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Earlier this month, Mill Creek Entertainment released a new restoration of "For the Love of Benji" (1977). Although we already covered this movie several weeks ago, I HAD to check out all the awesome special features ad share my findings with you!
Benji (Takes a Dive) at Marineland
This 30-minute television special from 1981 follow Benji's quest to become the first ever scuba-diving dog at Marineland of Florida (which actually still exists). Benji arrives via his very own yacht, named "Sea Woof." (Could this be the doomed yacht that sets off the events of "Benji the Hunted?!?!")
We meet dog/puppet newscaster Lana Afghana talking about how soon Benji will perform the "first-ever nose-to-nose meeting between canine and fish. Just when I'm trying to figure out if this character is supposed to be pretending to be a real talking dog, or if we're supposed to know she is a puppet...they reveal that SHE HAS A MERMAID TAIL?! So she's a half-dog-half-mermaid-puppet-newscaster. Talk about a multi-hyphenate. Throughout the show she'll become increasingly sexually attracted to Benji.
Next, we meet B.W. Puckett, a Southern gentleman dog puppet who apparently is Benji's manager and confidant. I do not like this at all. He touts Benji's mission as "One small splash for dog, but a bellwhopper for dogkind!" Actual Benji barks at the dog puppets, looking very confused. Me too, Benji, me too.
Jesse Davis (singer of "Sunshine Smiles" in "For the Love of Benji") is singing with a backup band of fruit puppets WITH FACES called the Mulberry Squares (named after Joe Camp's production company). There’s a radish with maracas, bunch of bananas playing steel drums, an apple, pear and watermelon in a basket singing, and also a pineapple singing."
Some of the more enchanting lyrics of the song include:
- “Now I don’t know, I don’t know, can dog survive when he takes a dive?”
- “Doggy’s had life-long wish, doggy wants to be a fish.”
- “Doggy’s crazy drunk with rum. To go undersea is dumb.”
- “Electric Eel he give a spark and Benji glow in dark.”
- “He’ll surely land in shrimper’s net. Then some restaurant will sell...Benji special on half-shell.”
Throughout this captivating tune the camera keeps cutting back to a sunglasses-clad Benji doing some light beachside reading of: “Scuba Diving Made Easy” by Brian E. Deep, “Scuba Diving Made Easier” by Mel de Mer, and finally “Scuba Diving Made VERY Easy” by Holdyer Breath.
The hijinks of the dog puppets continue as Lana tries to go in for a kiss on Benji, her mermaid tail keep hitting Benji's manager, and her ample puppet bosom and cleavage freaks me out. Then all of a sudden we meet the villain of our story: evil German dog Puppet and self-proclaimed "master sneaky person," Boris. For some inexplicable reason, he wants to stop Benji from scuba diving. Brandishing his monocle, he proclaims "Herr Benji will be kaput!"
Jesse Davis returns to re-break into song when Benji pulls a string that throws poor Jesse into the water, cutting him off mid-song. Thank god. Boris calls Benji “America’s Most Gullible Hero,” and we meet "Jimmy the Beak," yet another puppet who seems to be collecting wagers on whether or not Benji will actually scuba dive. Odds are 8 to 5 yes.
Things start to get crazy as Benji's diving and scuba gear is guarded and hidden by various characters, including a shark security guard. Benji is late for his dive because he’s feeding the dolphins! They’re all trying to jump up out of the water to reach the fish in his mouth. Boris is about to grab Benji’s diving gear when he’s scared by the shark guard. "Ach du lieber!!!” he screams as he falls backwards. He eventually gets his paws on the scuba gear by feeding the shark some roofied fish and then he pushes Benji into the pool!
Boris tries to get some screen time by talking to Lana, but she hits him with her tail, somehow causing him to turn into an innertube, rolling down the stairs and into the pool where the dolphins enjoy volleying him back and forth. Benji chases after him, jumping and riding on a surfboard. Boris eventually ends up skateboarding and it looks SO JANKY AND HILARIOUS.
Benji is really chasing after Boris, then he jumps from a pretty high height and lands in the water. Lana throws a fish into Boris' mouth and a dolphin jumps up to grab the fish, pulling him into the water with him.
Benji finally has the scuba gear and the crowd is going wild! OMGGGG Benji’s diving suit is so cute! He’s gets lowered into the water on a platform and then swims underwater! Jesse Davis is singing another dumb song. But it’s not like “intentionally funny” as the first one was. Benji is swimming all around underwater; he looks pretty confused, but he might also be having fun! It honestly looks super cute, seeing a dog do the doggy paddle underwater. He’s not like SUPER DEEP, but definitely under the surface.
