Dr. Strangelove Criterion Blu-ray Review
Kubrick’s Cold War classic needs no introduction
I'm afraid, sir, I must ask you for the key, and the recall code. Have you got them handy, sir?Stanley Kubrick’s biting satire on the Cold War has lost none of its comedic value or verve. Telling the story of how one man could potentially destroy the world due to his own ideals the script is both captivating and frightening, but told with such class and observation that the themes held within actually hit home. Often known more for Peter Sellers’ outrageous performances in three separate roles, or for Slim Pickens’ final scene, the film actually works so well because it takes its source seriously, playing straight but telling a dreadful story with complete glee.Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was written, produced and directed by Kubrick who maintains a firm grip on the satire. What starts off as possibly a mundane order, soon escalates into a worldwide tragedy when all the safeguards put in place to avert such a mess come undone by the very people who put them in place. There is delicious repartee between either side of the fence, and the stereotypical characterisations never play over-the-top and the dark vein continues all the way to the very end (of the world).
Picture QualityThe disc presents a widescreen 1.66:1 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and is Region locked to B.
“A combination of elements, including 35mm fine-grain master positives, duplicate negatives and prints, were used for this digital transfer, which was created in 4K resolution on an Oxberry wet-gate film scanner at Cineric in New York in 2004.”
The first two thirds of the film suffer the worst; the contrast is pushed furthest to give deep strong blacks, adding to depth, yes, but compromising shadow detail, while whites are quite harsh. This effects the detail which can soften in places (most noticeable in the War Room, where establishing shots are occasionally indistinct). The grain is at it heaviest during this portion of the film and can (rarely) have a digitizing effect on some whites (particularly faces). And the damage, whilst having been mostly removed and still leaving grain and detail in an astonishing clean up, is still just perceptible – as if in your peripheral vision – most evident in the opening clouds and narration.
A great deal of work was done to this print to produce the best possible presentation, however there as still issues, but you have to temper those knowing that source material was scarce.
After the two thirds mark things improve significantly; contrast levels deliver good blacks and sensible whites, resulting in a far more dynamic greyscale. This, in turn, allows the inherent detail of the image to come through; skin texture and clothing weaves start to come to the fore, especially in close-up. The War Room now has far more depth and the Big Board is well defined and sharp. Grain is more manageable and there are no signs of digital manipulation.
Digitally there are no compression issues or edge enhancement, save the very rare digital look to certain areas of the picture, and the image is clean and bright, and with the caveat above, free from damage, splits, tram lines or flashes. Brightness is pretty stable throughout and the frame is rock solid. Considering what has happened to this print, the image on show is nothing short of remarkable.
Sound QualityThere are two tracks: English LPCM mono and a re-mastered English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround. The original sound track is great, a very well-layered mix with dialogue, effects (gun shots, aircraft etc.) and score all having a place and nothing getting lost. There is a good balance and everything sounds very natural; bass is set to allow a natural treble to come through so there is nothing shrill, nor is it tonally ‘thick’. There is no hiss, crackle or distortion: great stuff.
Both tracks have their own merit.The 5.1 surround mix opens up the stage remarkable well; this is particularly evident during the attack on the army bass, what with the myriad of gun shots and explosions (check out the conversations between Mandrake and Ripper with the devastation being wrought around them) and any scene in the B-52, where conversations are set ‘below’ the engines. Bass is again set well giving a very natural sound, though LF effects are non-existent.
ExtrasA mixture of new and old features presented here as they appear on the disc.
Stanley Kubrick – 27 November 1966, Jeremy Bernstein, interviews Kubrick about the film, its genesis and directing; here are 4 minutes of excerpts of that interview.
Mick Broderick – 20 minute interview, filmed in 2016, with film scholar Broderick as he discusses Kubrick’s career, the film (the fact that it was Kubrick’s first also producing), some of its history and Sellers’ on set antics.
The Art of Stanley Kubrick – 15 minute feature, produced in 2000, discusses Kubrick’s transition from still photographer to film auteur through the eyes of those that worked with him, including, but not limited to: film critic Alexander Walker, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, biographer John Baxter, executive producer Lee Minoff and actor James Earl Jones.
Joe Dunton and Kelvin Pike – 13 minute interview, produced in 2016, with, respectively, cinematographer and camera innovator Dunton and camera operator Pike as they examine Kubrick’s style, work and lighting with reference to Dr. Strangelove.
Inside Dr. Strangelove – 50 minute documentary, produced in 2000, looks at the production history of the film with good attention to detail utilising interviews with cast, crew and critics.
Richard Daniels – 15 minute interview, produced in 2016, with the senior archivist at the Stanley Kubrick Archive and co-editor of the book Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives as he talks about Kubrick the man, script development with attention to material kept in the archive.
David George – 10 minute interview, produced in 2016, with the son of novelist Peter George (author of Red Alert on which Dr Strangelove was based). Explores his father’s relationship with the director and showcases a recently discovered short story that introduces the character of Dr. Strangelove.
No Fighting in the War Room – 30 minute feature, produced in 2004, in which interviewees (including, but not limited to former secretary of defence Robert McNamara, journalist Bob Woodward, critic Roger Ebert, producer James B. Harris and director Spike Lee) converse around the political environment that the film was conceived as well as its reception.
Best Sellers – 20 minute feature, produced in 2004, contains interviews with Roger Ebert, Michael Palin, Shirley MacLaine, Sir David Frost and director Richard Lester, as they discuss Sellers’ amazing contribution to the film and film in general.
Rodney Hill – 20 minute interview, produced in 2016, where film scholar Hill examines the film with reference to its ‘mythology’ and the stereotype depicted within.
George C. Scott and Peter Sellers – 8 minutes worth of interviews, produced in 1963 as promotional material, with the two stars of the film.
Today – Brief 5 minute interview from 12 March 1980 where critic Gene Shalit interviews Peter Sellers.
Exhibitor's Trailer – 17 minute trailer for film; includes audio descriptions by Stanley Kubrick uncut material and multiple camera angles.
Booklet – Containing an essay by scholar David Bromwich and a 1962 article by screen writer Terry Southern on the making of the film.
Blu-ray VerdictKubrick’s Cold War classic needs no introduction. Rightly sitting in ‘Best of’ lists the world over, the film combines biting satire, laugh-out-loud moments, wonderful characterisation, incredible set design, illumination, drama, gritty realism and more. Often remembered for Peter Sellers’s outrageous performances in his three separate roles, or for Slim Pickens’ final scene, the film actually works so well because it always plays it straight, allowing the sheer madness of the situation to drive the comedy.
It takes its source seriously and tells its dreadful story with total gleeCriterion’s Blu-ray set is a very nice package indeed, the picture, not without its problems, has had a complete make over and is presented in its very best image, even at its worst it is still clear and bright, but when at its best is wonderfully detailed with a good greyscale. There are two sound tracks, LPCM mono and DTS-HD 5.1 surround, both have their merits, and both are clean, well balanced without any issues at all. The extras package is a mixture of old and newly recorded material that adds much value to the set as a whole.
You can buy Dr. Strangelove on Criterion Blu-ray here
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