Review for Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
The life of a reviewer is never simple. We live by the maxim ‘We watch it so you won’t have to’ and reviewing can take an inordinate amount of time. For personal reasons, which I won’t go into here, I have had precious little time of late. Certainly nowhere near enough to pen the review that Criterion’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Blu-Ray release deserves.
But it’s important that, just as there are times when it’s good to warn readers off a particular disc, we take the time to recommend releases that are utterly essential. This is such a release.
You can check out Wikipedia or the IMBD for a plot summary but for the sake of expediency, saving both you and I some precious time, here are TEN REASONS YOU NEED TO BUY THIS RELEASE in no particular order.
1. PETER SELLERS
Peter Sellers is a wonderful, complex actor and comedian. I love his work in ‘I’m Alright Jack’ and ‘The Pink Panther’ movies but it’s this film that perhaps reflects his own darkly surreal humour as its best. He plays no less than three parts in the film, all completely differently, showing his incredible versatility and ability to get deep into character.
2. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR FOUR OSCARS – As one of the greatest black comedies of all time, and arguably the very best political satire, the film was quickly recognised by critics and public alike as being somewhat special. As a result, it was nominated for 4 Oscars as well as 7 Baftas, winning just four. It’s certainly not the only measure of a good film but as yardsticks go, it’s up there.
3. SLIM PICKENS AS THE VOICE OF MIDDLE AMERICA – Alright, let’s not split hairs. Mr. Pickens is the voice of redneck, Southern USA, but the part he plays represents the unthinking mass of Middle-America here; the self-same hordes that backed the government’s decision to go to Vietnam. God fearing, gun toting patriots who end up (literally) strapped to the very bomb set to destroy mankind. No one could have played the part better than Slim – he’s on top form here, as good as you’ll ever see him, and he’ll have you laughing aloud, even as the whole ship is going down. His performance is worth the price of admission alone.
4. BECAUSE IT’S AN HISTORIC CULTURAL TOUCHSTONE, BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN THE 50’S AND 60’S – Historically, this sits as the bridge of the curious and crazy cross-over point between 1950’s screwball comedy and the psyched-out, trippy sixties, with its dark satire pre-dating Monty Python (but being somewhat influenced, perhaps, by the anarchic madness and surrealism of The Goons). It was a revolutionary time for cinema and Dr. Strangelove was the first of many cold-war satires to follow.
5. EXTRA FEATURE OVERLOAD – Well, I’m learning fast that Criterion’s reputation in the U.S. has been hard won by consistently delivering the very best of everything, including extra features. ‘Dr. Strangelove’ comes packed to the gunnels with insightful and fun-to-watch extra features which include all the following. Blimey.
- Stanley Kubrick - 4 minutes of extracts from a 1966 interview with Stanley Kubrick by Jeremy Bernstein.
- Mick Broderick – A contemporary Criterion 20 minute exclusive. Academic Mick Broderick discusses talks about the film and how Kubrick not only directed, but produced the film in order to retain as much artistic control as possible. There are also some great anecdotes about how Sellers would occasionally ad-lib during filming, some of which made the final cut.
- The Art of Stanley Kubrick – An archival, 15 minute piece from 2000 which features film critic Alexander Walker, biographer John Baxter, executive producer Lee Minoff, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor and actor James Earl Jones, discussing Kubrick's early work. A key and recurring feature of the conversation is that, as Kubrick started out his working life as a photographer, his eye for near perfect composition remained a feature of his work throughout his career.
- Joe Dunton and Kelvin Pike – Another Criterion exclusive for this release, a 15 minute interview with cinematographer Joe Dunton and camera operator Kelvin Pike reveals much about Kubrick’s working methodology, particularly regarding the use of black and white for the film.
- Inside "Dr. Strangelove" – A 50 minute archival featurette from 2000, which focuses on the production of the film, using stock photos and footage etc as well as many interviews. Fascinating stuff!
- Richard Daniels – Another new feature from Criterion – a 15 minute interview with Richard Daniels, senior archivist at the Stanley Kubrick Archive.
- David George - Another new feature from Criterion featuring a 10 minute interview with the son of the novelist who wrote ‘Red Alert’, the novel which the film was based on. Clearly Kubrick shared the same dark sense of humour!
- No Fighting in the War Room – A 2004 30 minute featurette featuring former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, journalist Bob Woodward, critic Roger Ebert, producer James B. Harris, and director Spike Lee who discuss the political climate prevalent at the time.
- Best Sellers – A 20 minute featurette from 2004 which focuses on Peter Sellers standout performances in the film. It includes interviews with fans like critic Roger Ebert, actor Michael Palin, Shirley MacLaine, Sir David Frost and director Richard Lester.
- Rodney Hill – Another exclusive from Criterion for this release; an 18 minute interview with film scholar Rodney Hill (contributor, The Stanley Kubrick Archives) who waxes lyrical about the brilliance of the film.
- George C. Scott and Peter Sellers – Interviews from the set of the film (1963) with both Peter Sellers and George C. Scott used to promote the film at the time of its release.
- Today – A 5 minute extract from from an episode of NBC's Today where critic Gene Shalit interviews Peter Sellers which was originally broadcast on March 12, 1980.
- Exhibitor's Trailer - the notorious 17 minute long trailer for Dr. Strangelove with audio descriptions by Stanley Kubrick.
- Theatrical Trailer (4 min, 1080p).
- Booklet - an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by scholar David Bromwich along with a 1994 article by screenwriter Terry Southern on the making of the film.
6. PICTURE QUALITY
Despite an abject apology in the brochure regarding picture quality, I thought this Blu-Ray was a major step up from the DVD release I have (which had been a major step up from my VHS release at the time) Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, I understand that the original negative was destroyed at the time of the film's theatrical release and over-printing and damage are still prevalent on the transfer. Believe me, it’s hardly noticeable and it looks generally excellent throughout with clear, pristine focus and really impressive levels of contrast. Apparently Criterion had to utilise a combination of elements, including 35mm fine-grain master positives, and duplicate negatives and prints, to get the best possible result with the removal of tens of thousands of specks of dust and damage. A damned good job and the best you’re ever likely to see this film again.
7. IT’S DARK BUT LAUGH ALOUD FUNNY – what can I say? From Slim Pickens’ showcase ‘shucks’ to Sellers' British reserve and dark surrealism, there is just tons to laugh at here.
8. IT’S A RE-WATCHER – I’ve seen this film half a dozen times and it never fails to deliver. Which means it has fantastic re-watchability. In my book, that makes it a keeper and worth buying.
9. IT’S A GREAT REFLECTION OF COLD WAR SENTIMENT AND FEAR – We’ve been out of that weird cold-war era for almost three decades now but in the sixties, fear of ‘the bomb’ was very real. We’d had some near misses (like the Cuban Missile crisis a couple of years previously) so the idea of the bomb to end all bombs wasn’t as crazy as it might have sounded. They were genuinely worrying times and British gallows humour was just the anti-dote people needed.
10. IT’S A CRITERION RELEASE – if you’re a film lover then you’ve just got to collect Criterions. It’s practically the sixth amendment in the US and, given the quality of their PAL releases thus far, should become law here too. It’s a brand you can trust and possibly a good enough reason to buy.
This is a fantastic film and a really top-notch release. Highly recommended.