Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon (1975)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Krüger
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Awards List

In June 1999, ’Barry Lyndon’ appeared on DVD as part of the Stanley Kubrick Collection box set released to celebrate the life and work of the acclaimed director who passed away on March 7th of that same year. At the time, fans were assured that these less often than appealing discs were approved by the Kubrick estate and that they represented the best possible quality given the materials at hand. Yet here we are not two years later and the New Stanley Kubrick Collection is being re-released featuring all new video and audio mixes for most of the included films. But never fear, these DVDs are the absolute final word on the matter and fans shouldn’t expect to have to buy these discs again anytime soon. Yeah, sure!

Featured in this collection is a brand spanking new release of 1975’s ’Barry Lyndon.’ Featuring Ryan O’Neal in the starring role, the movie is based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic novel ’The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon.’ The story concerns one Redmond Barry, a roguish Irishman who sets out to create a new life for himself in England. Dedicated to making his name and fortune, he passes himself off as a soldier, gambler, and gentleman and marries a wealthy widow — assuming both her surname of Lyndon and her vast estate. But a meteoric rise to the top is almost always met with a similarly rapid decline and the vapid, vain Barry Lyndon is sure to get his in the end.

Sounds simple enough but this three-hour film is anything but easy. A satire of 18th century, as well as contemporary, society, ’Barry Lyndon’ is the story of a rogue who wants to be considered a better man only to find to his dismay that the so-called upper crust are in fact more accomplished crooks and liars than he could ever hope to be.

Stanley Kubrick’s wonderful adapted screenplay really comes to life through the Academy Award-winning cinematography of John Alcott. Every detail from costumes to period dialogue and music are accurate and lend an air of authenticity to the story. ’Barry Lyndon’ is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the director’s best-known films but it is a masterpiece in its own right and acts as a reminder of the great range in subject matter that Stanley Kubrick tackled in his lifetime of work.

’Barry Lyndon’ is presented in non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. And here we hit upon one of those perplexing decisions that seem to plague Kubrick’s work on DVD. Warner Brothers has stated that they will not <$16x9,anamorphic>ally enhance 1.66:1 material as they don’t want to introduce the narrow windowboxes on the sides of the screen image that such action would require. But in reality they are sacrificing lines of vertical resolution and making it difficult for owners of <$PS,widescreen> sets to fully enjoy the video transfer all because they’re worried about narrow black bands that the vast majority of users will never see anyhow due to the overscan of their standard 4:3 television sets. I have my overscan set at 5% and I never notice the windowboxing on my display. It’s shortsighted decisions like these that drive fans nuts.

That being said, ’Barry Lyndon’ looks superb on this release — especially when compared to the awful transfer of the earlier DVD. The image is nice and sharp for the most part although an intentionally soft focus is used fairly frequently. Colors are very solid and accurate as well and lend great depth to the image. Black level and contrast are fairly good too with even the darkest scenes exhibiting fine detail. The DVD transfer is also mercifully free of edge enhancement and compression artifacts. For as visually-stunning a film as ’Barry Lyndon’ a meticulous transfer is a must and this one is quite good although the lack of <$16x9,anamorphic> enhancement is bothersome.

Also new to this second release is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 soundtrack. This is a very balanced mix that doesn’t try to do too much with the original materials. The front soundstage is predominant with dialogue firmly anchored to the center and the lush score spreading across the left and right speakers. Surrounds are used for the occasional ambient effect and musical piece. Dynamic range is understandably limited for a film of this age so LFE activity is pretty much non-existent depending on your hardware setup. Still, fidelity is pretty good and this new <$5.1,5.1 mix> helps to open up the sound a bit.

The only extras on the disc are a trailer and a list of the many awards the film won.

The video and audio quality of this release are quite good and easily improve on the first ’Barry Lyndon’ disc which was flat out awful. Fans of the film who already own the first release will certainly want to upgrade while those who have yet to experience this fine film should at least give it a rental and then decide for themselves if they want to risk buying the latest ’Definitive, Absolute Final Word’ DVD or wait around for a subsequent release. Maybe the third go around will include an <$16x9,anamorphic> image and a few insightful bonus features. One can always hope.