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HTF HD-DVD Review: A Clockwork Orange (1 Viewer)

PatWahlquist

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A Clockwork Orange (HD-DVD)

Studio: Warner Home Video
Rated: R
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio:Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1; Dolby Digital Plus 5.1: English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English; Spanish; French; Chinese; Japanese; Korean; Portuguese
Time: 137 minutes
Disc Format: 2 SS HD-DVD’s
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 1971
Blu Ray Release Date: October 23, 2007


Stanley Kubrick made a slight left turn in his follow-up to 2001: A Space Odyssey by bringing us the story of a rowdy, violent group of “droogies” led by the amazing Malcolm McDowell’s Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Instead of ruminating on high minded and ethereal topics such as mans place in the universe, Kubrick continues his look at violence in our culture. Alex leads a quartet of lads through the cityscapes rolling and beating bums, raping women and doing home invasions. At the end of these long nights of pillage and plunder, the lads retreat to their favorite milk bar then home to bed. Alex pulls one job too many and he is arrested and sentenced to prison where he becomes the subject of a radical form of aversion therapy. Alex is strapped to a chair, eyes forced wide open, and shown a series of violent and sexual acts until he becomes sick by what he sees. Reprogrammed, Alex is the pride of the medical community and subsequently returned to society, fit as a fiddle. When he returns to his parent’s house, he finds he has been replaced by a nicer boy, and his droogies have become coppers. How will our humble narrator resolve his most troubled new existence?

A Clockwork Orange is one of the most difficult viewings I’ve ever had. While this wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, I always find its graphic violence and sexual sadism unnerving, at best. In today’s pictures, our violence is delivered under slick lighting with quick cuts that never really allows us to see it in the almost documentary style presented here. Kubrick uses long shots and handheld cameras to give us a new experience in violence that is still as disturbing now as it was in 1971. The story shifts for the back two thirds to Alex’s rehabilitation where Kubrick suggests what the doctors are doing to Alex may not be any better on a humanitarian level than the pain he invoked on his victims.

Regardless of your political views on the story, the picture is a showcase for Kubrick’s rapidly evolving talent. He highlights his actor’s cheekiness in their seemingly careless delivery of threat laced lines while blocking scenes in such a way as you aren’t sure who the victim is and who’s the aggressor. Malcolm McDowell (Kubrick’s only choice for the role) gave a star making performance with the meaty role of Alex making you think he enjoyed the role a little too much. It also stands out amongst its contemporaries as one of the pictures that were ushering in a new level of violence and realism to movies in the early ‘70’s, albeit with a slightly more psychological edge. All that being said, A Clockwork Orange is a must see picture that you won’t need any types of eye opening devices to keep your attention focused on the screen.


Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Toshiba HD-XA2 HD-DVD player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the 1080p/24 video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.

The picture is in VC-1, encoded at 1080p and it is framed at 1.66:1. This formatting was Kubrick’s preferred way to have the picture displayed. My last Kubrick picture review was 2001 so I was expecting a similar exceptional transfer. However, it is a good transfer, but nowhere near the quality of 2001. The print itself seems to suffer from some haziness which severely detracts from the overall sharpness and detail in the transfer. No matter how good the encoding and mastering could have been for this transfer, it does not improve on a mediocre print and it makes me wonder what the source elements themselves look like. One of the biggest annoyances I have with the picture is how much blooming there is around lights and windows and how this sends blue and red flaring into other objects. As I said, detail is fair, but nowhere near as good as it could have been, and the picture remains soft throughout. Colors are very good, however, with pleasing hues and good delineation. Black levels deep, but the dark scenes tend to show off the grain in the print. This, coupled with some video noise and artifacting, contributes to a merely satisfactory video presentation.


Audio:
I listened to the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track via the HDMI connection between the Toshiba HD- XA2 and the Denon 3808CI in direct mode, where no enhancements are made to the audio.

