Is my Kubrick Project set for a revival? Maybe. I’d especially be interested in offering my thoughts on the HD image quality for each movie, and will be giving opinions on the two as yet unseen movies, Lolita and Barry Lyndon. Watch this space…
Stanley Kubrick: Visionary Filmaker Collection
With the UK box set done and dusted, I felt something important was missing…
Dr Strangelove (1963)
The oldest film I have seen of director Stanley Kubrick’s much admired career, and certainly one of his most gripping. Telling the all too relevant tale (today as much as when the film was released) of the chaos and confusion that breaks out after a nuclear strike is ordered on the Russians by the U.S. military. A formerly respected Brigadier General (a scenery-chewing Sterling Hayden) chooses to order the strike, despite having no reason other than his own insane ramblings, and the President; a committee of military hierarchy; a crazed German scientist and a war-hungry General struggle to figure out what to do in the possibility of total global annihilation.
Kubrick’s satire of the nuclear threat and the arms race in general is at one point frighteningly believable and at another, totally obsurd. Legendary comedy actor Peter Sellers is on top form in 3 very different roles, and would certainly be the star of the show if it wasn’t for George C Scott’s brilliantly manic performance as the war-hungry general. Kubrick’s mocking-observation of putting such terrible weapons into our hands is obviously the message here, and we can’t really believe it will end well. Yet whilst we wait to see just how it all plays out, we can’t help but be transfixed.
Regarded by critics as a comedy, I found this only slightly amusing, but understood where said critics were coming from – the situation, and how the key characters handle it is where the humour lies, but its subtle and intelligent enough to not fall prey to slapstick or cheap gags. I must add too that Kubrick’s imaginative choices of camera work and production design shine throughout.
I picked up the Reel Collection edition of this film, and it’s presented in a gimmicky (but no less cool) slip case housing an imitation film-reel tin. Inside are 2 DVDs, and we also get a set of art cards for our trouble. The film, although showing its age with a rather grainy picture is in 1.66:1 anamorphic wide screen with 5.1 Dolby & DTS sound…and although the film which is mainly talking, this still impresses. The extras consist of several documentaries, one about the making of the film, another about Peter Sellers, and another about the nuclear threat relevant at the time (and scarily, still now). We also have interviews with Peter Sellers & George C Scott, filmographies, a photo gallery and a trailer. Impressive.
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I don’t know what possessed me, but after watching a YouTube video of some girl’s (mightily) impressive DVD collection – I thought it was high time I had a piece of the pie. Ok, you may say “Haven’t you got enough DVDs?” but to that I always reply – yes! But these are in nice new shiney limited editions, extended cuts, special packaging etc.
DVDs I have ordered online and await with eager anticipation are:
(9 disc complete box set)
…oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…
(Special edition 2 disc set)
Another favourite of mine that I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing in a long time. Looking forward to reviewing this one.
Still not available in the UK, this classic gory horror is now fully uncensored with newly restored footage – result!
(The Reel Collection edition)
This will form Part Six of my Kubrick Project
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
(Extreme DVD edition)
One of my all time favourite movies in a deluxe package…hubba hubba…
Do The Right Thing
(Criterion Collection edition)
The Criterion Collection never fails to impress with superb packaging and stellar image / sound quality – and this film is a classic.
As always I will be posting reviews of each, with additional brief opinions of their DVD editions.
…and finally, we come to Stanley Kubrick’s undisputed masterpiece.
The Shining (1980)
Based (loosely I might add) on the Stephen King novel, this superbly crafted horror movie has Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence, wannabe caretaker of the Overlook Hotel who gets the rather un-enviable task of house sitting the mammoth mountain-set hotel for the winter, with just his dutiful wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) for company. Now this simple set up soon takes a turn for the menacing when we discover that young Danny has a psychic ability, and see’s ghosts of over long-dead hotel guests that haunt the hotel following a murder that happened many years previous under very similar circumstances.
