It has been coined “the greatest movie never made”– Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, which is ironic, considering the director himself stated during preparation in the 1960′s that it would be “the greatest movie ever made”. It was going to be one of the most ambitious projects ever put to celluloid, as the rigorous taskmaster researched for years, reading a supposed 40 books, and scouting hundreds of locations. He had everything set except a budget and a cast, and even the massive extras he would need for the would-be fantastic battle scenes were going to be supplied by the Romanian Army, a total of nearly 50,000 men, including infantry and cavalry. It was going to be one of the most accurate and stunning movies…ever. Then what happened? How did one of the world’s greatest directors, fresh off his Academy Award-winning triumph 2001: A Space Odyssey not get such a project made? Well, in 1970, in the midst of Kubrick’s preparation, Sergei Bondarchuk’s epic film Waterloo bombed horrifically at the box office. While it included some of the greatest battle scenes ever filmed, the acting was wooden and hammy, and studios feared that American audiences could not handle another cinematic adventure involving military commanders and events that had nothing to do with America. And so the project was shelved for years…and years…and years, until finally all hope was lost; the director died before his dream would ever be realized.
There are only two directors known to film-making who I consider to be artists before directors: Pier Paolo Pasolini and Stanley Kubrick, the latter of which is regarded among the greats of cinema for his achievements in storytelling and sometimes groundbreaking displays of visual effects or impacts left on a certain genre. This is a director, however, who only helmed 13 feature films in his nearly 50 year career, yet he left no stone unturned. He tackled WWI and corrupt army politics with Paths to Glory, a rebel slave in Ancient Rome with Spartacus, an illicit affair between an older man and a young girl, in the then-shocking Lolita, a dark comedy about the Cold War in the classic Dr. Strangelove, before dazzling us with the science fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey—we haven’t even reached the 1970′s yet. With that new decade came a dystopian look at gang-ridden England with A Clockwork Orange before changing pace to direct the slower, richer, Revolutionary War-era epic Barry Lyndon. In the 1980′s, he left his mark on the horror film circuit, by turning the genre into a work of art with The Shining, before he directed the anti-war Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket. After taking a break from Hollywood, he made his return in 1999 with the ultra-mysterious and downright confusing-as-all-hell Eyes Wide Shut, before dying later that year. He left us with a wealth of incredible films, ones which are studied and dissected, but he also left us with a plethora of unfinished works as well.
It took a few months, but after establishing my Top Five list for the best Blu-Rays out there, I finally saw a movie that was good enough to bump one of the previous ones off the list. I have set up a few resources on this blog for those who want to purchase Blu-Rays, because unlike in other mediums, sometimes the quality after a transfer is just a waste of money if you already own the movie. On the flip-side, sometimes that quality is so amazing that it will just blow you away. I had that feeling a few days ago, when I finished watching a WWII movie that gave Saving Private Ryan a run for its money, and might have even eclipsed it, in my humble opinion. It is for that reason that we unfortunately say goodbye to A Night to Remember from the Top Five, and welcome in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, which comes thundering in to the number two spot.
About eight years ago, I remember as a kid, gathering all my VHS tapes together and selling them on Ebay, in order to get money to buy those same films on DVD. My parents could never understand my affection for actually owning my favorite movies—my father has never been a movie fan at all, while my mother is one of those watch-it-once types, except when it comes to anything starring Gregory Peck or James Mason. But for me, when I have a movie that I really like and know I will watch again, why bank on getting an un-scratched, actually playable disc from Netflix, when I can just own it? Say what you want about Wal-Mart, but that is where I buy the majority of my movies, or at least I used to. Their bargain bins and constantly discounted racks are a haven for any film buff, and if you go every so often, the selection changes with a decent regularity. But now, here I am, finding myself doing the exact same thing I did back then: I am selling my DVDs on Ebay so I can buy Blu Rays. My movie collection may not be the biggest ever, and I have not made an exact count, but I estimate it to be at least 100, counting both forms of discs, and some ultra-rare films on VHS that escaped my purge, because they were never transferred to any other medium.
As someone who always scoffs at new technology (I have had the same cell phone for three years now, while people around me seem to change bi-annually), do not take it lightly when I say that Blu Ray actually is the way to go, if you have or want to make the investment in an HD TV (an investment I would definitely push you to make). I am not a fan of the in-today, out-tomorrow controlled obsolescence that dominates the technology market, but being that I will never find myself interested in this new 3D gimmick, something that I think will go the way of the 8-track in years to come, because parents will see their young children’s vision impaired by the glasses, and all other sorts of health risks, I am now going to focus solely on Blu Ray.
