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Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection
USA 1953-1964
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Running time 352 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Madman has released a set of three Stanley Kubrick films as Blu-Ray Box Set, with all-new digital transfers with restored picture and new digital audio. The titles are

Fear And Desire (1953)
Although Kubrick retained a life-long interest in the folly of war pursuing it from Paths Of Glory to Full Metal Jacket, he quickly dropped the avant-gardist approach of this his debut feature, an anti-war allegory about four soldiers whose plane has crashed behind enemy lines in an unnamed country.  

On the one hand it is an interesting film with Kubrick who was producer, director, screenwriter, editor, and cinematographer using “alienating” techniques like splitting the sound from the visuals and using jump cut editing and non-naturalistic acting well before Godard made this kind of thing his own. This demonstrates an unusually adventurous and thoughtful creative spirit but on the other, like many sophomore works, it is virtually unwatchable, it being unclear at times if what we are seeing is intentionally estranging or simply clumsy, with the technique of the film overwhelming any possible emotional involvement and thus leaving it as an unduly dry and at times over-strained intellectual exercise.

It is little surprise that later in his career Kubrick attempted to suppress screenings of it. He needn’t have worried as only his die-hard fans are likely to get much out of it, and even they will be struggling.

DVD Extras: A short film, The Seafarer.

Spartacus (1960)
Producer Kirk Douglas was instrumental in getting blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to script and Stanley Kubrick to direct this sword-and-sandal 60s classic and the result is what was hailed on its release as the first intellectual epic since the silent era.

Although dated both technically and in some of the period stylistics, particularly in the massed scenes and a fondness for showing off the quaint exoticism of foreign races, Spartacus still holds up very well and in the carefully restored 70mm print is visually splendiferous.

Aside from Douglas's sterling lead performance as the idealistic champion of a people's right to self-determination, the film really shines in dealing with the backdrop of Roman decadence, both Laurence Olivier as Crassus and Charles Laughton as Gracchus are both outstanding in their togas. There's a romantic subplot (involving Jean Simmons) which, once again, suffers from the sentimentalities of the period and a less typical chaser in the portrayal of Crassus's bisexuality (the bath scene with Crassus and Antoninus which made this clear was cut from the original release). Peter Ustinov picked up an Oscar for his performance as an ingratiating slave trader.

DVD Extras: Deleted Scenes; Interviews with Jean Simmons and Peter Ustinov; Behind The Scenes footage; Vintage Newsreels; Concept Art; Costume Designs; Saul Bass storyboards; Production stills.

Dr Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Controversial in its day in the setting of the Cold War, as a ridiculing of military, machismo, paranoia and incompetence Dr Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb still works although its reputation has outstripped its inherent merits, which are nevertheless considerable. The script was adapted from a 1958 British novel, Red Alert by Peter George who is credited as a scriptwriter, along with Kubrick and Terry Southern, although the latter two are responsible for changing the original script which kept to the book's thriller format into a satirical comedy.

Peter Sellers plays three characters in one of his most creditable films. Also slotted to play the bomber captain Major "King" Kong , Sellers broke his leg and tired of Kubrick's exhausting working methods he withdrew, leaving the role to Slim Pickens who ended up with one of the most memorable scenes in modern cinematic history as result. There was also another ending shot involving a cream pie fight in the war room that was abandonded, partly because it didn't work and partly because President John Kennedy was assassinated shortly after filming was finished and it was felt that showing the filmic President (played by Sellers) getting a cream pie in the face would offend public sentiment (the film's release was delayed until 1964 in order to appease possible backlash).

Whilst as a satire the script sometimes, particularly thanks to Sellers, comes across as Ealing Studios material, Kubrick's meticulous direction and the wonderful performances by the American members of the cast, Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott and Keenan Wynn lift the film into a different, more acerbic league. It also benefits from being originally written as thriller, being surprisingly tightly-plotted and well-paced for a comedy as we inexorably approach the climatic moment.

DVD Extras: :The Cold War” picture-in-picture bonus view feature “Inside Dr Strangelove” documentary; “No Fighting in the War Room” documentary; Interview with Robert McNamara; “The Art of Stanley Kubrick” featurette; Interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott.

 

 

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