In the hands of an auteur like Kubrick though, this very basic set up is just an excuse for this uber-talented director to let rip with some of the finest camera work and cinematography of his career, and with the one location to bleed for all its worth, Kubrick works wonders, helped endlessly by a heavy-weight performance by Nicholson, who’s gradual descent into madness then finally uncontrollable rage, is totally convincing and turns what could have already been an eye-catching, effective ghost-story into something truly special. A generous nod must also go to Shelley Duvall & Danny Lloyd who add so much power to the scenes they are in, and Duvall especially should be celebrated as one of the forgotten scream-queens of the genre. As a child actor too, Danny Lloyd is very impressive, eerie and heart-breakingly believable throughout, almost stealing the film from his adult co-stars at times.
You may also be pleased to hear (unless your a die hard gore hound) that this is one of those fright-flicks that doesn’t have to rely on big-budget make-up effects to jolt your spine, as its the atmosphere, the direction, the music and especially the performances that set this in a class of its own. Probably the finest horror movie ever made.
The DVD housed in the newly released Stanley Kubrick box set (which is also available separately) is a 2 disk special edition with a beautifully crisp picture presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic wide screen. The sound has been re-mastered in 5.1 Dolby Digital and is very effective, especially during the chaotic orchestral moments when the horror is cranked to the max. Extras-wise this film is given the treatment it deserves, with 1 feature-length documentary by Vivian Kubrick showing the master at work and some brilliant on-set footage, and we also get 3 further featurettes that pick this film apart until only the carcass is left for us to chew on. Add to this a very informative commentary for the movie itself by steady-cam inventor Garrett Brown as well as Historian John Baxter, and this makes for a stellar package.
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So now we come to what is probably the director’s most misunderstood work…
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
As a swan song for an acclaimed director, especially one of such grandeur as Kubrick, his final film was always going to be a bitter pill to swallow. His final film? Stanley Kubrick is dead? This can’t be! So Eyes Wide Shut in my opinion became a victim of its own hype as much as its legacy to the great director’s body of work.
Pairing (at the time) heavy weight real-life husband and wife Nicole Kidman & Tom Cruise as a high society couple on the brink of collapse, where Kidman’s bitter and unhappy stay-at-home wife spills out all her past longing and regrets during one drug-influenced argument, forces respected doctor Cruise to attempt to find himself in that same feeling of desire and temptation like his wife had confessed, therefore getting psychological revenge without actually being unfaithful.
This complex exploration of relationships, the values of marriage, monogamy and desire was wrongly hyped as some sort of dirty movie during its publicity, with a focus on the glossy Hollywood couple shedding all their inhibitions and going native for their adoring fans. Of course as this is a Kubrick film, that is only a tiny part of the story, and really the nudity, eroticism and sexually-charged atmosphere are played down, with more of a focus on jealousy, mysterious secret societies (the hierogamy / Freemason inspired mansion orgy), and the dangers of straying from the path.
Stylistically and in the choice of music, this still feels very much like a Stanley Kubrick film, despite the 12 year gap between this and Full Metal Jacket. I find it fascinating, dream-like and a bit surreal (some of the quieter moments feel like a David Lynch movie), and throughout its beautiful to look at with some of Kubrick’s best cinematography stealing the show. I also understand why its come in for the amount of negativity that it has – it was marketed all wrong, its not really a film that falls into any particular genre – its not sexy, or thrilling, but more thought provoking and gently eerie – and really apart from Kidman’s cruel vocal confession, the acting is subdued and nobody really comes away particularly impressive – but then again, this was more about the mood and the look and the things we don’t see – the mystery of it all, and in that respect it triumphs. Give it a chance and it’s intricacies will be revealed.
The special edition houses a for the first time ever fully anamorphic, wide screen and digitally remastered version of the film (completely uncensored here in the UK) in 1.78:1 ratio. The picture seems a bit soft and lacking in detail, but the grand cinematography still impresses.
We also get a second disk with several exhaustive documentaries not just on the movie (which sadly is only briefly explored) but also on the life and work of the director himself, with interviews from fellow directors as well as Cruise, Kidman and Sydney Pollock. Overall a good package.
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