Warner Brothers have released their Stanley Kubrick titles to DVD a couple of times now but this third go-round proves that the third time really is the charm. While this isn't the definitive set (the exclusion of Lolita, Barry Lyndon and Dr. Strangelove ensures that), the five films that are represented in this collection have been treated with an admirable amount of care and respect. Here's a look at the five films and the supplements that you'll find inside the Stanley Kubrick - Warner Home Video Director's Series boxed set:
2001 - A Space Odyssey (1968):
Likely the most divisive film out of Kubrick's entire body of work, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that is easier to appreciate than it is to enjoy. More than a simple piece of sci-fi entertainment, the film works better as an examination of human existence and intelligent life. That said, there's still an interesting story that serves as the skeleton on which Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke have hung the real meat of the film.
When the film begins, a tribe of primitive ape-men go about their business until they discover a hulking black monolith. After examining it, one of the ape-men fashions a primitive club from a bone and uses it to defend his tribe against some of the others - effectively inventing the first tool. From there we cut to the future where man has evolved to such a degree that we have mastered space flight. Meanwhile, on the moon a team of archeologists uncovers another massive black monolith not at all different from the first one. Maybe we haven't evolved that much after all?
Fast forward two years further into the future and we're introduced to Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), two space pilots on the ship Discovery One hired to escort a team of scientists to the planet Jupiter for an undisclosed mission. While two men might seem like a small crew for a space ship, Dave and Frank are assisted by HAL 9000 (voiced with an incredibly cold personality by Douglas Rain), an intelligent super computer who acts surprisingly human and who assists in all manner of routine operations. Once the ship is out in space, HAL alerts the crew to a malfunction in the on board communication system. When Dave and Frank find no fault, they start to question how reliable HAL really is and agree to dismantle him - but HAL sees everything on this ship, and he's able to read their lips. As Dave and Frank set about their work, HAL starts to retaliate and he starts killing off some of the men on board the ship. HAL will not allow them to jeopardize the mission by dismantling him.
The film that won Kubrick his only Oscar (1969, Best Special Effects) still leaves many viewers cold. A slow and melancholy film, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a fascinating and in many ways prophetic film that leaves the conclusion up to us by ending the film on one of the most unusual notes in the history of mainstream cinema (if in fact you can even call the film mainstream in the first place). Some find the film pompous, over indulgent and boring, others see it as an incredibly intelligent and beautiful work of art. It is a film that will mean different things to different people and what you'll ultimately get out of it could very well be completely different than what the person sitting next to you will get. Those who find the film slow have to realize that the film is slow on purpose. There are no 'problems' with the pacing of the film, we're simply given time to think about what we're seeing and to mentally digest the images and ideas that are put up on the screen for us to lose ourselves in.
Making the film even harder for some to enjoy is the fact that it is an incredibly cold motion picture. The characters are cold, the environment even colder and much of the film plays out with little dialogue. And then there's HAL 9000. One of the most calculating antagonists in the history of film, having a human protagonist square off against a machine in the middle of space where man does not have the advantage makes for interesting cinema. Prolonged shots of spaceships docking might seem dull to those hoping for a Star Wars style laser battle but taken in the context of the film they work. We're given long, extended shots of things like this simply because they're appealing to the eye and we look at them almost as moving paintings. The film is virtually stunning even by the standards of today's modern special effects and the scope and attention to detail evident in this film are literally spectacular.
This will never be a film for all tastes, but that doesn't negate the sheer beauty that Kubrick has put on celluloid. Yes, the film is difficult and quite challenging and no it doesn't answer very many questions (in fact it poses more than it answers) but it remains a popular and enduring work regardless. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that speaks to its viewers. It is both beautiful and horrifying at the same time and if nothing else, it makes you think. The layers of symbolism and metaphor reward multiple viewings and the way in which the visuals and the score are mixed ensures that the film remains an emotionally stirring experience.
A Clockwork Orange (1971):
A brilliant and iconic slice of social commentary by way of a science-fiction film, A Clockwork Orange, based on Anthony Burgess' novel of the same name, remains as poignant and carries the same impact now as it must have had when theatrically released in 1971.
When the film begins, a young man named Alex De Large (Malcolm McDowell) sits in a bar drinking white milk laced with drugs. He and his 'droogs' - they being Georgie (James Marcus), Pete (Michael Tarn), and Dim (Warren Clarke) - are getting prepped for a night out and the Korova Milk Bar is only the first stop. From there, they steal a car and after a joy ride, lay the boots to a drunken old man that they find lying in a tunnel. The next stop is a rundown old movie house where they interrupt a rival gang who are just about to have their way with an unfortunate young woman. Alex and his gang start a brawl with them, and once that's over with they head out to the countryside. They come across a wealthy home and convince the crippled man (Patrick Magee) and his wife (Adrienne Corri) to let them in to use the phone by pretending they've been hurt in a car accident. Alex proceeds to rape the woman in front of her husband to the tune of 'Singing In The Rain.' The boys call it a night, and Alex goes home and pleasures himself while listening to Beethoven before drifting off to sleep.
