Stanley Kubrick On DVD
Stanley Kubrick remains one of the most controversial and legendary figures in cinema history. A man of such prestigious talent and extraordinary vision, his working conditions for the latter part of his career were those of a madman's dreams. From lowly beginnings, directing industrial shorts and his mythical first feature Fear and Desire (Kubrick's hatred of it means his estate is keeping it well under lock-and-key, although bootleg copies are circulating) to the three-year-wait before the unveiling of his final film Eyes Wide Shut and even involved with a film after his death (Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence), what Kubrick has done for, to and with cinema cannot be underestimated. We now present a collection of reviews of his work on DVD.
Killer's Kiss (1955)
A stock-noir actioner barely an hour in length, Killer's Kiss was released to a muted critical and public reception, and despite being financed from Kubrick's own reserves, achieved enough to gain him studio backing for his next feature, The Killing.
A R1 barebones disc was released in June of 1999, and the R2 version of that was released in July of 2002. The disc featured a fine transfer of a slightly (and understandably) worn source print, a trailer and a moderately interesting one-page trivia booklet in the US edition. No subsequent versions have been issued.
For Raphael Pour-Hashemi's R2 Review Of Killer's Kiss, click here.
For Jon Robertson's R1 Review Of Killer's Kiss, click here.
The Killing (1956)
The Killing is a slick, and yet dazzlingly unrefined B-movie crime movie made years before Reservoir Dogs ripped it off, starring Sterling Hayden as the head of a gang of misfits daring to rob a racetrack. Full to the brim with edge and gritty disdain, The Killing is one of Kubrick's most underrated classics.
The Killing follows exactly the same release pattern as Killer's Kiss on DVD, but with a notably improved transfer – the print is clean and the transfer razor sharp with a full range of true blacks, whites and greys.
For Raphael Pour-Hashemi's R2 Review Of The Killing, click here.
Paths Of Glory (1957)
Brilliantly forcing the notion of war's futility down the audiences' throat, Paths Of Glory has often been argued as the greatest war film of all time, or at least the greatest anti-war film. Starring Kirk Douglas, and produced with an ultra-cheap budget, the film catapulted Kubrick into extreme critical reception.
Paths Of Glory has had the same release pattern as the previous two films, featuring yet again another high-quality transfer from an outstanding new master print, but a disappointing lack of extras for a film so acclaimed and adored.
For Raphael Pour-Hashemi's R2 Review Of Paths Of Glory, click here.
For Michael Brooke's R1 Review Of Paths Of Glory, click here.
Kirk Douglas was obviously impressed enough after Paths Of Glory, and offered Kubrick the hotseat for the epic Spartacus, with Kubrick proving that even at a young age the director was certainly no pushover. Gory, violent and decidedly epic in status, Spartacus received four Oscars even if Kubrick disowned the film afterwards, accusing Douglas of obstructing his own unique vision of the film.
The first release of this title was in R1 with the same 1992 non-anamorphic digital transfer taken from a 65mm interpositive with the full supervision of restorer Robert Harris. This was used for the domestic laserdisc and Criterion's laserdisc box set also. Then, in 2000, a new high-quality anamorphic transfer was created for the barebones R2 release which was a great improvement. But in 2001 came the finest release of all – Criterion's lavish 2-disc set. Apart from featuring a massive, truly definitive wealth of supplements, the R0 disc featured a new high-definition anamorphic transfer from the 65mm restored interpositive, but completely re-colour-timed by Robert Harris and digitally cleaned of remaining dirt and dust (see more on the disc's Restoration Demonstration about the whole process).
For Mark Davis' Criterion Review Of Spartacus, click here.
For Gary Cousen's R2 Review Of Spartacus, click here.
Based on the controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita is the first instance in which Kubrick demonstrates his sick, black humour on a masterful level. The film deals with lecturer Humbert Humbert (James Mason), falling in love with fourteen-year-old Lolita (Sue Lyon) daughter of his landlord. Despite the law and the notion of social decency, Humbert pursues Lolita in a madcap dash of mental and sexual tension. The film obviously caused controversy, but suggested that Kubrick could handle any genre and still burn his own imprint into every frame.
Lolita was released in a fairly good 1.66:1 non-anamorphic transfer in 1999, this was comfortably the best of the infamous original set. However, the only release to get the aspect ratio right is the Criterion Collection laserdisc, supervised by Stanley Kubrick, which alternated between 1.33 and 1.66, much like Dr Strangelove. The new 2001 disc featured a gorgeous new non-anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer which was noticeably more detailed and a much cleaner image, and featured the same monaural track as before.
For Raphael Pour-Hashemi's R2 Review Of Lolita, click here.