However, there are risks involved in making your purchase, ones that were not present for VHS and DVD. The fact of the matter is, some films just do not make the high-definition transfer well, especially older films. You have to realize, that back at that time, before there was any type of home viewing device, filmmakers did not count on people being able to sit ten feet away from a screen, which is why so many goofs can now be caught. But that aside, a lot of times, the simple issue of taking care of the celluloid has doomed these older movies. There are plenty of exceptions, though, as I was absolutely blown away by the Gone With the Wind 70th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (1939). Even though I have grown to dislike the film, seeing it for the first time in a few years, when I actually did like it, I could not help but be amazed at the work that went into the transfer; or what went into the initial preservation—Casablanca (1942) also looked exceptionally well. This is why the purchase-factor is so difficult, because you cannot automatically assume that an old movie might not be worth watching. The 1991 film, JFK, had such an awful video quality that I actually returned it to the store, because it was like I was watching a glorified DVD. What went wrong? Could it have been avoided? All I know is, it made me think twice about purchasing this newer technology—I had the same problem with the Roman Polanski horror/thriller The Ninth Gate, which was made even later in 1999.
The other issue with older films was the “state of the art” technology used to make them in the earlier days of Hollywood. Matte effects for backdrops are even more easily recognizable than in other versions on DVD. This is because of what I mentioned earlier, in that no one ever imagined a viewer being able to watch something on his television or computer, and be able to pause, rewind, and zoom in to find mistakes. There are still some of those older technologically driven films that stand the test of time, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which was made for high-definition, and the astonishing transfer is just like everything else in the film: groundbreaking. In fact, every Kubrick film I own on Blu Ray has impressed, which includes The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and A Clockwork Orange, all made before 1987. I am still waiting to add Barry Lyndon (the excellent cinematography will only be magnified in HD), Dr. Strangelove, and Eyes Wide Shut.
Even with the films I have had problems with, the one aspect that never ceases to come across as well-done is the audio. With the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut (and this was even mentioned in reviews of the original cut), the audio was so spectacular that you actually felt you were in the middle of battle. The same goes for Kingdom of Heaven, with the vibration-causing clang and clash of swords thrusts and slashes, and even the John Wayne Vietnam film The Green Berets, which features plenty of explosions and lots of action. The only downside to the higher quality of audio, involves a visual tie-in. Most films, at one point or another, have over-dubbing used in some way. Perhaps an actor made a mistake, did not speak English well enough, or simply, the director decided to change the dialogue, but in any instance, this is now very easily seen. The audio level is a little bit different from the rest of the film, while the clarity on-screen can show lips moving at a different rate than the words he or she speaks. Older films, such as the John Wayne classics they are now starting to transfer, have fallen horrible victims. The over-dubbing mistakes in Rio Lobo were downright terrible (~80% of them having to do with Jorge Rivero’s character), and something I did not notice as much on the VHS version I previously had. This same issue was present in The Green Berets and even a little bit in Big Jake. However, The Searchers seemed to escape this with not much prevalence. Newer films too are noticed here, and even in the EDC of Gods and Generals, during Abraham Lincoln’s one talking scene, you can hear him speaking as he is climbing off the carriage, but if you look closely, his lips were not moving. Watch it again on the DVD version, and it is much less noticeable—but that is the price to pay when you put out a film with such high technology.
Overall, I would highly recommend moving to Blu Ray if you have not already. This will not be like my VHS purge, because all BR players play DVDs, which is another reason to make the purchase (some films are even starting to offer both BR and DVD in the same case, which saves money and gives you both). Granted, some movies are not worth getting rid of to buy another version, because they may not be something special about it, to you. There is also a common misconception that they are more expensive. This is true, but only in some instances; you just have to shop around, or buy online. If you are a Costco member, you can get many films, mostly older ones, for between $7.95 and $9.95, while newer ones are still under $20. You can also take advantage of the double-packaging as mentioned previously. If you have a favorite film, or you want to be treated to a spectacular viewing experience with a science fiction or outer space film, then Blu Ray is definitely the way to go about it. Just keep in mind that some transfers may not be anything to write home about, and you will be alright with making your new purchases. Take it from someone who hates new technology: invest in this one.
