increased awareness, transcending his animal status?

The poet Rilke once mused that dogs (especially those in art and literature) can appear "tragic and sublime" when they exhibit a desperate urge to become human. Once Max in Man's Best Friend escapes his lab cage and befriends the journalist Lori (Ally Sheedy), he comes to resemble both King Kong and the metamorphosing Jeff Goldblum in Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) – you never quite know whether he is about to kiss or kill his companion, and that ambiguity is what generates the tension and pathos of the drama.

Jurassic Park (1993) tapped into our fascination with exotic, prehistoric creatures, but it has been some time since movies such as Project X (1986) delved into the miracles and mysteries of more domesticated animals in their daily interactions with we mere humans.

In this thoughtful, lightly horrific thriller, writer-director John Lafia (who has since worked mainly in television science-fiction) touches all bases of this perennial theme, ingeniously including everything from talking birds and cute puppies to predatory monsters.

© Adrian Martin July 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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