Eureka Entertainment // 1953 // 62 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // January 14th, 2013
"Cold stew on a blazing island. We've just made a perfect definition of war, Mac."
Considering he was noted for being a perfectionist, it is on reflection somewhat understandable that director Stanley Kubrick should want to erase Fear and Desire from existence. The story goes that, following producer Joseph Burstyn going out of business, Kubrick -- who was embarrassed by his debut feature film -- set about buying up as many prints of the film as he could lay his hands on, thus stopping it from ever being seen again.
Thankfully, though it is far from the director's best work, Kubrick was not able to succeed in his mission, allowing us, via Eureka's Fear and Desire (Blu-ray) (Region B), a chance to own this rarely seen work.
An unidentified country, in an unknown time, is the setting for Stanley Kubrick's Fear and Desire, which follows a team of soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in the middle of a conflict.
Lt. Corby (Kenneth Harp) leads his men in their attempt to get back to friendly territory, but finds his plans fall apart when a young woman stumbles across them. The situation becomes increasingly desperate, and as Corby's men begin to suffer both mentally and physically, the presence of an enemy general in their vicinity threatens to completely derail their escape.
Fear and Desire bears all the hallmarks of a debut feature film, chief amongst them being the desire on behalf of the filmmaker to make an immediate impact. In the case of Stanley Kubrick, there is a very strong sense that the director was keen to show himself as a filmmaker of substance, with Fear and Desire being his meditation on the effects of war on the human psyche -- something he would explore far more successfully later on in his career with Full Metal Jacket.
As is so often the case, the young Kubrick (and writer Howard Seckler) is often guilty of being heavy handed in his approach, and never more so than the overly earnest opening narration that sets the scene. With lines like, "There is a war in this forest. Not a war that has been fought, nor one that will be, but any war. And the enemies who struggle here do not exist unless we call them into being." Seckler and Kubrick are clearly trying too hard to be profound, while unintentionally sounding not just a little goofy. This trend continues throughout the film, in particular during moments where we are privy to the soldier's inner monologues. The intention behind this is understandable enough, but the execution is clumsy.
The experimental feel of the film somewhat redeems Fear and Desire. The way in which Kubrick and Seckler opt to portray both sides of the conflict in much the same way -- thus there are no good guys or bad guys for us to root for or against -- allows the filmmakers to explore the shared anxieties soldiers in wartime are likely to go through. As the film progresses, and the situation for all sides begins to deteriorate, the decisions being made become increasingly desperate. Early signs of Kubrick's greatness are evident in a number of these scenes, most notably when the soldiers capture a local woman, and the mistreatment she suffers at their hands. Despite Kubrick's relative lack of experience at the time -- not to mention his miniscule budget -- it's impressive that he takes the time to use numerous sound effects to create the allusion of some distant battle raging on in the background. It is a small touch perhaps, but one that shows the director's eye for fine detail, and is undoubtedly effective.
While the chance to finally own Fear and Desire, on Blu-ray no less, will undoubtedly mean Kubrick fans will want to own this Eureka release, the inclusion of three of the director's short films will make it utterly irresistible. The documentary Day of the Fight marks Kubrick's debut as a filmmaker. This short film follows boxer Walter Cartier on the day of his bout against Bobby James. Kubrick's film is hardly revelatory, but does succeed in evoking the sense of anticipation felt by the pugilist. What makes Day of the Fight really stand out is the way Kubrick, and cinematographer Alexander Singer, capture the fight itself. Utilizing handheld cameras, Kubrick and Singer are able to get in extremely close to the action. The next short film, The Flying Padre is a documentary that explores the work of Father Fred Stadtmuller, a Catholic priest who uses a small airplane to travel around his vast parish in New Mexico. The final short film, again a documentary, is entitled The Seafarers, and is notable for being Kubrick's first color film. Kubrick took on the project, on behalf of the Seafarers International Union, to help finance his second feature film, Killer's Kiss. In addition to the shorts, film critic and author Bill Krohn provides an analysis of Fear and Desire.
Fear and Desire is blessed with a surprisingly good 1080p transfer. The picture is sharp, and the level of detail excellent. There are instances of damage to the print, but honestly, these are minimal and do not detract in any way from the viewing experience. The PCM 2.0 Mono soundtrack delivers clear dialogue and effects.
Fear and Desire may be the low point of Kubrick's filmography, but it still stands as an important artifact in the development of a director who would go on to make such revered films as The Shining, Barry Lyndon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Coupled with the excellent transfer and the chance to own Kubrick's first three shorts, this set is hard to turn down.
Review content copyright © 2013 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* Full Frame (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 62 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Films