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A Clockwork Orange(1971)
Stanley Kubrick's dystopian masterpiece is set in the near future where urban thugs run wild and new methods of crime deterrence are being explored. Career gang member Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is nabbed by the police and offered the chance to a commuted sentence if he undergoes a kind of surgical therapy. One where his brain does not allow him to execute his violent urges.
For more about A Clockwork Orange and the A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray release, see A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 17, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Adrienne Corri, Warren Clarke, Aubrey Morris
Director: Stanley Kubrick
» See full cast & crew
A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray Review
Warner's 40th Anniversary Edition Digibook deserves both caution and consideration...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 17, 2011
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk-plus vellocet or synthemesc, or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.
So begins Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The celebrated filmmaker offers no solace, no framework, no exposition, no asylum, no context; just an unbearably slow, dreamlike retreat from a leering monster in a black bowler hat we intuitively know to be the same Alex whose hypnotic voice hastens our withdrawal. On his face, a splayed starburst of eyelashes. On his sleeves, cuff links made of bloody eyes. In his hand, a tall, thin glass of milk. At his feet, a porcelain-white table shaped like two interlocked nudes. His droogs -- a trio of equally unsettling companions -- stare off into the distance, but he peers directly into Kubrick's lens and smiles a coy, knowing grin. Alex knows we're here. It's as jarring and revealing an opening shot as any committed to film, and one that announces Kubrick's dark, demanding intentions from the very beginning. His future dystopia will be as alien as the bedroom that awaits Bowman across the stars in 2001: A Space Odyssey; his protagonist will be an inhuman wretch in a strange and violent shade of London; his language will be thick and winding, offering enigmatic insights into Alex's unbalanced mind and teeter-tottering world; most of all, his film will be unlike anything cinephiles have seen before or since.
One thing I could never stand was to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp blurp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking, rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, whatever his age might be, but more especially when he was real old like this one was.
The story assaults the senses like a fever. Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell), self-proclaimed leader of like-minded ruffians Pete (Michael Tarn), Georgie (James Marcus) and Dim (Warren Clarke), is sentenced to a stint in prison after his once-dutiful droogs tire of his tyranny and leave him battered, bruised and in police custody. Before that fateful night arrives though, Alex and his friends prowl the streets of London looking for mischief; not of the harmless variety, mind you, but breaking and entering, grand larceny, rape and murder. But Alex isn't your typical dystopian thug. Dancing verbal circles around authority figures, manipulating anyone he meets, indulging his base instincts while flexing his intellectual muscle, and giving himself over to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven are the only sources of true pleasure in Alex's life; the violence is merely a means to an end. All of that changes in prison when DeLarge volunteers to undergo an experimental treatment called the Ludovico technique, a psychological rewiring of sorts that turns the young man into a pale, helpless imitation of his former self. Alex, however, isn't so easily tamed, giving Kubrick ample opportunity to dance circles all his own, manipulate his viewers' every reaction to the film, pit their base instincts against their intellectualism, and combine uncomfortable imagery, stirring music, sharp satire and a bit of the old ultra-violence to magnificent, undeniably maniacal ends. It seems Alex and Stanley have more in common than you might first suspect.
Kubrick exhibits incredible control and command of Anthony Burgess's original novel, and Alex -- power-mad king of his own crumbling kingdom -- is little more than a pawn in a master filmmaker's game of cinematic chess. Having a strong, visceral reaction to A Clockwork Orange is all but inevitable and Kubrick, here more than anywhere else, tugs at the strings in his viewers' brains, pushing, pulling, yanking and jerking violently until it's unclear how far Alex or Stanley are willing to go. At times, it's difficult to keep your eyes locked on the screen; the mingling of graphic images and glorious symphonies alone is enough to turn the stomach and tickle the spine, the process of endearing his audience, no matter how much they struggle and resist, to McDowell's inexplicably charming, devilishly seductive king droog even more so. Lest ye forget, Alex is a narcissistic rapist and murderer. The fact that Kubrick is able to elevate such a vile character to a pedestal where he elicits laughs and earns affection, twisted as it may be, is a feat that shouldn't be overlooked and a testament to both the director's prowess and McDowell's performance. It's even more impressive when considering the infamous filmmaker's well-documented perfectionism. To make a film as unwieldy, unruly and unpredictable as A Clockwork Orange is one thing; to make a film as precise, exacting and cerebral as it is impulsive, perverse and reckless requires the hand of a true artist and storyteller.
The controversy surrounding Clockwork's 1971 release and subsequent 27-year UK hibernation has also been well documented. But it's the film's enduring ability to confound, alienate and disturb newcomers and familiar filmfans alike -- some forty years after its debut -- that makes A Clockwork Orange such a fascinating milestone in Kubrick's canon and such an unparalleled cinematic tour de force. Kubrick doesn't just comment on violence, he turns it in on itself and hands the whole bloody mess over to the roaring crowds who would embrace it, on a 21st Century high definition television, in a first-century Roman arena or on the crime-ridden streets of a fictional future-London. His viewers are forced to explore their most depraved impulses and reactions; to question their civility; to evaluate the line between good taste and amoral revelry. He doesn't just examine the ideas of evil, criminality or rehabilitation, he predicts a future in which taming the mind is the solution to every problem. He asks us to differentiate between man and monster, treatment and torture, cure and disease; to ponder the nature of depravity and the disillusionment of society's youth. Suffice it to say, Kubrick's Orange demands as much as it delivers in a uniquely bleak, startlingly droll communion between filmmaker and audience. It isn't an easy film by any means, but it is a brilliant, labyrinthine sci-fi satire bolstered by a string of exceptional performances, arresting production design, soaring music and mad-hatter dialogue and narration. Be it 1971 or 2011, A Clockwork Orange stands as one of Kubrick's finest.