The next morning Alex is paid a visit by P.R. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), his parole officer. Deltoid tells Alex that if he gets into trouble one more time he'll wind up in prison. After this discussion Alex goes record shopping and picks up two girls. He brings them home and has his way with them, then gets a visit from Pete and the other droogs. It seems they've got a plan to rob a wealthy old reclusive lady who lives outside the city. Alex is suspicious and on the way to the home attacks his three cohorts. They settle things after a quick meal and head out to the woman's house. They force their way into the home and kill her, and the sound of sirens alerts them that the police are on their way. Alex tries to make his escape but the three droogs knock him out and leave him there for the cops.
He wakes up at the police station, and is introduced to prison life. After helping the prison Chaplin with his duties, Alex is selected to test out a new experimental treatment called Ludovico's Treatment where the subject is conditioned by being forced to watch countless violent images to resist his own violent urges. The treatment is horrendously difficult to endure and still in its infancy... will it work on Alex and help him change his ways?
Everything about A Clockwork Orange works perfectly. The sets, the locations, the props, the costumes, the soundtrack and the cinematography are all more or less cinematically flawless. Front and center in the production, of course, is Malcolm McDowell who delivers in this film the performance that he will surely always be remembered for. He brings a sense of menace to Alex that makes him a truly frightening character but does it with such an impish grin and a sense of playfulness that we can't help but find ourselves rooting for him even if he is a rapist, thief and murderer. It is through this juxtaposition of character that the film (and of course the book upon which it was based) drives home its central theme - what's more important: law and order or free will? Obviously, as charming and cultured as Alex is, he's a lowlife, but shouldn't people be free to make their own mistakes? Does the government or whatever higher power you want to name have the right to take away one's ability to make decisions on his or her own? It's interesting food for thought. Essentially neutering someone like Alex would probably be best for those around him and those he would come into contact with, but it would take away his humanity and it is for that very reason that Kubrick makes sure the audience can identify with Alex and in many ways actually like him as a character.
Adding to the film is a completely palpable atmosphere and tension. Kubrick's direction is spot-on, ensuring that the film is paced in such a way that we get plenty of character development where we need it but that it's never dull or too talky. There are plenty of moments here where Kubrick simply lets the camera do the talking in place of the characters (the scene where Alex attacks his droogs being a perfect example) much as he had done with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick once again does an impeccable job of employing classical music in the film to toy with audience expectations. Through music he makes the horrific seem comedic and the perverse seem charming, all of which furthers the film's agenda of making the audience decide for themselves where their morals lie in regards to the questions that it asks and the ideas that it puts forth.
A Clockwork Orange is, quite simply, one of the finest films ever made.
The Shining: (1980)
Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick's take on The Shining may not be the most literal book to film adaptation of all time but regardless, it remains a popular and extremely effective horror film even if it strays wildly from the source material.
Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) is a former schoolteacher trying to stay sober. When he lands a job as the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, he moves himself up there for the winter along with his wife, Wendy (Shelly Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd). Jack figures that even if they're snowbound for the season, this will give him a chance to focus on his writing. What Jack doesn't tell his family is that the last caretaker, Charles Grady, went insane and brutally murdered his wife and two daughters before committing suicide.
Danny turns out to be an interesting kid. He talks to his invisible friend, Tony, a lot and sometimes has visions. When the Torrence family arrives at the Overlook, the head chef, Dick (Scatman Crothers), befriends Danny noting that he has 'the shining' - basically mental telepathy. Dick talks to Danny about the hotel's past and explains to him that he might pick up on things that his family may not realize are a problem and he implicitly warns him to stay out of room 237.
Once the Torrence family is left alone in the hotel for the season, Jack's temper starts to flare up. He can't write, he can't sleep and he is becoming increasingly short with his wife and son. Danny, on the other hand, is seeing visions of two dead girls while Jack is having nightmares about killing his son with an axe. The trauma and ensuing fight with his wife send Jack to the bar where a bartender named Lloyd suddenly appears to serve him. They talk only to be interrupted by Wendy who tells Jack that Danny saw a woman in room 237. Jack goes to investigate and sees a beautiful naked woman turn into a rotting corpse though he later tells Wendy there's nothing wrong in the room. Wendy wants to take Danny to a doctor but Jack refuses to leave the hotel, his anger becoming increasingly more intense. Jack starts to interact with a few remnants from the Overlook's past and slowly but surely they exert their control over him. As his mental state deteriorates, Wendy and Danny start to fear him... after all, they're alone in the middle of nowhere with him and he's acting more than a little strange.
A very cold, clever and calculating film, The Shining does a fantastic job of making the audience question what in the film is real versus what is happening in a specific character's head. Jack's interactions with what we assume are ghosts from the Overlook's past are a prime example. While it may seem that Jack is being haunted in a sense, note that there are always mirrors around when Jack appears to see one of the ghosts (we never see Grady, but then again, neither does Jack). Is Jack interacting with spirits or is he simply losing it and talking to himself? Is it the cabin fever setting in or are the ghosts trying to control him and make him kill his family in some sort of cyclical repetition of the events that transpired with Charles Grady? Think about the visions that Danny has. When he sees the girls, have they aged? The river of blood that he sees, it's coming towards him so is it a premonition of his own death or is it evidence that these ghosts are Grady's girls, the ones that he murdered? Is Danny really experiencing visions or is he simply dealing with the psychological scars that have been left on his fragile child's psyche by an abusive alcoholic father? And is Danny influencing his mother with his telepathy? Like so many of Kubrick's films, The Shining leaves things open for interpretation to a certain extent which, in the case of this particular film, makes things all the more frightening.
