Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack
Extras: Documentary, Featurettes, Trailer, TV Spots

Stanley Kubrick's final film has often been the target of much criticism and debate, not to mention controversy since its notorious release in 1999. It was even on the cover of Time Magazine.
"Eyes Wide Shut" was misunderstood from the beginning, and understandably so, after all, much confusion started when it was decided to digitally alter some sex scenes to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating. The only way to see the uncut version was to live overseas, of course that certainly wouldn't be the case in these days of digital downloads and piracy that we currently live in, but back then, it really caused a lot of buzz.
The film was notorious before it even hit the big screen, and love it or hate it, the filmmaker caused an uproar with his final film before he passed away after the editing was complete. The whole project is still shrouded in mystery in many ways, including what feelings the director himself had about the final film.

Personally I was surprised when I learned that Kunrik's final film would be something based on an erotic novella ("Traumnovelle" by Arthur Schnitzler), because I thought he was perhaps one of the most un-erotic directors in cinema, of course I really could have been very wrong about that. Perhaps I would be proven wrong. Truth is, I was missing the point altogether, and only now do I realize that.
Many years later, after a little distance, and after being married myself, the film takes on a whole new meaning and is even more disturbing now than it was then, and that isn't because of its un-digitally altered format either, its because of all of its underlying themes.

Something about this film is lonely.

Upon contemplation, the legend who brought us science fiction masterpieces like "2001:A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork Orange" to the horrors of "The Shining" to Vietnam War epics like "Full Metal Jacket" is actually perfect for this film. It is his final work, and as such stirred up a lot of debate, but the themes that are underneath the surface of this flawed masterpiece are at once unsettling and revealing about the very enigmatic but reclusive genius that was Stanley Kubrick.

It appears that human relationships were just as strange and unearthly to this director than alternate futures or possessed axe murderers. And it blows my mind to finally have his films in high definition. For me, this is about as good as it gets.

The 'plot' of the film is really quite simple. Real life husband and wife Tom Cruise (as Dr. William Harford) and Nicole Kidman (as his wife Alice) play an upscale couple that live in Manhattan. In the opening shots, they are getting ready for a party at a friends home, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). At the party both separate and are flirted with on two different levels. Kidman on the dance floor by a suave and seductive older gentleman and Cruise by a couple of young and sexy women who follow him around.
Harford comes off as very self assured and charismatic, but disciplined. His flirtations are cut short by a need for his medical services in the upstairs bedroom where Ziegler is found getting dressed above a comatose woman who has overdosed on a mixture of coke and heroin, commonly referred to as a 'speedball'.

Harford takes care of the situation and continues home with his wife. They end up smoking some marijuana and Alice gets wildly confessional, ultimately revealing to Bill she was willing to give up her life with him for another man (a sailor) she briefly noticed in a hotel lobby in Cape Cod.
Luckily, this awkward and disturbing revelation is interrupted by a phone call from a dead patient's wife and he goes on a (final) house call.

From here the film seems quite surreal; first off, it is obviously not Manhattan, but rather stage sets and green screens while he is a passenger in a taxi. I can't put my finger on it, even though we all know the movie was filmed in Europe but the whole world is simply 'Kubrickian', strange and eerie and dreamlike in tone. And it appears to be a desperate sexual wasteland for William Harford on this strange evening of temptation.

His dead patient's wife confesses her love to him after forcing him into a lip lock that is extremely uncomfortable for him and her. Luckily our good doctor is saved once again, this time by our widow's boyfriend.
He leaves, onto the streets and into the erotic and twisted carnival landscape of sexual desperation that could be partly in Bill's mind and partly real, we never really know. Perhaps it was really high grade pot he smoked, after all.

Either way, he is accosted rudely by a group of rowdy drunks who insinuate he is gay before he somehow gets involved with an intellectual prostitute named Domino and actually ends up at her decadent abode. Before things get carried away, he gets a call from Alice, which of course cuts things short. This is turning into a strange night indeed for our poor doctor, who ends up at a jazz club he wanders into after reading a friend of his, Nick Nightengale, is playing piano. He ends up giving him the password to a very secret party that will require a costume. And a few more almost infidelity laden scenes and he is at the party, which turns out to be some sort of bizarre orgy thrown by an Illuminati type organization where everyone wears a mask.

