Blu-ray Review: A Clockwork Orange

In a filmmaking career that spanned over fifty years, Stanley Kubrick had a fondness for taking the novels of others and reshaping them to fit his own vision. Of the 16 movies Kubrick directed (including his final film, Eyes Wide Shut), he was given a screenwriter credit on twelve of them. For that reason, 2001 is not referred to as “Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001” but as “Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.” Dr. Strangelove is “Kubrick’s Strangelove” not Peter George’s. And though The Shining is based on a novel by the legendary Stephen King, it was Kubrick and co-writer Diane Johnson, who fashioned the film. Similarly, the driving force behind A Clockwork Orange was more Kubrick than novelist Anthony Burgess.

A Clockwork OrangeThere was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk-plus vellocet or synthemesc, or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

So begins A Clockwork Orange. The film depicts a time in the not-so-distant future where sadistic hoodlums rule the streets, breaking into houses, raping women and beating up innocent bystanders with disregard for their wellbeing. Malcolm McDowell (in a star-making turn) plays Alex, the leader of one of these groups. We first meet him in a bar having a glass of drugged milk with his “droogs”—Pete (Michael Tarn), Georgie (James Marcus), and Dim (Warren Clarke)—as they prepare for what is lovingly referred to as “ultraviolence.”

However, Alex’s life takes an unexpected turn when he when he kills a woman and is attacked by his “droogs,” left to be captured by the police. Sent to prison, Alex is given the opportunity to regain his freedom by participating in a scientific experiment that will supposedly rehabilitate him.

The treatment is unorthodox to say the least. Alex is place in a straight jacket with his eyes propped open in front of a movie screen projecting scene after scene of sex and brutality. While watching all of this, he’s given nausea inducing drugs, in an effort to create a physical aversion to the emotions associated with everything he is seeing. No matter how many times I see A Clockwork Orange, I always find this scene deeply unnerving. The therapy works, but for Alex it comes with one very unfortunate side effect—he loves music; since Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was playing in the background during the clips, Alex has developed an aversion to Beethoven.

So, was the treatment worth it, if all of Alex’s personality was simply wiped away? Has Alex now become a moral man, or just a programmed shell? Do those he hurt before deserve some sort of retribution now that he’s reformed and can’t fight back? These are the questions A Clockwork Orange dares to ask. Under Kubrick’s brilliant direction, the film doesn’t just comment on violence, he puts it right out in the streets and forces viewers to evaluate their own reactions to it, and along the way, reconsider what they define as civility.

Framed in the film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1, this Blu-ray transfer appears to be the same as the one released in 2007. It looks pretty good. However, small object detail and finely grained textures suffer some, and black levels aren’t as consistent as one might like. The transfer does spotlight nice looking fleshtones and vivid colors throughout.

A Clockwork Orange was originally released to theaters in monaural, and this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio remix is spatially weak as a result. The track sounds like mono with the only significant spatial expansion in the score, which is presented in stereo with leaks to the surrounds to widen the soundstage. But this was the shape of the film’s original sound design: Dialogue is always intelligible, and every thwack and scream comes through. The film’s score, composed and performed on a Moog Synthesizer, is perfectly bizarre and compliments the onscreen images.

French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH, Italian SDH, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Mandarin, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles.

The 2-disc 40th Anniversary Edition release of A Clockwork Orange includes all of the special features that appears on Warner’s 2007 BD, as well as a 40-page Digibook, a Digital Copy via download, a pair of newly produced high definition featurettes, and the excellent career-encompassing documentary, “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.”

  • Audio Commentary: An extremely candid Malcolm McDowell (Alex DeLarge) and Nick Redman deliver an extensive, frank and thorough dissection of the film, its director’s unwavering drive, the cast’s performances, the film’s imagery and music, and more. McDowell offers a treasure trove of anecdotes and production insights while Redman, a noted film historian, keeps the chat clipping along to great effect.
  • Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange (Disc 1, SD, 44 minutes): A comprehensive analysis of A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s intentions and interests, his themes and the film’s meanings, Anthony Burgess’s original 1962 novel, the controversy surrounding Orange, its turbulent UK release, its influences on modern cinema and virtually every other aspect of its forty-year life.
  • Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange (Disc 1, SD, 28 minutes): A aslightly over-produced but informative look at the development, production and legacy of A Clockwork Orange. A lineup of famous filmmakers and authors (among them Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin and the late Sydney Pollack) discuss the film at length, as well as Kubrick’s genius, his approach to Burgess’s text and language, his struggles with the writer’s future-slang, the challenges he faced while shooting Orange, his jack-of-all-trades filmmaking, his photography and use of evocative lighting and classical music, the film’s tone and tenor, the director’s maddening perfectionism, and the well-publicized drama and spats that erupted behind the scenes between Kubrick and McDowell.
  • Turning Like Clockwork (Disc 1, HD, 26 minutes): McDowell hosts this newly produced look back at A Clockwork Orange with yet another parade of renowned filmmakers, a discussion of the differences between cutting-edge films today and forty years ago, the firestorm that swirled around its 1971 debut, the string of “the movie made me do it” crimes that proceeded its release and, eventually, a thoughtful reflection on violence in cinema and society.
  • Malcolm McDowell Looks Back (Disc 1, HD, 11 minutes): This shorter, newly produced followup focuses solely on McDowell as he recalls the film and its production, its ultimate release, his experiences with Burgess, and the many, many, many hours he spent with Kubrick and Alex DeLarge.
  • Theatrical Trailer (Disc 1, SD, 1 minute):
  • Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (Disc 2, SD, 142 minutes): The first of two feature-length documentaries, “A Life in Pictures” is almost worth the cost of admission alone. Covering everything from Kubrick’s childhood to his final years of life to his legacy in film, it’s as true a companion piece as any, and one that brings Kubrick’s entire canon — A Clockwork Orange included — into a more revealing light. Not to be missed.
  • O Lucky Malcolm! (Disc 2, HD, 86 minutes): McDowell gets a “Life in Pictures” treatment all his own, albeit to lesser effect.
  • BD-Live Functionality






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