Dr. Strangelove appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a very good transfer.
Sharpness seemed positive. Most of the movie appeared fairly crisp and well-defined, with only some mild softness on display in a few interiors. I noticed no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent.
Strangelove came with fairly heavy grain, but that represented the source. No print flaws created distractions here, as the film was clean and without any blemishes. Even the movie’s occasional stock footage shots lacked defects, and the same went for effects or process shots. Usually images of that sort come with concerns, so I felt impressed that this transfer didn’t suffer from those.
Black levels looked nicely deep and dark throughout the film. These tones showed no tendency to appear gray or washed-out, and shadow detail seemed very good. Low-light scenes were appropriately delineated but not excessively thick. The image replicated the source material in a highly satisfying manner.
Don’t expect any auditory fireworks from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. It largely remained monaural, with only minor use of the other channels. The shots on-board the B-52 offered the best utilization of the soundfield. Those opened up the sides and rear speakers to provide a nice sense of environment, with the plane’s hum all around the spectrum.
A few of the battle scenes also broadened the mix, and occasional examples of localized speech occurred. The soundfield didn’t go hog-wild, but it presented a moderate expansion of the material. The 5.1 edition broadened the information in a moderate manner, but not one that added anything to the experience.
As a whole, the mix sounded dated but decent. Dialogue came across as a little brittle and thin but usually appeared acceptably accurate with no problems related to intelligibility. Effects sounded clean and relatively realistic, though they lacked great depth.
Some moderate bass popped up for louder bits like the bomb blast at the end, but not much else occurred in that domain. The film’s simple score - which consisted mainly of martial drums and trumpet - was clear and without any shrill or distorted qualities. The track offered a minor expansion of the source but I can’t say the 5.1 soundfield improved the movie.
The Blu-ray also provided the film’s original LPCM uncompressed monaural mix. Audio quality seemed very similar for both the 1.0 and 5.1 tracks, so the only real difference came from the way the multichannel soundscape expanded the material to the side and rear speakers.
I’m glad that the 5.1 mix didn’t suffer from degradation in terms of audio quality. Often, these remixes seem less accurate and full than their monaural sources, so I’m pleased that the two tracks sound so similar.
That said, I prefer the monaural track. Though I’m not opposed to 5.1 remixes – and have enjoyed some of them – I think they’re usually pretty pointless, and that goes for Strangelove. Action movies can benefit from 5.1 reworkings but multichannel audio does nothing to improve a black comedy like Strangelove. In the absence of clear improvements, I’ll stick with the original audio.
How did the Criterion Blu-ray compare to the 40th Anniversary DVD from 2004? Audio worked a little better. The sound suffered from the restrictions of its vintage, though, so don’t expect obvious improvements; the lossless Blu-ray audio appeared a smidgen superior but not much.
On the other hand, the Blu-ray’s visuals worked much better. The Criterion release showed terrific improvements in terms of accuracy and clarity, and it lost the surfeit of print flaws seen on the DVD. This became a stellar step up in quality.
The Criterion release mixes old and new extras. Found on the 2001 SE DVD, The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove lasts 13 minutes, 50 seconds and features biographer John Baxter, cinematographers Oswald Morris and Gilbert Taylor, executive producer Lee Minoff, film critic Alexander Walker, friend Roger Caras, former producing partner James B. Harris, editor Anthony Harvey, production designer Ken Adam, camera operator Kelvin Pike, and actor James Earl Jones. We hear a lot about Kubrick’s early work and learn how his style evolved.
Ultimately, “Art” seems too short, and it should have gone further into Kubrick’s career; as the title indicates, the program ends with the completion of Strangelove, which means we hear nothing of his later films. Despite those flaws, “Art” offers a solid little overview that proves to be fairly enlightening.
More compelling and informative, Inside Dr. Strangelove fills 46-minute, four-second documentary. We hear from Adam, Harvey, Harris, Walker, Minoff, Jones, Taylor, Caras, art director Peter Murton, screenwriter’s wife Carol Southern and son Nile Southern, wardrobe Bridget Sellers, Gilbert Taylor’s wife Lee, assistant editor Ray Lovejoy, Peter Sellers’ friend Lee McGrath, continuity Pamela Carlton, filmmaker Sidney Lumet, former Columbia Pictures Director of National Publicity Bud Rosenthal, opening title sequence creator Pablo Ferro, composer Laurie Johnson, National Coordinator of Advertising and Publicity Richard Kahn, former Columbia publicist Sid Ganis, and actors Tracy Reed and Shane Rimmer.
“Inside” covers story/characters/screenplay, the movie’s genesis and development, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, editing, cinematography, the opening credit sequence, and the film’s release/reception. I learned an awful lot about the making of Strangelove, and this program provides quite a few interesting details about the film.