From there on the film is really an exploration of sexual obsession, marriage, paranoia and even a touch of a mystery thriller. It's about as deep and powerful and symbolic as the viewer will let it be, and the plot is almost completely irrelevant in some ways. The strange and powerful death cult was even referenced in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" or so I'm told, as I have no interest in reading it.

This film is not for everyone, but I really enjoy it and think something different every time I watch it, in fact I think it is brilliant yet misunderstood. Truly time has been good to this film. It is flawed, strange, revealing, intelligent and even somewhat subversive. Either way, this movie will affect you, be it shock or philosophical enlightenment, it depends on the viewer. Some may even find it boring.

Happily, this Blu-Ray Disc truly gets the image right. I don't want to start down the road of Kubrick's widescreen versus full screen preference, all I know is this film was shown in North America in an aspect ratio of around 1.78:1 and we finally have it here presented at 1.85:1. I am thrilled, and I'm also very pleased with "The Shining" and the new version (by that I mean Deluxe) of "Full Metal Jacket". It is wonderful to have these films in widescreen for once.

Kubrick's aversion to widescreen was based on 4:3 TVs that they had at the time and the horror of seeing his ultimate masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey" panned and scanned, so he went out of his way to frame his movies in full screen and even went so far as to request they be presented that way on home video.
But, thankfully, times have changed and we have brought the widescreen of the theaters into our living rooms, giving us the full Kubrick experience that he intended for theaters. Also, I was fascinated to learn that this film uses all natural light. Wow, it really shows.

This release truly captures this film exactly how the brilliant iconoclastic filmmaker intended it, and it is extremely grainy and dark and beautiful to look at. Very dark and very film like, this film definitely looks far better than it ever has, or possibly will. And, once again, we have many who are not pleased with the transfer simply because it looks like it is supposed to. Some people are more into technology than films, though, and this is a new format, so I guess this type of thing will go on for awhile. Either way, trust me, this film looks just as good as it is supposed to look and is flawless in every way, but is dark and gritty and very grainy.

And the sound is no different. Kubrick had a distrust for surround sound, so really a mono track should be supplied for all of his films. But I really appreciate the PCM 5.1 track that is provided. Once again, this director did things his way and that was that, so if some feel the sound field is limited, that is only because they don't understand the original intention of the director in mind. Don't come to this film for a demo disc of surround sound fidelity and effects, though, because he never intended them. The dialogue is clearly audible at all times and the haunting music sounds very clear, this is more than I even expected, it sounds excellent.

The special features on this new version of "Eyes Wide Shut" are nothing short of outstanding. All of the new features are in 16:9 standard definition and look great. And that goes for all of the new Kubrick releases also. We have an excellent and very perceptive documentary called 'The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick And Eyes Wide Shut' which runs about forty three minutes and is nothing short of brilliant. No, it doesn't reveal that much about this particular film, but is more a general all encompassing view of the artist's full body of work. It's presented in three parts.
We have interviews with many people from Kubrick's life including Cruise and Kidman and you will learn a lot.
We also have 'Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films Of Stanley Kubrick' which is very interesting. By now, we are all familiar with "A.I.", which was eventually completed by Spielberg, but there are many others and this twenty minute feature tells you all about them.

They've also ported over the excellent interviews from the previous DVD release with Kidman, Cruise and Spielberg, not to mention the theatrical trailer, two TV spots and a D.W. Griffith acceptance speech Kubrick gave not long before he passed on. This is one special edition!

I should mention that the packaging states we have the R rated and Unrated version on this disc, but that is not the case, we only have the unrated version. I'm certainly fine with that, it was a misprint, and the studio admitted that. I also thought we were supposed to have a commentary with Sydney Pollack, what happened to that? Maybe it would have been interesting to see the digitally edited sex scenes, but what can you do?

Stanley Kubrick's films being released in high definition is definitely the most exciting event of the year for me, and this Blu-Ray version of 'Eyes Wide Shut' looks exactly, I'm sure, as he originally intended. I think it is almost a masterpiece and, though it's certainly not for everyone, I highly recommend it. It is a fascinating and mysterious end to a fabulous career.