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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (40th Anniversary Special Edition) (1964)

"I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids." 
- Col. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: November 01, 2004

Stars: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott
Other Stars: Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, James Earl Jones
Director: Stanley Kubrick

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:34m:41s
Release Date: November 02, 2004
UPC: 043396026162
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+AA- A+

DVD Review

There's a sort of anarchy that's reigned over international geopolitics since the end of the Cold War—terrorism is an obvious threat of enormous proportions, but so are unstable dictators getting access to weapons of mass destruction, the stoking of the flames of ethnic hatreds (in the Middle East, in the former Soviet Union) that were to a great extent tamped down by the Cold War, and dangers of such magnitude that we cannot imagine or quantify them. So whatever else you can say about the Cold War, at least you knew where you stood, and if you weren't sure, there were plenty who could tell you: the U.S. wore the white hats, and them Russkies wore the black ones.

Dr. Strangelove is the blackest of all black comedies, recognizing the binary elements of the Cold War for what they were: twinned insanity, in a kind of craziness that would be mordantly funny at every second if it weren't so dangerous. I admit to popping in this DVD with no small amount of trepidation—of course I remembered the movie as hilarious, but would it still seem relevant, forty years out, or would it have become a vestige of a time that's long since passed, the feature-length knowing version of a duck-and-cover safety movie?

Stanley Kubrick and his collaborators had genius to spare on this project, and the awe-inspiring news is that Dr. Strangelove remains as sinister, hilarious and wicked as it ever did. (Here's a bonus fun fact about your reviewer: the first time I saw the movie was in college, because it was my girlfriend's favorite movie of all time. Fittingly enough, soon thereafter she started the interview process for a job with the Central Intelligence Agency, and I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect that her phone was tapped. I helpfully started leaving cryptic phone messages for her: "Hey. It's me. The dog is red." Click. No doubt there's a big fat file on me at Langley.) The world in many respects is an even more dangerous place today than it was when Kubrick made this movie, and the bluster, arrogance, overconfidence and dissembling of our politicians and generals seems to be a staple of leadership, not a non-recurring phenomenon confined to the years of a superpower standoff.

The set-up is straightforward enough, the stuff of pulpy novels and war games: one renegade American officer decides unilaterally to launch a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The movie plays it all for its absurdity, though, not for the deadly earnestness of the geopolitical dilemma; the officer in question is one Colonel Jack D. Ripper, played with brilliance and ferocity by Sterling Hayden, film veteran who did some of his best work in an earlier Kubrick picture, The Killing. The action is confined to three principal locations: Colonel Ripper's office; the War Room in the White House; the B-52 with orders to deliver the first blast. Peter Sellers, in one of the great comic turns in all of movies, plays three principal roles—he's all R.A.F. propriety as Mandrake, the British officer who is the first to realize that Ripper is mad as a march hare; he's an officious but not unreasonable President of the United States; and he's the title character, the brilliant emigré German nuclear physicist in the Edward Teller mode who provides counsel, both wise and unwise, to the president. Sellers and Kubrick previously worked together on Lolita, in which Sellers was the best and most Nabokovian thing in the movie; Kubrick got Sellers' genius, and knew how to deploy it to best advantage, especially here. Any one of these performances would mark Sellers as a comic legend; the fact that he does three is almost unthinkably brilliant.

Of course he's not alone in turning in great work—George C. Scott is kind of amazing himself, as General Buck Turgidson, the most hard-line of cold warriors. There's a decidedly simian quality to Scott's performance; Turgidson is a buffoon, doing pratfalls, pouting like a baby, cramming his craw full of sticks of chewing gum, in one of the most brilliant sendups of military officiousness you'll ever see. (To get a sense of Scott's range and talent, compare this performance with the one he gives in Patton, in which all the trappings of the military man are played in earnest.) Slim Pickens is pitch perfect as Major Kong, the B-52 commander; and though he doesn't have much screen time, Keenan Wynn is priceless as Bat Guano (if that really is his name), an American soldier sticking up for the economic interests of the Coca-Cola Company.

As some of the character names mentioned above suggest, Kubrick and his team frequently revel in potty humor—it's a comic movie that embraces jokes of every variety. (As the president, Sellers' character is named Merkin Muffley. Go to the dictionary, and look up the word "merkin." Isn't that lovely?) One of the principal jokes of the movie is the confluence of male sexual anxiety and the threat of thermonuclear war—the film opens with sexualized shots of B-52s refueling, and the whole plot is set in motion, apparently, by Colonel Ripper having a senior moment, with a stockpile of warheads on hand instead of Viagra. Kubrick and his co-writers find out just how far they can push things, and then push just a little bit farther; they're aided by an able production team, highlighted by the work of production designer Ken Adam, whose sets are as apocalyptic and brilliant as everything else here.

