Warner Bros. // 1999 // 159 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // November 15th, 2007
Cruise. Kidman. Kubrick.
Stanley Kubrick has been involved in creating some of the most memorable and some of the most polarizing films in his all too brief filmography. In Eyes Wide Shut, we had two of the most recognizable names at the time, working with perhaps the greatest living director at the time. After a lackluster initial offering, Warner Brothers has re-released Eyes Wide Shut with a few more supplements. So, do you double-dip?
Kubrick and Frederic Raphael (Darling) adapted Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle for the big screen. In this adaptation, Bill Harford (Tom Cruise, A Few Good Men) is a successful New York doctor living with his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman, Bewitched). At a Christmas party hosted by one of Bill's patients named Victor (Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa), Bill is asked to help Victor out of a jam where a young woman is found in his bathroom due to a drug overdose. At the party Bill also spots an old friend he went to medical school with named Nick (Todd Field, In the Bedroom), who plays piano now. What's interesting is during the party, Alice is hit on by a charming Frenchman, and the last time she sees Bill is with an attractive woman on either side of him, before going to help Victor. That image is fresh in her mind as she discusses the physical needs of men and women in a spirited debate with Bill several nights later, where she reveals that she almost left him for another man the previous year. Bill is called to some business in the city and spots Nick playing jazz at a club, where he mentions a mysterious party he is called to perform at, because of his unique ability to play piano blindfolded.
Sure, we know the production schedule was extensive, with shooting lasting over a year. We know that Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh were originally slated to appear in roles that Pollack and Marie Richardson (Gossip) would eventually fill. But how many of us know that Kubrick was announced to adapt Schnitzler's work back in 1971? Or that, despite how convincing the New York exteriors were, some establishing shots were used, and the rest was filmed in London?
I've gone off track, but getting back to the topic at hand, Kubrick was known to tell people that this film was the best he had ever done, and while when I first watched this film several years ago, I thought he was crazy, but I realize now that he's not far off the reservation with that statement. I supposed he'd have to consider it good because he spent a quarter century working on it, but Eyes Wide Shut is a convincing examination of a relationship dynamic between a man and a woman who seemed to have gone past the point of affection, with their marriage seemingly being one of distance, lacking a lot of warmth and compassion. Kubrick shot many of the scenes with long steadicam usage to give the impression of the viewer observing what occurs between Bill and Alice, rather than being thrown into the action.
The relationship between Cruise and Kidman in the film is worth examining, if for nothing else because of the history they've shared since the film. As Alice, Kidman is precise in her words and delivery, and as Bill, Cruise sets out to do things that will harm Alice and ruin their marriage, but never finds the courage or resolve to follow through on these things, and when he finds that some of the things he pursues are beyond his tolerance, his confession to Alice makes them stronger for it. The fact that as a couple Cruise and Kidman divorced two years after the film was theatrically released makes for a coda that seems fitting considering the journey they took on screen and off for this film. Someone within the special features on the disc, I forget who, perhaps best sums up how Kubrick's films appeal to this particular Judge. To paraphrase, the films are akin to novels in the sense that when you re-experience them, they are at particular points of your life where you might very well find some new appeal to them that you didn't recognize before. Such is the case with Eyes Wide Shut.
Technically, the 1.85:1 widescreen (yes, that's right, it's widescreen) version of the film looks nice. Most of the film appears lit without a lot of enhancement, using existing lighting elements in each scene. The picture certainly appears clear, although sometimes the whites appear a little on the blown out side and blacks aren't necessarily the blackest I've seen, but it works. The PCM soundtrack is actually quite good, with dialogue being as focused in the center channel as I've heard on some more recent films, and the classic music peppered throughout the film also comes across quite clear, and was a pleasant surprise. A word of note to those interested in the disc now, while the Blu-ray disc lists the unrated cut of the film, they also list the existing rated cut of the film which included digitally added figures in some of the orgy scenes. But the unrated cut is the only thing on the disc. Future pressings of the disc will apparently include some sort of differentiation between the two, so depending on your preference, go with what you feel.
As opposed to the other scant Kubrick discs, this one has a few new things. What it doesn't have is a commentary by Pollack which was announced early on for the disc, but was scratched for some reason. However, "The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut" is a three-part look at the film that's decent enough, starting with the cast discussing the films of the man himself and their thoughts about working with him. "The Haven/Mission Control" includes Kubrick's widow Christiane and their children as they recall their father and his work, and has film footage of their home, inside and out, and it's a pretty cool house. Kubrick's peers Spielberg and John Boorman (Deliverance) discuss how he worked and communicated with them. The family discusses the death threats they faced when A Clockwork Orange came out and how the police discussed these threats with them. "Artificial Intelligence or The Writer As Robot" talks about the extended inactivity Kubrick encountered throughout his career, and Brian Aldiss talks about working with him for the story that would later become A.I.. The last part of the segment focuses on the Eyes Wide Shut production exclusively and lets the cast spend the most time on it, and the family talks about the absence of their patriarch. It's pretty comprehensive, or at least with such a secretive director, to see the access that some of the piece had was quite cool, including a shot of his grave on the estate at the end. "Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick" talks about what Stanley had in the proverbial hopper, with thoughts by biographer John Baxter, Warner Exec John Calley and many others. Narrated by Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), the piece focuses on the Napoleon biopic Kubrick always worked on to no avail, along with the Holocaust film he abandoned after Spielberg made Schindler's List. This piece is more historical and features the fondness Kubrick had for this work, and it's fairly interesting to see. The interview footage with Cruise, Kidman and Spielberg which was included on the previous DVD versions is here too. Kubrick's Director's Guild Award speech from 1998 is included, along with a brief introduction to it with Jack Nicholson (The Shining). Two TV spots and a trailer round out the disc.
There are, however, moments that make you say "come on," namely the fact that Cruise has a propensity to whip out his medical license when talking to people Jack Webb style. He gets information from waitresses, hotel clerks and other people a little bit too convincingly. Aside from that, the nudity (which has been prevalent in other Kubrick films) tends to give people an excuse to say that Kubrick might just have been making soft core porn films when he wasn't baffling people. That assumption is both unfair and seems to be made from people who simply don't give the work the chance it warrants.
Obviously, completists of the Kubrick video library will want to add this to their collection if they haven't already, despite the technical qualities not being a huge leap from the standard definition release. However on its own, the film is better than I originally thought and I think many will agree, and the fact that there are some good, but not great, supplements on the disc as opposed to the previous release, make it an upgrade based on that criteria alone.
For one of the greatest American directors, his last work deserves and expects a not guilty verdict, which is exactly what it gets.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.0 EX (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.0 EX (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.0 EX (Japanese)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 159 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut" Documentary
* "Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick" Featurette
* Interview Gallery with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Steven Spielberg
* DGA Acceptance Speech with Kubrick
* Trailer and TV Spots
* Official Site
* Official Stanley Kubrick Site
* Original Verdict Review