One of my biggest deciders for me to start on a format change ( then-from VHS to DVD and now-from DVD to Blu-Ray) is how many Stanley Kubrick films are available on the format. He was the first person I ever recognized as a director and the more of his movies I saw and re-watched, the more I was drawn into his technical expertise, storytelling and amazing grasp of the film medium. There are few directors films that you can re-watch more than a hundred times and still see new things or get new insights from. Kubrick was the master director of all directors, with only 13 films he covered many genres and subjects all layered with so much visual information they are still studied today.
The level of detail in the Blu-Rays that are available is astounding. The fact that I look at movies shot in the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s and the visual quality is so superior to todays efforts shows you what a real perfectionist is capable of . That, and also most film makers today are pussies in comparison. It’s hard to top a guy who would shoot on average 250-300 days with the quarter of the regular sized crew, 35-65 takes on average for every shot and still come in with a lower budget that 70 percent of studio pictures. He was of God status at Warner Brothers and the film community as a whole. Never to see another picture of his is a sad notion each time I think of it.. I will surely miss looking forward to the next Stanley Kubrick picture.
Of Kubrick’s 13 films so far, 7 are available on Blu-Ray with one coming from Criterion soon and more rumored by Warner Brothers to be coming on next year. The first 5 Blu-Ray I brought two years ago were The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut and of course 2001:A Space Odyssey. All which are vast improvement on the previous DVD incarnations or “that visual crispness shit is sick on the Blu”.
Full Metal Jacket: special edition (1987)- This movie has never looked better and in my living room to boot. The blacks are deep and the depth of the picture pulls you into the film like never before. The whole movie comes alive in a way not seen on DVD. The HD mastering was done with real care here. The documentaries and special features are a great treat for any Kubrick enthusiast.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)- We here in North America finally have the original version of Kubrick’s final film without any bad CGed characters blocking the intended action. I feel this is a under rated film, it’s pure and classic Stanley. The lighting is other worldly in a dreamy “film land” version of New York, where the traditional marriage relationship in dissected as well as the underground life of the elite in America. The compositions and scenes become magnificently twisted as the story progresses to the climax of the sex cult of the super rich descends upon Cruise character. A great film experience from a master. The picture is stunning on the Blu-Ray and again the documentary is great.
Clockwork Orange (1971)- This was known as Stanley’s “low budget film”. He had previously done 2001 for what was a big budget at the time, and wanted to prove that he could make a film for little money and in a short period compared to Space Odyssey. I love the the language form the Burgese novel that is used in the script. Most people need at least a few viewings to get the flow but once you wrap your head around the dialog you might not get everything as a literal translation, but you understand the story all the same. The picture quality on the Blu-Ray has been criticized for looking muddy and almost out of focus. I think that all shit talking, it looks amazing compared to the DVD. You can see make up around one of the droogs eyes in yellow and green that you could never see before. The documentaries on the disc are worth the price alone. A must own on Blu.
The Shining (1980)- When talking about The Shining I find it hard to say anything bad. I’m sort of in love with this one. The film amazes me even after over a hundred viewings. This was the second disc to go into my PS3, I figured on Blu-Ray it would just look a bit better. To my surprises it felt like I was seeing the film for the first time properly. Frankly, it made my balls tingle. The colors are rich and vibrant popping of the screen. I’ve seen this one on 35 mm film over twenty times and I think the Blu is a better experience over all. The next level of detail you get only strengthens Kubrick’s visuals, giving you a flawless representation of the film. The doc series continues here and it is the same caliber as the other Warners discs. Brilliant. A must own Blu-Ray.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)- 2001 is one of my all time favorite films. I love the fact that there is hundreds of answers to what it all ultimately means depending on your build in beliefs. For 1968 the age barely shows, with the transfer used for the Blu-Ray you finally get a faith representation of the intended look of the film. The two DVD print were terribly transferred, making the colors looks too dark or too light in some place. All in all a shit disc. I’ve seen 2001 projected a number of times and it looked better on a 25 year old 35mm print than on the DVD versions. This was the first disc to go into my PS3 and I was blown away instantly. I sat down and watched the whole thing. The image is crisp with grain and perfect image tones. I watch this disc once a month now. It is unbelievable that the movie is 42 years old. The concept and story still hit me harder than anything today, a truly adult sci fi film made to make you think after. The real key is to lay back and let it wash over you with out thinking about too much during the viewing. The true genius of Kubrick is his ability to have a true experience with the viewing of his films. Upon viewing you might not think the same way about the subject again. A great film which we can finally see as it was intended, and at home. Thank you Warner Brothers, you finally got it right, nice work.
Dr. Strangelove or :How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)- The Doctor never looked so good. Three character roles played by Peter Sellers , almost 4. (He originally was going to be the bomber planes captain as well, but on the first day playing the role he fell out of the cockpit set that was suspended something like 25 feet above the ground and broke his leg. So he finished the rest of the movie doing three pats with a broken leg). As far as the transfer on the Blu-Ray, the black and white of Strangelove is made for HD with phenomenal depth of tone in the picture, a vast improvement on the previous DVD. I love all the performances layered with satire rarely able to be pulled off and rarely seen from an American director. Kubrick shows his power and intellect at a young age, dealing with much old more seasoned power house actors in Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and coming out of retirement Sterling Hayden as the bat nuts crazy General Ripper. The disc is loaded with special features and docs on the production, another great treatment of the material.