The feature contains a Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 track. For the most part, the movie has long speeches intermingled with classical themes and the soundtrack stays in the front channels. The surrounds are used infrequently for ambience, but they don’t contribute much to the overall audio experience. The music cues raise the volume a bit, and they come across as natural sounding and full. LFE effects were minimal with nothing sounding too boomy and just enough bass in the drums and strings. The soundtrack was clear and free of any hiss or distortion.


Bonus Material:
With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. For this release, the extras are in MPEG-2, 480p unless otherwise noted.


Feature Length Commentary with Malcolm McDowell and Film Historian Nick Redman: McDowell and Redman do a very thorough commentary, commenting on Kubrick as a director and a person, the actors and crew, and a lot on the story itself. This gives you a very well rounded view of the picture just like a good commentary should.

Channel 4 DocumentaryStill Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange (43:37): This is an excellent documentary that spends equal times on the book and the movie, and Kubrick as much as novelist Anthony Burgess. Numerous writers, critics and other artists comment on the story and its impact.

Great Bolshy Yarblockos!: Making A Clockwork Orange (28:15): Steven Spielberg, Peter Hyams, William Friedken, several Kubrick biographers and others comment on how the movie was made as well as the fact that it even got made. These are from the same set of interviews from the other Kubrick discs.

O Lucky Malcom! (86:05): In HD. This is a sit down interview with McDowell as he talks about his career, including, of course, A Clockwork Orange. It’s set up sort of like Inside the Actor’s Studio, but it features other interviews with him and others who have worked with him. He spends quite a bit of time on Kubrick and A Clockwork Orange. This piece goes into great detail about his career and McDowell is very fun to listen to when he casually throws off things like Kurosawa introducing him to Howard Hawks. Oh, to have such a career…

Theatrical Trailer: In HD.


Conclusions:
A classic in the Kubrick library makes its HD debut with less than stellar audio and video, but a decent set of extras.
 

Ronald Epstein

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Ronald Epstein
Happened to have watched this the other evening.
I agree that the source material is not pristine. This is
one of those films that I don't think gets a huge boost on
the high definition formats.

Nice review, Pat.
 

Paul_Scott

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I saw this at the theater in a midnight showing with my friends when I was about 16. It left me cold then and I never had any interest in revisiting it- even after developing a big appreciation for the rest of the Kubrick catalog in later years.
But I'm getting curious now to see it and see if 25 years have changed my perceptions at all.

As far as the PQ- who's the DP on the film? Is it the elements that are the problem or the shooting/lighting style?

Even given my previous apathy about it, I would be inclined to pick it up in HD if it ever went on sale (unless I see it first and still can't get in to it) if for no other reason than the HDM cases save space on the shelf.
And even if it is 'disappointing', I've yet to encounter any HDM that isn't still an upgrade over sd.
 

PatWahlquist

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I didn't say it wasn't an upgrade over SD, just that compared to 2001 it pales in comparison.

John Alcott shot it, and he also shot Kubrick's Barry Lyndon and The Shining and did additional photography on 2001. I agree it is a stylistic choice to have the whites blown out like that, but the blue and red ringing around these whites doesn't seem...right. I've never seen the picture theatrically, so I'm sure those who have will comment. Comparing ACO to 2001 I was expecting ACO to match 2001, but it did not, leaving me to believe the source print is not as good, or in as good of shape, as 2001. I have not seen the new HD disc of The Shining or the others to see how these all compare.
 

Vincent_P

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Thanks for the review, but I don't understand why you'd expect a medium budget film like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE that was filmed in standard 35mm to match the visual quality of a big-budget epic like 2001 that was filmed in 65mm. Beyond that, CLOCKWORK was shot with very small, light-weight cameras using often extreme wide-angle lenses so Kubrick could hand-operate the shots and was filmed almost entirely on real locations in an almost improvisational style, whereas 2001 was a precisely controlled, studio bound film. The two films share the same director but stylistically they're night-and-day and they're respective looks reinforce this.

Vincent
 

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