Fear and Desire 4K UHD Review

5 Stars Stanley Kubrick’s long-suppressed first film and early shorts get a first class release from Kino.
Fear and Desire Review screenshot

Fear and Desire is neither the embarrassing amateur artifact that its late director long claimed it to be, nor a Rosetta Stone-type artifact unlocking the mysteries of his career that his biggest fans hoped it might be. This is the release that Stanley Kubrick himself would have probably dreaded, but that longtime fans and scholars have always dreamed of.

Fear and Desire (1952)
Released: 01 Apr 1953
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 62 min
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Drama, Thriller, War
Cast: Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky
Writer(s): Howard Sackler
Plot: Four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines must confront their fears and desires.
IMDB rating: 5.3
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 10 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: Keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 02/27/2024
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 3/5

Fear and Desire is neither the embarrassing amateur artifact that its late director long claimed it to be, nor a Rosetta Stone-type artifact unlocking the mysteries of his career that his biggest fans hoped it might be. Beginning with a Rod Serling-esque opening narration that anticipates legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s career-long love of omniscient voiceovers, the film sees a young Kubrick experimenting with many of the stylistic techniques and tropes that would become mainstays of his career, albeit on a smaller scale that reflects more of then-contemporary European cinema than American. It’s essentially an above-average feature-length student film made by a self-taught amateur. Kubrick’s background as a photographer for Look magazine is in evidence throughout; every frame works as a still composition.

The plot for Fear and Desire is more abstract than a typical American film of this period, with its touches of poetry and existentialism more reflective of what European cinema was doing. As a New York City resident, Kubrick had access to a wider array of imported films than the average moviegoer of his time did, and it’s not hard to see the influence that style of filmmaking had on him. Seeing those films, he rightly felt that it was something he could try his hand at, and like the smartest filmmakers who have more limitations than advantages at their disposal, he constructs his story around what was available to him. In this case, that story involves a small group of soldiers trapped behind unnamed enemy lines in an imaginary war, trying to find their way home, slowly discovering that the toll that being a soldier has on their humanity. It evokes the kind of powerful filmmaking at hand in classics like All Quiet on the Western Front while hinting at the kind of technique that would make the European short An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge an artistic triumph nearly a decade later; Kubrick’s film isn’t up to the level of either of those works, but they all share a kindred spirit.

Though the film was shot without sync sound (a common practice for independent, low budget, and European cinema at the time), Kubrick is able to conceal this more often than not with a series of clever tricks. First, he opens the film with a dialogue heavy exchange where the dubbing is exceptionally well done, with well-recorded voices blended well with background noise to create the illusion that the sound was recorded with the action. Because this is immediately believable as production sound, the matter winds up being settled in the viewer’s mind, so when he spends the rest of the film shooting dialogue sequences where the lips of the person speaking are frequently out of frame, the technique doesn’t draw undo attention to itself. Former film school kids will notice this more than the average viewer.

Fear and Desire is at its best when Kubrick, wearing a variety of different hats including uncredited co-writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor, recognizes at that moment in time that photography was his greatest strength. When he trusts that and uses his editing in service of that imagery, the film is at its best. His inexperience is more apparent when he’s forced to use dialogue to drive home a point, and it’s clear that his focus is more on capturing the footage than massaging the performances, but to expect more is to miss what’s already present in his technique. The somewhat abstract nature of the film allows character motivations to come and go, seemingly out of nowhere; the script seems to know where it wants its characters to wind up, but doesn’t always know the best way to get them there.

Still, more than 70 years after its creation, to be able to view Fear and Desire at all is a minor miracle. Even more miraculous is that this new edition from Kino features what they are billing as a “premiere version” which adds about eight minutes to the film compared to the theatrical release version included in Kino’s prior Blu-ray edition from over a decade ago. (Even that, continuing to edit the film after its premiere, became a trademark of Kubrick’s long career: on later films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, Kubrick continued to make alterations to the films after they were already playing in theaters.) Questioning whether or not Fear and Desire stands on its own misses the point; a more interesting approach is watching the young photographer learning his new craft on the fly, pointing his camera out into the forest and coming out the other side as a filmmaker. Once Kubrick completed Fear and Desire, he never looked back, and our collective cinematic heritage is all the greater because someone barely out of childhood decided to pick up a movie camera and trusted himself to find his way.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

Fear and Desire is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Based on a new 4K restoration from several sources including the original camera negative, this presentation is accurate to what the film element itself contains. It’s a somewhat unusual type of presentation to grade, in that it’s comprised of cinematography from a young novice shooting his first movie, assembled by the same novice editing his first movie. Compared to a mainstream theatrical release of the time, one could reasonably say that it looks a little rough, with the occasional visible splice and other signs of this being a handmade endeavor. But with that said: this is Stanley Kubrick’s first film, the one where he essentially did it all by himself. Would we want someone to go in and digitally erase those splice marks and any other signs that this was a handcrafted endeavor made on a shoestring budget? Would we want someone to go in and adjust exposures to make more perfect matches, thus depriving us the chance to see a young artist learning his craft right in front of our eyes? I wouldn’t. Signs of age and wear are nonexistent; anything that looks less than pristine is inherent in the original production. This is a phenomenal presentation of the film as Kubrick made it.

