Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Warner, Blu-ray) – There are no remastered editions or new-to-Blu-ray discs in this box set of eight Kubrick classics, from the 1962 Lolita to his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), but this ten-disc set does include the previously-released supplements on each film plus it features two new-to-disc documentaries and one new-to-Blu-ray featurette, along with a lovely 78-page book of stills, storyboards, production art, script pages, and other production paraphernalia from the featured films. Which makes it, if not exactly essential (if you’ve already invested in past Kubrick box sets), at least a terrific cinephile gift set. Here’s the skinny on the films and the extras, which is currently available as an Amazon Exclusive.
You have to admire the audacity of Kubrick to adapt Lolita (1962), Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel of a middle-aged man’s obsession with a young teenage girl in the age of pre-ratings censorship. (The ad campaign turned that into a selling point, with the tag line: “Can you believe they made a movie of Lolita?”) Kubrick and Nabokov (who adapted is own novel) raised the age of the grade school “temptress” and left most of the seduction to suggestion, and still made a more provocative and sensitive film than the 1997 remake. James Mason is almost pathetic as the repressed author Humbert Humbert who continues to justify his infatuation with teenage Lolita, yet he’s never less than human. Sue Lyon is Lolita, Shelley Winters her blowsy mother and Peter Sellers (soon to be cast by Kubrick in multiple roles in Dr. Strangelove) is the creepy Clare Quilty.
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” The funniest film ever made about mutually assured destruction, Kubrick’s insidious black comedy Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is a wickedly funny version of Armageddon with Peter Sellers as U.S. President Mervyn Muffle, British officer Lionel Mandrake, and the calculating weapons scientist Dr. Strangelove, played as a demented combination of Werner Von Braun, Henry Kissinger and Dr. Mabuse in a perverted purring German accent. Sterling Hayden is the rogue General who diagnoses his impotence as a Soviet plot and unleashes a nuclear attack on Russia while diplomacy descends into a slapstick scuffle. It includes the featurettes, interviews, archival supplements, and picture-in-picture video commentary track of the earlier Blu-ray special edition
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Kubrick’s groundbreaking science fiction milestone, turned space flight into ballet, created a computer with more feeling than its human comrades, and redefined evolution as the greatest trip of all. After all these years it still feels revolutionary: the startling cut that connects weapon-wielding early man to space-going modern man and the astounding play with point of view in the evolution sequence at the end still sends my head spinning. It’s both Kubrick’s coldest film and his most hopeful. “I feel much better now, Dave.” With commentary by stars Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood and a documentary originally made for Britain’s Channel 4 in 2001 (hosted by James Cameron).
A Clockwork Orange (1971) adapts Anthony Burgess’s futuristic satire with a wicked black humor and a cynicism that, years later, still leaves his intentions somewhat murky. With a hedonistic bully as the hero (a hearty, energetic Malcolm McDowell) and a gallery of grotesques, leering authority figures, and political opportunists as the villains, Kubrick seems to suggest that the primitive violence of sadistic street thugs is somehow a more pure state than repression of social restraint. Or is it merely a sick joke? Features commentary by star Malcolm McDowell and historian Nick Redman and another Channel 4 documentary.
Barry Lyndon (1975), a costume epic practically painted on the screen, is probably the least revived of Kubrick’s post-Spartacus films yet it won more Academy Awards than any other of his films except Spartacus: four Oscars in total (out of seven nominations), for John Alcott’s cinematography, Leonard Rosenman’s adapted score, and the art direction and costume design. Ryan O’Neal wears an eternal expression of yearning sincerity as the country boy with no name or fortune whose destiny turns him into a master cad: a deserter, a cheat, a philanderer who marries into a fortune and makes his wife miserable while squandering her money chasing a title, all without losing that wide-eyed look of pained, guileless innocence.
The Shining (1980) is more Kubrick than Stephen King, but then what do you expect? Kubrick’s horror is found in the mental disintegration of a man who chooses isolation to bring out his creative side and instead finds an angry violence that turns on his family, though he has his share of eerie moments and unsettling images. Vivian Kubrick’s 30-minute documentary The Making of The Shining (which was shot on the set of the film) reveals a pleasant, joking Jack Nicholson who works himself up to the part and a troubled Shelley Duvall always on Kubrick’s bad side. Also features commentary by the film’s steadicam operator Garrett Brown and historian John Baxter.
Full Metal Jacket (1987), Kubrick’s take on, Vietnam is really a two-part take on the destruction of the human psyche and soul, first through the systematic mind-fuck of basic training, then through the experience of killing and watching friends die in war. Dispassionate where other Vietnam films are effusive, it’s nonetheless a harrowing, brilliant portrait. It has commentary by stars Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, and R. Lee Ermey with critic Jay Cocks and a featurette.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Kubrick’s final film, features Tom Cruise in his most daring and demanding role as a man tangled in an erotic odyssey through New York’s sexual underworld. This is the unrated international version, and the disc features archival interviews with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Steven Spielberg plus a Channel 4 documentary made shortly after Kubrick’s death.
Also carried over from previous release is documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures (2001) and O Lucky Malcolm! (2006), both directed by Jan Harlan, who was not only Kubrick’s producer for decades, but his brother-in-law. The latter is a career retrospective of actor Malcolm McDowell and the former is a comprehensive, feature length look at the director’s career. Harlan’s twin relationships gives him access to friends, family and coworkers whose recollections reveal very different experiences with the director. Like the best personal portraits, it leaves the man at the core full of contradictions, and the best film studies it reveals the work and the drive behind the stories and images.
New to this collection is the feature-length documentary Kubrick Remembered, directed by Gary Khammar and featuring new and archival interviews with friends, family members, longtime collaborators, and actors from many of his films, including Keir Dullea (2001), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Ryan O’Neal (Barry Lyndon), Matthew Modine and Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket), and Leelee Sobieski, Thomas Gibson, and Gay Hamilton (Eyes Wide Shut). Christiane Kubrick, the director’s widow, opened up the Kubrick archives for this documentary and that is wealth of information all by itself.
Once Upon a Time… A Clockwork Orange (2011) is a 52-minute episode of the French cinema documentary series that makes its stateside debut in this set and the 30-minute Stanley Kubrick in Focus (2012), which is more tribute than documentary, with such filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone discussing the work and the legacy of Kubrick.
The only thing that I can see is missing is, unfortunately, Jon Ronson’s documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, which was included on the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray of Full Metal Jacket. Supplements come and go and many will never be missed but this is one of the best.
The discs are collected in a fold-out digi-pak but the package itself is all boxed up in a sturdy 8 x 11 ½ inch case with a magnetic clasp, along with a 78-page hardcover book and a reproduction of a painting of Kubrick by his wife Christiane.
It’s a limited edition of 29,500 copies and it’s currently exclusive to Amazon.