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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Stanley Kubrick
Cast:
Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Tracy Reed
Writing Credits:
Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George

Synopsis:
An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a war room full of politicians and generals frantically try to stop. MPAA:
Rated NR

DISC DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Uncompressed Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 6/28/2016

Bonus:
• 1966 Audio Interview with Stanley Kubrick
• Interview with Film Scholar Mick Broderick
• “The Art of Stanley Kubrick” Featurette
• Interview with Cinematographer Joe Dunton and Camera Operator Kelvin Pike
• “Inside Dr. Strangelove” Documentary
• Interview with Kubrick Archivist Richard Daniels
• Interview with Novelist’s Son David George
• “No Fighting in the War Room” Featurette
• “Best Sellers” Snippets
• Interview with Film Scholar Rodney Hill
• 1980 Today Show Segment
• Split-Screen Interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott
• Trailers
• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Dr. Strangelove: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1964)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 15, 2016)

With this Criterion release of 1964’s Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, I tried for the umpteenth time to genuinely like Stanley Kubrick’s famed black comedy. It didn’t work. While I think that Strangelove offers a fairly good movie, I don’t quite grasp the charms that cause it to be viewed as an all-time classic.

Strangelove tells a story of threatened nuclear annihilation, but it does so in a comedic way. The movie mainly takes place in three different locations.

On Burpelson Air Force Base, nutbag General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) oversteps his authority and puts “Plan R” into motion. That initiative will drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union, as delivered by a number of planes.

The second main location takes us on board one of these crafts. Headed by goofy Texan Major TJ “King” Kong (Slim Pickens), this crew feels determined to get drop their payload on the Russkies, no matter what the obstacles.

The final location goes to the heart of American power in a fictional “War Room”. There we find President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers), a mild-mannered sort who tries to work through this chaos with the “help” of hawkish General “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott). He also works with the titular Dr. Strangelove (Sellers again), a former Nazi scientist who discusses way to continue the human race after the bombs fall.

Strangelove alternates among the three settings. Back at Burpelson, Ripper’s RAF aide Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Sellers again again) tries to reason with him so he can acquire the code that will recall the bombers, while other US military forces try to take over the base to stop Ripper. On board the plane, we see the preparations of Kong’s crew, while in the War Room, the president and the others discuss their options and communicate with Soviet officials.

The scenes on the plane provide the least compelling of the bunch, at least until the film reaches its famous conclusion. Little of real interest happens between Kong and his men, although Pickens’ personality makes the segments more enjoyable. Nonetheless, these parts can get pretty dull, especially since Kubrick subjects us to far too many tedious shots of the plane as it flies past us.

The portions that take place at Burpelson seem much more interesting, largely due to Hayden’s gruff performance as Ripper. He spouts insane nonsense with the utmost conviction and barely lets on that the material is comic.

Sellers plays it pretty straight as Mandrake, the least interesting character of the three he portrays. Though Muffley also can seem dull, Sellers gets better lines to read as that role. Mandrake mainly exists to contrast against the other participants he encounters, such as inanely “by the book” Colonel “Bat” Guano (Keenan Wynn).

Most of the film’s best-regarded sequences take place in the War Room, where Muffley seems to be the only sane person involved. Turgidson comes across as a childish loon, while the good Doctor allows visions of a Fourth Reich to dance in his head. The Soviets offer little help, as Muffley endures comically pointless phone calls with their premier.

At its best, Strangelove can offer some amusing material. Most of the humor derives from the performers themselves; as I’ll explain, I found the source material to be pedantic and obvious.

However, the actors overcome these flaws with some strong results. Of the three roles played by Sellers, Strangelove is the only “showy” one, but the actor excels in all of them and displays what a chameleon he was. If you didn't know it was Sellers, I doubt you'd recognize that the same actor played all three roles.

While all of the acting in the picture is good, I have to admit that I enjoy George C. Scott's work most of all. Scott's not someone who's usually thought of as a comedic actor, so it's fun to see him let loose in that kind of role. He plays the part broadly but never goes too far; I can't say that he grounds the part in realism, but he manages to keep the character's excesses under control. Wynn is also excellent as the excessively serious Colonel Guano; he brings dry humor to lines that otherwise could fall flat.

I really think that the great acting is all that holds Strangelove together. Many applaud its “clever” take on the insanity of the arms race, but I think the movie lacks a great deal of incisive commentary.

The puns of the character names get old quickly, and the movie suffers from a preachy, smarmy tone that makes it less compelling. Kubrick repeatedly tells us that the competitive and combative paths followed by the Soviets and the Americans are stupid and suicidal. Okay - how about teaching us something we don’t know?

I recognize that these sorts of opinions may not have been widespread in the mid-1960s, and Strangelove earns points for its somewhat innovative approach to political satire, but some folks act as though Kubrick invented anti-war commentary. That just isn’t the case, as Fail-Safe took a very similar - though dramatic - view of the subject in the same year.

The lack of subtlety loses Strangelove some credit. Many seem to adore the oft-quoted line: “You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!” That’s supposed to show deft wit and insight about the stupidity of military institutions? Some shots at Burpelson compound these sentiments. In these combat takes place before signs that read “Peace is our profession” and similar sayings.

Some seem to regard these scenes as subtle and clever, but I think they feel excessively obvious. Good satire shows an understanding of its subject and lacks condescension, but with a couple of exceptions, Kubrick never treats his characters as much more than dimwits who never demonstrates a comprehension of the situations. As such, the film takes an absolute view of right and wrong that makes it seem simplistic.

Yes, a lot about politics is asinine, and the subject remains ripe for parody. However, I feel that Dr. Strangelove lacks the nuance and “feel” for the topic to qualify it as a great film.

Does the movie work? Yes, but mainly because of some highly-entertaining performances from the actors. Otherwise, too much of the movie comes across as smug and arrogant, so it feels much too self-congratulatory for my liking. The picture mocks its subjects but offers no better ideas of its own.


The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

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.

To rate this film visit the DVD Review of DR. STRANGELOVE

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main