Central to making this deliberately open-ended story work are the performances from the central actors. Duvall has gone on record saying that Kubrick was demanding of her on set and that it was a very difficult shoot, and there are stories about how Kubrick made Crothers re-shoot a key scene over and over and over again. The director had a long standing reputation as a perfectionist and to a certain extent a control freak but was this his personality creeping into the shoot or was he trying to keep his actors in the right frame or mind, so that their frustrations would come through on film? Nicholson is fantastic as Jack Torrence - he's sinister from the start even if he's trying not to be. Duvall can be grating at times, making us understand how Jack might get frustrated with her but she obviously loves her husband and her son and only wants what's best for her family. Danny Lloyd is unnervingly convincing for a child actor, especially during the scenes where 'Tony' makes his presence known. His performance is made all the more remarkable when you take into account how Kubrick sheltered him from the more extreme elements of the film and that Lloyd didn't even know he was acting in a horror film. All three of the leads turn in exceptional work here.
On top of all of this are the sets and the cinematography. The Shining is a very cold film in quite a few ways. First and foremost are the locations. With the exteriors shot on Mt. Hood in Oregon, Kubrick was able to capture a very harsh winter. The hotel is surrounded by nothing but snow, trees and mountains. The interiors, on sets in England, convey a cool color scheme throughout the antiquated design of the building, everything feels a little bit old fashioned and even a little bit dead - the perfect place for 'ghosts' if that is indeed what the Torrences are dealing with. The cinematography captures all of this in slow, languid shots some of which (the last shot of Nicholson outside for example) will stick with you for some time. The steadi-cam shots seen in the film were and still are hugely influential and once again, Kubrick proves himself a master at mixing classical music with film.
Unfortunately, the one hundred and nineteen minute international cut of The Shining has not been included in this set. If only for the sake of comparing the two cuts (both of which Kubrick himself had editing input on) it would have been nice to see it on the disc.
Full Metal Jacket: (1987)
Once The Shining was finished, Kubrick would wait seven years to start his next project, Full Metal Jacket, a film about the Vietnam war based on a book called The Short Timers written by Gustav Hasford.
The film begins at a training facility on Parris Island where a batch of new recruits are training to become Marines. Under the tutelage of the perpetually angry Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (former Marine R. Lee Ermey in the role that made him famous), the new recruits are slowly but surely stripped of their individuality and turned into killing machines in the name of God and country. Nicknamed Private Joker (Matthew Modine), Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), Private Cowboy (Arliss Howard), Private Snowball (Peter Edmond) and Private Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio), all are put through the ringer with Pyle becoming the butt of much of Hartman's harshest criticism. Each of the young men adapts in his own different way, and they all come out of basic training very different people.
From there, the film switches abruptly to a very different second act. Private Joker is assigned to active duty and is sent to Vietnam to work as a combat reporter. We see him adjust to his new surroundings and get to know some of his fellow soldiers before he's thrust into actual combat where he quickly learns the horrors of war.
Full Metal Jacket stands out in Kubrick's filmography because in many ways it feels more like two short stories rather than one cohesive picture. The first part of the film is very different than the second part in that it focuses on the dehumanizing process of preparing for war. We watch these young men turn into Marines and they effectively lose a part of themselves along the way. This is a very character driven story with fantastic and completely memorable performances from D'Onofrio, Modine and especially Ermey. The problem is that once the second part of the film arrives, Ermey and D'Onofrio are out of the picture. Seeing as they're the two most interesting characters in the entire movie, it makes the second chapter less interesting even if in some ways it's a logical extension of the first part of the film. Modine is good and carries the second part well enough that it isn't boring, or bad, it just can't match the intensity or the drama of the first half of the film. That said, the second part does contain plenty of memorable moments and some exciting action, it's just that it isn't as effective as what came before it.
Even with the odd structure, Full Metal Jacket is an interesting film. There's plenty of political and social commentary to sink your teeth into and some great performances across the board. The film doesn't really portray anything about the Vietnam War that we haven't seen before but the initial focus on the basic training and the changes that it puts men through are certainly unique and filled with memorably profane dialogue. It's interesting to see how the whole gang of new recruits is turned into killing machines and, in the second half, how one specific member of that group is hit with the reality of war, as it is here that we realize how completely sucker-punched Modine's character is by what he's been thrust into. It's also interesting to see how Joker reacts to the soldiers that he is surrounded by - at times he mocks them and tries to make himself appear morally superior. He is, after all, the only Marine with a peace symbol on his helmet... right beside the words 'Born To Kill.'
Kubrick's knack for black humor is in full swing with this film even if the movie is a little more disjointed than some of his other pictures. That said, one could certainly make the argument that the film is intentionally disjointed, as it puts the viewer in the same place as its characters. Just as the men in the film are put through the ringer in preparation for active duty, the audience is dropped right into the middle of the war. It's sudden and it's strange, just as we can imagine that it would be for Joker.
Interestingly enough, Full Metal Jacket is the one film in this set that Warner Brothers is not releasing outside of the boxed set. The older version is still in print so it's not like the film is hard to come by, but regardless, this re-mastered version with extras is available only in this boxed set or on HD-DVD/Blu-Ray and not as a stand alone standard definition release.
