Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Madison Eginton, Jackie Sawiris, Sydney Pollack, Leslie Lowe, Todd Field
Arthur Schnitzler (novel, "Traumnovelle"), Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael
Cruise. Kidman. Kubrick.
Stanley Kubrick's daring last film is many things. It is a compelling psychosexual journey. A haunting dreamscape. A riveting tale of suspense. A major milestone in the careers of stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. And "a worthy final chapter to a great director's career" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times).
Cruise plays Dr. William Hartford, who plunges into an erotic foray that threatens his marriage - and may even ensnare him in a lurid murder mystery - after his wife's (Kidman) admission of sexual longings. As the story sweeps from doubt and fear to self-discovery and reconciliation, Kubrick orchestrates it with masterful flourishes. Graceful tracking shots, controlled pacing, rich colors, startling images: bravura traits that make Kubrick a filmmaker for the ages are here to keep everyone's eyes wide open.
$21.706 million on 2411 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 159 min.
Release Date: 6/12/2001
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Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 4, 2007)
When it hit theater screens in July 1999, Stanley Kubrickís Eyes Wide Shut raised quite a ruckus in many film-fan circles, though it did little with the general public. Much of the attention it received had little to do with the quality of the movie itself, which received a rather mixed reception. Instead, most of the film's publicity had to do with the infamous use of some "digital blocking" to obscure graphic footage that otherwise would have earned Shut an "NC-17" rating in the US.
What did this mean? Rather than cut sex scene in which characters do the nasty in front of a crowd, digital ďextrasĒ were created to block the juiciest parts of the action from the movie audience. Cries of "censorship" have flown all about ever since, especially after Warner Bros. announced that the original DVD release would feature the "R"-rated cut in the US; they indicated they wouldn't give us the unaltered version that can be found in much of the rest of the world.
I suppose it's a good thing that all this controversy existed, as otherwise hardly anyone would care about the movie at all. Shut opens up the theme of jealousy and how it affects relationships, but it does so in a rather absurd manner. The film starts out decently, as we see attractive married couple Bill and Alice Harford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) go to a party at which members of the opposite sex tempt them both. The two discuss these incidents as they smoke some pot prior to an apparently planned session of the old bingo-bango.
When Bill makes a statement about "how women are" - a treatise that discusses the reasons he thinks women donít screw around - Alice tells a tale that shows how wrong he is. After he hears the shocking news, Doctor Bill receives a call that a patient of his has died and he goes out to visit the family.
At this point, the film is not even one-fourth of the way done, but it's at this time that we essentially lose two things: 1) One of our stars, since Kidman barely appears in the remainder of the movie; and 2) A sensible, realistic storyline. Okay, the scenes that immediately follow Bill's departure make some sense, but he soon gets involved in a mysterious "sex club" that initially intrigues but later scares him.
It's this aspect of the plot - which occupies the majority of screen time - that brings down the film. These parts of Shut are simply absurd, with their depictions of this upscale orgy-house and all these costumed pervs. Granted, I greatly enjoyed the wonderful female nudity. Though those hoping for some full-frontal Nicole will be disappointed, we see plenty of druggie prostitute Mandy (Julienne "Potatoes" Davis); that woman has not a single scene in the film in which she's fully clothed! Not that I'm complaining, of course, but it's the most remarkable part of its sort since the poor woman who played the naked corpse in River's Edge.
Anyway, once Bill becomes involved with the costumed sex cult, the story goes off into fantasy almost entirely until it reaches its artificially happy ending. At best, the plot rips off The Game - another disappointing film - while at worst, it reminds me of a dirty episode of Scooby Doo.
Shut disappoints me, and I ultimately feel that itís a rather silly and pointless film, but I canít say that I actively dislike it. The film offers some sporadic pleasures, and I don't just mean the nudity - though I mainly mean the nudity. The film looks great, with some lovely production design and Kubrick's consistently elegant camerawork and lighting. While both Kidman and Cruise seem flat, a couple of the supporting actors are interesting; in a brief and very flamboyant turn as a hotel clerk, Alan Cumming provides one of the funniest parts of the movie.
Unfortunately, Shut simply drags on far too long to maintain any semblance of coherence or to remain stimulating in any ways other than through the cheap gratification of some beautiful nude women. When I first saw the film, it kept me mildly interested simply to see how it ended, a feeling I also had during The Game. Once the movie concluded and I saw that the Emperor had no clothes, however, both films seemed doubly disappointing.
When I started to review Kubrick DVDs, I definitely did not consider myself a fan of his work, and I guess I'm still not a big admirer of his films. However, I've found a lot to like about his material and I definitely have a great deal more respect for his artistry than previously. Unfortunately, Eyes Wide Shut marks a sad end to his remarkable career. It's a largely pointless, frequently silly film that ultimately drags on for far too long and offers little reward for the journey.
The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio B/ Bonus C-
Eyes Wide Shut appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Kubrick's apparent dislike for letterboxed movies on home video is quite well-known, and apparently Warner Bros. followed his wishes when they released Shut in just a fullframe edition. For the record, this is not a pan and scan transfer; Kubrick exposed the entire frame when he shot the film, so we actually see more than we witnessed in theaters. I think that's not a good thing, for reasons I will discuss later, but I suppose it remains acceptable.
