blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

Blu-ray: Dr. Strangelove

The Blu-ray release of Stanley Kubrick’s classic Cold War satire is one of this year’s major releases on the format.

Dr Strangelove (Sony): The Blu-ray release of Stanley Kubrick’s classic Cold War satire is one of this year’s major releases on the format.

Released in 1964, it stars Peter Sellers (in a remarkable performance encompassing three roles: US president, the scientist title character and a British RAF group captain), George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden.

Loosely based on Peter George’s novel Red Alert it depicts the chaos that ensues when an unhinged US Air Force general launches a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.

With its splendid mix of intelligence, wit and technical brilliance it remains one of Kubrick’s finest works and also one of the truly great films of the 1960s.

This Blu-ray release came out last summer in the US and was based on a 4K restoration by Sony (although sadly no sign of the famously deleted cream pie fight).

There are a couple of visual issues surrounding this release worth noting as they apply to any classic work restored for Blu-ray.

Firstly, the aspect ratio is done in 1:66. As The Digital Bits reported:

The original theatrical presentation varied between 1.33 and 1.66. In recent years however, we’re told that Kubrick’s associates (who manage his estate) have become more comfortable with the 16×9/1.78:1 aspect ratio of HD displays, and they believe that Kubrick himself – if he’d really had the chance to look into it – would have preferred his full frame films to be presented on home video (in HD) at a steady 1.66 to take better advantage of the 1.78:1 frame. So that’s the reasoning for the decision.

The other issue which caused some debate was that of grain. The basic argument here revolves around how much grain should be removed in the transfer process. Purists argue that grain should be preserved as it was part of the original negative, whilst others think that if directors would have removed grain if they had access to modern digital tools.

To complicate the issue, there are some who think that that the whole issue is a non-starter and that grain is an inherent part of the film image.

There isn’t really a definitive answer, as it depends on the film and your viewpoint, but given the heated arguments around such releases of The French Connection and The Third Man, it is likely to remain an issue that crops up in future.

Gary Tooze of DVD Beaver thinks grain was always an important part of the film:

Grain has always been an important part of the visual texture to this film – it’s preserved here nicely without becoming a distraction. This is a great B&W, 1080p presentation. The new TrueHD 5.1 audio mix is also quite good, offering the expected improvements in clarity and resolution. For those who prefer it, however, the original mono audio is here too.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere felt badly let down by the grain in the image, describing it as:
…more than a visual disappointment — it’s a flat-out burn. I paid $35 bills for it yesterday afternoon and I’m seething. It’s hands down the worst grainstorm experience since Criterion’s The Third Man because Sony’s preservation and restoration guy Grover Crisp went the monk-purist route in the remastering and retained every last shard of grain in the original film elements.
Glenn Kenny of Some Came Running took a different position, arguing that Kubrick wanted grain in the film:
Of course this brings up all the old arguments as to grain and its place in a motion picture’s image, the rather absurd supposition by some that if dead filmmakers could return from the grave they’d immediately avail themselves of digital technology and erase all the film grain from their oeuvres, etc., etc. I don’t think I’m going that far on a limb to say that Kubrick in particular liked a little grain in his images.
Whatever the debate over the visual transfer it is still an essential film for any collection and the extras are plentiful, including:
  • Coded for all regions (A, B and C), extras are in SD. Features include:
  • 1080P 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • English and Spanish (Castilian) 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • English Mono
  • Hungarian, Czech and Polish DD5.1
  • Subtitles (Main Feature): English, English HOH, Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Portugal), Slovak, Spanish (Castilian), Swedish, Turkish
  • Subtitles (Extra Features): English, Spanish
  • BD Exclusive: The Cold War: Picture-in-Picture and Pop-Up Trivia Track – Embark on a journey into the very heart of the Cold War exploring, in fascinating detail, the military and political world in which Dr. Strangelove takes place. What did the film get right and where did it take liberties with established military procedures? And just how close were we in the early 1960s to a real atomic exchange? This multimedia experience includes Graphic-in-Picture pop-up trivia and Picture-in-Picture commentary that help shed some light on an era of secrets and heightened paranoia, all of which helped inspire this classic film. Picture-in-Picture interviews include:
  • Thomas Schelling (RAND* Corp. employee during late 1950s and early 1960s – wrote article on novel “Red Alert” that prompted Kubrick’s interest in adapting the book to a film)
  • Richard A. Clarke (Author of “Against All Enemies,” counter-terrorism and command and control systems expert)
  • Daniel Ellsberg (RAND Corp. employee during late 1950s and early 1960s; consultant to JFK admin., Dept. of Defense)
  • George Quester (Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland; expert on nuclear proliferation, deterrence, and nuclear diplomacy)
  • David Alan Rosenberg (Temple University professor; Historian of Nuclear Strategy; ex-military)
  • No Fighting in the War Room or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat
  • Inside: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  • The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove
  • Best Sellers Or: Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove Remembered
  • An Interview with Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara

Dr Strangelove is out now on Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

> Buy the Blu-ray at Amazon UK
> IMDb Entry
> Find out more about Dr Strangelove and Stanley Kubrick at Wikipedia