Like the films of Kubrick himself, Warner Home Video's anticipated box set, Stanley Kubrick Collection, became the subject of much debate even before it reached the shelves. The strange saga begins back in the early '90s when Kubrick became actively involved in the video presentations of his films. For Criterion, he supervised fresh transfers of Dr. Strangelove and Lolita, then oversaw new editions of Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining for Warner, all intended for laserdisc release. Kubrick's affinity for either multiple aspect ratios or open matte fullscreen, coupled with his love for mono, immediately bristled many DVD fans expecting new anamorphic, digitally refurbished editions crammed with new supplements. From that perspective, indeed, the box set may be a letdown, but considering that the customer gets mostly improved transfers from the same source materials for a much lower collective price, a judgment call isn't so simple. Should Kubrick have actually sat down and done all new transfers of each film when he already declared the existing ones to be exactly what he wanted? Considering the seal of approval now given by his estate to this set, the Warner box set now seems to be the final word on the subject, at least for most of the titles concerned, and not surprisingly, the result is a mixed bag indeed.

B&W, 1961, 153 mins.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Starring James Mason, Peter Sellers, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, Garry Cockrell, Lois Maxwell / Music by Nelson Riddle / Written by Vladimir Nabokov / Cinematography by Oswald Morris

Format: DVD - MGM

Letterboxed (1.66:1) / Dolby Digital Mono   

The first big studio project which Kubrick truly called his own, Lolita reinvents Nabokov's scandalous novel into a blackly comic hymn to thwarted love and skewed social conventions. Kubrick distilled Nabokov's original screenplay (which would have clocked in at over three hours) into a more commercially viable format which unfortunately also sacrificed some of its shock value due to censorship restrictions of the time. However, considering Adrian Lyne's regrettable attempt to translate his 1998 Lolita into a blood-soaked orgy of sweaty flesh, that may not be such a bad thing.

Humbert Humbert (James Mason), a clever and cultured middle-aged man drifting without a destiny, becomes infatuated with the teenage nymphet Lolita (Sue Lyon) while renting a room in the house owned by her oblivious mother, Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters). Initially Humbert attempts to keep his lustful thoughts hidden, but after fate deals him a pleasant wild card, Humbert takes it upon himself to become Lolita's guardian and escorts her on a debauched road trip. Unfortunately, Lolita also catches the eye of Quilty (Peter Sellers), a man who uses various disguises and voice tricks to win the eye of the young maiden. Everything ends tragically, as all American morality tales must.

From the startling opening scene which veers abruptly from drunken comedy to (offscreen) violence), Kubrick manages to keep the tricky layers of narrative and subtext under admirable control. In fact, Lolita has aged marvelously well, brimming with wit and surprises thanks to the excellent performances by everyone involved. Nelson Riddle's champagne-flavored score (not to mention that catchy "yi-yi" song!) keeps the events flowing along despite the sordid undercurrents, and Kubrick's precise, elegant visual style aptly reflects Nabokov's evocation of a society rapidly going the way of Ancient Rome. As an adaptation of the novel, the film isn't completely successful, often swerving away from the venomous interior monologues offered by Humbert throughout the book (oddly enough, Kubrick later felt confident enough to tackle this narrative aspect successfully in A Clockwork Orange).

The Criterion laser presentation of Lolita supervised by Kubrick alternated between fullscreen and soft-matted (1.66:1) framing which seemed to cause more problems than it solved. Though fairly clean, the transfer was too soft and often broke the seductive flow of the film thanks to the jarring shifts in aspect ratio. The MGM laserdisc presented a more consistent hard matte of 1.66:1, which Warner has reproduced on its DVD incarnation. The DVD looks even crisper with darker blacks, though this also brings out a few more flaws in the source material (occasionally grain and dirt) which were not so readily apparent before. Still, it's a satisfying presentation and the best we'll see unless some unlikely soul down the road decides to perform a costly digital restoration job on the film. Also includes the U.S. trailer from the laser versions.   

B&W, 1964, 93 mins.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones / Music by Laurie Johnson / Written by Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern & Peter George / Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor

Format: DVD - Columbia

Letterboxed (1.66:1) - Full Frame / Dolby Digital Mono   

General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) has a problem: he thinks Communists have tainted the U.S. water supply and corrupted his precious bodily fluids. The solution? Bomb the country off the map, of course. Of course, U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) is none too pleased when Ripper sends a bomber off to the U.S.S.R., and the world leaders attempt to resolve their differences over the phone. The Soviet leaders threaten to detonate a mysterious Doomsday Device in retaliation, and it's up to Britain's Captain Mandrake (Sellers again) and the questionable advice of a former Nazi, the wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove (Sellers... uh, again), to perhaps avert a worldwide disaster.

One of the most enduring products of its era, Dr. Strangelove finds Kubrick using a surgeon's precision to find the uneasy humor in what started out as a straight nuclear terror novel, Peter George's Red Alert. The result, often termed a "nightmare comedy," has withstood the test of time despite its timeliness (anyone who never experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis probably won't experience the exact queasy effect this film was intended to cause). Typically, the film is extremely slow-paced for a comedy, often lingering on several straight scenes in a row before exploding again into a moment of unexpected laughter, usually courtesy of Sellers' three dynamic performances. In fact, Sellers is so astonishing that many scenes without him feel bland in comparison, the film's only main weakness. As usual, the crew behind the scenes does a top flight job, particularly the eye-popping production design by Ken Adam (responsible for the most memorable villain hideouts in the James Bond films) and Laurie Johnson's militaristic score. Best of all, the ending still packs a punch, and it would have been amazing to see this during its first run in American theaters.

Like the Criterion laser, Columbia's DVD of Strangelove is struck from Kubrick's personal print of the film and switches between full frame (open matte - nothing is missing) and soft-matted 1.55:1. Kubrick's oft-expressed displeasure at the presentation of this film in theaters begs the obvious question of exactly how he did intend to have it shown, but apparently this version is what he wanted. As with most Columbia DVDs, the transfer has been performed with a great deal of care and, aside from the ragged opening titles, looks very good. None of the extras from the Criterion edition are retained here, but at a small fraction of the cost, this should please most viewers. No extras.   

Color, 1968, 148 mins.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester / Written by Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke / Cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth

Format: DVD - MGM

Letterboxed (2.35:1) / Dolby Digital 5.1   

"I'm sorry, I can't do that, Dave..."

Ape evolves into man. Man goes into space with computer. Man and computer do battle. Man experiences the next step in evolution. While this summary may not do justice to the philosophical and visual wonder of Kubrick's science fiction masterpiece, it does basically convey the controversy which has surrounded the film since its release. What does it all mean? Like other films of its generation, particularly Blow Up, 2001 ultimately forces viewers to form their own conclusions and offers some absolutely first rate eye candy along the way. While the human characters, represented primarily by Keir Dullea's Dave Bowman, may be withdrawn and chilly in true Kubrick style, the wrenching, three-dimensional villainy of the computer HAL hits all too close to home for a society which has become increasingly reliant on a screen and keyboard to express itself (um, wait a minute here...). Kubrick's film remains primarily a matter of taste thanks to the extremely slow pace and difficult plotting, but from any point of view, it's an important film and demands to be seen.

Obviously the ideal way to see 2001 is in a theater, preferably in Cinerama, but the home video versions have generally fared well. The first widescreen release from Criterion looked good but overly grainy, while MGM's meticulous 65mm restoration for laserdisc improved both the color and clarity. The version was transferred verbatim to DVD without anamorphic enhancement, presumably due to the film's upcoming theatrical reissue (like The Wizard of Oz, this is apparently a title they'll keep milking as long as the studio continues to exist). The transfer is attractive if unremarkable; the special effects look accurate and the framing appears to be perfect, but the dark scenes don't have quite the ominous depth and richness usually delivered by a top notch DVD. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix contains some effective directional effects but can't do much to spruce up the "space Muzak" score pieced together from preexisting music (it's a shame Kubrick nixed Alex North's wonderful score, which could have taken this film to an even higher level). Incidentally, 2001 marked the first occasion Kubrick recut his work after its theatrical release; the film originally ran 12 minutes longer, but Kubrick made various trims for reasons which remain mysterious. Perhaps the excised footage will turn up someday, if it still exists. Bonuses here include a brief interview with author Arthur C. Clarke and the tedious U.S. trailer.   

Color, 1971, 137 mins.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Starring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin, David Prowse / Music by Wendy Carlos / Written by Stanley Kubrick / Cinematography by John Alcott

Format: DVD - Warner

Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Dolby Digital Mono   

Hands down the most controversial film in the Kubrick canon, A Clockwork Orange was only recently permitted in England and has gone through more censorship hassles than the entire works of Lucio Fulci put together. That said, time has been extremely generous to this film, which provides both an amusing portrait of its own era (the mod clothes and hairstyles, outrageous lounge-inspired art direction, throbbing electronic music) and a prescient vision of how the future will only exacerbate the savage versus civilized conflicts inherent in mankind.

