- Jul 8, 2001
Dr. Strangelove 40th Anniversary Edition
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 95 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Anamorphic
Audio: dts 5.1; mono
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Release date: November 2
:star: :star: :star: :star: :star: (all star ratings out of five)
Prescient in a way that few other films can claim, Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is as effective, funny and important as it was when it was released 40 years ago.
It stands as one of the towering achievements in the career of director Stanley Kubrick, who had a career full of towering achievements. For Kubrick it was a bit of an outlier, with its moments of slapstick, satire and outright parody.
Most of all, though, it speaks to the ever-imminent possibility of nuclear disaster, and the dubious ability of these or any men to preside over the seriousness of the weapons we’ve built. What could be more timely, then, now or for the foreseeable future?
I will not waste time describing the plot or content of the film in detail, as any serious movie lover is already intimately familiar with the film. I’ll just note a few less-obvious moments that I love, and noticed again in this latest, splendid release:
- George C. Scott, as General Buck Turgidson, has a line early on that is easy to miss in the hilarity of the rest of his performance. As the president, Peter Sellers wonders how a crazed general could’ve ordered an immense nuclear strike on Russia when only the President can make such decisions. Turgidson, packing another stick of chewing gum into his jaws, says that while he often likes to hold off judgment until all the facts are in, it appears General Ripper has exceeded his authority. His character’s bizarre obsession with reserving judgment is one of the funniest aspects of Scott’s brilliant performance.
-- Later, reading a communiqué from Ripper, Turgidson begins to trail off as he reaches the last lines, about the commie plot to sap and ‘impurify’ our fluids. When the war room collectively decides that he’s gone insane, Turgidson dissents, again unwilling to slander Ripper before “all the facts are in.”
-- When U.S. soldiers invade Ripper’s base in order to get the recall code for the bombers, Sellers, in his role as, Ripper’s reluctant sidekick Group Captain Mandrake is locked in Ripper’s office. When the bullets start flying, Mandrake watches in horror as Ripper stomps over to his golf bag, shakes out the irons and wedges, and pulls out a huge belt action machine gun. Perhaps this is the sort of evidence Turgidson was waiting for.
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This is a 40 year old film, and so a pristine, shimmering transfer is unlikely. Though print artifacts – dust blobs and such – are apparent at times (the opening credit sequence is a bit of a mess), this transfer seems to get the most out of the source.
Edit: Most if not all of the dust, scratches etc. are during the opening shots/credits (the planes, uh, doin' it). I'm not sure why this is the case, but I don't want to give the impression that it's a problem throughout.
Detail is good, and blacks are very solid. The only real issue here are the imperfections on the source, and for that the transfer cannot be faulted, and they seem to be contained primarily to exterior shots and a few others anyhow. Make no mistake – this is not an extraordinarily sharp or detailed transfer. But it’s extremely unlikely that this film will look a lot better unless a massive restoration and a transfer to some future High Definition format are involved. That said, I didn’t notice that it was far superior to the previous release of this title, which was also quite good. In fact, it might be the same transfer. I recall reading however that this is a new transfer, and if that’s the case then it’s likely that it has simply reached the limits of what can be accomplished on the DVD format.
:star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
One of the major new offerings on this disc is a 5.1 mix (actually 5.0) of the original mono soundtrack. While some oppose such updates, comparing it to colorization, pan and scan and other butcher jobs that have been passed-off as technological improvement, it’s hard for me to understand that position (besides, the original mono track is also included here).
The system by which a film’s audio is delivered does not, necessarily alter the content of the film. If it did, then digitizing the audio at all would be a questionable prospect, since films were not recorded digitally until relatively recently.
With that in mind, the new dts mix provided here is a success. It strength, however, means that it doesn’t draw attention to itself. Only occasionally are the surround channels engaged – on Major Kong’s bomber, the whole plane whirrs, for example – and even the left and right front channels are used primarily to reinforce the center channel. The LFE channel is not used at all, near as I could tell, and your subwoofer will only be active if your cutoffs are set quite high.
These are not criticisms. I got the sense throughout that this is the way the film is meant to sound, and dialogue is very clear, with set-appropriate effects like the slight echo in the cavernous war room.
No Fighting in the War Room Or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat is a new documentary exclusive to this disc. Through clips from the film and interviews with Roger Ebert, Bob Woodward, Spike Lee and Robert McNamara, the featurette describes and analyzes the political significance, ideology and intent. It’s a far more entertaining and insightful exercise than most such docs, mostly due to the authority and intelligence of those interviewed. I would’ve loved to see a feature commentary with any or all of these men. Ebert’s commentary on the Citizen Kane release a few years ago was fantastic, and a similar track here would’ve been welcome.
Inside: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is presented as a Frontline-esque documentary about the production of the film, from beginning to end. There are a great many details on the film’s production and interviews with key players. The narration is slightly irritating (“However there is nothing humorous about the real cold war.”). The doc chronicles Kubrick’s decision, relatively late in the process, to rewrite (with Terry Southern) and turn the film into a dark comedy; the complex set design (the war room); Peter Sellers’s extensive contributions to the film, including a large amount of improvisation; stills of the excised original ending; and a large amount of other minutiae.
Best Sellers Or: Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove analyzes the career and methods of the man who plays three key characters in the film. It would’ve been more had he been able to master the southern accent needed for Major Kong. The biographical documentary tracks his life and career, and his talent for playing multiple roles. A great deal of good old Sellers footage and photos are wedged in around the obvious and repetitive narration. This footage, and the fact that Sellers remains undervalued as a comedian even today, makes it well worth watching despite some shaky writing.
The art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove is not really specific to Strangelove, but is an adequate though somewhat shallow biographical sketch of the director and his career up to and including It’s plagued by nonsense narration like “above all … he was an artist.” It’s unclear who would learn anything from such a bland cliché, but some of the interview subjects fair better than the narrator. Some of the production details of Kubrick’s early works are interesting, though the documentary deals much more with the logistical and technical aspects of the films and ignores the unique psychology that binds all of Kubrick’s stories together.
An Interview with Robert McNamara reinforces Errol Morris’s status as the best documentarian working today. No, Morris didn’t have anything to do with this documentary, but it makes his brilliant Fog of War look all the more like a work of genius. Clearly, his technique brought the best out of his subject. This, despite McNamara’s unparalleled knowledge, is a bit of a slog, particularly if his views are already familiar.
Split Screen Interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott is promotional material from the film’s original release. It’s hard to make out what the two actors are saying into the telephone over which they’re being interviewed. More of a curiosity than anything else.
A booklet containing an essay by Roger Ebert and stills from the film is packed with the disc in an attractive slipcase. The essay features what must be a typo in the first sentence. Oops.
Filmographies; a Theatrical Advertising Gallery of the film’s posters; and previews are also included.
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Between the excellent transfer, solid new sound mix and great special features – notably the new, exclusive “No Fighting in the War Room” documentary – this is the release that this film deserves. Whether those already owning the previous release of this disc will want to add this to their collection is a more difficult question. I have not done a side by side comparison of the two transfers, and so can’t make direct comparisons. If you are unhappy with that transfer, it’s likely that this one will be some sort of improvement. I wouldn’t necessarily advise buying solely for the new 5.1 mix, though I enjoyed it far more than the original mono track included here. If you don’t own any editions of this film, though, this should be one of the easiest buys of the year.