The Doors

The Doors (1991)
Artisan Entertainment
Cast: Val Kilmer, Kyle MacLachlan, Meg Ryan, Kevin Dillon, Frank Whaley, Kathleen Quinlan
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary; “The Road to Excess

Fans of "The Doors, " Oliver Stone’s 1991 fantasia about the life of rock legend Jim Morrison and his influential music, will rejoice in Artisan Entertainment’s reissue of the title as a new Special Edition DVD. Aside from a pulsing 5.1 surround soundtrack, the new 2-disc set includes almost an hour of deleted scenes, a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Stone and the excellent, informative documentary "The Road to Excess," containing interviews with Stone, Val Kilmer, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon, Kathleen Quinlan as well as Doors band member Robby Krieger and Patricia Kennealy Morrison. Even as a detractor of the film, I found the supplements fascinating.

How can I best describe my issues with the film? In 1992, I had the chance to work with Ray Manzarek (he was doing interviews to promote a video release of "The Soft Parade."). Of course, attention about the film was still quite keen and he was asked to voice his feelings about the movie. In almost every instance, he would start his response by blowing a long vocal raspberry. Then he would invariably give the same answer: "[’The Doors’] is more about what Stone would do if he were a rock star than about the man I worked with and loved. The Morrison [depicted] in the film is loud, ugly and heartless." Bingo.

What should have been a celebration of the power of expanding consciousness and of the mystery of reaching into the soul with music becomes, in Stone’s hands, an ugly-looking, frenetic odyssey into self-immolation. The script (by Stone and J. Randal Johnson) takes great pains to set up how the Doors typified the cultural turbulence and social revolution of the 1960’s. All the bases are covered: the inception of the band, their battles with the establishment and each other and Morrison’s sad descent into alcoholism. Unfortunately, we continually see the seamier side of Morrison’s fame (promiscuity, artistic self-righteousness, his love of death) with the expectation that we are to admire him for it. Creation is an act of giving. As the film depicts him, Morrison was a selfish prick who happened to write fiery music when not getting blown in public or wallowing in his own emotional "mire." That Stone paints so unflattering a portrait and then holds up the distorted picture as a paradigm of artistic integrity, without a trace of irony, indeed says more about the biographer than the subject. Moreover, as Forrest Gump would say, "that’s all I have to say about that

As lensed by longtime Stone contributor Robert H. Richardson, the film is about as video unfriendly as it gets. With numerous scenes taking place inside smoke-filled nightclubs or darkly lit interiors panning to and from white-hot light sources, transferring the film to DVD would pummel the most experienced digital compressionist. What Artisan did achieve is somewhat of a "good news, bad news" proposition. On the plus side, the 2.35 non-<$16x9,anamorphic> image keeps hues bold and solid, especially difficult since in many scenes you have the "psychedelia" effect with colors and shadows obscuring the foreground object (actor, scenery, etc.). Now for the caveats: due to the diffused lighting, film grain is quite visible intermittently. There are instances of edge enhancement and <$pixelation,pixelation> occurs as well (check out the view outside the window at the start of Chapter 12). In well-lit scenes, details are vibrant, but stronger black levels and better contrast would have kept details from practically blotting out in the shadows. The source itself, unfortunately, displays some blemishes also. What looked great on the laserdisc just doesn’t cut it anymore on DVD.

The audio fares better. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 soundtrack is the disc’s trump card and doesn’t squander the opportunity. During the theatrical run, some venues presented the film in Cinema Digital Sound, a precursor of today’s digital sound formats. The sound mix (which is the only reason to see the movie in the first place) is full-blooded with excellent dynamic range. The surrounds are used aggressively, with songs like "Light My Fire" and "The End" filling each speaker with smooth highs and plenty of energy. (When it comes to film music and The Doors, I still consider the opening scene of "Apocalypse Now" the benchmark.) LFE enhancement is occasional but appropriate, getting its most vigorous workout during the "Carmina Burana" love scene (Chapter 19). Ten years ago, I actually thought that scene erotic. Today, it’s downright laughable.

The extras incorporate the supplements produced for the lavish (and expensive) Pioneer Special Edition laserdisc from a few years ago. Acting as centerpiece for both the laserdisc and this new DVD edition is a marvelous 45-minute documentary about the making of the film. Produced in 1997 by laserdisc special edition guru Charles Kiselyak, "The Road To Excess" isn’t your typical "fond look back" remembrance. Interviewing Stone as well as stars Kilmer, Frank Whaley ("Robby Krieger"), Kevin Dillon ("John Densmore") as well as the real Krieger and "witch" Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, Kiselyak chronicles the crazy circumstances that brought the film before the cameras and the seemingly contradictory aims of the filmmaker and the "witnesses." Stone talks about he discovered the music of The Doors in Vietnam, writing a script with Morrison in mind and sending it to him. Stone clearly is passionate about the material but also recognizes that he could not show the "real" Morrison, as even his contemporaries were filtering their recollections through his mythological status. Kennealy is the most vocal about her objections to the film, primarily how it depicts her. (One of Kennealy’s more telling comments is how the film completely avoids showing Morrison’s sense of humor.) The cover mistakenly indicates that Meg Ryan and Kyle MacLachlan are included in the documentary, but in fact are not.

Stone’s feature-length, scene-specific <$commentary,commentary track> will please some and frustrate others. For some scenes, he picks it apart mercilessly, identifying every motif and spelling out what they mean and how they fit in the film. Then he might explicate the most mundane aspect of a scene or just remain quiet. Many of his insights juxtapose the historical facts with the corresponding dramatization. For example, he admits he took liberties in the Ed Sullivan Show sequence, when Morrison went against the censor’s request and sang the lyric "higher" during their televised performance of "Light My Fire." (He won’t say how or what the reality was, though.) Where Stone loses my respect is when, rather than comment about the sexual politics of an explicit scene between Morrison and a groupie (Chapter 17), he cites an actress as having "luscious breasts." Sorry, Oliver, how about a little more professionalism?

The deleted scenes total 43 minutes and consist mainly of extensions. A filmed introduction by Stone at the beginning of the section provides a brief outline of all the deletions and the wrestling every director goes through about what to leave in and take out. With so much material, a few scenes could have remained but like most deleted scene supplements, it’s easy to see why most of them wound up on the cutting room floor.

A five-minute featurette made for the theatrical release is a traditional promotional reel, with the stars (including Ryan this time) as well as Kilmer and Stone saying the standard blah blah blah that’s designed to fill theater seats.

Both the theatrical teaser and the theatrical teaser are presented in non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>. Both look reasonably clean visually, but the two-channel stereo is no match for the 5.1 audio of the feature presentation.

The rest of the extras fall into the "text" category. Talent bios are provided, as well as production notes. An oddly named section, "Cinematographic Moments" offer some brief bites about the photography with observations by Stone and cinematographer Robert Richardson. The animated menus definitely keep in spirit of the film, with swirling icons and psychedelic typefaces.

If the film really speaks to you, then Artisan’s new DVD is worth it just for the extras. A better, <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer and perhaps the soundtrack in <$DTS,DTS> might have sweetened the pot. Then again, as we all know, just because a DVD looks great and sounds great, doesn’t mean the movie is great. Right?