From No Fighting in the War Room lasts 30 minutes, four seconds. It includes remarks from Harris, Harvey, Walker, Jones, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, directors Spike Lee and Joe McGrath, and film critic Roger Ebert.
The program discusses the atmosphere of the Cold War era, antagonism between the Soviets and the US, the concept of “deterrence”, and the fragility of the system. It also looks at the early development of the film’s story and the choice to make it a comedy, policies in the event of a nuclear attack, “acceptable losses”, the film’s original ending, and the film’s continued relevance.
My main complaint about “Threat” comes from the excessive use of Strangelove clips, as they add little to the piece. Otherwise, this offers a thoughtful look at the era in which the movie was made. It covers the concepts well and presents an informative examination of the reality behind the flick.
Next we see another 2004 piece called Best Sellers. It goes for 18 minutes, 28 seconds as it presents an examination of the versatile actor. We hear from Ebert, Harris, Harvey, McGrath, Walker, Lee, Woodward, Jones, actors Michael Palin and Shirley MacLaine, Sir David Frost, and director Richard Lester.
“Sellers” gives us a basic biography of Sellers. It follows his development as a performer and career, his traits as a performer, the collaboration between Sellers and Kubrick, Sellers’ vocal inspirations, the possibility that Sellers would have played a fourth character in Strangelove, and Sellers’ career after this flick.
Overall, “Sellers” provides a fairly basic look at the actor. It combines occasional examples of good tidbits but largely feels like a puff-piece to praise the glory of Sellers. Nonetheless, a mix of cool elements appears. The best one comes from a Sellers audiotape that includes a chat between the actor and a German photographer who clearly acted as the inspiration for Strangelove’s voice.
Another video piece shows canned interviews from 1963. These took place on the set and featured actors George C. Scott and Peter Sellers. At that time, “open-ended” interviews were popular. Through this, your local TV dude could pretend to talk directly to Scott and/or Sellers via scripted questions. These were used more frequently on radio shows, but these clips show a split-screen format in which your TV person would be inserted on the left side of the screen.
There’s little information to be gleaned from the seven minutes, 16 seconds worth of clips, and the presentation seemed a little annoying since we hear none of the questions themselves - we just get the answers - but it’s a cool historical addition nonetheless.
From 1966, we find a short audio interview with Stanley Kubrick. Recorded with physicist/author Jeremy Bernstein, the three-minute, seven-second segment looks at Kubrick’s interest in Strangelove’s subject matter, screenplay development, directing and editing. The clip seems too short to tell us much.
Next comes an interview with film scholar Mick Broderick. In this 19-minute, 14-second segment, Broderick discusses Kubrick’s work as producer and other aspects of Kubrick’s filmmaking techniques, with an emphasis on Strangelove. Broderick delivers a fairly good set of notes, especially when he discusses deleted sequences/lines.
Another 2016 piece, an interview with cinematographer/camera innovator Joe Dunton and camera operator Kelvin Pike lasts 12 minutes, 13 seconds. As expected, they look at photographic issues, as they discuss shooting Strangelove and related topics. Some useful notes emerge, but too much of the chat devolves into praise/happy talk.
A interview with Stanley Kubrick Archive senior archivist Richard Daniels runs 14 minutes, 15 seconds. He tells us about the Archive and shows us/discusses some of its elements. Daniels delivers interesting insights about the Archive’s materials and how they represent the filmmaker.
With the next piece, we find an interview with novelist’s son David George. During the 10-minute, 57-second reel, Red Alert author Peter George’s kid chats about the source novel and its adaptation into Strangelove. Expect another pretty good discussion.
Look for another interview next – this time with film scholar Rodney Hill. This conversation runs 17 minutes, 25 seconds and covers the archetypes that appear in Strangelove and other Kubrick films. Hill gives us thoughtful background about the way these elements develop in the film.
In addition to two trailers, we locate a 1980 Today Show excerpt. The four-minute, 23-second clip features a chat between Gene Shalit and Peter Sellers, as the actor discusses Strangelove, differences among various audiences, and his “true” personality. The segment offers little concrete information, but it’s entertaining.
Finally, the package presents some paper materials. We find an essay from film scholar David Bromwich and a 1994 article with screenwriter Terry Southern. Both are good, and the set presents them in a clever manner, as it replicates a “top secret” memo for the Bromwich piece and a Playboy-style magazine for the Southern text.
Frankly, I don’t think that Dr. Strangelove deserves its reputation as a classic, but it can be funny and entertaining. While it falls short of Stanley Kubrick’s best work, it has its moments. The Blu-ray boasts strong picture quality with representative audio and a fairly informative collection of bonus materials. I doubt Strangelove will ever become one of my favorites, but I love the treatment it gets on this Criterion Blu-ray.
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