While Kubrick's previous 2001 presented a central character rendered inert by his surroundings, here the viewer is given Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a dynamic, intelligent, and often witty psychopath who performs any antisocial action dictated by his whims - beatings, robbery, rape, and murder. Significantly, many critics made the bizarre assumption that because Alex narrates the film, Kubrick must agree with what our "humble narrator" is saying. Thus, according to this train of thought, classical music, artwork, and women in general are corrupt objects worthy of mistrust at best. The film's extremely potent streak of humor also belongs to Alex and reinforces the message that a twisted member of society is not so far removed from normality as is so often assumed. On a more superficial level, A Clockwork Orange is also a supremely well-crafted piece of entertainment, slickly acted and performed, often disturbing, and strangely enough, nowhere remotely as explicit as its reputation has suggested. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, most of the violence is brutal and often difficult to watch but committed from a great distance or off-camera, allowing the viewer's imagination to unpleasantly fill in the blanks. Oddly, Anglophile Kubrick omitted the final chapter from Burgess' novel in his adaptation (presumably because he only read the U.S printing), which would have ended the film on a more sincere and positive note.

Though derived from the same materials used for Warner's widescreen laserdisc, the DVD of A Clockwork Orange looks markedly better, with smoother colors and less video noise. Like the laser reissue, this is actually the original X-rated print with the entire "William Tell Overture" sequence which was visually altered to obtain an R rating upon the film's theatrical reissue. It may not be first-rate demo material, but the DVD gets the job done and conveys the film's wild visual schemes relatively well. The 1.66:1 framing reveals more at the top and bottom than the theatrical version, while a few sequences (the opening titles, newspaper headlines, etc.) are hard-matted at 1.85:1 as originally shot. The DVD also includes the 1971 theatrical trailer, which may give Japanese seizure cartoons a run for their money.   

Color, 1975, 185 mins.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Starring Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Steven Berkoff / Written by Stanley Kubrick / Cinematography by John Alcott

Format: DVD - Warner

Letterboxed (1.66:1) / Dolby Digital Mono   

After his foray into gaudy future shock, Kubrick made the obvious choice for his next film: a subdued costume drama! Despite critical acclaim, his three hour adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel failed to connect with audiences on the same historic level as his previous films and is usually dismissed. Too bad, really, because it's an excellent film and one of Kubrick's most exquisitely crafted and tragically human efforts. Part of the blame for the film's relative obscurity may lie with the presence of Ryan O'Neal, normally a bland actor used to good effect here (probably his only good performance aside from Paper Moon). On a sensory level, Barry Lyndon is also one of Kubrick's most controlled and best-realized efforts, with his typically piecemeal classical score functioning better than usual thanks to the careful orchestrations of Leonard Rosenman (who makes particularly good use of Handel's "Sarabande"). Despite the absence of shock value or trippy visuals, this is ultimately pure Kubrick and well worth the hefty time investment.

The first half of the film, as announced by its title card, concerns the social rise of Redmond Barry (O'Neal), a ne'er-do-well determined to claw his way to the top. Finding himself tossed into the winds of history through battle, Redmond wins the approval of the powers that be in Dublin and uses his status to win the hand of the lovely Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) following the death of her husband. His relationship with Lady Lyndon's son begins well, but ultimately Barry's ambitions to succeed at any cost return to haunt him in the second half as the years pass on and fate begins to take a nasty turn.

One of the most visually stunning films of its day, Barry Lyndon in many ways represents the height of Kubrick's exacting eye for minute detail. Each costume, each shot, each note of music is precisely applied and presented for the maximum aesthetic effect; however, this austere and literary approach may not be to all tastes. The DVD looks better than the laserdisc, which was flawed by a speckled pressing, and effectively renders the powdery textures of the landscape shots. Like the other Kubrick titles, the technical limitations of the sound recording prevent it from really bursting forth, but the audio is more pleasing and well-rounded than most films of its era. Also includes a lengthy "the critics are raving" trailer.   

