Archive for April, 2007

The Plague of the Zombies

1966, UK, Directed by John Gilling

Colour, Running Time: 86 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Optimum; Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: DD Mono

Receiving a confused letter from Tompson, a distressed former medical student who’s now practising in a Cornish village, eminent professor Sir Forbes and his enthusiastic daughter Sylvia head south to stay with Tompson and his wife Alice for a few days to provide moral support. On arrival there is evident hostility from both the Squire’s arrogant, aggressive underlings, and the uneducated villagers who are angry that people are inexplicably dying with Tompson powerless to explain or stop it. Lacking scientific understanding the villagers refuse to allow autopsies, so Forbes persuades Tompson to help him exhume the body of a recently deceased, permission or not: they find the coffin empty. Investigating further they soon find that all of the coffins in the local cemetery are uninhabited. One night, Sylvia follows a seemingly entranced Alice across the moors. Discovering an old mine she finds Alice murdered in the hands of a monster that looks uncannily like the body of a man she had earlier witnessed knocked from his coffin during a funeral by the Squire’s contemptuous men. Before Alice’s cadaver is properly inhumed, Forbes, still anxious to perform an autopsy, and the grieving Tompson head back to the cemetery where they witness the fresh corpse climb out of its open grave…

Where's that dentist?!?

Considered a B-movie by Hammer this was shot with The Reptile, the intention being to release it on a double bill with Dracula Prince of Darkness. It’s since proved one of their most popular movies and is certainly one of their best. Prior to Romero’s rewrite of the rules with the seminal Night of the Living Dead, zombie films generally utilised voodoo as the driving force behind the awakening of the dead. Plague… is no different but it is one of the best of its kind, certainly up until 1968. It contains a rare dream sequence that actually works (something that woke me right up when I sleepily watched for the first time in the middle of the night around 1991), plus the script is literate and engrossing. Some of the walking dead look admittedly odd, some are quite eerie. It does lose way a little for the final act but the atmospheric sixty minutes preceding that can be considered one of Hammer’s finest hours.

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Aside from perhaps requiring a contrast and colour boost (i.e. a proper remaster) the enhanced 1.85:1 image is pleasing enough. Having seen this for years on pan & scan VHS tape it was cool to finally view it in its proper ratio. As well as a standalone trailer on the DVD there’s a welcome but cheesy advertisement for the aforementioned Plague/Dracula… double bill. The US AB disc featured a World of Hammer episode also, so its absence here makes the UK disc inferior extras-wise though personally I think it’s not a great loss as the TV series wasn’t exactly enthralling. Overall, a relevant film well worth picking up.

Posted on 30th April 2007
Under: Horror | 2 Comments »

Monsters Inc.

2001, US, Directed by Pete Docter

Animation, Running Time: 88 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Disney, Video: Anamorphic 1.81:1, Audio: DTS

Monstropolis is an alternate dimension that is powered by children’s screams, these being collected by factories that employ the most competitive creatures to enter the human world via closet doors to scare kids (who are reputedly poisonous to monsters), notching up points and positioned on a league as an incentive to do better. Sulley is an especially revered monster and, accompanied by his perpetually argumentative assistant, Mike, they inadvertently bring a human child into Monstropolis and from there begins a frantic race to return ‘Boo’ to her homeland before the paranoid boss finds out who’s responsible. But they face problems from the likes of Sulley’s primary competitor: the chameleonic, mischievous Randall, who may be even more sinister than he first appears.

Mike and Sulley

Continuing in the established tradition of Pixar this is a meticulously well-planned story with identifiable characters in imaginatively executed situations. Technically there were clear progressions from Toy Story and Bug’s Life (the implementation of realistic hair being the most notable) but Pixar are intuitive enough to have this almost relegated to background detail as the story itself captures viewer attention - technical mastery can only stimulate awe for so long and Pixar are well aware of this. The narrative techniques are occasionally ingenious but often obvious (for example, Sulley and Mike being such an odd couple is a joke that goes back to the Laurel and Hardy days), though this is admittedly a product aimed at the whole family. Animation itself is exemplary and Pixar are masters of their art, although subjectively I marginally prefer PDI’s (Shrek, etc.) slightly more adult approach (Disney’s influence over Pixar seemed to have become more noticeable by this stage). Kids aside, there’s enough humorous material here to entertain just about anyone. If more live action film-makers put in this much effort these days the movie world would be a healthier place.

