1971 (September 21, 2021)
Polaris Productions / Hawk Films / Warner Bros. / Studio Distribution Services (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film / program rating: A
- Video quality: A-
- Audio level: B
- Category of extras: B-
[Editor’s Note: This review is written in “Nadsat” by Todd Doogan (the film portion, from his 2001 DVD review) with Bill Hunt (the 4K UHD portions). Online dictionaries are available.]
Oh my brothers, it must be said that of all Stanley Kubrick’s sinners, A clockwork orange is probably the most dorogy. It’s a movie that creeps right into your guts and takes you into a world of equal parts of uncomfortable laughter and fear. I do not make any appypolly loggies for my personal affection for A clockwork orange, and while it’s not my absolute favorite of Kubrick’s Sinners, it’s still there for me. As uncomfortable as it sounds, this film is one of the greatest and most violent anti-violence films ever made.
A clockwork orange concerns the sadistic (and ultimately redemptive) adventures of a futuristic prestoopnik named Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his fellow droogs, as they entertain themselves with a bit of ultra-violence. Alex and the droogs pound a pyahnitsa’s piss, prevent the rape of a devotchka by fighting a rival gang, then rape a few cheenas themselves. Of course, bad deeds don’t go unpaid, so Alex is soon returned by his shaika and left hanging in the wind. To test a new aversion technology, developed to purge bad thoughts from the mind, the government makes Alex a guinea pig, sucking up what made Alex … well, Alex … including his love for Beethoven. He left to reintegrate into society half the man he was, and face the people he once slandered, who are now after him as he was after them. Will Alex remain the good son of society? Or will society destroy it?
Apart from these questions, the one everyone is asking A clockwork orange is, “What exactly is ‘a clockwork orange’ anyway?” It’s never really said – the movie doesn’t make any sense of it and it’s such a visual term, it’s hard to apply common sense to it anyway. But look no further my brothers, the answer is simple and very metaphorical. The underlying theme of the film (and the book it is based on, by Anthony Burgess) is the definition of moral freedom. Moral freedom is a human being’s own choice to be able to do both good and bad at all times.
This idea is manifested in the symbolic representation of a “clockwork orange”. In the introduction to his novel, Burgess states that if one “can only do good or only bad, then he is a clockwork orange, which means he has the appearance of a charming organism with color and juice but is, in fact, only a toy clockwork to be wound up by God, or the devil, or (since this increasingly replaces both) the Almighty State. Continuing his thought, Burgess continues to say, “It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally bad. The important thing is the moral choice. Evil must exist with good, for moral choice to operate. Of course, moral freedom is never really achieved in the film, as Alex is neither totally good nor totally bad, but a complete mix of the two characteristics. This remains true even after conditioning Alex. It is true that the government tries to make Alex totally good by conditioning, but because it is forced goodness, moral freedom is not really achieved.
When it comes to scholarly discussions on A clockwork orange, the truth comes down to this: it’s just a very cool movie based on a very cool book. I love watching it, especially with people who have never seen it before. Most people squirm and stare at me poogly as I enjoy the movie. I know what’s going on, discovering the underlying meaning. But until they get through it all, people think it’s just a sick movie with no redeeming element whatsoever. Those of us in the know, however, may appreciate A clockwork orange like the master stroke, it’s both Burgess and Kubrick.
A clockwork orange was shot on 35mm film by cinematographer John Alcott using Mitchell BNC, Newman Sinclair Auto Kino and Arriflex 35IIC cameras with a variety of spherical lenses. It was photochemically finished in a 1.66: 1 aspect ratio for theaters (and that’s how it’s presented here). For its 50th anniversary, Warner launched a new 4K scan and restore overseen by former Kubrick assistant Leon Vitali with color grading for high dynamic range (in HDR10 only). This particular sinner has never looked so good, with a sharp increase in resolution and fine detail, especially noticeable on faces and clothing. The grain is light to moderate, but natural at all times. The color scheme has always had a somewhat cool appearance to suit the dystopian setting, but the extended gamut adds a bit of sparkle and more subtleties, with deeper, detailed blacks and cool, bold highlights. Kubrick’s job is not to be done and Warner’s restoration has served this project well.
The main zvook option is the same English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix found on the previous Blu-ray edition, although the original English mono mix is also included in Dolby Digital format. The 5.1 mix widens the soundstage a bit, but the mix is heavily forward-oriented, with surrounds mainly used for ambiance and music. The bass is a bit heavy, but every now and then it hits you right in the lyrics. The dialogue is for the most part clear and intelligible, but there is a bit of evil tinkle and chirping here and there, limitations of the original recordings. The score, which includes several pieces by old Ludwig van as well as electronic arrangements by Wendy Carlos (foreshadowing his efforts on the music of Kubrick The brilliant), is presented with good fidelity. Additional mixes are available in French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish and Latin Spanish in 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as Polish voiceover in 2.0 Dolby Digital. Optional subtitles are available in English for the deaf and hard of hearing, French, German for the hearing impaired, Italian for the deaf, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Simplified Chinese, Cantonese, Latin Spanish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish and Swedish.
Warner’s Ultra HD output includes the movie in 4K on UHD and also 1080p HD on an additional Blu-ray in the package (the same 40th anniversary edition released in 2011). The 4K disc itself only offers one extra:
- Audio commentary by Malcolm McDowell and Nick Redman
But the Blu-ray also includes this commentary and also adds the following:
- Still Tickin ‘: The Return of the Clockwork Orange (SD – 43:42)
- Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Make a clockwork orange (SD – 28:19)
- Spin like clockwork (HD – 26:19)
- Malcolm McDowell looks back (HD – 10:30 am)
- Theatrical trailer (SD – 1:03)
Some of this material first appeared on the original 2007 Blu-ray release, while the rest was produced for the 40th anniversary edition. The commentary is pleasantly frank and filled with anecdotes about the production. The featurettes are all flawed and fairly complete, although the fact that the 40th anniversary editionThe missing bonus disc is enough to make anyone bezoomy. This means that you are missing a pair of beautiful documentaries: O lucky Malcolm! and Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. Would it really have been that hard to include a third record in the old packiwak just for fun? You get at least one code for digital video.
A clockwork orange is pure Stanley Kubrick in its prime, a compelling cinematic experience however you slice it up, and Warner’s new Ultra HD version delivers a choodessny, definitive new picture restoration that no 4K library should be without. And even though it’s kind of like chintzy extras, it’s still a kupet-worthy record, my brothers, especially if you can find it for a good price.
– Todd Doogan with Bill Hunt
(Todd would rather not be found on the Interwebs, let alone followed)