Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Dec 19, 2014
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection

Director

Stanley Kubrick

Release Date(s)

1962-1999 (November 4, 2014)

Studio(s)

Warner Bros./Columbia Pictures (Warner Home Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: A+
  • Video Grade: B
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: B-
  • Overall Grade: C+

Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

Stanley Kubrick is a masterful filmmaker. I’ve seen each of his films many times now, and yet I continue to be shocked and surprised by them with each new viewing. There’s the range of ideas Kubrick explored, the many genres he pursued (while always making them uniquely his own and pushing them in new directions), the extent and speed of his cinematic innovations (especially early in his career), the deep humanity apparent in his work, the sharp commentary, the simple, even ruthless purity of his craft. It’s astonishing. There is a reason that those who study film – and indeed some of the finest directors working today – continue to hold Kubrick in such high regard. He set the bar. Whether you love his choice of subject matter or hate it, Kubrick was that damn good.

It goes without saying, then, that he deserves every bit of the attention he receives. As Warner Bros. was his industry home for much of the latter part of his career, it’s only natural that the studio would choose to honor him with such a premium Blu-ray release as their new Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection. Unfortunately, there’s a problem with this enterprise: It feels less like a celebration of the director and his work, and more an excuse to simply repackage previously-released versions of his films on Blu-ray with a new garnish of swag.

Don’t get me wrong, Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection is a very nice box set. If you’ve never purchased any of these films on Blu-ray before, there is much here to treasure. But this box is targeted squarely at the kind of high-end cinephiles who already worship Kubrick’s every exposed frame of film. They already own all of these films on Blu-ray. Serious fans are looking for something new – something truly worthy of spending another $150. They aren’t going to find it here.

So what is included in this 10-disc box? Let’s take a closer look…

Lolita – This is the exact same Blu-ray that’s been released previously. It includes a theatrical trailer.

Dr. Strangelove – This is the exact same disc that was released as a 45th Anniversary Edition in Digibook packaging. It includes The Cold War: Picture-in-Picture and Pop-Up Trivia Track, 6 documentary featurettes (No Fighting in the War Room Or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat, Inside: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Best Sellers Or: Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove, The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove, An Interview with Robert McNamara, and Split Screen Interviews: Peter Sellers and George C. Scott).

2001: A Space Odyssey – This is the exact same Blu-ray that’s been released previously. It includes audio commentary by actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, 8 documentary featurettes (2001: The Making of a Myth, Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001, Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001, 2001: A Space Odyssey – A Look Behind the Future, What Is Out There?, 2001: FX and Early Conceptual Artwork, Look: Stanley Kubrick, and 11/27/1966 Interview with Stanley Kubrick), and the theatrical trailer.

A Clockwork Orange – This is the exact same Blu-ray that was included in the Anniversary Edition Digipack release. It includes audio commentary with Malcolm McDowell and Nick Redman, 4 documentary featurettes (Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange, Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange, Turning Like Clockwork, and Malcolm McDowell Looks Back), and the theatrical trailer.

Barry Lyndon – This is the exact same Blu-ray that’s been released previously. It includes a theatrical trailer.

The Shining – This is the exact same Blu-ray that’s been released previously. It includes audio commentary by Garrett Brown and John Baxter, 4 documentary featurettes (View from the Overlook: Crafting the Shining, The Visions of Stanley Kubrick, The Making of The Shining (with optional commentary by Vivian Kubrick), and Wendy Carlos, Composer), and the theatrical trailer.

Full Metal Jacket – The is the exact same Blu-ray that was released as a Digipack edition. It includes audio commentary with Adam Baldwin, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jay Cocks, the Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil documentary featurette, and the theatrical trailer.

Eyes Wide Shut – This is the exact same Blu-ray as previously released. It includes the 3-part The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut documentary (includes The Haven/Mission Control, Artificial Intelligence or the Writer as Robot, and EWS, A Film by Stanley Kubrick), 2 additional documentary featurettes (Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick and DGA D.W. Griffith Award Acceptance Speech, 1998), 3 interview featurettes (Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Stanley Kubrick), 2 TV spots, and the theatrical trailer.

Are you detecting a pattern here? On to the bonus discs…

Blu-ray Bonus #1 – This is the exact same Blu-ray that was included in the A Clockwork Orange: Anniversary Edition Digipack release. It includes 2 documentaries: Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures and O Lucky Malcolm! Unfortunately, A Life in Pictures still presents much of its material in windowboxed SD format.

Blu-ray Bonus #2 – At last, we come to the only disc in the box with new content. This Blu-ray contains 3 HD documentaries: Kubrick Remembered and Stanley Kubrick in Focus, both of which are brand new for this box set, and Once Upon a Time… A Clockwork Orange, which was produced in France (with the involvement of TCM) and was released theatrically in 2011, but which is presented here on disc for the first time in the States.