 

The 2-disc set is first-rate in almost every respect. The film presentation is reference standard (direct digital transfers eliminate the print/negative problems of footage shot on ‘film’), being sharp and dazzlingly colourful. The DTS sound mix gives a sweeping surround workout. Among the many extras are two short films well worth owning - the Oscar winning For The Birds, and Mike’s New Car, the latter using characters/settings from Monsters Inc. itself. Pixar basically built themselves up during the 80s with short films and the gradual inclusion of all of them on their feature DVDs is nice incentive to collect. Superb package.

Posted on 28th April 2007
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She / Vengeance of She

1965 / 1967, UK, Directed by Robert Day / Cliff Owen

Colour, Running Times: 101 / 97 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Optimum, Video: Anamorphic 1.78:1 / 1.66:1, Audio: Mono

She: A group of academics/budding explorers travelling in India hear of an ancient city and head off into the desert to find it. There they find a despotic woman ruling over the lost kingdom, the mighty Ayesha, who has been expecting the arrival of one of the explorers because he is apparently the descendant of a primordial love of hers. There she expects him to take her side on the throne to rule eternally (with the help of an immortal-life-giving fire).

Vengeance of She: After having put an end to a yacht party, the drunken owner finds a rather attractive stowaway that he and his companions (understandably) decide to adopt for the duration of their journey into distant waters. Unknown to them she is possessed by the spirit of Ayesha and uncontrollably beckoned into the hands King Killikrates of the lost city of Kuma, who wants his reincarnated love for himself once more. One of the crew members however has fallen in love with her already and, not entirely empathic about Killikrates’ ideas, plans to take her back.

Er, that's not a swimsuit is it, love?

Surprisingly She was a massive success for Hammer; Vengeance… conversely bombed. My theory is that everyone flocked to see the first film thanks to Hammer’s usual great advertising campaign (their posters were often gorgeous works of art) combined with the inclusion of the chiselled Ursula Andress as the titular character, then, not exactly enjoying the laborious fantasy adventure, nobody was really interested in seeing the sequel produced as a result of the financial success of the first. While these films have their fans I find them somewhat unengaging and a chore to sit through. Despite an entertaining opening sequence in She with Cushing and his friends having a good night out in an Eastern bar, the film becomes difficult to sit through. I marginally prefer the sequel - starting off with a lovely European aura (and supported by quite a nicely written score throughout), it unfortunately rapidly loses appeal, although there is quite an exciting car/horse chase across the desert. And Olinka Berova (Olga Schoberová) is a particularly alluring, nubile Czech beauty (as you’ll notice most of them are if you visit the culturally rich land); though a fairly talentless thespian at least she decorates the screen.

 

The first film is a bit of a mess on DVD: shot in ‘Hammerscope’ it originally had a ratio of 2.35:1; here, following an opening credit sequence roughly of 2.00:1 the remainder is presented in 1.78:1, therefore severely cropped. Further to that, there is some kind of video noise evident throughout and detail is not exactly a strength. Out of Optimum’s Hammer collection, this is the worst transfer apart from The Reptile (though everything else in the box looks fine to be fair - see the reviews elsewhere in The Grim Cellar). Vengeance… is much better, looking quite cinematic and accurately featuring a pillar-boxed ratio of 1.66:1. Buy these films if you know you already like them and then only if you can get them cheap, but I wouldn’t try them on spec.

Posted on 26th April 2007
Under: Other | 2 Comments »

Zeder

1983, Italy, Directed by Pupi Avati

Colour, Running Time: 102 minutes

DVD, Region 2 (Italy), Fox, Video: Anamorphic 1.82:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Given a second-hand typewriter for birthday celebration by his girlfriend, Stefano, a budding author of macabre fiction, accidentally jams it up. Trying to fix it he unravels the cartridge and discovers some intriguing text ingrained on the ribbon prior to his own words: babblings about K zones, areas where the laws of space and time (and therefore, death itself) are ostensibly impotent. Becoming enthralled he sets out to investigate the source of the text, its author Paolo Zeder, leading him to am off-limits derelict building where an organisation appears to be conducting their own research into K zones. Inside he finds that they’ve fitted cameras into the coffin of someone recently deceased in scientific anticipation of the corpse’s expected return from the dead.

Can we get the duster out? I was choking down there!

