A great Blu-ray that delivers two of Kubrick's movies for the price of one
The Killing Film Review
Only his third feature, Stanley Kubrick’s noir masterpiece The Killing is a tension-cranking piece of military-precision engineering.Shot on a relatively shoestring budget – and yet still a box office flop on release – The Killing still achieved critical acclaim almost right from the get-go, and has remained a favourite even amidst Kubrick's near-entirely stunning body of work. The film boasts a refreshingly raw script written by acclaimed crime author Jim Thompson (whose works were adapted for the likes of both versions of The Getaway – and, tangentially, From Dusk til Dawn – as well as the unpleasant Killer Inside Me), and a great little cast headed-up by the powerhouse presence of Sterling Hayden. Along with producing partner James B. Harris, he fashioned a superior heist movie which marries Kurosawa-esque storytelling techniques with his now-classic mastery of the visual medium.The story, which is now the prototypical formula for every heist movie, involves the planning of a high stakes racetrack heist by a group of disparate individuals who find themselves only as strong as their weakest link. With every part of the plan seemingly playing out with clinical precision, the plan still feels doomed throughout, and it’s thanks to the superior eye of Kubrick and the razor-sharp script by Thompson that you remain utterly compelled throughout. Playing with character-centric time lapses, Kubrick tells multiple parallel stories sequentially, and cranks up the tension with each consecutive one. Utterly gripping, steeped in bleak irony and dark violence, this is quintessential film noir. Even in his early years Kubrick proved himself a master, and The Killing is a testament to that fact.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe Killing hits UK Region B-locked Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow, who have either used the same remastered source as was used for the exquisite Region A-locked Criterion counterpart or licensed the exact same transfer. Either way, it looks splendid, with every scene in Kubrick’s vision delivered with precision – just watch in awe at that spectacular tracking shot through the apartment at the beginning; even if the rules wouldn’t allow him to do the cinematography himself (as he’d previously done), you can tell he had a firm hand on every single shot.
This is a reference example of what you can do with a ‘50s black and white feature if handled right.
Framed in its original intended aspect ratio of 1.66:1 widescreen, the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is near-flawless, sporting scant few frames where the grain is variable or the image looks slightly softer, and remaining impressive for nearly its entire duration. Detail is outstanding, with the noir-influenced cinematography rich with shadow detail and fine object observation. Skin textures and clothing weaves are excellent, with some superb close-ups showcasing the characters and backdrops in just about the best shape imaginable.
The image has obviously been cleaned up, but, for the most part, it’s almost impossible to detect, and has had the effect of removing any signs of damage. There are no scratches, flecks or inconsistencies; the image is perfectly stable and stunningly clean, but also fantastically textures, with depth and warm saturation leaving the greyscale perfectly managed throughout. Black levels are superior, and perfectly maintained throughout. This classic has likely never looked this good, and this presentation will likely never be trumped.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe accompanying English LPCM Mono 1.0 track is also pretty impressive, even with the inherent limitations of a mono offering. The levels of each element involved in the film offer up a certain degree of separation: the voiceover reigns over the proceedings, whilst internal dialogue is clear and coherent throughout, and dominates the rest of the feature.
Cleaned up and polished, the accompanying soundtrack is almost as impressive as the video.
The score is handled surprisingly well, and is a distinctive, powerful affair, which broods when required, ratchets up the tension when necessary, and thoroughly overwhelms in the climactic moments. Effects are well-observed, from the ticking of a kitchen clock to creaking floorboards and clinking glasses, as well as the thunderous boom of that automatic shotgun and the boisterous cacophony of the racetrack. It’s a surprisingly engulfing offering, and the mono labelling belies the potency which resides within it, providing a wonderful accompaniment to the feature.
Blu-ray ExtrasFirst off we get an excellent little 1970 interview with Sterling Hayden, which was shot on his boat as part of the French television series Le Journal du cinema. Hayden’s very honest in his sentiments on Hollywood and acting in general, as well as being quite self-depreciating when it comes to appraising his own work, talking about his true love for writing and for boats, and how he largely just acted so he could pay for the more enjoyable things in life.
Killer's Kiss, Kubrick's second feature, is included in the extras in all its remastered 1080p glory.
However the biggest coup for this release is the 1080p remastered Killer’s Kiss, Kubrick’s sophomore outing, shot the year before The Killing. Running at a comparatively short 67 minutes in length, it’s definitely worth checking out. Kubrick was experimental even back in 1955 and his cinematography still distinctive in a production which he wrote the story for, rewrote the screenplay for, edited, produced and directed, of course. His POV shots, near-handheld work for the boxing sequences, polarised dream sequence and that great goldfish bowl shot all act as a precursor to what we’d see in later, more famous efforts. Ultimately this is a great little noir gem, about a failed boxer who gets into trouble with a woman and some thugs.
Although we miss out on a number of Criterion-exclusive extras, we get a couple of our own exclusives, including An Appreciation by Ben Wheatley, which is a 12 minute interview with the filmmaker discussing what he loved about Kubrick’s The Killing, and the 26-minute The Evolution of a Master, where Critic Michel Ciment discusses Kubrick’s 1950s films. There’s also an isolated music and effects track for The Killing which is also exclusive to Arrow’s release. The disc is rounded off by trailers for the two films and the package features Arrow’s typically informative booklet.
The Killing Blu-ray VerdictThe Killing, despite its lacklustre box office on release, secured Kubrick’s position as a force to be reckoned with in the film world, and remains the first – of many – masterpieces from the legend. Partnering up with dark and uncompromising author Jim Thompson to do the screenplay, and enlisting the talents of Sterling Hayden to head up the perfectly-chosen cast, he delivered a precision film noir crime thriller; a heist movie that would go on to define the sub-genre for years.
Arrow deliver the goods with this impressive Blu-ray release of Kubrick’s first masterpiece.
This Region B-locked UK release boasts spectacular video and audio and a few excellent exclusive extras, as well as the core ones ported over from the Criterion package, including a whole extra film included in the package – Kubrick’s sophomore feature film, Killer’s Kiss, remastered in 1080p no less. Fans who are region capable will probably already own this and may not quite find justification in double-dipping just for the sake of a few, admittedly good, exclusive extras, but those who don’t already own this need to - now!
Buy The Killing on Blu-ray here
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