Length: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p
Languages: English, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Dutch, French
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. – Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper
Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here - this is the War Room! – President Merkin Muffley
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is one of the great black comedies of the twentieth century and has been given a first-rate Blu-ray release by Sony. Brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film features a tour-de-force performance by Peter Sellers in three roles: as President of the United States, as Royal Air Force Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and as the title character, Dr. Strangelove, United States Director of Weapons Research and Development. Sellers is ably supported by George C. Scott as General “Buck” Turgidson, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Sterling Hayden as Brigadier General Ripper. Others who shine in supporting roles are Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn and James Earl Jones.
Dr. Strangelove is based upon a relatively obscure novel, “Red Alert.” The book, which was published in the United States in 1958, was written by Peter George, a Royal Air Force officer and proponent of nuclear disarmament. Because of his position with the R.A.F., George published his novel under a pseudonym, “Peter Bryant.” The book was issued by Ace Books in the U.S. but garnered little attention until the publication of “Fail-Safe” by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler in 1962. The latter novel was sufficiently similar to “Red Alert” that Peter George filed a plagiarism lawsuit, which led to an out-of-court settlement. The ensuing publicity led Ace Books to re-issue “Red Alert” in 1962. The new edition touted the book as “the original novel about America’s Fail-Safe system and the day of H-bomber retribution.” Kubrick obtained the film rights to the novel for $3500, and part of the deal included hiring Peter George to co-write the screenplay with Kubrick.
The novel is actually quite serious. The commanding officer of an Air Force base in Texas is in poor health and about to be “kicked upstairs” to a desk job in the Pentagon. With only a few more days in a command position, he decides to launch an unprovoked, pre-emptive nuclear attack upon the Soviet Union. Taking advantage of a loophole in the Pentagon’s “fail safe” system, the general is able to order the attack on his own authority. Unable to recall the planes, the U.S. government is faced with a dilemma. Should the Soviets be warned about the planes, or should a full-scale attack be launched to cripple their ability to retaliate? Kubrick, who understood the essential insanity of nuclear war, began to develop the project as a serious drama but then decided to turn it into a satirical, dark comedy and brought Terry Southern on board to work on the script.
General Ripper, the commanding officer of a Strategic Air Command base, clearly is deranged. Obsessed by the threat of Communism and the fluoridation of drinking water, Ripper decides that he is going to take out the Soviets before they can attack America. He tells his befuddled executive officer, Group Captain Mandrake, that the Soviets have launched an attack on the United States and that he has been ordered to retaliate under Wing Attack Plan R. This plan gives local SAC commanders the authority to order retaliatory strikes when the President and the Joint Chiefs have become incapacitated. Of course, no such Soviet attack has taken place, and no one is incapacitated, but General Ripper manages to issue the orders and shut down communication with Washington before any of his men can discover the truth. Within Ripper’s command only Mandrake is able to deduce what has really taken place.
Sterling Hayden, as General Ripper, has some of the film’s funniest lines, and the humor of those lines is enhanced by the intense and sincere manner in which he delivers them. While explaining his theories on the need to maintain the purity of bodily fluids, Ripper tells Mandrake “I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence. Women sense my power, and they seek the life essence.” Mayhem breaks out on the Air Force base, the battle scenes punctuated by signs bearing the ironic slogan “Peace is Our Profession.” Peter Sellers is superb, and his portrayal of Dr. Strangelove is one of the funniest things ever seen on the silver screen. George C. Scott is excellent as the blustery and tactless General Turgidson.
Dr. Strangelove is clearly a product of its time, when people were building air raid shelters in their yards and “duck and cover” drills were still being held in schools. Indeed, nuclear war may have been narrowly averted during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The nuclear threat may not be as grave today, but the film holds up extremely well. As recent news developments have shown, we still have crackpots like General Ripper running around. Fans of Dr. Strangelove will certainly want to own this Blu-ray release. For those of you who have never seen it, there is no better time than now.
The 1.66:1 1080p transfer is superb. There is little that I can add to the very positive comments made by Robert Harris: “…the results are as close to Mr. Kubrick's original intent as humanly and technologically possible. Gorgeous black & white, with a clean, dirt-free, stable image, and every bit of original resolution as captured by the protection elements…Dr. Strangelove on Blu-ray is the most perfect version of the film that one will see.” What more do you need to know? At 1.66:1 you will see narrow black bands on the side of the image. The shots of the B-52 Stratofortress in flight are remarkable, particularly so considering the age of the film. This Blu-ray disc is a remarkable achievement.
The Blu-ray disc offers both a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and the original mono soundtrack. Purists will probably prefer the mono soundtrack, and in fact it is stronger than the TrueHD soundtrack when both are played at the same volume. However, the TrueHD soundtrack provides greater dimensionality during the combat and flight scenes. Ultimately both are perfectly acceptable, exhibiting no distortion or noise. Personal preference will dictate which soundtrack you will prefer.
The Blu-ray release of Dr. Strangelove contains only one exclusive supplement, a picture-in–picture and pop-up trivia track which can be activated during the feature. It includes some interesting data about the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program, the United States military, and various bits of trivia about the film. Also included are comments from defense experts such as Richard Clarke and Daniel Ellsberg.
The remaining supplements have been carried over from the standard-definition Special Edition which was released in 2004:
“No Fighting in the War Room or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat” is a worthwhile 30-minute featurette which places the film into historical context. It includes comments by Roger Ebert, Spike Lee, Bob Woodward, former defense secretary Robert McNamara, and Stanley Kubrick’s partner James Harris.
“Inside Dr. Strangelove” is a 46-minute “making of” featurette which includes some interesting insights. We learn that the character of General Turgidson is loosely based upon Curtis LeMay, a controversial Air Force general who held some rather extreme views on foreign policy. Kubrick earned the respect of George C. Scott by thoroughly whipping the actor in a game of chess while on the set.
“Best Sellers” is an 18-minute featurette about Peter Sellers. It includes observations by Roger Ebert, Richard Lester, Michael Palin, Shirley MacLaine, James Earl Jones, David Frost, and others. It incorporates early film clips and bits of Sellers’ home movies.
“The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove” traces the life and career of the director. Running about 14 minutes, it includes a Kubrick filmography.
Also included is an interview with Robert McNamara and split screen interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott. There are also previews for the Blu-ray discs of Ghostbusters, The DaVinci Code, So I Married an Axe Murderer and Men in Black.
Bound into the Blu-ray case is a 36-page booklet which contains information about Kubrick and the principal actors. Of particular interest is a section on the pie fight scene which was cut by Kubrick and has never been seen. The footage apparently has been lost, but several pages of script give an indication of what it must look like.
The Final Analysis
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a true film classic. This Blu-ray edition is the definitive release, and comes with the highest possible recommendation.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: June 16, 2009