Take away the shag haircuts and the severe aging of lead actor Malcolm McDowell and the now forty year old cinematic classic could have been made yesterday. 'A Clockwork Orange' has held up amazingly well. Based on the Americanized version of the 1961 novel by Anthony Burgess, which lacks the final chapter of the story, this tale of crime and punishment (among many other things) remains an important, must see experience, one of the masterworks of the most notoriously perfectionistic director ever known, with topics that remain as relevant today as they were when both the novel and film debuted.
The story of Alexander DeLarge's descent from rampaging hooligan and borderline lunatic into convicted murderer and eventual guinea pig is all too powerful. With no explained traumatic experiences or unfortunate upbringings, we have a being who hides behind many masks, both figuratively and literally, a product of nature rather than nurture, who abandons the rigors of day to day life, the rigamarole of school, and the eventual job and career, for a life of chaos, his bloodlust enhanced through ingested chemicals, with his three "droog" friends (Michael Tarn, James Marcus, and Warren Clarke) roaming the nights beating, robbing, and raping the innocent. Double crossed by his only friends and left to solely bear the fourteen year punishment for their collective crimes, Alex becomes a product of the system, now known as 655321. But rather than serve out his sentence, our hero and narrator volunteers for an experimental procedure that will get him out of jail and ensure he'll never return. But at what cost? Is Alex's new life truly "free," or is he more a prisoner than he was when he was behind bars?
Of all the films I've seen in my life, I can count on any appendage only a few that I've seen more times than this 136 minute thrill ride that passes by faster and faster with each repeat viewing. I can count even fewer films that I could say, like 'A Clockwork Orange,' that I'd not change a single minute, second, or frame of. Methodically paced, spread out across a distinct three act structure (crime, consequence, and the true aftermath thereof), the film links together seamlessly despite being tonally distinct and incomparable. The chaos and anarchy on display with the youthful Alex and his ironically white clad gang in the early goings is poetic. It's all so savagely cruel and random, yet completely believable.
Anarchy is then traded in for control. Institutionalized and thrown to the wolves, the leering perverts as well as the powerful guards and wardens who prove to be Alex's antithesis, we see manipulations of a man trying to survive, misinterpreting biblical passages and meanings to reaffirm his own beliefs, while playing the part of a convert to the pastor he assists. The film then insinuates that the criminal in the midst of his peers will only grow more dedicated in his craft, and just as fast, we see the six digit cog in the system manipulate his way into an early release. He doesn't want to be cured as much as he wants to be released, to seemingly continue his criminal spree. As we see Alex's eyelids clamped open as he's forced to watch atrocities, drugged to feel the opposite of the way he did when he took his previous partakings, we see the hand of governmental control as well as the idea of conformity, though presented in a manner that makes it less idea than it is fact.
With one act to go, Kubrick's tale doesn't drive the path of redemption. Quite literally, everything Alex lived for is stripped of him, capable of making him desire death rather than indulge, including his one obsession capable of tranquilizing him rather than enticing carnage. Alex is a prisoner without a cage, a shell of a man and a victim to everyone, family, friend, and foe. His reason for existence excised, cruelly taunting him at every turn. The irony now is that the once ironically clad hooligan extraordinaire is now the same as those he once committed his atrocities upon, a helpless sheep, the wolf beneath brainwashed and killed.
Set to synthesized classical music, which is as timeless and unique as the film's visuals, 'A Clockwork Orange' paints a more believable state of the future, while giving a view of the present's paths even today, chock full of leering perverts at every turn eying Alex for what he embodies, whether they're in the position of power or on the same tier as our humble narrator. With perplexing speech patterns, bizarre and otherwise complex scene compositions, and a labyrinthine plot whose motives can be interpreted a number of ways, as we see a character constantly theorizing on the meaning of existence as he is thrown down the path that he's chosen for himself. As we see a character grow wiser, perhaps even cruelly so, it's hard to not connect, sympathize, or even relate to the misadventures of one of cinema's greatest anti-heroes. Damn near every shot of the film features the great Alexander DeLarge, and the few that don't feature characters talking directly about him. That equates to a one man show, and boy what a one man show this is.
The Disc: Vital Stats
This is not the first time we've seen 'A Clockwork Orange' on Blu-ray. Released in October of 2007 alongside a number of other Warner-owned Stanley Kubrick flicks, this catalog favorite gets a digibook double dip in honor of its fortieth anniversary. Split into two discs (making for a fatter package), this Region A/B/C BD50 disc is aimed more for collectors rather than those that already own the previous release. Why is that? Keep reading!
Man, wouldn't it be awesome if one of the ugliest Stanley Kubrick Blu-rays got a well deserved and much needed upgrade in this double dip?! Unlike the digibook release of 'Goodfellas,' the second disc in this release features content originally found on the movie disc, meaning this is a different disc!
Unfortunately, despite the obvious opportunity, the same transfer was used for the digibook release of 'A Clockwork Orange' as was used for the original release from three and a half years ago. Still VC-1, still 1.66:1 (thankfully!), still 1080p. Still a massive mess. "And what's so stinking about it?!," you ask? Start with the tinted, dirty, ugly whites, weak blacks, and light noise, move forward to the questionable skin tones and random blurriness, and then again on to the lack of detail found somewhat regularly, alongside light artifacting and minor banding issues, and you have what proves to be a repeat offender. Do we need to strap some Warner folks to a theater chair and force them to see this flick next to each and every other Kubrick release on Blu-ray?!
Sure, I enjoy how minimal dirt and debris is, and I really liked how there doesn't appear to be any wobble whatsoever, but the on again, off again picture depth wore thin with this flick. Digibook double dips should mean an improvement over the previous release, not just same ol', same ol' with new expensive packaging. The change in content on the movie disc will account for a slightly different viewing experience, however, the deduction in score found here is accounted for by the fact that in three and a half years, we've seen quite a few discs since we last saw 'Clockwork,' and I just can't give this even two and a half stars without feeling like I were tethered to do so by the previous review. Too much great catalog fare has come out since then, and I must refuse. I wasn't impressed then, and I'm even less impressed now.
I really wouldn't say the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on this double dip is that much different than the Linear PCM one found on the original release. Don't misinterpret my star score on this release as meaning they're the same darn thing, though.
The Kubrick classic's classical music pierces the entire room from all angles, sometimes overpowering the other elements of the film, with what may be the main, if only, part of the track that hits the rear speakers. Still, this forty year old film doesn't exactly have to be all over the place like a modern flick, so the front heavy nature of this release isn't a bother at all. McDowell's narration is as powerful as ever, towering over the proceedings with little effort. Bass use is effective, with plenty of oomph in the score and in a few impacts, like the Billy Boy massacre early on.
There is some random static and feedback, and a hint of tin, which keeps this one from being a top notch audio experience, but at no point will this mix ever leave you screaming "shut your filthy hole, you scum!" That has to count for something.
Portions of the supplements reviewed here appear in our review of the original Blu-ray release.
So, is this rerelease of 'A Clockwork Orange' worth the big, big money? If you ask me, no. A better, much needed transfer wasn't picked from the trees, so this disc looks like a real horror show...just like the other Blu-ray of this classic flick. The change in audio format isn't really that big a selling point, either. The only portions of this disc worth the purchase is the new features, and the Kubrick documentary that...almost every Kubrick fan already owns. This is a completely unnecessary double dip, a pricier "upgrade" that will leave double dippers feeling like real dips.