The Stanley Kubrick Collection on Blu-ray Disc
A Special Odyssey
by Jim Bray
The Stanley Kubrick Collection...
It looks as if that super deluxe boxed set unleashed on video a few years back to cash in on "Eyes Wide Shut" and Kubrick's death wasn't the ultimate one after all. As noted in our original Kubrick review of the DVD set, "With Kubrick's legendary creative control over all aspects of his films, there apparently wasn't time to give the films the whole HDTV transfer for DVD release."
It looks as if that may not be a problem this time around. Each Kubrick film we've received from Warner Home Entertainment (we hope there are more coming!) has now been upgraded to the standards of Blu-ray specifications, and it shows. The audio tracks have also been beefed up wherever possible, though audio isn't traditionally a strong suit with Warners. But the result here is a selection of Kubrick films that's probably as good as it'll get until the next video technology leap comes along. Super HD Blu-ray?
In chronological order, the Kubrick Blu-rays we were sent to review are:
You Odyssey this one first!
2001: a Space Odyssey has received the most benefit from the journey onto Blu-ray. The picture is presented in 2.2:1 anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) video, and I noticed things in it this time that I have never seen before, and I sat through the movie 10 times in the theatre when it first came out and have seen it uncountable times since. The planets and models look nearly three dimensional and the trip through the star gate is once again the trip it was originally. It didn't hurt to watch the film via a 106 inch front projector and screen combo, of course. The trip from the earth to the moon is a joyful ride into space, while the Dawn of Man scenes are bright and sharp and clean.
Be sure you choose the PCM 5.1 track instead of the Dolby Digital track. The DD track is thin in comparison with the uncompressed PCM, which is still not as good as you can get from more modern films but which, compared to what has come before, borders on spectacular.
The end result is that, as much as possible, Kubrick's groundbreaking movie triumph looks (and almost sounds) as if it were shot yesterday.
On its release in 1968, 2001 rewrote the special effects book, pushing the outside of the technology envelope. It was my introduction to Kubrick and still occupies a special place in my consciousness. What story there is (as with most of Kubrick's films, the movie is more of an experience than a straightforward tale) follows mankind's search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The intelligence in this case has been busy messing with humanity's heads - back in the days before Man was really Man - and monitoring the progress of its experiment via a strategically-placed beacon on the lunar surface.
2001 also features Kubrick's masterful use of classical music to enhance his beautiful visuals. Examples include Strauss' "Blue Danube" to illustrate the graceful astro ballet of spaceships in motion, while the tedium of long space voyages is given the perfect mood by a sequence from Khatchaturian's "Gayaneh Ballet."Originally released in stereo, the movie is now in surround form and though there isn't a whole lot of surround in it, what there is is well done.
Extras include a commentary by stars Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood and a documentary "2001: The Making of a Myth." You also get four featurettes, an audio-only interview with Kubrick from 1966, the trailer, and more.
2001: a space odyssey,
from Warner Home Video
A Clockwork Orange
Kubrick's follow up to "2001" was the masterpiece "A Clockwork Orange," in my opinion one of the best movies ever made. This social satire is disturbing, violent, funny, and thought provoking at the same time - and every time I've watched it since its 1971 release I get more out of it. Not only that, but the older I get, the more levels I discover there are upon which this film works - and the more it has to say.
In "Orange," protagonist Alex (the perfectly cast Malcolm McDowell) tells the/his story. A pampered teenager in a future world that looks more likely every year, Alex and his "droogs" spend their evenings getting high and terrorizing the countryside and those in it.
An amoral and vicious thug, reality finally catches up with Alex and he's imprisoned for murder. While biding his time incarcerated, he is accepted for a controversial treatment that ultimately "cures" him of his sociopathic bent through a brainwashing technique that makes him physically incapable of doing harm - or even of defending himself. This raises the question of whether the dehumanizing cure is worse than the social disease, and whether what's basically an artificially created human automaton can really be considered a truly human being.
Then, of course, there are all those innocent and not-so-innocent people Alex wronged in the past, who have their own axes to grind...
Kubrick once again uses classical music, synthesized on the Moog for the most part, so masterfully you'd think John Williams had written the score - except that Williams never composed the selections from Beethoven, Rossini etc. used in this movie.The camera work, design, indeed the entire package is superbly executed. "A Clockwork Orange" is definitely in my "top five" films of all time.
This Blu-ray release finally does the film justice. The audio has been remixed into multi channel (choose the PCM channels over the Dolby Digital ones for the better quality), which particularly benefits the wonderful music. Sound quality is very good, and the video quality, which is finally in anamorphic widescreen suitable for 16x9 aspect ratio televisions, is bright and colorful.
