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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/27/99
updated: 6/15/01

Barry Lyndon

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

Barry Lyndon (new Kubrick Collection)

Barry Lyndon
1975 (2001) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B+

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

Specs and Features

184 mins, PG, matted widescreen (approx. 1.66:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:32:00, at start of chapter 26), Snapper case packaging, theatrical trailer, awards list, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (47 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Close Captioned

Barry Lyndon - Kubrick Collection

Barry Lyndon
1975 (1999) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): D-/C+/D-

Specs and Features

184 mins, PG, matted widescreen (approx. 1.66:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:32:00, at start of chapter 26), Snapper case packaging, theatrical trailer, awards list, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (47 chapters), languages: English & French (DD 1.0), subtitles: English and French, Close Captioned

Barry Lyndon is an unlikely epic story. It's unlikely, because most such epic films use a much wider canvas, and more vivid cinematography - think Spartacus, which was also directed by Stanley Kubrick. But Spartacus was not typical of Kubrick's style. Barry Lyndon is, thus making it not a typical epic film, at least by Hollywood standards.

Barry Lyndon is the story of a man's life - at least the most important parts of it - the rise and fall of an 18th century Irish scoundrel, named Redmond Barry. Barry (played by Ryan O'Neal) starts the film a mere boy, who is in love with his cousin. When she attracts the affections of a British gentleman and soldier, Barry is hot with jealousy. He challenges his cousin's suitor to a pistol duel, and finds no reward in winning it. Murder is murder, and Barry is forced to flee his home to escape the law. Before long, Barry finds himself enlisting in the British army, fighting against the French in the Seven Years War. But, as with many things in his life, he finds this situation not to his liking, and takes the first opportunity to desert his post, in search of better things. Over time, Barry takes advantage of a number of unlikely twists of fate, and his uncanny ability to lie, cheat and steal his way out of difficult situations, and eventually climbs into the higher levels of English society. But as Barry eventually learns, what fate gives, it can also take away.

Barry Lyndon is a fascinating film. Certainly, better such epic tales have been told before and since. And better looking such films have also been made. But Barry Lyndon still holds a certain fascination for me. Kubrick and O'Neal have crafted a central character that it is very hard to like, and yet you can't quite dislike him either. Raymond Barry is brooding, crafty, and much of what he does is down right despicable - taking advantage of even those who would love him to make himself more comfortable in life. But he does show some genuine feelings for others as well, especially his own son, later in the story. And you can't quite help but think that, had he had a few more role models in his life (he grew up fatherless), and maybe just a few more good friends (his only real friend dies early in the story), he might have turned out differently. Still, it is a rare film that dares to make you dislike its central character, even a little bit.

It's look is also very unusual. Kubrick, and cinematographer John Alcott, developed a special process for shooting film in natural light settings. The result is a very subdued, but natural look to the film, which creates a very cool atmosphere for the story. Very little depth of field is apparent - the image appears flattened. It's almost as if you're looking at an elaborate Victorian painting. There's also very little visual warmth found here, from the overcast skies of battlefields, to the ornate, but emotionally-barren, chambers and corridors of English society. The effect, I think, is to visually reinforce an aspect of Barry's character that we begin to realize as the story unfolds - Barry is never truly happy, no matter where he is, what he has, or what he does. His is a restless soul, with no place to call home.

Warner's original Barry Lyndon DVD was extremely disappointing and, compared to the rest of the original Kubrick Collection discs, was easily the worst looking of the lot. The original print was washed out, dirty, water damaged and hampered by coarse grain, and was made even worse looking by rampant MPEG-2 digital video compression artifacting. It was also beset by contrast problems - overly-dark blacks and too-hot whites - as well as TONS of unnecessary edge enhancement which gave the already lousy image an unnatural crispness. To be kind, the DVD just looked terrible.

Thankfully, this new DVD features a brand new, high-definition transfer of pristine film element. The image, presented in matted widescreen (at approximately a 1.66 aspect ratio), is smooth and clean looking. The picture is rendered softly, yet the clarity and detail Kubrick intended is never left wanting. The colors were never meant to look lush, but they're vibrant compared to the original DVD transfer, and they're always accurate. Very little grain or other print-related artifacts are visible, and you won't find a hint of edge enhancement. Watching this new DVD actually made me appreciate the film that much more. The image is not quite reference quality, but it's as good as this film has ever looked, and it's very pleasing to the eye.

The audio on the original disc was presented in both English and French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. To be fair, both were at least of decent quality. The new disc, however, omits both mono tracks in favor of a newly-remastered, English-only Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The new audio is a definite improvement. It still accurately represents the soundtrack's original mono tonal quality, but adds more ambience, particularly with the music and certain sound effects (the rapport of gunfire, for example). The soundstage is somewhat wider up front, while dialogue takes on a smoother, more natural flavor. The overall audio quality improvement is huge, but subtle at the same time (if that makes sense). Subtitles options are also better on the new disc, featuring English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

As for extras, both discs give you a list of the awards the film has won or been nominated for, along with a full frame theatrical trailer. And that's it - no improvement on that score.

Barry Lyndon really deserved better treatment on DVD, and it's finally gotten it. Next to 2001, I'd say that this is probably the most improved film (on DVD) in Warner's Kubrick stable. More extras would always be welcome, but if you're a huge fan of Stanley's work, you can't go wrong with this new DVD... or the new Kubrick Collection as a whole.

Bill Hunt
[email protected]

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

Barry Lyndon (new version)

The Stanley Kubrick Collection (new version)

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