Dr. Strangelove (Blu-ray edition)
Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
If ever a film deserve to be inducted into the Criterion Collection would have to be the Stanley Kubrick Cold War masterpiece ‘Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’. This movie was the epitome of that era, encapsulating the pervasive paranoia that penalized this nation. The threat of communism, ‘The Red Menace’, with agents of the Soviet Union infiltrating our everyday lives with one purpose; to enslave us. The major side effect of this anti-Communism sentiment occurred when the U.S.S.R. became a nuclear power in overnight the Cold War became a deadly game of brinksmanship with the realization that at any moment nuclear war could begin. As such the 50s and early 60s was a strange almost surreal time to grow up. As kids we were only peripherally aware of the frightening geo-political conflict between the United States and the Soviet Republic, all we knew was the adults were exceptionally upset about something and we were forced to practice ducking under our desks or marching to ad hoc bomb shelters located school’s basement just in case the Russians decided to launch from a nuclear attack at us. It may have seemed odd to us that the teachers showed us films of the devastation caused by an ‘H-Bomb’ and then turned around to assure us that hiding under out quarter inch plywood desks will save our lives in the event of such an attack.
The movies of the time naturally reflected the persistent fear the enfolded our society but two films stand out as the seminal films of that decade. They both deal with the same subject; the accident launch of a nuclear first strike by the American Air Force. ‘Fail Safe provided a frighteningly realistic portrayal of events like this but the film under consideration here represented the other side of the coin. ‘Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’. This is a masterpiece of dark comedy by one of the best directors ever, Stanley Kubrick. Even know that the Cold War is long gone this film remains one of the best all time examples of the genre; a defining example of cinema. Kubrick was one of the very first directors I followed in my youth. Sure I would make it a point to see films in a certain genre or featuring specific actors but the movies of this director were a must to see based only on this involvement. ‘Dr. Strangelove’ will always represent the surreal aspects of the decade for all of us called baby boomers. Years may have passed but this will always be a mandatory film for any serious movie buff. Now the movie is available in Blu-ray so you can watch it at home looking and sounding better than it ever has.
Stanley Kubrick may not have been the most prolific directors in the history of cinema but almost every movie he made has been a landmark film. One of the many great thing about the works of this man is he rarely turned to the same genre twice. He tackled science fiction with ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and the war flick with ‘Full Metal Jacket’. He even conquered the sword and sandal epic with ‘Spartacus’. In each case Kubrick reinvented the genre and altered how films afterwards would be made. He carefully planned and developed new facets of his style with every one of his movies crafting each frame to perfection. In the case of ‘Dr. Strangelove’ the humor combines the dry wit of his adopted homeland of England with the darkness of a master satirist plying his trade. In a time when nuclear annihilation was only a push of a button away this film poked the tiger with a stick and got away with it. He broke the solemn silence with an offbeat humor that has often imitated but never recreated. This is very much ‘Fail Safe’ done with gallows humor. Co-authoring the screenplay is a writer who made a career of controversial subjects; Terry Southerland. Two of his scripts, ‘Barbarella’ and ‘Candy’ revolutionized sexuality in the cinema while his work on the screenplay for ‘Easy Rider’ holds its place in movie history. While this movie possess a script that was one of the greatest examples of dark comedy ever much of the dialogue that is made for the most memorable moments of film completely improvised. Mr. Kubrick assembled one of the most innovative and talented group of actors that was possible at the time. From comedian such as Peter Sellers to incredible versatile actor such as George C. Scott these are artisans who could readily think on their feet and become so comfortable with their characters that could readily react to any situation in the completely natural and believable way. Apparently Mr. Scott, used to directors that were significantly more conventional, had some issues with the directorial suggestions made by Kubrick. He had distaste for being told to completely overplay his role turning his character into a caricature. Peter Sellers also disagreed with some of the directorial choices such as Kubrick’s penchant for multiple takes, deciding which one to use in the editing room. Peter Sellers was a very extemporaneous comedian and preferred to do things in a single take. Despite his creative differences these men were dedicated to their craft acceding to the directors vision.
The film opens with a note on screen reassuring the audience that nothing portrayed in the film was possible. The concern of the population at the time this film was made was that with all the complicated computers and guards against accident this film forwarded the idea that one man with reasonably sufficient military rank and security clearance could take it on his own initiative to instigate a full out nuclear war. Here Brigadier General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) decides that the commies were fluoridating our water in order to destroy us by polluting our pure bodily fluids. He issues orders to the flight wing under his command to drop their nuclear bombs on their targets. He locks down his base and issues the orders. One recurring theme in this movie is odd names indicative of the character’s personality. Of course there is the titular Dr. Strangelove, former Nazi and current advisor to President Merkin Muffley. These are but two of the roles played by comic genius Peter Sellers, the other being and exchange officer from Britain Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. Two of the best character names used are General 'Buck' Turgidson played by George C. Scott and my favorite, Colonel 'Bat' Guano played rather straight by Keenan Wynn. You might also notice James Earl Jones as the bombardier and Slim Pickins as the planes commander Major 'King' Kong who rides the bomb down in one of the most famous scenes in movies.
Even though I’ve seen this film dozens of times I seem to notice new facets each time. Perhaps it was the high definition but I was able to catch details in the lightening and camera angles that remains remarkable and fresh. Four decades might have passed since the initial release and maybe some of the social relevance has faded but the film will carry on as one of the best examples of dark comedy.
If you have any doubts about getting a black and white movie in Blu-ray this release will show just how wrong that idea would be. The video is clearer than I have ever seen for this film. You might notice that Kubrick played with the aspect ratio of the film varying it several times for effect. The audio will disappoint some since it is focused primarily to the front center but it is remarkably crisp. Considering this movie is a classic it is possible to let you receiver emulate an old theater’s mom environment and take a virtual trip back in time. This is a must have film and Blu-ray is the only way to go. This is consistent with the and in well-known standards that made the Criterion Collection such an incredible source to experience a director’s original vision. As always this is the best way to relive this movie. It is very rare that a film can remain so relevant throughout the decades. When I first watched this movie I was not long past standing in line to go to the school’s basement. The next time I watched it Vietnam was in full swing and the fear of communism is not as overt as the McCarthy era but considering I was a draft date with the low lottery number this film had a particularly personal meaning to me. Now that the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction is considerably less the country is still experiencing unbelievable fear, albeit from a much different source, but still all-consuming. As always a Criterion Collection release comes complete with an amazing selection of material that would give you a feel for the film, it’s production in the time period that that created it.
"Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fell' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff." - Major 'King' Kong
Posted 03/07/2010 06/15/2016