Combustible Celluloid

The Stanley Kubrick Collection (2001)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Heeeerrree's Stanley!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Stanley Kubrick Collection on DVD.

How is the new The Stanley Kubrick Collection (Warner Brothers, $199.92) different from the one released two years ago? The old one contained only seven discs: Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), and Full Metal Jacket (1987). This new one now has nine discs, including Kubrick's last and arguably greatest film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and a new, official documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, directed by Kubrick's longtime collaborator, Jan Harlan.

In addition, five of the titles have been remastered in Dolby 5.1, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, and 2001. And most of the pictures have been cleaned up as well (all except Dr. Strangelove); the images on The Shining, Lolita, and Barry Lyndon in particular blew me away. Sadly, the films that were not letterboxed before are still not letterboxed, and the infamous digital enhancing on Eyes Wide Shut still has not been removed. I have not seen any of the DVDs from the old, critically-bashed box set, but as far as I can tell, this new one supercedes it in every way.

Though Vladimir Nabokov adapted his own novel for the Lolita screenplay, he denounced it later. He was being too harsh. Though the movie lacks Humbert Humbert's exquisite inner voice, James Mason portrays him with enough longing and suffering to make up for it. But the real stunner is Sue Lyon as Lolita (a little older here than in the book), a callous, sexy temptress, who slowly turns into the world-weary victim. Peter Sellers steals the film as Claire Quilty, a much bigger role here than in the book, performing different characters and different voices as a precursor to his Dr. Strangelove tour-de-force two years later. Kubrick keeps the elegant black-and-white film big and luxurious and barren and sustains the cold humor over the entire 2 and a half hour running time.

Dr. Strangelove
Even now that the Cold War is officially over, Dr. Strangelove is still one of the funniest movies ever made. That's thanks to Peter Sellers' brilliant three-way performance, contrasted with Sterling Hayden's outstanding deadpan Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, who's trying to protect our "precious bodily fluids" from the "Russkies." Slim Pickens provides a down-home humor as the pilot of the wandering plane, and of course George C. Scott brings steam and red meat to his role as General Turgidson. Kubrick cleverly balances these disparate characters with wicked, dead-on satire, shot in a gorgeous, deep-focus black-and-white.

2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey is Kubrick's Citizen Kane. It may not be his best or most enjoyable work, but it certainly changed the way people thought about movies. Two grimly metallic humans and a lively, psychopathic computer, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), journey to Jupiter to find the origin of a weird monolith and possibly the Meaning of Life. Strangely enough, Kubrick's special effects in this film strike me as far more effective than most of today's computerized effects. Indeed, few films so effectively transport you inside themselves, worming you in and around its weird colors and sounds.

A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange may be Kubrick's most flawed film, in that the first 40 minutes are so alive and so enjoyable. As Alex, the "droog" who likes a little "ultraviolence," Malcolm McDowell looks and sounds great as he romps through the night causing all kinds of havoc. After he's caught and given a special "treatment" which makes him abhor violence, we realize we preferred him before. It's a very dark message, but maybe that's why the film caught on as a video cult item in the 80s. (I still get a kick out of watching Alex raise hell.)

Barry Lyndon
Barry Lyndon strangely resembles Forrest Gump in that its protagonist is a not-too-bright opportunist (Ryan O'Neal) who rises in society when he lands in the right place at the right time. The difference is that Kubrick has the courage to paint his character as a slightly detestable anti-hero. He's allowed to be flawed, whereas Gump was horrifyingly portrayed as a hero. Seeing Barry Lyndon a second time, I found myself charmed by just how funny and lively it is, in an underplayed way, when it just seemed cold the first time around. I also appreciated O'Neal's banal portrayal of the title character, perfectly capturing the scoundrel's inner life. Barry Lyndon also astounds as one of Kubrick's most visually splendid movies, each shot framed as a lovely painting, emphasizing the non-action of the period and of Barry himself. The film's cinematographer John Alcott won nearly every cinematography award available for his outstanding work.

The Shining
Kubrick's horror film, The Shining (based on the Stephen King novel) creates some of the most genuine spine chills ever filmed. Taking a job as a winter caretaker for a giant and remote hotel, Jack Nicholson, his wife Shelley Duvall, and his son Danny Lloyd, find that the long hallways and empty rooms contain more than a few ghosts. The film goes from scary to amusing as Jack slowly turns into a psychopath, taking an axe to his loved ones. (Why is it that Kubrick's psychos -- McDowell, Nicholson, and Ermey in Full Metal Jacket -- are so much fun?) Kubrick's use of space and the eerie steadycam have never been put to better use, and the great Scatman Crothers provides a great turn as the hotel's chef. This disc contains a great short documentary shot by Kubrick's daughter Vivian when she was 17, plus a brand new witty and wonderful commentary track by her.

Full Metal Jacket
I've come to appreciate Full Metal Jacket more and more since I first saw it in 1987. I still think the first half, the boot camp sequence, is much more powerful than the Vietnam War sequences in the second half. But that first half is jaw-droppingly good, thanks mostly to R. Lee Ermey's performance as the gruesome drill sergeant. Kubrick's camera is every bit as regimented as the men's lives, growing ever more out of control as Private Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio) does.

Eyes Wide Shut
Perhaps Kubrick's finest film, Eyes Wide Shut represents his most emotionally mature work to date, though it's been completely misunderstood by nearly everyone. This is a work that will grow in time the way Kubrick's other films have. Upon finding out his wife (Nicole Kidman) once entertained thoughts of an affair, Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) goes on a sexual exploration of his own, feeling his way around his libido, looking for fantasies, and finding danger (or is it the fantasy of danger?). It's an extraordinary portrait of the constant building and repairing of a marriage.

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
Directed by Jan Harlan, a producer on Kubrick's last four films and brother of Kubrick's widow, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is the official documentary on the great filmmaker. It spends most of its running time looking into his works, but also a decent amount of time finding out who the man really was. This documentary will be a revelation for most people, in that most of us didn't even know what Kubrick looked like until just a few years ago. And back in 1987 when I saw Full Metal Jacket, I couldn't have even told you if he was American or European. A Life in Pictures is a most welcome documentary. "Everyone always acknowledges that Stanley's the man," Jack Nicholson says, "but I always thought that underrated him."

Date: July 5, 2001

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