Also on the "Clockwork" disc are a commentary with star McDowell and historian Nick Redman, another Channel Four documentary ("Still Tickin': The Return of A Clockwork Orange"), a new featurette called "Great Bolshy Yarblockos!: Making A Clockwork Orange", an HD profile of McDowell, and the theatrical trailer.
from Warner Home Video
When Kubrick's version of the Stephen King novel came out it seemed to many that the director looked at the book and said "Nah, too easy" - then went off an retooled the book for his cinematic vision.
I know that's how I felt - but now, some two decades after its release, memories of the novel are less fresh in my mind and the movie can be judged better on its own merits. And as such, it's a much better movie than it first appeared.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a writer who gets a winter gig as caretaker of the beautiful, old, isolated (and haunted) Overlook Hotel - a classy resort hotel nestled in the peaks of the Rockies. The Overlook has had some strange and unhappy happenings in the past - and Jack brings his family there (including his prescient son Danny, who can see things others can't - he "shines") to spend the winter cut off from the rest of the world but for TV broadcasts and a two way radio.
Jack intends to write a book while taking advantage of the Overlook's isolated solitude, but since all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, he finds some extracurricular activity to occupy himself: hanging out with the spirits of those who've met their untimely end at the Overlook over the years.
Nicholson is Nicholson and doesn't bring anything new to his portrayal. Shelley Duvall, however - in her role as Jack's suffering wife Wendy - is terrific. The only other cast member with more than a cameo is Danny Lloyd as their son, Danny, and he puts in a good performance as the kid with the gift - or is it a curse?
Kubrick's fingerprints, not surprisingly, are all over this movie, as they should be! His typical long, tracking shots took advantage of the advent of the steadicam for the first time in "The Shining" and it shows. The film's look and its feel owe as much to Kubrick's vision as King's.
The book was probably still better (most books are better than their movie counterparts - with the possible exceptions of "A Clockwork Orange" and "Contact"), but Kubrick's "Shining" is a worthy addition to the director's body of work.
The Blu-ray is finally in proper widescreen (1.85:1, according to the box), and the 1080p picture is quite lovely, with rich colors and great depth. Once again, I advise you to choose the PCM audio tracks (alas, most of these Warner titles default to Dolby Digital, which is inferior in these cases), to get the best audio bang for your buck.
Extras include a commentary by the inventor/operator of the steadicam used so effectively in The Shining (and in so many other films since then) and historian John Baxter. We also get to see Vivian Kubrick's "home movie" behind the scenes look at the making of the film - with an optional commentary. Shelley Duvall appears to have had a rough time with the director at times during the production, though she's all praise afterward - and the end result shows that, whatever one might think, Kubrick knew what he was doing.
The Shining" isn't really that scary but, thanks to Kubrick's sure directorial touch, it's full of foreboding and quite moody, which makes up for the lack of real fright. It's also visually stunning, which probably doesn't come as much of a surprise.
The Shining, from
Warner Home Video
Eyes Wide Shut
It was awfully thoughtful of Mr. Kubrick to leave us with one last, and delicious, mind game.
With "Eyes Wide Shut," the legendary director goes out not with a whimper, but with a bang. The movie is a strange blend of psychology, fantasy, sexuality, and morality - and a visual and aural experience that shouldn't be missed - even if you can't make head nor tail of the plot.
"Eyes Wide Shut" isn't what you expect, and it definitely isn't the movie the media said it is. It's also one of Kubrick's most positive films, as it deals with a couple going through some marital strife, yet working it out for the good of them and their family.
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman star as a married couple whose love is tested and - ultimately - found true.
Kidman, as Alice Harford, is great, especially in the opening party scene where she's had too much champagne, but it's really Cruise's film - and he also turns in a creditable performance as Doctor Bill Harford, a successful and decent Manhattan GP.
"Eyes Wide Shut" opens with the couple going to a Christmas party hosted by one of Bill's well-heeled customers. It's quite the bash and while schmoozing Bill and Alice are both come onto by strangers - and both notice the other's supposed flirting, which plants a seed of suspicion into their minds that will, in Bill's case, flower into a fully-blown crisis of conscience and trust.
The scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie, as well as providing more than a bit of foreshadowing of lurid events to come: when Bill is called by his host (Sydney Pollack) to minister to an attractive and very naked guest who suffered a drug overdose, it's actually the beginning of a nocturnal journey that will cause him to question who and what he is, as well as putting him into legitimate danger.
The next night, while relaxing at home over a shared joint, Bill and Alice have a minor, drug-induced tiff during which Alice confesses that she had fantasized about dumping everything in her life for a cheap and tawdry affair with a mysterious naval officer. This devastates Bill, whose confidence in his wife's utter fidelity has been completely rattled, and when he's summoned into the night to attend a patient, you can see his mental wheels turning the whole time.