Eyes Wide Shut: (1999)
Kubrick's final film remains one of his most controversial projects. In Eyes Wide Shut, Tom Cruise plays Dr. Bill Harford, a physician living in Manhattan with his pretty wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman). They're a happily married couple who enjoy their life together and who both enjoy raising their daughter together. One night a friend of Bill's, Dr. Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), invites them to a party where, after a European man hits on his wife, Bill disappears to treat Ziegler's girlfriend, Mandy (Julienne Davis), who has overdosed in another room. The next night the two smoke pot and start to talk. As it turns out, Alice admits to having considered infidelity, she's thought about cheating on Bill with a man she met only briefly during vacation last year - in fact she didn't just think about it, she seriously considered it. Obviously Bill is rather distraught over this though Alice berates him for his dishonesty over this, knowing that at one point he must have at least thought about the prospect himself.
Work interrupts the talk and once that's over with, Bill goes on a forty-eight hour jaunt where he doesn't quite physically cheat on Alice but in which he is certainly emotionally unfaithful to her. The daughter of some deceased patients (Marie Richardson) makes it clear that she wants him. He gets into a spat with some thugs who accuse him of being a homosexual. He winds up getting a little too close to a prostitute only to get a phone call from Alice, which prompts him to decide against a physical encounter at the last instant. From there he meets up with an old friend of his, a piano player named Nick Nightengale (Todd Field), and after talking about things with him, Nick tells him about a secret sex club that Harford pays a visit to after a quick and utterly bizarre stop at a costume shop. Masked, he arrives at a mansion where he sees an orgy take place but when it's found that he's an outsider, things get dangerous. It appears the group wants to kill him but a woman who may or may not recognize him offers herself instead and he leaves.
Confused by what he saw the night before, Harford tries to sort everything out in his head but soon realizes he's being followed. Nick has disappeared and the man he bought his costume from appears to be involved in things. He learns that the prostitute he met is HIV positive and that Mandy was found dead. Are the stories that Harford is hearing true or is there a greater mystery at work? And what of his relationship with Alice, for whom the very prospect of infidelity is exciting and arousing?
What's interesting about Eyes Wide Shut is how Bill goes from straight laced and noble to an extremely sexually curious man all based on his wife's admission. Keep in mind that Alice never did cheat on him, she simply thought about it, but this is enough to set him off and once he's out of the house and on his own, is he exploring this world to anger her and get some paltry revenge or is he doing it as foreplay in hopes of re-igniting a spark he now knows lies within his wife? Or is he doing it to get turned on himself? As explicit as the film is, it isn't even about sex so much as it is about a man's moral dilemma and the choices he makes in terms of his loyalty to his wife and the reasons behind those decisions. If it is about sex, it is primarily about how it effects people and the emotions that are attached to it more than about the physical act itself.
Certainly a strange film, Eyes Wide Shut, like all of Kubrick's pictures, is impeccably photographed and quite beautiful to look at thanks to some interesting camera angles and plenty of colorful lighting. From the opening scene in which Kidman surprisingly and abruptly disrobes to the orchestrated physicality of the bourgeoisie orgy in the mansion, it's obvious that Kubrick's need to control his filmmaking is in high gear. It's unfortunate then that the character of Bill Harford is so smug. His affluence and condescending tone make him difficult to relate to or to have sympathy for, and the film's idea that we should believe he's never had thoughts to equal those of his wife is hard to swallow - he's a wealthy, handsome doctor surrounded by female patients in one of the most well-to-do neighborhoods in the country. Cruise plays the part with his usual smug persona, which doesn't help matters much, though that said, maybe that's the point. Kidman's character is a little more sympathetic in that at least she's honest and open with her husband about the issues they have to deal with.
It should be noted that despite what it says on the packaging for this release, the disc includes only the un-rated European version of the film which essentially just omits the digital censoring seen in the R-rated cut. The R-rated theatrical cut is not here. Completists will want to hold on to the previous R1 DVD release to have both cuts of the film, causal fans probably won't care as much and will be happier with the un-rated version included in this set.
A note about the aspect ratios for the films in this set: it's well known that Kubrick shot a lot of his films fullframe knowing that they'd be shown on television and shooting them in fullframe would mean that there'd be no need to pan and scan the movies. The films would then be matted for theatrical presentation where they would be shown widescreen. The transfers in this set represent the theatrical aspect ratios for the films.
2001 - A Space Odyssey: Presented in an excellent 2.20.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, 2001 looks fantastic on this re-mastered DVD. Noticeably improved over the last release, the biggest difference here is the improved color reproduction. Contrast and brightness look slightly more natural than past editions and there's a bit more fine detail present in the image as well. There are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts and only a slight trace of minute edge enhancement shows up. Skin tones look good and black levels are strong. All in all, a very pleasing effort in the visuals department on this disc.
A Clockwork Orange: The 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that appears on this new disc again trumps previous releases (which were non-anamorphic). Color reproduction is noticeably better without seeming boosted and there's a bit more detail in the frame at any given time as well. The image is clean and there are no problems with print damage to report. Skin tones look good and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement. Some scenes are a little bit soft looking but aside from that this is a solid transfer through and through.