For Steve Wilkinson's R1 Review Of The Re-released Lolita, click here.
Dr. Strangelove: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb! (1964)
Amidst the tensions of the early-sixties' nuclear hysteria and the Cold War, Kubrick brilliantly turned away from paranoia and made a deeply hilarious black comedy that dealt with the issues of nuclear war without the seriousness of contemporary rivals Fail Safe and The Bedford Incident. Featuring Peter Sellers in three classic roles, and brilliant turns from George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden, Dr. Strangelove... could be the funniest movie ever made.
Released five times in the US on DVD, the first three versions (which were simply released in different packaging) were totally barebones discs of a fine transfer, showing only occasional wear, but always remaining sharp, detailed and clear nonetheless. Crucially, the transfer kept the same alternating aspect ratio that Kubrick intended for home video – vaguely matted for 1.66:1 at times and 1.33:1 at others. Re-released in 2001 in an excellent special edition including a featurette on Kubrick's early career (featuring a very rare glimpse of his color industry film The Seafarers), a retrospective 45-minute documentary on the making of the film and a good deal of promotional materials. This version is now also available in R2.
For Steve Wilkinson's R1 Review Of The Re-released Dr. Strangelove, click here.
For Michael Brooke's R1 Review Of The barebones Dr. Strangelove, click here.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The only film to ever win Kubrick an Oscar, albeit merely for Special effects, 2001: A Space Odyssey is Kubrick's most discussed and certainly most visionary tale, set over thousands of years chronicling man's evolution from ape to space traveller. Featuring a stunning middle chapter devoted to man's conquest of technology, 2001: A Space Odyssey continues to spark debate amongst the many cinematic scholars.
2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1998 in a decent non-anamorphic transfer by MGM and featuring a short trivia-filled booklet, trailers for 2001 and 2010 and a 20-minute film of Arthur C. Clarke's introduction speech at the premiere, it was re-released by Warner in a snapper, losing the booklet, in 1999. It was also accidentally missing a line of HAL's dialogue (“Affirmative, Dave. [I read you.]”), left out when the film was remixed for 5.1 sound. In 2001, a glorious new anamorphic transfer was released in both R1 and R2 (but only in an overpriced box set for some time in the UK), with a robust and improved 5.1 soundtrack (with all dialogue intact), but losing all the features save one teaser trailer (not the same as the trailer on the original disc).
For Colin Polonowski's R2 Review Of The Box Set Release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, click here.
For Steve Wilkinson's R1 Review Of The Re-released 2001: A Space Odyssey, click here.
For Michael Brooke's R1 Review Of The original release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, click here.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Set in a futuristic England rife with social turmoil, A Clockwork Orange tells of young Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of young 'droogs' who embark upon a ritualistic and hedonistic foray into rape, theft, murder and an absorption of pop-culture. Banned by Kubrick himself in England after being accused of inciting violence and copycat gangs, the film has earned a massive cult following and is still a high-ranking movie that balances effectively violence and black satirical humour.
First released in 1999 and taken from an ancient 1989 digital laserdisc transfer, this was one of the better looking efforts in the collection (only by comparison, though). The aspect ratio was peculiar (around a miniscule 1.5:1) and was cropped from the original 1.66:1, as opposed to just the frame being opened up slightly. The mono mix was fair, but at quite a low volume. The film had a mere trailer and “Awards list” (possibly the most uninformative, self-congratulatory text screen ever to make it onto a DVD) to keep it company. In 2001, the new high-definition remaster and restoration gave the film back its full 1.66:1 aspect ratio, although staying non-anamorphic, with a noticeable improvement – punchier colours, better detail and far less grain. The new 5.1 sound remix was tastefully done, keeping sound levels at exactly the same volume, and simply broadening the soundstage for the most part. The phenomenal trailer and pathetic awards list remained, and was released in a collector's box set featuring a CD soundtrack, a booklet and a 35mm cell in both the UK and the US. The original UK (and R4) disc is unique for having both monaural and 5.1 soundtracks, though an inferior transfer (which wasn't the original laserdisc transfer, but a new mediocre PAL one, replaced by the digitally cleaned high-definition one when it was re-released).
For Steve Wilkinson's R1 Review Of The Re-released A Clockwork Orange, click here.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Based on a story by William Makepeace Thackeray, this 18th Century drama is Kubrick's most conservative film and depicts the rise and fall of an Irishman named Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal). Fleeing his home in Ireland after shooting a man dead in a duel, Redmond loses his money and is forced to join the English army. Living only off his wits, he craftily manages to achieve money and power through gambling, duelling and trickery, but does his destiny contain such treasures?
