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June 11, 2001
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Still controversial
New Kubrick collection includes restored and remastered films
By BRUCE KIRKLAND


Stanley Kubrick spent his entire filmmaking career, which spanned 48 years and several of the most influential films ever made, driving people absolutely mad.

Actors were frustrated with Kubrick's exacting ways; reactionaries went into apoplexy over his bleak visions of humanity's basest and most disgraceful behaviour; critics found themselves in pitched battles over the director's legacy, and audiences were driven to distraction, and exhilaration, over the films. Kubrick was an artist.

Let the game begin anew. Tomorrow, the new Stanley Kubrick Collection is being released on DVD and VHS by Warner Home Video in cooperation with Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, which supplied Dr. Strangelove for the set.

The DVD box set has nine discs, eight films plus a bonus documentary available only in the set. This is a warts-and-all, star-fueled, impressively thorough, 142-minute biography called Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Its director, Jan Harlan, the late Kubrick's brother-in-law and executive producer, had access to 'talking heads' from Steven Spielberg to Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Malcolm McDowell, Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick's widow Christiane Harlan.

The eight films in the set are the methodical and reclusive Kubrick's final eight features, all made after he abandoned his home country for an idyllic refuge in rural England: Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and finally Eyes Wide Shut (1999), the much maligned Cruise-Kidman opus released posthumously.

The new Kubrick Collection replaces the 1999 release, which took us from Lolita through Full Metal Jacket. Significantly, something has changed that has generated another firestorm of controversy from 'purists' who claim that Warner Bros. technicians are tampering with genius.

Six of the eight features -- Lolita, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and Full Metal Jacket -- have been "digitally restored and remastered" for this re-release. Five -- Lolita is the exception -- have been turned into dolby digital 5.1 soundtracks. Purists say this is a travesty.

But directly comparing the sound on the old versus the new Clockwork Orange disc -- and hearing a fuller, rich, clearer sound that enhances the feeling of immersion in the psychologically damaged future shock world he creates with such bold intensity -- I find it impossible to accept that this messes with Kubrick's intentions. Just the opposite. I'm convinced that if he were alive today, just as DVD culture burgeons, he would have personally supervised the process.

At the same time -- and this is also controversial -- all the films are presented in the ratio that Kubrick demanded for home viewing. In some cases, such as The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, that is different from what audiences saw in theatres. So the collection goes from full-screen to various widescreen ratios. Only with Full Metal Jacket do we see a pan-and-scan version, but that too was Kubrick's choice.

As for the films, there will be passionate arguments over Kubrick as long as people watch for both entertainment and enlightenment. Favourites? Lolita is devastatingly good in exploring the nature of the sexual beast within; Dr. Strangelove is a definitive anti-war classic; 2001 remains ambiguous and provocative as a science-fiction opus; A Clockwork Orange, which sprang from Anthony Burgess' extraordinary novel, is the single most terrifying film I have ever seen for its depiction of the corroded human soul.

Even Kubrick's worst and last movie, the sombre and yet often silly Eyes Wide Shut, demands to be seen for what he was trying to say about the human condition. Just as the boy from the Bronx began in controversy, so he ended. From the grave, he continues to stir our imaginations.


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