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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 4/7/98
updated: 5/22/01




Dr. Strangelove
or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD


Dr. Strangelove: Special Edition Dr. Strangelove (new Kubrick Collection version)


Dr. Strangelove
Special Edition - 1963 (2001) Columbia TriStar (Warner Bros.)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B+

Specs and Features

93 mins, PG, full frame (various aspect ratios in the range of 1.33:1 as intended by the director), B&W, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove featurette, Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove documentary, original split-screen interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, gallery of advertising materials, 3 theatrical trailers (for Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe and Anatomy of a Murder), talent files, Easter Egg, animated film-themed menus with sound effects, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English, French, Spanish and Portugese (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned




Dr. Strangelove: Special Edition


Dr. Strangelove
Special Edition - 1963 (2001) Columbia TriStar

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B+

Specs and Features

93 mins, PG, full frame (various aspect ratios in the range of 1.33:1 as intended by the director), B&W, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove featurette, Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove documentary, original split-screen interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, gallery of advertising materials, 3 theatrical trailers (for Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe and Anatomy of a Murder), talent files, Easter Egg, animated film-themed menus with sound effects, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English, French, Spanish and Portugese (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned



Dr. Strangelove - Kubrick Collection version


Dr. Strangelove
1963 (1999) - Columbia TriStar (Warner Bros.)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/F

Specs and Features

93 mins, PG, full frame (various aspect ratios in the range of 1.33:1 as intended by the director), B&W, single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, Columbia TriStar Reach for the Stars DVD promo, generic menu screens, scene access (29 chapters), languages: English, French and Spanish (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: Spanish, Closed Captioned



Dr. Strangelove - original packaging

Dr. Strangelove
1963 (1997) - Columbia TriStar

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/F

Specs and Features

93 mins, PG, full frame (various aspect ratios in the range of 1.33:1 as intended by the director), B&W, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, Columbia TriStar Reach for the Stars DVD promo, generic menu screens, scene access (29 chapters), languages: English, French and Spanish (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: Spanish, Closed Captioned



General Ripper: "I shouldn't tell you this, Mandrake, but you're a good officer and you've a right to know. It looks like we're in a shooting war."

Capt. Mandrake: "Oh, hell..."

Just in case you haven't guessed by its title, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is black comedy at its finest. The film wraps itself smartly in the trappings of the Cold War and just as smartly reveals how truly absurd it all was. But when this Stanley Kubrick film first premiered in 1963, it took an unsuspecting public by surprise. The arms race was in high gear. People took those silly "duck, cover and don't look at the flash" civil defense films seriously. And home bomb shelter construction was considered a growth industry. So, it goes without saying that folks didn't quite know what to make of Dr. Strangelove. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, but it was many years before this classic came to be widely appreciated. The more we've come to understand the sheer magnitude of the military and political folly of the time however, the more brilliant this film seems to become.

Here's the plot in a nutshell. During the height of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force maintained an around-the-clock airborne strike force of B-52 bombers, poised to deliver nuclear annihilation upon the Soviet Union at a moment's notice. Aboard one of these bombers, Major "King" Kong (Slim Pickens) and his crew receive the unthinkable: the "go" code ordering them to initiate Wing Attack Plan R. It seems that, back at good old Burpelson AFB, their wing commander, General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), has gone stark raving mad. Believing that the government is ignoring a Communist plot to poison the water supply with fluoridation, Ripper sets out to "protect our precious bodily fluids" by launching a nuclear first strike. This, he hopes, will force ineffectual President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) into action - when Muffley learns that he can't recall the bombers, he'll have to order an even bigger strike to overcome the inevitable Soviet counter-attack. Of course, when confronted with this news, Muffley does nothing of the sort, preferring instead to inform a drunken Soviet Premier that one of his commanders "went and did a silly thing". He even invites the Soviet Ambassador into the top secret War Room, much to the chagrin of his gung-ho military advisor, General "Buck" Turgidson (George C. Scott). The Ambassador quickly reveals that the Soviets have developed a Doomsday Machine, that will automatically destroy all life on Earth if it detects an American attack. As things unravel in Washington, back at Burpelson, a British exchange officer (Captain Mandrake - also Sellers) attempts to reason with Ripper, knowing that he's the only person with a prayer of stopping the attack. Meanwhile, aboard his B-52, no-nonsense Kong is determined to complete his mission, come hell or high water. And in the end, it's up to the film's infamous Dr. Strangelove (Sellers yet again) to devise a last clever plan for "preserving a nucleus of human specimens".