Rather than coming home, Bill wanders and thinks. He very nearly has a sexual encounter with a prostitute - and probably would have if not for a timely call on his cell phone from his wife. Guilty and chastened, but still angry and more confused than ever, he heads back out into the night and, eventually, an encounter (the "famous orgy sequence") that will challenge his beliefs, his love, and possibly his life and those of his family.
"Eyes Wide Shut" is actually a very moral tale that uses its setting (which includes strange, cult-like "psychosexual" behavior) to push the benefits of a loving, monogamous relationship. Kubrick doesn't beat you over the head with this, of course. Bill comes to his epiphany almost by osmosis, as his journey into darkness makes him realize he's not only over his head and being drawn along a course he hadn't really intended to follow, but that the things that were ultimately important to him were right back at home where he started - and are now in danger of being lost to him.
Kubrick's fingerprints, not surprisingly, are all over "Eyes Wide Shut." The movie is lush, with gorgeous sets, colors, and images that use all of Kubrick's trademarks. The film looks like a Kubrick movie in every way, fortunately, and it acts like one too as it delights your senses while messing with your head. Blu-ray, with its 1080p high definition capability, is definitely the best way to enjoy the movie - especially since it's now widescreen as well (1.85:1).
Likewise, the film's soundtrack is detailed and layered - and I was thrilled to see Kubrick making great use of digital stereo surround sound technology. "Eyes Wide Shut" has what's easily the best Kubrick audio track ever. I've always been disappointed that Kubrick appears to have not paid as much attention to the audio quality in some of his films as he does to the picture ("2001: a space odyssey" being a notable exception) and "Eyes Wide Shut" shows that "the master" had it within him to be as creative with his sound (not just his music) as he was with his visuals.
The film also shows that Kubrick never lost his master touch of choosing just the right music for the right effect. While Chris Isaak's "Baby Done a Bad, Bad Thing" was featured in the film's promo material (and used effectively, though it gave a false impression of what was in the movie and what the movie is about), that song only appears once, and very briefly.
Rather more importantly, there's the use of a beautiful digital recording of Gyorgi Ligeti's "Musica Ricercata II" and piano work that sends shivers up and down your spine - as the same shivers are going up and down Cruise's character's spine (though his shivers aren't caused by the music!). Kubrick has used Ligeti's eerily strange music many times before, and while it isn't stuff to which I'd sit down and listen on my audio system, Kubrick uses it to brilliant effect.
The whole of these visual and aural parts is much greater than their sum, and I sat through the closing credits thinking that, while that was definitely one of the stranger films I've seen in a while, it was a daring and incandescent final effort on the part of a great film maker. So I sat down and watched it again the next day.
Extras include the capability to watch the movie in its rated and unrated versions, a three part documentary "The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut", a new featurette "Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick", interviews with stars Cruise and Kidman, as well as director/friend of Kubrick Steven Spielberg. You also get Kubrick's 1998 DGA D.W. Griffith award acceptance speech, the trailer, and TV commercials.
Thanks, Stanley, for astonishing me one last time (until I watch any of your films again). May you rest in peace.
Eyes Wide Shut from
Warner Home Video
Now, Warners, how about releasing Kubrick's other films, including Paths of Glory and The Killing on Blu-ray as well?
Doctor Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Kubrick's "black comedy" came out at the height of the Cold War and details the frightening scenario of a whacko American general who sends his wing of B-52 nuclear bombers to attack their Soviet targets.
Once news of General Jack Ripper's unauthorized action gets out, all hell breaks loose as US President Muffley (Peter Sellers) tries to prevent the inevitable nuclear holocaust from unfolding.
Most of the action takes place in "The War Room" (where the president and his top advisors meet to plan strategy), Burpelson Air Force Base - General Ripper's command - and aboard one of the B-52 bombers on its way deep into Russia.
"Dr. Strangelove" has an outstanding cast. Sterling Hayden is chilling as General Ripper, George C. Scott plays a flaky General "Buck" Turgidson, Air Force Chief of Staff, and Peter Sellers plays three completely different-looking-and-sounding characters in a real performance tour de force. The supporting cast includes Slim Pickens as Major "King" Kong, pilot of the B-52, Keenan Wynn in a brief appearance as Major "Bat" Guano - a tough as nails officer whose troops storm Ripper's Burpelson Base. There's even a very young James Earl Jones as one of the B-52's crew.
There are lots of laughs in this film - though quite often you're laughing in spite of the disturbing events unfolding. The movie lampoons the cold war mentality and technology very well and if the subject matter weren't so serious this movie would be a lot funnier than it is already.