The Shining: The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for The Shining is again an improvement over previous DVD releases in terms of image quality. As far as the aspect ratio goes, all previous DVDs were presented fullframe and the film in Europe was shown 1.66.1 but the 1.78.1 transfer on this new two-disc release represents the film in its original North American theatrical aspect ratio. Some will appreciate this and see it as an improvement, others may prefer the fullframe transfer but aspect ratio issues aside this disc looks good. There are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts and sharpness and detail levels are strong. Color reproduction looks just a little bit cooler than the last DVD did but this works in the film's favor. Skin tones look realistic and print damage is never an issue even if there's an expected bit of grain here and there.
Full Metal Jacket: The transfer for this film is presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen, again replacing the previous DVD which was released with a 1.33.1 fullframe transfer. In short, Full Metal Jacket looks good on this re-mastered disc. Colors are a bit stronger and the image is cleaner than it has been previously. Black levels are a bit more solid and there's more detail visible here than on the previous DVD release of the film. There's still some grain but that's to be expected and there aren't any serious issues with print damage to report.
Eyes Wide Shut: Presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen (previous DVD releases were 1.33.1 fullframe) that is slightly darker than the previous release but which looks considerably more natural than it did in the past. Detail looks fine and there are no problems with print damage, mpeg compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement. The film was shot to look intentionally grainy and that is certainly preserved on this new transfer. Contrast is properly set and flesh tones look lifelike and natural.
2001 - A Space Odyssey: Warner Brothers offers up Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes in English and in French, with optional subtitles provided in English, French and Spanish and closed captioning provided in English only. Nothing to complain about here, the dialogue is consistently clean and clear and there are no problems whatsoever with hiss or distortion. The score sounds wonderful in surround sound and the levels are all properly balanced ensuring that, save for one or two minor exceptions, the performers are never buried by the sound effects or the background music. There's nice bass response from the subwoofer providing a strong lower end while the higher end sounds concise without ever getting shrill.
A Clockwork Orange: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound options are available in English and French with optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish with English closed captioning also provided. The surrounds are used primarily to spread the score out more than for sound effects or dialogue but Warner Brothers has done a decent job here even if some scenes could have had more action in the rears. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to report and the levels are always well balanced. Bass response is strong and while this isn't a reference quality track, it's certainly a very good one.
The Shining: English, French and Spanish tracks are available, each one in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound format with optional subtitles available in all three languages as well and closed captioning provided in English only. The quality of the English 5.1 mix is good, the score is spread out nicely and the rears provide some interesting ambient effects during a few of the more intense moments. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems to report in terms of audible hiss or distortion. Levels are mixed properly and there's little to complain about here. It would have been nice to see the original 2.0 Stereo track included, but at least the 5.1 mix is of good quality.
Full Metal Jacket: We've got Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks here in English French and Spanish with subtitles available in all three languages as well. Quality here is on par with the other films in the set - there's not a lot of room to complain. The first half of the film is more dialogue based than the later half so it isn't quite as active but once we move to Vietnam there's a fair bit more activity in the rears and the mix is quite effective.
Eyes Wide Shut: Two audio options are available on this release, English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Optional subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish with closed captioning available in English only. Again, audio quality is very good on this release. The score is given some punch in a few scenes to add impact while the dialogue stays clear from start to finish. Levels are balanced well and there's some nice lower end from the subwoofer in a few spots that might take you by surprise.
2001 - A Space Odyssey: DISC ONE:
The primary extra feature on the first disc is a commentary track from actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. This is not a technical or interpretive commentary; rather it's the two performers discussing their experiences on the film and their relationship with Kubrick during this time. A second track offering some technical or critical analysis would have been very welcome for this time but regardless, this is a track well worth listening to if you're a fan of the film or you're just a film history buff. The two actors come across as quite likeable as they discuss what it was like working on set, how Kubrick rarely gave them any specific direction, and what it was like working on some of the sets that were created for the film. This doesn't go as in-depth as most of us probably would have wanted it to but it's an enjoyable track that gives us a look at what it was like on set from the actors' point of view. There's a bit of dead air here and there, mostly noticeable during the first twenty-minutes or so, but the actors do a fine job of telling their side of the story.
Rounding out the extras on the first disc is the original theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen, static menus, and a chapter selection sub-menu.
2001 - A Space Odyssey: DISC TWO:
Disc two starts off with the excellent Channel Four Documentary 2001: The Making Of A Myth (43:02). Narrated by James Cameron, this is one of the best supplements pertaining to this film in the set, and at forty-three minutes in length it provides a lot of background information on the film and how the project originated in the first place. Through interviews with some of the principal cast and crew members this gives us a look at what went into creating the film and it also gives us a chance to examine how far reaching the film's influence really was and to explore the politics of the era in which it was made and how they influenced the film. There are some thoughts from Sir Arthur C. Clarke in here (he states that Kubrick didn't think there were any good science fiction movies before this one!) as well as a look at the storyboarding process that went into the pre-production of the film, and a look at how audiences and critics responded to the film during its original theatrical run compared to how the film is regarded now. Interesting stuff!
From there, we're treated to four interesting featurettes, the first of which is Standing On The Shoulders Of Kubrick: The Legacy Of 2001 (21:23). This documentary delves deep into the film's influence on the crop of filmmaker's who came in the film's wake. George Lucas (who says 'if he could do it, I could do it!'), James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollock, Roger Ebert (who says shivers went up and down his spine the first time he saw it) and a few others discuss the impact that Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey specifically had on their films. This is a pretty decent segment and while there's obviously going to be quite a bit of gushing over the director and this film contained here, at least it provides some insight into the impact of the picture being discussed by way of analyzing the music, the cinematography and the whole tone of the picture.
