Dr. Strangelove: 40th Anniversary Edition (1964)

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Released 22-Mar-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Black Comedy Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer
Featurette-NoFighting InThe War Room Or: Dr Strangelove&NuclearThreat
Featurette-Inside Dr. Strangelove
Featurette-Best Sellers Or: Peter Sellers Or Dr. Strangelove
Featurette-The Art Of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films To Strangelove
Featurette-An Interview With Robert McNamara
Interviews-Cast-Peter Sellers And George C. Scott
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Gallery-Poster
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Big Fish, On The Waterfront
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1964
Running Time 90:53
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (62:47)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Stanley Kubrick
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Peter Sellers
George C. Scott
Sterling Hayden
Keenan Wynn
Slim Pickens
Tracey Reed
Peter Bull
James Earl Jones
Shane Rimmer
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Laurie Johnson


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Varies Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Arabic
Hindi
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    The commander of Burpelson air base, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) issues the order for the planes under his command to attack Russia, and he seals off the base. Also at the base is Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), a British officer there on an exchange programme. When Mandrake realises that Ripper is acting alone, he tries to learn the recall code, and finds out that Ripper is suffering from delusions that people are trying to steal his vital essence, through women and through fluoridation.

    Meanwhile in Washington, Air Force General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) is called in from his mistress's bed in the middle of the night to the war room of the White House. There President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) seeks a way to recall the bombers, which are minutes away from Russian airspace. He calls in Russian Ambassador Sadesky (Peter Bull), and they contact Russian Premier Kissoff. The Ambassador then reveals that Russia has installed a Doomsday device, an automatic nuclear retaliation mechanism. If any of the bombers reach their target, a 93-year radioactive cloud will cover the planet. A former Nazi scientist in a wheelchair, Dr Strangelove (Peter Sellers), is called on for expert advice.

    One of the B-52s is damaged by a Russian missile, rendering the black box decoder inoperable, so it cannot be recalled. This flight is commanded by Major 'King' Kong (Slim Pickens).

    The screenplay is based on a 1958 book by Peter Greene, a serious effort entitled Red Alert. Kubrick managed to acquire the rights after Frank Sinatra let them slip, and set about with his then partner James B. Harris to develop a screenplay. They joked about making it a comedy, but when Harris left the partnership to direct his own films, he was shocked to learn that Kubrick intended to actually carry out this idle idea to turn it into a comedy, believing that it would kill Kubrick's career. Of course, he was completely wrong. The eventual screenplay by Kubrick and Terry Southern masterfully treads the razor's edge between satire and drama. While the dialogue is often hilarious, it is not unbelievable. Such a scenario could have happened for real.

    One of the strands running through this film is sex. Kubrick and Southern explicitly draw out the links between rampant militarism and sex, right from the opening credits which shows B52 bombers copulating (that is, refuelling in mid-air) to the strains of Try a Little Tenderness. Ripper is concerned that women and Commies are stealing his vital fluids, while Turgidson is first seen with his mistress. Strangelove seems revitalised by the thought of repopulating the Earth, ten women to every man, and the numerous mushroom clouds at the end suggest an orgy of one kind or another. There's the famous shot of Major Kong riding a phallic bomb rodeo-style. Add to this the names of the major characters. The original Jack the Ripper had his problems with women. Mandrake is a root that was used as a love potion in earlier times, and was noted for its potency. Strangelove is fairly obvious, while Turgidson's first name is Buck - also obvious - and turgid means swollen or distended. The Russian ambassador is Sadesky, a Russianisation of Sade. And the President is called Merkin Muffley - for the uninitiated, a merkin is a pubic wig. I expect Kubrick and Southern sat up late one night and tried to invent the most outrageous names possible.

    Peter Sellers was originally to play four roles, but conveniently injured his ankle to avoid having to play Major Kong. Slim Pickens was brought in at short notice to effectively play himself, a drawling, Stetson-wearing Texan. Sellers is simply brilliant in all three roles: the slightly stuffy English officer Mandrake, the serious-minded President Muffley and the over-the-top eccentric Strangelove, with his strangulated cries of Mein Fuhrer and his struggle to control his black-gloved hand. Equally brilliant, though not always appreciated as such, is Scott as the gung ho General Turgidson. Kubrick had him play the role in an exaggerated manner, which Scott hated, but it works perfectly, and Scott is as funny as Sellers in this film.

    Sterling Hayden had previously worked with Kubrick on The Killing, and he again gives some of his best work as the loopy Ripper, making him both neurotic and sinister. Peter Bull is well-cast as Ambassador Sadesky, though during one of the closing sequences of Sellers' gyrations as Strangelove he is barely able to prevent himself from laughing. Not that he was alone in this - there is a lot of cutting in these sequences, which was done to remove shots of the extras laughing. Keenan Wynn has a short but memorable appearance as Colonel 'Bat' Guano, leery of Mandrake and his "preversions". And that is James Earl Jones in his film debut as Zogg, one of the flight crew.