Pupi Avati only made a small number of excursions into the genre (Zeder, House With Windows That Laugh, and Arcane Enchanter), which is a pity because his work was both idiosyncratic and exemplary. Zeder is a zombie film like no other, working to build up a tangible atmosphere and utilising little gore during a period when its abundance was common. It comes across almost like a Giallo with a couple of walking corpses thrown in. The awakening of the priest, seen on video monitor equipment, is quite creepy and the morbid final scenes resonate with the viewer long after. A film that’s not that been easy to come across it’s definitely worth seeking out for an unusual and grimly atmospheric adventure.

 

As with House With Windows…, Zeder was released by Fox in Italy (hard to believe that a company like Fox releases films like this in European territories, the lucky Euro-swine!), the picture has been properly mastered and looks brilliant. The audio is a genuine 5.1 remix and adds significant impact and envelopment to the offbeat and attention-grabbing score by Riz Ortolani, also helping with general ambient effects while keeping the dialogue firmly centred. For the subtitle-shy (and the English subs are perfectly coherent) there is even the English dub (albeit in mono) included, plus the original Italian mono track for purists. Personally I think the 5.1 track is the best way to watch. There have been grossly inadequate budget US releases of Zeder (apart from a reasonable Image disc several years ago) but, while the extras are unfortunately only in Italian without subtitles, the film presentation here is so good I’m only too happy to own this and it remains the most respectable way to enjoy this intelligent gem of a movie.

Posted on 23rd April 2007
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Night of the Demon

1957, UK, Directed by Jacques Tourneur

Black & White, Running Time: 96 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R1, Columbia; Video: Anamorphic 1.63:1, Audio: DD Mono

After the death of a scientist who is about to publicly debunk the activities of occultist Dr Karswell (no, not Criswell…), a colleague of the deceased, Dr Holden, travels to London to launch his own investigation. Sceptical of all things paranormal he similarly expects to rationalise Dr Karswell’s practices as a supposed witch and, meeting up with a relative (Joanna) of the deceased in the process, they set about finding out what really happened. But to add complications, Karswell manages to pass on to Holden a piece of paper containing runic symbols, the act of which is supposed to ensure Holden’s death (through invocation of a demon) within three days, the same fate which apparently befell his colleague at the beginning of the story. Holden doesn’t believe that the runes can have anything more than a psychological effect, but Joanna is not so sure.

I can't remember which room I was in...

A classic M.R.James story (Casting The Runes) directed by the same man who had already proven himself in the genre a few years earlier working for Val Lewton on what are undoubtedly among the best chillers of the 40s (Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie), Night of the Demon is a gripping look at the world of witchcraft and demonology. Taking a sceptic as the main character is an obvious but effective plot device, particularly when his assertions are proven wrong and he goes through a significant transformation of beliefs. It was unfortunate that the studio imposed the visible appearance of a demon on Tourneur as the film could have worked better as a more ambiguous psychological chiller without it, but there are some great sequences: Holden’s walk through a spooky forest (recalling Betsy Connell’s similar trek through the jungle in I Walked…) and the scene in the train compartment towards the end where Holden is determined to pass the runes (and therefore, the curse) back to the not so gullible Karswell. An important film in the genre and one of my favourites from the 50s.

 

Released in the US by Columbia Tristar this disc also contains Curse of the Demon (the original US version, running only 82 minutes!) as well as the full length UK cut. For completist sake it’s nice to have the shorter version but I can’t bring myself to watch it. Image quality is sumptuous and the ratio is pretty much correctly maintained with pillar-boxing. The disc has a couple of unrelated trailers (Fright Night and The Bride), but, extras aside, this is currently the definitive Night of the Demon.

Posted on 20th April 2007
Under: Horror | 10 Comments »

The Haunting (63)

1963, USA, Directed by Robert Wise

Black and White, Running Time: 107 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Warner, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: Mono

Hill House has a repellent history, one that suggests that the house itself is in some way supernaturally conscious and an embodiment of evil. A professor of the paranormal enlists the help of several people to stay in the house over a period of a couple of weeks for observational purposes; most of them are too frightened to turn up. The brave attendees include slightly potty daydreamer Eleanor, someone who supposedly experienced poltergeist activity in her own home, psychic Theodora, and Luke who is set to inherit the property and is primarily concerned with its (i.e. his) future. Before long the group are exposed to loud noises in the dead of night, later on coming across cold spots, automatically opening doors and other more frightening phenomenon, prompting the already neurotic Eleanor to start losing the plot a little.

Okay, give me back my Dick and Mary book, you total bitch!

