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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Fear and Desire (Stanley Kubrick's) (1953)

Fear and Desire (Stanley Kubrick's) (1953) (NTSC)

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Released 5-Jun-2013

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Drama Short Film-The Seafarers (28:54)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1953
Running Time 61:30 (Case: 60)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Stanley Kubrick
ViaVision Starring Frank Silvera
Kenneth Harp
Paul Mazursky
Stephen Coit
Virginia Leith
David Allen
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $24.95 Music Gerald Fried

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Fear and Desire is famous not for being a good film, but rather because it was master director Stanley Kubrick's first film, and subsequently it became his most unseen film. It was Kubrick's opinion of it being amateurish which resulted in prints being unavailable. For years, the only way to view this film was to get a bootlegged DVD or a poor VHS copy. According to IMDb, Kubrick disowned the film soon after its release and wanted to make sure it was never seen again by not re-releasing the print. What he didn't know was that Kodak when making the print had a policy of making an extra print for their archives. It is this one that survives and where the DVD-R and VHS bootleg prints came from.

Fear and Desire may have received mixed reviews from the outset of its release, but it must be remembered that the film was made on a tight, minuscule budget. The theme of the film invokes the Cold War era immediately after World War II. In 1953, just as McCarthyism and Hollywood blacklisting was reaching its peak, a war film which neither espoused black-and-white concepts of good and evil, nor elevated its military participants as 'John Wayne-like' superheroes was revolutionary to say the least. Fear and Desire's screenplay was written by high school friend Howard Sackler, the main themes involve coping with trauma and the anxiety of war, class struggles and sexual frustration. Although, as stated, Kubrick would disown this first effort as a feature film, (legend has it that he destroyed the negative following the death of Joseph Burstyn, the film's distributor) it must be said that Kubrick would re-visit its themes in Full Metal Jacket in 1987.

The film begins with a voiceover by the screenwriter, Sackler, who states that the soldiers' stories could be from any war, and what we're about to see exists outside history. A lost regiment, lost in an unnamed war and on an unnamed island, with little resources, attempt to find their way back to base. The men find it difficult to work together cohesively as a result of their different backgrounds. They stumble upon a beautiful woman (Virginia Leith) who they kidnap, take hostage, and tie to a tree. The men all go through various levels of sexual temptation and frustration, especially Private Sidney (Paul Mazursky), who loses sense of his sanity whilst guarding the young woman. The remaining troops wander off to attempt to assassinate a general who has set up camp nearby. Kubrick cast Kenneth Harp (Lieutenant Corby) and Steve Coit (Private Fletcher) as enemy officers also, presumably on the premise that war is not black-and-white, the marks of distinction between the two sides of a battle blur and become one.

The audio was dubbed in post-production on the false belief that it would be cheaper to shoot the film this way. On the contrary, it required an additional $20,000 to pay the actors to record their lines and synchronise Foley effects. Sackler's narration can be both intriguing and grating at times. The cinematography was from Kubrick, working with a camera hed never used before, yet was able to achieve some wonderful imagery. Kubrick had worked as a photographer for Look magazine up to this point, and quit his job to make Fear and Desire mainly from his relatives' and friends' money (especially his Uncle who owned a successful pharmacy business). Fear and Desire was not a box-office success, and Kubrick was forced to take a job-for-hire in shooting the promotional film, The Seafarers, in 1954 (this 28-minute film is available on this DVD as an extra). He would go on to work with Sackler and actor Frank Silvera in his next feature film, Killer's Kiss, however it wasn't until Kubrick was able to work with seasoned and veteran actors and team up with business partner, James B. Harris, that he was able to make films that he became renowned for, beginning with The Killing in 1956.

Fear and Desire is not as bad as Kubrick had envisaged; it is a good film, yet in comparison with Kubrick's masterworks that were to come later, as a result of meticulous and calculated planning and shooting schedules, it is somewhat ordinary. Personally, I'm glad Kubrick made the mistakes he made here and, having become determined not to repeat them, ensured that all his movies made after Spartacus in 1960 would be made on his own terms. History has since shown us that, in my opinion, all cinema fans can rejoice greatly that he did so!

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Transfer Quality


This version of Fear and Desire, distributed by Via Vision Entertainment in New Zealand and Australia, is a port of the restored 35mm print by the Library of Congress and used by Kino-Lorber on the Region 1 United States DVD release.

The aspect ratio is 1:33:1 fullscreen. The image is not 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

The average bitrate of this NTSC video transfer is 6.15 m/b per sec. The image has a natural film grain look, but is otherwise reasonably sharp for its age.

The film is in black-and-white, of course, and I must say that the grading here looks quite good, with minor fluctuations in contrast from time-to-time.

The transfer has not been completed digitally restored however, with white artefacts and jitters in the image present. There is also some vignetting (light fall-off) with the image being slightly darker in the corners. I guess this was as a result of the shooting methods employed due to the low budget.

Unfortunately, there are no subtitles available.

There is no RSDL change because the DVD is a single-layer DVD-5 disc 4.15 gb in size.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


As mentioned, Fear and Desire was shot without sound, with all the dialogue and effects dubbed in post-production.

The main audio track is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 192 kbps.

The dialogue is at least clear, even if the audio is not completely synchronised due to the post-dubbing.

Gerald Fried supplies a dramatic orchestral score which augments the film well, even if gunshots and sounds of overhead flying planes are not as authentic-sounding, again due to budget constraints in post-dubbing.

There is no surround channel action or subwoofer effects employed in this audio transfer as it is in mono.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Short Film - The Seafarers (28:54)

Stanley Kubrick's first colour film was paid for and produced by The Seafarers International Union. This is a half-hour advertisement for the Seafarers International Union, espousing how virtuous the organisation is to its members, highlighting the camaraderie within the union, the medical benefits, and the effects of collective bargaining. This extra is only for the very enthused fans among us; don't feel obligated to view it on the premise that it contains evidence of Kubrick's later cinematic style.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 1 United States DVD release by Kino-Lorber is identical to the Region 4 Australian release.

The Region 2 United Kingdom DVD version (released as a dual Blu-ray/DVD by Masters of Cinema/Eureka Video) contains the Seafarers documentary, as well as the short films, Day of the Fight (12 mins) and Flying Padre (8 mins) and an interview with critic/Stanley Kubrick author Bill Krohn which goes for 15 minutes. There are also optional English subtitles, unavailable on the other Regional DVD releases.

If you are a Kubrick fan or a cinema enthusiast, the Region 2 United Kingdom DVD is the one to go for.


As this is a Stanley Kubrick film, it immediately raises its profile to the status of essential amongst Kubrick completists (like myself) or cinema enthusiasts, otherwise, Fear and Desire does not contain a broad appeal likely to gain a significant following. That doesn't mean it is not a good film, rather it simply falls short of the enormously high standards in filmmaking present in all of Kubrick's later films. At the very least, we can be thankful for Via Vision Entertainment making the film available for Australian DVD collectors and Kubrick fans.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Monday, June 10, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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