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Warner Bros. Home Video presents

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

"You needn't take it any further, sir. You've proved to me that all this killing and ultra-violence is wrong, wrong, and terribly wrong! I've learned me lesson, sir. I've seen now what I've never seen before. I'm cured, praise God!"- Alex (Malcolm McDowell)

Stars: Malcolm McDowell
Other Stars: Patrick Magee
Director: Stanley Kubrick

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: R for (graphic violence and sexual activity, unsettling content)
Run Time: 02h:16m:36s
Release Date: 2001-06-12
Genre: drama

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


DVD Review

When Stanley Kubrick released 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, he changed the way people looked at movies. His visual sense, combined with beautiful classical music and an intelligent, thought-provoking story, marked Kubrick as a filmmaker without peer. And for his follow-up, 1971's A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick took everything he accomplished with 2001 and threw it out the window, making one of his very best films in the process. Based on Anthony Burgess' novel, Kubrick paints a portrait of the near future that is as dystopian as 1984, only much closer to reality than anything Orwell ever imagined.

The novel, A Clockwork Orange, is a powerful condemnation of British society, circa the mid-1960s. The book had its humorous moments, but overall it succeeded in driving its point home by creating a world that is different from our society, but just close enough to become a reality. Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is a satire of British culture, circa the early 1970s. In fact, it is arguably the most biting satire of English culture since Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. And, like the best satire, it stabs at the dark heart of modern society; a society so numbed to violence and sexual misconduct that we have movies like Tomb Raider, which is nothing but a scantily clad woman engaging in violence.

Clockwork's protagonist, Alex (Malcolm McDowell), is like the modern Tomb Raider audience member, taken about three steps further. He's no longer interested in watching simulated sex and violence; he wants the real thing. So he and his droogs (friends) do just that: they beat up old men, fight rival gangs, and engage in "surprise visits," which consist of talking their way into someone's house, then brutally beating and/or raping the occupants. After one such "visit", Alex gets into a fight with some of his droogs, and they hit him with a milk bottle, leaving him at the mercies of the police. After two years in jail, Alex manages to get himself enrolled in an experimental treatment that will kill his criminal instinct and get him released years before his sentence is over. I won't tell you what the treatment is or what it does; some things you just have to find out for yourself.

Burgess's A Clockwork Orange commented on modern society by creating a world only a few short steps away from our own. In the book, we have enough distance to view Alex's world objectively, but it's not hard for us to see how easily our own world is quickly becoming Alex's. Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is a bit farther removed from our own life, yet Kubrick makes up for it by staging some of the most upsetting scenes put on film. Violence, rape, and murder run rampant, forcing the viewer to pay attention. The film is easily misunderstood. When released in England, many youths thought the film was an incitement to violence, and copied many of its most graphic scenes, forcing Kubrick to pull the film from distribution there for almost 30 years. And Clockwork still has power today. Consider one of the most controversial pictures in recent years, David Fincher's Fight Club, also a comment on today's society; but its most horrible, gruesome scenes really do not begin to touch the power of the worst scenes in Clockwork. Only the fact that A Clockwork Orange has become a modern classic prevents right-wing and watchdog groups from attacking it.

But this isn't a great movie just because of its message and social relevance, although these qualities are enough to make it important. It is two things that make A Clockwork Orange a great movie: Stanley Kubrick, and his amazing pool of actors, most especially Malcolm McDowell, who gives a powerful performance—over-the-top, yet decidedly unpretentious or absurd. Despite the extreme nature of the performance, McDowell still imbues Alex with depth that stops the character from being one-dimensional. And his is not the only extravagant performance; indeed, it's the over-the-top acting that gives the film its satirical aspect. Michael Bates as Chief Guard Barnes is a one-man satire of the British jail system, and Aubrey Morris steals the show as Mr. Deltoid, Alex's corrective school supervisor. These achievements make A Clockwork Orange a joy to watch over and over again.

And yet, no matter how great the performances are, they are all overshadowed by the genius of Kubrick. Who can forget the opening sequence of the film, with the close-up of Alex's face, and the slow tracking shot across the Korova Milk Bar, all set to the threatening electronic music of Walter Carlos? Who cares if Andy Warhol did it first in Vinyl—Kubrick did it better. Or the tracking shot from the writer to his wife, and then the corresponding shot from the writer to Julian, later in the film? And look at the subtleties of the set design, such as the strange chair the wife of the writer is sitting in before she gets up to open the door, or the entire Korova Milk Bar set, complete with scale models of women whose breasts give out real milk. The way Kubrick uses the camera, the music, and the sets is a marvel to behold.

Of course, this interplay was also a marvel to behold in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So how is A Clockwork Orange different? Well, the fact is, Kubrick uses the same elements in both films (the classical music, the slow tracking shots, fish-eye lenses, and more), but in A Space Odyssey he was doing it for the first time. So now he has a chance to completely demolish what people thought made those elements work. For example, HAL's vision in 2001 is shown to us through a fish-eye lens. If you look closely, a slight fish-eye lens effect is used in the scene when Alex attacks the health farm woman with a penis sculpture. So, we go from the viewpoint of an advanced supercomputer to a man attacking a woman with a giant phallus. Also, the use of music is integral to both films. In 2001, the music was serious; compare this to the scene where Alex has sex with two women, sped up, set to a sped-up version of the William Tell Overture. It's obvious that Kubrick is poking fun at himself, which allowed him to break free from forever being "the guy who did 2001." After A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick could do anything. And he did.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Remember the first Kubrick Collection? Well, put that out of your mind as you pop in this brand new disc of A Clockwork Orange. This is the best I've seen the film look since, oh, I don't know...ever. This transfer is pristine. I can think of one speck of dirt in the whole thing, or at least one noticeable enough to stick in my memory. There is one problem with this transfer: it's not anamorphic. Despite what Leon Vitali says, it is possible to anamorphically enhance a 1.66:1 film without changing the image. It's called windowboxing. Now, we get letterboxing and windowboxing. Black bars on all four sides. Still, I'm so elated about how good the transfer looks that I'm willing to forgive the nonanamorphic nature of it.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: After hearing this film in stifling mono since its release in 1971, it's a relief to hear it in a 5.1 mix. While the rear surrounds are only used for music, the whole soundfield has been opened up. Now the soundtrack has the breathing space that the picture always had. And purists, don't you worry, this new mix was created using the original mono stems, so it's really the same old mix you know, only better. While a more aggressive sound mix would have been nice, this is certainly good and a huge improvement.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: Unknown

Extra Extras:
  1. List of awards the film has won
Extras Review: Stanley Kubrick was always a filmmaker who felt that his movies could speak for themselves. And he's right, they can. But that doesn't mean we can't have some sort of retrospective ("A Clockwork Orange—Still ticking after 30 years!"), or even a commentary by Malcolm McDowell, considering he has enough anecdotes to fill up the running time of the film twice over without ever discussing its themes. No, instead there is only a theatrical trailer and a list of awards the film has won. Well, at the least the movie looks and sounds good.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

A Clockwork Orange: Simply one of the best films ever to grace the screen. So what are you waiting for? Skvat your droogs, some firegolds, some pischa, and prepare for one hell of a ride!

Daniel Hirshleifer 2001-06-26