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Artisan Home Entertainment presents

The Doors (1991)

"This is the strangest life I've ever known."- Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer)

Stars: Val Kilmer, Kathleen Quinlan, Meg Ryan
Other Stars: Michael Madsen
Director: Oliver Stone

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (adult language, drug content, sexual situations, nudity)
Run Time: 02h:14m:57s
Release Date: 2001-02-13
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+C+A- A+


DVD Review

Few directors can polarize an audience like Oliver Stone. Over the past 15 years, he has made several very controversial films, and all seem to elicit a "love it or hate it" response. I think JFK is brilliant, many are put off by the pseudo-history. Nixon is the same. I won't even comment on the inflammatory Natural Born Killers. Stone's 1991 biopic of rock legend Jim Morrison, The Doors, suffers much the same fate. Some think it is boring claptrap honoring a useless druggie; others see it as a brilliant deconstruction of a modern poet.

The film begins just before Morrison (Val Kilmer) meets up with future bandmates guitarist Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley), keyboardist Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan) and drummer John Densmore (Kevin Dillon) to form the group. We see Morrison's difficulty fitting in. His artistic student film is laughed off the screen and he leaves film school. From there we see the rapid rise and the eventual decline of the rock legends, as their music becomes a nationwide phenomenon. At the same time, the band members begin to experiment more and more with drugs, an element that both contributed to the artistic success of their music and tore the group down from the inside. The film culminates with Morrison's death at the age of 27, leaving questions unanswered and Doors fans without their rock messiah.

Oliver Stone's fingerprints are all over this film. It doesn't get quite as far out there as Natural Born Killers, but there are definitely a lot of innovative choices being made. Stone does an especially good job with the drug scenes, granting them an unearthly beauty and elegance. One choice that surprised me was the sheer amount of music in the film. There are 19 songs in all, and probably at least an hour of the film is made up of concert footage. At times, I almost felt like I was watching Gimmie Shelter. In fact, supposedly in the long shots of concert footage, Stone uses actual Doors performances and intercuts them with footage of Kilmer.

Speaking of Kilmer, this film could not exist without him. I know he has been in some bad films and he has a bad boy rep, but he inhabits Morrison so completely that he seems to be possessed by the singer. I have seen several Doors concert films and news footage as well, and the similarities are uncanny. Kilmer has transformed himself for this role. His mannerisms, vocal patterns, and reactions are all spot-on perfect to Morrison himself. His breakdown in the latter part of the film is so realistic, I felt like I was watching a documentary.

The supporting cast is good as well, but many characters are rather extraneous and could easily have been cut from the film... Kilmer is the overpowering star anyway. Especially good, however, is Kathleen Quinlan as a rock journalist with some twisted sadomasochist leanings. Quinlan is able to match Kilmer's portrayal and create a character almost as fascinating as Morrison.

I feel The Doors falls just short of true greatness. In the end, it feels bloated, weighed down by too much style and too little substance. The narrative essentially stops 45 minutes before the end of the film. The audience is then treated a nearly an hour of the same, and it isn't pleasant footage either. Morrison is drunk, Morrison is high, Morrison is rude and lashes out at fans. The intent, I'd imagine, is to illustrate just how much damage drugs have done to this brilliant musician, but in the end, it ends up a blaring assault on the audience. If these scenes were shortened, or perhaps done in a subtler manner, I would've enjoyed the film a lot more. In retrospect, the problems I had with this section of the film were the same problems I had throughout Sid and Nancy. A lot of sound and fury, but little real impact.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: When this SE was announced, it was rumored to have a new anamorphic transfer. Sadly, it contains the same transfer as the previous, non-anamorphic edition, which was itself struck from a laserdisc master. The lack of a new image is a big negative even for people like me, without a 16:9 TV, but the image here isn't what I would call terrible.

The biggest problem is that the image is very soft and hazy. Fine detail is sorely lacking, and there was a lot more digital noise (artifacting) than there should have been. On the other hand, colors are nicely saturated and black level is excellent. I noticed a bit of aliasing on my 4:3 setup, and a spot of edge enhancement here and there. The print used to make the transfer was pretty good, with some slight blemishes here and there and the slightest bit of film grain in brighter scenes. Overall, this is a generally OK image, but the lack of a new transfer will be inexcusable for some.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This mix is also directly from the previous disc, but luckily it fares better than the video. The front soundstage is very wide and features some very nice panning and directional effects, especially during some of the more trippy scenes. Dialogue is always clear and understandable, even during loud crowd scenes; they really did a nice job with the levels, especially considering the stylistic choices Oliver Stone made with some of the audio effects. Where the mix really kicks is the musical concert scenes. The surrounds really come alive here and create a totally enveloping experience (complete with thumping bass).

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 19 cues
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
14 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Oliver Stone
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:35m:37s

Extra Extras:
  1. Cinematographic Moments
Extras Review: At first glance there are a ton of extras in this two-disc set, but upon closer examination, what is here isn't as impressive as I'd hoped. Still, there are certainly some very nice extras here, and the fact that I am not totally happy with them just proves how far DVD has come in the past few years.

Disc 1 includes a commentary from Stone. I applaud him for being one of the few "big" directors who does commentary tracks, and entertaining ones at that. As usual, Stone is talkative and articulate throughout, giving us a close-up view of his working process and how he approaches his material. I must admit, I found my attention wandering here and there during this track, and it isn't as good as those on JFK and Wall Street, but it is still worth a listen. Disc 1 also includes a jump to a song feature that takes you right to 19 performances speckled throughout the film.

Disc 2 contains the bulk of the supplements. First up is a very nice 38-minute documentary that covers the production of the film. Featuring interviews with all the major stars (except Meg Ryan), and a lot of thought from Kilmer and Stone, it is a very interesting watch and a nice compliment to the commentary, with only a bit of repetition between the two. A short, promo-style featurette, produced in 1991, is also present, but not really worth your time after watching the documentary.

Also included are 14 deleted scenes, totaling 45-minutes, along with a short introduction from Stone. Most of the scenes were deleted for a reason, and I really had a lot of trouble getting through them, especially after watching the already overlong film. I'm sure completists will be happy to have them, but otherwise these only show you the importance of careful editing.

Rounding out the disc are the standard features: 2 trailers, cast and crew bios, and production notes. There is a menu selection entitled "Cinematographic Moments," which I was hoping was a featurette on composition or something, but it was just some brief production notes about framing an image.

Fans of the film should be happy with these features, but for more casual viewers, skip the deleted scenes - the documentary is the way to go.

Extras Grade: A+

Final Comments

The Doors is strong on style but a bit shaky on content. Oliver Stone is one of the best directors around, but he just doesn't seem to be able to reign himself in. Still, fans of Stone will undoubtedly enjoy this one, and it is worth a rent for even just casual fans of Jim Morrison. Kudos to Artisan on the supplements, but why wasn't there a new transfer struck for this so-called "special edition?"

Joel Cunningham 2001-02-25