Based on a Shirley Jackson novel and shot in England (though being an American movie, it does have a British feel) this is a fairly old fashioned haunted house movie, but one that is well crafted and strong enough to have impact on viewers, maybe even today. The supernatural occurrences remain largely unseen and are probably more potent because of it. While the dialogue has dated in places and the Luke character in particular is a cliché from the 50s, there are some spine-tingling moments, one of which sends a shiver through my entire body every time I watch this film (i.e. it’s lost none of its power through repeat viewings, quite the contrary). The cinematography is luscious and Wise’s direction is thoroughly inspiring, this film being much more visually accomplished than the horrors he made for Val Lewton two decades earlier. The Haunting is probably one of the best of its kind and, certainly up until the time of its creation, one of the scariest.

 

A carbon copy of the US disc the Warner R2 release presents generally gorgeous image quality, only occasionally looking less detailed or unstable (the variations must be derived from the source). It looks as fantastic as you can imagine. The commentary includes all four of the main cast, the director and the screenwriter. Flush the 99 remake down the toilet and watch this instead, with the lights out and nobody else in the house if you fancy experiencing a minor state of panic…

Posted on 18th April 2007
Under: Horror | 2 Comments »

Deep Impact

1998, USA, Directed by Mimi Leder

Colour, Running Time: 121 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, DreamWorks; Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DD 5.1

Schoolboy Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) notices an apparently uncharted object in the skies while on an astronomy observation lesson and the details are sent to a professional astronomer for assessment. He in turn realises that it’s actually a comet on a path for Earth but, as fate would have it, on his way to deliver the news to seniors he is killed in a motor crash. Some time later career-motivated reporter Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) stumbles across a politically problematic story regarding a womanising senator’s resignation, not realising that his motivation was more to do with The End Of The World rather than the non-existent mistress that Lerner initially suspects. Following a press conference that reveals that there is indeed a comet on a collision path for Earth, a ship is launched with the intention of landing on the comet and detonating nuclear warheads beneath its surface, thereby hopefully breaking it into smaller chunks and removing the threat. The problem is not as easily solved as this and before long the president (Morgan Freeman) is revealing that subterranean bunkers are being set up for an admittance lottery system that could ultimately choose who lives and who dies.

Do you mind if we stand somewhere else?

Released around the same time as the similar Armageddon I always felt this was a much better film, partly because it steers further away from the emphasis on ridiculous OTT action and characters of Jerry Bruckheimer’s audience friendly material, and partly because Deep Impact focuses more on the human relationships that are affected in the event of a looming apocalypse. When one of the chunks of comet hits the ocean, sending huge tidal waves towards land, it really does have an impact (particularly disturbing seeing the Twin Towers sent down as the wave hits Manhattan) and is all the more effective because the writers have bothered to set up characters that we remotely care about. That’s not to say it’s not flawed but it does work well on its own terms. It sort of reminds me of an updated version of When Worlds Collide actually (don’t worry, that’s not giving away the ending).

 

This first UK DVD release of Deep Impact was virtually extra-less while featuring a good anamorphic image (a step up from the US disc, which was letterboxed) and strong 5.1 track, however it has since been superseded by a Special Edition in both territories that makes it a much better purchase. For a human apocalyptic science fiction story Deep Impact makes for a more intelligent (aside from a few moments) and enjoyable experience to the comparatively popcorn orientated Armageddon.

Posted on 16th April 2007
Under: Thriller, Science Fiction | No Comments »

Reign of Fire

2002, UK/USA, Directed by Rob Bowman

Colour, Running Time: 98 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Buena Vista, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DTS

Tunnelling work beneath London reveals a hitherto dormant race of dragons that break loose and reap havoc on mankind to the point of near genocide. Spreading like a plague across the planet the dragons, who were supposedly the cause of dinosaur extinction before going into subterranean hibernation, once more become the dominant species while surviving humans are forced into small groups of stationary or travelling communities. Two such communities come together but their leaders are prone to differing views on how to proceed, Quinn (Christian Bale) believes that they should remain put to survive, whereas the militaristic Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) clicks on to the probability that all of the dragon eggs are fertilised by one male and wants to take a chance to track it down to kill it, and therefore the entire reptilian race.

Warm enough, human filth?

An apocalyptic science fiction (though not set that far ahead in the future), Reign of Fire was not critically successful but coming to the film after all the negative fuss died down I found a reasonably entertaining thriller, though possibly a little miserable in its general ambience. Bale continues to prove versatility as an actor and McConaughey is unrecognisable as the perpetually angry marine. The dragons themselves, while hardly evident of a risk-taking design ethic, are amazing creations but remain less used in the plot than one would have expected. Reduce your expectations and you may have a fairly good time with this, plus at an hour and a half it doesn’t outstay any welcome.