    The film was a commercial success when released, though the release had to be delayed after the assassination of the US president in 1963. In early 1964 the critical reaction was mixed, mainly because some critics did not understand Kubrick's intentions. Now it is rightly regarded as a classic, one which improves on each viewing. The present release, the third of the film in Region 4, is the 40th Anniversary Edition, cunningly released 41 years after the film was originally issued.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented 16x9 enhanced in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The film was originally shot in 1.66:1 with some in-camera mattes to 1.33:1. This latter aspect ratio was used to add realism to the battle footage. Actual battle footage would have been seen by most people at 1.37:1 in older films and 1.33:1 on television. When the film was released on laserdisc in the US by Criterion, Kubrick insisted that it have variable aspect ratios. However, the film would also have been seen in cinemas at 1.66:1 throughout, and in 1.85:1 in US theatres, so any one of these three arrangements can be deemed authentic to the original presentation, if not necessarily to the director's wishes.

    This is as good as the film has looked on DVD. It is quite sharp and clear, with good contrast and brightness. If anything, it is slightly darker than the original Region 4 DVD release, though not by very much. Shadows are a little murky, though in this black and white film that is not a disadvantage.

    Artefacts are kept to a minimum. There is some minor aliasing at times, and some telecine wobble is noticeable. There are small flacks and bits of dirt throughout, though there is never a shower of them. The film looks grainy, as it would have in cinemas.

    Optional English subtitles are available in a small white font, and seem very close to the dialogue. The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer change placed at 62:47, non-disruptive due to its placement at a cut.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three audio tracks, English and French in Dolby Digital 5.1 and English DTS 5.1. I listened to both English tracks.

    Why there are two surround tracks and no mono original track is a mystery. The surround mixes use the rear channels sparingly, mainly for music and very occasional effects. Most of the time the audio is spread across the front channels, and I did not notice any subwoofer activity at all. There are no material differences between the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks that I could detect, though of course the former sounds louder (as is typical).

    Dialogue is clear at all times. The audio is a little thin at times, with some sibilance, but the ear adjusts quickly. The film was not designed as an aural feast, and this transfer gives the film its due. There is no audible hiss nor any glitches. Music is by Laurie Johnson, and makes much use of When Johnny Comes Marching Home as a sort of military theme to some suspenseful effect as the film progresses.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Introduction, Audio and Animation

    A brief multi-image introduction, with the menu having some of the music as background, and footage from the war room.

Dolby Digital Trailer  (0:35)

    The plain old Dolby Digital trailer.

Featurette-No Fighting In The War Room Or: Dr Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat (30:04)

    This is interesting material dealing with the real-life issues that the film confronted through the eyes of people involved with the film and those who were involved in the politics of the era. It features interview snippets with Robert S. McNamara, who was Secretary of State under Kennedy, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (he of All the President's Men), film critics Roger Ebert and the late Alexander Walker, Kubrick's former partner and later director James B. Harris, Spike Lee, James Earl Jones and the film's editor Anthony Harvey.

Featurette-Inside Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (46:05)

    Background to the film in detail with some of the participants and others from the above featurette. In addition, there are appearances from Terry Southern's widow and son, production designer Ken Adam, art director Peter Murton, director of photography Gilbert Taylor and actors Shane Rimmer and Tracey Reed, amongst others. There is also a short piece with Sidney Lumet, director of the similar film Fail-Safe.

Featurette-Best Sellers Or: Peter Sellers Or Dr. Strangelove (18:28)

    This is a short biography of Sellers featuring clips from some of his other work, and again a line-up of familiar names: David Frost, director Richard Lester, Shirley MacLaine and Michael Palin.

Featurette-The Art Of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films To Strangelove (13:51)

    A brief look at Kubrick's career prior to Strangelove, with interviews with friends and his biographer John Baxter, as well as veteran DOP Oswald Morris. It ends with a scrolling filmography.

Featurette-An Interview With Robert McNamara (24:27)

    This is the complete version of the interview with the former Secretary of State from which we see excerpts in the documentaries. He seems reluctant to discuss the film, and more reluctant to allow the interview to go overtime.

Interviews-Cast-Peter Sellers And George C. Scott (7:15)

    These are two split-screen interviews with the stars that were shot on film on the set and intended to be used as the other half of "live" interviews on television, where the interviewer would be spliced in asking generic questions. Sellers demonstrates his skills at imitating various accents.

Filmographies-Cast & Crew

    Incomplete filmographies for the director and six of the stars.

Gallery-Poster

    Eight items of theatrical advertising.

Theatrical Trailer (3:26)

    An excellent original trailer for the film, in 1.33:1 and not 16x9 enhanced.

Trailers-Big Fish, On The Waterfront (4:56)

    Two trailers for other releases. The latter is in relatively poor condition.

R4 vs R1

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

    This new Region 4 release appears to be identical to the US Region 1 40th Anniversary Edition.

    There have been two previous releases in Region 4, both of which were also released in Region 2. The first such release in the early days of DVD had variable aspect ratio as per the Criterion laserdisc, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. Extras included a trailer, filmographies, photo and poster galleries. The transfer was not 16x9 enhanced, but otherwise the video quality appears to be about the same as the new release.

    A second release had the film in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but not 16x9 enhanced. Instead of a black cover with a photo of Sellers in Strangelove mode, it had a white cover with poster artwork. It also contained The Art of Stanley Kubrick, Inside the Making of and split-screen interviews extras included on the new edition.

    Despite the absence of the original mono soundtrack and the variable aspect ratios as intended by the director, the new edition seems to be the best.

Summary

    A great film that gets better with each viewing, presented here with an excellent set of extras. An audio commentary would have been a good addition - perhaps we will get that with the 44th Anniversary Edition.

    The video quality is very good, as is the audio.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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