Lionsgate // 1991 // 138 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // January 1st, 2007
"This is the strangest life I've ever known."
No one can underestimate Oliver Stone's love with and almost constant reliving of the '60s. It's certainly not a problem, as some of his films set in the era have been excellent, perhaps even transcendent of film. So in his attempt to bring together the life (and death) of Doors frontman Jim Morrison, the question shouldn't be whether you should double-dip from the 2001 version of the disc, the question is if Oliver Stone loves the '60s so much, why doesn't he marry them?
Written by Stone and Randall Jahnson, The Doors covers the period from 1965 when Morrison (Val Kilmer, Batman Forever) was in college to his death in 1971. A film student in California, he runs into a fellow film student, Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan, Blue Velvet). Jim and Ray's outlooks on life immediately click, and while Ray is looking to make in it film, trying to bring the French New Wave of Godard to America, Jim is a poet and philosopher, and one day, the inspiration for Ray is to put Jim's words to music. So with the help of guitarist Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley, World Trade Center) and drummer John Densmore (Kevin Dillon, Platoon), the Doors are formed and take hold of America.
Let's get this out of the way first: whether you love or hate him, you've gotta admire one thing about Oliver Stone; his knack for casting the right people in the starring roles, and casting a ragtag group of eclectic personalities in supporting ones, almost like how Milos Forman does in his recent films. Aside from the more recognizable faces like Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), Mimi Rogers (The Rapture), and even Jennifer Tilly (Bound), you've got some more lesser known but equally recognizable people in the film as well. Note the late William Kunstler as Jim's attorney in the Miami trial, or Billy Idol as one of Jim's friends. It makes for interesting viewing.
However, The Doors is convincing for Kilmer's performance, and it's mighty damn good at that. Kilmer shows the rise and demise of Morrison so convincingly that it's really hard to tell whether Kilmer is lip synching or if he's really going for it on stage with his Morrison interpretation. The charisma that Morrison had on stage is captured superbly by Kilmer, as well as his carefree outlook on life and love that ultimately resulted in his demise.
The main problem when watching The Doors is that Stone takes so much joy in the nostalgia of the time, the film goes from being an interesting story about a man with an internal conflict on the changing times and value system to just another film about a musician who died too soon. Stone loves the period so much that it derails the direction of the film itself, and there's nothing more than two hours of jump cuts, time-lapse photography and actors in occasionally blown-out spotlights, which he still uses in almost every film since. What makes it even more predictable is when Jim's women, Pamela (Meg Ryan, Innerspace) and Patricia (Kathleen Quinlan, Apollo 13), become more and more involved with him in his later years. It's kind of like Sid and Nancy, except with less blood and more lighting gels to set mood. I really wanted to like this movie, but it seemed like after the first act, it derails itself without any real reason or sense of motivation.
On the plus side, there is a new crop of extras for Doors fans to experience, but thankfully, the meat and potatoes of the extras on the 2001 release are retained here. Stone's commentary is here for starters, and he's always good for some information, bad or otherwise, and this commentary isn't terrible. In it, he discusses why he wanted to make the film, along with a lot of production and other technical stories to boot. To his credit along with what he points out was real, he also does point out what was embellished. He also talks about why the movie wasn't a huge success, and is a little bit frank about it, which is refreshing to hear. But, in a mildly creepy part of the track, he throws in his own nostalgia and knowledge about music, and for this relatively soft-spoken director, it's just a little bit weird for whatever reason. That's one man's opinion, though; overall the track is pretty good to pull some information and frank thoughts from.
Kicking things off on the second disc of the set, "The Doors in L.A." is supposed to explain the impact the band had on the Los Angeles scene in the late '60s, but it serves as more of a reminiscing by the band and some of the key figures of the era, including Stone and groupie/author Pamela des Barres. Krieger and gang discuss the band before Jim got there and the things they did once they were "The Doors," and it's a nice 20-minute walk through nostalgia. "Jim Morrison: A Poet in Paris" is an hour-long look at Morrison's life in Paris, apparently produced for the French public to digest. In it, various figures who either liked his work, are historians of it, or were people that hung out with Jim, talk about his life in Paris, what he liked and didn't like, and the usual fare. There's some footage that can only be described as "dramatic re-enactments" of Morrison walking around Paris that's a little bit cheesy, and Jim's death is talked about in detail, along with some other random thoughts about it. It's not too bad, but it's just way too rambling for my tastes. "The Road of Excess" is a featurette that was ported over from the 2001 version, and it's more of a making-of on the film, with Stone's thoughts on how he got the film together. It's quite the balanced look at the film itself, with members of the cast and some historical figures talking about the film, and some of them share their hurt feelings by it, which is part of what's included on the end of the piece, when people state whether or not the piece was true to Jim. Patricia Kennealy still sports some raw feelings towards the film, and is still hurt by it. Stone is pretty frank when talking about how the film came together (at first, Manzarek was opposed to the film after seeing the script). I really liked this one because of the balance that it shared. The original on-set featurette is included, in fact, I think this might have aired on MTV back in the day, as it shows the actors getting ready to tackle the musicianship parts of their roles. And aside from the trailer and teaser, rounding out the second disc are 40 minutes of deleted scenes, excluding an introduction by Stone. There are some interesting scenes that missed the cut, including more of Morrison meeting Manzarek, Krieger et al, and the police persecution of Jim is given much more detail, and in a cruder light at that. Morrison and Manzarek's relationship is given a little more depth too, and I think the mystical parts of the final cut could have been trimmed to make room for some of this stuff.
This will probably anger some hippies in the crowd, but I'm not that big a fan of the Doors. It's not that I hate them or anything, but I tend to lump them into the same category of the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. I respect and admire the followings, but the music never really took a hold of me like it has for other people, and I think Morrison's death is excessively canonizing a charismatic musical frontman. They've released Kurt Cobain's unreleased songs and writings to a sea of apathy, why should Morrison be any different?
As far as double-dipping goes, you get a better soundtrack and some more extras. The picture is still on the bland side though, so if you've already got this on disc now, you may want to hold onto it until you see it at a cheap price or something.
Stone is found guilty, he is clearly too enamored in the period to tell the story objectively, as is the case with some of the historical figures still being offended by the final product.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Director Oliver Stone
* "The Doors in L.A." Featurette
* "Jim Morrison: A Poet in Paris" Featurette
* "The Road of Excess" Featurette
* Original On-Set Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* The Doors Official Site
* The Doors and Jim Morrison