Woah...suddenly Lana appears underwater, Benji swims over to her and FREEZE FRAME! Later on, we see the owner of Marineland put up a plaque to commemorate Benji’s historic dive. It’s funny that they make it look like Benji has to take a boat to and from Marineland. Him and Jesse Davis are leaving on a raft now, as the owner and the weird puppets wave goodbye to him. Benji’s driving the yacht into the sunset!
LOLOLOL Lana the puppet-mermaid-newscaster-lady dog sheds a tear at the end as Benji leaves. A puppet tear. HAHAHAHA.
The Double McGuffin
Damn….There is a whole 1 hour and 40 min movie included as a special feature. I’m impressed that they were able to include this since it opens with the Paramount Pictures logo. I probably won’t watch the whole thing, or much of this right now cause it’s fairly unrelated to Benji, but it’s pretty cool that it’s included in its entirety here because it doesn’t seem to be easily/legally accessible elsewhere. There are DVD copies of the film on sale on Amazon for anywhere from $88-$475.
This movie seems cool though. There’s a narrator explaining what a McGuffin is. Seems like a pretty adult film for Joe Camp to have made. Definitely not on the family side of things. Also...OH SNAP this movie stars George Kennedy!! Who just so happens to play Ed Hocken in the Naked Gun films! This movie looks cool and I kinda want to keep watching, but gonna see what tidbits I can glean from the "For The Love of Benji" Commentary.
For the Love of Benji Commentary
Director Joe Camp and his son Brandon (director of Benji 2018), are in for the commentary. Brandon was a fixture on set when this was filmed; he was just five years old. He even gets a cameo as the kid that comes up and pets Benji while he’s sulking outside the hotel before his mom pulls him away from Benji.
Joe Camp chose Greece because the story demands for the dog to get lost, and he wanted to really emphasis how lost he was. They also looked at Paris and Venice. When they were location scouting they felt the most out-of-place in Greece immediately because the alphabet was so different. He even wrote the script in Greece on the island of Rhodes for three months. Filming took 3 - 4 months. The only part not filmed in Greece was the pening airport scene, shot in the Houston International Airport.
They had distribution in place for "For The Love of Benji" since they had already set everything up for the first film through their own company. The premiered day and date with Star Wars! Crew was a mix of English speakers from the UK and an Irish Gaffer, Greek Crew. Greek production manager was very possessive. She didn’t want the Greek crew mingling with the English/American crew that much and they ultimately had to fire her and restaff some.
Benjean was only 11 months old when they started filming this movie. Joe Camp says that Frank always said this was Benji’s daughter, but he never did check the lineage. All the Benji’s from here on out are female. Benji’s mom’s name was Hazel. Don Reddy had an uncanny sense to know where Benji was going to go. Both Joe and Brandon praise his camerawork.
Now he shares some info about "Benji Off the Leash!" Shot in HD Digital, Joe Camp had to be more domineering on Benji Off The Leash! because the trainers were not both like Frank Inn. One had worked with the original Benji on Petticoat Junction and worked more like Frank, but the other did not.
The grave site antiquity/monument is where they shot the scene with Benji and the bigger dog with the bone. It was right below the Acropolis. They were allowed to shoot there, but at some point something happened and when they revisit the location at night it had to be recreated on a soundstage.
Sometimes the camera would be as close as 8 inches from his eyes to capture Benji’s performance and really show the dog’s perspective. Benji got loose up on the road in front of the Acropolis when she was younger while they were location scouting and scared them all to death.
People would recognize Benji out and about in the US, but not quite as much internationally at this moment. His international fandom developed over time. All the other dog performers were also from Frank Inn’s stable of acting dogs. And my favorite revelation: FRANK INN PLAYED SANTA CLAUS IN SWITZERLAND FOR THE CAMP FAMILY WHILE THEY WERE ON CHRISTMAS BREAK FROM FILMING!!!! BRANDON CAMP SAT ON HIS LAP!
Before the filming is over they record every kind of Bark, Yip, Sniff, whatever from Benji so they can add it in later. Benji escaping the boat was actually shot on a real boat, not a set. Very small space to shoot in. Joe Camp premiered both original Benji movies in Dallas first. He even got to watch Star Wars for the first time from the projectionist booth in one of the theaters that was showing For The Love of Benji.
Joe Camp actually confirms our suspicion that Benji knows what a gun is! Brandon Camp says he had to fight off people saying he had to make Benji 2018 entirely comedic and silly, where the villains were more of a joke. But he said that’s not how his dad did it.
Overall, the blu-ray restoration looks great and this set is a must-own for any Benji fans out there. The Marineland special alone makes it totally worth it.