In the few short years that I have been studying film, I can safely say that Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director of all-time. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one that I consider his personal masterpiece and it is my own favorite. The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Dr. Strangelove are right behind that one. All in all, I had seen every movie Kubrick ever made, all but one; Eyes Wide Shut.
Upon finishing this movie earlier today, I’m really at a loss for words. There is a meaning of the film that is so apparently obvious, but if you are watching a Kubrick movie and actually understand it the first time, there is something wrong– it means, the true meaning went right over your head.
I will not pretend that I even have the slightest clue as to what Kubrick’s real intention was, but to explain the obvious story portrayed, it is a simple tale of spousal trust and infidelity. Nicole Kidman’s character tells her husband, played by Tom Cruise, that one time when they were on vacation, she thought about having an affair.
From there, a stunned Cruise walks all over New York City, where he encounters a prostitute, whom he leaves before allowing anything to happen, because he fells guilty. He then finds an old friend who is a piano player at a bar. This man, played by Todd Field, tells cruise of a clandestine meeting that he attends to play the piano for. Each time they meet, it is at a different location, and he must remain blindfolded at all times.
To not give away the entire scene, let’s just say that these “meetings” are basically orgies set up with hundreds of wealthy and important society people. However, Cruise’s character is uncovered and they kick him out with a warning to not speak about it to anyone. Within the next day, people involved start dying one by one, and Cruise continues to wander around the city.
That is essentially the plot of the movie, as Cruise has countless encounters with people who challenge his own faithfulness to his wife. The end of the movie is still something that seems obvious, but there is clearly an underlying meaning to it.
This was Stanley Kubrick’s final movie, as he died four days after presenting the final cut to Warner Brothers. I am glad that I final got a chance to see it, but overall, I really don’t know if I liked it or not. The film is well made, but I will have to watch it at least one more time to fully understand it, and at two hours and forty minutes, I don’t know how convenient that will be for me.
Perhaps the part I enjoyed the most was Kubrick’s use of music, of which he has superb taste in almost every film of us. The eerie music of Gyorgy Ligeti makes a third appearance in a Kubrick film, and this piece by Dmitri Shostakovich was very enjoyable, setting up the film nicely.
For my final rating, I will give it between a 7 and an 8. I wish I would have been able to understand what I will call the strangest movie I have seen to date. Had Kubrick not cared about censorship (like he didn’t for A Clockwork Orange, adding to how good the film was) and gone with an NC-17, or perhaps even pushing it with an X rating, it could have been better.
Let me start out by saying, that of all the movies I have seen, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is my all-time favorite movie. The soundtrack ranks up there among my personal favorites, and it was one of the fastest purchased soundtracks upon seeing a movie ever in my life.
Unfortunately, due to there not being one original piece of music composed for this film, I cannot rank it any lower. It was not always like that, though. Kubrick commissioned Alex North, the composer for a previous work of his, Spartacus, to write the score, and he succeeded in writing the massive piece of music.
But when Kubrick finished filming and put the music in, it just did not sound right to him. So he paid North for his work and shelved the entire musical score in preference to using classical pieces of the soundtrack. The main theme of North’s score, along with others, can be heard here. Ironically, it was in 2001 when Jerry Goldsmith finally had the music played out and recorded, where it could be heard by the public for the first time. This music is available on CD for purchase.
So as for what made it to the final print, such great classical pieces were selected by Kubrick, including one of the most well-known pieces in the world, Also Sprach Zarathustra, written by Richard Strauss. For a lighthearted tone as the movie shifts into the space age, Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube can be heard.
However, the best pieces of music used in this film come not from well-known composers, but by a contemporary by the name of Gyorgy Ligeti, who instantly became one of my favorite musicians upon hearing his work here.
His futuristic, and downright eerie sounding music blended in all too perfectly in this movie. The music during the most crucial point in the film, when Doctor Bowman enters through a star-gate was dubbed Jupiter and Beyond, but was really a combination of two Ligeti pieces, Requiem for Mezzo Sopranos and Atmospheres.
Over all, I really wanted to rank this higher but I could not bring myself to do it, because of the work it takes by a musician to bring a certain theme or tone to a movie. The next movies I have on my list may surprise you, because not all of them are well-known blockbusters. The next one, was in fact, a major flop, but the music is perfect. Actually, it’s about the only good the movie had going for it.
Until next time, folks…
Previous Films on this List