Judge Eric Profancik knows we'll meet again.
Our reviews of Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published June 22nd, 2016) and Dr. Strangelove: 40th Anniversary Special Edition (published February 1st, 2005) are also available.
Peace is our profession.
I still remember the first time I saw Dr. Strangelove. It was during my college days, senior year if memory serves, and I was trying to expand my movie horizons. One day I stumbled across the movie and started watching it on my little thirteen inch TV. I certainly had no idea what to expect, and when the end credits began to roll with Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again," it quickly turned into a movie that would stay in my consciousness for a long time. It's a movie which has truly earned its classic status.
Facts of the Case
General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden, Zero Hour!), commander of Burpleson A.F.B., has gone a bit funny and ordered the B-52s in his command to execute Plan R: the release of nuclear weapons against their targets in Russia. His executive officer, Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers, The Pink Panther), learns what his C.O. has done and tries to get the planes recalled before completing their mission. In the War Room, General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott, Patton), has the unenviable task of informing President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers again) of the bad news. As Captain Mandrake tries to stop General Ripper, while the President tries to stop the Russians from retaliating, and General Turgidson pushes for a full out nuclear assault on Russia, scientific advisor Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers yet again) realizes that a high likelihood exists that a nuclear holocaust is eminent, suggesting that life might continue from underground bunkers.
My description of the movie clearly doesn't do Dr. Strangelove justice, but I truly hope you already knew that. In a nutshell, this movie is one you need to see at least once in your life, as it is a great film on so many levels: the story, the satire, the acting, and everything else. It's a monumental film that easily stands the test of time. Don't believe me? Do a quick Google search and see how many "all-time best of" lists it is on and its high rank on them. In a nutshell, it's a great movie from the great director Stanley Kubrick.
I don't want to go into long dissertations on the film or on Stanley Kubrick. As this film is now 45 years old, there's plenty enough written about the film that I certainly do not need to add my two cents. Besides, I'm the most leisurely of fan, having done no research into either the film or its director…ever. All I know is what I've seen on the disc and casual online investigation. So whatever I have to say will surely pale in comparison to those who did a lot of hard work.
With that out of the way, let me just cover the few basic points of why Dr. Strangelove is such a great film that you need to see it. In the broadest sense, the film is a fascinating and ever-timely satire depicting the follies of war. In a broader term, one doesn't have to confine that to just war but any type of government aggression—which allows us to keep the film fresh and contemporary. Though poignant to thermonuclear war, it easily applies to why we are at "war" with terrorists or why we ignore atrocities in Africa. But remember it's a satire, a very dark and biting satire that subtly sends its message to you. You watch the antics on the screen, getting the political message but not feeling overpowered or pressured by it.
And the reasons for that are the brilliant script and the stupendous acting. Again, I will eschew discussion of the script—based on the same argument above—and instead focus on my deepest admiration and appreciation for the stunning acting in the film. First and foremost and without hesitation, Peter Sellers gives the performance of a lifetime. Taking on three distinct roles, you will find it hard to believe that it's just one person doing them all. He's utterly convincing in each role, showcasing a bravura performance. Without his improvisational expertise, the film would be diminished. Without his brilliance, Dr. Strangelove might not rank as high on all those lists. But he is not alone as every single person gives amazing performances. Take George C. Scott and his over-the-top, gung-ho performance, one that he hated but eventually realized is actually pretty fantastic. What about Sterling Hayden giving such sane insanity to the man who ends the world? Or what about Slim Pickens (pick a Western, he's probably in it) as the fierce, dedicated pilot intent on avenging his country against the Russkies? Every person is a pleasure to watch; there's not a bad performance in the mix.
Dr. Strangelove has been released on DVD quite a few times over the years, most of them causing mild dismay to true cineastes and fans of Stanley Kubrick. The main sticking point was what the correct aspect ratio should or should not be. As with the last DVD release, this Blu-ray disc gives us a matted 1.66:1 ratio, which is truer (as the professionals say) to Kubrick's vision. Whether you believe that entirely or not, you can at least agree that this ratio hides things you weren't supposed to see, most notably in Kong's bomb ride.
