Clockwork Orange

Clockwork Orange (1971)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

The Kubrick stare: head down, eyes up, unblinking, penetrating, oddly humorous and altogether frightening, the gesture is one of many traits that appear in several of the late great director’s films. HAL arguably started it, Vincent D’Onofrio made it suicidal in "Full Metal Jacket," and Nicole Kidman made it beautifully distant in "Eyes Wide Shut." Yet, the look is familiar to most through the eyes of Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." One needs to look no further than the opening shot of the film to witness its power. A simple, yet wonderfully composed, shot that sets the tone of the film and emphatically introduces us to young Alex (McDowell), his loyal Droogs, and the ultra-violence that is soon to occur. One shot and we know what this film is about. One shot and we know that this is Kubrick.

Based upon Anthony Burgess’ novel, "A Clockwork Orange" tells the story of Alex, his glee in inflicting pain upon the helpless, and the tribulations of his government-imposed reform. Ultimately about authority, the film delves into the topic of rehabilitation, questioning how society deals with the monsters it supposedly creates. At times dramatic without being sappy or preachy, perhaps the most amazing aspect of "A Clockwork Orange" is how funny it manages to be. Alex as our narrator, is overflowing with a semi-cockney slang full of words and phrases you’ve never heard before yet somehow sound familiar and perfectly appropriate. With characters ranging from Alex’s gang, drunken homeless, weightlifting assistants and mother’s with pink hair, this is surely Kubrick’s quirkiest film. Beautifully shot, performed, and edited to a soundtrack full of synthesized Beethoven, "A Clockwork Orange" is undeniably a classic.

If you, like myself, avoided the initial release of the Kubrick Collection like you’d avoid the plague and have only seen this film on your worn out full screen videotape then this new DVD is a 5 inch miracle. I can honestly say this is one of the only experiences I’ve had where I’ve felt as if I were watching a familiar movie for the very first time. Presented in non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> (1.66:1), as intended by the director, the image immediately jumps out at you with the bright orange screen and extremely sharp titles. When that slow opening shot of Alex appears it looks gorgeous with colors and black level dead on. One of the first things you’ll notice is just how much lipstick Dim and the other Droogs have on. I had no idea and I’ve seen this thing at least a dozen times! Another visual standout is the interrogation scene that immediately follows Alex’s arrest. The picture is gloriously bright and the detail very crisp. The texture of Alex’s hair looks so good you can almost smell the unwashed grease in it. No signs of artifacts or edge enhancement, the print is also in terrific shape and free of blemishes. While much has been made about the aspect ratio and lack of an <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer, the fact remains that this may be the best visual offering we’re going to get for this film. You’ll notice some grain here and there and if you’ve got a <$PS,widescreen> TV you might be a tad sour (though you really shouldn’t be, because hey – you’ve got a <$PS,widescreen> TV!), but there really is little else that will disappoint.

Sound has also been kicked up a notch and given the Digital surround 5.1 treatment. While purists might lament the absence of a track as it was originally recorded (and it would make for an interesting comparison), the film surprisingly lends itself quite well to the format. Of course, this isn’t an action movie but we do have one of the best soundtracks of all time here, updated with some decent bass in the .LFE channel and nice fullness in the surrounds. Dialogue, however, is the major sound vehicle here and the heavy narration is presented clearly and mixed very well. Plenty of older films mixed for 5.1 seem to leave the dialogue overwhelmed when the other channels kick in, but the balance here is very good. The track may sound a little thin, but it’s still pretty impressive for it’s age. Also, note the scene where Alex is a victim of revenge and tortured by the blasting of Beethoven’s 9th. The music is being played from speakers on the floor beneath the room that Alex is in, and here for the first time it actually sounds like it. The distance effect is well created and is a nice use of surround.

Sadly, all we get for special features is a theatrical trailer, albeit a pretty cool one, and a summary of the awards and nominations the film garnered. Of course, this is all following Kubrick’s desires, and who am I to say likewise? If any film can stand alone as a bare bones disc worth owning, then this is absolutely it. But, it’s hard not to wonder how cool a full-fledged special edition would be. Reviews, articles, posters, bios, anything would be nice. Alas, that’s not the case and I am grateful for this disc nonetheless. It comes close to fulfilling a fan’s wishlist and it’s easy to live with the imperfections that still exist. Naturally, no one will be surprised if Warner’s releases yet another version of these Kubrick films, but until that day there is very little that should keep you from owning and cherishing this one.