In terms of the transfer itself, it presented a mixed bag. Sharpness was usually good, but some concerns interfered. I noticed moderate edge enhancement through the film. Those haloes caused distractions and also meant the movie could be softer than expected. Definition mostly seemed positive, but I noticed more softness than Iíd like. Intermittent examples of jagged edges and shimmering occurred, but source flaws were minor. I saw a speckle or two during the film, but very few concerns were seen. Grain usually displayed no problems. At times, I could detect modest levels of this issue, but these incidents largely seemed restricted to very low-light scenes, and they werenít terribly strong.
Shut maintained a pretty subdued palette overall. Warm, earthy tones dominated, while some more lush hues appeared via the frequent Christmas trees and a few of the costumes, some of which displayed rich burgundy tones. The colors seemed good for the most part, but they could become somewhat dense and heavy. Black levels were also a bit too dark, and shadows tended to be somewhat murky. None of these issues distracted enough to knock my grade below a ďCĒ, but this remained a lackluster transfer.
As for the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, it was more successful, though not terribly ambitious. When I saw the movie theatrically, I wasn't sure what to expect from the sound; after all, most of Kubrick's films - including his most recent pre-Shut effort, 1987's Full Metal Jacket - offered only monaural soundtracks. (Many of these have been remixed for 5.1 on the recent DVD releases.) Surely even Kubrick wouldn't release a $65 million dollar film in 1999 with only mono audio?
I didn't check up on the sound before I saw Shut, but as I watched it, I was able to tell that it was at least stereo. Did it offer surround imagery as well? I couldn't tell; there might be some rear action - no, I don't mean the sex scenes! - but it didn't seem evident during that screening.
Well, here comes the DVD, and it indeed boasts 5.1 sound, only the second Kubrick movie to do so theatrically; 2001: A Space Odyssey also had a 6-track mix originally. While not terrifically engulfing, the soundfield seemed adequate and it added to the experience. As I figured during my theatrical experience, it was a very forward-oriented track. In fact, I often wondered if any audio came from the surrounds at all. Yes, there was some sound coming from the rears, but it tended to be strongly ambient in nature; essentially I just heard some very gentle sound effects and some music from the surrounds. The stereo mix for the front speakers was actually quite good, and it spread out the image broadly enough to make the lack of active surrounds much more acceptable.
Audio quality seemed consistently strong. Although much of the dialogue appeared to have been dubbed, the lines remained clear, natural and easily intelligible with no signs of edginess. The music sounded very smooth and natural, and some of the cues provided great depth and vivacity. For example, when Chris Isaakís ďBaby Did a Bad Bad ThingĒ briefly played, the bass response appeared terrific, and the song really took over my room. The filmís atmospheric piano elements also were crisp and appropriately bright. Effects were realistic and free of distortion. Granted, this wasn't a demanding mix, but it still got the job done with good sound and a reasonably effective audio environment.
Although we don't get a whole lot of supplements on the Shut DVD, compared to most of the other Kubrick releases, this one's packed! Of greatest significance are three separate interviews about Kubrick and Shut that were conducted with actors Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and director Steven Spielberg. All told, these pieces last for about 35 minutes and 20 seconds.
Spielberg's interview is definitely the most interesting of the lot. He discusses the reasons why he finds Kubrick's films to be so important and also talks about their personal relationship; he even reveals that he didn't initially like The Shining and he discusses why he didnít care for it. Most ironic, however, is Spielberg's enthusiastic discussion of how masterfully Kubrick framed his films, since so many of them - Shut included - lose that framing in their home video incarnations. That's my main argument against fullframe versions such as this; even if they lose no information, the director's original intent disappears. As Spielberg illustrates, films are framed as they are for a reason; why Kubrick ignored that for the home video audience makes no sense to me.
Anyway, I liked Spielberg's eight-minute and five-second clip quite a lot but I felt less enthusiastic about the programs with the actors. Kidmanís 18 and a half minute section is decent but not great. She talks a lot about the movie and her own role but spends the least amount of time discussing Kubrick himself, a surprising fact since her interview is so much longer than the others. Maybe it just seemed like she talked less about Kubrick than did the other two since that part of the clip takes up relatively less time. In any case, her comments reveal some fairly interesting information about the film but aren't tremendously fascinating.
I definitely found Cruise's section to be the least useful of the bunch. Kidman comes across as slightly sycophantic in her interview, but Cruise is way over the top in his unrestricted adoration of Kubrick. During his eight minutes and 45 seconds, all he does is tell us what a genius the guy was, but he does so without illustrating his reasons for believing this.
In addition, some of the usual DVD standbys appear on Shut. We get the filmís theatrical trailer plus two television ads. The DVD also features some decent biographies for Kidman, Kubrick, Cruise and director Sydney Pollack, who appears in a minor role. It's not an extensive selection of extras, but it's acceptable.
Eyes Wide Shut finished out Kubrick's career on a relatively low note. No, it's not his worst film, but it's much closer to the bottom than it is to the top. Still, I suppose the fact it was made by Kubrick makes it something of a "must see" for film buffs. This is a lackluster DVD, though. Audio quality is good, but the picture seems lackluster, and the extras donít add a ton. Itís a rental at best.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of EYES WIDE SHUT