- by Jeff Beck
A Clockwork Orange: Kubrick's Masterpiece Celebrates 50 Years (4K/Blu-ray)
2021 sees the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick's masterful adaptation of Anthony Burgess' novel, " A Clockwork Orange," a film that is well-noted as being rather controversial... at least at the time of its release. This dystopian tale was seemingly the cause of copycat crimes in the UK, causing the film to be pulled from release until after the director's death, and what's more, was criticized by many for its gleeful depiction of violence, and yet, it's still considered one of the greatest films ever made, lauded by critics and viewers alike. With its special anniversary this year, Warner Bros. is unleashing the film once more in a new remarkable 4K/Blu-ray release, making it the perfect time to go back and reflect on this masterpiece that has delighted and shocked audiences in equal measure.
The film follows the misadventures of young Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his partners in crime (aka, his "droogs"), as they spend their nights robbing, terrorizing, fighting, and drinking drugged milk. Alex's probation officer, Mr. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), knows something is going on, going so far as to caution Alex about his activities, but the warning is dismissed with a smile. When Alex's droogs feel that some changes need to be made within the group, Alex is forced to assert his authority, but also decides that the big score they suggest would be a good idea. However, the attempted robbery results in a death, and his droogs betray him and leave him to the authorities. While in prison, he hears about a new treatment that cures one of violent tendencies, and gets them released from their sentence, so naturally he sets himself up to be the one to receive it. Even though the treatment seems like a great idea, he quickly learns that it has more consequences than expected.
It may be a little difficult to narrow down just why "A Clockwork Orange" has achieved the status that it has, but for me (who first saw the film as a teenager, and many, many times since), it's always been a fascination with the narrative and the world it establishes. What was brilliantly unfolded in Burgess' book is adapted equally brilliantly in Kubrick's screenplay (which ultimately leaves out very little of the original material). Utilizing the unique Nadsat language from the novel, and building the disturbing atmosphere of the book (where gangs roam around freely committing crimes, seemingly without repercussions) through incredible production design, costumes, and, of course, Kubrick's marvelous direction, the film puts you right there in its haunting dystopian setting, squarely in the shoes of its intriguing antihero.
Not only is the narrative quite engrossing on its own, but it also asks some compelling questions about free will. As we see the effects that the treatment has on Alex, it forces the audience to ask if submission is worth the toll we witness it taking on him, as well as what it ultimately almost makes him do. It's a film that's certainly sparked enough debate in its time, with claims of it being too violent (though it's arguably quite tame compared to today's standards), but the violence that it does contain is in service to the narrative and the fascinating questions it poses.
Despite the controversy and a few opposing views (Roger Ebert notoriously gave the film two stars, calling it "an ideological mess"), it was very well-received back in 1971, garnering four Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing (sadly losing all four to William Friedkin's "The French Connection"), three Golden Globe nominations (including Best Picture (Drama) and Director), and seven BAFTA nominations (including Best Film and Director). Since then, it has even been added to the National Film Registry and named as one of the greatest films of all time by the American Film Institute.
It's one of those films that one doesn't forget anytime soon, which is perhaps another strong argument for its staying power. Everything mentioned here, the screenplay, the visuals, the themes, on top of unforgettable performances and a splendid, Beethoven-rich soundtrack, make this a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable cinematic experience. Even seeing it as a young teenager, it was one of those films that was clearly very special, one that has made me want to visit it over and over again over the subsequent years. As it celebrates 50 years, its hardly surprising to find that its draw has not reduced in the slightest, with the film still constantly striking up discussion and analysis, and there's no doubt at all that it will merely continue to do so for another 50 years, and well beyond.
"A Clockwork Orange" comes to 4K/Blu-ray in stunning 2160p Ultra High Definition/1080p High Definition transfers, presented in 1.66:1. The video is absolutely gorgeous, and is easily the best the film has looked in the last 50 years, with dazzlingly sharp colors and a wonderfully crisp picture throughout. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD audio is magnificent, presenting all of the unique dialogue and exquisite soundtrack in outstanding quality. Overall, it seems unlikely that Kubrick's masterpiece could have received better treatment than this.
Commentary with Malcolm McDowell and Historian Nick Redman: A fantastic track, featuring lots of fascinating behind the scenes/making of info about the film.
Still Tickin': The Return of Clockwork Orange (44 Minutes): A featurette that has various authors, critics, and filmmakers looking back at the film.
Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange (28 Minutes): An excellent featurette that features various experts discussing the film and its making.
Turning Like Clockwork (26 Minutes): Another intriguing featurette that features experts discussing the film and its impact.
Malcolm McDowell Looks Back (11 Minutes): The star reminisces about the film as he goes through several production photos that include letters, costumes, and artwork.
Even after 50 years, Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" remains as thought-provoking, engrossing, and stunning as ever. With Kubrick's brilliant direction & screenplay (from the novel by Anthony Burgess), astounding visuals, and intriguing themes, the film is an unforgettable cinematic experience that continues to elicit much discussion and analysis, rightfully earning its reputation as one of the greatest films ever made.
Available on 4K/Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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