A Clockwork Orange appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not the best of the Kubrick transfers, this one seemed more than satisfactory.
Sharpness was a bit erratic. The movie usually displayed good definition, but occasional shots suffered from less than terrific delineation. Though the majority seemed concise and accurate, a bit of softness crept in at times. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, though, and edge enhancement appeared to be absent. In terms of source flaws, I noticed an occasional speck but nothing more significant than that.
Colors came across well within the film’s production design. This was a film that usually went with a somewhat sickly sense of hues. The tones tended toward the ugly side of the street, and the disc replicated those values accurately. Black levels consistently appeared deep and rich, as the film’s many dark tones came across well. Shadow detail seemed clear and concise as well. The softness was a bit of a distraction, but not enough of one to knock my grade below a “B”.
I also felt pleased with the PCM 5.1 audio of A Clockwork Orange. The remix didn’t reinvent the wheel and go nuts with discrete material. While the soundfield stretched the auditory environment, it didn’t depart tremendously from the audio’s monaural origins. Much of the mix remained firmly anchored to the center channel. Some effects spread modestly to the sides, but these were largely ambient in nature; I heard very little significant elements from the right or left speakers, though I did like the general atmosphere they provided. The surrounds featured some minor environmental reinforcement as well, but they didn’t show much activity in that regard.
Where the remix excelled, however, came from the delineation of the film’s music. The score showed fine stereo separation in the forward channels that really made those aspects of the track come to life. The surrounds also contributed fine support of the music that let the score breathe a bit. Ultimately, the soundfield remained a modest affair, but the broadening of the music meant that the remix merited inclusion.
Audio quality appeared quite good for a 36-year-old film. Dialogue could seem a little thin, but generally I thought speech was adequately natural and distinct. During the scene in which Alex enters prison, I thought the lines came across as a bit too rough and edgy, but otherwise dialogue sounded fairly positive. Effects were also a little drab due to the age of the stems, but they displayed no overt concerns and they appeared reasonably accurate and clean.
Again, it was the movie’s music that worked best. The score showed minor hiss at times, but otherwise it displayed a vibrant, brilliant sound. The synthesized music consistently appeared clear and vivid, as the track offered solid range. Highs were crisp and bright, while bass response seemed quite solid most of the time. On occasion I thought the low-end should have been a little deeper, but for the most part, bass was tight and distinct. For the best example of low-end, check out Beethoven’s “Ninth” as Alex watched the World War II film clips. All in all, the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange stayed reasonably true to its origins but it created a much clearer and more lively experience than one would expect from an older film.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the 2007 DVD? Audio seemed similar, as the lossless PCM track didn’t add a lot of zing to the decades-old recordings. Visuals showed improvements, though not to an amazing degree. Actually, the extra resolution of the Blu-ray made the soft shots more noticeable. Still, it demonstrated higher highs and came as a more accurate representation of the source.
The Blu-ray shares the same extras as the 2007 DVD. We get the film’s trailer as well as an audio commentary with actor Malcolm McDowell and historian Nick Redman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. The track looks at McDowell’s casting and performance, locations and sets, his co-actors, working with Kubrick, the adaptation of the source novel, music, stunts, and a few other observations.
McDowell and Redman teamed for a commentary on the Caligula set. This one doesn’t prove quite as scintillating as that terrific chat, but it works pretty well. McDowell provides plenty of fun stories about the flick and gives us a good overview of the production. We also find interesting tales such as the time Gene Kelly snubbed him. Despite some slow spots and a little too much praise, this turns into a useful commentary.
We also find a documentary called Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange. This 43-minute and 35-second program mixes movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Redman, McDowell, American Psycho director Mary Harron, writers/critics Alexander Walker, Camille Paglia and Mark Kermode, The Love Hexagon author William Sutcliffe, author/screenwriter/director William Boyd, writer/poet Blake Morrison, author Anthony Burgess, artist Damien Hirst, 1971 BBFC viewing committee member Ken Penry, ex-director BBFC Robin Duval, American Beauty director Sam Mendes, and American History X director Tony Kaye. We learn a little about the origins of the Clockwork novel and reactions to it, the movie’s release, aspects of its era, censorship and controversies, performances and the movie’s use of narration, some of Kubrick’s techniques, and some interpretation/themes.
Though it has some good moments, “Tickin’” is a little too inconsistent to really gel. It mostly focuses on the societal impact of the film, but it delves into enough production details to make it less focused. I’d prefer a show that gives us a concise look at one topic and doesn’t try to cover too much, as the broader emphasis negates some of the show’s effect. Even within the areas that look at controversies and social issues, it flits about a little too much. It’s still a decent program but not as strong as it should have been given the subject at hand.
Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange runs 28 minutes, 10 seconds and features associate producer Bernard Williams, Stanley Kubrick: The Complete Films author Paul Duncan, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography author John Baxter, Violence and American Cinema author J. David Slocum, The Complete Kubrick author David Hughes, One Hundred Violent Films That Changed Cinema author Neil Fulwood, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Oranger author Stuart McDougal, former Warner Bros. executive John Calley, costume designer Milena Canonero, makeup artist Barbara Daly, critic Jay Cocks, editor Bill Butler, and filmmakers William Friedkin, Sydney Pollack, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Hyams, Hugh Hudson, Caleb Deschanel, and Ernest Dickerson. We learn how Kubrick chose to make Clockwork, writing the screenplay and its uses of language, cast, characters and performances, budgetary restrictions, sets, locations and costumes, Kubrick’s methods and depiction of graphic material, and the film’s reception.
Though “Yarblockos” can be a little inconsistent, it usually offers a pretty good examination of the flick. While it lacks terrific depth – shouldn’t we hear about more actors than just McDowell? – but it touches on enough to make it worthwhile. The show provides good perspective on the flick and allows us to better understand it.
Finally, O Lucky Malcolm! provides a “career profile” of McDowell. The one-hour, 26-minute and six-second piece features notes from McDowell, director’s wife Christiane Kubrick, McDowell’s daughter Lilly, son Charlie and wife Kelley, producer/friend Mike Kaplan, writer/friend Peter Bellwood, directors Edoardo Ponti, Robert Altman, Tamar Simon Hoffs, David Grieco and Mike Hodges, and actors Mary Steenburgen, Deborah Kara Unger, Neve Campbell, and Max Beesley.
As implied by the title, we learn about McDowell’s life and career. It works pretty well much of the time, though it essentially ignores his career from 1980 through the start of the 21st century. He worked during that period – shouldn’t we hear about it?
With all the friends and family involved, we get the usual happy talk, but it’s not all blather and praise. Bellwood shows the driest humor ever as he insults his pal so believably you start to wonder if he really does dislike McDowell! The personal reflections add more than they detract, and they help make this a nice and engaging career overview.
After 40 years, A Clockwork Orange remains an amazing and powerful film. I continue to feel wholeheartedly that it was easily Stanley Kubrick’s best work. The Blu-ray offers good picture, audio and extras. I’m not sure that this is a substantial upgrade over the Special Edition DVD, but if you don’t own that one, go for this Blu-ray release.
To rate this film, visit the original Special Edition review of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE