Warner Home Video presents
A Clockwork Orange Special Edition HD-DVD (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
MPAA Rating: R for (graphic violence and sexual activity, unsettling content)
Run Time: 02h:16m:40s
Release Date: 2007-10-23
DVD ReviewThe DVD Review is by Daniel Hirshleifer.
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+
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The transfer on this disc is one of the better ones on this set of Kubricks, with no edge enhancement and only a minor softness that indicates some modest filtering. But the grain structure is still visible, without being sparkly or annoying. Color and texture are excellent, and the closeups in particular are striking. The reds of the paintings during the cat lady attack for once aren't too much for a home video system, and the engravings of Beethoven are seen in vivid and crisp clarity with plenty of detail. There's very little to complain about here, and in such a rendition, this powerful picture has even more impact than it has ordinarily.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
|English, French, Spanish||no|
Audio Transfer Review: While the dialogue is fairly unremarkable even under the best of conditions, the 5.1 DD+ does great justice to Walter/Wendy Carlos' synth score, particularly the great Turkish March from the Choral Symphony and the weirdly distorted Purcell composition Funeral Music for Queen Mary. There's excellent depth and presence to the music, and the live performance of The Thieving Magpie overture sounds gorgeous, which makes its contrast to viddying the old ultraviolence played out beneath it all the more startling. Annoyingly, playing the disc causes a bit of crackle just as the film starts that spoils the effect of the opening chord of the Purcell, unless you back up to the beginning to the chapter and start over.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Malcolm McDowell
Extras Review: While the prior releases of this DVD were disappointingly scant in the extras department, this HD DVD pulls out all the stops to provide a smorgasbord of first-rate bonus material. First off is a full-length commentary from McDowell himself, which is worth the price of admission right there. McDowell is quite the raconteur, and he has an endless stream of anecdotes, prompted along by film historian Nick Redman. And yes, he did end up scratching his corneas badly in the Ludovico Technique apparatus.
But that's by no means all. There's an entire second disc full of bonuses, headed up by the Channel Four documentary Still Tickin': The Return of Clockwork Orange (43m:37s). This focuses on the controversy regarding the film and its supposed glorification of violence, as well as Kubrick's suppression of it in Britain for decades. It also addresses the competing views on the nature of violence in art. Thoughtful and probing, it's also slyly humorous at times, especially when dealing with the BBFC and pontificating politicians not all that dissimilar from the Prime Minister depicted in the feature.
Great Bolshy Yarblockos! (28m:15s) is a making-of that suffers a bit from the lack of any on-set footage, but through talking heads we get a fair amount of background regarding the casting and Kubrick's 'novel' approach to shooting straight from the novel itself. The content is very good, but the presentation is somewhat annoying in that there is frequently annoying noise superimposed over the Carlos score, and at other times seemingly random bits of classical music having nothing to do with the movie are dropped in. More restraint would have made this more enjoyable.
The longest of the three documentaries (and the only one presented in HD) is O Lucky Malcolm (1h:26m:05s), a feature-length retrospective on McDowell's career produced and directed by Jan Harlan, with both comments gathered over the years and a recent interview with the actor filling in the blanks. There are also copious clips (though none from Caligula, unsurprisingly), making one yearn for the HD DVD of Time After Time. It's solid, rude, often outrageous, making it perfectly consistent with the turbulent actor himself.
If you're one of those who is unhappy about supplements being all too often provided without subtitles, you're in luck. The documentaries are subtitled not only in English, but French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, and of course, Swedish. On the other hand, this also means that the concluding copyright crawl lasts several minutes, since it also has to run through all these languages. Oddly enough, the documentary subtitle selection is only partially congruent with the nearly-as-long list of subtitles provided for the feature itself. The package is rounded out by the classic, frenetically-edited theatrical trailer, which alas is only in standard anamorphic widescreen.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsHD makes this picture even more powerful, to the point where it must have something of the original impact of seeing it on the big screen. The transfer is fine and the extras are both copious and marvelous. Although prior DVDs of this film have been a disappointment, this one's a first-rate keeper.
Mark Zimmer 2007-12-14