When controversial director Oliver Stone (‘JFK’ and ‘Platoon’) got ahold of a sprawling biopic about ‘60s legend Jim Morrison and his ill-fated band, The Doors, he fought to realign the production and guide it out of development hell. After making the industry rounds in the early ‘80s, the would-be rock epic had derailed countless times as studios, directors, and actors (including Tom Cruise and John Travolta) struggled to bring the cryptic musician to the screen. Somehow, the man who gave us Gordon Gecko and Barry Champlain turned it around. More stubborn than Morrison and more devoted than the deceased rocker’s rabid fanbase, Stone reworked the script, reinterpreted some of its key figures, and focused the film on the turbulence that haunted the legendary singer throughout his short but influential career.
Covering his childhood, college studies, rise to fame, and untimely death, ’The Doors’ introduces us to a Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) consumed by memories, mind-altering trips, and the various sex-n-drugs excesses of the ‘60s. After encountering a dying Indian on a roadside as a boy, Morrison grows up and assimilates into the Venice Beach hippie culture, all the while obsessed with death and oblivion. He finds romance of sorts with a longtime friend named Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan) and a rock journalist named Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan), dabbles in psychedelic drugs, and forms a band with former UCLA students Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan), Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley), and John Densmore (Kevin Dillon). Unfortunately, the band’s eventual fame isn’t enough to satiate Morrison’s appetite. The Doors' success is constantly undone by Morrison’s erratic antics, rash behavior, and increasingly fragile state of mind.
Since its release in 1991, ’The Doors’ has been plagued with controversy. The surviving members of the original band and other mainstays from Morrison’s past have made it clear that Stone’s biopic isn’t entirely accurate and shouldn’t be considered a true biography. Of course, one doesn’t come to an Oliver Stone film and expect the whole truth (and nothing but the truth). The director is more concerned with capturing the attitude of a legendary figure and the tone of an era than simply filming a by-the-numbers recreation of someone’s life. He works to elicit specific reactions and emotions from his audience that support his message, rather than remaining completely faithful to history. That’s not to say his vision is without merit -- Stone clearly did his research and thoroughly nails the trajectory of Morrison’s life and the singer’s self-destructive tendencies -- but anyone looking for a faultless representation of the rise and fall of The Doors will be sorely disappointed.
What those same people do praise, however, is Val Kilmer’s riveting portrayal of the volatile and unpredictable ‘60s icon. Love or hate the film itself, it’s tough to argue that the actor’s performance is anything less than extraordinary. Like George C. Scott in ‘Patton’ and Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight,’ Kilmer fully commits himself to his role, virtually disappearing into the third-act scruffy beard of Morrison’s inebriated face. The original band members have even commented that they couldn’t distinguish Kilmer’s singing in the film from recordings of Morrison’s actual voice. His work is so convincing that I can’t imagine the film being nearly as engaging or successful if any other actor had been dropped into the lead role.
To its credit, ‘The Doors’ captures the thrust of Morrison’s life, explores the ever-evolving abandon of rock-n-roll in the ‘60s, and examines the fine line between genius and misanthrope, ability and ingenuity, and epiphany and doom. Stone presents Morrison as a tragic figure, a man lost to selfish whims and spoiled pursuits. My only problem is that Stone doesn’t offer any insight or theories into the reasoning behind the falling star’s behavior. Despite the director’s intricate imagery and unrelenting descent into darkness, he never provides any explanation as to the inner-workings of Morrison’s soul. Some viewers will be annoyed with the film’s ambiguity while others will find it ironically fitting as there seem to be few tangible real life answers to be found.
While ’The Doors’ isn’t a perfect biopic or a revealing glimpse into Jim Morrison’s mind, it is a captivating study of a man consumed by excess and celebrity. A hollow, somber tone makes its presence known as the film snakes towards its inevitable conclusion and I couldn’t help but recognize the modern tragedy Stone had woven for his audience. In the end, ‘The Doors’ offers a notably intimate portrait of a rock legend, who had everything and lost it all to drugs, fame, and death itself.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the film over the years, I’ve never been enthused with how ‘The Doors’ has been represented on home video. The colors were always muddy, the drug trips were blocky and oversaturated, and the image was cluttered with noise and artifacts. Thankfully, Lionsgate has eliminated most of those eyesores to deliver a faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that finally makes watching the film more bearable. The palette is still soaked in warm oranges, rich yellows, and heavy browns -- employed and filtered by Stone to give the picture a hazy, dreamlike appearance -- but primaries and skintones exhibit more subtle gradients that allow the image to look more authentic and natural than it has before. More importantly, blacks are deep, contrast is comfortable and inviting, and the image is noticeably cleaner. I didn’t detect any significant artifacting, noise, edge enhancement, or DNR. If anything, I was bothered a bit by inconsistent spikes in the grain field (even though it’s the result of the original print rather than the transfer).
The downside to Stone’s stylized visuals is that they leave the picture looking softer than one might expect from a high-def presentation. Edges are often blurred in a sun-drenched mist, textures occasionally falter during close-ups (and long shots for that matter), and background details continually disappear into the shadows. Don’t misunderstand: I can’t imagine ‘The Doors’ looking much better than it does here. The director’s aesthetic decisions may prevent the image from standing shoulder to shoulder with the best transfers on the market, but fans will finally be able to ditch their lackluster DVDs and embrace a quality release.
Despite a few minor issues, ‘The Doors’ features an impressive DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track that enhances the film’s occasionally surreal atmosphere and, more importantly, bolsters the songs at the heart of the story. I was particularly pleased with the fullness of the soundfield every time Morrison climbed on stage or dabbled in hallucinogenic drugs. The surrounds get a nice workout in such scenes, enveloping the listener and creating a solid immersive experience. While the rear speakers fall a bit too silent during conversations, dialogue is clean and naturally distributed across the front of the soundfield. On the technical front, pans are generally transparent (aside from a few intentional jolts Stone tosses into Morrison’s trips), directionality is reliable, and hearty dynamics add power and momentum to the tragic tale.
I would have been happier had the track pushed the LFE channel to its potential, but average bass tones and mild low-frequency extension aren’t distracting enough to ruin the otherwise rock steady sonics. In my humble opinion, Lionsgate continues to establish itself as a leader in high-def audio support. A reliance on DTS HD Master Audio tracks, the continued use of 7.1 surround (even on catalog titles like ‘The Doors’), and consistent, high quality work makes the studio’s efforts something the industry giants should be scrambling to emulate.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘The Doors’ comes loaded with all of the extensive special features that appeared on Lionsgate’s 2006 15th Anniversary DVD. While some of the supplements that disappeared from the 2001 Special Edition DVD release are still nowhere to be found (namely a cinematography featurette and a series of brief interviews), the breadth of the remaining material more than makes up for the absentee features and the abundance of standard definition video.
’The Doors’ won’t appeal to everyone, but I personally found it to be a well-constructed glimpse into an icon’s fall from grace. Thankfully, the new Blu-ray edition of the film offers fans a sizeable upgrade from their aging DVDs. It features a faithful video transfer, an impressive DTS HD MA 7.1 surround track, and an extensive collection of supplements. If you’ve never seen the film before, ‘The Doors’ is certainly worth a rent. If you already have a copy of the film on your shelf, purchasing this version is a no-brainer.