Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack
Extras: Interviews, Theatrical Trailer

Infamous director Stanley Kubrick’s last film, "Eyes Wide Shut" was surrounded by a lot of scandalous controversy when it first appeared in theaters. Not only had the director died only days before the film’s official first screening, Warner also insisted on an R-rating for the film, which required them to digitally alter certain scenes in the movie that contained explicit nudity.
The result caused mixed emotions among moviegoers and critics, and when the studio announced its plans to only release the R-rated version on home video and DVD also the wave of disappointment that accompanied it was ultimately overshadowing the announcement.

Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) is a successful physician who falls into a slight depression when his wife (Nicole Kidman) tells him about sexual fantasies she had with other men while he did not even show signs of jealousy.
To find redemption, he begins to exploit his own sexual fantasies and finds himself ensnared in a murder mystery. Trying to discover his own true feelings, his escapades eventually take him into the heart of a masqueraded orgy. But before he can enjoy the pleasures exposed to him, he learns that he is walking on dangerous grounds, almost destroying his marriage and his very own life.

After watching the movie on this DVD for the first time I can’t help but wonder what the whole fuss is about. It is not a very good movie to begin with – as a matter of fact I would rate it among Kubrick’s weakest works – and the supposedly scandalous digital botching of the movie is not nearly as obtrusive as many want you believe. During my first viewing of the film I was unable to spot the digitally inserted ’cover-up’ characters and even when I tried to specifically pinpoint the digitally altered scenes I had trouble finding them. Either way however, the fact that these scenes have been modified do not change anything about the film at all, leaving its intentions fully intact – only a little more suitable for prude American audiences. The indignation about these alterations ultimately turns out to be as superficial as the outcries we can here if a studio decides to cut a split second of gore from a horror movie. It doesn’t make a difference. In most cases the films in question don’t get any better or worse. While I agree that it would ultimately be most desirable for all parties to leave the director’s intentions untouched, but in a world that is dominated by box office successes and sell-through, I can easily say that certain conformities have to apply as well. A Hollywood major studio is simply not the place to take a film as daring as this. That’s what independent cinema is for – but I understand it doesn’t give you the same level of financial flexibility.

"Eyes Wide Shut" is what I would call a very artificial film. Nothing feels real, everything is stylized to its extreme, every bit of dialogue is exaggerated, every second of acting exposed to the degree that every movement appears almost ritualistic. I am sure it was Kubrick’s intention to create this sort of composed feel and atmosphere for his movie, but unfortunately it gives the film a very low entertainment value and makes it hard to swallow, despite the colorful, and beautifully framed imagery. The story is moving ever so slowly and doesn’t offer any surprises, giving the viewer the feeling of being as stoned as some of the film’s main characters. The result is a movie that dwells in artificiality like the most hard-core arthouse films, and completely loses its appeal for mainstream audiences.

Warner Home Video brings us "Eyes Wide Shut" in a <$PS,fullframe> presentation on this <$RSDL,dual-layer> DVD. Before you get upset about the lack of a <$PS,widescreen> presentation, let me tell you that according to Warner home Video, this is the correct aspect ratio the late director had anticipated for the movie’s video release. Although the film had been presented in a <$PS,letterboxed> format in theaters I suppose, for the video release, Kubrick had exposed the entire 1.37:1 negative format anticipating an <$OpenMatte,open matte> transfer for the film’s video and DVD release. The transfer itself is beautiful. With strong colors, an impressively high level of detail and good contrast, this film looks superb on this DVD, although some grain is evident in select shots. The blacks are deep and solid without losing any of the detail found in the shadows. The highlights are balanced without bleeding, always maintaining their warm qualities. Fleshtones are completely faithfully rendered, giving the movie a very warm, but natural look. The compression is without flaws and does not exhibit noticeable signs of <$pixelation,pixelation> or other compression artifacts.

"Eyes Wide Shut" contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track. It is a well-designed mix that creates a wide sound field with a wide frequency response. The low end comes into play in some of the movie’s climactic and tense scenes, giving it a good punch that intensifies their suspense. Dialogues are well-integrated and always understandable.
The movie contains a minimalist score the nicely complements the images on screen. Mostly consisting of a simple piano theme, the filmmakers decided to use orchestrated music only in a handful of scenes were their impact is enhanced enormously.

The disc contains about 30 minutes of interviews with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Steven Spielberg in which they share memories and anecdotes about encounters they had with Stanley Kubrick, as well as the movie’s theatrical trailer.

To me, "Eyes Wide Shut" was quite a disappointment. The film is dragging and its 160 minute running length could easily have been compressed into a regular 100 minutes without losing much. Every scenes is extended ad ultimo, no matter how irrelevant it actually is. This makes it hard for the film to stay focussed and to drive the plot forward. I understand however that many of Kubrick’s fans take this as the director’s unique and most appealing quality, as it makes his films less accessible to general audiences. With that in mind, "Eyes Wide Shut" is probably a great movie for Kubrick-fans, and this DVD brings out the best in the film, but for the rest of the DVD world, this movie is not nearly as exciting as it has been stylized to be.