The whole point of releasing movies on Blu-ray—excluding any studio greed—is to give fans the best at-home movie experience possible. How does the good Doctor stack up? Starting with that 1.66:1 video, I was very pleased with the presentation. Recall this movie is in black and white; the crispness of the various shades of black and white coupled with solid contrast shows a remarkable level of detail for a film of this age. I didn't find the blacks ever getting muddy or grey. This film does come with a heavy layer of grain, but that is how it should be. My only quibble is that some of the footage feels a bit soft, notably in the flying shots and the attack on Burpleson. It's just a minor quibble for me. On the audio front, fans of both classic and new sound will be happy. For the former, the original mono track has been included and it sounds excellent. It clearly gives us everything from the front without the sound getting mushy or muddled. For the latter, included is a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that makes the audio sound even better. I'm very wary of these upgrades from mono mixes, but this one just opens up the environment, giving the dialogue I bit more clarity and realism to the timbre, adding subtle ambience from the rear, and even some power from the subwoofer. It is a mix that improves upon the original.
The Blu-ray comes with a variety of bonus materials that, while all new to me (I've not owned any version of the film), quick research shows everything but one item has been previously released. On the whole, I liked all the bonus items (well, mostly) and learned a lot about the movie, Kubrick, and the Cold War. All mentions of "the Cold War" below refer to the "real" Cold War and not the movie's depiction thereof. Here's the rundown:
• The Cold War: Picture-in-Picture and Pop-Up Trivia Track: This is the only new feature to the Blu-ray bonus materials, and fortunately it's exceedingly informative. Using pop-up boxes (with a variety of styles/backgrounds) and videos, the track discusses the Cold War, real military parallels, the movie, how they all interacted, and how the movie influenced real life. I would have enjoyed some actual trivia about the movie in the pop-up, but that was not the track's intent.
• "No Fighting in the War Room or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat" (30:04): More discussion about the Cold War and how things get to the point we were almost in a Hot War.
• "Inside: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (46:04): Here's the expected making-of feature, and it's quite thorough and several notches above the standard fare. It covers the whole movie from start to finish, leaving you well informed.
• "Best Sellers or: Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove" (18:27): All manner of actors, comedians, and famous people gushing over how great Peter Sellers was in this movie and how great he was in everything he did.
• "The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Dr. Strangelove" (13:50): A discussion of the life and times of Kubrick up to Dr. Strangelove.
• "An Interview with Robert McNamara" (24:26): An interview with the former Secretary of Defense (1961-68) in which he talks about the Cold War and not about the movie.
• Split Screen Interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott (7:17): Definitely the oddest bonus item, this is part of a pre-recorded interview with each (done separately) where they pretend to be answering questions from an interviewer, who would thus be put into the other part of the screen. Not especially informative or interesting.
The Blu-ray is also BD-Live, but, as usual, I didn't see any Dr. Strangelove specific items out there. Lastly, this is a Digibook release and the content inside is a nice mixture of photos and essay. It's a nice bookend to the disc itself. My only quibble here is I don't like that it doesn't conform to the standard Blu-ray case size.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I honestly can't think of any negative or detracting factor of any significance in this movie. It's just that good, and so is this disc!
I've gushed quite a bit about the movie and the disc, so the recommendation should be obvious at this point: a big, fat, solid yes. But what if you own a previous DVD version, especially the last one? Is it worth the upgrade? With that, I'm not certain, as I can't compare any of the previous versions. What I will say is if you don't own this and are a fan, here's the perfect opportunity to own a great movie. If you've never seen this film, you are doing yourself a big disservice.
Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
is hereby found not guilty of nuclear Armageddon.
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Scales of Justice
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