Spartacus (1960)- This film was a real turning point for Kubrick. He was brought in as director after Kirk Douglas had a major falling out with the original director, Anthony Mann. According to Peter Ustinov one of the uncredited writers, the salt mines sequence was the only footage shot by Mann. Stanley was not given control of the script, which he felt was full of stupid moralizing. After Spartacus, Kubrick always kept full control over all aspects of his films. The Criterion SD-DVD (Standard Def DVD) release is the disc to beat so far. In 1991 it was retored by Robert Harris, who has said that he considers the Criterion SD-DVD “color and density correct.” So let’s leave the previous Universal SD-DVD and certainly the troublesome HD-DVD aside and address how this new 1080p Blu-Ray looks beside the Criterion. The film is undeniably cleaner in the Blu-ray presentation, with that digitally scrubbed look which argues to DNR. The color saturation has a slight, tilt toward the red-yellow side of the spectrum on the Universal 5oth Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray. I still hope Criterion is given back the rights to do a Blu-Ray at some point to get back the proper color tones. I would wait on this one if I were thinking of buying it, to see if a better transfer pops up.
Paths of Glory (1957)- On October 26th Criterion is releasing Kubrick’s anti war epic starring Kirk Douglas. This is a marvelous film that moves very quickly for 1957. Douglas plays Colonel Dax, commander of a battle-worn regiment of the French army along the western front during World War I. Held in their trenches under the threat of German artillery, the regiment is ordered on a suicidal mission to capture an enemy stronghold. When the mission inevitably fails, French generals order the selection of three soldiers to be tried and executed on the charge of cowardice. Dax is appointed as defense attorney for the chosen scapegoats, and what follows is a travesty of justice that has remained relevant and powerful for decades. In the wake of some of the most authentic and devastating battle sequences ever filmed, Kubrick brilliantly explores the political machinations and selfish personal ambitions that result in battlefield slaughter and senseless executions. The film is unflinching in its condemnation of war and the self-indulgence of military leaders who orchestrate the deaths of thousands from the comfort of their luxurious headquarters. For many years, Paths of Glory was banned in France as a slanderous attack on French honor, but it’s clear that Kubrick’s intense drama is aimed at all nations and all men. Though it touches on themes of courage and loyalty in the context of warfare, the film is specifically about the historical realities of World War I, but its impact and artistic achievement remain timeless as Kubrick himself.
The set includes:
Waners has revealed that both Lolita (1962) and Kubricks period master piece Barry Lyndon (1975) are being preped for HD transfers now and going to be released in 2011. Hopefully the same attention to detail goes into them as The Shining, FMJ, 2001. EWS and Clockwork transfers. I’m particularly interested to see Barry Lydon, with how it was filmed an HD transfer can only help see detail as it was meant to be seen. The candle light scenes will be perfection.
As far as the MIA titles…
Fear and Desire (1953) – Seldom see Film about a fictitious war, following solders on a mission to kill a commanding officers. The movie was sold and played briefly in the theaters in the US. Kubrick took it out of circulation in the late 50′s early 60′s. He wasn’t so happy with his first attempt at a dramatic story telling, so he buried the movie. DVD copies are next to impossible to film with any kind of good print. I figure it will never seen the light of day on Blu-Ray. I’m sure that is what Stanley wanted. you can find bootleg copies on ebay and online if you really want to check it out.
Killer’s Kiss (1955)- The first of two decisively film noir pictures of Kubrick’s. The down and out boxer verses the rich gangster for the girl, pure pulp story line. This is where Kubrick starts to show his flare with lighting and understanding of photography which only comes from a practiced hand, remember he was a staff photographer for look at the age of 17. Five years of talking picture professionally helps you develop a pretty good eye for lens choice and composition. Even though it didn’t make much money theatrically it got Kubrick noticed by the studios and major actors. My hope is that Criterion has already picked up this title for release in the future as MGM owns the right for Killers Kiss, the Killing and Paths of Glory, will MGM’s financial woes as of late I’m sure the tile is up for grabs to Criterion. I hope they grab that shit fast.
The Killing (1956)- A great race track robbery story with a cast of all star character players. Well for the time, Sterling Hayden, Collen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen,Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr. and Joe Sawyer all had a hundred roles plus in there careers as character actors. This is one of my favorite films of the 50′s. A great tone, briliant photography, a strong voice over, a great bad ass strong man in Hayden and a “fuck you” ending that really works, that I won’t ruin for anyone who hasn’t seen i the film. You can’t be a real film connoisseur without knowing this one inside and out. A classic must see noir. I hope I hope I hope Criterion is working on this one for Blu-Ray release. Something tells me they just might be keeping it up there sleeve, for now.
Warner Brothers continues to delivers the best treatments of their classic film library on HD. I can only hope it continues with the final few releases of Kubrick’s work, which I am looking forward to very much. If you couldn’t tell that already…
till next time.