The second featurette is Vision Of A Future Passed: The Prophecy Of 2001 (21:30). This segment takes a look at the prophetic nature of the film, how computers have become closer and closer to HAL, and how the film more or less told us that this was coming. It looks at how advances in technology since the film was made have made much of what we see in the movie a reality and it also explores themes and ideas shown and discussed in the film that have yet to become real but which at some point probably will. Ebert and William Friedkin show up here, as do Clarke and a few Kubrick experts and between the lot of them they make a very good case for the future of the film being a viable future at the time that the film was made, that being the very optimistic 1960s. HAL 9000 gets a fair bit of screen time here, and rightfully so, and the idea of HAL being a person or a being in some way is given some thought which makes for interesting viewing.
Up next is 2001: A Space Odyssey - A Look Behind The Future (23:09). This is an excellent documentary of the sets that was shot by Look! Magazine while the picture was in production. Through this segment we basically tour the sets used in the film and get a look at a fair bit of production art used on the shoot. It's a vintage piece so the image quality isn't as perfect as some of the other supplements (there's time code in the bottom left corner) but that's completely forgivable and it's nice to see this included here. We get a look at some of the production art and design work and we see some of the sets and the miniatures being built. We also get a neat look at the MGM lot as it was back in the sixties and we get some interesting footage of the cast, crew and director on set and we get a rare glimpse of Kubrick directing his cast remotely!
Last but not least is What Is Out There? (20:39), which is essentially a talk with Keir Dullea who talks about the possibility of alien life in outer space and whether or not God actually exists. While it's marginally interesting to see where the actor's theology lies and it is in keeping with plenty of the themes explored in the picture, this one does feel a little out of place when contrasted to the other supplements on the disc which are more archival in nature. Regardless, it's here for those who want it and that's never a bad thing.
2001: FX And Early Conceptual Artwork (9:31) is, as you can gather from the title, is simply an examination of the artwork and effects that were used to give the film it's distinctive look. With comments from Douglas Trumbell and Christiane Kubrick, this turns out to be a pretty interesting extra as it basically guides us through the design process for a few of the more memorable effects set pieces that were built for the film. We also get a look at some of the wildly colorful pre-production artwork created for the film.
Well worth listening to is the 'audio-only bonus' included on this release, a radio 1966 Kubrick Interview conducted by writer/physicist Jeremy Bernstein (76:24). The two men discuss the making of the film and Kubrick. Bernstein does a fine job of keeping Kubrick into the conversation and while he was known to be a rather unapproachable man here he comes off as quite intelligent, articulate and at times almost friendly. Warner's decision to leave the background as a static shot is a little odd (it would have been nice to see some still gallery material play out underneath the talk) but that doesn't devalue the content. The end of the interview is particularly interesting where Kubrick talks about his thoughts on televised showings of his films and the impact of cutting his work and of commercial interruptions.
Rounding out the extra features is Look: Stanley Kubrick! (3:14) which is essentially a slideshow of images from Look! Magazine featuring some of Kubrick's photography (which he sold to the magazine while still in high school), and some stylish static menus.
A Clockwork Orange:
A Clockwork Orange: DISC ONE:
The main extra on the first disc in this set is an excellent audio commentary track with the star of the film, Malcolm McDowell, and moderator Nick Redman. This is a fun and informative commentary and as usual, McDowell is quite honest about his work on the picture and has no problem discussing some of the more explicit content in the film in detail. Redman proves to be a good moderator here as when Malcolm slows down (usually during the scenes that don't involve his character) he's able to ask a question to keep him going or chime in with some information on the other performers or on Kubrick himself. McDowell talks about his relationship with the film's director and he shares some interesting stories from the time he spent on the set of the film. McDowell points out the reason for his 'toasting the audience' and talks about working with the other cast members. He covers casting, locations and more and it all turns out to be quite enjoyable.
Rounding out the extras on the first disc is the original theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen, animated menus, and a chapter selection sub-menu.
A Clockwork Orange: DISC TWO:
The second disc starts off with one of three featurettes, Channel Four's Still Tickin': The Return Of A Clockwork Orange (43:36). The focus of this documentary is the controversy that surrounded the film and the impact that it's gone on to have on popular culture. Made up primarily of interviews with the cast and crew and with a few other filmmakers who took the picture to heart, this is a pretty intelligent and genuinely interesting discussion about an aspect of the film that tends to get buried underneath the discussions that inevitably arise regarding the director or McDowell. Look for a vintage clip with Burgess alongside the interviews with critics and analysts as well as input from McDowell himself.
The second featurette is Great Bolshi Yarblockos!: Making A Clockwork Orange (28:14). This is basically a look behind the scenes of the production with some attention given to the film's theatrical release. Interviews are found here with Sydney Pollack, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, Peter Hyams, and some notable authors, all of whom talk about Kubrick's tendency to push the envelope and how he set out to make 'the youth film.' There are some great behind the scenes photos in here, and some interesting pieces of promotional art as well as critical analysis of McDowell's performance. The interviewees talk about the idea of casting Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones in the part of Alex and the droogs, and they discuss the negative influence that the film had and how it inspired some copycat crimes after its release and Kubrick's subsequent withdrawal of the film from theaters.
