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John Scalzi – Man’s Best Friend in Science-Fiction Movies

This last weekend was a momentous one in the Scalzi household, as we debuted a new member of the family: Daisy, a two-year-old Labrador-mastiff mix (“Lab-stiff”?) that we picked up from a local dog-rescue organization. She is a complete sweetheart, and we all adore her, except for the cats, who are deeply annoyed by her presence, as of course the cats would be. But we suspect they will get used to her in time.

Bringing a new dog into the house naturally got me thinking about dogs in science-fiction films; they’re not usually the stars, but they show up surprisingly often to add companionship and sometimes comic relief. Which is not to say that man’s best friend always has an easy time of it in the films; it’s a rough world out there, especially in science fiction. Here’s a brief sampler of the dogs and the films. Warning: there may be spoilers.

A Boy and His Dog (1975)
One of the few films were a dog is actually a star of the film, this one features Blood, a hyperintelligent telepathic pup (played by one of the dogs that played Tiger on The Brady Bunch) that wanders around a postapocalyspe U.S. with his friend Vic, played by a young Don Johnson. Blood isn’t what you’d call a nice doggy, but then the postapocalyptic U.S. isn’t a nice place. At the end Vic appears to have to make a choice between Blood and his new girlfriend; let’s just say the movie doesn’t imply that things end well at all for the girlfriend.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Harvey the dog is initially less than friendly to the film’s extraterrestrial but warms to him after the two share potato salad and beer. At the end he also appears ready to ditch the humans for the spaceship, but E.T. apparently orders him back. If you ever have a chance to read the very charming novelization of the film, it goes into more (and amusing) detail about the relationship between E.T. and Harvey.

The Thing (1982)
Aw, why are those mean people in that helicopter shooting at that nice husky dog? Because that husky turns out not to be so nice — and also, strictly speaking, not really a husky either. What happens after this pseudo-pup gets put in a pen with other (real) dogs is the reason this film is not high on the list of top films for dog lovers.

Alien 3 (1992)
There’s just one dog on the prison planet Ripley crashed down on. Guess which creature meets the face hugger? Yeah, it’s not fair. That said, director David Fincher (in his now somewhat disowned feature-film debut) makes the alien-birth scene featuring the poor dog both the goriest and most stylish of the entire film series. Not that it does the dog any good, mind you.

Independence Day (1996)
Otherwise known as the film that killed off millions of humans but goes out of its way not to kill the dog. The dog in question, Boomer, is seen outrunning a massive fireball of destruction incinerating everything else and slipping through a door crack just as wavy heat lines catch up to him. In real life, of course, he’d have been puppy toast. But if director Roland Emmerich had filmed that, audiences would have found where he lived and killed him in the night. Best for everyone that Boomer lived.

I Am Legend (2007)
This will be a huge spoiler for those of you who haven’t seen this film yet. Aw: saddest doggy death in science-fiction film ever. And Will Smith, to his credit, really sells it. He’s been nominated for Best Actor, you know. Twice, even.

Up (2009)
It’s more fantasy than science fiction, but the way the dogs are made to speak is through technology, so I’ll take it. And of course Dug, goofy and lovable and delightfully dim, is one of the best movie dogs ever. The line “I have just met you…and I love you!” both perfectly sums up what people love about dogs and the attitude our new pup, Daisy, had with us. Which is why every time I imagine her speaking I think of her using Dug’s voice. I don’t know if she would appreciate that, being a girl dog. But I find it amusing, to say the least.

Yes, I know: I’m completely ignoring the Cats & Dogs films. But if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to pretend to live in a world where those films never happened. It’s a much happier world over here. You should join me.

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