They forgot about helicopters.
Or maybe they just ignored the fact that such inventions exist.
Whatever, that’s where the makers of the movie “The Last of the Dogmen” made their most telling mistake: In search of dramatic effect, they ignored the realities of modern life.
The obvious comparison is “The Land That Time Forgot.” In that 1975 film, for example, helicopters and most other types of flying machines - including satellites - aren’t important. In that film particularly, the filmmakers had reason not to care about any machine that flies because the story is set in the year 1918 - back when helicopters were still only a novel concept.
And we are talking about a movie genre here, a type of film that features characters from modern times who go through a cave or valley, under a waterfall or through a woodsy thicket only to emerge in a setting where time has stood still, often for centuries.
Sometimes, as in “The Land That Time Forgot,” dinosaurs still roam the world. At other times, though, as in the case of “The Last of the Dogmen,” the filmmakers are merely in search of a theme.
Which is why flying machines, or the lack of them, cause such a plot problem. For how difficult in the 1990s would it be to find a valley, any valley, from the air - assuming the valley in question wasn’t underground?
Since “The Last of the Dogmen” isn’t “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the answer is: Very easy.
Still - and this is the Grand Canyon-sized stretch that “Dogmen” expects us to make - we’re supposed to believe that, following the real-life 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, a small group of Cheyenne warriors and their families disappeared in a snowstorm in northwestern Montana. Disappeared but not died. Instead, they managed to find a secret passage to a remote valley.
And, some 131 years later, this is where “The Last of the Dogmen” begins.
Seems this section of Montana, which even experienced guides have not fully explored, has become the Bermuda Triangle of the Inland Northwest. Fishers and hunters head out and never return, swallowed up by the rough landscape.
The latest three to so disappear are convicts pursued by a backwoods guide named Lewis Gates (Tom Berenger). Still recovering from his wife’s accidental death, Gates spends his time drinking, feuding with his exfather-in-law and trying to build a log cabin.
Gates takes the bounty-hunter job but is frustrated, then intrigued, when all three of his targets simply disappear. He begins to suspect that something mysterious has happened to them.
With only the barest of evidence in hand, he consults a cultural anthropologist working a dig nearby. At first, Lillian Sloan (Barbara Hershey) laughs at Gates. But finally she agrees that he may be on to something.
So they head out for a look see, and what they find is a lost tribe - the McGuffin on which writerdirector Murphy has based his movie.
Much of “The Last of the Dogmen” plays like a Disney production. Gates is a guilt-ridden buffoon who needs only the right opportunity to redeem himself. He has a relationship with his dog Zip that would make Mickey Mouse and Pluto jealous. A confirmed sexist, he learns through Sloan that a woman really does belong out in the woods.
Most of all, however, “The Last of the Dogmen” is another of those films that sees Native Americans more as symbols than real people. Their traditional beliefs and medicines are good both for them and us, thank you very much, if we would just open ourselves to the spiritual power they represent.
Then again, it always helps to have a little penicillin in reserve.
In the end, “The Last of the Dogmen” is a fantasy. It’s a pleasant one, for sure. And God knows there’s always room in today’s world for more pleasantness.
But it’s about as complex a look at life, love, tolerance and ultimate justice as, say, “The Land That Time Forgot.”
With or without helicopters.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “The Last of the Dogmen” ** Location: Lincoln Heights, North Division and Coeur d’Alene Showboat cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Tab Murphy, starring Tom Berenger, Barbara Hershey, Steve Reevis and Kurtwood Smith Running time: 2 hours Rating: PG