Last but certainly not least is O Lucky Malcolm! (85:58) which is an excellent 'career profile' of Malcolm McDowell. Directed by Jan Harlan (regular Kubrick producer and the same man behind Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures) in 2006, this feature length examination of McDowell's interesting career with plenty of input from the man himself. The film covers not only McDowell's work on A Clockwork Orange but also his work on Lindsay Anderson's Mick Travis trilogy (O Lucky Man, If... and Britannia Hospital) and many other films. He gives us his thoughts on Anderson and Kubrick and we learn about not only the films he made in England but some of his more recent American output as well. There are interviews here with his ex-wife and their two children as well as with a few of the actors he's worked with throughout his career but the star of the show remains McDowell himself who is entertaining, honest and charming throughout. Be sure to stick around for the end credits when watching this piece.
The Shining: DISC ONE:
Once again we get a brand new commentary track this time courtesy of Steadi-Cam operator Garrett Brown and film scholar John Baxter. With Brown's involvement this turns out to be a pretty in-depth technical discussion about the making of the film and it's all quite interesting. The two men talk about the power of the images, calling them some of the most powerful images out of Kubrick's entire filmography pointing out how powerful the early shot of Mt. Hood is and how ominous it is. There are a few moments where dead air creeps into the track, but much of the track is spent reminiscing about shooting the exterior shots in Colorado and explaining how some of the initially dull dailies were improved upon and how helicopters were used to get some 'astonishing' shots. They talk about how certain shots were arranged (listen while they dissect the scene where Danny rides his bike around the hotel) and how smooth cinematography was used to create a hypnotic film. The two men also talk about the enduring quality of the film and how the audience for the picture keeps changing as time goes on. Aside from a couple of bits here and there where they clam up a bit, this is a very interesting track and one that can be appreciated by anyone with even a passing interest in camerawork or cinematography.
Rounding out the extras on the first disc is the original theatrical trailer presented in fullscreen, static menus, and a chapter selection sub-menu.
The Shining: DISC TWO:
Disc two kicks off with A View from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining (30:19) which is an interesting look at the making of the film and the impact that it had by way of some interesting interviews with writer Diane Johnson, a few Kubrick biographers, director William Friedkin and star Jack Nicholson. Screenwriter Diane Johnson talks about the human level that the story works on and how Kubrick tried to accentuate the psychological aspects of the film, and producer Jan Harlan talks about how when Kubrick got the rights to the film he wanted, right off the bat, to change aspects of the story. They cover how Kubrick went about getting the right look for each of its rooms, while Nicholson talks about how the director didn't believe in set design. There are some interesting behind the scenes photos and some interesting behind the scenes clips of the wheelchair bound steadi-cam in action.
The Visions of Stanley Kubrick (17:15) is an all too short piece that does a great job of explaining why Kubrick made The Shining in the manner he did and what many of his original ideas for the film were like. Spielberg shows up here, claiming that it's impossible to turn off a Kubrick film once it's been started, and Sydney Pollack talks about the importance of every shot in the director's films. Nicholson discusses the imagery in The Shining and comparisons are made between this film and Kubrick's other pictures. Friedkin talks about how Kubrick's films hold a mirror up to society, while Nicholson closes things off by discussing Kubrick's DGA acceptance speech.
Carried over from previous DVD releases is The Making of The Shining (34:44) once again with optional commentary by Vivian Kubrick. Shot on 16mm by Vivian at the age of seventeen, this is a behind the scenes piece that watches Kubrick as he interacts with his cast on set while they try and shoot the infamous 'Here's Johnny' scene from the film. Kubrick was not a director who was fond of doing interviews or making public appearances so this is a very rare chance to see and hear Kubrick at work. We see him ask for multiple takes with Shelly Duvall, we see him interact with Danny Lloyd trying to get him to act scared and we see him going over notes with Jack Nicholson who hams it up for the camera a fair bit. There aren't any interviews with Kubrick in here but this does give us a look at what it was like on the set of one of his films and for that reason it's certainly got historical significance. There are also a few interesting post-production interviews here with the main cast members. Vivian's commentary is a fun stroll down memory lane as she talks about being on set with her father and shares a few stories about him with us. She also notes that because she was pretty young when she made this piece that she was able to get some of the interviewees to open up a little more than an adult would have been able to.
Finally, the music in the film gets its due with Wendy Carlos - Composer (7:30), a short interview with the woman who worked on the score for this film. Here Carlos talks about the impact that the music has on the film and why certain pieces were chosen. She also covers her work on A Clockwork Orange and discusses her working relationship with Stanley Kubrick, referring to these experiences as an oxymoron.
Full Metal Jacket:
The only film in the set not afforded a second disc full of extra features, the best supplement on this disc is the commentary track featuring stars Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio and R. Lee Ermey joined here by film critic and writer Jay Cocks. This discussion starts of very strongly with all four participants relaying their experiences as they pertain to the movie playing out in front of them (making this reasonably screen specific). Ermey's sense of humor comes shining through and Baldwin is right there with him though D'Onofrio is a little more subdued than the other two are. That said, once the movie moves from Parris Island to Vietnam, Ermey and D'Onofrio clam up leaving Baldwin and Cocks to carry the track, which sadly just isn't as interesting. Cocks lends some decent critical insight to the picture and Baldwin does his best but the fact of that matter is that he's just not as important to the second part of the picture. That said, this is still worth listening to even if you opt to turn it off half way through once Ermey leaves.