Audio: 3.5/5

The original monaural audio is presented via the lossless DTS-HD MA codec, and sounds true to the original production. While there are no signs of age-related issues, original production decisions have been left intact, which means that the audio shows the limitations of Kubrick’s resources at the time, again showing a young filmmaker honing his skills. There are moments when the non-sync audio is, well, not in perfect sync, and moments where there’s no mistaking the handmade nature of the track. But with that said, dialogue is reasonably clear and mixed well with effects and music, and it’s never harsh or unpleasant to listen to. Kino made the correct decision in preserving the audio as it was rather than remaking it into something it never was.

Special Features: 5/5

Theatrical Version of Film – The 62-minute version of the film, which is the only version that had been available at repertory screenings, grey market bootlegs, and on Kino’s official 2012 Blu-ray, is included in the same high quality as the 70-minute “premiere version” that headlines the set. Both versions more or less have the same impact, but it is wonderful to have them both included in the same package. This is presented in full 4K on the UHD disc.

Audio Commentary by Film Historian Eddy Von Mueller (70 minute version) – An insightful look at the longer version of the film.

Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Screenwriter Gary Gerani (62 minute version) – An equally insightful look at the shorter version of the film.

Day of the Fight (1951, Short Film) – Kubrick’s first newsreel short is presented in the best quality I’ve ever seen it, and is included in 4K on the UHD disc. It has all of the charms of a vintage newsreel with early signs of Kubrick’s wry sense of humor, showing the first example of the director using voiceover to help craft a narrative. It involves identical twins, one who boxes while the other manages his career.

Flying Padre (1951, Short Film) – Kubrick’s second newsreel short is presented in the best quality I’ve ever seen it, and is included in 4K on the UHD disc. It’s a little more polished than the first short, taking a unique look at a New Mexico priest with a pilot license who flies from place to place as needed in his single prop plane.

The Seafarers (1953, Short Film) – Kubrick’s first color endeavor is an above average union trade film of its time. It is s presented in the best quality I’ve ever seen it, and is included in 4K on the UHD disc. It’s too long (about half an hour in total) to be entertaining on its own merits, and frankly wasn’t made for that purpose, but it gets the job done. It would be completely forgettable were it not for its director, but it was directed by Kubrick, so its inclusion here is a welcome one.

Trailers – The new restoration trailer for Fear and Desire is included along with vintage trailers for Kino’s other Kubrick releases, namely Killer’s Kiss, The Killing and Paths of Glory.

Blu-ray Version – The included Blu-ray disc includes all of the same content as the UHD disc, with very high quality 1080p presentations of the material.

All bonus features include optional English subtitles.

Overall: 5/5

Fear and Desire is the release that Stanley Kubrick himself would have probably dreaded, but that longtime fans and scholars have always dreamed of. Kubrick managed to keep everything he made before Killer’s Kiss more or less out of mainstream circulation throughout his lifetime, with these early works only appearing sporadically, often unannounced, at repertory festivals and in poor quality grey market VHS copies of copies. To have gone from those practically unwatchable copies where just finding one was a major achievement in and of itself, to being present here in something close to pristine 4K quality makes this an early contender for the catalog release of 2024. Although Kino is marketing the set as merely being Fear and Desire, they could have easily called it The Early Films of Stanley Kubrick. Between two cuts of Fear and Desire, two separate audio commentaries, and all of Kubrick’s early shorts, this release is both outstanding and definitive. While it frankly may not hold much entertainment value to someone who only knows of Kubrick as the guy who directed Full Metal Jacket, for fans of his career as well as film scholars, there’s no such thing as too much praise when it comes to the work Kino has done here.


Josh’s fate as a physical media enthusiast was probably sealed the moment he figured out how to operate a top-loading VCR before he even knew how to walk. Since graduating with a degree in film production, he has enjoyed a career focused on the archival and distribution side of film and television. These days, Josh thinks of himself as a proud father of twins first. He would like to thank his wife for her unwavering support, and for every typo she’s ever caught.

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