Judge Dan Mancini awoke before dawn. He put his boots on. He took his face from the ancient gallery, and walked on down the hall.
There are things known and things unknown and in between are The Doors…—Jim Morrison
Director Oliver Stone pays loving tribute to the band that blew his mind when he first heard them while on active duty in Vietnam.
Facts of the Case
In the summer of 1965, former UCLA film students Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer, Heat) and Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan, Blue Velvet) run into each other on Venice Beach. They decide to form a band with guitarist Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley, Pulp Fiction) and drummer John Densmore (Kevin Dillon, Platoon). Due largely to Morrison's charisma, good looks, and poetry, they quickly become one of the hottest acts in L.A. Record contracts, national tours, fame, fortune, and excess follow.
Along the way, Morrison takes up with two women, longtime sweetheart Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan, When Harry Met Sally) and rock journalist Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan, Apollo 13). Morrison's ascent to rock god is followed inevitably by a decline fueled by drugs, alcohol, and hubris. By 1971, The Doors fizzle and Morrison moves to Paris, where he dies four months later at the age of 27.
Look past his movies' patina of history and their pretense of reportage and you'll see that director Oliver Stone deals in the realm of myth-making. Platoon borrows the hyper-realistic texture of Stone's experiences in Vietnam, but sets its protagonist between two diametrically opposed father figures in order to mythologize that war's central place in the cultural struggle for America's soul throughout the 1960s and '70s. JFK isn't concerned with the facts of Kennedy's assassination; it's concerned with the myth of America's thirty-fifth president as a slain prophet of national renewal. Each movie lives or dies by the quality of its mythologizing. Platoon is Stone's best work and one of the finest war films ever made. JFK is his most odious and ham-fisted movie—loaded to the brim with drummed up paranoia.
In the timeline of Stone's directorial career, The Doors sits at the tail end of the downward spiral from Platoon to JFK that includes Wall Street, Talk Radio, and the grossly overrated Born on the Fourth of July. The Doors is neither great nor execrable. It's entirely mediocre—and mostly forgettable. The major problem with the movie is that Stone doesn't appear to believe the bullshit he's selling us. It's clear that he passionately loves the band's music. He seems desperate to reproduce in us the kind of wide-eared awe he experienced when he first heard The Doors as a young man. But the Oliver Stone who made The Doors is no longer that young man. He's old enough and wise enough to understand that, stripped to its rawest truth, there's nothing particularly poetic about Jim Morrison's self-destructive behavior. There's nothing romantic about a talented human being dying needlessly at the age of 27. Stone may throw well-constructed (though kitschy) superimpositions of Morrison's face and a stone bust of Dionysus at us, but his heart doesn't seem to be in it.
A second showstopper for The Doors is the pedestrian screenplay by Stone and Randall Jahnson (The Mask of Zorro). Stone and cinematographer Robert Richardson (The Aviator) bury us in sumptuous imagery, and Stone attempts to liven things up with a hippy-drippy framing device involving the personification of death in Jim Morrison's recurring dream of an auto accident he witnessed during childhood, but the skeleton of the piece suffers all the clichés, compressed plotting, and flat characterizations one expects from any run-of-the-mill rock 'n' roll biopic. The Doors is gorgeous to look at, but ultimately empty. It follows the same rise-and-fall arc we've seen a gajillion times in every rock band movie and every episode of VH1's Behind the Music. Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, histrionic jilted girlfriends, bombastic temper tantrums during recording sessions, outrageously eccentric behavior, concerned bandmates, stoned philosophizing, and a slew of recognizable actors in cameo roles as famous people (Look! It's Crispin Glover as Andy Warhol!) abound—and it's a predictable bore.
I suspect the movie would be largely forgotten if not for the almost uniformly extraordinary performance of Val Kilmer as Morrison. Aside from a few isolated moments of self-consciousness (during the recreation of the photo shoot that produced the most iconographic images of Morrison, for instance, Kilmer's performance skirts parody), the actor is entirely invisible. You think you're watching Jim Morrison. When Kilmer sings, the verisimilitude is astounding. Revisiting the movie for the first time in a long time, I was struck by the degree to which Kilmer's portrayal of Morrison set a new standard for musical biopics. Jaime Foxx's turn as Ray Charles in Ray and Joaquin Phoenix's performance as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line likely owe something to Kilmer's groundbreaking work. The lip-syncing thespian is no longer an acceptable genre convention.
If you're inclined to watch The Doors, this Blu-ray disc is an awfully good way to do so. The 1080p AVC transfer is quite good, handling the warm oranges and reds that dominate the visual scheme of many parts of the film with aplomb. Scenes with more natural lighting look great, too—fleshtones are accurate and black levels rock solid. Detail varies, but use of DNR is minimal and controlled; tight close-ups almost always render sharp detail like the pores in actors' skin.
The DTS-HD 7.1 surround audio track is also impressive. Dialogue is flawlessly presented. The overall mix is simple and lacking in flash, but the music sounds great in this full-bodied presentation.
Supplements are identical to those found on the 15-Year Anniversary Edition DVD released in 2006, many of which were carried over from the Special Edition of 2001. For the third time, we get Oliver Stone's bland, impersonal, but somewhat informative feature-length audio commentary; the nearly 40-minute long Jim Morrison-centered featurette, "Road to Excess"; a collection of deleted scenes; and a trailer and some TV spots. A 20-minute featurette on the L.A. music scene in the 1960s, called "The Doors in L.A."; an hour long French-made documentary about Morrison's final months, "Jim Morrison: A Poet in Paris"; and a brief electronic press kit making-of featurette are the extras formerly unique to the 15-Year Anniversary Edition DVD that have made their way onto the Blu-ray. There are no supplements unique to this release.
When considering The Doors' place in rock 'n' roll history, it's important to remember that Jim Morrison only seems like a cliché in leather pants and pooka beads because he's spawned a legion of imitators over the decades. He was the original rock god, the Lizard King. He set the standard. There's an interesting story to be told there. Unfortunately, The Doors doesn't tell it.
Come on, let's get some tacos.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Oliver Stone
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.