Let’s take a look at each of these new documentaries…

Kubrick Remembered (83:19) is undeniably fascinating, as it reveals a great deal about the personal side of the filmmaker – the side so seldom seen by anyone outside of his own family and friends. In many ways, it’s a love letter to Stanley from his wife Christiane, his daughters, and the close assistants who worked with him. You learn much about how Kubrick lived his private life, how he worked, and the many things he loved – a seemingly infinite range of things, items, and subjects.

Stanley Kubrick in Focus (29:20) is the kind of documentary that should be great, but somehow isn’t. It’s essentially other directors and actors – including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, Steven Soderbergh, Oliver Stone, Christopher Nolan, Malcolm McDowell, and Kirk Douglas – talking about Kubrick’s films (in order of release) and his influence. It’s mildly interesting, but you learn little that’s new about Kubrick other than that his peers revered him.

Once Upon a Time… A Clockwork Orange (51:36) is actually terrific, well worth your time and the best of the new material. Rather than focusing on the production of A Clockwork Orange, it examines the ideas behind the film, as well as the historical and social context in which it was produced. It shines a light on the social and political commentary that Kubrick wove into the film, and includes bits of archival audio recordings of Kubrick talking about these ideas. Some of Kubrick’s comments are as piercing and relevant today as they were in 1972 when he made them.

So that’s it for the disc-based content. Reading through that list, you might have noticed that there’s something missing. Jon Ronson’s excellent Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes documentary, that was includes as a DVD bonus disc in the Full Metal Jacket Digipack Blu-ray release, is nowhere to be found here. Frankly, that’s a puzzle. Did Warner not want to pay for the rights to use it again? Did Ronson refuse to allow it? Whatever the case may be, Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes is a good and fascinating documentary that should damn well be included in this box set. But it’s not and that’s irritating as hell.

Of course, Warner’s forte these days seems to be in the creation of packaging. As you’d expect then, this package is pretty nice. The box itself is gorgeous, with film images rendered on a shiny metallic background, banded by a black stripe with Kubrick’s name spelled out in colorful, mod-styled lettering. Box lid opens left to right, with a magnetic flap enclosure. Inside you’ll be greeted with a typed letter from Gary Khammar (producer of the Kubrick Remembered documentary), a very nice reproduction of a watercolor painting of Stanley painted in 1972 by Christiane, and a 78-page hardcover photo book filled with archival image of Kubrick and his work – production and behind-the-scenes photos, script pages, production artwork, storyboards, doodles, correspondence, hand-written notes and more. The book is quite nice, but – at this price point – many Kubrick fans will already own Taschen’s magnificent (and far more comprehensive) Stanley Kubrick Archives and Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, or any number of other fine books on the filmmaker. Note that Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection is released in a limited edition of 29,500 units.

Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Blu-ray Disc)

I’ll say it once more for the record: This is a very nice box set. But it’s also a deeply frustrating release for longtime Kubrick fans. For most of them, the opportunity to get three new documentaries and hardcover photo book simply isn’t enough to justify the $150 sale price.

So what could have made this box set an easy purchase for fans? Well… new 4K-remastered transfers of one or more of the films would have been a good place to start. 2001: A Space Odyssey could surely use such an upgrade. Dr. Strangelove too. It might also have helped if this had been a truly complete Kubrick collection. Missing from this set are Spartacus, The Killing, Killer’s Kiss, Paths of Glory, Fear and Desire, The Seafarers, Day of the Fight, and Flying Padre. All but the last two of these films are available elsewhere in high-definition on Blu-ray. Could those not have been licensed for inclusion here? Yes, that might have been expensive – so I can understand why that wasn’t done. But here’s something that would have made this set an easy recommendation: Douglas Trumbull’s 2001: Beyond the Infinite – The Making of a Masterpiece documentary – a project that Trumbull pitched to Warner, but which the studio declined to fund and pursue, and yet which remains highly desired by fans. That alone… right there, all by itself… would have clinched this as a must-own set. Instead, we get recycled discs and transfers, a dropped documentary, and a trio of new documentaries and a book. Given the number of bites at the apple the studio has already taken on these titles, that’s just not going to cut it anymore. Let’s see… there was the Stanley Kubrick: Visionary Filmmaker Collection, The Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection, two different Stanley Kubrick Collections, not to mention several different Anniversary and Digibook editions.

Bottom line: If you don’t already own these films on Blu-ray, Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection is impressive as hell. You should probably get yourself a copy immediately. But for serious Kubrick fans, it’s a missed opportunity. My advice to Warner is to go back to the drawing board and craft a new Blu-ray box set that’s truly worthy of Stanley’s work, his legacy… and his fans.

- Bill Hunt

 

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