Released in a shockingly poor first incarnation, the disc had some appalling digital artifacting and the poor authoring of the disc coupled with the very difficult photography of the film meant it was a shameful endeavour all round. The reissue in 2001 had a new 1.55:1 transfer (the original in-camera ratio) from pristine, newly-struck 35mm elements and digitally restored. The sound was beautifully remixed using cleaned-up stereo music masters and original effects and dialogue tracks in a tasteful and appropriate 5.1 remix. Again, only a trailer could do for supplement-hungry Kubrick fans.
For Steve Wilkinson's R1 Review Of The Re-released Barry Lyndon, click here.
For Michael Brooke's R1 Review Of The Original Release Of Barry Lyndon, click here.
The Shining (1980)
Based on the Stephen King bestseller, The Shining is Kubrick's first proper take on the horror genre, and although he gained a Raspberry nomination at the time for Worst Director, the film has since come to be regarded as a psychological masterpiece that viewers either are gripped or left cold by. Featuring a memorable performance from Jack Nicholson, The Shining is a must-see chiller.
Great controversy surrounded this disc – a low-volume monaural track with plenty of background hiss, coupled with a far-from-pristine source print and a grainy, edge-enhanced full-frame laserdisc transfer celebrating its tenth birthday left many fans justifiable irked. However, the disc had the saving graces of the famous trailer (to quote John Waters' Pink Flamingos: “Rivers of gore! Rivers of gore!”) and the impossibly rare documentary “Making The Shining” by Vivian Kubrick, with some fascinating behind-the-scenes footage of Kubrick at work. This disc was released in the full-length 143-minute cut in R1 and the 115-minute international cut in R2. However, in 2001, a perfect new full-frame transfer (which is exactly how Kubrick wanted it presented – it was his preferred ratio) was released that improved on the old version in every conceivable way. The sound was beautifully remixed to 5.1 and even the trailer and documentary were restored and remastered. The disc featured a brand new feature in the form of an excellent audio commentary over the documentary by its director Vivian Kubrick and is comfortably the best of the Warner remasters.
For Michael Brooke's R1 Review Of The Original Release Of The Shining, click here.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Kubrick returned to war, this time Vietnam, for Full Metal Jacket and turned in a deliberately disjointed study of how America's training policy regime left soldiers brutally unprepared for the harshness of war. Funny, violent and typically satirical in the best Kubrick fashion, Full Metal Jacket is a good effort from Kubrick, if clearly not his best.
Featuring a vaguely passable transfer and hiss-filled monaural soundtrack on its original 1999 outing utilising the decade-old laserdisc transfer, it was again restored and remastered in 2001 in high-definition using only the finest newly-struck materials. The improvements were remarkable and the 5.1 remix was especially welcome. Again, as per Kubrick's wishes, the video remains full-frame (which actually improves the film's compositions here) and the only supplement is the original trailer.
For Raphael Pour-Hashemi's R2 Review Of The Re-release Of Full Metal Jacket, click here.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
In what was to be his last film before his death, Eyes Wide Shut is a gruelling, erotic swirl of marital infidelity and sexual self-awakening, based on the celebrated works of Arthur Schnitzler. Lengthy, and medium-paced, the film proved the ultimate failed test for Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise's marriage, and the film is interesting as both a document of Kubrick's last expressions and a study of the (lack of) chemistry between Kidman and Cruise.
Kubrick's final film was done right from the get-go. Featuring a beautiful full-frame transfer (the full-frame composition again looks superb) capturing the vivid, glowing graininess of the theatrical prints and a 5.1 mix (as the film was originally recorded and released in), it featured some decent supplements. A theatrical trailer (missing from the R2), two TV spots and three interviews with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Steven Spielberg were an impressive set. The R2/4 remains preferable as it does not feature the digital masking during the orgy sequence required for an R rating in the US, although it must be said, the digitally superimposed figures work surprisingly well.
For Michael Brooke's R2 Review Of Eyes Wide Shut, click here.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) - Directed By Steven Spielberg
Kubrick had always wanted to produce a Steven Spielberg version of Brian Aldiss' short stories dealing with robotic children and the hyper-consumption of familial values. Starring Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law, A.I. received a mixed reception, with many accusing Spielberg of tampering with Kubrick's visionary flair. How Kubrick would have made A.I., we sadly will never know...
The last Stanley Kubrick production of Steven Spielberg's film was given a fine presentation with over an hour's worth of documentary footage, trailers and a large still gallery. Featuring a transfer that captured the look of the photography beautifully (much the same glowing, grainy look as Eyes Wide Shut) and phenomenal DTS and DD soundtracks (only the latter on R2), it was a wonderful presentation of the last film Kubrick was involved with.
For Raphael Pour-Hashemi's R2 Review Of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, click here.
For Alexander Larman's R1 Review Of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, click here.