Dr. Strangelove (Blu-ray)
(The Criterion Collection, 6.28.2016)
Even if Dr. Strangelove isn’t one of your favourite Stanley Kubrick films, there’s no denying that it played a vital role in his evolution as a filmmaker. Landing in between his early independent productions and his more daring studio films, this is a movie of crucial transitions. For one, it was the first film where Kubrick acted as sole producer, a role that would radically change his approach. By making all the crucial decisions about the production, marketing, and release of his films, Kubrick emerged as an unlikely crowd-pleaser—who also happened to make the kinds of challenging, uncompromising films normally relegated to the margins. Before going all the way in that direction with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick first confirmed his mass appeal status with the grim ironies of Dr. Strangelove. While this film would likely flop with the more complacent, uninformed audiences of 2016, its bleak outlook was perfectly in synch with a populace crippled by Cold War angst.
Dr. Strangelove was already given a relatively deluxe Blu-ray release seven years ago, but Criterion’s new special edition offers two major upgrades: (1) a transfer that’s just about perfect and (2) nearly two hours of new extras. Sadly, the most exciting of these is a series of Kubrick audio clips that run a mere four minutes. Still, in that short time, he manages to cover a great deal of ground, including the paradoxical nature of all nuclear scenarios, the importance of script collaboration, and the undeniable -- if often overlooked -- fact that directing is just one third of the filmmaking process. (Writing and editing make up the other two thirds.)
Of the new interviews, the most fascinating is probably the conversation with Richard Daniels, senior archivist at The Stanley Kubrick Archives. Thanks to his intimate knowledge of Kubrick’s papers, Daniels is able to dispel several myths about the mysterious filmmaker and offer all kinds of illuminating first-hand documentation. At one point, we see a sheet of paper listing the models for each of the film’s characters and the actors Kubrick originally had in mind for these roles.
A more traditional history of the film is offered by Mick Broderick, author of Reconstructing Strangelove. If you’re a fan of the film, you’ll probably want to read the book in full, but Broderick offers crucial context, exploring Kubrick’s newfound independence from longtime producer James B. Harris, the film’s rivalry with Fail-Safe, and Dr. Strangelove’s distinctive advertising materials.
In addition all of that—and most of the extras from the previous release—this Blu-ray includes Rodney Hill’s exploration of Kubrick’s influences (Joseph Campbell, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung), David George’s discussion of the source material (written by his father, Peter George), and a look at the film’s distinctive visual style by two veterans of Kubrick’s camera departments. If you haven’t seen Dr. Strangelove in a while, this material will give you all the inspiration you need to take Criterion’s stunning new restoration for a spin. With nuclear proliferation heading in several uncertain new directions, you should definitely take another look -- before it’s too late. -- Jonathan Doyle