Color, 1980, 144 mins.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Joe Turkel / Music by Wendy Carlos / Written by Stanley Kubrick / Cinematography by John Alcott

Format: DVD - Warner

Full Frame / Dolby Digital Mono   

More than any other Kubrick film, The Shining fell victim to the 2001 syndrome when originally released. After a massive promotional buildup, audiences expecting the ultimate philosophical experience in elegant horror were startled to be confronted with a steadily building descent into hell courtesy of Jack Nicholson's on-camera mental breakdown. Furthermore, inevitable comparisons to Stephen King's source novel often led to the film suffering in comparison-- even according to King himself. In retrospect, The Shining is a key horror film of the '80s, a pivotal work whose influence continues to be felt today. Oddly enough, speaking from the perspective of someone who came of age well after 2001's impact had already settled well into the American consciousness, The Shining is an equally important film, and significantly, this film and A Clockwork Orange are the two most popular and frequently studied Kubrick titles among the so-called Generation-X age group (if such a thing really exists). While both films features radically over the top central performances and wild visual schemes, The Shining's power lies far deeper than its surface pleasures.

The plot is simple and familiar: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), move up to a sprawling Colorado hotel after Jack accepts a position as the winter caretaker. After being shown the ropes by the cook, Halloran (Scatman Crothers), the family is left to their own devices for a long, snowy winter. Danny's possession of a strange psychic gift, dubbed "the shining" by Halloran, causes the boy to believe the hotel is haunted by ghosts, including those of the two daughters murdered with an axe by the previous caretaker. A recovering alcoholic and struggling writer, Jack finds his tenuous grip on reality slipping away as the hotel begins to exert its evil spectral influence.

Most obviously, The Shining contains some of the most indelible images of the horror genre: the blood-spilling elevator, the two girl ghosts, Nicholson's axe-wielding chase through the snowy maze. However, the film is unsettling for other, more intangible reasons as well, particularly through its manipulation of time and space. The film is broken up by title cards ("Closing Day," "4 A.M.," etc.) which become increasingly meaningless as the story progresses and the present and past begin to merge into a horrific jumble of images and sounds. The collision of the spiritual and physical planes becomes complete when first Jack and then Wendy begin to physically witness the apparitions, and the ghosts even intrude on the physical level by unlocking a door. While a number of horror films achieve their power through psychological suggestion (The Haunting being the most obvious example), The Shining takes an entirely different approach of horror through sensory accumulation. Rather than being showstopping moments of terror, the film's progression of chills operates like a near-death experience-- the full impact doesn't register until hours later when the viewer thinks back on the film and suddenly begins to shiver at how it all locks together. Wendy's discovery of Jack's manuscript in essence sums up the approach of the film - just one page is a little creepy and strange, but in context with the whole work, it's simply terrifying. More than perhaps any other Kubrick film, The Shining also relies heavily upon its actors to carry the film, and while Nicholson is indeed a wonder to behold in his bulldozer psycho performance, Duvall is his equal on every level, conveying a normal woman brought to the threshhold of hysteria. Significantly, in 1998 King took a shot at literally translating his novel into a TV miniseries and, while fairly successful overall, the more recent version proved that many of Kubrick's choices (such as omitting the haunted topiary animals) were sound indeed. The film's final image, the harshest object of criticism back in 1980, makes sound narrative sense in retrospect and works far better than the soppy feel-good ending King himself tacked onto the miniseries.

Sadly, the Warner DVD is not all it could have been. Kubrick preferred the film to be presented completely open matte (even in theaters, though few projectionists complied), and that's how it has existed on video since its first release in the early '80s. The laserdisc transfer remains the best of the bunch; while the DVD is obviously derived from the same materials, the increased clarity of DVD increases the grain in a number of shots. Worse, the color on the DVD has been pulled back, so the lovely burnished golds of the ballroom and the rich, ruby red of the elevator blood scenes have almost completely disappeared. Though it doesn't do the film justice, the transfer is at least watchable --and thankfully Warner didn't succumb to overzealous letterbox mania by slapping a false matte over the image like a number of other recent DVD releases (and the recent "letterboxed" Japanese LD release). On the positive side, at least the film can be watched all the way through now without the distraction of side breaks, and more importantly, this also contains the creepy U.S. trailer and - at last! - Vivian Kubrick's notorious half hour documentary, Making The Shining. This astonishing chamber piece features interviews with the principal cast and shows Kubrick at work, several times cursing Shelley Duvall presumably in an attempt to shake her into character. Duvall comes off as something of a flake here, while Jack comes off as... well, Jack. Great stuff, and almost worth the price tag by itself. Throw those old bootleg tapes away, folks.  Unfortunately, there's one supplement we'll probably never see: a two minute epilogue present in some first run theatrical prints which finds the film's survivors in the hospital.  Since Kubrick had the film recalled and reedited, his estate will probably never release it; too bad.  Incidentally, most European release cuts of this film, including the video, run a relatively scant 118 minutes; seeing the complete version on DVD should be a revelatory experience, to say the least.  