It's an enduring mark of Kubrick's genius that one of his great themes—the insanity of war—is so finely portrayed both for mordant laughs here, and for a sort of tragedy in a movie like Paths of Glory. Dr. Strangelove remains one of the great achievements of a perfectionist director; its style and content have frequently been imitated, but rarely equaled. 

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white photography looks magnificent in this very strong transfer; it's the best version of Strangelove on home video that I've yet seen, eclipsing the gold standard, which had been the Criterion laserdisc release. The age of the film brings with it some imperfections, but these small discolorations and scratches seem like a function of time, and not of this excellent transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The newly remixed 5.1 track is touted on the packaging of the set, and it sounds fine; but don’t discount the pleasures of the original mono track, which lacks dispersal, but sounds pretty clean nonetheless. You'll occasionally hear some hiss and ambient noise, but whichever audio option you go with, you'll be hearing all the right things loud and clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Bridge on the River Kwai, Fahrenheit 9/11, The China Syndrome, From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront
4 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet, with production photographs and an essay by Roger Ebert
  2. theatrical advertising gallery
Extras Review: This two-disc special edition improves upon the previous DVD release of the picture not just in its technical values, but also in adding some informative extras, all of which you'll find on the second DVD. (This set is billed as the 40th Anniversary Edition; though the film carries a 1963 copyright date, it wasn't released theatrically until January 1964, so we can give it a pass.) Ported over from the previous release is Inside Dr. Strangelove (46m:01s), which provides some valuable Cold War context; originally, Kubrick was going to make this in earnest and call it The Delicate Balance of Terror, but the comedy just kept worming its way in. Among those interviewed are the wife and son of Terry Southern, co-screenwriter; James Earl Jones, who made his screen debut as a member of Major Kong's crew; many members of the production team; and Sidney Lumet, director of Fail-Safe, which is essentially Dr. Strangelove without the comedy. Also from the previous release: The Art of Stanley Kubrick (13m:49s), an overview of the director's childhood and early career, up through Strangelove; and split-screen interviews (07m:16s) with Scott and Sellers from the set, designed for local TV affiliates, so that local reporters could be spliced in, giving the appearance of having exclusive phone chats with two of the movie's stars.

This set really shines with the new stuff, though. No Fighting in the War Room (30m:02s) provides a look at the politics and the filmmaking, and features interviews with Roger Ebert; Bob Woodward; James Earl Jones; producer James B. Harris; Spike Lee; and, most tantalizingly of all, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. The topic, principally, is the lunacy of deterrence, and how little more than dumb luck kept us from nuclear Armageddon; there's also a discussion of the famously excised pie sequence, in which the denizens of the War Room pelted one another with custard pies—even on the set, it was pretty clear, apparently, that this wouldn't make the final cut. Best Sellers (18m:26s) is the slightly clumsily titled look at Peter Sellers, providing the broad strokes of his biography, the impact of his early comedic efforts like The Goon Show, and his early attempt to play the role that Slim Pickens ultimately took over. This is full of fun details—Sellers used tabloid photographer Weegee as the vocal model for Dr. Strangelove—and features some of Sellers' friends and fans, including David Frost, Michael Palin, Richard Lester, and Shirley MacLaine. There's also some discussion of Being There, Sellers' dream project, but for some unexplained reason the movie is never mentioned by name, not even by MacLaine, Sellers' co-star.

You can sense McNamara trying to run out the clock in an interview (24m:24s); the production crew wants him to talk about Dr. Strangelove, but he clearly doesn’t, and so he offers some shopworn stories instead; it's not nearly as incisive (unsurprisingly) as the McNamara you'll find in The Fog of War. The theatrical advertising gallery features nine images from the original release; the accompanying essay by Roger Ebert celebrates all things Kubrick, and in Strangelove particularly, the work of George C. Scott; and filmographies are for Kubrick, Sellers, Scott, Hayden, Wynn, Pickens, and Jones.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

The perils of the Cold War is now largely the stuff of history, but Dr. Strangelove remains as relevant as ever, for we have no shortage of fatuous generals and self-important politicians, whose reckless and destructive military interventions are the stuff of comedy as long as you're not in the line of fire. This is one of the great anti-war films; certainly the greatest black comedy of all time; and one of the genuine masterpieces by a director whose place in the canon is measured by the supremely high quality and not the overwhelming quantity of his work. This two-disc set offers a great transfer and some solid extras; go out and grab yourself a copy before Bucky can say "Blast off!"


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