 

Being a recent film it’s no surprise that the transfer is DVD demonstration material: an exceptionally detailed image combined with aggressive 5.1 tracks (including DTS). Though under-specified as far as extras are concerned Reign of Fire makes for something worth risking a few quid on certainly.

Posted on 13th April 2007
Under: Thriller, Science Fiction | 2 Comments »

Horror of Frankenstein

1970, UK, Directed by Jimmy Sangster

Colour, Running Time: 91 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Optimum, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Mono

Young Frankenstein (Ralph Bates) is a brilliant but morally lacking scientist who is concerned only with his studies in creating life from dead body parts. Setting up laboratory in his deceased father’s castle with an assistant (not hunchbacked or deformed for a change) he begins putting together a corpse utilising bits and pieces from various sources (including a damaged brain), a monster which he’d like to control but is clearly inclined towards chaotic behaviour (established by an enticingly brutal axe attack on some poor passer-by). Providing ways of taking Frankenstein’s mind off his work is the resident housekeeper Alys (Kate O’Mara), and later Veronica Carlson also shows up (after having been kicked out of her own property) hoping to take his hand in marriage. Lucky guy!

None today thanks!

A fairly maligned entry in the Hammer Frankenstein series, it was missing Peter Cushing in the title role and possibly suffered as a result. I quite liked the articulate Bates but he does emphasise the scientist’s lack of emotion here a little too much maybe, coming across as someone who is impossible to empathise with. The monumentally sexy Carlson was an incredible beauty who added charm to several Hammers, no less here. O’Mara can barely fit her breasts in the outfits she was given. Unusual for the series there are also touches of humour here and there: the two-fingered salute of a severed hand reflecting the Carry On sensibility of the time and possibly predating the black humour of certain eighties horrors, plus some of the dialogue is quite funny. David Prowse’s monster is ugly and odd (his later appearance in …Monster From Hell was probably more effective), and the conclusion is strangely abrupt. It’s not a brilliant film but it’s probably not as bad as some sources would indicate either. It could be considered a less shocking 60s alternative to Flesh For Frankenstein, though not as good.

 

Optimum’s package is nice, featuring a good looking, correctly framed image and coupled with a commentary featuring Sangster plus a nice 14 minute interview with Veronica Carlson from 2001, where she appears to be quite appreciative of Hammer and what they did for her career rather than complaining about how these kind of films might have restricted potential as some stars seem all too happy to do on occasions. This has been released twice in the UK now as a separate disc (basically the same as the US Anchor Bay DVD), plus it’s also in the 21 disc Ultimate Collection box.

Posted on 12th April 2007
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Straw Dogs

1971, UK, Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Colour, Running Time: 117 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Criterion, Video: Anamorphic 1.78:1, Audio: Mono

A social horror tale based on a novel by Gordon Williams, Straw Dogs introduces us to a married couple who have moved into a rural house in an almost backward Cornish village. American mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his English wife, Amy (Susan George), are immediately at odds with the locals for one reason or another - David as the ultimate outsider is constantly embarrassed by his inability to integrate, and Amy as a source of sexual enticement (the first shot we see of her is her clothed but visible nipples). A series of events gradually escalate to levels of hostility, then rape, then all-out violence and murder as a suspected paedophile ends up in David’s house while a lynch mob forms outside as he refuses to surrender the man to the undiplomatic bunch. As the mob become increasingly aggressive the overly conditioned intellectual David is pushed further and further until he is finally forced to descend to the only means of communication that they will understand: violence.

Honey, I think I need a clean shirt...

A pretty shocking portrayal of human primordial instincts stubbornly existing in a world where they have been all but swept under the carpet - David is a person who will shy away from aggression at all costs, until he is finally backed into a corner and there is no other option. This is illustrated very early on when a minor fight breaks out at the pub and he kind of worms his way into the background not entirely sure what he should be doing (apart from avoiding conflict). The film caused problems with the censors in England (rejected for a video certificate as recently as 1999), mainly due to the rape of Amy - initially her obligatory refusal of the attacker (someone she had a relationship with years earlier) turns to some sort of instinctive acceptance (i.e. part of her actually enjoys what happens), but this is followed by a more brutal and terrifying attack by someone else that leaves her emotionally ruined. David’s absolute denial of his own innate aggression presents him as a spineless weakling but really he is not so different to how most ‘decent’ people today have been conditioned against surrendering to the lower cerebral functions. A gripping and historically significant film that almost makes for a psychological study on the animal still residing somewhere in most humans. On a more technical level, I think Peckinpah’s visual compositions (particularly as the events of the film become increasingly chaotic) are amazing, as are some of the employed editing techniques. It’s a great piece of work all round.