Sellers is in great form here as Muffley and Mandrake, but it's as the off-kilter Dr. Strangelove, a wheelchair bound ex-Nazi scientist, that he really shines. With his lop-sided hair, Strangelove is an obsessive, maniacal figure, for whom Heil-Hitlering is an involuntary response. George C. Scott's blustering performance is equally entertaining as the gum-chewing Turgidson. Fans of classic Disney live-action films will quickly recognize Keenan Wynn as Colonel "Bat" Guano. And yes… that is James Earl Jones among the bomber crew (in his first feature film role). But it's for Slim Pickens' goofy turn here that I really love this film. He's absolutely hilarious as cowboy-turned-pilot Kong: "If this thing turns out to be half as important is I figure it just might be, I'd say that you're all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing's over with. And that goes for every last one of ya, regardless of yer race, color or yer creed!"

Dr. Strangelove is simply loaded with sly, tongue-in-cheek jokes. Almost every character name is the film is some kind of clever sexual inuendo or pun. Look for the "Peace is our Profession" sign at Burpelson AFB... as American soldiers engage in a firefight all around. The pin-up girl in Kong's Playboy is Turgidson's secretary. Among the books in front of Turgidson in the War Room is one labeled World Targets in Megadeaths. Even the Soviet Premier's name is a joke... Dimitri Kissoff.

There have been 2 different versions of Dr. Strangelove on DVD. The original release was among Columbia TriStar's first discs, and is generally very good in quality. The black & white film print used in the initial transfer exhibits some scratches and dust, but it's still fairly sharp, relatively clear and has a decent gray scale. Kubrick used a variety of aspect ratios in the general range of 1.33:1 when filming (I'm told that during the original release in theaters, this was matted to 1.85:1). Fortunately, the DVD presents these changing aspect ratios unmatted as intended by the director. As a result, blurry edges can sometimes be seen on the top and bottom of the frame. Columbia TriStar's new Dr. Strangelove: Special Edition uses this same DVD transfer.

On all DVD versions, the English Dolby Digital soundtrack is presented in its original mono, and is of average quality. Dialogue is generally clear and crisp and the film's soundtrack is well integrated in the mix. The audio does exactly what it needs to do, but won't blow you away. On the original disc, mono audio is also provided in French and Spanish (with Spanish subtitles). The new special edition adds a Portuguese track to this (as well as English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles).

Given that the original DVD release was one of Columbia TriStar's first, it contains no extra materials and has only very basic (and generic) menus. It also has their Reach for the Stars DVD promo trailer, which plays automatically when the disc starts up. Thankfully, the new special edition gives the film significantly better treatment. The DVD promo trailer has been dumped (thank God), and simple (but wonderful) animated menus have been created, based on the film's poster artwork. A good, 14-minute featurette has been added, The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove , which looks at the director and his career up to the time of the making of this film. Better still is Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove, a 45-minute documentary which examines the film's production in much more detail. There are interviews with many of Kubrick's collaborators, fascinating stories (among them how Slim Pickens was cast at the last moment when Sellers, who was originally going to play Major Kong as a 4th role, broke his leg) and some great behind-the-scenes photos (including shots of the film's original ending, which featured a cream pie fight in the War Room - sadly, the Kubrick estate wouldn't allow this to be included on the DVD). I was immediately sucked in to this piece - it's well worth watching if you love the film. There's a pair of "split-screen" interview clips featuring Sellers and George C. Scott answering scripted questions (news organizations could film their reporters asking the questions later to get a one-on-one interview effect for TV broadcasts). Also included are a gallery of poster and advertising artwork, the film's bizarre and brilliant theatrical trailer (along with trailers for Fail Safe and Anatomy of a Murder), talent files and an Easter Egg (featuring another teaser trailer for the film).

One note on Warner's Kubrick Collection releases of this film - the original 1999 issue featured Columbia's original DVD version, simply repackaged in a Snapper case. Warner's newly revised Stanley Kubrick Collection features Columbia's new special edition DVD, once again repackaged in a Snapper case (with slightly revised box art).

Dr. Strangelove is a terribly funny film and it's definitely one of my all time favorites. It's not for everyone, but if you like dark comedies and biting satire, absolutely don't miss it. Given that it's arguably one of Kubrick's best works, it's worth seeing for that reason alone. And Columbia TriStar's new DVD special edition is definitely the best way to do so. I can't tell you how glad I am that the studio decided to revisit this disc - even if you own the original, it's well worth your money to upgrade to the new version. Just be sure to pack your survival kit and watch out for "deviated pre-verts". And remember… there's no fighting in the War Room!

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

Dr. Strangelove: Special Edition (Columbia TriStar)


Dr. Strangelove (movie-only - Warner Bros.)


The Stanley Kubrick Collection (new version)


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