"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite." --William Blake
If you peg Oliver Stone's 1991 homage to one of the Sixties' most potent and influential rock bands, The Doors, as anything approaching fact, you'll likely hear howls of protest. Much has been made of Stone's synthesis of fact and fiction, a blend that fused the myths and the men who made them, resulting in an intoxicating cinematic experience, one charged with the mind-expanding possibilities of psychotropics and poetry, smashed together in splendid fashion. Val Kilmer doesn't perform so much as inhabit the soul of Jim Morrison, the magnetic front man whose too-brief career serves as both an invitation and a warning -- fly too close to the sun and you will get burned. It's a searing performance that's justly been celebrated as perhaps the crowning achievement of Kilmer's erratic career.
Working with a prototypical biopic format but pushing the boundaries by layering in subjective points of view, Stone, who co-wrote the film with J. Randal Johnson, lets the story of Morrison and The Doors flow through him, wasting little time in setting up the fantastical air about Morrison and quickly getting to the band's rapid rise to fame, having introduced all the major players and placed them on the fast track to success inside of 30 minutes. Once The Doors have hit the big time, Stone becomes preoccupied with Morrison, to the exclusion of the other band members – Ray Manzarek (Kyle McLachlan), Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley) and John Densmore (Kevin Dillon). One could make the argument that the public themselves shunted the other three musicians to the side, focusing solely on the Lizard King and his smoldering sexual stage presence, but to do so in a film purporting to be about the band and not simply Morrison robs Stone's portrait of some weight and narrative thrust. A fascination with Morrison is nothing new; photographers, writers and filmmakers have been bewitched by his carnal ways for decades, but he proves to be a hollow, slight subject upon which to base a film, particularly since Stone shows no real interest in plumbing any deeper than his poetry.
Still, The Doors can be, at times, one overwhelming piece of cinema -- a wholly experiential piece, Stone's staging on The Doors' concerts borders upon hypnotic, drawing you in to Kilmer's uncanny imitation of Morrison and wrapping you tightly in the swirling sonics of such classics as "Light My Fire," "The End" and "L.A. Woman" -- The Doors is a film whose soundtrack is never quite outshone; all these years later, these songs retain an elemental power to move and enthrall, the sure sign of a classic.
Awash in Sixties psychedelia, Stone's star-studded cast throws themselves headlong into the project, overdosing on mysticism and pitched emotions -- Meg Ryan is a little too fresh-faced to be truly believable as Morrison's first love, Pam, while veteran character actors like Michael Wincott, Crispin Glover, Michael Madsen and Kathleen Quinlan fill in the margins to great effect. Taken together, the music overwhelms the men, but then, Morrison probably would've wanted it that way. Oliver Stone's The Doors isn't a clear-eyed, objective look at one of the most essential bands of the Sixties; it's a drug-addled paean to a rock and roll shaman, who dared to explode the boundaries of rock and roll, elevating everyone's thinking and breaking on through to the other side. The DVD
Perhaps the biggest selling point for this "anniversary edition" is that which the earlier "special edition" lacked: a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Unfortunately, despite the packaging's claims of re-mastering, this isn't nearly the image most are probably expecting. The Doors shows its age from the opening frames with lots of grain, flicker and dirt -- this is not a clean print. Around the 14 minute, 40 second mark, there's an absolutely horrible transition that actually causes the image to jump. While the "anniversary edition" is sharper than the "special edition," this transfer is nowhere near what it should be. Very disappointing. The Audio:
The "special edition" sported only a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, along with a Dolby 2.0 stereo track; both of those have been dropped here in favor of a Dolby Digital-EX 5.1 track and a DTS-ES 6.1 track. Full, powerful and often immersive, The Doors is a film that lives and dies on the strength of its soundtrack and this "anniversary edition" certainly delivers. All the classic songs sound fantastic and the dialogue is crystal clear. For as disappointing as the transfer is, this pair of tricked-out soundtracks go a little ways towards shoring up this set. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included. The Extras:
This "anniversary edition" marks the second DVD release of The Doors, following a 2001 "special edition." With an appropriately funky slipcover over the double-disc keepcase, this edition manages to port over nearly all of its predecessor's features, while losing only a few supplements. The only features that didn't port over are the "Cinematographic Moments" featurette, the cast and crew information and the production notes. The first disc of this "anniversary edition" features the same Stone commentary (although it's not listed anywhere on the packaging) and trailers for other Lionsgate films. The second disc houses the 38 minute, 39 second fullscreen documentary "The Road of Excess," along with the 52 minute, three second documentary "Jim Morrison: An American Poet in Paris," presented in anamorphic widescreen and the 19 minute, 35 second fullscreen featurette "The Doors in L.A." A vintage 1991 featurette, running six minutes, 18 seconds is presented in fullscreen, with 14 deleted/extended scenes on board, including a two minute, 14 second Stone introduction. The film's theatrical and teaser trailers are here, with the insert folding out into a mini-poster to complete the set. Final Thoughts:
Oliver Stone's The Doors isn't a clear-eyed, objective look at one of the most essential bands of the Sixties; it's a drug-addled paean to a rock and roll shaman, who dared to explode the boundaries of rock and roll, elevating everyone's thinking and breaking on through to the other side. If you haven't yet picked up this film on DVD, look no further; if you're wondering whether to upgrade, the anamorphic transfer is adequate but hardly excellent. Hopefully Lionsgate will re-visit this title and give it the digital clean-up it deserves. Highly recommended.