The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p, in the original black and white, and with its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which leaves black bars vertically at the edges of the screen. The picture looks good, though not nearly as sharp as some black and white Blu-rays we've seen. There's plenty of grain, but it all lends a kind of documentary-type look to the proceedings that actually works very well.
Audio is Dolby TrueHD, though it sounds mostly mono. It won't give your speakers a workout, unfortunately, but what can you do? Neither audio nor video quality really jump out at you.
Extras include the Blu-ray exclusive "The Cold War: Picture-in-Picture and Pop-Up Trivia track", which is quite interesting but takes up far too much screen real estate. There's also a fascinating documentary "The Art of Stanley Kubrick from Short Films to Dr. Strangelove," which is an excellent look at the early career of the groundbreaking filmmaker. You also get "No Fighting in the War Room: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat", a happy look at the film and its time, an interview with former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, a split screen interview with actors Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and move.
or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
"Lolita" is the racy story of a middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with the teenage daughter of his landlady.
Starring James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters, and Peter Sellers, this film's outright sexuality and "February - September romance" must have been pretty controversial in 1961.
Humbert Humbert (Mason) arrives in a New Hampshire town to spend his summer before taking up a gig at an Ohio college in the fall. He rents a room from Charlotte Haze (Winters), his decision to rent that particular place being made by the sight of the very young Lolita sunning in the backyard in a bikini.
Unable to stop thinking about Lolita, Humbert ends up marrying Charlotte so he could remain close to the young girl. And close he gets, indeed...
For her part, Lolita is a little tramp who has learned early how to manipulate men - and has it down to a fine art. While in the 1990's, Humbert would be considered a sexual predator, Kubrick's movie paints Lolita as someone who knows exactly what she's doing and doesn't really get anything she either hasn't asked for or doesn't deserve.
Kubrick's "Lolita" is funny and sexy and full of terrific performances. Mason is first rate as the obsessed man under the spell of a witch, who risks losing everything to satisfy his addiction. Sue Lyon has great screen presence and her Lolita is exasperatingly believable. Peter Sellers is his usual chameleon-like self and Shelley Winters is perfect as the unlucky woman who happens to be Lolita's mother.
The Blu-ray is presented in black and white, in 1080p widescreen, at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and it looks very good. Black levels are very nice, and there's excellent detail. Audio is dts-HD Master Audio mono - directed, as it should be, to the center channel.
Alas, there are no extras other than the theatrical trailer, which plays up on how controversial the film was.
Lolita, from Warner Home Entertainment
One of the most beautiful movies, visually, that we've seen from Kubrick, Barry Lyndon's production design was supposedly inspired by painters of the 18th century era in which the film is set.
The movie was shot using innovative lenses that allowed the use of natural light, rather than huge amounts of gigantic lights like are used usually - and it shows: every shot in Barry Lyndon looks like it could be hung on a gallery wall.
The film also has a documentary feel that adds to the realism. Kudos to John Alcott, the cinematographer, and Ken Adam, the production designer - and to Kubrick's vision of course. Without him, there's be no film.
Redmond Barry is a poor Irish lad with delusions of grandeur. The movie follows his methods and his machinations aimed at getting him the brass ring, through his enlistment in - and desertion from - the British and Prussian armies, as well as his time as a professional gambler and his marriage of convenience to the lovely lady Lyndon, from whence his title came.
Redmond Barry has his share of ups and downs in life, many of which are self inflicted in one way or another, but on the whole, he has a pretty decent ride.
As played by Ryan O'Neal, Redmond doesn't really come off as an unlikeable person, though he certainly has a way of rubbing people the wrong way throughout the film!
The story is probably Barry Lyndon's weakest component, and it unfolds at a very slow pace over the film's three hours and five minute running time. Not that Barry Lyndon is boring; it isn't.
To be fair, perhaps "leisurely" is a more fitting description of the way the story unfolds. It takes its time, but in the end it's worth it.
The music, adapted and conducted by Leonard Rosenman, is from the time and it works well - though the Barry Lyndon soundtrack pales next to those from "A Clockwork Orange" and "2001," which are among the all time great movie scores.
The Blu-ray is presented in 10809p widescreen, at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This surprised us, since these gorgeous images seemed to cry out for a wider aspect ratio such as the common 2.40:1 of many epics. But it works for the "work of art" look of the film, as if it were hangable on the wall (in fact, we watched it on a 106 inch screen and it looked like moving tapestry). It isn't the best example of the Blu-ray medium we've seen, but it's very good.
Audio is dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 and though we didn't notice a lot of ".1" (not surprising for this age of film) or use of the surround channels, it's quite satisfying.
Barry Lyndon, from
Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.