Color, 1987, 116 mins.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Starring Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent d'Onofrio, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard / Music by Wendy Carlos / Written by Gustav Hasford, Michael Herr & Stanley Kubrick / Music by Abigail Mead (Vivian Kubrick) / Cinematography by Douglas Milsome

Format: DVD - Warner

Full Frame / Dolby Digital Mono  

Just as every filmmaker in the '70s had to do a Hitchcock homage, the '80s found most major directors tackling the previously touchy subject of Vietnam. Most of the results were terrible handwringers (check out Coppola's Gardens of Stone), while the one that started it all, Oliver Stone's Platoon, has aged so badly it now plays like a weak TV movie. Arguably the best of this trend, Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, has improved over the years, though its flaws remain undeniable. The biggest problem, of course, is that the first 45 minutes are so blistering, powerful, and simply perfect that there's no way the film can recover in its aftermath. After standing at what seems like the gateway to the inferno for the first act, the ultimate descent into Vietnam is well-crafted but ultimately a conventional return to territory Kubrick explored earlier in Paths of Glory. However, as a depiction of war, Kubrick's treatment is technically brilliant and obviously influenced the similar Saving Private Ryan.

The film begins at a Parris Island boot camp where men are brutalized into instinctive killing    machines bent on destruction and their own survivial. Private "Joker" (Matthew Modine), a wisecracking Jewish soldier, is nominally the audience identification figure, growing further into his designated role as the film progresses. "Gomer Pyle" (as christened by outrageously foul-mouthed drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey), unforgettably portrayed by Vincent D'Onofrio, seems to be the "runt" of the recruits, an overweight guy who seems destined for failure. However, the repeated physical and psychological battering builds to a conflict between sergeant and trainee that culminates in one of the most chilling, horrific sequences Kubrick ever filmed. This riveting, brutal first movement allows the film to hit the ground running from the first frame, and when Joker finally ships out to Vietnam, the film radically shifts gears. Essentially following Joker's squad as it experiences the taboo pleasures of the native land and then moving into a deathtrap presided over by a mysterious sniper, this two-act portion of the film drew a lot of critical fire but contains some haunting, memorable moments nonetheless, particularly the final two minutes and the footage involving the news crew. The wisecracking soldier routine does manage to increase tension here rather than simply being an annoying intrusion like most films, and as always, the photography and attention to physical detail are remarkable (hard to believe this was shot in England!).  As usual, Kubrick's use of patchwork preexisting music provides some memorable moments, including terrific use of "Surfin' Bird" and, as a spooky requiem for the end credits, the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" (later copied in Warner's The Devil's Advocate and the tasteless Vietnam TV series Tour of Duty).

Warner's full frame transfer, the one preferred by Kubrick, has always looked pretty good, and the DVD looks fine - better than Warner's budget DVD line but not breathtaking by any means. Interestingly, the boot camp sequence bears a number of visual similarities to the photography of The Shining, particularly those eerie wide angle tracking shots, and the Vietnam cinematography does possess a ragged, unearthly quality obviously sprung from the work of Vittorio Storaro on Apocalpyse Now.  Of all of Kubrick's films, this one really could have benefited the most from being filmed in Dolby Stereo, but alas, it was not meant to be.  The DVD also includes the original U.S. trailer, a boring, oblique mess that indicates Warner must have been having a hard time deciding how to sell this film.  It didn't work then, and it still doesn't. 
Overall, DVD perfectionists will find plenty of faults in the Warner box sets, from the bland black and white scheme packaging (chosen by Kubrick himself, but not all that striking) to the variable quality of the transfers.  However, the films themselves are all fascinating, important works, and an understanding of their various histories hopefully clarifies why they are presented in what may not be the most technologically advanced state available to digital technology.  One can only wonder, though, why Warner included one MGM title, 2001, while neglecting the other MGM Kubrick titles, Paths of Glory, The Killing, and Killers' Kiss.  Fortunatley, along with Universal's Spartacus, all of Kubrick's major titles are now available in one DVD form or another, allowing cinephiles to finally savor the late master's work uninterrupted and, for the most part, in its  best condition to date.  Of course, it may all be a big promotional push at heart meant to capitalize on Kubrick nostalgia and the release of Eyes Wide Shut, but having these films available is a welcome gesture, whatever its motives may be. 

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