A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray, Video Quality
Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!
The 40th Anniversary edition of A Clockwork Orange features the same 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer that first appeared on Blu-ray in 2007, and the two encodes are identical, right down to the last pixel. For some, the news will be disappointing. The original film isn't the shiniest trinket in Kubrick's collection, nor is its high definition presentation the sort of striking, miraculously restored catalog stunner the studio has become known for. Softness abounds, contrast wavering creeps in, noise surges at inopportune times, delineation is problematic, print fluctuations are apparent and color saturation is inconsistent, sometimes from one shot to the next. All of which begs the question: is this the best that A Clockwork Orange can possibly look? Or could a more thorough overhaul remain faithful to Kubrick's every intention and rejuvenate its weary bones? We reviewers and videophiles spit out "faithful" as if a single word is capable of defining an entire restoration and presentation. But if A Clockwork Orange were suddenly, inexplicably improved upon by the restorative wizards at Warner, say later this year, would anyone still regard this release as faithful? Or merely outdated?
But I digress. Though some are certainly correctable, most of the aforementioned inconsistencies either trace back to Kubrick's intentions or the film's source, making Warner's transfer, by and large, a reasonably faithful one. As such, news that Warner has simply repurposed Clockwork's 2007 Blu-ray transfer won't scare away everyone. Primaries bloom decently when Alex ventures out into the daylight, the stark and stormy hues of droog nightlife have been preserved, fleshtones are relatively lifelike throughout, black levels are fairly pleasing (barring a few muted shadows and skies), and the film's grainfield hasn't been compromised, at least not all that much. Moreover, detail, though seemingly unreliable at times, reflects Kubrick and John Alcott's cinematography as it is, not as some wish it to be. Numerous closeups step out of the past and look forty-years-young, others are hazy and indistinct products of a bygone age; some textures are refined, others drown in the shadows and recoil in the light; edge definition sometimes satisfies, but often doesn't fare as well. Make no mistake, this is A Clockwork Orange, blemishes and all.
There are several prevailing issues though that can't be attributed to Kubrick, his vision or the original source, at least not in their entirety. Crush is a frequent offender, artifacting doesn't make itself enough of a stranger, minor banding joins the fray here and there, and a hint of aliasing affects a few shots. No one eyesore undermines the whole of the presentation, but together they make it clear that, true to its aging source as it tends to be, all is not as well with Warner's high definition re-release.
A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As we walked along the flatblock marina, I was calm on the outside, but thinking all the time: now it was to be Georgie the general, saying what we should do and what not to do, and Dim as his mindless greeding bulldog. But suddenly, I viddied that thinking was for the gloopy ones, and that the oomny ones use like, inspiration and what Bog sends. Now it was lovely music that came into my aid...
The newest release of A Clockwork Orange offers an above average DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that, for all intents and purposes, delivers the same sonic experience as the 2007 Blu-ray release's uncompressed LPCM mix. (Both are comparable lossless mixes; DTS-HD MA simply takes up less disc space.) Dialogue, warbly and thin as the droogs' cotton-mouthed cockney sometimes is, remains clear and intelligible throughout (barring a few source-born mishaps) and McDowell's omnipresent, silver-tongued narration looms with unsurpassed authority in the foreground, precisely as it should. The film's evocative score and classical music is crisp and dainty when clarity is called for, overwhelming when madness is preferred, and bold and commanding whenever direction or purpose is required. Granted, the track is unmistakably front-heavy, with minimal rear speaker involvement, but it stays true to the tone and tenor of Kubrick's original sound design. Alex and Beethoven are the kings of Kubrick's dystopian castle, and both are given plenty of opportunity to steal the director's thunder. Still, LFE output is rather bulky, directionality is hemmed in, and the tell-tale signs of age stifle things a bit. Not that anyone should be surprised. Forty years haven't gone by in the blink of an eye, and the sights and sounds of cinema have changed dramatically. Anyone willing to accept A Clockwork Orange on its own terms will be pleased with Warner's efforts.
A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
I woke up. The pain and sickness all over me like an animal. Then I realized what it was. The music coming up from the floor was our old friend, Ludwig Van, and the dreaded Ninth Symphony. Suddenly, I viddied what I had to do, and what I had wanted to do, and that was to do myself in; to snuff it, to blast off for ever out of this wicked, cruel world. One moment of pain perhaps and, then, sleep for ever, and ever and ever.
The 2-disc 40th Anniversary Edition release of A Clockwork Orange includes all of the supplemental content that appears on Warner's 2007 BD, as well as a 40-page Digibook, a Digital Copy via download, a pair of newly produced high definition featurettes, and the excellent career-encompassing documentary, "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures." The only downside? The majority of the set's extras, "A Life in Pictures" included, are presented in standard definition; the one point of contention that left me nonplussed.
A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
And would you believe it, o my brothers and only friends. There was your faithful narrator being held helpless, like a babe in arms, and suddenly realizing where he was and why home on the gate had looked so familiar, but I knew I was safe. For in those care-free days, I and my so-called droogies wore our maskies, which were like real horror-show disguises.
A Clockwork Orange is many things to many people: disturbing, bizarre, strangely amusing, bitingly satirical, brilliant, unnerving, unwatchable, thought-provoking, cerebral and gratuitous, just to name a few. But it remains a startling cinematic spectacle unlike any other, even some forty years after its release. Warner's latest Blu-ray release isn't much different from the 2007 BD edition. Its video transfer is identical, its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is comparable to the previously released uncompressed LPCM mix, and the special features are largely the same. Thankfully, a number of additional extras -- chief among them two newly produced high definition featurettes and the feature-length documentary, "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures" -- makes this new 40th Anniversary Digibook release worth caution and consideration.
A Clockwork Orange: Other Editions
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