From there, check out Full Metal Jacket - Between Good And Evil (30:46) which finds Baldwin, D'Onofrio, Ermey and Modine joined by Kubrick biographers John Baxter and David Hughes in front of the camera. The actors all relay their experiences on set while the biographers detail the production history and make some interesting comparisons to some of Kubrick's other work. This makes for an good mix of critical analysis, trivia and film history and as such it's a pretty enjoyable look at the film.
Rounding out the extra features are a fullframe trailer, some static menus and a chapter selection sub-menu.
Eyes Wide Shut:
The first disc is barebones save for the menus and chapter selection options but the second disc contains a bunch of interesting supplements beginning with The Last Movie - Stanley Kubrick And Eyes Wide Shut (43:03). Presented in three parts, this Channel Four production out of the UK provides some decent biographical information and career overview information by way of interviews with family members before going on to talk about A.I. rather than covering the details of Eyes Wide Shut. That said, regardless of the accuracy of the title itself, this is an interesting and well-made documentary that actually ventures inside the late director's estate to show us his home and his editing suite on camera for the first time. Sydney Pollack's comments on Kubrick's penchant for shooting miles of film on a single take is quite interesting, as are some of the interviews with cast and crew members who worked with the man. Tom Cruise shows up and refers to Kubrick's films as great novels, while Nicole Kidman and Sydney Pollack talk about his penchant for taking things to the limit. Christiane Kubrick talks about how Kubrick didn't want to be misunderstood or misinterpreted and covers the death threats they received over A Clockwork Orange while Spielberg talks about some of the inventive camerawork that he saw Kubrick use.
A second featurette, Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films Of Stanley Kubrick (20:16), is narrated by Malcolm McDowell and it fits alongside the first documentary quite nicely in that it details some of the projects that Kubrick had hoped to make but never got the chance to. The primary focus is on two unfinished projects - the first a biographical film on Napoleon and the second a film about the Holocaust. Nicholson addresses Kubrick's perfectionist take on his work and Jan Harlan talks about how Kubrick appreciated Woody Allen's regular output.
From there we get a look at Kubrick's D.W. Griffith Award Acceptance Speech (4:02) presented to him by the Directors Guild Of America in 1998. Carried over from the last R1 DVD release, the enigmatic Kubrick is introduced by Jack Nicholson before taking the stage and talking to the audience about Griffith, Icarus, and directing film.
Up next is a trio of interviews (carried over from the last R1 DVD release) beginning with Tom Cruise (08:42) who talks about how he was approached along with his wife at the time to work on the film and how Cruise jumped at the chance after reading the script. Nicole Kidman (18:26) is next and she talks about what it was like to be approached by Kubrick to play the part in the film, and how Kubrick always seemed to be waiting for something to happen that would surprise him. Last but not least is Steven Spielberg (08:01) who gives his thoughts on the director and his work.
Rounding out the extra features are the American theatrical trailer, two television spots, and some static menus.
The commentary from Sydney Pollack that was advertised in the original press release for this package is not included on this release.
Stanley Kubrick - A Life In Pictures:
Included as sixth disc in the boxed set is the feature length documentary, Stanley Kubrick - A Life In Pictures (2:22:08), directed by Jan Harlan in 2001. Kubrick, as famous as he was even before he passed away, was not a director who embraced celebrity. Instead, he wisely chose to let his films speak for themselves. The man rarely did interviews or had anything to do with the press and he led quite a private life. As such, and in keeping with Kubrick's personality, this documentary is not so much a gossipy biographer as it is a look at the influence his life and his work have had on modern cinema through interviews with those who knew or were influenced by him. For that reason, A Life In Pictures is absolutely the right title for this look back at the man and his work.
Narrated (rather staunchly) by Tom Cruise, we are treated to interviews with his wife, his daughter and a few other family members, and many of the actors and actresses that worked with him throughout his career such as Jack Nicholson ('Everybody pretty much acknowledges he's the man and I still feel that pretty much underrates him.'), Matthew Modine, Malcolm McDowell ('I'd love him one minute, then the next minute I've hate him!'), Shelly Duvall, Sir Peter Ustinov, Kidman and Cruise among others. Directors interviewed include Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Alex Cox, Alan Parker, Steven Spielberg and Sydney Pollack. Many clips from Kubrick's films are used in the documentary including snippets from the rarely seen Fear And Desire.
The documentary is at times almost reverent in its praise for its subject. It offers little to no critical insight into his films or his methods nor does it really delve into his personal life all that much and this will disappoint those looking for a deeper and more in-depth portrait of Kubrick as a man. That said, as a retrospective look back at his career from those who either loved him, admired him or (sometimes begrudgingly) respected him it's a fitting tribute to one of the most influential director's of all time.
Though there are a few minor hiccups in the set, overall this is an excellent package. Five of Kubrick's finest films have been re-mastered and given upgraded audio and video, which in and of itself is reason enough to recommend this set. Tack on the fact that there's a fantastic array of insightful and genuinely interesting extra features included and the choice becomes obvious. Consider Stanley Kubrick - Warner Home Video Director's Series highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.