 

In the UK there was a pretty good special edition on DVD, later followed by the bare-bones budget disc that you can get today. That’s okay but the definitive release remains the Criterion two disc set put out several years ago. The transfer is stunning and it is complemented by just about anything that can be a considered worthwhile bonus including a feature-length documentary on Peckinpah himself, onset footage and interviews from 1971, a neat booklet, isolated music score, etc. Cinema fans should own this.

Posted on 9th April 2007
Under: Horror, Thriller, Other | No Comments »

Eyes Wide Shut

1999, UK/USA, Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Colour, Running Time: 153 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Warner, Video: 1.33:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Dr William Harford (Tom Cruise) is a prestigious Manhattan practitioner, married to a beautiful woman (Nicole Kidman) with whom he has produced the perfect daughter - everything appears to be rosy. One evening the couple are smoking pot and enter into an unexpected argument, initiated by an evening before where both of them were the subjects of attempted seductions at the high class party of one of his patients (Sydney Pollack). Harford, living his life wearing rose-tinted spectacles, is dismayed to learn that his trusted wife would have been willing to be unfaithful to him had she had the chance several years previous. Receiving a timely call from a patient’s daughter he sets off alone to officially confirm a death. From that point on his perception of the world and his life has changed and there is sex everywhere and sexual intention where he once would have overlooked its latent possibility - for example, the daughter of his dead patient reveals that she’s in love with him before her fiancée walks in oblivious to her feelings for another man, just as Harford had been with his wife. Meeting an old acquaintance, Nick, in a jazz bar he is intrigued to find out about an event taking place at a secluded mansion and persuades Nick to tell him the password for entry. Obtaining a costume he gets into the place to find some sort of perverse mass ritual where masked people are mating with each other without regard for social conventions. But he has not managed to fool them with his anonymous presence…

Houses of Parliament... after hours...

Kubrick delivered the final cut of Eyes Wide Shut days before his death and it proved to be a controversial piece for a couple of reasons - firstly it contained an abundance of soft-core sex scenes and nudity (the likes of which tends not to go down too well with American audiences), and secondly some people were disappointed with it on a critical level. It was a pretty big budget film (around $65 m) but Kubrick is an auteur more than anything and it’s always risky giving that amount of cash to someone who is primarily concerned with making truly great works of cinematic art in today’s business. Based on a book by Arthur Schnitzler the film was once intended to be made by Kubrick back in the seventies and one can only wonder how different it would have been. As it is, he has created what I feel to be a near perfect slice of pure cinema - Cruise and Kidman perform quite brilliantly (though I find her character to be somewhat obnoxious) and the imagery is almost always striking. A dream- (or nightmare) like world is constructed around people that are in one way or another obsessed with sexual issues, and the film’s centrepiece (the mansion ritual/orgy sequence) is hypnotic and tense. It’s an intriguing story that can envelope the viewer like few films today. The extensive production itself, as had become commonplace for Kubrick movies, proved to be arduous for all.

You should see how ugly I was before I put the mask on.

Due to the sex scenes some of the shots were digitally obscured in post-production with cloaked figures generally - for the US cut. Thankfully, here in the UK, we get the Full Monty. Unfortunately Warner broke with politically correct weakness when a particularly prominent Eastern religious group present in the UK complained that parts of the soundtrack contained elements of divine music (Bhagavad-Gita) - they removed the ‘offending’ part of the soundtrack (though the film remains intact). It doesn’t have a great impact but I can never agree to that kind of rubbish - if someone is offended by something then they simply need not watch it. Anyway, other than that the Warner R2 DVD presents the film in roughly the correct aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (wrongly projected theatrically at 1.85:1) with beautiful image quality and an excellent 5.1 track (truly coming to life for the distinctive and potent score). There are some insightful interviews contained on the disc making up a nice package for a rare modern cinematic treat that we should be thankful ever got made, but avoid the US disc.  There has since been a Blu-ray version Eyes Wide Shut but I understand it is once again cropped to 1.78:1 - extra resolution or not, this is not the way to see such a meticulously composed film, hence until they respect the director’s wishes I’ll hang on to this DVD forever.

Posted on 7th April 2007
Under: Other | No Comments »

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